REVIEW: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Written by Sarah Buddery

Having been a fan of Black Mirror since it’s humble 3 episode series’ on Channel 4, I have been delighted to watch it blossom into a genuine modern television phenomenon.

Now on its new home on Netflix, Charlie Brooker’s terrifying technology themed mini masterpieces have grown in scope and along the way, found an even bigger audience. With its thoroughly potent themes, hidden episode easter eggs and mind-bending messages, Black Mirror truly is the TV show for Social Media and tech-obsessed millennials.

For a show to consistently break new ground is an impressive feat but Brooker has done it once again with the latest episode ‘Bandersnatch’; a “choose your own adventure” style episode which hands full control over to those with the remote controller in hand at home.

I had initial concerns that this episode would feel gimmicky but I needn’t have worried. It maintains everything we know, love, and fear from Black Mirror and yet offers something completely different and one of the most unique and brilliant TV experiences in recent memory. Those used to video games that follow this format will find familiarity as we’re presented with a simple ‘this or that’ option, starting off as straightforward as choosing a cereal to, well, slightly more sinister choices; to spoil which would not only be unfair but also impossible as everyone is certain to have different experiences with this episode

And that is the absolute beauty of this episode. It is so expertly crafted that as soon as it is over you’ll want to go back to it and see if those seemingly inconsequential early decisions have potentially drastic and different consequences later on. There is a fairly straightforward path you can take through this episode but there is also much to uncover and I wholeheartedly recommend spending about 90 minutes with it to enjoy the full experience. There are several stops in the story that let you go back and do-over a certain scenario and it is at these points that you can pick something completely different.

There’s an event seen in a flashback early into the episode that I thought held the key to everything but as my episode and my decisions played out, it went in a completely unexpected direction and this totally floored me.

Breaking the fourth, the fifth, and every other wall possible, Bandersnatch is expert storytelling and Black Mirror at its most ground-breaking.

Watch, watch again, and be amazed each time.

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REVIEW: The Children Act

Year: 2018
Directed by: Richard Eyre
Starring: Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Fionn Whitehead

Written by Corey Hughes

Richard Eyre’s latest film, ‘The Children Act’, is an interesting project for the esteemed director; a story of a renowned judge and her battle with hard-hitting cases and her dilapidating marriage. It’s part-drama and part-romance, a genre fusion that Eyre is familiar with, which is why it’s frustrating to see his court-room drama crumble away so easily after such a promising opening act.

Emma Thompson is Fiona Maye, a hard-headed, sophisticated, and by-the-book judge who, with her marriage with Stanley Tucci’s Jack slowly crumbling before her, must juggle morality with the law in her decision to approve a blood transfusion for a young Jehovah’s Witness (Fionn Whitehead) who refuses the procedure on religious principle. It’s a heavy topic, but one that warrants its own story; a tale adapted for the screen by Ian McEwan, the author of the source material himself.

The issue at hand is a controversial case, but both McEwan and Eyre are cautious and delicate enough to objectively depict both sides of the debate with no sense of authorial bias, with both sides of the coin being shown with no sign of villainy. Such objectivity is achieved through Thompson’s performance that remains both professional and diligent, with her trademark charm channelling a true sense of moral curiosity about the young boy and his welfare. As the film progresses her character develops in a way that is dependant on her ability to shift between professionalism and her moral obligation as a human being, a juxtaposition that Thompson handles with a great deal of maturity; which is to be expected of course. Tucci, although we don’t see enough of him, is just as fascinating as his co-star, whose scarce appearances throughout the film add an element of banality to the proceedings. His dry exchanges with his wife (“I think I want an affair”) not only perfectly capture the nature of their exhausted relationship, but also showcase his hopelessness as a character; a hopeless romantic who is secondary to his wife’s chaotic professional lifestyle. This is a film that would sink without the duality between the pair, but thankfully their combined on-screen presence maintains the film’s buoyancy.

Where the film does start to sink, however, is with its inability to coherently juggle between the main story of the case itself and the additional sub-plot of Fiona and Whitehead’s Adam’s questionable relationship. What starts as a hard-hitting court-room drama soon plays out as a messy hybridisation of ‘The Graduate’ and ‘The King of Comedy’, a surreal sub-plot that depicts Adam’s irrational romantic and spiritual fascination with the older Fiona – a fascination spurred by his ever-diminishing faith. It feels bizarrely out of place and doesn’t hit the emotional heights that it intends to, culminating in an underwhelming denouement that takes away from the film’s stunning first half.

