Androids. One of the most popular, recurring themes in science fiction. A theme very popular today as several movies and television shows have focused on topic and made it very, well, human.
First up there’s the feature film, Ex Machina in which nerdy genius Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest which allows him to spend a week with Nathan Bateman (Oscar Issac), the mysterious, reclusive CEO of the company where Caleb works. Nathan lives in a house in the middle of primeval forests, accessible only by pontoon aircraft. He has created Ava (Alicia Vikander), an android he wishes to pair in conversation with Caleb to see if artificial intelligence really works. No spoilers here just a note that this suspenseful film delivers a memorable climax and conclusion. It’s on DVD and Blu-ray, the latter boasts a superb picture but the sound is tricky. The dialogue is on the soft side but if you boost it, the music score and sound effects might blow you out of your home. The exaggerated dynamic range eases up after the first third of the movie.
Humans is an 8-part first season of a show filmed in Great Britain and shown in the U. S. on AMC. The show is set in the near future where people can buy “synths,” as the androids are called, to do domestic duties and the like. But the creator of the androids that look exactly like humans gave a small group of them extra, human emotions and reasoning powers. Humans follows the interactions of this artificial family with a real human family. They win over most of the real humans, but not all. At the end of the season, the line between human and android begins to blur. Low key yet totally absorbing thanks to fine casting and an intelligent script.
Extant was created as a starring show for Halle Berry. She stars as an astronaut scientist who orbits in space for a year, then returns to earth mysteriously pregnant. That’s the main theme, but a parallel one examines her relationship with her android son, Ethan. One of the most interesting questions asked is whether Ethan is “property” or not. The show turned into a bit of a snooze in its first season, so no blame if you stopped watching it. But season two is revved up with new acting blood, tighter scripts and more answers. Give it a second chance and I think you’ll agree that it’s appealing science fiction. And after watching all three of these productions, you’ll probably start looking at the stranger next to you at the bus stop and asking yourself “I wonder if he/she is one of them?” You’ll never know.
I saw the first episode of Mr. Robot (USA) last night and was pretty blown away by it. But then I’ve always had a little rabble rousing in my DNA. One of my best friends when i was in Jr. High School in Chapel Hill was against the establishment and wanted to hire an airplane to drop anti government fliers over the UNC Campus. I sort of like the idea. The hero of Mr. Robot is Elliot (Rami Malek) a young man hired by E Corporation to protect its server systems. Only Elliot by night is a cyber vigilante who hacks accounts, ferrets out evil, and confronts the perpetrators with their own files.
Anti Corporation Elliot is recruited by anti corporation Mr. Robot (Christian Slater, in a role ideally suited to him) who has elaborate plans to do a karate chop to E Corp and others by de-funding all corporate entities. Elliot is supposed to defend E Corp but in the essential voice overs that run in his brain, we find out he really calls it Evil Corp. Some of the language against corporations is tough (one might even think Michael Moore was hired as a consultant), and the pacing is brisk. Through all is Rami Malek, who mesmerizes. You won’t be able to take your eyes off him just like you won’t be able to drop Mr. Robot once you’ve started viewing. You’ve been warned.
Poldark is a remake of an earlier BBC series, and both are based on a series of novels by Winston Graham. Ross Poldark fights in the American Revolution, body on the English side but heart on the American, and gets severely wounded and left for dead. Two years later, very much alive but with a scar to prove his nearness to the grave, he returns home to Cornwall to find that his father has died, his inheritance is next to nothing, and his girl, thinking him dead, is about to marry another man. He sets out to reinvent himself and once again become a recognized leader in his community.
The actor playing Poldark must hold the screen whenever he appears and smouldering Irish actor Aidan Turner fills the bill, reminding us that in spite of the popularity of Magic Mike, hirsute men can still reign as sex symbols. Like the old Bond saying, women will want to be with Poldark, men will want to be him. Turner’s Poldark has swagger and then some. The other characters are ideally cast and the magnificent, craggy Cornwall coast also plays a great part in the visual impact that this series has. The photography is stunning and the period details feel entirely real; the costumes look lived in. PBS is airing the show on Masterpiece at 9 p. m. on Sundays. One episode has gone down – use “on demand” for that and set your DVR for the rest.
