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BLACK MIRROR (2019) – SEASON 5 – NETFLIX REVIEW

BLACK MIRROR (2019) – SEASON 5 REVIEW

Created and written by: Charlie Brooker

Producer(s):  Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones

Season 5: 3 Episodes (excludes Bandersnatch (2019)

Original Network: Netflix

Having positively reviewed Season 4 of Charlie Brooker’s wonderful anthology show here and the recent “choose-your-own-adventure” stand alone film, Bandersnatch (2019), here – I can further confirm I am a massive Black Mirror fan. Indeed, if Charlie Brooker wrote and produced a story about himself having his toenails clipped in the future, I would definitely enjoy it that too.

Lastly, it’s safe to say I certainly loved the latest three episodes of the programme and not just because Brooker wrote them. It’s because the ideas relating to the darker side of technology are so fascinating and of course the productions are of very high quality. Here are mini reviews of each episode with usual marks out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


STRIKING VIPERS (2019)

Director: Owen Harris

Cast: Anthony Mackie, Nicole Beharie, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Pom Klementieff and Ludi Lin.

Danny (Mackie) and Theo (Beharie) portray a loving couple who having been together for some time suffer a marriage dip and a somewhat curious eleven-year itch. This drama is especially propelled when Danny’s best mate, Karl (Abdul-Mateen II) reconnects with Danny and the two play the Virtual-Reality video-game, Striking Vipers, online. Soon the two enter into a curious online relationship, one which threatens their relationships and sanity.

While the danger of videogames and VR have been explored before in Black Mirror, this is freshly presented both dramatically and humorously via an unexpected and bizarre love triangle. I was very empathetic for the main characters as they felt trapped by family life and struggle to keep the romance going. Plus, that need to escape propels some hilarious scenes that pay homage and parody combat videogames in general. Funny, touching and surprising, Striking Vipers is an excellent season opener.

Mark: 9 out of 11


SMITHEREENS (2019)

Director: James Hawes

Cast: Andrew Scott, Damson Idris, Amanda Drew, Monica Dolan, Topher Grace etc.

Actor-of-the-moment, Andrew Scott, gives another blistering performance as a rideshare/”Uber” driver, Chris Gillhaney, who kidnaps a young Smithereen employee, Jaden (Damson Idris). Smithereen are a social media company not dissimilar to Facebook or Twitter, and Gillhaney holds a serious grudge against them. It’s so serious in fact, he will kill Jaden if he doesn’t get to speak directly to Smithereen CEO, Billy Bauer (Topher Grace).

Structured around a very tense standoff in an English field between Gillhaney and the Police, the events also go ‘viral’ via social media and online news platforms. Scott’s characterisation of Gillhaney is dramatically impressive. He emits a sadness, guilt and anxiety which forces his character to commit an unlikely crime. While we do not condone his actions Scott keeps you onside with his sterling portrayal of a man on the edge. Ultimately, the narrative turn at the end impacted me because it felt so believable and human. Once again Brooker taps into the heart of the technological matter and how reliance on it can cause tragedy and senseless loss of life.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


RACHEL, JACK AND ASHLEY TOO (2019)

Director: Anne Sewitsky

Cast: Miley Cyrus, Angourie Rice, Madison Davenport, Susan Pourfar etc.

Pop star Miley Cyrus stars as pop star Ashley-O in this dramatic and comedic techno satire, which finds her character being pushed to the creative limit by her unscrupulous manager. At the same time Ashley-O uber-fan, Rachel (Angourie Rice), worships every word Ashley O’s manufactured persona spits out; much to the chagrin of her metal-head sister, Jack (Madison Davenport.) The two sisters’ conflict is exacerbated when Rachel is given an Ashley-O smart speaker and Rachel becomes obsessed with the techno doll. As the story progresses the two Ashley-O narratives connect in a somewhat contrived but captivating way.

Starting as a teenage-rites-of-passage-profile-of-a-pop-star-mash-up, this narrative crosses the genres and becomes a heist-led comedy by the end. With so many criss-crossing leaps in style the characters get a little bit lost in the mix of ideas. However, use of technology to exploit both the pop singer and the all-consuming fan finds Charlie Brooker’s satirical darts hitting more targets than it misses. Arguably, this is the weakest of the three episodes as the onerous pop manager is a bit of a cliche. Plus, more planning could have gone into the final act when it all felt rushed. It is nonetheless very entertaining episode, very much on point in its vision of pop culture, the music industry and society’s ever reliance on technology for emotional interaction.

