Panic in the Year Zero: How “Mr. Robot” and “Fight Club” complement each other

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An outsider who cynically views the material attachments of modern society and the misplaced ethos of cultures at large. A plan to destroy an economic institution as a way of setting free the masses from the yolk of corporations. The divergent personalities of a potential savior that is slowly bringing him closer to self destruction, all while commenting on the ludicrous notion of corporate “personhood.” Is this a description of David Fincher’s 1999 film “Fight Club” or the USA Network original series “Mr. Robot?” There are certain similarities between the two that are hard to ignore, whether it’s those narrative parallels, the camera framing which evokes Fincher’s work, or even the use of the same song; “Mr. Robot” is aware of its influences and pays homage to Fincher’s film in multiple ways. But that’s not to suggest that the TV show is a pale imitation or carbon copy of the raucous movie. Instead, the two are echoes across a divide of time where certain global events change perspectives and objectives of each story.

“Fight Club” (based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk) was made and takes place at the tail end of the ’90s. It sounds like a joke, but it’s important to remember that the film has a pre-9/11 mentality about it. The greatest crises facing people at that time (in the western world) were existential ones. The gravest concern was what was to be done about this spiritual ennui that was affecting a materialistic generation of lost boys stuck in the position of office drones and corporate errand runners. The chief element of Fincher’s film (and Palahniuk’s book) is an examination of masculinity in that time period, how misplaced aggression can lead to the charms of anarchic fascism in the face of a world taken over by Starbucks and IKEA.

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Blu Tuesday: Gotham and Angry Birds

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Gotham: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: When wealthy aristocrat Theo Galavan (James Frain) returns to Gotham and runs for mayor, Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) becomes obsessed with exposing his true intentions. Meanwhile, as young Bruce Wayne continues his training alongside Alfred (Sean Pertwee) and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), a new wave of criminals begins to terrorize the city, including Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), Victor Fries (Nathan Darrow) and Arkham Asylum’s chief of psychiatry, Hugo Strange (BD Wong).

WHY: It’s fitting that “Gotham” isn’t associated with the other DC Comics TV shows, because unlike those fan-friendly series, the Fox drama might as well be taking place in an alternate universe – one that doesn’t seem at all interested in staying true to its roots. There’s nothing wrong with a little reinvention, but when the heroes and villains no longer resemble their comic book counterparts, it sort of defeats the purpose of making a show called “Gotham.” For instance, James Gordon’s Season Two arc is not only completely out of character, but it boxes him into a corner that has irreparable repercussions. It’s a frustrating occurrence that happens far too often during the course of the season, damaging the overall quality of the show in the process. The ensemble cast makes the most of the material provided, and there’s a certain joy in seeing Batman’s rogue’s gallery brought to life (even if they’re watered down versions of the characters), but for a series that started off so promising, “Gotham” doesn’t provide many reasons to continue watching.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes the 2015 Comic-Con panel, a trio of featurettes covering the show’s film noir style, the relationship between Alfred and Bruce Wayne, and the origin of Mr. Freeze, as well as additional cast interviews and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Supergirl and A Hologram for the King

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Supergirl: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: After escaping the doomed planet Krypton as a child, Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) is raised by a foster family on Earth, where she learns to conceal her superpowers and her true identity as Superman’s cousin. Years later, Kara continues to live a normal life working as the assistant for media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) in National City. But when she gets the sudden urge to use her powers for good, Kara must learn to balance her personal life and her new role as Supergirl with the help of adopted sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) and co-workers James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) and Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan).

WHY: Marvel may be winning the battle of the comic book heroes on the big screen, but DC has carved out a nice little niche on the small screen with shows like “Arrow,” “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow.” The latest addition to producer Greg Berlanti’s capes-and-tights TV lineup is a mildly amusing but flawed superhero drama that is arguably the weakest of all the DC series. Though the cast grows on you over time, Melissa Benoist flies circles around her co-stars for much of the season, especially Calista Flockhart, whose over-the-top performance as Kara’s boss feels like it’s from a completely different show. In fact, none of the supporting characters are very interesting, and that’s in direct contrast to the aforementioned series, which succeed largely because of them. The biggest problem, however, is that Supergirl isn’t that compelling herself (despite Benoist’s great performance), and it shows in her rogue’s gallery of villains, which are just as uninspired and cheap-looking as the action sequences. Perhaps it will perform better alongside its fellow superhero shows on The CW, because in its original iteration on CBS, “Supergirl” isn’t really super at all.

