“Black Mirror (Season 3): Hacking and Hijacking

 

Episode: "Nosedive"
Episode: “Nosedive”

The third season of “Black Mirror” deftly picks up where Netflix left us at the end of season two (see my December 29, 2014 review of previous seasons) exploring themes of techno-paranoia, the ugly side of social media and its lack of consequences. Technophobia thrives!

Like the prior seasons, this season’s six episodes of “Black Mirror” involve at least one unwitting main character who is controlled by devices or inventions that are supposed either to enhance the quality of life or be a source of entertainment.   Personal freedom is threatened instead. Each episode tackles some form of hacking and hijacking.

The first episode, “Nosedive,” explores the obsession with smartphones. Personal lives become shattered by low star ratings and swiping left, with the ensuing online shaming leading to tragedy.

“Play Test,” reveals what happens to a world traveler who stumbles into a genuinely terrifying video game that is more real than virtual.

In “Shut Up and Dance,” an unseen hacker gains access to a teenager’s webcam and blackmails him. The anonymous hacker blackmails each subsequent victim to engage in criminal acts. Those who saw “Snowden” and now “Shut Up and Dance” will think more seriously about covering their webcam lens with a post-it!

The fourth “Hated in the Nation” is a bit like the classic, “Manchurian Candidate”. An investigator soon sees how murders advocated on Twitter with the hashtag #DeathTo, intersect with the decimation of the bee population.  Use of #DeathTo actually grows rapidly in popularity after users learn that the Twitter “game” is real and actually used to identify people who become public hate figures.

“Men Against Fire” is not your usual mini–war movie. To avoid PTSD after killing enemy combatants, the military embeds electronic implants into soldiers’ brains to dehumanize the enemy and avoid PTSD.

“San Junipero,” is a romantic encounter between two women who time-travel to unexpected places, some real and some virtual. They can choose to live as their younger selves forever, resonating a bit with the movie “Sixth Sense”.

Watching each episode of “Black Mirror” is like falling into a rabbit hole, where the world of the Cheshire Cat is ominous and not only a figment of the imagination. “Black Mirror” poses the question: Do our smart screens prevent us from authentic relationships and a shared reality within a wider community? Or have our moral boundaries been erased by the often tantalizing and addicting worlds our Wi-Fi connections make so real and so easy to pursue?

All six episodes are evocative and open a portal to seeing if our minds can be hacked and hijacked. Choose your own favorite episodes and post your preferences here!

Note: The episode “White Christmas” from the end of last season is quite a somber Christmas to say the least. Starring Jon Hamm (of “Mad Men” fame), I loved this one!

“Good Girls Revolt”: The Upheaval Continues

 

[Guest blogger, Eva Barrows, has provided a post on the Amazon original series, “Good Girls Revolt”.   Eva  now  is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer and editor of Imitation Fruit, a literary and art journal. Visit her writer website at: www.evabarrows.com and her literary journal at: www.imitationfruit.com. ]

 

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The late 1960s was a time of volatile change in America that kindled the flame of the women’s liberation movement. Good Girls Revolt, an Amazon Original Series (released October 27, 2016) is a period drama based on the historical events that took place at  “Newsweek” magazine, renamed “News of the Week” in the series. The female staff at “News of the Week” documents social changes, and demands equal treatment at their magazine, becoming headline news themselves.

“News of the Week” researchers Patti Robinson (Genevieve Angelson), Jane Hollander (Anna Camp) and Cindy Reston (Erin Darke) expertly acquire data from informants. Their male colleagues would then write the articles and take credit and the byline for themselves. Fair? Norah Ephron, played by Grace Gummer, didn’t see it that way. She researches and writes an entire article, putting her name on it. However, “News of the Week” gives credit to a male reporter who had quit the magazine! Outraged, Norah walks out of the “News of the Week” office to look for opportunity elsewhere.

After Norah’s exit from the newsroom, mounting discontent pushes through the “News of the Week” office to the climactic season finale. The female staff confer with ACLU lawyer, Eleanor Holmes Norton (Joy Bryant), who suggests they take legal action against their employer. Support for the legal action grows as sexist and discriminatory practices continue to plague the women.

This colorful series titillates with sex, drugs, and rock and roll (iconic 1960s tunes from The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and Iron Butterfly).

Season one ends in a well-crafted cliff hanger. “Good Girls Revolt” is perfectly poised for a thrilling season two, where the fallout of the decision to make a stand for change will spur on dramatic, exciting and uplifting television.

