Film: Robot Hell

Beware of tech in ‘Black Mirror’ series

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In so many of the day-after-tomorrow tales of ‘Black Mirror,’ all it takes is a glowing adhesive button placed on a subject’s temple to copy and download personalities.

Often the mirror of Black Mirror (Netflix) reflects old episodes of The Twilight Zone, of which the show’s creator Charlie Brooker is something of a “rejiggerer.” The fourth season opener “USS Callister” stars Jesse Plemons—“Todd” in Breaking Bad, he’s a Golem-version of Matt Damon. The opener is a reflection of the famous 1961 Zone episode “It’s A Good Life,” in which a group of people are trapped at the hands of an angry, childish God. Plemons is a solipsistic game designer who worships old-school TV space adventure; he entraps a woman who turns out to be smart enough to find a way out of his game. Frightening, yes, but it’s often as hilarious a take on old-school Star Trek as Galaxy Quest.

Nothing funny at all about the Jodie Foster-directed “Arkangel,” evocatively shot in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on the verge of yet another long winter. The remarkably fierce actress Rosemarie DeWitt is a single mother overcome with fears for her child’s safety. Thus, she hooks up a nanny camera … from inside her daughter’s skull. David Slade’s “Metalhead” has the subject of rogue robots cleaning up the last bits of humanity on earth. It’s done in a crystalline black and white, with a bare minimum of dialogue; it’s a knockout tale of terror.

And if Brooker begins with The Twilight Zone, he finishes with an emulation of Zone creator Rod Serling’s 1970s program Night Gallery. In “Black Museum,” a lone woman visits a deserted roadside attraction where three particularly distressing exhibits are explained to her by the chatty maniac who runs the place, Dr. Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge).

Writer Philip K. Dick anticipated so many of these pregnant ideas, and yet a man can only be so many years ahead of his time—as the extensive rewriting of his stories would suggest in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (Amazon Prime). This anthology plays catch-up, as Black Mirror runs off with ideas that the speculative fiction author Dick hatched decades ago.

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