BLACK MIRROR Season 4 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 5 hours 48 minutes

Directed by: Toby Haynes, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade & Colm McCarthy

Written by: Charlie Brooker & William Bridges

Starring: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Owen Teague, Andrea Riseborough, Andrew Gower, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Gwyneth Keyworth, George Blagden, Maxine Peake, Jake Davies, Clint Dyer, Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright, Aldis Hodge & Babs Olusanmokun

Over the past seven years, Charlie Brooker’s BLACK MIRROR has gained a large fanbase. After getting seven episodes (two seasons and a holiday special) in the UK, Netflix picked up BLACK MIRROR and granted Charlie Brooker the freedom to make a 12-episode season. Wanting to dedicate more time and care into his new stories, Brooker split this into two six-episode-long seasons. Season 3 made waves in 2017 and won over more fans. After lots of hints and speculation, Netflix dropped BLACK MIRROR Season 4 at the tail-end of 2017! As with all my BLACK MIRROR reviews, I’ll briefly cover each episode before giving my thoughts on the season as a whole…

USS CALLISTER: BLACK MIRROR’s fourth season immediately kicks off with the best episode of the bunch. A woman awakens in a STAR TREK-like universe only to discover that this brightly colored sci-fi adventure isn’t all that it appears to be. What starts off as a campy TREK spoof quickly morphs into something else entirely. I won’t dive into further details for fear of ruining some of the fun, but this is very much a BLACK MIRROR story through and through. The mixture of campy humor and sinister creepiness is a blast to watch, while the production values look extraordinary. This is not only Season 4’s best episode, but I also consider it to be one of the top five episodes of the entire series! A+

ARKANGEL: Season 4’s saddest episode arrives in this cautionary tale about extreme helicopter parenting. After her daughter briefly goes missing and then reappears, a single mother injects experimental technology into her child’s brain so she can monitor her at all times and block potentially harmful content from her eyes. However, this technology begins to backfire as her young daughter shows warning signs of mental distress and things take an ultimate turning point years later. ARKANGEL doesn’t simply lambaste helicopter parents, but also gives an empathetic insight into their concerns. However, it also shows a gripping downward spiral of bad decisions, awful mistakes, and terrifying technology (that honestly doesn’t seem that far off). Though this episode isn’t one of the all-time best, it does stick out as one of the series’ most depressing tales and that’s quite a feat. A

CROCODILE: This seriously bleak ditty follows two different storylines that are bound for tense collision. A woman desperately tries to cover up a dark secret, which involves a couple of skeletons in her closet. Meanwhile, an investigator is hired to look into a car accident and puts clues together from memories of the people who witnessed it. The episode jumps back-and-forth between these two narratives until both main characters are in the same room and bad things happen, very bad things happen. This episode actually had one shocking bit that made my jaw drop and exhibits particularly cruel irony. The darker-than-dark CROCODILE is perfect and one of the season’s biggest highlights! A+

HANG THE DJ: The season’s weakest episode takes a light-hearted sci-fi look at romance. In a future where an automated Siri-like system controls the length of relationships, a couple meet up for 12 hours and fall madly in love with each other. Though the system and rules seem stacked against them, this couple attempts to break and rebel against the broken system. Much like last season’s SAN JUNIPERO (which was a hit among many fans for some reason), HANG THE DJ doesn’t feel like your typically dark BLACK MIRROR episode. The concept behind this episode is cool and there are great bits of comedy, but the pacing lags and the ending is disappointingly stupid. While some folks might consider this to be a great episode, I felt that the light-hearted tone, occasionally slow pacing, and silly twist ending worked against it. It’s not bad, but it’s just okay. B-

METALHEAD: Season 4’s last spot of perfection sticks out from the usual series tropes for a number of reasons. METALHEAD’s plot is very simple. The visuals are shot with a grim black-and-white style, that reminded me a bit of scenes from David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD. The 38-minute running time also makes this the shortest BLACK MIRROR episode so far. All of these unusual qualities turn out to be great benefits because this episode is thick with dread, full of suspense, and gives us a creepy tale of cat-and-mouse. The term dog-and-cat would be more fitting to describe this story though, because it follows a woman who’s desperately trying to survive being pursued by a weaponized robotic dog that just won’t let up. Lots of quiet tension, an unusual monster (inspired by real-life robotic dogs), disturbing visuals, and a bleak atmosphere make this into another perfect episode. A+

