The newsroom (Season 1, 2012)

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En español a continuación.

The newsroom, Season 1, created by Aaron Sorkin (HBO, 2012).

Score: mongrel-like.

I decided to give this a watch because I had heard it praised by journalists I personally know and after a long talk with a dear friend about the virtues of Aaron Sorkin as a writer. I have to say that, while I still respect my friend’s opinion a great deal, I rather dislike Sorkin’s style and, expecting something along the lines of Spotlight, I was quite disappointed in the show.

Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is a cable channel news anchor known for not bothering anyone: the Jay Leno of news anchors; one day, he snaps during a panel and goes into a diatribe that some may consider anti-American. The channel hires a new producer, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), actually Will’s ex, and they all embark on the Quixotic task of actually informing American voters of what is going on in the country, regardless of their affiliation. There is also a major arc that bothers with a love polyhedron between journalists Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) and Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Maggie’s roommate Lisa Lambert(Kelen Coleman).

The whole thing looks quite true-to-life: that was the exactitude that journalists praised in it. There are some interesting reflections on the nature of journalism, truth and manipulation, though nothing groundbreaking. But that is only about half of the runtime. The other half is spent building unresolved sexual tension between Will and Mac and having Maggie and Jim run around in sentimental goose chases I couldn’t care less about. It feels like the show wanted to cater both to people interested in investigative journalism and people who are not and will be distracted by a half-assed attempt at melodrama. Also, the awkward comedy. The way I see it, The newsroom has a serious tone problem: it’s not a drama about journalism and moral integrity, it’s not a romance and it’s not a comedy either. It’s everything in-between and it doesn’t work.

I was bored to death by The social network (and spent two hours wondering how I had wasted my college years so egregiously) and I still have a problem with Sorkin’s style: his screenplays are much too wordy. It’s just yak, yak, yak. Yakking down a corridor, down the street, over lunch. Everywhere you look, there’s exposition. Is the audiovisual medium really suitable for such an idea? Maybe it would work better in written form.

Still, it manages to be engaging. I do want to know what happens next. It’s not a mentally stimulating work, but on the other hand is perfect for munching on a TV dinner when I come home exhausted from work. No effort needed to follow.


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The newsroom, Temporada 1, creada por Aaron Sorkin (HBO, 2012).

Puntuación: mestiza.

Decidí echarle un vistazo a esto porque había oído a periodistas que conozco personalmente alabarla y tras una larga charla con un querido amigo acerca de las virtudes de Aaron Sorkin como escritor. Debo decir que, mientras aún respeto la opinión de mi amigo en gran medida, me disgusta bastante el estilo de Sorkin y, dado que esperaba algo en la línea de Spotlight, la serie me ha decepcionado bastante.

Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) es un presentador de noticias de un canal por cable conocido por no molestar a nadie: el Jay Leno de los presentadores de noticias; un día, pierde los papeles durante una conferencia y se embarca en una diatriba que algunos considerarían antiametricana. El canal contrata a una nueva productora, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), de hecho la ex de Will, y se embarcan todos en una misión quijotesca para informar a los votantes estadounidenses de lo que ocurre en el país, independientemente de su afiliación. También hay un arco principal que se molesta con un poliedro amoroso entre los periodistas Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) y Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) y Lisa Lambert (Kelen Coleman), la compañera de piso de Maggie.

En general parece bastante realista: ese era el rigor que le alababan los periodistas. Hay algunas reflexiones interesantes acerca de la naturaleza del periodismo, la verdad y la manipulación, aunque nada revolucionario. Pero eso es solo como la mitad del metraje. La otra mitad se la pasan construyendo tensión sexual no resuelta entre Will y Mac y metiendo a Maggie y Jim en un montón de enredos sentimentales que no me importaban en absoluto. Parece que la serie quería dirigirse tanto a gente interesada en el periodismo de investigación como a gente a la que no le interesa pero se distraerá con un intento cutre de melodrama. Y además, la comedia inoportuna. Tal y como yo lo veo, The newsroom tiene un serio problema de tono: no es un drama acerca del periodismo y la integridad moral, no es un romance ni tampoco una comedia. Es de todo un poco y no funciona.