Mark: 8 out of 11

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista,  Zoe Saldana. Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt etc.

**SPOILER FREE**

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The reward for Marvel fans and cinemagoers committed to watching every single film – from Iron Man (2008) to Black Panther (2018) – is a gigantic, breath-taking, explosive, colourful, dark, epic, fantastical end-game blockbuster. Unless you have been stuck on a desert island or on a digital detox, Infinity War (2018) is the culmination of decades of comic-book and cinema storytelling coming to a head in one incredible feat of spectacle and super-hero conflict.

The film opens pretty much immediately after the end of Thor: Ragnarok (2017). The Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has hunted down Thor, Loki and the Hulk in order to obtain the Tesseract and the Infinity Stone within it. In fact, he is after all six Infinity Stones in order to gain twisted, yet in his mind, logical control over the Universe by killing half its inhabitants. Thanos’ characterization as a villain is given the most narrative power throughout and via him we get some nuance and subtext.

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While brilliantly rendered, in look, by the army of special effects, and performance by Brolin, I kind of felt we were missing an element of mania and a committed statement of intent. I knew why Thanos was doing what he was doing but aside from an opening speech about destiny his mission lacked the political or social context compared to say that of Hydra from The Winter Soldier (2014) or Erik Killmonger from Black Panther (2018).  Nonetheless, lack of political context is a mild gripe because spectacle in terms of power and storytelling is what Infinity War is all about.

Thanos’ quest for domination was still a pretty decent structure to hang the story beats on and the writers should be applauded for trying to create a rounded super-villain. Because, allied with the incredible set-pieces and locations across the various galaxies, a major strength of Infinity War’s screenplay was the pace, power and interplay between the multiverse of characters and plot strands which were fantastically juggled by the directorial and editorial teams. This was epic storytelling, not just in length, but in scope. As we cut between Dr Strange, Iron Man and Spiderman on their particularly deadly mission; we also cut between Thor, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vision, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, Captain America and their respective advnetures. There are so many different elements at play there is little breathing space, yet with a whip-smart script full of one-liners any plot deficiencies are masked expertly with perpetual motion and punchlines.

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Visually, the film is also extremely strong with bright funky new suits for the Hulk, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Moreover, the locations in space and on Earth from the dark lands of Vormir to the verdant pastures of Wakanda are rendered beautifully on the screen. All manner of magical weapons, space-ships and military hardware explode and destroy and whizz-bang throughout. There is SO much crammed into the film that it’s a major coup that it worked so well. At one point I felt like I was watching three films in one echoing the great ensemble films I grew up with such as The Great Escape (1963). While the now obligatory end-game battle sequence echoed the likes of: Spartacus (1960), Braveheart (1995), The Return of the Jedi (1985) and more recently HBO’s epic Game of Thrones (2011 – )

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In terms of performance it’s difficult to pick out any one stand-out as the ensemble cast were uniformly impressive. My particular favourites were Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, all giving memorable performances. Saldana’s Gamora arguably had the most powerful moments of stillness and pathos especially in her tragic backstory. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker nailed their comedic patter too; the former’s deadpan literalism raising many laughs throughout. I also thought the details in look and voice given to Thanos’ Black Order stood out; notably the wonderfully named Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael John Shaw).

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In conclusion, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) overall was spectacular blockbuster filmmaking which entertained me thoroughly for over two-and-a-half-hours. It could be argued that the army of special effects technicians, plethora of Disney and Marvel executives, array of Hollywood acting and filmmaking talent and the obscene amount of money spent has churned out YET another soulless super-hero film but wow didn’t they do it in style!!

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – FILM REVIEW

CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – FILM REVIEW

**Contains clips and spoilers**

Literary and filmic characters are aspirational figures; icons to live one’s life vicariously through in order to escape the often mundane drudge of everyday existence. Essentially, I mostly go to the cinema to witness characters doing incredible things which I either cannot do or will never get the opportunity to do.  Some characters I aspire to be more like than others. I’m not a fan of Wolverine or neither am I mad about Superman but can understand why people are.  I like Batman and I loved the Avengers film and perhaps surprisingly my favourite character — along with the Hulk and Iron Man — is good old Captain America AKA – Steve Rogers.  The reason I like him is thus:

1) He doesn’t like bullies.

