Black Mirror: USS Callister-Bullied Becomes The Bully

Note: Happy New Year everyone.

The past week has been a dead zone with the holidays, but I am happy to return to this blog in 2018. As always, there are New Year’s Resolutions, but I intend to stick to these ones. I refuse to be like the horde of people who swarm the gym in January and February, before disappearing in March. Two of my biggest writing goals are to have something published in 2018, whether it’s an article or a poetry piece. The second is to complete my fourth book, Alive: Part II. I have already tried to get all of my previous works published but I realize now that it will likely be easier to get smaller pieces published, and use those to gain some traction for attempting to publish my novels.

Without further ado, I present some thoughts on Episode 4.1 of Black Mirror.

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I would be lying if I said that Black Mirror won me over instantly. While I was still enthralled by most of the first episode, the ending could have been a breaking point. I understood the purpose of the ending and the rationale but I could not help but be repulsed by it. Then again, that was the show’s intention. Black Mirror is this generation’s Twilight Zone and it would be a disservice to stop watching because it makes you squirm. At the most basic level, the show analyzes how technology affects the way we interact with each other. From my least favourite, The Waldo Moment (that stupid voice really got on my nerves) to Shut Up and Dance or White Christmas, technology is central to the stories.

Season 4 continues the trend with an episode that is dark but also lighter than many of the others. “USS Callister” is a story about wish fulfilment and escapism gone wrong, and those are the elements that I wanted to focus on in this piece. I wasn’t interested in doing a review, although I will say that the performances were great and that I loved the homage to Star Trek. The ending is meant to be happy but I can’t help but wonder if an infinity surrounded by online trolls is truly happiness.

I think anyone who has ever been bullied or ostracized could initially empathize with Daly. Of course, forcing the female members of Space Fleet to kiss him at the end of every game was undeniably creepy and I’m not going to defend that. What I could relate to more was a fantasy where you are a hero to your bullies. That is why I found it interesting that Daly is unquestionably a villain by the end.

In a sense, Daly’s escapism prevents him from asserting himself in real life. He hides behind technology to avoid confrontation. Many people do this, with the mentality that it is easier or more polite. Ghosting is just one of the many anti-social and spineless methods people now use in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable situations. However, uncomfortable situations are a part of life and it is impossible to mature without them. Instead of being more assertive in real-life, Daly goes to the other extreme in his modified version of Infinity. He goes from a pushover to a tyrant, when what he needed to become in the real-world was something in between.

His rejection by his peers guides him further away from them, and further into Infinity. As part of the vicious cycle, this only makes him more off-putting. The staring that causes Shania Lowry to avoid Daly, is implied to be part of his vetting process. He analyzes his potential subjects to see what objects he can steal in order to add them to his game. Of course, his staring is also a part of his fantasizing and the literal possessiveness that we see play out in Infinity. 

What I have always liked about Black Mirror and science-fiction as a whole is that it can use outlandish concepts to mask or examine relevant truths. “Hated in the Nation” attacks online mobs, “Men Against Fire” attacks prejudice and propaganda, “San Junipero” and “USS Callister” examine virtual realities.  Daly is no different than the online trolls who abuse others in order to feel a sense of power they likely don’t have in the real world, the supposed “Kings of Space”. As technology evolves, these trolls will evolve too. People will retreat further from the real, avoiding confrontation and the truth to hide deeper in their fantasies.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Warning: This should be obvious but this review will have spoilers for previous Star Wars films

After seeing The Last Jedi yesterday, I am now ready to share my thoughts on one of my most anticipated films of 2017. While I believed The Force Awakens was a rehash of A New Hope, I still enjoyed the film and Rogue One also cemented my continuing interest in Star Wars lore.

I try to avoid reading or watching any reviews of a film before I see it, since I want to avoid going in with preconceptions. I also try to avoid social media as a whole since Han Solo’s death was spoiled for me by one of the attention-seeking denizens of YouTube. I wasn’t able to abstain completely prior to seeing The Last Jedi but I can only hope that I successfully subdue any preconceptions or at least acknowledge the impact they had on my viewing of this movie.

Episode VIII begins right where VII left off, cutting between the stories of Poe, Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren. I am happy to say that this film doesn’t come across as a complete rehash of Empire Strikes Back, although there are a few moments of similarity. The film’s strongest arc is definitely Kylo Ren’s, who is still dealing with the conflict of truly embracing the dark side. Rey and Ben shippers have a lot to moments to look forward to. Aside from the will they/won’t they moments, Episode VIII delves further into Ben’s past and his relationship with Luke Skywalker.

While the plot revolves around getting Luke to rejoin the Resistance, Luke is a reluctant mentor for Rey. He is a tragic figure whose past failures hinder his ability to move forward. There is plenty to love in the original Star Wars trilogy, but my enjoyment of them was always hampered by Mark Hamill’s subpar acting. Hamill has developed a lot as an actor since then, with a plethora of voice acting and live action roles separating his speaking roles as Luke in Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi. Hamill is able to bring true vulnerability to the role, along with the wisdom expected from the last Jedi Master.

