My Take on Black Mirror’s Latest Season

We live in the age of technology. Nearly every spectrum of our life is associated with some form of tech. Man made machine but now, it’s the machine that makes the man. Whether it be through the formation of our identities on various platforms of social media or the consumption of news and media through the Internet, we are heavily reliant on technology to lead our day-to-day lives.

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And that’s why Black Mirror, the bleak sci-fi anthology series created by Charlie Brooker, is exactly what we need to remind us of the grim outcomes that may result if we continue blindly down this path. Our technological advancements come with the risk of detaching from human interaction – and when the the very essence of humanity stems from empathy and connection, wouldn’t this place us on the losing side of a bargain?

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As every episode of Black Mirror imparts viewers with a key message to reflect upon, I can’t entirely say that Season 5 was a hard miss but in comparison to the brilliant, mind-blowing impact of some of the previous seasons, it was rather underwhelming.

The casting was undoubtedly well done with familiar and talented faces all around. In particular, Andrew Scott’s (you may remember him as Moriarty from Sherlock) performance was impeccable. His acting was probably the saving grace of the episode ‘Smithereens‘ in which he features.

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That being said, this season was definitely a little ‘softer’ around the edges in comparison to the previous episodes which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it hit closer to home, especially with regard to ‘Smithereens’ and ‘Ashley O’. I found the episodes to be much more indicative of issues that already exist in today’s age of technology, issues such as social media and porn addiction.

My favorite episode was without a doubt ‘Striking Vipers’, the first one in the season. I’m surprised that it’s one of the lower rated episodes, considering it brings the classic shock-value and distinct discomfort associated with the better Black Mirror episodes, but more so because of the themes it opens up for discussion – the potential for technology to impact forms of human intimacy.

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Yeah…let’s not go there yet, Karl.

Unlike ‘San Junipero’ or ‘Hang the DJ’ however, ‘Striking Vipers’ is comparably less heartwarming with the real-life implications it presses in a world of Virtual Reality which can alter people’s perception of self-image and broaden the boundaries of human sexuality. Through the uncomfortable intimacy projected on the screen of two college best friends entering a cyber-affair filled with lots of virtual sex, I somehow came to understand and appreciate what Brooker was driving at.

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Any Street Fighter or Tekken fans will feel some major throwbacks with this one.

Whether or not you’re an avid gamer, you know what it feels like to want to live out a fantasy with zero repercussions on your life. It’s human to desire more and search for an escape from a dissatisfying aspect to our lives. The episode brings to light the cost of doing so and the fight to either accept the blowback and own up to it, or continue to live in a world with no fantasy to fall back on.

The audience quickly realizes that Danny and Karl (our good ol’ cyber-loving buddies) do not feel the emotional or sexual intimacy they experience in VR in reality. They are not, by any means, ‘gay’ in that sense. However, the two of them who share years of friendship and closeness, finally find a platform to explore the meaning of that intimacy. And it stays there, limited to that realm of existence, virtual as it may be.

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The complex dynamic of VR allowing emulation of the sexual experience in a woman’s body for a man whose heterosexual identity in reality is now redefined and put into question, was brilliant. The ramifications of this on Karl’s sexual performance (in real life) are also explored in the episode. His sexual fulfillment is now entirely dependent on, not just adapting the gaming persona of Roxette, but in having it be with Danny in that form.

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Technology has the potential to completely redefine the boundaries of sexuality, gender identity and self-image. While this season may have been a little ‘mellow’ with its shock-factor, Season 5 still holds up to true Black Mirror fashion – provoking its viewers to think and reflect about how much power we’re willing to give away for our progression and the real-life impact of doing so on the most fundamental aspects to human life.

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Beatrice Reviews “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
★★★★★

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The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?


I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

I remember the first time I heard about this book. Chandler Bing, one of my favorite characters from FRIENDS, made a reference to it. “But we can’t live in the small apartment after we’ve lived here! Didn’t you ever read Flowers for Algernon?” To which, Joey made a not-so-witty reply (being Joey of course).

