Black Mirror Season 6

Season 6 included only one good Black Mirror episode. It included another good episode, but that wasn’t really Black Mirror (BM). There were only five episodes, but 2/5 is still not an impressive success rate.

The episode that checked both boxes for me was “Beyond the Sea”, the third episode. It’s the one in which Aaron Paul plays an astronaut, and a robotic replica of that astronaut made so that he can inhabit it while off-duty in space. Then he agrees that the astronaut in space with him can take a turn using the replica… It was BM: clever new tech allowed people to mess people up.

The other good (for me) episode was “Loch Henry”, the second episode. It was notBM because it didn’t include new and clever tech, although there were messed up people.

The first episode, “Joan is Awful”, was certainly BM. Joan’s life is used as the basis for a TV drama. There are some promising signs: Joan is played by Salma Hayek; the show is on Streamberry, the Netflix of the BMverse. But this is one of three season 6 episodes for which the script was, if not awful, then certainly not good either.

The fourth and fifth episodes, “Mazey Day” and “Demon 79”, were neither good nor BM. Each featured the supernatural rather than technology. They may be a sign of a pivot to a supernatural focus and a show called Red Mirror.

I am not among those who think that BM lost it when it moved to Netflix. But I hope that this is the last season.

What about you?

Cabinet of Curiosities, Second Half

So I found the first four episodes of Guillermo del Toro’s horror anthology uneven, but interesting enough to finish the series. So here we go on to episodes five to eight.

Episodes five and six have much in common: each is based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, and features paintings. I had trouble with episode five, “Pickman’s Model”. It might as well have been made for laughs: a parody of Lovecraft; and Pickman’s strange accent. I did appreciate Pickman’s art, and its effect on a fellow artist.

Episode six, “Dreams in the Witch House”, worked a little better, but was still one of the weaker episodes in the anthology. The witch house itself was the strongest aspect, and one of the best settings in an anthology full of creepy settings. Perhaps Lovecraft doesn’t work for me (even though I live near Providence, his home) or perhaps he wasn’t well served by the teleplays.

In episode seven, “The Viewing”, a wealthy recluse summons four famous people to view… something; I won’t spoil what it is. Again, the setting is impressive, although even I began to weary of (my favorite color) orange. So far, the second half of the anthology wasn’t as much to my taste as the first.

The eighth and last episode, “The Murmuring”, is about married ornithologists who have lost their daughter. They go to study dunlins on a remote island, where a house is prepared for them to stay in. Yes, the house turns out to be haunted.

This episode differs from the other episodes of the anthology in several ways. It has fewer horror tropes than most. It was, for me, better than most, perhaps the best since the first. It was one of two for which the Guillermo wrote the story (but not the teleplay); the other was the first.

As for the anthology as a whole, the direction, acting, and cinematography were excellent, and consistently so, despite the cast and crew varying between episodes. The writing was, for the most part, not as good. If there is a second season, I’d like more input from Guillermo.

What did you think of Cabinet of Curiosities? Would you watch a second season?

Cabinet of Curiosities, Halfway Through

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is a horror anthology released on Netflix as Halloween 2022 approaches. There are eight episodes. I’ve watched the first four, and intend to watch and review the second half of the season.

I have mostly positive, albeit very mixed feelings, about the show so far. I like the way that Guillermo introduces each episode, drawing from a cabinet an object and a statuette of the director. Each episode has a different director. Each director so far has done an excellent job, with creepiness appropriate to the episode.

The acting is similarly excellent, and distinct to each episode: there are no shared characters or actors. There are recurring themes: for example, each of the first two episodes shows us that it’s a bad idea to be in debt to bad people. But I don’t think that Guillermo is going for anything more unified than well-directed horror introduced by his good self.

The first episode, “Lot 36”, is my favorite so far. Tim Blake Nelson stars as a veteran who certainly doesn’t arouse liking, but does arouse some sympathy. Tim is superb, as is the whole cast. I particularly liked Martha Burns as Agatha, through whom he tries to sell some strange old things in order to pay his debt. Of course, some of the things are really strange…

The second episode, “Graveyard Rats”, is my least favorite of the first four episodes. It features David Hewlett as a grave-robber, some wicked Massachusetts accents, and a ton of rats. It’s not bad, but it is predictable, and outstays its welcome, even though it is the shortest of these episodes at 39 minutes. Maybe you should just watch the trailer, since this episode is as dark as well-directed as the series itself.