2) His character never knew when he was beaten.

3) He’s very by the book and organised and likes order. I imagine he would be very good at managing an office.

4) Having said that he will break the rules if the need arises and question authority if the authority needs to be questioned.

5) His shield is made from Vibranium – a seemingly made-up element which sounds really really cool.

6) He’s an anachronism and character tension comes from not fitting into the present.  As I get older I feel the same.

7) Anyone who beats the crap out of movie Nazis is fine by me!

8) Chris Evans is a decent actor as he demonstrated in films like:
Puncture, The Iceman and Captain America: The First Avenger.

9) Captain America’s origins are of working class stock. A little guy come good. He’s not a god or scientist or billionaire or spy. He’s a believable figure to aspire to.

10) He’s living proof drug experimentation can work.

So, divorcing my mind from the overly jingoistic American theme of the costume and political associations with US foreign policy I really looked forward to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

I loved Iron Man, The Avengers, and Thor and compared to some opinions I read I thought the first Captain America worked well as an origins film. Iron Man 2 and Thor 2 were lacking a bit while Iron Man 3 had some great moments and a witty script. Moreover, Avengers Assemble was an amazing bit of entertainment and Joss Whedon did a great job bringing the team together. Likewise, Captain America: TWS delivers in a way The Avengers did. Although it’s a darker, grounded and more complex film as the screenplay transplants the story of conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor (1975) into the Marvel Universe. Also, the CGI is played in a somewhat lower key as the action sequences have a raw, immediate feel to them with proper stunts and hand-to-hand combat rather than feeling green-screened to hell. It felt like the production team had been watching Michael Mann’s Heat and the Bourne trilogy for homework.  And boy did that work!

After a prologue where we meet Steve Roger’s soon-to-be-ally Falcon (Anthony Mackie) the Captain is thrown into a mission to rescue a hijacked SHIELD ship in foreign waters. So far-so-Bond but what happens after gets pretty complicated as we’re thrown into a plot involving dirty cops and agents as SHIELD’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked in one of many great set-piece action chases within the movie. The filmmakers don’t rest there though as Captain America himself becomes under suspicion and goes on the run from SHIELD with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) helping him on the road. They got the script pretty decent too when compared to the awful Man of Steel.  Definitely worth the price of a cinema ticket and then some.

The classic Hollywood movie model is to standardize and differentiate production and Marvel comic-book films follow the same formula. We know what we’re going to get as standards: one-liners, action, chases, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, big noises and crashes interspersed with some quieter moments where exposition and some character is revealed before the next big on-screen bang. Having said that Captain America: Winter Soldier differentiates itself in terms of characterisation, action and plot twists and it is also pretty strong thematically.  It links well the past and present; soldiers attempting to come to terms with post-war issues; Roger’s regret over historical events and a touching Benjamin Buttonesque scene with a character from the first movie. Moreover, there’s also some neat socio-political commentary in their too with references to shadowy NSA operations and Government kill lists.  Of course none of this gets in the way of the rip-roaring action.

The action is unrelenting and explosive as he is aided by the gorgeous but deadly Black Widow and war veteran the Falcon.  You can see the twists coming (even from the trailer to be honest) and you can’t escape some silly dialogue.  Robert Redford adds some class and I really look forward to more in the franchise. You’re going to get a few workmanlike efforts like Iron Man 2 and Thor 2 but this was a blinder. Chris Evans carries the role off perfectly too offering enough grit, humour, muscle and film-star good looks to carry the film brilliantly. And after her amazing performance in weird but wonderful Under The Skin it was good to see Scarlett Johansson kicking butt again. The chemistry between Evans and Johansson adds a fun dimension to the action too.

This isn’t just a great comic-book film it is also a very, very well-crafted big-budget slice of cinema.  Directed with verve by the creative duo of the Russo Brothers and the massive production team, Steve Rogers AKA Captain America finds himself post-Avengers pitted against an impressive foe in the Winter Soldier and a legion of other enemies – some very close to home. Of course it wouldn’t be a Marvel film if they didn’t make you wait until the end to see what’s coming next and all I can say is if quality shown in Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Assemble are anything to go by then Age of Ultron promises to something very special entertainment wise indeed.