Me aburrí a muerte con La red social (y me pasé dos horas preguntándome cómo pude malgastar mis años de universidad tan descaradamente) y todavía tengo un problema con el estilo de Sorkin: sus guiones son demasiado locuaces. Es todo bla, bla, bla. Gente rajando por un pasillo, por la calle, mientras come. Mires donde mires, hay exposición. ¿Es el medio audiovisual el más adecuado para una idea así? Quizás funcionaría mejor en forma escrita.

Y aun así, consigue ser entretenida. Quiero saber qué pasa a continuación. No es un trabajo mentalmente estimulante, pero por otro lado es perfecto para mascar el contenido de un tupper cuando llego a casa agotada del trabajo. No se requiere esfuerzo para seguirla.

To be a slave: power struggles and social class in “Blade Runner” (1982)

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En español a continuación.

To be a slave: power struggles and social class in Blade Runner (1982)

***Obviously, SPOILERS for Blade Runner (1982).***

Many people have written more vastly and better than me about the most important themes in Blade Runner: what makes a human human, fear of death or artificial intelligence. Today, I want to address a minor, more hidden theme: the power relationship between humans and replicants and how those themes echo social class issues.

In the wake of Blade Runner 2049, I rewatched Ridley Scott’s film after well over a decade of watching it for the first time. I found it to be wonderfully lighted and shot; its main theme has been revisited, expanded and toyed with so many times in the past years that it can seem simplistic and stale. In any case, Blade Runner, along with Neuromancer, inaugurated the genre of cyberpunk by taking noir tropes and themes and adding to them the first kicks of the newborn society of information.

In this rewatch, there was something in particular that striked me: Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachael’s (Sean Young) relationship, romanticized in the infamous theatrical cut and kind of absorbed by pop culture as a tragic love story, is actually presented as cringeworthy abuse on the part of Deckard. After running a Voight-Kampf test on Rachael and finding out she is a replicant, Deckard is ordered to retire her. Instead, he chooses to claim her as a prize and she knows it: she tries to flee his apartment saying that she’s too distressed about having found out her childhood memories are not hers for love, Deckard stops her at the door and forces her to say “kiss me” and “I want you”. Later on, she tells Deckard she loves him, but we know that’s not true; she knows that she has to choose between submitting to Deckard or being retired.

What Rachael is to Deckard is a special case of what replicants are to humans in general: objects, not human, not worthy of rights or respect. In the prologue, we are told that replicants were used as slave labour in colonies and space exploration until a Nexus 6 combat team rebelled and, since then, they are being exterminated following the government’s orders. What do we know about replicants? They’re not robots: Tyrell (Joe Turkel), Sebastian (William Sanderson) and Chew (James Hong) are all genetic engineers. The eyes that Chew is growing when Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Leon (Brion James) pay him a visit seem pretty much fleshy to me. Replicants are stronger, more resistant and at least as intelligent as baseline humans, as evidenced by the prologue and by Roy Batty helping J. F. Sebastian beat Tyrell at chess. So, basically, they are genetically enhanced humans, strictly better than baseline humans. Why are they slaves, then? Because baseline humans say so. Why are they inhuman, then? Because baseline humans say so.

The movie goes to great lengths to show that replicants are human and have human feelings. They show intelligence, compassion, fear of death and have a complete theory of mind (Rachael knows that if she leaves Deckard she will be retired). On the other hand, humans are shown as dehumanized and beast-like: Deckard hunts down replicants because he was ordered to, everyone in Los Angeles is sullen and behaves mechanically. Nexus 6 models are given false memories to try to make easier to control, but that’s not the point: a being with no self-awareness is incapable of agency and therefore cannot revolt. It doesn’t matter whether they believe they are human or not, they have all the properties of a moral subject and are in consequence entitled to rights.

