“Black Mirror” s. 4 (Charlie Brooker) How amazing and prescient is this show??? “USS Callister” takes on “Star Trek” gate-keeping and Gamergate genderism, and turns it all into a fun, heart-breaking, tense adventure that is probably the best covert tribute to Gene Rodenberry’s vision of a humanist future imaginable. / “Arkangel.” We can’t save our children from living life- we just give them the tools so they can’t blame us when they inevitably screw things up. / “Crocodile” A fairly standard bleak morality tale of things getting worse and worse, but all we can glean from it is that it is best to leave the past in the past, instead of dredging stuff up. Yeah, forgive and forget is not something people are good at. / “Hang the DJ”- An all-happy Black Mirror?!? This tale of true love resonated and broke my heart./ “Metalhead”- “Duel” meets “The Terminator” meets “Cujo” in black and white. / “Black Museum”- where it all comes together! Favorites: “Callister” and “Hang the DJ”. Least favorite: “Crocodile,” which was fine, but surprisingly predictable by “Black Mirror: standards (5).
“What Happened to Monday?” (Tommy Wirkola). Like a “Black Mirror” episode that never was. Noomi Rapace black-orphans her way through a dystopia where siblings are not allowed… but she has six! One of those thrillers where the future is entirely centered on whatever the one premise is- starts fine, devolves fast. Rapace is fantastic though, reminds me of Sigourney Weaver in her ability to combine model-like elegance and ass-kicking athleticism. With Willem Dafoe as a finger-cutting Grandfather and Glenn Close as the Power-Mad Female Politician TM. (3)
“Fallout 3” (Bethesda) Want to experience the apocalypse with minimal radioactive exposure? This expansive, grim-looking classic from 2007 is very similar to the Bioshock aesthetic, but almost excruciatingly realistic, which matters when you realize you’ve picked up an excess of cool items and their cumbersome weight makes you a sitting duck. (5)
“Y: The Last Man” (Brian K. Vaughn) (Re-read) Such a classic, so well paced. After all the animals with a Y chromosome suddenly die, only escape artist Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand survive. The reasons why this is so are not immediately, if ever, clear, but the aftermath allows Yorick to say things like: “I thought when all men died, women would hold hands at the UN! Since when did women get to so petty and POWER-HUNGRY?” To which his mother replies: “Didn’t you vote for Hilary?” Yorick: “Point.” (this in 2002.) (5)
The second arc, “Cycles” ties motorcycles, menstrual cycles, and Yorick’s stay at a blissful community of ex-prisoners. Brian K. Vaughn does impressive writerly hoops to make us forget how unrealistic it is for Yorick, who is such an immature brat, to NOT take some advantage of the situation sexually… or for any of the heterosexual women around him to take advantage of HIM. (5)
“One Small Step” brings a TWIST: two astronauts, (well, one astronaut and one cosmonaut) survived in a Soyuz spacecraft! Will they land safely on Earth and ruin the comic book’s name? (5)
“Safeword” is kinky good, and perfectly addresses the nagging problem: “Oh come on, he’s the last man on Earth, someone let him get laid already”!(5) (this covers up to #26)
Speaking of famous self-pleasers! “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” This is one of the first web-shows of quality, originating in, of all places, Crackle. Its limited length allowed for Jerry Seinfeld to have inexpensive, amusing little encounters with fellow celebrities, not always of the comic variety. Think Jim Jarmusch’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” but with an inoffensive, people-pleasing vibe to it. Note that the Louis C. K. episode was initially tastefully excluded- then re-added last month, perhaps after Netflix realized that if potentially offensive comedians were wiped from existence, we might be left under the totalitarian tyranny of Jim Gaffigan. And no one wants to know what’s in HIS Hot Pockets. (4)
“St. Francis of Assissi” (G. K. Chesterton). Not everyone can be a saint- unless you lived between the years 900 1,400 A.D., during which pretty much every other Pope was canonized as a given, and the popularly elected saints numbered over 10,000- meaning every other European village had a local pious miracle worker. By contrast, the last thousand years have seen a meager 7 popes become “saints,” and the number of Mother Teresas among us is not impressive. (The logical reason: the Saints were typically those who had died as Martyrs during the Roman persecution of Christianity. Once Christianity got the upper hand in history, they, er, took over over the role of persecutors.)
In recent years, Popes have gotten back into the canonization biz, with John Paul II canonizing almost 500 peeps in two decades- consider that only 300 had been canonized in THE PREVIOUS SIX HUNDRED YEARS of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict, not to be beat by his predecessor, also went in a “You’re a saint! And you’re a saint! Everybody is a saint!” spree. No reason to get excited: the world has not gotten suddenly saintlier. A bulk of that number merely consists on sainting up historical Christian heroes in bulk, such as the “Martyrs of Otranto,” the men of an Italian town who, in 1480, was besieged by an Ottoman Army. The siege took over 12,000 lives overall. Over 813 of the survivors were given the magnanimous option to convert to Islam. They refused, at which point the scimitars went to work overtime on the ungrateful Christian necks. The slaughter at Otranto so outraged both Italians and Spaniards that it inspired a renewed, successful push against the Ottoman invaders. So I suppose anyone who dared wonder why Jesus had failed his flock could rationalize it by deciding it happened for the larger good of Christendom.
They don’t celebrate Halloween in Italy, but if you’re visiting the old country during October and crave a creepy display, stop by the Church of Otranto, where the 800 skulls watch over the altar.
In any case, the average modern person can consider themselves devout if they can name four or five saints: St. John the Baptist who was beheaded? St. Peter the Apostle, who was crucified upside down? St. Catherine of the Wheel, who died, (funny coincidence) on a Catherine Wheel? Still, most Westerners are somewhat aware of St. Francis of Assisi, the leper-kissing, tree-hugging, bird-baptizing Italian proto-hippie. (He is the patron saint of ecology. How progressive!)
G. K. Chesterton’s wonderful, opinionated, smug biography charts Francis’ emotional growth, telling it all with unquestioning devotion, and with weak history that is full of bizarre biographical ellipses (“Francis then suffered from the illness that would hamper his dreams.” And the illness is? Fever, stumped toe, gonorrhea? Diagnosis is avoided, and one suspects Chesterton simply either doesn’t know, or is too ashamed to tell.) Non-believers and non-Catholic Christians alike will love the flowing style and passionate erudition that Chesterton displays, but cringe at his overbearing religious zeal. If the creator of “Father Brown” ever had doubts about faith, they’re not conveyed here: he, like Peter, holds the keys to the truth when it comes to putting Catholics far above the misguided Protestants, the heretic Islamists, and especially over his “honest atheist” friends, who may mean well but are blinded by their “scientism.” The DIShonest atheists fare worse than all other creeds. (4)
“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” (Neil deGrasse Tyson). One of the more prominent purveyors of what Chesterton called “Scientism,” Tyson gives us a new brief history of time… Or attempts to anyway. Truth be told, it feels a lot more like a hurried cash-in, collecting old essays from Natural History Magazine. I don’t feel any smarter after reading it, given that a lot of this material can already be found verbatim in “Death by Black Hole,” which I recommend instead (3).