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Black Mirror Review – San Junipero

Oooh, heaven is a place on earth, 3.5 readers.

SPOILER ALERT! This is an episode where you can’t dive too deep without giving away spoilers so if you haven’t seen it, you should join the rest of the web surfing public and not read this blog.

OK, now that the people who have seen it or don’t care about spoilers are present, let’s discuss.

The first half of this episode seems like a simple friendship story. Two young women, Yorky and Kelly, meet in a seaside tourist town, San Junipero, in the 1980s. Their friendship grows into love, i.e. the romantic variety but sours as Kelly avoids commitment.

SPOILER – by the second half, we realize San Junipero is a simulation. Everyone is either dead or dying in real life. The dying get a free, limited trial to see if an afterlife in the sim is what they want, while the dead have already signed on.

Ultimately, the love story becomes a will they or won’t they as they meet again and again during their free trials. They want to and yet their are issues in their real lives that hold them back.

The main takeaways. It would be great if some kind of simulation like this would be invented. Though as we see, it doesn’t take away from all of life’s problems, but it could give us that piece of mind we need to know that life doesn’t end at death and all our learning, struggling, working, growing…all that experience isn’t lost when we go.

Perhaps the most realistic thought is to enjoy youth while you have it and try your best to extend it. Eat your veggies. Exercise. Stay off the bad food and alcohol and cigarettes because when the body goes, it goes. The contrast between the real life oldsters and their simulated young bodies is something else, and it truly is sad what time does to the human body.

The good news? If you don’t dwell on all the complications, this episode has a rare happy ending for Black Mirror.

The bad news? If you’re like me, this episode will make you feel super old. I was a boy in the 1980s, a teenager in the 1990s, and a young adult in the 2000s and apparently, each time period are now considered as nostalgic places for the elderly and dying to visit in simulated space.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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Black Mirror Review – Hated in the Nation

Couldn’t find a Netflix trailer so see this Ending Explained video instead.

Spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen it, look away. It’s ok, I have a total of 3.5 readers so I can lose up to 2.5 and still have a full reader. It’s just hard to talk about this episode without delving into spoilers.

Death has become a hashtag. Whenever the Internet folk post a name along with the hashtag #deathto they are voting for that person to be killed under mysterious circumstances, with the name that receives the most votes becoming the victim of the day.

Two days and two victims – a journalist who wrote a scathing, unkind op ed about a handicapped rights’ advocate and a rapper who mocked a young fan’s tribute dance to him, dashing the kid’s dreams on live television.

Detective Karin Parke (of Boardwalk Empire fame) has seen it all and is breaking in her young partner, Blue Coulson (Faye Marsay). Along the way, they team up with British government agent Shaun Li (Benedict Wong of Doctor Strange fame.)

At first, the episode is a slow burn and feels a bit like an episode of Law and Order set in England. As we learn the killer’s method, it picks up the pace.

Spoiler – robot bees! Yes, it’s the future and robot bees have replaced the usual kind, apparently due to a lack of hot and steamy bee on bee intercourse. An entire company has emerged to produce robot bees, setting them to work on the UK’s pollination needs, each robo-bee buzzing from one flower to the next, deliver the special yellow dust along the way.

SIDENOTE: Listen people. We need to save the bees to save the plants and save the world. If you know any bees, please encourage them to engage in a lot of indiscriminate bee on bee fornication to prevent a nightmare world where robo-bees take over.

Like Alfred Hitchcock’s birds, Black Mirror’s robot bees take on a life of their own, buzzing and stalking the prey programmed into their little bee minds by the killer. Many harrowing scenes of people narrowly escaping bee attacks ensue.

Overall, the robo bee concept is interesting and sadly, may be needed one day if all these male bees can’t build up their confidence and start hitting on all these lady bees. Wait, there’s just one Queen Bee right? All the male bees go to work and then return to the hive to service the Queen Bee’s needs? Yikes.

