Binge-r #142: Black Mirror + Good Omens
BLACK MIRROR S5
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All three episodes now streaming
For a show about the near future’s uncharted technological nightmares, the dystopian anthology Black Mirror is somewhat predictable: every concise batch of episodes – there are just three in the latest season – tends to an even split in terms of quality, with one great episode, one decent, and one miss. That holds true here for Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’ latest pin pricks of satirical anguish, with the standout selection being Striking Vipers, a deceptively nuanced and ultimately wrenching take of an unexpected romance between long-time best friends Danny (Anthony Mackie) and Karl (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) when they take the form of characters in a Virtual Reality fight game. The story finds unexpected tenderness and despair in the intersection of online identity, sexuality, and infidelity, with Danny realising that he is cheating on his wife, Theo (Nicole Beharie). Like the best of Black Mirror it’s a genre story spliced with fascinating possibilities.
Smithereens, which deals with anger over the remote but all-powerful sway of social media, is elevated by a terrific performance by Andrew Scott (the star addition to Fleabag’s second season) as a ride-share driver who resorts to kidnapping to attract a tech CEO’s attention, while the teenage connection to pop music celebrity peters out into a limp thriller in Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too, which stars Miley Cyrus as a broken idol with Angourie Rice a hopeful fan. It’s eight years since the series debuted, which is an eternity in terms of our relationship to technology, and these episodes suggest Brooker’s insights might have been overtaken by reality. Another point: as much as the casts are now studded with famous names, the direction isn’t especially strong.
Extra: If you’re new to Black Mirror and want to explore the previous seasons, my five recommended episodes are Be Right Back (S2), Nosedive and San Junipero (S3), USS Callister and Metalhead (S4).
GOOD OMENS (Amazon Prime Video, six episodes): This limited series about the coming of the Antichrist is so thoroughly British that at one point Michael Sheen’s angel Aziraphale declares everything to be “absolutely tickety-boo”. Adapted from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 fantasy novel by the latter, the show is full of Biblical satire and celestial whimsy as Aziraphale and his demonic counterpart, Michael Sheen’s Crowley, conspire to stop the world ending so they can continue to enjoy its human pleasures. Despite a tight countdown to the end times the plot is full of diversions and flashbacks – not to mention Jon Hamm as the Archangel Gabriel – and the pleasure it takes in binding the story’s many strands together is enjoyable without ever being taxing. God’s Divine Plan is just a strange scheme from the CEO to be navigated, as the celestial beings are sanguine about the supernatural and philosophical about the everyday. The light touch is welcome.
>> Other Reading: If like me you’re besotted with the second season of Amazon Prime Video’s Fleabag, then you might enjoy my study of the astonishing and acerbic black comedy that I wrote for The Age [full review here].
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
New on Netflix: American Made (2017, 114 minutes) is Tom Cruise’s most intriguing role in years, playing the real life American pilot Barry Seal who through ambition and acquiescence in the 1980s flew smuggler’s flights for both the CIA and the cocaine cartels; a romantic comedy equal parts sharp edges and stubborn cliches, Always Be My Maybe (2019, 102 minutes) stars co-writer Ali Wong and Randall Park as childhood sweethearts thrown back together in adulthood – it comes with a memorable Keanu Reeves performance as… Keanu Reeves.
New on SBS on Demand: Centred on a brooding, gilt-ridden performance by the rising European star Franz Rogowski, Transit (2018, 97 minutes) is a study of rootlessness and historical menace from the leading German filmmaker Christian Petzold. Lodged in World War II’s refugee panic as the Nazis loom, but shot in present day Marseilles, it’s a bittersweet and compelling meeting of false identities and true love.
New on Stan: The battle for women’s rights in Edwardian London is told with quick, scornful stokes in Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette (2015, 106 minutes), with Carey Mulligan as a working class mother engaged by the protests and Helena Bonham-Carter – in one of her best performances – as a chemist willing to give everything for the right to vote; 20 Feet from Stardom (2013, 88 minutes) recasts the rock doc for the female voices that carry music’s hit songs as backing vocalists.
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