Top Gear Series 25 Episode 1 review: The future finally looks bright

Matt LeBlanc and Chris Harris in Top Gear

Top Gear is revving its engines as it looks to accelerate full-speed ahead into a new era after its stalled start in 2016. But if the first series without Clarkson, May and Hammond was a *cough* car crash – Chris Evans’ iteration was a disappointment with critics and audiences alike – and last year’s series was an attempt at rebuilding, then the new run looks ready to put the pedal to the metal and maybe even guide it back to its glory days.

It’s down to Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid to find their own identity while winning back long-time fans of Top Gear – and on the evidence of the first episode of series 25, they look very close to striking a winning formula that stays true to the show without becoming a cheap imitation of its past.

LeBlanc appeared comfortable at the helm in the first episode of the new season, although if truth be told, with his presenting team of Chris Harris and Rory Reid, it feels like the three petrolheads are on an equal footing, enjoying their time together.

The banter between the trio is fantastic – and it was an inspired choice to kick the series off with an episode almost entirely dedicated to a road trip across Nevada in tribute to the V8 engine.

Their cheeky humour shines through, especially with a number of impromptu tasks, including a Wild West “duel in the dirt”. After which, the loser is faced with a nail-biting challenge – the watch-between-your-fingers ‘Chain Car Figure of 8’ which really has to be seen to be believed.

It’s not all long open roads and inventive tasks, though – at one point, the trio face a race against Officer Block as they run a crate of moonshine to the state line. And we’ve also got the return of the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car segment, which is a very welcome move.

BBC's Top Gear season 25 - The Stig

This week, it’s comedian Rob Brydon in the hot seat – and it’s worth watching for his commentary on his run alone. Charming, hilarious and knowledgeable, he’s a great guest to kick off the series, even if Matt and Rory can’t resist tearing into some of his choices in cars.

He set himself a goal of beating Tinie Tempah’s time of 1:50.04 – you’ll have to check the episode this weekend to see if he was able to – but the excuses came in early as the track was absolutely drenched.

Battling the elements, Rob struggled with the gears but got enough control to put in a very good effort. Commentating on his run, he teased from the studio: “The classic Roman profile gripping the wheel with assuredness and a strange sensuality.”

Naturally, it’s not perfect – some lines and segments come across as a little awkward and too scripted, with the three stars still finding their feet and getting used to each other. Reid admitted last year that chemistry doesn’t come overnight, and while that’s definitely true, they’ve still taken great strides and now come across as much more likeable.

There was a slight disappointment that the trio couldn’t complete a challenge at Bonneville – the US’ fastest race track – because freak rain left it waterlogged, but they seem just as gutted as us. Harris admitted: “I suppose I’ve now got one of the worst Bonneville stories out of anyone I know.”

All in all, the biggest take away from the first episode is just how easy it is to watch without comparing it to what has come before, and enjoy it for what it is. Sure, The Grand Tour has Top Gear’s successful and beloved trio at the helm, but LeBlanc, Harris and Reid are in the driving seat of a new era and the road ahead looks clear. Hit the gas, boys.

[“Source-digitalspy”]

Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 1 ‘USS Callister’ Shows How Technology Enables Creeps

Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 1 'USS Callister' Shows How Technology Enables Creeps

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Black Mirror season 4 is available on Netflix
  • “USS Callister” is the first episode of new season
  • Charlie Brooker co-wrote, stars Jesse Plemons

Spoilers ahead for Black Mirror season four episode one, “USS Callister”. If you haven’t seen the episode, turn away and come back later.

At its surface, “USS Callister” – the first episode of anthology sci-fi series Black Mirror’s fourth season, out since Friday on Netflix worldwide – seems like a parody of Star Trek. It’s how the poster, stills, trailer, and the title have been set up, but that’s merely because marketing any episode of Black Mirror is a challenge, given its reliance on twists. (It’s also why Netflix prohibited us critics from revealing much about it.) The one in “USS Callister” appears less than 10 minutes into the episode, when it’s revealed that it’s all just a locally-stored Trek-themed fork of a popular virtual reality game.

From that moment on, the Trek inspiration turns merely into elaborate dressing, from the clothes to the sets, which hews as closely as possible to Gene Roddenberry’s vision with the 60s original series, without getting the CBS lawyers off their cushy seats. The real target of the episode are the power fantasies of human beings, and how can they can go very quickly from harmless to beyond creepy with advances in technology. Black Mirror has always been fascinated with digital consciousness – first with “White Christmas”, then “San Junipero”and now this – though it gets a much heavier focus on “USS Callister”.

