Monday, March 27, 2017

Black Mirror: Top 10 Female Roles in Series 3

The casting in Black Mirror is fantastic, but in the third series/season (Netflix, series 3) the casting is somewhat different and at the same time features some tremendous female performances.

For starters, the casting is, well, less British (although casting is quite diverse), and second while every episode is not female-centric, the female characters in the third series get some meaty and interesting roles and really shine.

Below is a rank list of notable call outs in series 3 -- five as leading females in the episode and five in more cameo/supporting roles.

Top 5 Female Episode Leads, Series 3

1. Kelly Macdonald, Hated in the Nation (Ep 3. 6)

2. Mackenzie Davis, San Junipero (Ep 3. 4)

3. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, San Junipero (Ep 3. 4)

4. Bryce Dallas Howard, Nosedive (Ep 3.1)

5. Faye Marsay, Hated in the Nation (Ep 3. 6)

Top 5 Female Episode Supporting Roles, Series 3

1. Wunmi Mosaku, Playtest (Ep 3.2)

2. Cherry Jones, Nosedive (Ep 3.1)

3. Hannah John-Kamen, Playtest (Ep 3.2)

4. Madeline Brewer, Men Against Fire (Ep 3.5)

5. Sarah Snook, Men Against Fire (Ep 3.5)

This post is part of Black Mirror Week on StrangeCultureBlog. See the list of other posts here

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Black Mirror, Series 1 - Well Hello There Downton Abbey and Favorite Masterpiece Friends

Allen Leech in a minor role is the first Black Mirror episode "The National Anthem"
"Whoa, it's Tom from Downton Abbey."

"Wait, that's Mr. Grove from Mr. Selfridge."

Part of the pleasure in the first episodes of Black Mirror (as an American viewer who enjoys some PBS Materpiece as a way to catch some of BBC's shows), and in Episode 1 "The National Anthem" two recognizable faces from Masterpiece show up in small roles. Allen Leech (Tom from Downton Abbey) and Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr. Grove from Mr. Selfridge) show up.

And then episode 2 begins and the fictional wife of Downton's Tom, Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Cybil Crawley) plays a staring role in "Fifteen Million Merits."

Jessica Brown Findlay in "Fifteen Million Merits"
I realize to some the casting revelation is not that big of a deal, but on this side of the pond the cross pollination is pure delight...sure I recognized other characters in these episodes as well (Such as Rupert Everett who plays the judge of a singing competion in this second episode as well) but something about the "Masterpiece Theatre Crew" was certainly exciting...surely this trend couldn't continue.

It does.

Episode 3 "The Entire History of You" you see a dinner party that includes a number of serial-british TV cast members reuniting. Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey's Anthony Gillingham), Amy Beth Hayes (Mr. Selfridge's Kitty Hawkins) and Jodie Whitaker (Broadchurch's Beth Latimer).
Tom Cullen in "The Entire History of You" 
And the Downton and Masterpiece connections (to me, on this side of the pond, mind you) seem to end here. These episodes through all three series/seasons are cast well, but it certainly is fun in this earlier phase to see some of these favorite characters appear outside of the role I was most accustomed.

Note to Black Mirror casters, I'd love to see Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockerty, Jim Carter or Joanne Froggarty make an appearance in future episodes.

This post is part of Black Mirror Week on StrangeCultureBlog. See the list of other posts here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Black Mirror - The Power of the Not So Distant Future

From Black Mirror Series 1 Episode 1 "The National Anthem"
In the first episode of Black Mirror, "The National Anthem" this show, known for it's science fiction and technology bent isn't beaming up light years into the future. There are no aliens. There is no mysterious unknown future technology. There is no medical innovation.

No, there is YouTube, Twitter, and cable news.

This episode begins with a kidnap and a ransom video in which the Prime Minister is specifically called out in to perform a bizarre sex act,

From there the story takes some unique turns that while absolutely outrageous in some regards are also incrementally believable.

This episode is one that is hard to place in the rating of the episodes (ranked 10 o 13 on my list) because in many ways it lacks some of thsoe compelling factors that make some of the other episodes so great, and in many ways is a little painful to watch at points -- yet, conceptually where this episode has the most power, and really sets the town for the series is that it's all somehow believable.

This episode, like many of the others leaves the viewer with the sense that this could happen, and maybe some time in the not too distant future.

In terms of episodes, and there reliance on technology, some episodes rely on some social change and technology changes (the furthest reaching in my opinion is incidentally the second episode of the series "Fifteen Million Merits") while many episodes are like this one -- it could happen, well, basically today (much like "Shut Up and Dance").