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When I started reading this novel, I did not expect the level of emotional attachment I would form with the characters to be so deep and truly, in a sense, profound. This story isn’t about some mouse on the cover (as some people believed it to be) but a tale of humanity, hope and the strength of the human spirit. This novel being classified as part of the ‘science-fiction’ genre, I did not expect it to explore the human condition in the way that it does.

I am afraid. Not of life, or death, of nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been.

Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68. Everyone sees him as a retard, a moron. No one sees him for what he truly is: a human being. In his pursuit for normalcy and social acceptance, Charlie is admitted into an experiment designed to increase his intelligence to a nearly ‘super-human’ level. Of course, such endeavors come at a price. With self-actualization comes the bitter truth that the sheltered life he leads is not what it seems.

Now I understand that one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.

The book examines a number of things and ultimately raises the philosophical question of the meaning of life. Everything you think you know is put under the lens. In the process of examining several themes such as mental disabilities, kindness, intelligence and human nature (and how often those three things overlap), Flowers for Algernon begs the question of what it means to be human. Should our self-worth be measured through our IQ, or through the capacity we have for love?

How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes – how such people think nothing of abusing a man with low intelligence.

I do not wish to prattle on about my love for this novella too much but I sincerely urge each of you to go read it. Flowers for Algernon is a godsend for those of us who have lost our appreciation for the simpler things in life.

The human civilization continues to seek ways to expand its’ intelligence and in turn, dominance over this world. In this journey, we have to make sacrifices to achieve such greatness but at what cost? At what point in our search for fulfillment will we have lost too much of our essence? At what point will we think to stop, breathe and reconsider what it means to be human?

Beatrice Reviews “Animal Farm” by George Orwell

“Animal Farm” by George Orwell
★★★★★

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible. 


In the fight for freedom, it’s ironic how often the very rules that were meant to protect and preserve, evolve into weapons of mass control and corruption. Time and time again, history has repeated itself and shown us that in the face of tyrannical governments and fascist leaders, the human spirit grows resilient and breaks free from the chains designed to hold it back. And yet, misplaced confidence in figures of hope that reveal their true colors when it’s far too late, lands us back to exactly where we didn’t want to be: part of a broken and degrading system.

Is it not crystal clear, comrades, that all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings?

Animal Farm explores this through the allegory of a group of wrongly exploited and overworked animals that join forces to rebel together for equal rights. The parallels George Orwell drives is pretty evident: Old Major, the wise idealistic old pig who passes on a legacy before his ill-timed death is none other than Karl Marx (The Communist Manifesto, anyone?). Snowball and Napoleon, the two pigs that jointly take on the responsibility of leading the farm post-rebellion, though short-lived in their partnership, are Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin respectively.

However, I do not want to contain myself to this most renowned interpretation of the novella. Animal Farm is a masterpiece because, although Orwell may have intended it to be a satirical criticism of Soviet Russia, it is timeless in the morals it expresses, especially considering the state of modern day governance – both in political and economic environments.

The rebellion against humanity and the fall of Mr. Jones is similar to the initial uprisings various nations have taken against their authoritarian leaders. What follows the sweet but short victory of overthrowing a corrupt government is the true test of these nations. Without proper governance, resources and aid from political allies, most fall apart and give way to tyranny, violence and suffering once again.

I speak with reference to a post-Gaddafi Libya, its citizens helpless and torn apart by the second civil war. Similarly, the war raging through Syria has led to countless lives of innocent children and civilians being misplaced, lost and with tragedy thrust upon them, hope is but a feeble dream. Most recently, the unrest and massacres taking place in Sudan has horrified the world. Following the ousting of Omar al-Bashir in a military coup, the country has descended to absolute chaos. The nation’s citizens demanded a three year transition period to recover and regroup to free themselves completely from the evil roots of the previous regime. This was cut short by the military leaders who scrapped these agreements, cutting down the time to nine months. This is not enough.

If she could have spoken her thoughts; it would have been to say that this was not what they had aimed at when they had set themselves years ago to work for the overthrow of the human race. These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them to rebellion. 