I can’t believe that a sci-fi/horror film geek like myself missed the whole first season of this remarkable, and oh so very scary show. Gosh, it was created by Guillermo del Toro, one of my favorite horror directors who directed The Devil’s Backbone, one of the greatest ghost story movies ever made and Pan’s Labyrinth, one of the greatest fantasy film stories
ever made. And it stars Corey Stoll, who was so brilliant in the first season of House of Cards. No cost has been spared to created great, sometimes gruesome special effects. Del Toro himself tautly directs the first episode.
The story starts when an airplane arrives on the New York tarmac with all but four passengers dead. A virus is feared and that’s right, but it turns out to be a disease that was totally unexpected. There are vampires of a special sort loose and the infected passengers begin to infect other people and on and on it goes. Stoll plays a CDC inspector who finds out the truth and through circumstance draws a small band of people in to help him. One of these is an elderly professor who has had experience with this plague during World War II when he was a Jewish prisoner of war. It is The Master, pictured below, who has started everything rolling and it is The Master who was on that plane. Prepare for a few jolts in this
adult series (watch it when your kids are safely in bed asleep). Prominent characters bite the dust, characters are forced to do things they find unpalatable, and it’s often all about survival. Season two premieres Joly 12 at 10 p. m. on FX . But don’t go in unarmed, you have time now to binge on Season 1. Hulu (Called Hulu Plus until earlier this week. Now the Plus has been dropped) has all 13 episodes which makes its modest monthly fee seem quite low. While you’re there you can also binge on the first three seasons of Spiral, the gritty French crime procedural. That makes Hulu pennies an episode, and they have a lot more, too, including a huge collection of Criterion films and some very old TV shows in great shape.
Note: The first photo above is the original promotion art forf season 1 but it was withdrawn. I can’t imagine why. One of the ways the vampires can infect a person is to splatter these tiny “worms” that can enter the body through the nose, ear, or yes, the eye.
Remember when Netflix just sent out discs? The company has rapidly progressed beyond that to offer unlimited streaming video at a bargain rate (if you watch nine or more titles a month it will be less expensive than Red Box and right to your home). A few years back Netflix also started producing its own shows, delivering a entire series at once. Unlike the networks, which provide one episode a week, Netflix offers all at the same time and leaves the pacing up to the viewer. House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have received the most attention, justly so; but there are others worth seeing, And Netflix makes all seasons available so you can start at the beginning, which I recommend. Here are three of my favorites.
The Fall. Two seasons (A) Netflix doesn’t actually produce this show but licenses it for U. S. distribution. It stars Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, a Brit police investigator who is brought in to catch a serial killer in Belfast. That murderer is played by Irish actor Jamie Dornan. The show is unusual in that the audience knows who the killer is; the concentration is on the chase and how it affects both police detective and killer. If you like British crime dramas, you can’t miss this. The long interrogation scene between Stella and the killer in episode six of season two alone is worth the price of admission.
Lilyhammer. Three seasons (A) Steven Van Zandt, who plays in the E Street Band and had an ongoing role in The Sopranos, stars as a New York mobster who has been put in witness protection and sent to the small Norwegian town of Lilyhammer for protection. He quickly learns that he can easily replicate the life he had in the U. S., opening a bar and making protection deals with locals. It’s a hilarious show that you might think would rely on the one joke, but the writers are brilliant at keeping things interesting. It is, to my mind, one of the funniest shows of this century. Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” and Van Zandt’s boss in making music, appears as a coroner at the end of season three.
Marco Polo. One season (B) A sprawling, grandiose fictionalization of explorer Marco Polo’s time spent in the court of Kublai Khan. Marco (a handsome Lorenzo Richelmy) becomes the Khan’s confidant, when it seems like a good idea, but is often the first one blamed when anything goes wrong. Expansive battle scenes and great attention to period detail make the series seem more historical than it is. Still if you can accept it as fiction, it’s often quite thrilling. Be patient, it doesn’t really settle down until the third episode. Netfloix has remained mum about a second season.