Aside from criticisms that may be reasonable, there is also a slate of alt-right vitriol since this movie has too many women and minorities for their liking. I always found it amusing that people who use the word “triggered” to insult others, are actually the most triggered. They will not be bothered by any of the issues present in “liberal propaganda” but it’s all hands on deck if a film set in another galaxy isn’t dominated by white males. I will ignore these people’s opinions, since they are no more valid than the thoughts of a flat-earther.

Andy Serkis puts in another great motion capture performance as Snoke, surrounded by a cast that delivers for the most part. Finn’s marketing bait and switch, from possible Jedi to bumbling comic relief, was one of my biggest criticisms for the previous film and I happy to see that remedied here. Finn has a meatier role this time around. Domhall Gleeson’s General Hux straddled the line between campy and intense in The Force Awakens, but he crosses that line here quite a few times. There are some weak performances from some minor characters; ones who only have a few lines. While this shouldn’t hamper a film too much it didn’t help that two such characters had the film’s first spoken lines, seemingly setting the tone for what was to come.

Rey’s character was met with a flurry of Mary Sue complaints and some fans will be happy to see some of their thoughts addressed here. One reviewer I follow said The Last Jedi is the Cabin in the Woods of Star Wars films, and I have to admit that this thought influenced my outlook on certain scenes. For example, in one scene Snoke criticizes Ben Solo for his lack of commitment to the dark side, noting that killing Han Solo must have broken his spirt since he lost a fight to a girl who had never wielded a lightsaber. With the Cabin in the Woods comparison in mind, I had to think that writer/director Rian Johnson was trying to address some of the previous film’s biggest criticisms. The film also takes this approach when it delves into Rey’s history, giving us a reveal that may be anti-climactic for some, but also helps to set it apart from other Star Wars films.

I think that some of these scenes help to account for the polarizing reception that The Last Jedi has among fans. While The Rotten Tomatoes critic score is 92%, the audience score is 54%. I am sure that this low rating is partly due to people bothered by too much colour and ovaries, but I won’t say that the alt-right is mostly to blame.

The Last Jedi is nearly three hours long, and its length was the main criticism from the friend I saw it with. While I didn’t feel like the film dragged, I will understand if people say it could have been shorter.  New characters are introduced, such as Rose Tico, Star War’s first Asian character and an easy target for the alt-right. She is paired with Finn for the majority of the film and I have to agree that this is a subplot that could have been condensed at the very least. This subplot leads to the infamous confrontation with Phasma that we saw in the first trailer, but one can’t help but wonder if we could have arrived at that moment differently. The subplot would not have been improved if Rose was white. I will say that like Rogue One, this subplot helps to bring in more moral ambiguity to the Star Wars characters. Instead of characters who are affiliated with light or dark, The Last Jedi shows us more who are simply looking out for themselves.

There are some moments of humour, or attempted humour, that do not work. However, I will say that the majority of jokes didn’t feel out of place. Aside from some flat jokes, there are also several scenes or moments that could have been cut to allow screen time to be used more efficiently. Yes, porgs are cute. After the film cut to them for the tenth time, I started to get annoyed. As a result of some unnecessary or dragged out scenes, we miss out on other moments that could have been expanded, such as the reunions of key characters. It would have been great to see more of Princess Leia, especially since this was Carrie Fisher’s last performance. Obviously she may have been written somewhat sparsely with more in mind for Episode IX, but a weak subplot just brings more attention to what else could have been presented. There are now more questions that will have to be answered by Episode IX. 

To end on a more positive note, The Last Jedi, has moments, whether dramatic or action-oriented, that I believe will become iconic parts of Star Wars lore. The action, at the very least, is sure to please fans, but I believe the film has more to offer as well. I honestly believe I may need to watch The Last Jedi again before I can give it a true rating. For the moment, I will say that I am looking forward to seeing it again.

Star Wars Film Rankings

Rogue One

A New Hope

The Empire Strikes Back

Return of the Jedi

The Last Jedi

The Force Awakens

Revenge of the Sith

“” Attack of the Clones

“” The Phantom Menace

Memory Slave

I have been working on my fourth book, Alive: Part II, on and off the for the past six months. The past few months have seen more progress and I am not about 40,000 words in. However, I have now reached a part in the story where I am trying to decide where I will take the story next. More brainstorming and a clearer idea of my goal for my characters will give me a better sense of the path I want them to take. With that in mind, I took a break from writing that book but I didn’t want to avoid writing altogether. Along with the grandma piece I posted last, I wanted to delve deeper into a concept that has been on my mind for the past few weeks.

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Memory Slave

She couldn’t remember how she got here, but she wasn’t supposed to. Her name, her place of birth, her family, were all lost to her. Sometimes she came close to remembering, seeing slivers of her past life cut through the memories forced on her. Those slivers, whether good or bad, were hers and she cherished them for seconds at a time. There were other memories drowning her real ones, parasites controlling their host.

The parasites were injected by people whose faces remained hidden: Doctors experimenting on a lab rat. There were no windows, no night and day. The lights in her room always shut off at some point during the day, announcing her bedtime. Yet days still lost their meaning without dates or the seasons. She measured time with her memories, counting the moments between a new one being added.