In the end, the question about what makes a human is not as relevant as the question of who decides who is human and who isn’t. In Blade Runner, there are first- and second-class citizens. Replicants are deprived of a living being’s most precious treasure: their lifespan. That’s what Roy Batty wants from his creator, and he’s told it’s not possible. Replicants are also deprived of dignity: if they can die, it means they were once alive, so instead they get retired. J. F. Sebastian, a friendless twenty-five-year-old suffering from progeria, uses his knowledge of genetics to build friends for himself to keep him company. Does he build equals? No! He builds miniature humans who greet him at the door when he arrives home, closer to pets than to friends. Deckard is physically attracted to Rachael and uses his leverage to possess her as a commodity, in a gritty deconstruction of the typical relationship between the hardboiled detective and the femme fatale.

What we learn is that, if you want to exploit and alienate your fellow human being, it is very effective to deprive them of their humanity. In real life, the difference between classes is not that clear-cut, but discrimination can be based on a variety of factors, such as race, religion, education, income, ability, so on and so forth. In two words: social class. In this context, the whole discussion over Deckard being a replicant or not takes on a new hue: Deckard the replicant is somewhere below J. F. Sebastian in the social ladder but still above the rest of replicants in that he abides by the establishment’s rules. He’s acting against his own interests because he is unaware of his true place in society. And that’s a really tragic kind of protagonist to have.


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Ser un esclavo: luchas de poder y clase social en Blade Runner (1982)

***Obviamente, DESTRIPES de Blade Runner (1982).***

Muchos han escrito más vastamente y mejor que yo acerca de los temas más importantes en Blade Runner: qué hace humano a un humano, el miedo a la muerte o la inteligencia artificial. Hoy quiero abordar un tema menor y más escondido: las relaciones de poder entre los humanos y los replicantes y como esos temas se hacen eco de problemas de clase social.

A raíz del estreno de Blade Runner 2049, volví a ver la película de Ridley Scott bastante más de una década después de verla por primera vez. La encontré maravillosamente iluminada y rodada; su tema principal se ha revisitado, expandido y se ha jugueteado con él tantas veces en los últimos años que puede parecer simplista y sobado. En cualquier caso, Blade Runner, junto con Neuromante, inauguró el género cyberpunk tomando los temas y tópicos del género noir y añadiéndoles los primeros balbuceos de la recién nacida sociedad de la información.

En este revisionado, hubo algo que me llamó especialmente la atención: la relación entre Deckard (Harrison Ford) y Rachael (Sean Young), romantizada en el infame montaje para salas de cine y de alguna manera absorbida por la cultura popular como una historia de amor trágica, se presenta de hecho como un abuso espeluznante por parte de Deckard. Después de hacerle a Rachael un test de Voight-Kampf y descubrir que es una replicante, Deckard recibe órdenes de retirarla. En lugar de eso, decide reclamarla como un premio y ella lo sabe: trata de huir de su apartamento diciendo que está demasiado afectada por haber descubierto que sus recuerdos de la niñez no son suyos para un momento de amor, Deckard la detiene en la puerta y la obliga a decir «bésame» y «te deseo». Más tarde, ella le dice a Deckard que lo ama, pero sabemos que no es cierto; ella sabe que tiene que elegir entre someterse a Deckard y que la retiren.

Lo que Rachael es para Deckard es un caso especial de lo que los replicantes son para los humanos en general: objetos, no humanos, indignos de derechos o respeto. En el prólogo, se nos dice que los replicantes se usaron como mano de obra esclava en colonias y exploración espacial hasta que un pelotón de combate Nexus 6 se rebeló y, desde entonces, están siendo exterminados por orden del gobierno. ¿Qué sabemos de los replicantes? No son robots: Tyrell (Joe Turkel), Sebastian (William Sanderson) y Chew (James Hong) son todos genetistas. Los ojos que está cultivando Chew cuando Roy (Rutger Hauer) y Leon (Brion James) le hacen una visita me parecen bastante carnositos. Los replicantes son más fuertes, más resistentes y al menos tan inteligentes como los humanos sin modificar, como se muestra en el prólogo y en la escena en la que Roy Batty ayuda a J. F. Sebastian a ganar a Tyrell una partida de ajedrez. Así que, básicamente, son humanos genéticamente mejorados, estrictamente mejores que los humanos sin modificar. ¿Por qué son esclavos, entonces? Porque lo dicen los humanos sin modificar. ¿Por qué son inhumanos, entonces? Porque lo dicen los humanos sin modificar.