And while the nearer future episodes may lack some of the intrigue of these rendering of the future, in many ways the closest of these types of potential moments and uses of existing technology are striking.

I mention "Shut Up and Dance" as a similar episode from series 3 that uses technological tools that are readily available (computer viruses, cell phones, GPS trackers) to tell a story that could be stolen from tomorrow's news.

From Series 3 episode "Shut Up and Dance." Text messages read "KEEP LOCATION SERVICES ON | KEEP PHONE ON AND CHARGED | wHEN TIME COME'S YOU WILL BE ACTIVATED")
And for even those stories that rely on future technologies that do not exist the concepts themselves are some how believable, the episodes help bridge the gap to explain how these technologies, with all their unintended consequences, might come to be -- often with multiple purposes, including purposes that can be exploited.

This post is part of Black Mirror Week on StrangeCultureBlog. See the list of other posts here.

Black Mirror - Rankings of the First 13 Episodes

John Hamm as Matt in the Black Mirror Special "White Christmas"
Originally aired December 16, 2014
Ranking the first 13 Episodes of Black Mirror is easy in the sense that they are all stand alone episodes and some of them are just easy to call out as fantastic.

On the other hand, establishing a criteria to rank an episode is tricky. There are some episodes which are more enjoyable while watching them - often in the way they grab you and keep you hooked (or guessing), while other episodes might be a little more painful to watch but by the time the episode resolves has you reflecting on what you just watched for days.

I've tried to marry the enjoyment and lingering thoughtfulness factor in my rankings below.

And then, there's the unfair advantage of some episodes being well, longer - and in the case of Black Mirror, both episodes that tip towards feature length at 90 or so minutes are two of the best.

Here's my rankings, feel free to suggest that I have it all wrong.

1. "White Christmas" (2.4)
2. "Hated in the Nation" (3.6)
3. "San Junipero" (3.4)
4. "Be Right Back" (2.1)
5. "White Bear" (2.2)
6. "Nosedive" (3.1)
7. "The Entire History of You" (1.3)
8. "Shut Up and Dance" (3.3)
9. "Fifteen Million Merits" (1.2)
10. "The National Anthem" (1.1)
11. "Men Against Fire" (3.5)
12. "The Waldo Moment" (2.3)
13. "Playtest" (3.2)

This post is part of Black Mirror Week on StrangeCultureBlog. See the list of other posts here

Black Mirror Week

Some shows are not for everyone, and would be reluctant to broadcast that everyone I know watch Black Mirror, but I for one find the series absolutely fascinating.

Black Mirror originally aired on the BBC with three episode in December 2011, three episodes February 2013, a stand alone special in December of 2014, and then a Netflix run with additional episodes as a third series released in October 2016 (six episodes, with the promise of six more not yet released).

It seems that as a point of comparison the show most frequently is compared to the Twilight Zone, with stand alone episode exploring dark themes largely based on the unintended consequences of technology.

Having now watched all thirteen of the available episodes I am preparing a week of posts dedicated to Black Mirror, posts that are published will be captured here in this post as an index.

Is Black Mirror for everyone, no -- but there are few shows where each episode has the unique power to get in your head, either eliciting great respect for the creativity and craftsmanship or simply messes with your hear in it's presentation of the technology and the potentials in the not so distant future.

Post in this series:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Man Called Ove

In an effort to read 12 books in 2017, tonight I finished the book A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

The book published in 2012, the debut novel by Swedish author Backman was translated into English in 2013 and has been a bestseller.

The novel begins with a cranky fifty-nine year old man, Ove, in a computer store. Clearly, he knows nothing about technology and lives in a different world that the salesman who fails to connect or understand his customer.

What a benign and comical beginning to a thoughtful and moving book, a book that builds up a world of interesting characters and history from this humble beginning.

Because of the way this story builds with hints of mystery (usually answered a paragraph or two after the mystery is presented) it's hard to write a spoiler free summary of this book, and instead it leaves me wanting to simply recommend that other's read it.

There are certain qualities of this book that are too convenient or things in other circumstances I might consider gimmicky or conventional, but the way that Backman seems to find the balance here in a way that takes the reader to the edge and then pulls back in just the right way with masterful timing and simple style.

Somehow the characters here, and they are characters, are also strangely human -- these caricatures of people still strike a human balance. In reading the logic and ridiculous words of Ove, I often found myself relating to the ridiculous things I might say and if I wasn't chuckling to myself, would find myself reading comical lines allowed to those around me.