She knew the memories weren’t really hers, but they were the only complete ones she had. She was still attached to hundreds, feeling all of the pain that was forced on her. Her mind was a bounty of misery and insecurities. Some people wanted to be rid of the memories that crippled their lives in some way: the unrequited love, the betrayal by a friend. Others were hiding from something truly traumatic, trying to erase violence they did to others or violence inflicted on them.

These memories were a gateway to pain, but they were also a gateway into the mind of the hosts. She knew their friends, their neighbourhoods and sometimes she even saw their faces. She knew their class, their race, their sexual orientation. These central parts of their identity were an anchor for most of the memories in her mind. Most of the memories were tied to something private that became public.

There was another class of memories, usually reserved for the wealthier hosts. They had the luxury of purging the most trivial things from their mind. One rude encounter was reason enough to remove a memory. Funny enough, they were usually the bully in these encounters.

She couldn’t remember truly meeting anyone. The masked doctors were her only gateway to the outside world. She tried to speak to them, but they never responded. She started with threats, hundreds of memories ago. Her will became weaker with each memory and soon enough she longed to simply hear one of them greet her, or answer if she asked them how they were doing.

She now had to accept that she was only a tool. No different than a hammer that a worker used and unceremoniously disregarded. There was a time when she thought she must have done something to deserve such a fate. Perhaps this was some sort of prison sentence? Time erased that thought from her mind. What was the point of punishment if you didn’t know what it was for? Was there some sort of lottery to pick the lucky winners? Was she just one of many selected from a certain area?

The white walls seemed to mock her. Promising answers beyond, but unwilling to yield. Some unseen force pinned her to the floor before the doctors came in. A distinctive hum always accompanied the increased gravity, as if some giant machine came to life beneath her. The doctors arrived, ignored her words and injected the latest memory. When they left they made sure to open the door just wide enough to squeeze through, preventing her from seeing anything beyond. When the door opened, no other sounds crept through. Wherever she was, it was soundproof and isolated.

There was another world out there, where she could find friends, family and happiness. She wanted to see that world again, to see herself. Her room had a small shower and sink, but no mirror and no reflective surfaces of any kind. She knew her skin was dark brown and that her hair was black, a contrast to everything around her. Her nose was broad, her lips full, and her knowledge of herself died there.

The remnants of her past life didn’t reveal anything more. She saw an older woman’s face, with dark skin like her own, perhaps her mother. She saw a small red bricked house, surrounded by cracked sidewalk and weeds. Perhaps her home. There was no way to truly tell that these memories were hers, she only assumed they were because they weren’t tied to something negative.

She heard the humming this time before she was pinned. Her pacing came to a halt as her feet stayed rooted to the ground. The pressure on her knees forced her to kneel, planting her hands on the ground as well. Her cot was to her right, looking like it was on the verge of imploding. The springs were squealing in protest, almost constricting one another by the time the doctors entered.

The gravity didn’t affect them, allowing them to move swiftly to either side of her. White pants, white shirts, white surgical masks. Their clothes almost seemed to glow under the light. She had to keep her head facing the floor, trying to turn it was too painful. The syringe came from the doctor to her left, piercing a spot just above her right ear. The memory wouldn’t come to her immediately, it would take some time. She guessed it usually took a few hours, but there was no way for her to be sure.

The doctor’s footsteps were almost drowned out by the hum as they left the room. Her face was nearly pinned to the floor by the time the gravity subsided, causing her to nearly jump off the ground with the force of her exertion. There were usually at least three light outs before another memory was injected, and she knew that she guessed that she carried hundreds now, some fresh and others lurking beneath the surface. It seemed like almost a year may have passed, but she never got used to the enhanced gravity. It was as if they increased its strength a little more with each visit.

Jason Isaacs and Free Speech

I have previously discussed the phenomenon of people who don’t believe that celebrities are allowed to have opinions. Any political comment, whether it is in an interview or on social media, is derided as inappropriate and a breach of some supposed social contract.

I don’t despite this mindset simply because it has resulted in some actors I like being vehemently criticized. I despise this mindset because of the inherent hypocrisy in it.

The most recent example I will use is a tweet I came across from Jason Isaacs, who expertly called out a Star Trek fan who said his political views are alienating the Star Trek Fan base.

 

So here we see a fan who feels like Jason Isaac’s political views are affecting “the fan base”, which we can translate to “me”. This fan is not speaking out on behalf of others, he is speaking out on behalf of himself. Isaacs previously criticized Trump via tweets and retweets of anti-Trump videos, so this *whitegenocide believer felt the need to call Isaacs out. It is obvious that someone who repeatedly uses the hashtag #whitegenocide doesn’t believe in the value of diversity and is likely to support the President who said Mexico “doesn’t send its best” to America and who also wants to keep Muslims out. So, instead of saying that he disagrees with Isaac’s political views, this twitter user simply tries to say that entertainers as a whole are not allowed to express political opinions.

It looks like @Eye_of_Empire has deleted some of the tweets in the thread since, but his original response to Isaacs appealed to the principle of free speech. So after criticizing someone for exercising their free speech, this user says his comment is appropriate because it was his legal right. Isaacs has that legal right too. Fine, maybe you want to argue that Isaacs is an actor so it is different. It shouldn’t be. Actors are real people too, with their own fears, values and political beliefs.