Out in the real world, Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) is the brains behind the online multiplayer VR creation, but he’s always been the ignored nice guy. He doesn’t get the credit unlike the public-facing Walton (Jimmi Simpson) – the CEO calls himself the “shiny front-end”, and refers to Daly as the back-end – he’s laughed at by his colleagues at the company, and he doesn’t get the reception he expects from the receptionist. Black Mirror makes it easy to sympathise with him, and view him as someone who can’t catch a break, but then turns that image on its head over the next hour.

black mirror season 4 uss callister nanette Black Mirror season 4 USS Callister

Annoyed and incensed by how he’s treated, Daly has created a modded version of the game, and he’s slowly introduced digital clones of his co-workers by stealing their DNA from the office, and using high-end tech to recreate them in the virtual reality. New employee Nanette (Cristin Miloti), who admires Daly professionally, is pulled in after he overhears her dismissing the idea of liking him in personal capacity. There, he expects her to be nice to him and forces her to comply when she refuses, like he’s already done with everyone else. In short, he’s the God.

But unlike, say, in a game of The Sims, his actions are far from harmless. The digital clones can think and feel pain like their counterparts outside, so when Daly demands a kiss from every female crew member at the end of each playthrough, or torments someone by creating a clone of their son and killing him in front of them repeatedly, that carries a lot more weight than starving a Sims baby to death. Black Mirror has always tried to warn us about the unanticipated dangers of new technology, and “USS Callister” posits how it can enable harmless creeps – Daly doesn’t seem bold enough to be a criminal – from acting out their fantasies.

That doesn’t make his actions any less criminal, though whether the laws in “USS Callister” have caught up to the available technologies is entirely unknown. Is Daly as bad as someone who would torture people in real life? Since the in-game versions of his co-workers have consciousness too, should Daly pay the same price as a criminal would in our world? And should a citizen be allowed to own a device that can help you digitally clone someone in the first place? Those are all questions raised by the episode, which has been directed by Toby Haynes (Doctor Who, Sherlock).

But Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror and co-writer on “USS Callister”, is more interested in creating an empowering story. Nanette is the true protagonist here, as it becomes clear, but the episode hides that by introducing us to the world from Daly’s eyes. We’ve all experienced situations where we’ve wanted to have control over someone, and that makes seeing Daly go through with that all the more harrowing, because there’s a bit of him in all of us.

black mirror season 4 uss callister deck Black Mirror season 4 USS Callister

“USS Callister” also ends up being accidentally timely, what with a woman having to escape from the clutches of a man who views her as an object serving as an allegory for the ongoing #MeToo social movement that erupted across the globe in the wake of sexual assault allegations levelled against major Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. In the episode, the video game versions of Callister employees are stuck in a universe where Weinstein is the only movie producer, so they have to work within those restrictions or face retribution.

While her other co-workers have chosen to give in, Nanette comes up with a strategy to free themselves from Daly’s control, which involves blackmailing her own self out in the real world. By doing so, she actually makes the original version of her self commit a crime – breaking and entering – who remains completely oblivious to how she’s helping a few digital souls escape their tormentor. We aren’t told how this impacts real-Nanette when Daly is inevitably found dead, but clone-Nanette ends up in a procedurally-generated world with infinite possibilities.

Black Mirror also gets in a dig about online gaming, with the first encounter for the digital clones being a conceited gamer – cheekily voiced by Aaron Paul’s distinctive voice – who threatens to blow them up for not serving his purpose. As an exasperated Nanette instructs her crew to warp away, he proclaims himself as ‘the king of space’, the words sounding hollow as you look at the vast virtual emptiness. The world will never be perfect, “USS Callister” argues, but you’ve always got to fight to make it better.

[“Source-gadgets.ndtv”]

High-Octane Filmmaking – with Top Gear director Avi Cohen – ON THE GO – Episode 65

In this episode of cinema5D ON THE GO, we meet high-octane automotive director Avi Cohen, and discuss his work on the famous car show Top Gear.

Avi Cohen

With a portfolio of work focusing mostly on automobiles, we knew that fast cars were nothing new to Avi Cohen — we were sure he was going to feel right at home in our ON THE GO Mustang.

Avi’s is the kind of life story many out there would envy. With a late start in filmmaking in his mid-20’s in San Francisco while taking a few film classes in community college, he experienced an instant connection and understanding of the visual language.

After moving to Los Angeles, Avi Cohen picked up a Sony EX1 to shoot content that he found interesting in order to put together a reel. Not having the usual network of actors, directors and other contacts that film school offers, Avi’s subjects consisted mostly of skaters, dirt bike riders and snails.