Also, it’s a meditation on when Internet anger goes too far. People are stupid. They do dumb things. They say dumb things. Much of this stupidity went unnoticed back in the day but now that the Internet preserves everything, people often engage in a social media pile on, spewing all kinds of vitriol toward someone who they believe has crossed a line. Sadly, this leaves no room for a person to apologize and seek redemption.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy, mostly because of the bees. I do remember enjoying Boardwalk Empire back in the day and thought it was cool to see Nucky’s GF in the present day.

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Black Mirror Review – Arkangel

BQB’s Black Mirror marathon continues.

It’s not easy being a parent. This is the understatement of the year.

You want to protect your child, extend their youthful innocence for as long as possible – shield them from everything and yet, the more you shelter them, the less resilient they become.

You don’t want them to scrape that knee yet they won’t learn to not run around like a goofball until they get that scraped knee. It is indeed quite a slippery slope. Maybe the best you can do is safeguard them yet as they grow up, hope your lessons take hold and they make wise decisions or at least learn from their mistakes.

Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) wants to keep her daughter, Sara, safe. After an incident where she briefly loses sight of her kid at the park, Marie signs Sara up for Arkangel, an implant that reports everything and anything about what Sara is up to directly to Mom’s tablet.

There’s good news. Mom can monitor daughter’s health. Put her on supplements as needed. Mom can block out anything that is scary, i.e. that scary dog in the neighbor’s yard just becomes a blur.

However, the as the years past and the more protective Mom is, the less able to comprehend the dangers of the world Sarah becomes. Ultimately, you don’t want your kids to see violence and yet, until they see one kid shove another kid and cause a boo boo, they don’t learn to keep their hands to themselves.

All this control and lack of learning about the world seems like a powder keg a brewing and how it will explode…well, you’ll have to watch.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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Black Mirror Review – Nosedive

We’re living in a social media world, 3.5 readers, and Bryce Dallas Howard plays a social media girl.

This is by far the best episode of Black Mirror, such that if they had added a half hour, they could have released it as a feature length film. It’s dark, yet also funny and sadly, given the direction we are headed in, the one I would dare say is most likely to happen.

Bryce plays Lacie, a hard working, cheerful young woman who lives in a world where society ranks everyone based on a social media app. People have an implant that allows them to look at anyone and see their ranking number next to their head and they can add or delete stars on that person with their phone. Ultimately, every interaction you have with another human is a chance to move up or down in the world.

Lacie is a respectable 4.2 but she dreams of becoming a 4.5. You see, the higher your ranking, the more access you have to life’s perks – i.e. promotions, opportunities, open doors and so on. If she can be a 4.5, she can secure a loan needed to move into a luxury condo complex, one where she’d be able to go to fancy parties, meet trendy people, perhaps even meet a fantastic mate and better yet, she won’t have to be room mates with her dopey 3.7 brother anymore.

When Lacie is asked to be the maid of honor at her highly ranked childhood friend Naomi (Alice Eve), her reputation consultant (yes, people pay big money for advice on how to move up their rankings) advises this is her chance to send her numbers sky high. She immediately goes to work on her speech, hoping to dazzle the wedding party into throwing plenty of stars her way. Her brother reminds her that Naomi was a terrible friend but Lacie doesn’t care. She wants that damn condo and who can blame her. It does look like a fabulous condo.

And so, Lacie sets out on what inevitably becomes the cross country trip from hell, one that makes “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” look like “Roman Holiday.”

When her flight is cancelled, she makes the mistake of shouting at the airline clerk, a move that causes the police to attach the ultimate punishment – no, not jailtime. She is put on “double damage” meaning for the next 24 hours, any rating she receives, good or bad, counts as half.

As she attempts to make the long drive, one mishap after another happens, causing her mood to worsen and of course, this leads to one star sapping encounter after another with multiple jerkwads with itchy rating fingers.