La película hace grandes esfuerzos para mostrar que los replicantes son humanos y tienen sentimientos humanos. Muestran inteligencia, compasión, miedo a la muerte y tienen una teoría de la mente completa (Rachael sabe que, si abandona a Deckard, la retirará). Por otra parte, los humanos aparecen deshumanizados y bestiales: Deckard caza replicantes porque se lo ordenan, todo el mundo en Los Angeles es silencioso y se comporta mecánicamente. Los modelos Nexus 6 tienen recuerdos falsos para que sean más fáciles de controlar, pero eso no es lo importante: un ser sin autoconciencia es incapaz de autonomía y, por tanto, no puede rebelarse. No importa si creen que son humanos o no, tienen todas las propiedades de un sujeto moral y, en consecuencia, les corresponden derechos.

A final, la cuestión de qué nos hace humanos no es tan relevante como la de quién decide quién es humano y quién no. En Blade Runner hay ciudadanos de primera y de segunda. Los replicantes quedan despojados del tesoro más preciado de cualquier ser vivo: su tiempo de vida. Eso es lo que Roy Batty quiere de su creador y le dicen que no es posible. Los replicantes también quedan despojados de su dignidad: si pueden morir, eso quiere decir que una vez estuvieron vivos, así que, en lugar de eso, se los retira. J. F. Sebastian, un veinteañero sin amigos que sufre de progeria, usa sus conocimientos de genética para construirse amigos que le hagan compañía. ¿Construye iguales? ¡No! Construye humanos miniatura que lo reciben cuando llega a casa, más cercanos a mascotas que a amigos. Deckard se siente atraído físicamente por Rachael y usa su posición dominante para poseerla como una mercancía, en una deconstrucción tenebrosa de la relación típica entre el detective duro y la mujer fatal.

Lo que aprendemos es que, si quieres explotar y alienar a otro ser humano, es muy efectivo despojarlo de su humanidad. En la vida real, la diferencia entre clases no es tan clara, pero la discriminación puede estar basada en una buena variedad de factores, tales como la raza, la religión, el nivel educativo, el nivel económico, la capacidad, etcétera. En dos palabras: clase social. En este contexto, el debate acerca de si Deckard es un replicante o no adquiere una nueva tonalidad: Deckard el replicante está algo por debajo de J. F. Sebastian en la jerarquía social, pero aun por encima del resto de replicantes en tanto que acata las normas del sistema. Actúa en contra de sus propios intereses porque no es consciente del lugar que ocupa en la sociedad. Y un protagonista así es un protagonista muy trágico.

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand planets (Luc Besson, 2017)

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En español a continuación.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, directed by Luc Besson (2017).

Score: takes off with a bang, goes out with a poof.

When I was a kid, in the late Nineties, my dad subscribed to cable. The Fifth Element had just come out, they aired it several times a week at different times and it became a family tradition that we watched it to the end every time it came up. I always went to bed on a cloud, lulled by Korben and Leeloo’s kiss in Eric Serra’s “Little light of love.

So I went to see Valerian quite gingerly, having seen the mixed reviews. The first and second acts of Valerian are a crazy flurry of action and colour, insanely fun and light-hearted, but at the same time visually and technologically ambitious and unrestrained. Then, for some reason, the third act deflates and has you leave the cinema with a bad taste in your mouth.

Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevigne) are a pair of special operatives, who happen to be sexually involved, tasked with recovering a stolen Converter, a small animal that is pretty much the goose that laid the golden egg. Valerian has had a vision of a distant planet where these beings lived, inhabited by pearly humanoids that got exterminated from orbit by a mysterious dreadnought. Back in Alpha, the eponymous City of a Thousand Planets, Valerian and Laureline are tasked with protecting Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) in the wake of an unknown blight that is infecting the core of Alpha.