The real question here is if @Eye_of_Empire would be as upset with Jason Isaacs if Isaacs repeatedly proclaimed his love for Trump and his belief in White Genocide. I doubt that would bother @Eye_of_Empire as much. The idea that actors shouldn’t have opinions is a smokescreen for “actors shouldn’t express views different from mine”. If I disagree with an actor’s political views I say that I disagree, I don’t pretend like my anger is about the principle of actors discussing politics.

I was tempted to pursue another topic for this post but I decided to continue with this one because the irony is a godsend. Diversity and acceptance have always been themes of Star Trek, where people of different races (human and alien) look past their differences and work together. Star Trek even has the distinction of having tv’s first interracial kiss between Uhura and Captain Kirk in 1968. So we have this apparent longtime fan of the show who is disgusted by an actor who speaks out against the bigot in Chief. Welcome to America.

Stranger Things Season 2 Review

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Following up on my YouTube review, it’s time to share a more in depth review of Stranger Things‘s second season.

Season 2 picks up almost a year after the first. The lab and the upside down are still active. The gang (almost called them the Losers Club) are moving on in the absence of Eleven, although Mike is still struggling with the concept. Will is still haunted by visions of the Upside Down and it soon becomes clear that his visions aren’t all in his head. Meanwhile, Eleven has returned but is confined to one of Hopper’s cabins, for her own safety.

As with season one, the performances are one of the show’s most consistent and powerful redeeming qualities. Winona Ryder and our new Hellboy, David Harbour, return stronger than ever but the kids (or teenagers) continue to shine here. Millie Bobby Brown deservedly gets a lot of attention for her role as Eleven in season 1. Although her lines were limited she was still able to convey great emotion.

In season 2, Hopper has been teaching Eleven more english so the character gets to be more verbally expressive. We still have the facial expressions and other cues from season 1 combined with a character arc that sees Eleven acting on her desire to be free. She has gone from a system with no freedom (the lab), to more freedom with friends, and now she must try to adjust to Hopper as a parental figure who is trying to protect her from men who still want to find her. The relationship between Hopper and Eleven is actually one of my favourite parts of this season and their fight in episode four is one of my favourite moments. It is a conflict where you can empathize with both characters. Eleven understands why she must be kept hidden but after almost a year she is wondering when she will finally be free, and vague declarations of “soon” start to wear thin. Meanwhile, Hopper realizes the danger she places them in by leaving the cabin. His attempts to discipline her are met with pushback that makes you realize how dangerous Eleven could be without a conscience.

 

Despite my love for Eleven, Noah Schapp steals the show here as Will. Although the first season revolved around Will’s disappearance, Will had few lines and relatively little screen time. Here, Will is truly part of the group. For lack of a better term, Will is possessed and his conflict with the monster inside him is a lynchpin of the plot but also allows him to shine. I don’t think people are exaggerating when they say he deserves an Emmy nomination.

Let’s move on to some of the show’s weaker points.

Episode seven, which focuses on Eight and her gang, gets a lot of hate and I can understand why. The episode comes after a cliffhanger in the previous episode, serving as a full 40 minute cutaway that takes us away from Hawkins and the approaching demo-dogs. Due to its timing, the episode can almost come across as filler. Filler is exactly what made me stop watching The Walking Dead. 

I don’t consider episode seven filler, but I must say that it would likely have been better received if Eight was mentioned or referenced a few more times before episodes six and seven. We see Eight in episode one and then she is pretty much MIA until episode seven. I liked the episode itself since it offered a great view of what Eleven could have become. Eight never found the same type of friends and family Eleven did. Eight found other outcasts who stay on the fringes of society, sticking to a limited circle either out of choice or necessity. Eight is guided purely by vengeance, while Eleven’s search was about finding family and getting closure.

Aside from the lesson of the episode I found the episode itself entertaining. I will say that Eight’s gang wasn’t as interesting as Eleven’s. Of course I could be biased since we don’t get as much time with them, but even for an episode the characterization seemed paper thin e.g. the big one, the crazy one etc.

I remember watching season 1’s sensory deprivation scene and thinking that Barb’s death was somewhat glossed over, “gone”. It was great to see the impact her death continues to have on Nancy and Barb’s parents. Barb’s death also provides the plot lynchpin for the group to attack the lab publicly, without having to mention the upside down or anything else that might make them look insane.

For the people who hated that Nancy and Steve stayed together at the end of season one, your prayers were answered this season. I was actually happy that Nancy and Steve were still together at the start of this season. It would have been far too cliched for Nancy to switch that quickly from the jock to the quiet, nerdy guy the jock picked on. Steve was a tool at times in season 1 but he proved himself to be a good person by the end of it. Season 2 gives Steve more heartbreak but also lets his character develop more. Like Will, he is one of the biggest benefactors of this season.

An even weaker point of this season?

Now, the Duffer Bros. said they wanted to introduce a new human villain who wasn’t connected to the lab. Okay, but I think this kind of conflict works best if it also drives the plot forward. For example, perhaps Eleven could have come across someone who begins to threaten her anonymity. Max and Billy’s actors are competent enough, but their impact on the plot is miniscule. The love triangle that started early on in the season between Max, Dustin and Lucas fizzled out pretty early. Billy’s conflict with Steve culminates in the fight at the house, and the ultimate outcome of that fight is that Steve is forced to escort the kids into the tunnels. Steve could have been forced into this some other way. Originally I thought that Max and Billy may be Soviet spies, since Cold War conflict was hinted at throughout the season. If season 3 offers no further revelations about their characters then it seems like their characters were truly random editions.