Worse, as her social rep plummets, she is afforded less opportunities and thus, her travel amenities become crappier and crappier. The great irony is that the less stars she gets, the less craps Lacie gives, and her ability to tell people to eff off becomes her superpower in a world where everyone is going out of their way to impress everyone.

You might laugh and think this is impossible, but aren’t we all ranked in a way by social media? Don’t we dream of building that idyllic life, the one we can snap photos of and rub in our friends’ faces online? Hell, in some businesses, the number of followers you have is a bankable commodity.

Not to give it away, but while it is standard for all Black Mirror episodes to have a bad, depressing ending (and this follows suit) this is the closest this series gets to having a happy ending…or perhaps a humorous ending. It is still, when you think about it, unhappy.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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Black Mirror Review – Bandersnatch

I’m not sure why I wasn’t impressed with this, other than because I did Netflix’s Interactive Kimmy Schmidt episode long before trying this one. Had I tried this first I might have been impressed with the overall ambition of this project. This is Netflix’s first “choose your own adventure style” film after all.

The year is 1984 and young computer programmer Stefan has snagged his dream gig, developing a video game based on the novel “Bandersnatch” by an author who went insane and murdered his wife. OK, so the developing the video game is the good part of that gig and the other part, obviously not so much.

With your controller in hand, you guide Stefan through a series of choices, ultimately sending him down a rabbit hole of conspiracy fact and fiction, questioning whether concepts like time and reality even exist as the young lad gets driven further and further into madness.

The story relies on some meta snark in that like a choose your own adventure novel, one where you can just flip back to the beginning if you screw up, it too can flip you back, sometimes to the last choice, sometimes to the start and the underlying answer as to how Stefan can wake up and get a do over is that time is not as real a concept as we think it is.

If you’re looking for overall answers to the plot’s questions, you’ll be disappointed, unless you want to do it all over and over again and maybe there’s a good ending. I never found one. I know Black Mirror is dark so an unhappy ending is to be expected but I thought I’d get an ending that at least tries to explain how all this nonsense is possible. You get various answers at various times and none seem to jive with each other.

So…it’s ok. Maybe something to do when you aren’t busy and if it went over my head, then so be it. I came, I saw, I tried and I felt it was a lot of build up that just doesn’t go anywhere no matter how hard you try unless there’s a special combo of moves I missed.

SIDENOTE: The option where you can choose to explain to Stefan that you are a person from the future controlling his moves through Netflix is funny, particularly when you choose the option to try to explain to a 1980’s person what Netflix is.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy (moderately.)

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Black Mirror Review – Black Museum

BQB here with another review of this creepy tech anthology series.

Black Museum contains three vignettes, each warning of the dangers of futuristic medical technology. IMO, each one could have been a stand alone episode but I can see why they boxed them together.

Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge) was once a cutting edge (perhaps too cutting) inventor of medical technology. Forced out of the biz for going too far, he now owns a roadside “Black Museum” which features artifacts used in all sorts of high profile crimes. Fans of the episode will note Easter eggs i.e. items used by baddies in previous Black Mirror episodes.

Ironically, some of Rolo’s inventions are now on display, for his tech has been declared illegal, though he was able to skirt any liability in the nick of time.

Nish (Letitia Wright of Black Panther fame) stops to charge her car after a long drive one day, only to visit the museum as a distraction.

Rolo, having not seen a customer in some time, is happy to give her the grand tour and share his stories, which include a) an implant that a doctor used to feel the pain of his patients. At first, he becomes adept at diagnosing and curing his charges but over time, he develops a crazed addiction to pain (he feels it but does not suffer the physical effects) that can’t be satiated.

Story B is about a couple who live a happy life until the wife is struck by a car and left in a coma. Rolo offers up another invention, this one allowing wife’s brain to be downloaded into husband’s brain. At first, when husband is able to communicate with wife again, the reunion brings great joy. However, over time, the wife inside husband’s head becomes an unrelenting backseat driver, nag nag nagging all the time.