The similarities with The Fifth Element are not just due to Besson’s tastes: both are based on Valérian et Laureline, a French comic book series running from 1967 to 2010 (Star Wars also borrowed heavily from it, for what it’s worth). Valerian is visually stunning: hypersaturated colour, careful art and costume design in the best tradition of space opera and state-of-the-art special effects. It is also action-packed from the very beginning: after introducing the Pearls, we dive head-first into the fun and compelling section of the Big Market, an ingenious retrieval mission on multiple dimensions. Back in Alpha, Valerian and Laureline get into exciting adventures and meet quirky characters when trying to unravel the mystery of the dead zone in the heart of the massive space station. And then, when it is time to wrap everything up, for some reason, the whole thing becomes utterly uninteresting, which is really weird because the challenges of the first two acts are resolved very efficiently.

If you are a fan of The Fifth Element or light-hearted space opera in the vein of Futurama, I’d advise you give it a try. Even though it crumbles towards the end, I’d say the experience was positive overall.

I’ll try to figure out why the ending fails, but for that I need the SPOILER TAG!

***SPOILERS***

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I’m not there. (Todd Haynes, 2007)

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En español a continuación.

I’m not there., directed by Todd Haynes (2007),

Score: deeply poetic.

See, this is what I was talking about when I complained about A quiet passion.

I’m not there. is a freeform biopic graviting the figure of music legend and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. Six different actors approach the artist from six different angles: Woodie Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), a young black boy travelling the country, represents Dylan’s origins and influences; Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) is the young, folk-singer Dylan who later converts to Christianity and explores gospel music; Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) is the electric, insanely famous, alleged sellout Dylan; Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) is an actor who plays Jack Rollins in the in-universe biopic Grain of Sand and who struggles with his relationship with his wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg); Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) lives in a Western movie in the little town of Riddle and represents the elder, recluse Dylan; Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) ties them all together as the figure of the poet and the bohemian, using aphorisms and quotes from the real Dylan.

A biopic always implies a personal vision of the subject person, so why try to pretend objectivity? I’m not there. is a dialogue between Haynes and his experience of Dylan, and intending to make anyone believe that a biopic can be anything other than that is a plain lie. I’m not there. strives to capture the multifaceted essence of Dylan’s art and doesn’t bother so much with the historical events: the straight biographical approach is completely exhausted after rise, fall and optimistic-ending efforts such as Ray and Walk the line.

I’m not a fan of Dylan as of now (though this movie has contributed to my interest in him), so I don’t really have an opinion on the man. The only thing I know is the film shows the reluctant leader of thought, the wanderer, the visionary poet, the decadent rock star, the arrogant celebrity, the womanizer, the failed husband, the middle-class bohemian, the sensitive soul, the voice of a generation and the chainsmoker, and they are all true and a construct at the same time. It’s a profoundly poetic movie: the song lyrics are intertwined with the verse-ridden dialogue and the evocative images: music is poetry and poetry is music, feeling and reflection. Cate Blanchett is simply stunning.

All in all, a bold and brave biopic that actually makes an effort to capture the spirit of the subject, enter a dialogue with him and present him to the world. Delightful to watch.


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I’m not there., dirigida por Todd Haynes (2007).

Puntuación: profundamente poética.

Veis, de esto hablaba yo cuando me quejé de Historia de una pasión.

I’m not there. es un biopic de forma libre acerca de la leyenda musical y ganador del Nobel Bob Dylan. Seis actores diferentes se aproximan al artista desde seis ángulos diferentes: Woodie Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), un joven negro que viaja por el país, representa los orígenes e influencias de Dylan; Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) es el joven Dylan cantante de folk que más tarde se convierte al cristianismo y explora la música gospel; Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett) es el eléctrico, absurdamente famoso y supuestamente vendido Dylan; Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) es un actor que interpreta a Jack Rollins en el biopic intradiegético Grain of Sand y que tiene problemas en su relación con su esposa Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg); Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) vive en un western en el pueblito de Riddle y representa al Dylan anciano y recluso; Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) los une a todos como la figura del poeta y el bohemio, usando aforismos y citas del Dylan real.

Un biopic siempre implica una visión personal de la persona en cuestión, así que ¿por qué tratar de pretender una cierta objetividad? I’m not there. es un diálogo entre Haynes y su experiencia de Dylan, y tratar de hacer creer a nadie que un biopic puede ser nada más que eso es una pura mentira. I’m not there. se esfuerza por capturar la esencia polifacética del arte de Dylan y no se molesta mucho con los eventos históricos: el enfoque biográfico directo está completamente agotado después de intentos con la estructura de auge, caída y final optimista como Ray y La cuerda floja.