In many ways this book captures both the joys and sorrows of a life, as well as the opportunity to be a part of the story in the lives of others.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Old Man and The Sea

As part of my effort to read 12 books in 2017 I recently read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

This book, like a handful of other "classics" I've never read has intrigued me for sometime. I often tell people my favorite type of book is one without too many characters and so this one that is a man at sea on a boat seemed like one I was missing out on.

The book The Old Man and the Sea won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and appeared in Life magazine. It's hard for me to imagine reading this book in it's magazine form, and while Hemingway was famous at the time of it's publication you have to wonder if in reading it people were aware of it's significance at that time.

There is something striking reading this over a half a century after it's first release because while the world has changed dramatically, there is something very human portrayed in the story of a an old man who is past his prime who has that one last big adventure, an adventure made all the more challenging due to age, yet all the more important because of it.

On the other hand, Santiago, an aged man who hasn't caught a fish in months encounters a giant marlin at sea, reminds us of how much the world has changed. For starters, the Cuba presented here continues to change since the publication of this book. Additionally, the book was written without any ecologically themed presentation on the role of pollution, population, or the role of over fishing. Not to mention, the role of industry has continued to change, and as it does the central act of fishing here looks more like contemporary sport than the picture here associated with mid-twentieth century survival.

In all these ways, it's hard to say how this book might be viewed if it had it's first publication today. There's something almost romantic and nostalgic about the hard course, the triumph, and the challenge faced by it's central character. A message that seems to communicate that there is nothing that comes easy without pain, defeat and heartache, and that somehow that is beautifully human.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

You Will Not Have My Hate

Easing into my 12 Books in 2017 challenge I started with one that's been on my list for a few months, not realizing what a short, easy and captivating read this would be.

You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris is personal memoir following the early days of the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

Antoine's wife was one of the 130 people killed during the attack. Antoine's wife had been attending the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan Theatre, the site of mass terror during the event.

The death left Antoine with his seventeen month year old son, and what unfolds over the book is an emotional reflection on what dealing with this tragedy looked like, specifically through the lens of Antoine as a father who's young son could not be entirely aware of what was lost that day. The book talks about the power and impact that the rhythm of life (bathtime, storytime, feeding) had in those earlier days, as well as the ways other's interacted with their family in some personal, touching, and occasionally comical (such as stories of the daycare mother's providing daily soup for the family to take home).

In many ways, this memoir is so beautiful in the way it captures the human experience in such a poetic and real way. Leiris has a beautiful writing style that is so accessible but also powerful and unique. I was captivated by this quick little book because the ideas in it were raw, human, and touching.

This book is a gift as one man shares his real and heartbreaking story, not to elicit rage, anger, activism, or even compassion, but to connect with the human spirit and share a slight glimpse into what it is like to find goodness in the most tragic of circumstances.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

12 Books in 2017

I read books off and on. It seems easy to get distracted from a mission to read in a world where I can check Facebook, Instragram, e-mail, read news articles, watch Netflix, or do actual productive things (maybe).

I realized that in 2016 I didn't read that much, but what I did read, I enjoyed. It was a pleasant accomplishment, of sorts. So I thought in 2017 I would make it a conscious 12 books in 2017.

This goal gives me a natural pacing (a book a month, without a restriction say June slips away), and this blog commemorates the commitment.

I realize the goal is nothing big...some people read ten fold that amount in a year, but based on recent reading pace, life pace, and being a dreadfully slow reader, this goal is a nice start. (Note, not counted in my count is the books I read aloud to children which often contain pictures -- these get read often...we're talking about reading for me, fiction and non-fiction, various lengths).

I will update this post throughout the year and likely add related post about the books I've finished. Here's to reading in 2017.

2017 Books, and related posts, So Far:
1. You Will Not Have by Hate by Antoine Leiris (2016; memoir)
2. The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952; literary fiction)
3. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2012; contemporary fiction)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

What I Worry About More Than Fake News

There's been a great deal of post 2016 election coverage about the topic of "fake news" and social media effort to identify and stop the spread of fake news whether by not allowing ads, not including in search results, or any other policy that addresses this concern.

It seems that the term "fake news" could mean a lot of different things, and perhaps I underestimate it's influence here.

But I think what concerns me more than "fake news" is the impact of "Targeted News."