Note:  “The Hollywood Reporter” found that Amazon decided not to renew Good Girls Revolt for a second season. So, Sony will be shopping the second season to other networks. Actresses, Genevieve Angelson (Patti) and Anna Camp (Jane) started a Twitter campaign #savegoodgirlsrevolt in support of renewing the show. The show has a 96% audience score on  Rotten Tomatoes.

 

“Wadjda”–A Feisty Little Girl

 

wajdjaWritten and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, a Saudi woman director, this charming film was nominated for the BAFTA best foreign picture as well as for the Academy Award for best foreign film in 2014. The tale of Wadjda, a 10-year-old girl who defies the cultural norms of Saudi Arabian society, could be any little girl who is trying to make her way in a world of little boys who already understand that boys rule. Waad Mohammed, the 10-year old actress who carries the film, is phenomenal and reminds the viewer of the young Quvenzhané Wallis of  “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” (2012) (See my review of  “Beasts” September 8, 2012.)

Her best friend is a neighborhood boy, Abdullah, who seems to take her headstrong nature in stride. Fun-loving yet tenacious, Wadjda wants to have a green bicycle to race with Abdullah. But girls are not allowed to ride bikes. Undeterred, Wadjda enters a Koran competition, hoping to win the prize money for the bike.

Wadjda’s mother is equally remarkable and supportive, mirroring the child’s independence and yearning for a freer form of life. Yet the viewer is not given a lecture, and misogynistic elements of the treatment of girls (or perhaps the fear of them?) is laced with subtle humor. One example: a fit of giggles erupts when the girls who are menstruating have to cover their hands with a cloth before touching the Koran.  wajdja-2

A delightful gem of a film celebrating the human spirit and the unwillingness to simply accept fate or broken dreams, “Wadjda” is a movie that will touch your heart.

Note: Available on Netflix. Director Haifaa Al-Mansour was not allowed to speak directly to her male film crew. In a nearby van, watching through a monitor, she gave directions via walkie-talkie.

 

 

“Requiem for the American Dream”–A Pending Nightmare?

 

chomskyThis eerily prescient documentary (2015) narrated by Noam Chomsky was in development before the official announcement of Donald Trump’s candidacy. Yet, in the “Ten Principles of the Concentration of Wealth and Power” the viewer sees the redesigning of the US economy.

Perhaps the most disturbing insight in “Requiem for a Dream” is the historical analysis of the US constitution, the drafting of which protected the major landowners from losing political power. Slowly the “protection”evolved into “corporate tyranny” and ultimately “financialization of the US economy”. Job insecurity through weakening unionization created an environment of conquer and divide, of hate and fear for each other, with an ever-growing and unfocused anger and vulnerability on the part of the general workforce. What Chomsky calls “the residue of democracy” is now upon us as the engineering of elections through the concentration of wealth results in paid politicians governing a “bewildered herd”.

“Requiem for the American Dream” is indeed sobering. Chomsky, known for his activism during both the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, bemoans the state of “an uninformed electorate making irrational choices often against their own self-interest.” This is a documentary that is a must-see for all of us trying to make sense of the election three weeks ago. The historical perspective is an eye-opener.

Note:  This documentary is available on Netflix.

“The Crown”–Glory to Her Highness

the-crownThe anachronistic British aristocracy must sensitively negotiate its relationship with its public. “The Crown”, the November original series released from Netflix, is the story of a conflict between private and public, between the personal feelings of a wife, mother, and sister and the queen (Elizabeth II).

At its core “The Crown” is a character study and a family drama. Do you put personal fulfillment over political duty and obligation? That is the question. “The Crown” is a family saga, particularly between sisters. Conflicts with personal fulfillment and romantic love hide behind a curtain of pomp and circumstance. We are allowed behind palace doors to witness a struggle of personalities.

Elizabeth’s drama begins with the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, which forces his reluctant younger brother George VI to ascend to the throne. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth (in a remarkable performance by Claire Foy from “Wolf Hall”), is a witness to all the regal drama. With the death of King George VI, Elizabeth must suddenly transform from a loving sibling and shy young wife and mother into a queen.

And at the moment of her father’s death, it becomes clear that Elizabeth — unlike her tearful mother and sister — is able to suppress her desires and emotions in order to assume the throne.