No soy una admiradora de Dylan por el momento (aunque esta película ha contribuido a mi interés en él), así que realmente no tengo una opinión formada sobre el hombre. Lo único que sé es que la película muestra al líder de opinión reticente, el vagabundo, el poeta visionario, la estrella del rock decadente, el famoso arrogante, el mujeriego, el marido fracasado, el bohemio de clase media, el alma sensible, la voz de una generación y el fumador compulsivo, y todos son verdaderos y una construcción al mismo tiempo. Es una película profundamente poética: las letras de las canciones se entrelazan con el diálogo plagado de versos y las imágenes evocadoras: la música es poesía y la poesía es música, sentimiento y reflexión. Cate Blanchett está increíble.

En conclusión, un biopic atrevido y valiente que realmente hace un esfuerzo por capturar el espíritu del retratado, entrar en diálogo con él y presentarlo al mundo. Una delicia de ver.

The leftovers (Season 1, 2014)

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En español a continuación.

The leftovers, Season 1, created by Damon Lindelof, based on a novel by Tom Perrotta (HBO, 2014).

Score: insightful.

On October the 11th, 2011, 2% of the world’s population vanishes. They just poof into thin air. The leftovers shows some insight into the lives of the small community of Mapleton, just outside New York City, three years after the Sudden Departure. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is the Chief Officer of the local police, keen on maintaining peace and trying to help out his teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) after his father (Scott Glenn) was commited to a mental institution, his son Tom (Chris Zylka) ran away and joined a cult and his wife and he became estranged. Mapleton, just like the rest of the country, is being slowly taken over by the Guilty Remnant, a cult with a vow of silence and chainsmoking, led by Patti Levin (Ann Dowd) and intent on making everyone remember (and obsess over, if possible) the Sudden Departure. Other important characters are Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), an Episcopalian priest hell-bent on proving that the Sudden Departure was not the Rapture by digging around the morally reproachable things that the Departed did; his sister Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), whose husband and two children were Departed and now works for the government, and Holy Wayne (Paterson Joseph), a cult leader who claims can take grief away by hugging people.

Even though the setting is similar to shows like Flashforward, The leftovers takes on a very different course: the goal is not to find out why all those people disappeared. It is not about solving the mystery, not even about taking a rational approach to it. Something painful happened with no explanation, and the different characters are seen coping with grief, reflecting on their own spirituality, looking up to an absent god for answers or preying on those who can’t find relief. The tone is successfully set within the first two episodes, through extensive use of religious imagery, from the Christian fresco-inspired opening credits to the repeated apparition of a deer, and by quickly establishing what the conflicts are.

The cinematography is more functional than elegant, the score abuses (not always appropriate) preexistent songs, and the dialogue can be silly at times, but the show is, in general, excellently written, especially on episodes that flesh out a particular character, such as “Two boats and a helicopter” and “Guest”. Probably because it deals with sensitive and powerful topics such as faith, grief and loss, from multiple perspectives. It works very well as an allegory for loss and trauma: the Sudden Departure is what you get when you add up sudden absence, an inability to rationalize what happened and a lack of closure. It works for natural deaths of loved ones, massive accidents, terrorist attacks, even broken homes. This allows the show to explore a different aspect of the topic with each character. Events and causality are not really overexplained, so it can be a demanding show; Kevin’s arc in particular requires piecing together and some patience.

All in all, probably not what you’re looking for if you want mystery and adventure, even though the plot trigger promises both. Once that it is out of the way, I recommend this show for its insight and the psychological depth of its characters.

Under the spoiler tag, I would like to analyse the characters in more depth, since there are some very juicy details.

***SPOILERS***

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Black Mirror (Season 3, 2016)

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En español a continuación.

Black Mirror, Season 3, created by Charlie Brooker (Netflix, 2016).

Score: guilt-tripping and fearmongering.

