Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Black Mirror - Pitch black comedy

So, I know I'm somewhat late to jump on this bandwagon, but shit me, Black Mirror is amazing.

I've been meaning to get around to watching the highly praised British comedy series for a while now. Last night, on a whim, I gave the first episode a whirl. Holy bejesus. I wasn't expecting that! For the uninformed the first episode of Black Mirror, titled 'The National Anthem', tells the story of a mystery kidnapper how abducts a much loved princess and demands that unless the Prime Minister has sexual intercourse with a pig on live television she will be executed. The kidnappers demands are broadcast via YouTube and before anyone can even try to keep everything quiet things have "gone viral". From there, things only get worse.

The setup sounds ludicrous. Which it is. But what stands out above all else is the deadly serious tone Black Mirror takes on the subject. This is dark, dark television. Nothing is taken lightly. It's a bleak study of our social media dependent society. And it cuts deep. Series creator Charlie Brooker doesn't pull any punches and isn't afraid to go places most writers would shy well away from.

But is it funny? To be honest, I think I laughed once, maybe twice during the first episode. But it's not that kind of comedy. Black Mirror's humour comes from us being aware of the absurdity of the situation these characters have been thrust into. We might not laugh, but we know that what is happening on screen is "funny". And the brilliant thing is we still care. We feel for what these people are going through. Hell, the last shot of this episode is absolutely heartbreaking.

Comparisons to the brilliant work of Chris Morris are inevitable.
And to some extent they are accurate. Perhaps the most apt comparison would be Morris' Four Lions, but even that has a much lighter tone than Black Mirror. Morris and Brooker have even worked together in the past. But where Black Mirror outshines any of Morris' efforts is in its uncanny ability to evoke such pathos from such an outrageous premise. It's ability to still feel like a comedy while simultaneously being the bleakest 45mins of television I have perhaps ever seen. I don't quite know how he accomplished this. Colour me impressed.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Drive - Expecting the unexpected

I first saw Drive three weeks ago. When I arrived in London, it was the first film I saw. Having missed it at last years Melbourne International Film Festival, and having been unsuccessful in finding it screening throughout my months in Africa, my anticipation to see this film was high.

I tried my best to steer clear of any and all reviews. Anyone's attempt to spark a conversation on the topic of Drive was typically met with me screaming at them to "SHUT UP!" followed by me inserting my fingers into my ears and repeating "LALALALA NOT LISTENING LALALALA". However despite my best efforts I still heard things. Dribs and drabs from fellow film fans and the occasional traveler. Whispers of a surprising ultra-violent turn. Murmurs of a utterly sublime soundtrack. Hushed comparisons to Taxi Driver. I couldn't help myself. I got excited.

I sat in the tiny, almost empty, cinema in central London. The lights dimmed. Then The Chromatics' Tick of the Clock kicked in. I was in love.

At least I thought I was.

The first half of the film really resonated with me. I was swept up in the seductive 80s infused electro soundtrack. I loved the minimalist nature of the film, dialogue was sparse, with more communicated through looks and smiles than actual words. It was beautiful.

Then the violence kicked in. I didn't have a problem with its graphic nature, it was pretty much on par with what I was expecting, I just didn't love the more traditional criminal underworld story that emerged along with the violence. It wasn't that it was bad. In fact it's actually very exciting. It was just that it somehow didn't live up to the promises made by the beginning of the film. I wanted more style and beauty and less gangsters spouting expository dialogue.

This got me thinking about expectations. Did the second half slump I experienced simply occur due to my outrageously high expectations for the film as a whole? Or was it born from the expectations set up by the film itself? Had the beginning of the film simply been too good? Perhaps it was a mixture of both. I went in, despite trying to have a clear and open mind, expecting a masterpiece. I expected to be blown away, knocked back in my seat. And I was for the first half. Had I not known that the film would turn violent, perhaps that jarring change of pace would have propelled the film into the stratosphere for me. But as it stands it didn't. It was more like “oh ok, I guess this is where it gets gory”.

As much as I preach about judging a film on its own merits. This notion is essentially impossible. An audience will always bring with it its own baggage. Its own preconceptions. Its own expectations. At the end of the day, all we can do is try. Try to be impartial. I have since seen Drive a second time and actually enjoyed it more. I believe the second half actually has some interesting things to say (more on that in another post). In fact I think it may actually be my favourite film of 2011. By seeing the film a second time I went in knowing exactly what to expect and could focus on what the film was saying as opposed to getting caught up in whether the film was providing what I had expected it to. The beauty of film is its ability to surprise, to take us to new and exciting places. However the true nature of film can only be exposed once we strip away the surprise, reconcile all expectation and are then free to delve in beneath the surface and explore the hidden treasures that await.


Ok, so I lied in my last post. Blatantly lied.

I've done no blogging. Hell, I actually forgot that I even had this blog.

But that will change. Mark my words. I have been inspired. Posts will likely be sporadic and brief, particularly while I'm travelling. However I am determined to record my thoughts on all things filmic and gaming related.

Wish me luck.