Their screen time also detracts from more screen time for other characters. Lucas was defined by his relationship with Max this season and it would have been nice to see more of the group together helping Will.

The climax wasn’t boring but I would actually argue that it wasn’t the season’s most exciting point. No main characters died throughout the show’s run so it was clear that Sean Astin’s Bob would likely be a red shirt. Sorry superhero.

Thankfully, Barb’s death was enough to get the lab shut down.

Although Joyce Byers has her boys back, looks like she still needs some luck with men.

Watching Hopper mow down demo-dogs was pretty awesome and Eleven’s brief moment of “flying” made me wonder if she’ll go full Neo in season 3.

We’ll see I guess.

While Max and Billy are proof that more is not always better, season 2 delivers for the most part. It builds on threads from the previous season, develops characters more, answers more questions, raises more questions, and offers more thrills.

Black Mirror: Men Against Fire

Note: I was out of the country for the past week, with limited wi-fi. I am back in Canada now but my schedule will still be busier than normal, likely until the end of August. With that said, I will still do my best to post three times a week.

Also, this piece has spoilers for “Men Against Fire”.

When I started watching “Men Against Fire” I thought it would end up on the bottom half of Black Mirror. The acting was some of the weakest the show’s given us in a while and I initially didn’t find the characters or the world as enthralling as the ones in preceding episodes. Initially, the story was about marines with hi-tech equipment killing zombies. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi and zombie stories but the plot was a sharp contrast to the previous episodes. However, I figured that if I can watch an episode about a man being blackmailed to have sex with a pig, I can give this episode a chance.

The end of some episodes were disappointing, such as “Playtest”, which was dulled by numerous fake-outs throughout the episode. Other preceding episodes also have great ending, especially “White Christmas” and “Shut Up and Dance”. However, those endings were paired with episodes that I found enthralling and entertaining from start to finish. The endings were brilliant, but they only helped to immortalize amazing episodes. “Men Against Fire” might rank as my favourite ending (last 20 minutes) simply due to its ability to elevate what came before it.

“Roaches”, the pale, humanoid monsters that the soldiers eliminate turn out to be humans. Their MASS implants limit their sense of smell and hearing, drowning out the smells and sounds of war. Michael Kelly is a stand out on House of Cards as Doug Stamper, and is also a stand out here as Arquette, the psychologist who shares the twisted truth with “Stripe”. As always with Black Mirror the technology itself isn’t the most interesting part of the story; the most interesting part is the human behaviour it highlights.

Arquette uses the statistic that only 15-20% of men fired their rifles at the enemy in World War II, even when under the threat of immediate danger. Although this statistic is hotly debated, a comment on this page did add that most deaths in the world wars came from artillery fire: long-range, impersonal attacks that avoided the Rambo-esque hacking and shooting of close quarters combat.  Scholarly books such as Denis Winter’s Death Men also assert that most military deaths came from artillery fire, especially during advances.

“Men Against Fire” gets more interesting after a roach shines a laser into Stripe’s eyes. It was obvious that the laser must have some impact on the plot, when Stripe’s senses were affected after being exposed to it. When Hunter and Stripe raid an apartment building there is also a blueprint of the laser in the roach nest. Some online discussion shows that plenty of people say they saw the twist coming, and then also argue that the episode is poor because of that. I have to say that a predictable twist doesn’t have to bring down an episode if it is executed well. I thought I saw a twist coming, but I actually misinterpreted what it was.

Although the roaches appearance is terrifying, you realize that they didn’t initiate an attack in the first raid. Their first instinct is to run, and the sniper who kills squad leader Medina is an exception, probably because the soldiers are closing in on their refuge. The roaches weren’t depicted as the mindless predators we’re familiar with from zombie films. They seemed like mutants trying to live peacefully. The characters frequently mention a global war that passed, and I thought the roaches were the offspring of radiation from that war. For that reason, I thought the laser was a device that was meant to make them only appear normal to others, before they were mutated.  I had an inverse understanding of the twist until it was revealed. The roaches weren’t trying to make Stripe see them as they used to be, they wanted Stripe to see him as they are.

“You see me.”: The words of a refugee on the run from a genocidal society, relieved someone finally sees her as human. The military might be the ones killing the roaches, but the general public are brainwashed to see the roaches as literal monsters. Civilians don’t have MASS implants, the roaches are just other humans to them. However, they are humans that threaten the strength and purity of humanity’s bloodline. Arquette lists a range of defects present in the roaches, from higher susceptibility to diseases, to sexual deviancy and criminal tendencies. Arquette’s speech has all the cornerstones of eugenics and racism, and Trump’s comments on hispanics sadly mirror some of the ideas that criminality is ingrained in certain people.