Story C is about a death row inmate who signed a deal with Rolo for his digital persona to be brought to life in his museum as a hologram, giving tourists the “joy” of flipping a switch that zaps said convict over and over again.

Is there any correlation to these stories? You have to watch to find out. Without giving too much away, I will say story B does have a bit of a biting commentary about how we tend to throw away loved ones once they get too be too much work.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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Black Mirror Review – Crocodile

Memories, like the corners of my mind…is that how the song goes? Paging Streisand.

BQB here with yet another Black Mirror review.

Many years ago, Mia’s then boyfriend Rob did a horrible thing. Rather than go to the police, she assisted him in covering it up, making her an accomplice.

The years pass and Mia marries another man, has a child, a nice house and a great career, having managed to push the memories of that dark day to the corners of her mind. Alas, it all comes back when a guilt ridden Rob shows up at her door, telling Mia he won’t be able to live with himself unless he pens an anonymous confession.

And so, the vicious cycle of cover ups upon cover ups ensues as Mia does something terrible to cover up the cover up. As she is doing so, she witnesses a self-driving pizza truck hit a pedestrian (SIDENOTE: self driving pizza trucks sound like a good idea but only if a) they can be made to not hit people and b) if we can find alternate employment routes for the pizza delivery man and woman lobby)

Insurance investigator Shazia thinks the victim (he lives) of the pizza truck’s case is pretty cut and dry, but goes about her investigation with the assistance of a device that can record memories. She interviews various witnesses, recording the images they have in their minds of the accident, eventually realizing that Mia, according to witness recollection, had the best view of the incident.

Thus opens the proverbial can of worms for Mia. If she declines Shazia’s request to search her memories of the accident, the police will get involved. But if she helps, will she be able to bury her memories of evil doing and so that the machine will pick up only the memories of the pizza truck accident?

Overall, an interesting meditation on the power of memory, what we remember and what we forget and how there can be power in forgetting. When it comes to memory, can we ever be sure they are real?

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Black Mirror Review – The National Anthem

The plot of this seems like it should belong to a wacky, raunchy comedy but its played as a serious drama.

Princess Susannah, a much beloved member of the royal family, has been kidnapped. The kidnapper has but a single demand – that at 4 pm, the UK Prime Minister get on live television and have sex with…a pig.

Yeah, I know. At this point, you might think the entire writing staff should be fired but maybe not when you realize the whole episode is a commentary about a) the population’s inability to ignore trainwreck-esque spectacles and b) the control that social media has over political decision making.

At first, the UK is united in thinking that the PM should absolutely not do this. It would be too demeaning to himself, the office, the nation and if he does it, terrorists will be kidnapping prominent people every day just to make outrageous demands. Though Princess Susannah’s death would be terrible, it would be worse to cave in to this outrageous demand.

But as the day wears on and the government’s multiple attempts to rescue the princess are botched, the kidnapper retaliates by mailing the press the princess’ finger. Public emotions are stirred and they believe the government is now at fault for the princess’ predicament and as such, the PM should rescue her…by having intimate knowledge of that pig.

And so, the PM must make a decision.

Ultimately, this episode is so ridiculous and yet you can’t look away, wondering what the PM will finally do. It is all very absurd and hard to believe that the leader of any nation would actually consider whether or not to do this. It’s also hard to believe that the people of any nation would actually demand that their leader do this and yet…check out social media sometime and see the weird kinds of mental gymnastics people play when they want to take a position that is wrong or support a politician who has done something wrong or what have you.

In short, I can’t one hundred percent say that if this scenario played out in real life, there wouldn’t be dum dums on social media demanding that the prime minister follow through. Even worse, there would be government officials who actually listen to the dum dums.

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Black Mirror Review – Striking Vipers

Hey 3.5 readers.