It seems like somehow what seemed like a newspaper collapse in 2008 has survived (somehow?) and online news sources has become more prevalent. This includes a variety of sources, which include establishment news sources, those with a perceived and/or actual bias, and some that came from who know's where.

Whether you got news this past year from a newspaper, a news station (cable or network), it seems that everyone got some additional news from their social media streams -- and this news could vary and come from who knows what source (I saw some crazy stuff from both sides this year, would expect most people did).

A strong example of unique reporting specifically from this year's election cycle was the online publication Huffington Post including their editor's note with every Trump article reading "Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S."

What concerns me is that some people probably read a lot of news this past cycle on Huffington Post (or similar sites left or right leaning), might think that these news sources are the same deck of cards that everyone else is reading.

Even outside of social media (where either the site may target your interest based on similar interactions, assumptions about interest, or social networks interest), I know one of the things I see on my iPhone regularly is the News feature that shows me articles that it thinks I'd be interested in -- I'm not sure on the algorithms here but it's a mix of news sources.

"Targeted News" seems in someways a much greater risk than "Fake News" in the sense that it allows for parallel conversations about important topics. In a rose-colored view at the past, I imagine that there was local community value in neighbors and co-workers who read shared print newspapers in the morning. Sure, this might not allow for the same diversity of opinion or presentation, but it also meant that news sources would not have interest in targeting extreme ideologies and positions. Again, surely rose-colored and I acknowledge that there's value to the diversity of ideas available, but if news sources we see in social media and related feeds are targeted we don't have diversity of ideas being presented we have our own view of the world preseted with the other perspective hidden in the background algorithm.

At a national level, I don't have a grand solution, but at a personal level the result has led me to be more silent on news topics, realizing that what I am reading might be entirely different in presentation that what others are seeing. It has also led me reluctantly ingest, or in many cases avoid, news that isn't coming from more established sources even if the lean one way or the other, while avoiding Drudge Report or Mother Jones.

Who knows the future of "Fake News," but I am certain "Targeted News" will continue to be a force in our life and when it comes to big national events (like a controversial presidential season), I have a hard time seeing this advancement in news as providing significant social benefit.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Non-Die Hard's Thoughts on Gilmore Girls A Year in The Life

I wasn't quick to jump on the Gilmore Girls band wagon in it's original release. My wife would watch it and I would join passively, at first - until I found myself enjoying the quick witted dialogue and the combination of quirky Stars Hollow characters.

This past weekend Netflix released it's miniseries Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life which delivered a 6 hour catch up with the characters.

In reviewing my previous posts on the series, I realized I had previously in a 2008 post requesting this type of thing...In my post I wrote:
"After finishing this last season of Gilmore Girls, I could definitely go for a 10 year reunion show 2017...hey even a 5 year reunion show in 2012."

And here, they have delivered - delivered the reunion, that is -- whether they delivered on the promise of a great reunion series, now that is a different question.

I joked with my wife the first night watching the show in it's early hours of Netflix release that the show was rated higher than The Godfather on Netflix. Early die-hards appeared to embrace the release, while I was perhaps a little more on the fence, or at least open to see what this would really be like.
Catching Up
The first episode (Fall) is begins a little slow going, but I extend grace, because I assume there will be a little bit of the sloppy unnatural dialogue that catches a viewer up on previous changes and developments that will drive the rest of the plot forward. This certainly happened in episode one. 

The unfortunate thing is that this slow "catch up" happens all the way through each of the four episodes. Every episode reintroduces characters from the show that instead of creating something new and exciting instead provide a "wink-wink" type of gift for dedicated fans instead of providing something new.

In that vein, from the standpoint of a stand alone show, this would be the type of show that I would suspect would disappoint a first time watcher - you can't just jump in here on the new series because you'd be annoyed with things like why are they spending so much time talking about Lorelai's jeep or lamenting about Sookie St. James' absence from the kitchen at the Dragon Fly Inn.

I can commend the show for getting so many returning cast members -- I'm sure this in itself was special for those involved, but while this created something special for a die hard fan, it took away from the show itself, and made it take a long time to get moving with an actual plot.

Stars Hollow The Musical
This oddity in the series was horrible. This scene just went on and on. Summer (episode 3) was by far the weak link in the series, and this scene alone did me in.

Existential Crisis
One of the things that I found interesting about this mini-series was the crisis experienced by the three leading ladies (Rory, Lorelai, and Emily). 