In the aftermath of the war, one side went through great trouble to dehumanize the other. Cockroaches or “roaches” is what the Hutus called the Tutsis leading up to the Rwandan genocide, and even more recently used by a British politician to refer to refugees. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same term is used here. Dehumanization is a key part of genocide, birthed from propaganda that makes it easier for law-abiding civilians to engage in or support violence against the other. Civilians won’t even touch the food the roaches touched simply because they don’t want to get contaminated by a lesser breed.

“Men Against Fire” transitions from a war movie, to a piece that delves into the dark corner of the human psyche where prejudice reins supreme. As Stripe stands alone outside a dilapidated, graffiti-stained house, he sees a beautiful woman waiting to welcome him to their home. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many other soldiers in this army had their memories wiped after they found out the truth.

Black Mirror: White Christmas

Picking a favourite episode of Black Mirror is a challenge. “The Waldo Moment” and “The National Anthem” aren’t contenders but there are plenty others, ranging from “Shut Up and Dance”, “Be Right Back”, to “The Entire History of You”. Among this list is “White Christmas”, which after careful consideration, I will have to say edges out the competition.

Like my post on “The Entire History of You“, I don’t want to focus on the plot itself. Black Mirror‘s central thesis is that technology can have corrosive effects on how humans interact with one another and I want to focus on how that is displayed here.

Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) is undoubtedly a highlight of the episode, a character who is both charming and repulsive at the same time. The more vile aspects of his character emerge as his story unfolds. His past-life as a wannabe dating guru seems somewhat harmless at first. As a lanky film geek, I’d probably be an easy target for his services. However, it only takes a few seconds to realize that his real-time coaching is a grave invasion of privacy. Aside from the simple act of watching, Trent’s technology (referred to as the Z-Eye) also provides him with face recognition software he can use to research anyone his clients come in contact with, allowing him to feed any pertinent information to a party crasher. It gets only worse when we realize all of the members of his class share in their peers’ experiences, including any luck they get with unsuspecting women. The date that lands Trent in legal trouble also reminds me of the few I’ve had: promising starts with catastrophic endings.

It was great to see Oona Chaplin in another role, after seeing her for the first time in Taboo. She was undoubtedly a weak link on Taboo but does a better job here, portraying Greta, a wealthy woman about to undergo surgery. Prior to her surgery, a digital copy or “cookie” of Greta is created.

This cookie is intended to control Greta’s smart house, serving the rest of its “life” performing functions such as regulating heat and displaying Greta’s schedule. As expected the cookie is reluctant to spend its life this way, but Matt’s job is to make it compliant. By manipulating the time settings in the cookie’s digital world, he is able to make the cookie “live” for months at a time, stuck in a white room with nothing but a control panel. The room itself is only a projection within the cookie, but it is Greta’s prison now.

One of the characters, “Joe” remarks that this is slavery, but Trent believes it isn’t since the cookie isn’t a real being. I have to agree with Joe on this. Any sci-fi story that deals with the issue of consciousness, with Ex-Machina being a recent example, raises the question of what makes a being conscious and the morality of keeping a conscious being captive.

Is Greta’s cookie a conscious being? Matt doesn’t think so, because she’s just a string of code. However, if we analyze consciousness the way it is analyzed in Ex-Machina, then we understand that the components of a being don’t define its eligibility for consciousness. In Ex-Machina, Caleb argues that one of the central tests for consciousness is the “chess” question. A chess computer knows the game of chess and can make good plays, but can it describe what chess is? Does it even know what chess is? Simulation vs consciousness.

This cookie, from what we understand, is mentally no different than the person it was spawned from. We see it panicking as it is extracted from Greta and Matt has to explain the nature of its creation and its assigned purpose. Essentially, a copy of Greta’s mind was grafted and planted into a different environment. Until Matt explained what she was, she thought she was a conscious human being. She may be just code, but consciousness isn’t about matter, it’s about thought.

Although the cookie is the most advanced technology we see in the episode, it is actually not what interests me most. We are probably all familiar with ghosting, the act of ending a relationship with someone by cutting off all communication without explanation. Ghosting is usually discussed in the context of romantic relationships, but can apply to anyone. Someone decides to end the relationship, but decides that they want to avoid the difficult decision, call or text required for that. Instead, they simply cut off the other person. Ghosting preceded technology such as phones and computers, and some may see it is just a new name for something old. However, I believe technology makes it easier to become disconnected from other people. We don’t have to move or  shred letters, we can unfollow, delete or block with a click. Ghosting is convenient for people who have become accustomed to hiding behind screens when they interact. It is spineless and immature, and technology only makes it easier.

When “Joe” confronts his wife about her pregnancy, she is quick to block him. She doesn’t do this on her phone or some app, she blocks his entire body using the technology her world has to offer. She sees nothing but a grey silhouette where he stands and can only hear muffled static when he speaks. When Matt’s wife is confronted with the truth of his actions, she elects to do the same thing. The people who would have previously gone for a walk or tried to avoid their spouse, instead of contronting an issue, can now feel free to block someone’s entire body. The current level of cowardice that we see doesn’t prove effective if you’re likely to see someone again at work, school etc. With the capability to block someone as we see in “White Christmas”, the ghosted may be able to see you but they can’t interact with you. When Joe confronts his wife, after she blocks him, she only walks away and then proceeds to file a restraining order. Blocking becomes legally binding and the argument that you simply wanted to be able to confront someone directly doesn’t protect you. The authorities take the side of someone who decided to block her husband because he insisted on discussing their baby with her.