However, it was during this experimental stage that he honed his skills in shooting cars, and developed his own vision which eventually landed him a role as a director on Top Gear. Check out the trailer for the upcoming season below!

Avi Cohen also tells us about the work dynamics of shooting Top Gear, his interaction with the writers, and how it all comes together.

Stay tuned for the second half of our chat with director Avi Cohen! In the meantime, head over to Avi’s website to see more of his work.

Please visit our sponsors’ websites to keep new episodes of ON THE GO coming!

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Watch previous episodes of ON THE GO (& On the Couch) by clicking here. Visit our Vimeo and YouTube playlists, and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes!

Source:-.cinema5d.

American Gods Season 1 Finale, Episode 8 Recap: Come to Jesus

American Gods Season 1 Finale, Episode 8 Recap: Come to Jesus

Kristin Chenoweth as Easter in a still from American Gods

HIGHLIGHTS

  • American Gods streams on Amazon Prime Video
  • The first season contains a total of eight episodes
  • Episode eight introduced Kristin Chenoweth as Easter

From its start, American Gods – from creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, with the author Neil Gaiman as an executive producer – has been unafraid to alter its written source, to either update it for our times, place a bigger emphasis on the book’s minor characters, or set things on a course that takes longer to come to fruition. During the first season, which ended this week, that has resulted in some fascinatingly unique episodes on television (“A Prayer for Mad Sweeney”) and others that tended to meander for no obvious reason (“A Murder of Gods”).

The eighth episode, “Come to Jesus”, is far from an ideal season finale. It manages to bring together the disparate and separated cast together for a spring outing, but the show meets none of the usual expectations from a finale: there’s no big revelation, nor a setup for the next season, nor even an offer of some closure. Sure, Wednesday finally uttered his real name upon Shadow’s insistence, but since the audience has always been so far ahead of our “hero”, it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

The bigger reveal in the season finale was the story delivered by Mr. Nancy, the alter ego of the African spider god Anansi, whom we first met in the second episode. He’s a storyteller by nature, and he starts off with the most traditional of openings: “Once upon a time… See? It sounds good already. You’re hooked.” It helps that Orlando Jones is a fascinating orator, from his enunciation to his mannerisms, but the story is equally fascinating.

From the Bar’an temple in 9th-century BCE Yemen, where a queen participates in an orgy, and a nightclub in 1979 Tehran, which is stormed by Shi’a revolutionists, to her turn as a homeless person in the land of Hollywood, Nancy describes the fall of a goddess who had it all. The story is also constructed as an attack on all women by the world of men, in his own words, which serves as an allegory for the rise of sexism over time. Through it all, the show hints at her identity, with her ability to make people disappear with sex.

american gods s01e08 bilquis American Gods

Bruce Langley as Technical Boy, and Yetide Badaki as Bilquis in a still from American Gods
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs/Starz

With her best days behind her, she is paid a visit by none other than Technical Boy, who offers her the gift of an iPhone. Or more accurately, a gift of what’s on the phone. It’s a Tinder-like app called Sheba, which gives her unrestricted access to a bigger pool. And going by what we saw of Bilquis in the season’s beginning, it’s safe to say she readily accepted the deal handed to her by the New Gods. It’s a different arc for the character from the book, but it makes a lot more sense since dating apps weren’t exactly around in the same fashion when Gaiman wrote American Gods, which was published in 2001.

Nancy, of course, is more interested in the moral of the story. Shadow doesn’t have a clue – “Did you get this one off the discount rack?” Nancy jokingly asks of Wednesday – but the old man knows what he’s referring to. After killing Vulcan, who was part of the New Gods’ team, Wednesday needs a queen of his own. He then berates Shadow for not understanding “the concept of pissed off”, and the latter eventually accepts that he’s very confused.

In a short dream soon after, Shadow climbs a mountain of skulls to come across a buffalo with fire in its eyes. He wakes up in a shock to find himself on the passenger seat, with Wednesday driving the Cadillac. The bunnies from the previous episode make a return, except there’s a colony of them this time around. Their attempts to drive Wednesday off the road, like one did with Laura, don’t work, as he knows what they represent, and instead just floors the accelerator. Thank goodness American Gods doesn’t deem it necessary for the rabbits’ killing to be given its usual graphic treatment.