EXTRAS: In addition to the 2015 Comic-Con panel, there’s a pair of featurettes on Krypton and Martian Manhunter, some deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“A Hologram for the King”

WHAT: Struggling American businessman Alan Clay (Tom Hanks) is sent by his company to Saudi Arabia to pitch a state-of-the-art holographic teleconferencing system to the king. While Alan and his team patiently await the king’s arrival, he spends his days navigating the country’s unique customs alongside his friendly driver Yousef (Alexander Black) and a beautiful doctor named Zahara (Sarita Choudhury).

WHY: Director Tom Tykwer’s latest film was unceremoniously released in theaters earlier this year with little fanfare, and while it may have seemed like a strange decision at the time, it makes sense after seeing it. Based on David Eggers’ award-winning novel of the same name, “A Hologram for the King” isn’t a bad movie – in fact, it’s perfectly mediocre in every way – but it’s not a very memorable one, either. Though it boasts a strong performance from the always reliable Tom Hanks and good supporting turns by Alexander Black and Sarita Choudhury, the movie is a somewhat bland and uneven character study about a middle-aged white guy getting his groove back in the Middle East. Most of the film plays like your typical fish-out-of-water story before switching focus to the romantic subplot between Alan and Zahara in the final act, but while it’s an interesting development that explores the difficulties of such a relationship in Saudi Arabia, it feels so rushed that Tykwer is unable to give it the attention it deserves.

EXTRAS: There are two featurettes on production and adapting David Eggers’ novel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Nostalgia Ultra: How two projects have perfectly recaptured the past

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Nostalgia is a powerful force. When tapped into correctly, it compels people to gloss over the shortcomings of the era for which they pine. Whether it’s in politics or entertainment, people wish to hearken back to a time when they felt more positive, safe and secure; when joy was easier to come by and things weren’t so complicated. It’s usually associated with childhood because that’s before adulthood brought compromises and shades of gray. Suddenly, decisions had to be made with serious weight but also with implications that could stretch far into the future. This is why politicians always talk about going back to an idyllic past that never existed, and why studios crank out big screen remakes of various properties they hope people still get warm and fuzzy over.

But it’s a hard thing to recapture that feeling, to perfectly evoke those feelings of the past without feeling like a hollow retread. Artists with deft hands have to be able to take those old familiar stings and blend them with something new in a way that is seamless yet exciting. These projects must be comforting but also with a dash of the unexpected; alive in ways that aren’t incongruous with that nostalgia but also not purely a slave to those feelings either. Recently, two such projects have come along that have shown the way to properly revisit the past with an eye to the future. The Duffer brothers’ “Stranger Things” on Netflix and the Jeff Nichols’ film “Midnight Special” both call back to a specific attitude and time in pop culture (and in fact, it’s the same time for both of them), but they manage to do so masterfully enough that it feels both like going back to something familiar while moving forward into unexplored territory.

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Blu Tuesday: The Knick, Keanu and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“The Knick: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: After he’s rescued from the primitive rehab center that used heroine to treat his cocaine habit, Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) returns to the Knick with a new obsession: finding a cure for addiction. Meanwhile, Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland) and Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) continue to butt heads; Bertie (Michael Angarano) goes to work at a competing hospital; and Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) investigates a mysterious death connected to her family’s shipping company.

WHY: The first season of “The Knick” was a slow-moving but nonetheless compelling period drama highlighted by some fantastic performances and gorgeous visuals, which makes it all the more disappointing to see the show suffer through such a terrible sophomore slump. Several key players, particularly Andre Holland’s Dr. Edwards and Eve Henson’s Lucy, have been saddled with half-baked storylines that barely form anything resembling an arc, while Clive Owen’s Thackery is gradually built up over the course of the season just so he can be torn down again. It’s all handled very sloppily, but that’s Season Two in a nutshell. Though the surgery sequences are still fascinating to watch, and the scene-stealing Chris Sullivan is rewarded with a bigger role, just when “The Knick” seems to be finding its groove, it pivots to less worthy characters like Dr. Gallinger and the sleazy Herman Barrow, both of whom are given far too much screen time this season. The change in direction is mind-boggling to say the least, because what started as a fairly promising prestige drama has deteriorated into a series that’s hardly worth continuing at all.

EXTRAS: In addition to three audio commentaries with various cast and crew, there’s a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes on the season’s main themes, an in-depth look at some of the medical procedures, a walking tour of the set, and much more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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