I have no doubt that authorities would defend this behaviour. Ghosting is already on the rise. Find any article online that discusses it, and allows comments. You will find plenty of people criticizing the practice, but you will also find many supporting it for one reason or another. All of the positive reasons boil down to “It’s easier for me (or both of us)”. Article after article will tell you that people who get ghosted may be able to deal with a relationship ending, but hate the way that their partner decided to do it. Blocking takes ghosting to an almost sadistic level.

Speaking of sadism, “White Christmas” gives us another twisted ending. Once Joe confesses that he murdered his ex-wife’s father, the authorities decide to tamper with the time settings. Each minute becomes 1000 years to Joe’s cookie, leaving him trapped in a projection of the cabin where he committed murder. We’re already living in a society where policemen have killed civilians for a thrill, I can definitely believe law enforcement officials would take a little glee in messing with someone they view as a lowly criminal. Even better, I can believe they would punish a sex offender with not being able to interact with anyone for the rest of his life.

Geostorm Trailer- The Sombre Song Trend?

I saw the trailer for Geostorm in front of Wonder Woman last week and although the film seemed generic, with the apocalyptic scenario and the subpar CGI, the cover of “What A Wonderful World” stuck with me. The new rendition added a great deal of irony and the song itself was hauntingly beautiful. In true nerd fashion I went online to see if anyone else shared my opinion, and came across this article. This well written (no sarcasm) rants details the “trend” of trailers using sombre covers of famous and well-regarded songs, which apparently started with The Social Network using a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’.

This first article mainly lists examples, mainly from movies that I haven’t seen, such as The Great Gatsby and  Fifty Shades of Grey (which I will only see if someone gives me The Clockwork Orange treatment).

I have to point out that this list still only includes a small minority of the trailers released over the past few years, trying to make it seem like every other film trailer follows the trend nowadays. There are enough examples for us to say a trend is at work, but why are we acting like these examples warrant a call for a moratorium?

I digress. This blog post comes as a reaction to a linked article. This article also breaks down the history of the trend and uses Suicide Squad as a case study, comparing the teaser that used a cover of Bee Gee’s “I Started a Joke” to the second trailer that used Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The reason I feel the need to discuss this: The thesis of the article is that the second trailer is better because it is more “fun”. I have previously discussed my disdain for the belief that fun always equals good, while serious or “dark” equals bad. However, I have mostly discussed this in relation to comic book films, with my article on Kingsman being an exception.

There has been a drastic shift in the reception of dark comic book films since The Dark Knight era. That is not to say that there isn’t a single dark comic book film that gets good reception these days e.g. Logan, but as a whole people value their “fun” now more than ever. People love the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for its insistent levity and humour, and despise the DCEU (partly) due to its “dark” tone. Note that a lot of the positive reviews for Wonder Woman attribute its rating to its “hope” and “fun”.  I am not a miserable person, I don’t mind levity and “fun”. I just don’t mind darkness or anything that is serious either. It seems like people desire simple escapism now more than ever, where everything should be “fun”, regardless of the subject matter.

I must agree with the author on one of his points. In some cases, especially Avengers: Age of Ultron, the song choice adds gravitas that the film does not deserve. The Age of Ultron teaser built Ultron up as a frightening threat, who was ultimately neutered and played for laughs. However, I have to say that this issue of misdirection is not isolated specifically to sombre covers of well-known songs. Any dramatic score or serious song can have the same effect on a movie’s marketing. Many people hated the Matrix sequels and the music used for that marketing would likely be deemed just as “self-serious” to this author. It honestly seems like the covers of the well-known songs aren’t the author’s real issue. He just hates the serious or “grim” tone that it bestows on the trailers.

In this case the author calls the Geostorm trailer and its accompanying music, “self-serious”  and “grim”. As I’ve noted before, the focus on tone ends up overriding any other issues of artistic merit, since “fun” becomes synonymous with good and serious of “dark” becomes synonymous with bad. Let’s look at the author’s comments on Suicide Squad as an example. He argues that the second trailer, with Bohemian Rhapsody is more fun and markets the film better. Obviously the second trailer will market the film better. The second trailer isn’t a teaser, therefore it is meant to show us more of the characters backgrounds and their interactions. Yet as expected, this author thinks the trailer is better ONLY because it’s tone is improved.

Many people, who do not know comic book characters as well as they think they do, insist that these films should all remain colourful and fun, no matter the storyline or characters being portrayed. Although I disagree, I can understand how a simplistic notion of a certain character or fictional world can lead people to think that one size fits all in terms of tone. However, Geostorm is not an adapation, yet alone an adaptation of “lighter” source material. Why does it have an obligation to be “fun”? It is a film about a global catastrophe, a dark tone suits it. Of course, some apocalyptic films can also have a lighter tone e.g. Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean that they all have to follow Independence Day’s example.