Perhaps the most compelling drama in “The Crown”, however, is the conflict between sisters. Her younger and more glamorous sister, Margaret, asks for permission to marry a recently divorced officer whose ex-wife is still living. This love affair, ironically, is similar in circumstances to that of her uncle (King Edward VIII) who was compelled to abdicate the throne for marriage to a divorced woman (Wallace Simpson). At that time remarriage under those circumstances was strictly forbidden by the Anglican Church. First promising to stand by her sister, Elizabeth is compelled by those in power to recant as she chooses duty as queen and defender of the Anglican Church over her love for her sister.

The popularity of “Downton Abbey” reveals an American fascination with the British royal family and aristocracy. Why is the monarchy this crucial to the nation? Queen Mary (played by Eileen Atkins), the grandmother of Elizabeth, reminds her granddaughter: “Monarchy is God’s sacred mission to grace and dignify the earth, to give ordinary people an ideal to strive towards, an example of nobility and duty to raise them in their wretched lives.”

A superb family saga with the machinations of politics as its undercurrent!

David Bowie–Connoisseur of Art

[Guest blogger, Ray Hecht, has provided a post on David Bowie’s private art collection in Hong Kong.   Ray now resides in China.  For more photos, please visit his website: www.rayhecht.com]

Originally posted on the Ray Hecht website on October 24, 2016

 On my last trip to Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to go to the exhibition from the late David Bowie’s private art collection. Although I didn’t bid on the auction any of the pieces, it was a great experience to be able to witness works of art that Bowie had personally owned!

Really fascinating works. The man had an incredible aesthetic, as we all know. The Basquiat pieces particularly stood out:  20161013_163532

And there was even a work of art that Bowie collaborated on with Damien Hirst:

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More information can be found at Sotheby’s blog.

Unfortunately, the exhibition was only on for one week before moving to London for November 10-11. During the London weekend festival, Sotheby’s hosted five talks with a panel of curators, writers, designers and producers – all with a connection to Bowie and the art he collected and loved. Held in the galleries and then videotaped for Facebook,  the discussions were hosted by Sotheby’s specialists in Modern British art, Contemporary art and 20th Century Design  allowing audiences a unique opportunity to ask questions about the objects surrounding them in the galleries, and Bowie’s creativity in the art world and beyond. At the heart of the auction is Bowie’s collection of 20th-century British Art, which moves from Damien Hirst from the 1990s to Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Eduardo Paolozzi, Patrick Caulfield, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. The selection includes key works by Marcel Duchamp, a major influence on Bowie.

Enjoy the Facebook site and have a vicarious visit!

 

Remember–This is the Year of the Monkey

Monkey2016  For those of you who didn’t get a chance to read my Chinese New Year’s post on The Year of the Monkey–Anything Can Happen, here it is again!  This has been a crazy year — the most volatile in the Chinese twelve-year Zodiac cycle and who can argue with that after this Tuesday’s election.  Inauguration Day 2017 is January 20 and the Year of the Monkey officially ends on January 27, 2017.

“As the Year of the Sheep comes to an end and the Year of the Monkey arrives, 2016 will be a year of invention and improvisation, unpredictability and unexpected change. The Year of the Monkey is considered the most volatile in the twelve-year cycle.

The Monkey is considered intelligent, witty, and inventive. The ninth animal in the Chinese zodiac, the Monkey is also believed to be a magnificent problem-solver and independent high achiever. Clever and nimble, monkeys are playful, energetic creatures who move from activity to activity, swinging from branch to branch. Though honored in Buddhist tales, the Monkey is also famous as an irrepressible trickster.

All animals in the Chinese zodiac have a dark side too. The problem-solving in the Year of the Monkey can turn opportunistic and untrustworthy, unscrupulous and devious, capricious and misguided.

Some may gamble, speculate, take unnecessary and highly risky chances but for some there will be ingenious outcomes. Business can thrive in surprising ways under the Monkey’s optimistic and shrewd influence.  Anything can happen. Everything is in flux.

Communication also takes on a humorous, even mischievous and light-hearted side as an antidote to the stressful changes which will occur. Some risks will have astonishing results and unconventional solutions are needed to solve old problems. Daring to be different leads to success but  tremendous effort is also required. Now is the time for bold action; even the wildest ideas may succeed.

Remember this year will reward individualistic and highly original enterprises. A lot of global economic growth due to entrepreneurship can be expected in the Year of the Monkey. Also expect a lot of life changes. The Year of the Monkey 2016 is a good year to break free and take calculated risks as there is nothing more powerful or rewarding than following your instincts, passion and intuition. This is the best year for changing jobs in the next decade! Don’t look back!”

 

 

 

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“Bates Motel”–Season Four: A Masterpiece

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“Bates Motel” continues to be A&E’s number one drama of all time. I think it is a modern masterpiece!