People have a weird relationship with science and technology: they trust them but they don’t bother to try and understand them. People complain about things their phones do or won’t do without realising some of those are for their own safety, or that they aren’t using the phone correctly. I worked for three years in tech support and you’d be surprised at how many people assume the manufacturer is obliged to back up all their personal data without even asking for permission and at the same time defend that 1234 is a perfectly good password. Bothering to understand the most basic things about computers and handheld devices is for nerds and millennials, and that really is a shame because technology is an incredibly powerful tool.

So, what do you do if you want to warn society about misusing such a mighty instrument? Wave your arms around, wail that the end is nigh and point fingers at everyone, of course. Black Mirror’s villains are unbelievable and boring because they’re all the lovechildren of Dr. Evil and Nolan’s Joker. Its allegories are ham-fisted, short-sighted and unoriginal. Even when it criticises technology directly, it’s really misguided.

What if phones, but too much, indeed.

But, for some reason I can’t start to wrap my head around, there is one episode in this season that it’s actually good, and not only for Black Mirror standards: “San Junipero”. Probably because it drops the edgelord act and actually examines an issue, with its good and bad aspects. Also, it bothers to create characters who actually have human, understandable motivations, which one would think would happen more frequently.

Here are my six rants for the six separate episodes:

***SPOILERS***

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Burning chrome (William Gibson, 1986)

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Burning Chrome, by William Gibson (1986).

Score: timeless classic.

Gibson is a difficult author, the way I see it. He can come off as vague, though he’s not. He not so much explains things as suggests them. He uses as few words as he can get away with, so you need to pay close attention, because every single word counts and you need to fill in the gaps. He also loves in medias res and that’s part of what makes his stories so interesting. Explaining the plot of one of the stories in Burning Chrome is kind of spoiling it, because half the fun is piecing the information together, hunting for clues about the setting, the past of the characters and the chronological sequence of events.

Burning Chrome is a collection of ten short stories, publised originally between 1977 and 1986. Its pages are inhabited by hustlers, petty thieves, technicians, hackers, assassins, astronauts, journalists and artists, and everything is made of neon and chrome. “The Gernsback Continuum” could very well be the manifesto of the latest great revolution in science-fiction, cyberpunk: we are no longer interested in this proto-fascist future where progress is taken for granted and knowledge is unambiguously used for the greater good. The future is here and it is gritty, edgy and spliced with celluloid tape. “The winter market” revisits the legend of the tormented artist with a delicious oniric, transhuman twist. I choose to read “The belonging kind” as a truly inspired allegory on alcoholism, while “New Rose Hotel” and “Burning Chrome” are fascinating twists on the classic noir narration. “Hinterlands” is some of the most eerily beautiful prose I’ve ever read.

Sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that Gibson has never been able to see the future; being one of the most influential writers in the history of science-fiction will do that. Still, this is not one of those books you read solely for their historical significance, it’s one that you can enjoy today, with no strings attached (once you’re over the fact that the society of information ended up being digital, not analogical). Let me insist: with motifs like people living their lives through the eyes of simstim stars and actually holding a job being a symbol of status, it is truly amazing that the author managed to see the things we are struggling with now coming for us thirty years ago.

Also, you might want to bring this up the next time someone says that science-fiction lacks literary quality. Within his narrative minimalism, Gibson is a wizard of metaphors and similes. ‘Directly beneath the clock, the flat eyes of somebody’s grandpappy’s prize buck regarded Deke from a framed, blown-up snapshot gone the slick sepia of cockroach wings’ he writes, as pretty much the only description of a room where war veterans gather to bet on virtual airplane fights. ‘Her other palm came up to brush across the feed-back pads, and it rained all afternoon, raindrops drumming on the steel and soot-stained glass above Bobby’s bed’, and that’s how much Gibson needs to say so we understand that Automatic Jack slept with his best friend’s girlfriend. ‘The Finn’s place has a defective hologram in the window, METRO HOLOGRAFIX, over a display of dead flies wearing fur coats of gray dust’. It’s a passage that doesn’t give that much information, but says it all.

All in all, delicious to read, take in, reread beautiful passages out loud, look out the window on a rainy afternoon and wonder where the future we were promised went.

Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017)

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Baby Driver, directed by Edgar Wright (2017).

