Black Mirror: 5 seconds into the future

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The final episode of “Black Mirror“, Season 2 — “The Waldo Moment” — is a perfect tonic to wash out the greasy aftertaste of Seth MacFarlane’s sad spasm on the Oscars. It’s also one of the best of the series, right up there with “Fifteen Million Merits” (season 1). Seriously, if you’re in the US, find a way to watch the show. It’s some of the best television I’ve seen in ages (and trust me, I’ve seen a lot of television through the ages).

The Black Mirror series is a collection of self-contained short stories, set five seconds into the future. It is TV as literature, in a way that hasn’t been seen since Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury clacked away at their Underwoods for “The Twilight Zone” and “Playhouse 90″.

In The Waldo Moment, we are convincingly shown how a cartoon bear, known for fart jokes, could easily become a political force. It is simultaneously hilarious, depressing, and plausible.

Black Mirror, indeed. We have seen the enemy, and it is us.

Review: Room 237 (2012)

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I read The Shining as a tween in the 1970’s, in its first paperback run. Its cover was made of mylar (“shining” .. get it?), and the back blurb promised it was “SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING JACK NICHOLSON” — an image I carried throughout the genuinely scary read. [Side note: I mentally cast Scatman Crothers as Halloran, all on my own, years before the film came out.] Having been well and truly haunted by Stephen King’s novel, I was perplexed and disappointed by the Kubrick film when it finally came out in 1980 (I had re-read the novel several times by then). But over the years, I realized that the Kubrick version was doing some haunting of its own, drawing me back to repeated viewings and heated discussions of its complexity.

The first paperback edition of 'The Shining'

Room 237 is an exegesis of this haunting effect, told by an assortment of obsessive fans. Their theories are alternately schizophrenic (e.g. the film is Kubrick confessing that he helped fake the moon landings) and plausible (e.g. it’s a comment on the Native American genocide). But the interpretations are never boring, even the most outlandish stretches. The stretchiest of the stretches has got to be the “run-it-backwards-and-forwards-at-the-same-time” theory, which is just a warmed-over version of the “play ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ alongside ‘The Wizard of Oz'” epiphany, well-known to stoned teenagers everywhere.

I was surprised that the ‘gold standard’ interpretation of the film, recently noted by io9, didn’t make the kavalcade of krazy theories. But don’t worry, this excellent documentary will give you plenty to chew on. If you’re like me, it will force you to overthink it all, then look in the mirror and ask “who’s the real OCD film freak? Could it be me?!?

Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

Still from 'The Hunger Games'

I knew nothing about The Hunger Games, except for some dim awareness that it was ragingly popular with the tweens, and that it had some kind of sci-fi, post-apocalyptic setting. It was the sci-fi premise, and boredom, that prompted me to put it on my watch list — which I did with some trepidation after the regrettable decision to watch “Twilight”, another pre-teen fave (I made it about 20 minutes into that horrible fluff before bailing out).

But The Hunger Games surprised me. Its plot devices are a bit hackneyed and familiar (e.g. Mad Max, The Running Man, “The Most Dangerous Game”, to name but a few). To wit: a post-war society turns to a ritualized fight-to-the-death, fantastically broadcast to the cheering and ignorant masses. Bread and circuses redux — we’ve seen it before.

But what made The Hunger Games stand out was its weird and adventurous production design, especially the costumes and make-up of the ruling classes. It envisions a future in which the rich and powerful signal their status with impossibly garish and baroque designs and colors — as was the custom in the 17th and early 18th centuries, when men wore elaborate wigs and heels. In contrast, the working classes are depicted wearing dustbowl-drab garments straight outta Dorothy Gale or Dorothea Lange. And as with Dorothy in OZ, part of the heroine’s journey in The Hunger Games involves a Project Runway-style makeover.

I especially like the costume design of the “Reaper” (shown in the photo on the left). I wasn’t sure whether she was a drag queen or not until she spoke.

Also: thumbs up to Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci for solidly creepy performances — they gave some serious flesh to this odd otherworld.