I’ve reviewed the first three seasons earlier this year (see my June 13, 2016 review, Bates Motel, Seasons 1-3: A Mother-Son Obsession) and thought there was nowhere else to go with the plot except to the classic Hitchcock film, “Psycho”.  I am so wrong. Continuing to push boundaries of what constitutes a dysfunctional, hypersexualized relationship between mother and son, in Season Four we see Norma (Vera Farming) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) play off each other’s damaged psyches in ways never seen in either cinema or television. As I’ve said before, Bates Motel “unveils the darkest side imaginable of a mother-son relationship gone berserk, familiarity dissolving into psychosis” not seen elsewhere. This controversial season takes us to where only the intrepid can bear to see such damage inflicted so ferociously on family. “Bates Motel” dares to touch the unspeakable in such a brilliant and fearless manner.

bates-motel-freddie-highmore-vera-farmiga-399x600While I’ve touched upon obsessive love and fear between parent and child in my first novel, Things Unsaid,  “Bates Motel” is an even more controversial story. The twisted relationship between Norma and her son –the heart of this disquieting narrative—is gripping, unsettling, and disturbing yet also riveting in how far it takes family dynamics. A masterpiece of raw and primal screams.  

Note: Seasons 1 -4 are available on both Netflix and A&E’s website. Season 5 is in development

“Goliath” — A New Amazon Prime Winner

 

goliath

This is a bingeworthy new eight-episode series from Amazon. “Goliath” characters are deeply flawed and yet vividly human and at least, to some extent, understandable. “Goliath” is extraordinary television.

Part film noir, part legal drama similar to “Good Wife” or “Law and Order”, with a bit of “Damages” and “House of Cards” thrown in, “Goliath” tells the story of a derelict, drunken grizzled lawyer, Billy McBride (played by Billy Bob Thornton in a star turn).   McBride was once a leading legal mind who, with Donald Cooperman (the haunting William Hurt in one of the best roles of his career) had started one of the most powerful law firms in Los Angeles. Now Billy McBride is a bottom-feeder taking on a case which turns out to be against Cooperman. Think of the movie “Lincoln Lawyer” (see my April 5, 2011 review).

Billy McBride’s former law firm still bears his name and the opposing counsel at Cooperman-McBride are simply over-the-top in their ferocity and callous pursuit of victory. Donald Cooperman is a nightmare of Shakespearean proportions who monitors all legal proceedings like a voyeur through his complex closed circuit surveillance system. His legal staff pursue the case while he watches as if it were a gladiator fight.

Hurt’s Cooperman is unforgettable, cunning and unforgivable. Thornton’s grizzled McBride is evenly matched to battle Cooperman in court. [A bit more backstory on some of the key players would have been welcomed.]

In addition to the startling cast (which includes supporting roles by the superb Maria Bello and Molly Parker)  the script for “Goliath” is masterfully written by David E. Kelley (of “Ally McBeal” and “Boston Legal” fame).   The cinematography lends a a very strong visual identity to downtown LA, Santa Monica, and Venice, particularly with the driving scenes and time- lapse shots

But perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the episodes in the “Goliath” series is the last minute of the last episode. It is one of the most ambiguous I have ever seen in a movie or have read in a novel. “Goliath” left me wondering and wanting more. There are too many unanswered questions and too many characters with unresolved futures. I must see a second season of “Goliath”. Amazon is currently in negotiations for giving us more!

“Bron”—The Original “Bridge”

 

Bron

“Bron”—the original “Bridge” is a well written, well balanced story in which every episode is riveting, complexly plotted, and occasionally funny. The Bridge has earned the honor of two versions being produced: an American/Mexican and a British/French one (renamed “The Tunnel–see my August 7, 2016 review).

With three seasons now completed and only the first imitated in the other versions, we are seeing one of the best narratives in a television series ever.   This detective series, in its second and third seasons, outdoes its own standard of excellence. The main character—Saga Noren (the incomparable Sofia Helin)—is a reserved, non-emotive personality. She is brusque where her male partners (two different ones—Season 1: Martin and Seasons 2 and 3: Henrik) are the emotional, sensitive policemen trying to understand her behavior and lack of social skills. And as the series progresses, the viewer comes to admire her professional drive and ache for the damage and horrific backstory that makes Saga who she is.

It is rare when the succeeding seasons are better than the first, but “Bron” is the exception. Season 3 is also the most complicated with parallel storylines running through and crossing over each other so that the subplots are difficult to follow at times.