Score: extraordinary.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a melomaniac getaway driver who suffers from tinnitus. He lives with his deaf foster father Joe (CJ Jones) and meets the girl of his dreams (Lily James), but as much as he wants to turn to an honest life once he has paid off his mentor in crime Doc (Kevin Spacey), his godfather won’t let him make this heist the last one.

Much has been said about Wright’s visual style, and his evolution continues with Baby driver. He had already worked with scenes set to significant music, but his latest movie takes it to a whole new level. From the opening sequence, Baby is established as a character for whom life has a soundtrack, and every moment must be set to the right tune. We all like to walk down the street with our headphones on and pretend we’re in a music video, he just takes that as seriously as it’s humanly possible. And so the whole movie is set to an awesome playlist and carefully choreographed, car chases and gunfights included. We hear what Baby hears at all times, including a faint ringing in the rare moments of silence. Colour is used to cue us into the tint and hue in which Baby sees the world at any given time.

It’s a very fun movie to watch. The car chases are frantic and beautiful, completely immersed in the music. I was worried I was bothering the other moviegoers because I was literally dancing in my seat. It makes me very happy that some young directors are instilling new life in the musical genre (I already wrote about Damien Chazelle): this is no West Side Story but there is no denying it’s a musical, in that music is an integral part of the experience, in a new, exciting way.

It’s not a parody or a pure comedy like the Cornetto Trilogy but it still has some brilliant comedic moments, such as “you’ve got a tattoo that says ‘hat’” and Samm at the post office, but don’t expect to laugh out loud all the time because that’s not the point.

But wait! There’s more.

***SPOILERS***

Continue reading

The long way to a small, angry planet (Becky Chambers, 2014)

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The long way to a small, angry planet, by Becky Chambers (2014).

Score: irregular.

Kids, this is why you get your manuscript proofread by a professional. The long way to a small, angry planet was originally self-published and later distributed by Hodder & Stoughton, who didn’t bother to comb over it like any editor would have with a manuscript. Angry planet slaps you in the face from page one with cringeworthy literary style: incorrect punctuation, anacolutha, unsuitable or incorrect vocabulary, a narrator with an inconsistent style, and awkward metaphors all happen in the novel.

The long way to a small, angry planet tells the story of the multispecies crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling vessel whose job is to make new wormholes to connect different places of the galaxy. Rosemary, who has a terrible and secret past, is the newly arrived clerk; Kizzy and Jenks are the techs, Ashby is the captain. Corbin is a cretin who is in charge of the ship’s fuel; Sissix is the pilot, an Aandrisk: a sentient, lizard-like species. Dr. Chef, as suggested by his name, is both the medic and the cook aboard and is a member of the almost extinct species Grum. Finally, Ohan the Sianat pair, which means he and a brain-eating parasite, make tunneling possible and Lovey the AI makes sure everything on board runs smoothly.

The characters are hard to become familiar with because they don’t have that many special features or serve a narrative purpose. Corbin is set apart early in the novel for being obnoxious, but the rest of characters are far too similar to each other. Kizzy is insufferable. Ashby has no personality. The only thing that makes Jenks different is that he’s… short. Angry planet is not so much a space opera as a bunch of tidbits about these characters. The novel reads a lot like fanfiction and I’ve been trying to figure out why; I think it’s because it focuses mostly on the everyday lives, personal relationships and backstories of the characters. Chambers has lots of fun putting the characters in quirky situations and figuring out how they react: it’s like Angry planet is fanfiction exploring the characters for another space opera where things actually go down.

This being said, there is one thing at which Angry planet sweeps the floor with other novels: worldbuilding. This is some platinum-tier space opera worldbuilding. Every sentient species, especially the Aandrisks and the Grum, have really interesting histories and backstories. The attention to cultural interactions is very refreshing and a trend I expect to keep seeing in Twenty-First Century science-fiction authors. Minute details like the shapes of chairs, handles and bottles. The development of different cultural values and ethics, linked to biological realities. Dr. Chef’s backstory made me choke up a little. The moral dilemma posed by Ohan is extremely interesting; it’s a shame it’s resolved so bluntly.

All in all, the style made me want to cry but the worldbuilding made me stay. Tread carefully.