BLACK MUSEUM: Season 4 ends on a high note with a mini-anthology episode. A woman stumbles upon the deserted Black Museum (which displays true crime technological memorabilia). Guided by the creepy (and crass) museum owner, we watch three different tales of madness and wonder. With 20 more minutes, this episode might have served as its own crazy sci-fi/horror anthology film. As a BLACK MIRROR episode, it’s a ridiculously entertaining finale to an overall great season. This is basically BLACK MIRROR mixed with TALES FROM THE CRYPT as each of the three stories (and the wraparound segment) all focus on cruel twists of fate, horrific ideas, and scummy people getting what they deserve (alongside innocent casualties). The only flaw that keeps this episode from being perfect comes in a final reveal during the last minute that feels like one twist too many. Still, this is a great episode that I immediately rewatched after it ended.  A-

BLACK MIRROR’s fourth season contains the best batch of episodes since the first season (back in 2011). This season’s structure is particularly strong too as we get a perfect episode, a great episode, another perfect episode, an okay episode, yet another perfect episode, and an almost perfect mini-anthology to cap everything off on a high note. Even the worst episode in this season is okay and more than watchable. If you’re a BLACK MIRROR fan, you’ll likely be delighted by the latest selection of twisted tales. If you haven’t watched an episode of BLACK MIRROR and you dig dark sci-fi anthologies (like TWILIGHT ZONE), then you should binge this series as soon as humanly possible! Here’s hoping that Netflix renews BLACK MIRROR for many more seasons, because this series has never been better!

Grade: A

INGRID GOES WEST (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Drug Use, some Sexual Content and Disturbing Behavior

Directed by: Matt Spicer

Written by: David Branson Smith & Matt Spicer

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen & Pom Klementieff

Social media can be a wonderful outlet for expressing yourself, gaining free promotion for your business, and reaching lots of people on a daily basis. However, social networks can also severely mess with emotions as you watch the seemingly perfect lives of other people and compare your own imperfect existence to the happy faces they upload to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. INGRID GOES WEST is a comedy-drama that very squarely narrows into the darker side of social media and how it can severely mess with people, causing them to do some pretty crazy things. This film is basically a humorous version of SINGLE WHITE FEMALE…but with less blood and more hashtags.

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is a lonely, mentally unstable young woman in search of love and good friends. However, she seems too damn socially awkward and weird to make them through conventional means. So Ingrid takes to Instagram where she mistakes passing anonymous “Likes” for friendship. After crashing a wedding and spending time in a psych ward, Ingrid finds her newest obsession in LA-based Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Armed with a bag of inherited cash, Ingrid goes west (see what I did there?) and calculatedly inserts herself into Taylor’s life as her new best friend. However, Ingrid’s newfound friendship begins to crack as her lies stack up, her stalker behavior comes dangerously close to being revealed, and Taylor’s suspicious brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) takes an immediate disliking to her.

The best thing in INGRID GOES WEST is easily Aubrey Plaza’s performance as the titular protagonist. Though Plaza’s work seems to be hit-or-miss, she does have a knack for being very funny in the right roles. Ingrid Thorburn is definitely the juiciest character that Plaza has been handed as she’s allowed to emote and also thrives on the film’s pitch-black sense of humor. Ingrid may have psychopathic tendencies (like photographing every single item in Taylor’s bathroom or pepper-spraying a woman on her wedding day), but she is painted as a tragic/sympathetic soul. Plaza makes you care about Ingrid, even as you’re watching her self-destructive choices and actions that frequently fly off the rails as she attempts to emotionally manipulate those around her.

INGRID’s supporting cast are immensely talented as well. Elizabeth Olsen plays Taylor as an artsy hipster type, who doesn’t exactly seem like the sharpest tool in the shed. The film also wisely mocks Taylor’s shallow Instagram lifestyle in a similar way to how it examines Ingrid’s social media obsession. Wyatt Russell (who many will recognize from the PLAYTEST episode of BLACK MIRROR) does well in his screen time as Taylor’s mostly down-to-earth husband. O’Shea Jackson truly shines as Ingrid’s concerned landlord/love interest. Though his Batman obsession seems like it’s an annoying cheap joke at times, Jackson’s character provides a somewhat moral voice of levity to Ingrid’s faulty logic. Billy Magnussen is also a lot of fun to watch as Ingrid’s recovering drug addict brother and serves as a believably obnoxious douchebag.

As far as INGRID’s technical side is concerned, this film looks great. The vibrant visuals really bring the LA atmosphere to life and that goes a long way on selling its story of Instagram stars and obsessive stalkers. The pacing mostly feels natural too as there’s an almost thriller-like quality to the film’s escalating suspense, but things are kept firmly in the realm of dark comedy and quirky drama. My only complaint stems from a couple of points made about Ingrid’s backstory that could have been further explored, but weren’t seemingly for the sake of keeping this film’s running time around 90 minutes.