Animal Farm does a brilliant job of bringing these issues to the light in an allegorical manner which makes it easier for us to comprehend, but not necessarily easier to digest. The rampant abuse of power, manipulation of the media, literal rewrite of societal rules and history to brainwash and control the lower classes and intellectually inferior is beautifully broken down through the novella. Every individual drives a purpose that forms an integral part of this revolution; whether it be as leaders of the movement, as determined and hardworking citizens, as influencers and drivers of political propaganda or as the entitled, risk-averse bourgeoise.

This vicious cycle of war and suffering will not end for as long as we fail to learn from our past errors. It is in our very nature to forget what history has taught us but it is simply not enough to sit on the sidelines and pass comments on political crises faced by our brethren nations from the comforts of our plush sofas and sheltered homes.

It is for this reason that I can wholeheartedly proclaim that this piece of art has found a spot in my heart. Literature has a wondrous way of inspiring individuals, rousing their determination and will to fight for the greater good. Perhaps, that is why countries like China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam (amongst others) have banned Animal Farm. They wouldn’t want anyone getting ideas, now would they?

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

Although Orwell intended for this to be a criticism of Stalinist communism, there are several layers of meaning woven through his prose which can be applied even today.

This book will remain timeless, for as long as we allow ourselves to read it and still wonder, “how do we change?

Beatrice Reviews “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris
☆☆

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One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.


I hate to be that person, who reads a book of hope and love set during one of the darkest times of history, who goes, “meh, I’ll give it a 2.5/3 star rating”. A love story set during the Holocaust – that’s exactly what we need to remind us that love can trump all and prevail, even in the darkest of times. But, in this case, I just could not find myself consumed by the novel. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the true story of the two individuals (Lale and Gita) on who this book is based on. It’s the execution that I have a problem with.

Let me explain. It all boils down to one thing really: bad writing.

It isn’t great. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good either. It’s that awkward attempt at trying to do justice to a true story but failing to tick all the boxes, resulting in a novel that’s both here and there.

I love dialogue but when there’s too much of it, it creates a block in the reading experience. The simple rule of ‘show, don’t tell’ can also be applied to leveraging dialogue to keep the story moving forward. With the lack of prose, much of the story is stifled and contained to the interactions and conversations between the characters without exploring the spectrum of their emotions. It gives away too much of the story, in a way that leveraging descriptive prose and imagery [especially of the setting i.e. the Auschwitz concentration camp] would have done better.

Secondly, the pacing. I didn’t feel the urge to frantically turn from one page to the next, anxiously waiting to discover what befalls the characters next. Again, the use of so much dialogue could factor in here but moreso, the actual progression of the novel. There was no ‘rising action’ or tension that drew me in as a reader. That being said, I in no way am commenting on the true events or the nature of the subject matter in itself, merely on the writing style.

It was very choppy – with quick changes in the scenery, abrupt flashbacks that acted as an attempt to provide more depth to the characters but fell flat.

Speaking of which, the character development was disappointing. I finished the book, still feeling a disconnect to Lale and Gita whose story, though beautiful, just didn’t touch me in the right way. And this is coming from someone who gets sad at the idea of a bee stinging me and dying.

Lale is a charming young man that manages to slip in and out of tricky situations, literally translating to do-or-die scenarios. Fate leads him to Gita and the entire story has us believing that they were destined to be together. The storytelling, in itself, however has much left to be desired. The sense of detachment I felt from the book afterward was not what I’d expected to take away from the read.

That being said, the book acts as a testament to a true account of love and survival in one of the most harrowing periods of history. The world needs stories like this to be shared, people whose love has withstood the trials of time and reality to inspire those who feel there is less beauty in this world worth living for.

I would recommend this book to those of you who’d like to experience that on some level. Maybe this book didn’t touch me on a sentimental scale but you might feel differently.

Here’s to hoping you do.

 

Beatrice Reviews “Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe” by Melissa de la Cruz

“Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe” by Melissa de la Cruz

★☆☆☆☆

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Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe, from New York Times bestselling author, Melissa de la Cruz, is a sweet, sexy and hilarious gender-swapping, genre-satisfying re-telling, set in contemporary America and featuring one snooty Miss Darcy.


Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe? More like Pride and Prejudice and (a Complete and Total) Injustice.

My habit of starting a book and not being able to put it down till I get to the very last word has nearly always proven a blessing. I can never leave a book unfinished. It’s practically a cardinal sin to me. But the more I read this novel, the more I felt an overwhelming necessity to chuck these principles.

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I cannot begin to comprehend what the author was trying to achieve with this book. Whether or not you’ve read the original Jane Austen masterpiece, this book was just a complete and utter mess. Sure, gender-swapping the roles was an interesting move and the tributes to the original characters and setting by retaining some of the names was evident but in no way redeeming of the utter displeasure the book brought me.

I see not a single way in which this story is worth being branded as a ‘re-telling’ at all. It’s a shame because the idea had a lot of potential and with the right execution, could have actually turned out worlds better than the disappointment it ended up being.

I’m not asking for re-tellings of classic novels to be spot-on. In fact, the more innovative the spark they bring in, the more fun they are. The entire purpose of a re-telling is to have a throwback to the magic of the original while still standing on its own as a memorable read. But nothing – and I truly mean nothing – was worth this re-hash.

The characters were total dillholes. Darcy (a female in this rendition) is a successful, uber-rich hedge fund manager making it big on her own having cut off ties from her family and pursuing a career on Wall Street. I am totally in for ambitious, career-powered women but oh-my-Austen-stars, her character is intolerable.  She certainly did not act, in any way, with the maturity you would expect from a self-made woman. Instead, we see the unravelings of an utterly petty, totally awkward, not to mention, very cringeworthy character.

(Also, author – in this day and age, I doubt a 29 year old single American woman would face as much pressure to get married as Darcy did in the book. It isn’t 1813, anymore.)

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And don’t even get me started on Luke Bennet. The character progression, if I can even call it that, was a wreck and I fail to understand what even happened there. No, really. I’m not even going to bother expanding on this point because it isn’t worth it.

One of my favorite things about the original is the beauty of the writing style. Jane Austen weaves stardust into her words, bringing to life a story for the ages about people that are not only flawed and human, but relatable.

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Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail says it right – the language is pretty flipping amazing. Of course, classics carry a charm that no modern-day rendition could capture in terms of writing style but by the Gods of Literature, at least try to make it readable.

I doubt this book was run by an editor. I spotted quite a few and very small editing mistakes – both in terms of grammar and actual plot loopholes. I’ve read fanfiction by kids that possessed a certain style in their storytelling, that although worked off the ideas of established novels, still made it their own. I just could not bring myself to be okay with the writing style the author employed here. To quote Chandler Bing, it was ‘a big dull, dud’.

This book is the exact example of one of the biggest reasons to stick to the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule when writing. Endless and boring dialogue consumed most of the pages with the characters verbally explaining their back-stories for the reader to hear. Brand names are dropped here and there to have us learn the wealthy lifestyle Darcy leads in New York. Plot arcs are forced down the readers throats simply to have there be this weak connection to the original Pride and Prejudice. It was like the writer was trying to prove a point on an English-Lit paper she had to turn in.

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I’ve never, ever written a review as scathing as this one but that’s also because I never read a book so bad as this. Maybe the strong reaction roots from my undying love for the original work of art but honestly, I’m saddened because this was such a waste.

If you’re going to re-write a legend, please don’t half-ass it and pleaseGodplease, do not think you’ll get away with comparing it to the original if you do. Just – no. Now, excuse me while I step away to go read a Jane Austen original.

I’m in desperate need of some literary healing.

Beatrice Reviews “Stardust” by Neil Gaiman

“Stardust” by Neil Gaiman

★★★★

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Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall—named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining..


My first read off my 2k18 Christmas Reading List was Stardust by Neil Gaiman. This also happens to be my very first Neil Gaiman book and oh my dear stars, I loved it. Granted, I know I’m the exact opposite of a harsh critic given my history of dashing out high ratings but believe me when I say, you’re in for a truly magical time with this book in your hands.