The two leading characters –male and female, Danish and Swedish—dance in a dynamic that is an interplay of pain and release, over and over again. While neither is sympathetic most of the time, the viewer will see humor in their idiosyncrasies. Saga and Henrik will certainly rank as some of the most original TV detectives to date. This series was a joy to watch with so many twists and turns before learning the identity of the killer that I think I may have to watch Seasons 2 and 3 again, before Season 4 is released next year. Rent them on Netflix and binge view one of the best detective dramas developed to date.

Even if you don’t like subtitles, after the intensity and suspense build up you will forget about those little white letters at the bottom of the screen!

Trust me—this is drama at its very best!

“Snowden”—A Companion Piece to “Citizenfour”

 

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In Oliver Stone’s new biopic thriller, “Snowden”, we see the humanization of a young 20-something US software engineer who is self-taught and brilliant in his deciphering the surveillance agenda of the CIA and the NSA in 2013. In what is now the most well-known disclosure of US intelligence and surveillance practices, Snowden has opened a window to how counterintelligence is carried out in the global arena.

“Snowden” opens with the naïve yet idealistic twenty-one year old going through Army bootcamp. Injured, Snowden is discharged, obtains his GED and a master’s degree online and then employed as a consultant for government contracts dealing with terrorism. Snowden (played in a subtle interpretation by Joseph Gordon Leavitt,) develops “Epic Shelter” for backing up multiple databases at the secret NSA underground facility in Hawaii. Accidentally he discovers that Epic Shelter is being misused for cyberspying on US citizens, and intercepting corporate data belonging to Google, Yahoo and other companies as well as foreign governments.   Outraged, Snowden is portrayed as an American patriot who has lost faith in his country. Concerned for his girlfriend’s safety, Snowden resigns from NSA and reveals thousands of classified documents to journalists at the Guardian (UK),  Washington Post and Laura Poitras, an independent filmmaker (for what would become the 2015 Academy Award-winning documentary “Citizenfour”. See my review, “Citizenfour”—“Big Brother’s Doppelganger”, March 24, 2015).

On June 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property. Two days later Snowden flies to Moscow hoping to seek asylum elsewhere but resigned to secret residency in Moscow after other nations refuse to offer a safe haven. For now, he is still living in an undisclosed location in Russia while seeking asylum elsewhere.

Snowden has been called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a patriot and a traitor. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the last three years. His disclosures have fueled debates over government surveillance, and the balance between homeland security and citizens’ privacy. President Obama refused to grant him a pardon, Apple co-­founder Steve Wozniak called Snowden a hero, Secretary of State John Kerry called him a traitor, and Donald Trump called for his execution.

Oliver Stone has never been intimidated by politically charged stories (“Platoon”, “Born on the Fourth of July”, “Wall Street” and “JFK” to name a few) and this is no exception. No matter what you think of Snowden’s disclosure of classified documents, this epic story of why he did it and how he pulled it off makes for a compelling and exciting film. It should be seen along with “Citizenfour” which provides less of the idiosyncrasies of Snowden’s personality and more of his software genius as well as the motivation for his disclosures to Poitras, in particular. Oliver Stone recaptured some “Citizenfour” scenes almost in identical detail. This is a must-see for 2016!

 

“Catfish” –Virtual Relationships and Cyber Fantasies

catfish_filmThe 2010 American documentary film “Catfish”, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, involves Ariel’s brother, Nev, as he fantasizes about a “friendship” with a beautiful young woman on Facebook. A documentary reflecting our times, “Catfish” is a riveting story of love, deception and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue. The film tells the unsettling story of cyber-friendship: who we are in real life versus the way we present ourselves online.

The Facebook friendship begins with an 8-year-old child prodigy artist , Abby, in rural Michigan, sending Nev a painting of one of his photos that had appeared online. The painting is compelling with a childlike innocence. They become Facebook friends, which expands to include Abby’s mother Angela and beautiful older half-sister Megan, who is becomes the fantasy girl of Nev’s dreams. Through Facebook Nev becomes obsessed by Megan’s charm, talent and beauty. Over the course of their nine-month correspondence, Nev exchanges more than 1,500 messages and a number of phone calls.

Nev and his pal co-directors decide to make an impromptu appearance at Megan’s house. Once there all is revealed. With more than 732 friends Nev is still trolling on Facebook.   A twisted fantasy world of surprises in Internet romance, this is the drama that novels are made of. Watch for my novel-in-progress about the fascination, almost an addiction, with online dating—coming soon!