At its best, ‘The Children Act’ is a fascinating insight into the life of a troubled judge whose marriage is incessantly burdened by her relentless work ethic. But at its most, it’s a convoluted and bizarre story of a young man’s quest for romantic and spiritual self-discovery that is as cliché and as convoluted as it sounds.

COREY’S RATING:

3

Dunkirk

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Barry Keoghan

Written by Sarah Buddery

Films directed by renowned British director Christopher Nolan are always something of an event; few and far between but whenever does come along there is always incredible amounts of expectation. Nolan is one of those rare “classic” directors, one who has a love and appreciation for the craft and skill in making a film, and one who can easily stand amongst the all-time greats, despite his relatively small filmography.

The notion of Nolan directing a war film perhaps surprised a few people, and indeed I was one of those people questioning whether it would be Nolan directing a straight-up war film, or whether it would be a “Nolan-ified” war film. The short answer is it is neither of those things and it is wise not to go in expecting a “war” movie as you might imagine one. It isn’t short on action by any stretch, but it is much more of a thriller that just happens to be set during the events of Dunkirk.

It is fairest to describe ‘Dunkirk’ as a “ticking-clock thrilller” – quite literally in fact, as not only do the events seem to occur in real-time, but there is an ever present ticking sound incorporated into the score, serving as an ever present reminder of impending doom and tension.

This film was almost nothing like I was expecting, but was absolutely everything I wanted and so much more! ‘Dunkirk’ has the Nolan stamp all over it, with all the class and finesse that you would expect, but it is boldly and brilliantly different from anything he has done before. ‘Dunkirk’ is a breath-taking, heart-stopping masterclass in nail-biting tension that perfectly balances the action with genuine human emotion. It is a survival story at its core, and just as meticulous, precise and measured as you would expect from Nolan.

Shot on IMAX film, ‘Dunkirk’ is visually stunning to look at, and it is so refreshing to see an action thriller that is genuinely worthy of receiving awards. The cinematography is stunning and the mind-blowing attention to detail ensures that everything looks and feels as accurate as it possibly can. The incredible aerial acrobatics and dogfights were largely done for real, using real planes and with the actors genuinely placed within the cockpit of an aircraft; the result is something which is immersive and heart-stopping in places. So often you can be taken out of the moment because you know it was created on a computer or using a green-screen, and whilst you can be assured Tom Hardy and co were safe throughout, there’s some genuine heart-in-your-mouth moments that are heightened by knowing that they were done for real.

Frequent Nolan collaborator, Hans Zimmer is back with an incredibly emotive and brilliant score. It is so wonderfully woven into the soundscapes of war, incorporating the roars of planes and the tense ticking clock to absolute perfection. The  use of sound in ‘Dunkirk’ is undoubtedly awards worthy, and whilst it might be too early to call, I would be very surprised not to see it up there in the technical categories.

As is so often the case with Nolan films, the score and sound are sometimes a little overwhelming in places which made it a hard to hear the dialogue in places. Whilst it did an excellent job of conveying the chaos and noise of war, it did also make it a little difficult to connect with the characters at times. Whilst the tight run-time (by Nolan standards anyway!) did a great deal to keep it concise and measured, it did also leave a few untied loose ends which some may find frustrating. However, it is still dramatic at every turn, with unbelievable amounts of tension and an unrelenting energy that will leave you breathless.

It is perhaps the nature of the story that it wasn’t about connecting with the characters, more just the various situations occurring simultaneously which does make it difficult to pick a stand-out acting performance. Mark Rylance’s heroic every-man was the easiest to connect with however as he made a daring trip across the sea to save those stranded and surrounded by the enemy. Cillian Murphy’s deliberately un-named and shell-shocked soldier also does an excellent job of conveying the horrors of war and the effect it had on many. Despite it only being one man, the fact is he represents the mental anguish and damaged psyche of millions of people who have been through similar horrors, and it was a surprisingly powerful performance.

‘Dunkirk’ is an utterly stunning film which is as close to a perfect film as you can get. A fair warning if you’re hoping to see this in IMAX; the noise of the bombers and gunfire is absolutely deafening, so whilst it might lead to a loss of hearing, it’ll be more than worth it. Absolutely unmissable.

Sarah’s rating: 10 out of 10