The next episode, “The Autopsy”, consists to a large extent of F. Murray Abraham slicing in to and recording his comments on bodies. So yes, it’s even more watchable than most of the Cabinet. But in this episode, as in the anthology so far, the writing doesn’t match up to the performances and direction.

The fourth episode, “The Outside” is the hardest for me to review. I can best describe it as three thirds, each of about 20 minutes, each better than the one before. In the first third, we are invited to find Kate Micucci unattractive. I found that puzzling, even though she has an unbecoming long hairstyle. In the second third, she goes crazy for a beauty product. The last third is crazy in a very good way. I expect that this will be, for many people, the best episode so far.

You can see more details of, and more perspectives on, Cabinet of Curiosities at Letterboxd, where I have a list of the episodes. If you’ve watched, which is your favorite of the first four?

Black Mirror Season 4

Black Mirror is among my favorite TV shows ever: it’s up there with The X-Files, The Simpsons, and a few others. I’ve just watched season 4 of Black Mirror on Netflix.

Upon first watch, this is the weakest of the first four seasons. The writing just isn’t up the standard set by much of the first three seasons.

On a positive note, I watched all six episodes, and I regard it as six hours (or so) well spent. Each episode was very well done, in terms of performances, and thus probably in terms of casting and directing.

Here’s my current ranking of the episodes.

  • Best: Hang the DJ (episode 4). A clear winner. The best script of the season. I loved the chemistry between the leads.
  • Black Museum (episode 6). I suspect that Douglas Hodge’s riveting performance carried me over some flaws.
  • Arkangel (episode 2).
  • Callister and Metalhead (episodes 1 and 5 respectively). Possibly the two most different-from-each-other episodes of the season, which makes it hard to say which I preferred.
  • Crocodile (episode 3), a distant last, despite a good cast making the best of the script.

At most one of these episodes would make my “Best of Black Mirror” top ten. It’s not that the season was bad, it’s that it wasn’t Black Mirror great, or early X-Files great. Perhaps Black Mirror is one of those shows that should stop while it’s ahead, after a few (four?) seasons.

What did you think?

Netflix: Streaming Beats Discs, But Loses to Downtime

Netflix is now a digital video streaming company first that happens to also offer DVDs by mail, observes Forrester’s James McQuivey at Paid Content (via RWW). Netflix is starting to deliver more content by streaming than my mail.

That’s mostly good news, although it does rely on Netflix being able to stream. It was down a few minutes ago (but is back up right now). Netflix does downtime less gracefully than a certain whale-watching site I could mention: it blamed my computers, got stuck on at the license stage. It didn’t own up to having problems, and it didn’t show me a cute animal. Then again, Twitter has had more practice with downtime than has Netflix.

That suggests a couple of games. The first is to come up with a mascot for Netflix downtime. I suggest the Netflix narwhal, but will leave the artwork/implementation to others. Then there’s the Netflix version of rock-paper-scissors. Downtime beats streaming, which beats discs, which beat downtime. I hope that streaming wins…

DRM at the Home Movies

This year will, I hope, see the death of DRM. For an example of why it deserves to die, let’s go to the (home) movies, and to Seth of the EFF. The central character is Davis Freeberg, but his blog has been so busy it’s been down recently.

The trouble all started when Freeberg bought a new monitor for his Vista computer. When he decided to watch streaming movies from Netflix, Netflix documentation warned him that the recommended means of fixing a problem with DRM-restricted Netflix programming “may remove licenses to other content using Microsoft DRM” — including, in particular, restricted programming he had already purchased through Amazon Unbox…

Freeberg’s conundrum is likely the product of… (mis)features that have been added to Microsoft’s Vista operating system… Unfortunately, these kinds of (mis)features generally (1) don’t stop pirates and (2) result in compatibility headaches for paying customers.