What follows for the next few minutes is a gallant depiction of the production designer and food stylist’s work. The house they arrive at is brimming with the colours – Shadow is quick to remind us that it’s Easter in the show’s timeline – from the ostentatious decorations, the multi-coloured beans and macaroons, and the bright dresses worn by the guests. Wednesday then proceeds to deliver the history behind the holiday, culminating with a raised glass to Ostara.

american gods s01e08 wed shadow American Gods

Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon in a still from American Gods
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs/Starz

Shadow is smitten from the first moments he lays his eyes on her, and after a brief encounter with a Jesus Christ – not the, but one of the many versions people believe in – he checks with Wednesday: “That’s Easter? Because people believe in Easter.” Easter (Kristin Chenoweth) is surprised to find Wednesday at her home, and she toys with Shadow who face turns into a full blush after greeting her.

Out in the lawn, Wednesday and Easter’s conversation gets hostile after he takes the blunt route. Sure, the holiday is in her name, but it’s Jesus Christ that people remember. Even as they enjoy searching for hidden eggs, no one prays in her name, he says. An aghast Easter drags Wednesday back into her home, and demands why he’s trying to spoil her day. Wednesday then spins the death of Vulcan as an orchestration of the New Gods – he’s a big liar, as Nancy attested – and pitches his war to Easter.

“They will worship you, if you make them pray,” Wednesday concludes. When Easter points out the bigger importance of Christ, Shadow butts in to add: “But he’s not the goddess of spring.” Wednesday’s plan is to starve people, to make them work for the food on the table. The show seems to be ignoring the involvement of science and technology in food production today, and the excuse of being a fantasy show doesn’t work when you’ve got New Gods around. Hopefully, we’ll get to see a Science God too.

Meanwhile, new guests – some familiar faces in Laura and Mad Sweeney – have arrived. After a bunny brings Easter word of dead in her home – it’s a holiday of rebirth, after all – she meets the pair in the bathroom. Sweeney asks Easter to resurrect Laura as a favour, but she concludes it can’t be done since Laura was killed by a God. A surprised Laura turns to her new favourite move – putting the screw on Sweeney, this time on his scrotum – who confesses that it was Wednesday’s plan all along.

american gods s01e08 technical media American Gods

Bruce Langley as Technical Boy, and Gillian Anderson as Media in a still from American Gods
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs/Starz

The get-together is complete with the presence of Gillian Anderson’s Media, who’s dressed as Judy Garland from the 1948 musical Easter Parade. She has her own pitch to make, with the faceless goons from the lynching by her side. There’s talk about brand makeover, ‘religious Darwinism’, and an underlying threat as always. Frankly, it’s gotten a little repetitive considering we’ve heard it a few times already.

Wednesday crashes the party to offer his counter arguments, which is slightly newer though a retelling of the same basic principle. “People create gods when they wonder why things happen,” he adds. “Do you know why things happen? Because gods make them happen.” It’s an immediate warning to what’s about to occur, as Wednesday rejects Mr. World’s worldview and delivers lightning from above to strike the faceless goons.

It also sets up a dramatic reveal of Wednesday’s true identity, which seems anti-climactic given the show itself has undone its work over the season, having hinted at it so much since the beginning. He lists a dozen names, and finishes with the most popular among them all: Odin. The problem is that the look on Shadow’s face can’t possibly match with the viewer’s, as mentioned previously, and the moment doesn’t carry the power it had in the book.

Thankfully, the show has a trick up its sleeve: Wednesday hands the baton to Easter, and tells her to show them – the New Gods – what she’s capable of. With a simple lift of her arms, she opens the skies and makes the wind blow, as hundreds of petals start to revolve around her. As her power builds, the land around her turns from green to brown, with all the trees and crops withering instantly, receding into the sprouts they once were.

american gods s01e08 ostara American Gods

Kristin Chenoweth as Easter in a still from American Gods
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs/Starz

And if it wasn’t clear enough, Wednesday confirms Easter’s doing: “Tell the believers and the non-believers: tell them we’ve taken the spring. They can have it back when they pray for it.” It’s addressed to Media and Technical Boy, who control all the channels of distribution in today’s time. Shadow’s belief system has been overturned – he believes everything, he says – but the moment is interrupted by Laura, who’s interested in a tête-à-tête with her husband.

The oddness of that moment, as evinced by the two actors and the musical cues, underscored the failings of the season finale. As an hour of visual splendour, it was top-notch as always, thanks to Fuller’s sense of crafting exquisite TV. But as season arcs go, the episode didn’t deliver enough on that front. At the same time, they are only a handful of shows that spend half their first season – a shortened run of eight episodes on that – fleshing out minor characters.

Those moments and asides have given us the season’s best moments – an empowering gay scene involving an Omani native, and commentary on vigilante gun violence and Mexican immigrants among others – which have hopefully shone through despite American Gods’ emphasis on experience over narrative. Now, we pray and wait for season two.

[“Source-ndtv”]