There is major life incident defining this series' conflict, other than the passing of Richard Gilmore (played by Ed Hermann who died December 31, 2014). This is a catalyst for crisis, but not financial ruin or fear of genetic link to anyone else's long-term mortality - rather it's a piece of existential crisis they each face, where they ask "Who am I? What am I doing? Am I just standing still in time while the world is passing be my?"

While they flounder in their own crisis, I can appreciate that the show let them wallow in their own confusion as we saw in the main series -- there is certainly that millennial bent layered into Rory's story fighting being a part of the "30 something gang" of which, she certainly fits the mold. But really, while I wouldn't expect this show to kick off with Rory married with a gang of children, there is something in her crisis that frankly is sad as she's wondering through the four episodes -- and really her sexual activities are frankly depressing (Chewbaca!?)

Lauren Graham's Lorelai has her own brand of crisis here, that really snowballs in the underwhelming Spring episode, but the Pacific Crest Trail "Wild" Scenes in Summer may be a worthwhile payoff (except for the unnecessary wink-wink cameos of Parenthood stars, following another similar cameo from the prior episode).

Even Kelly Bishop's Emily portrayal has her crisis -- a little more in a typical vein of what you might expect from the death of her husband, although the final payoff in that Nantucket scene is pretty memorable.

Final Thoughts
Not quite like watching a train wreck, but not something that has that classic and engaging feeling. Frankly, the only way to save this mini-series is to somehow go back to the drawing board and hope commitments can be made for a second try with a second mini-series. Now that they've gotten over the hurdles, now is the time to decide if they want to dig in and write a new chapter, but this time with creativity, not gimmicks, and release themselves from the characters that aren't going to drive the story forward.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

What I haven't seen from the IMDb top 250: 2016 Edition

I've done this post before, three years back - but the list and the rating change. So here's my update of what I haven't seen off the IMDb top 250. There's a few I'm not interested in seeing -- but others I need to track down and check off this list.

30. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
32. Interstellar (2014)
41. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
45. Whiplash (2014)
54. The Great Dictator (1940)
57. Paths of Glory (1957)
58. Django Unchained (2012)
64. Princess Mononoke (1997)
67. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
74. M (1931)
95. The Kid (1921)
100. 3 Idiots (2009)
109. Yojimbo (1961)
119. Children of Heaven (1997)
120. The Great Escape (1963)
121. Heat (1995)
123. Inside Out (2015)
126. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
128. Ikiru (1952)
130. The Gold Rush (1925)
137. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
138. Casino (1995)
140. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
145. Sunrise (1927)
147. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
148. V for Vendetta (2005)
152. Tokyo Story (1953)
154. Dial M for Murder (1954)
167. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
168. Mary and Max (2009)
171. Come and See (1985)
175. The Message (1976)
178. Nights of Cabiria (1957)
186. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
189. Wild Tales (2014)
191. Persona (1966)
199. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
201. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
202. Stalker (1979)
203. Memories of Murder (2003)
210. Diabolique (1955)
213. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
214. 8 1/2 (1963)
217. The Terminator (1984)
224. Barry Lyndon (1975)
225. La Haine (1995)
228. Sin City (2005)
231. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
232. Gangs of Wasseypur (2012)
237. Song of the Sea (2014)
238. Ip Man (2008)
239. Deadpool (2016)
241. Castle in the Sky (1986)
243. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
245. Fanny and Alexander (1982)
248. Paris, Texas (1984)
249. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India

That's 58 of the Top 250 I haven't seen (76.8% viewed). Let's see if I can knock out some more of this list.

Tweet Too Quick - But Nice Observation for Me, Strangers on a Train

The other night I was watching Strangers on a Train, while my wife was practicing her dance moves for a flash mod at work (I can't make this stuff up).

And I was struck watching the film how much the movie reminded me of Talented Mr. Ripley -- namely the manipulation between two male leads, one who is wealthy/playboy style character.

Of course, I tweet without researching (that's what twitter's about, right?).

And I quickly fact check myself (I'm not popular enough on twitter for other people to do it for me).

To my personal self-satisfaction it was based on a story by the same author -- both books (Strangers and Ripley) are written by Patricia Highsmith.

Still pretty pleased with myself.

Which also reminds of another thing - about three years ago I posted the Top 250 films I hadn't seen yet -- this is one of them. Check it off the list, done!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

4 Award Season Movies Piquing My Interest

With two month's left of the film season here are the award season movies piquing my interest.

Staring Dev Patel and Rooney Mara

La La Land
Staring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

Manchester By The Sea
Staring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams

Staring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner

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