Pictured above: A perfect opportunity to use some “fun” music

Why can’t any film be allowed to look serious for a few minutes at a time without people labelling it pretentious or depressing? Even if a film is depressing, it doesn’t mean it is bad. Unless the film is explicitly meant to be a comedy, a film’s rating should not suffer because it didn’t make you laugh or smile enough. Since when did we become so sensitive that we need films to cushion us from the ugly realities of life? Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. People argue that is why films should offer us fun, but I argue that is the best reason that they should offer us whatever the director or editor feels. Films often reflect reality, why have we forgotten that? There is nothing wrong with films having different tones. We can choose to watch different films based on our moods. There is variety. I would hate to scroll through Netflix or Kodi and come across a library of films that are all the same tone. Likewise, I would hate to go to the theater and have one preview after another with the same tone, whether it is dark or light.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Edit: The trailer is now out, and I will be doing  a video and blog post with my thoughts on it later today.

Star Wars Celebration Orlando is now underway, featuring panels with the stars and filmmakers of the Star Wars franchise. Director Rian Johnson is present, and it is expected that the trailer for The Last Jedi will premiere online tomorrow. With that said I thought I would share some of my hopes for the next film.

1) No death star.

We have had three death stars over seven films, and even the original trilogy didn’t have two death stars back to back.  I didn’t mind seeing the original death star again in Rogue One, since it was a prequel. With that said, death stars should simply be retired for the saga as a whole.

2) More development for Finn as a capable warrior.

John Boyega has hinted (via Instagram) that Finn will have a more physical role in The Last Jedi. He has also hinted that the character would be boring if he started off as a  skilled warrior, instead of realistically developing to that point. Since Rey is often accused of being a Mary Sue to her skills as a pilot, mechanic, and her skill with the force and the lightsaber, maybe Boyega has a point. I have previously discussed the Mary Sue argument, although I believe detractors may have a point I simply have to question if a male character with the same skills would be criticized as much. After all, Luke had the same skill set in A New Hope.

Finn was marketed as the franchise’s next Jedi, and his fate in the film came across as a cruel bait and switch. First, one of the few black main characters in the franchise is reduced to comic relief for the most part. Second, he’s unconscious at the end of the film while Rey goes to train with Luke. Boyega is a great actor, if his performances in Attack The Block and Imperial Dreams are any indication and I hope he gets more room to shine.

3) More new locations and people.

Rogue One and the announcement of various spin-offs that deviated from the “Episode” series initially seemed like a cash grab. However, Rogue One ended up being a breath of fresh air. Star Wars is the story of a galaxy,  and it was great to be separated from one family and one set of characters for a few hours. We got memorable new characters and places that still relate to the “Episode” series while also showcasing how vast the universe really is.

If the trailer is released tomorrow, I’ll be fanboying like everyone else, with these hopes in the back of my mind.

Ex-Machina and Race

I remember watching Ex Machina back in 2015 and falling in love with the film within the first half hour. The film follows a programmer, Caleb Smith, who is invited to test an AI being developed by his  CEO, Nathan Bateman.

By the time it was done, Ex Machina was one of my favourite films of all time. Aside from the great performances, especially by Oscar Isaac, the film asked a lot of interesting questions. There was one question, and one specific line, that still sticks with me. It comes to the forefront of my mind every time the topic of interracial dating ever comes up, with the most recent occurrence being Get Out.

“Accumulated external stimuli” (AES).

Whether it is in person, online or in entertainment, there are a plethora of reasons offered for dating exclusively in one’s race.

“It’s not natural”

Neither are cars and retirement homes. In the good old days humans used horses to travel and the old and sick would perish to make way for the fittest. Some scholars even argue monogamy is unnatural. How many of these things do proponents of this argument which to cut out of society? Of course, these people probably don’t realize how faulty their reasoning is. After all, I am sure many of the people who use the argument have no attraction to other races, and therefore assume that it is natural for them to feel that way.

This also brings up the question of why they view it as unnatural. I grew up with interracial couples in my family, among my cousins, aunts etc. By the time I was ten I viewed interracial coupling as natural. However, I realize my experience is not an objective truth. People who grow up with racially or ethnically homogenous families will be more likely to see an interracial coupling as unnatural if they have rarely experienced it themselves. Especially if their family also actively discourages or criticizes such relationships.

“It’s not racist. It’s just a natural preference.”

AES is the only reason for racial preferences that I agree with. Firstly, it doesn’t view attraction to a specific skin colour or ethnicity as being an ingrained development, where we are born programmed only to date white people, or Chinese people etc.  People who grow up genuinely believing their preferences were pre-programmed (so to speak) often disregard the impact of years of subtle coaching from family and/or friends to stick to their own or “preserve the culture”.  If your parents are guiding you to seek out your own kind once you have your first crush at age seven, it is easy for you to reach thirty and think that the choice was a natural one.

Of course, people don’t always have a preference for their own. Some people will reject their own kind and only seek out others. I know plenty of black people who don’t want to date other black people, or at least not dark-skinned black people. I know people who are neither white or black, but still have a preference for white mates, or lighter-skinned mates that can produce lighter-skinned children. It is a mark of beauty and progress. They see their family moving on up in the world as the generations become lighter. Is this sort of self-hate natural? Or is it a result of what they were taught to value by their own family? Or maybe a result of the dominant images of beauty available in the media they consume? As Nathan says, these stimuli form a sphere of influence that “you probably didn’t even register, as they registered with you.”