So, after many years, I finally hopped down the rabbit hole of Black Mirror this week. I always wanted to but never got around to it. What with Covid making new movie releases a thing of the past, I’ve been starved for new content so I gave this a go and am glad I did.

If you haven’t watched it yet, it’s a modern day Twilight Zone but with a focus on the ills of technology. Each episode focuses on a piece of tech that was meant to improve life only to ruin it in new and crazy ways.

In this post, I’m reviewing the most recent episode, Striking Vipers. Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Madeen II play a couple old college roommates Danny and Karl who in their young glory days, used to stay up all night chasing babes, only to head back to their crib and play the “Street Fighter-esque” video game Striking Vipers until the wee hours of the morning.

Flash forward to middle age and Danny and Karl are reaping the rewards of life’s struggles, as well as the punishments. Both are financially successful and have nice homes, secure in their jobs, no longer worried about climbing the ladder and no longer worrying about making rent.

Danny is married and has a son while Karl is recently divorced. Danny openly states he’s happy to be off the market rather than going through the rat race of the dating scene, constantly trying to impress women who would reject him over the slightest detail.

Meanwhile, Karl is recently divorced and hopes his new found single status, combined with the financial success he lacked in youth, will allow him to chase a plethora of younger hotties.

Everything changes when the dudes reconnect thanks to the latest VR version of Striking Vipers. The bros begin hanging out online late at night, enjoying their bouts of virtual fisticuffs…that is until they realize that it is possible for them to make their characters hump and they actually feel the humping.

Suddenly, their worlds are turned upside down. Yes, there are benefits to middle age that come with putting in the years but that time puts a beating on the body and the soul. These dudes are still men. In their hearts, they still want to go out to the club and pick up new booty, but Danny loves his wife too much and wouldn’t dare wreck his idyllic suburban life…even though the sex is ho hum.

And though Karl thought he’d become a late in life ladies’ man, he finds that the younger women just want his money and don’t understand his jokes and/or pop cultural references. Even worse, he can’t keep up in the boudoir.

Ergo, a game that provides safe, wild and crazy red hot sex with the assistance of a trusted friend who will be cool and not demand any strings to be attached sounds like the solution to their problems.

Ah, but the questions about. Does this mean they are gay? One of the characters is a woman, but is the dude gay for being a woman in the game? Is the other dude gay for banging a woman played by a dude? Will this affect their relationships i.e. if they are constantly banging each other in the video game world, will they have any stamina left for their real life partners? And holy crap, what if this means they are in love? Like not best buddy dude bro love but romantic love? Is it possible to have a virtual friends with benefits situation without love attaching?

These are the bizarre questions that Black Mirror asks. Sometimes they are answered and sometimes not but I think overall, this episode does a good job of summarizing the joys and pitfalls that come with various stages of life. In youth, you are full of energy but low on knowledge and money. In middle age you are higher on money but and knowledge but lack the energy to do anything about it. An ironic nightmare, really.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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Why You Should Watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) (Or Settle Less To Get More…Maybe)

Moon River, 3.5 readers. Moon River.

I wrote a review about this movie awhile back but I am too lazy to post a link to it. As lazy bloggers go, I am one of the laziest there has ever been…except for those bloggers who are so lazy they never even start blogs that are read by only 3.5 people. Those bloggers are truly the laziest.

But I digress. This movie is old but IMO, it holds up. It’s about growing up and how sometimes we have to settle for less to get more. Sometimes we have to abandon far fetched dreams in order to cling to the real success that is all around us.

Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) is a Manhattan socialite, always invited to every party. Her only means of support come from a) bilking dates out of money for the washroom, because apparently in 1961 you had to pay to poop (she would run out the back door without bringing back the date’s change and/or never made change because she never pooped in the first place) and b) delivering coded messages in the form of “weather reports” between the mafia and their imprisoned in Sing Sing don, though whether she understands the gravity of what she is doing is debatable. Spoiler: She probably does.