Stardust is undeniably a fairytale, yet goes beyond a conventional telling of magic and adventure. The tale follows half human, half faerie but every bit a boy in the prime of his youth as he makes a blind promise that sets him off on a journey that inevitably changes his life forever. Hailing from Wall, a village situated near the boundary between the world of mortals and Faerie, Tristran embarks upon an adventure into the world of magic and miracles, vowing to locate and safely return with the fallen star he spotted descend from the sky. Little does he know that he is not the only one in pursuit of the star.

Gaiman’s writing transcends the book from what it could have been – just another fairytale with witches, faerie-folk and whimsical characters – to an enchanting quest layered with multiple themes and allegories that resonate with the reader long after the end of the story.

There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.

No doubt that Stardust is a romance (a slightly surprising discovery that tickled my fancies) but the love story interweaved into this book is just one element of the beauty it has to offer.

But through Stardust, we see the transformation and self-discovery of a naive boy, viewing the world as a quest ready to complete, into a man that acknowledges and accepts the challenges and twists that come along his path of fulfilling his Heart’s Desire.

 “The terms of my servitude are fulfilled, and now you and I are done with each other.”

In our world, the word ‘promise’ does not carry as much a weight as it should. But in the world of Stardust, the breaking of a vow is considered sacrilege. Whether it be between a young boy and a star, a family of brothers trying to (actually) kill each other two wily witches – one’s word means something. And sometimes with it comes the sacrifice of one’s freedom.

The wind blew from Faerie and the East, and Tristran Thorn suddenly found inside himself a certain amount of courage he had not suspected that he had possessed.

Brave or stupid? That’s a question I found myself asking about our protagonist, Tristran a number of times throughout his journey. Either way, Tristran possessed courage, a trait of his that is emphasized throughout the book, as he’s made up his mind to see his pursuit through to the end, even if the results may not be what he expected. ‘Courage’ as a theme is often presented in fairytales, sometimes in utterly outlandish manners, but in Stardust, it’s well-written and relatable. Because courage isn’t always about running headfirst into the fire. It’s also about knowing when to step back and let things go.

Stardust is like that old friend you meet up with on rare occasions and yet things are comfortable and familiar. Gaiman’s writing prompts a feeling of easiness and despite its magical, out-of-the-world elements is relatable with parts of our life that we may have not seen coming.

The characters are lovely and it is a joy to witness Tristran’s growth from a love-sick boy to a man of good values. I am not a big fan of the whole ‘damsel-in-distress’ trope and so I count my stars (see what I did there?) that there was none of that nonsense here. In place of sappy dialogues, Gaiman uses witty banter and good humor. The only slight problem I had with the book was the pacing – I found it a bit slow and laggy at parts, but it didn’t detract so much from the reading.

All  in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Stardust. Like an ancient fable passed down from generation to generation, the book is a collection of the best elements of a fairytale one could ask for – a beautiful love story and epic adventure with dashes of darkness and truth. While we may not be able to visit the world of Faerie, Neil Gaiman does a fantastic job of showing us that magic does exist in every nook and cranny of our world and all we have to do to see it is simply believe.

(Now, excuse me while I step away to make this a double-feature of fictional enjoyment and Netflix the movie!)

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Gotta say, the cast sure looks promising!

A Conclusion Worth Waiting For (Bahubali 2)

Bahubali 2: The Conclusion ★★★★★
(a spoiler-free review)

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I’m going to scrap the usual format I have for my movie reviews and just get straight to it with this one. Bahubali 2: The Conclusion gets a solid five stars on my board. I would give it a million stars if I could because this movie rocked me to my core, and was truly a conclusion worth waiting for. Take Medieval India, historical romance, and an epic fantasy legend executed perfectly through a genius-director – and you get the wonder that is Bahubali.

I watched the first part on a bus journey returning home after my semester exams.  I had been sleep-deprived and couldn’t care less what movie was playing on the overhead screen but when the name S.S. Rajamouli popped up, my interest was piqued. I’d remembered watching another film he’d directed called Magadheera and wanted to see if this would be worth my time. Two years later and I find myself sitting at the edge of my seat in the cinema theatre – a mix of excitement, nervousness, and anticipation for what was to come. It did not disappoint. Continue reading