If you enjoy Aubrey Plaza, crazy social media stories (as we’ve seen plenty of those in the past few years and they keep on coming), and darkly comic takes on thriller-like material, then INGRID GOES WEST was tailor-made for your taste. This is a very funny, surprisingly emotional (especially in its ending), and compelling dark drama-comedy. If that sounds up your alley, then you should definitely give INGRID GOES WEST a watch, a like, a social media post, and a hashtag.

Grade: B+

THE LAST SUPPER (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, and for some Sexuality and Violence

Directed by: Stacy Title

Written by: Dan Rosen

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Ron Eldard, Annabeth Gish, Jonathan Penner, Courtney B. Vance, Bill Paxton, Nora Dunn, Ron Perlman, Charles Durning, Mark Harmon & Jason Alexander

Have you ever thought about what life might be like without your worst enemy, whether they be racists, bigots, sexists, xenophobes, or any other form of a generally unpleasant person. We’ve all had those passing thoughts from time to time, but 99% have the moral compass to prevent us from wiping that person off this world. 1996’s indie dark comedy THE LAST SUPPER playfully teases the notion of getting rid of people who “don’t deserve to live” and whose death makes the world “a better place,” whilst also shining a satirical light on a group of liberals who decide to start murdering their enemies. LAST SUPPER is a ballsy comedy that still contains a shocking amount of relevance and conveys a powerful message, even if its one-joke premise nearly overstays its welcome.

Jude (Cameron Diaz), Pete (Ron Eldard), Paulie (Annabeth Gish), Marc (Jonathan Penner), and Luke (Courtney B. Vance) are a group of five liberal grad students who invite a guest to a fancy dinner every Sunday night. At this weekly feast, the group talks politics and current events with their chosen guest. On a particularly stormy night, their planned guest is nowhere to be found and Pete arrives with strange trucker Zack (Bill Paxton) in tow. Their dinner takes a dark turn when Zack is revealed to be a neo-Nazi. After a brief altercation, Marc plunges a knife into Zack’s back. The five friends quickly get over the traumatic event and decide to begin offing their political enemies in order to make the world a better place. Homophobes, rape apologists, and extreme conservatives soon find themselves wining and dying at the dinner table…all while a nosy Sheriff (Nora Dunn) grows increasingly suspicious of the group’s activities.

Though it was made over two decades ago, THE LAST SUPPER is surprisingly relevant and conveys a strong message that’s just as timely now as it was during the film’s limited release. On a surface level, some viewers might take the film as a skewering of hypocritical liberals and others might see it as a dark comedy about ridding the world of conservatives. However, the story’s real message seems to skewer both political parties in vicious ways and sends a nice wake-up call to remind viewers that we should all respect each other (regardless of our political beliefs and differences). Though that message might be entirely lost on certain folks, I thought it was a nice satirical pick-me-up in a time when this nation seems more divided than ever in toxic ways.

THE LAST SUPPER’s cast sports a lot of big faces (even though a few of them only show up in brief supporting roles). Out of the main cast, the most recognizable performer is Cameron Diaz. She plays the most sympathetic member of the liberal lunatics. Though I didn’t recognize the other main performers, they all pulled their weight as well. The two biggest standouts are Jonathan Penner as the stab-happy Marc and Courtney B. Vance as the crazy-from-the-start Luke. Ron Perlman makes a huge impression as conservative spokesman Norman Arbuthnot, a character who was inspired by Rush Limbaugh and seems remarkably more level-headed than his real-life inspiration. Bill Paxton is also fun as the short-lived neo-Nazi, while Jason Alexander briefly pops in as one of the victims and Charles Durning is hilarious as a hungry (extremely homophobic) priest.

As for flaws, THE LAST SUPPER falters in two areas. The first problem is the subplot involving Nora Dunn’s Sheriff character. Though her investigation does lead to entertaining revelations, it’s completely abandoned in an anticlimactic way. The second flaw arrives in this film functioning on one big joke. There are plenty of laughs to be had throughout, particularly in how the group begins its killings and then progressively lowers their standards for choosing victims. However, the film meanders a bit before really hitting home its main point/message during the stellar final 20 minutes. Seriously, I love the message of this film…even if it takes a while to arrive at its destination.

THE LAST SUPPER is likely to entertain viewers from both sides of the political fence, whilst also making a statement about how we need each other to survive. In a society that currently seems torn apart by hate and division over the dumbest reasons, THE LAST SUPPER serves as a nice little satire to remind viewers that being a decent human being and doing the best we can is what really counts in this world. So grab friends with different opinions, dig in on some great food, and watch this entertaining little dark comedy…preferably without killing each other at the end of the meal.

Grade: B

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