Holly’s great dream in life is to one day be a trophy wife, to land a big fish of a husband who is rich and able to pay for all of her needs and wants and desires so she can just have fun and live a happy, carefree lifestyle.

Ironically, her new neighbor, Paul Varjak (George Peppard) is, in a way, living the life Holly has always dreamed of, though he doesn’t enjoy it. Paul is a struggling writer but has won the “patronage” of a wealthy older woman who pays for his apartment and all of his expenses, under the auspices that she is a patron of the arts and believes in Paul so much that she wants him to be able to focus on his dream of writing that great mindbending, once in a generation novel that becomes the toast of the literary world. (But really, the underlying deal is that Paul is her personal man candy and has to give her the old badoinkity doink whenever she snaps her fingers.)

SIDENOTE: If any wealthy older women want to strike up a deal like that with yours truly, I’m all ears. Your sponsorship of all my living expenses will help me focus on writing my Toilet Gator novels, to the literary world’s benefit and I mean, if you’re a 5 or higher I guess the old badoinkity doink can be arranged.

Back to the movie. As Holly and Paul become friends, they realize the love they have for one another is pure and better than anything they could hope for, yet they must find it in their hearts to give up their long held dreams in order to grasp the real love right in front of them.

This means that Holly must abandon the notion of being a rich man’s kept trophy wife. This premise becomes more and more likely as Holly’s dates become increasingly boorish, leading her to include that it is unlikely that a rich man who would be OK to marry a woman who is only in it for the money would be anything but a miserable brute who would boss her around and try to control her.

This also means that Paul will have to, horror of horrors, abandon the arrangement he has with his older grand dame, say goodbye to his hope of spending years on writing a fantastic novel, and GASP get a day job! Ack!

From there on, it’s a will they or won’t they scenario. You don’t want them to abandon their dreams, but you don’t want them to abandon their love either. Ultimately, for their love to work, they’ll both have to become 9 to 5 working stiffs and lead a middle class life. Their pie in the sky dreams will be dashed but they will have their love which is real.

So ultimately, the film is an argument for settling for less to get more and I can tell you, 3.5 readers, that I settled a long time ago and…I wish I hadn’t. I really regret it. Maybe I shouldn’t. But that’s the human condition. We grab hold of something real in lieu of something we might grab tomorrow and then rather than appreciate what we grabbed we start thinking, “Well, what if I had waited another year? Would I have gotten what I wanted?”

Maybe Paul would have written that great novel if he had just kept badoinking that old gal for another year. Maybe Holly would have one day met that rare, one in a million rich man with a heart of gold willing to be her personal ATM machine while not trying to control her comings and goings and doings.

But maybe they would have also just grown old and alone. Maybe the old rich lady would have found a younger struggling writer to patronize and kicked Paul to the curb. Maybe Holly would have never found a rich man and would have just ended up living in her apartment all alone forever.

You never know, 3.5 readers. You only know how your choices worked out. You never get to learn how the paths you didn’t take would have worked out, so try not to wallow in regret…or do. It’s a free country.

But above all else, remember to settle because it will make you happy…but also, it might not, so I guess, don’t settle and keep shooting for your dreams.

Do whatever. It rarely matters anyway. I mean, seriously, Audrey and George are long dead so nothing we do matters in the grand scheme of things. All we are is dust in the wind as the song goes.

SIDENOTE: It was fun to see George as a young man because I only knew him as Hannibal, the leader of the A Team when I was a kid. George didn’t settle for less. He went all in on his acting dreams, was the leading man in this movie and then was rewarded later in life by having to don a parachuting lizard costume in a TV show as an old man. So, it worked out for him. I assume he enjoyed it. Maybe not. He’s dead so I can’t ask him.

DOUBLE SIDENOTE: Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Holly’s Asian neighbor is awful. I know it was 1961 but even so, you’d think one person on the set would have been like, “Dude, WTF?”

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