Black Mirror: White Christmas review

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. I bet when Bing Crosby sang that his vision was about as far removed from Charlie Brooker’s one as you could get. There’s only been a few Black Mirror episodes over the years, each taking a look at a not-too-distant future and our uneasy relationship with technology, but they’ve all been quietly affecting.

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In a slightly disturbed way I’ve come to look forward to them. Probably because the writing, concepts and performances are just so compelling. And as their notoriety grows the calibre of established actors that want to be on board grows too. That’s not to say some brilliant up-and-comers haven’t featured in an episode or two (Jessica Brown Findlay, Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson, Toby Kebbell).

With this Christmas special we start in a kitchen with Jon Hamm’s character Matt trying to engage Rafe Spall’s reclusive Joe in conversation. We don’t know why they are there, but each allude to the fact they’ve done bad things in their past. Are they in prison? Purgatory? Self-imposed exile?

It’s Christmas so Matt suggests they have dinner and proceeds to tell Joe his story. One which involves Matt providing real-time dating advice to a young chap which quickly takes a turn for the worse. He then proceeds to explain his day job: a sort of salesman/account manager who’s tasked with setting up an artificial intelligence programme involving Oona Chaplin’s Greta – in another disturbing yet highly plausible story.

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As each story feeds into the other Joe begins to open up, slowly sharing the experience which led to him being where he is now. So what begins as a straight up tale of a failed relationship gradually gets darker and darker, until the brutal reveal at the bitter end. You’d expect nothing less from Charlie Brooker right?

Jon Hamm does well driving the plot along initially. His natural, easy charisma allowing Joe to tentatively start talking. And Spall is a bit of revelation in terms of his performance. The anguish and self-loathing his character goes through is heartbreaking and thoroughly convincing.

As ever, Brooker’s standards as a writer remain high and he explores some intriguing themes and concepts. His characters are well realised and he makes you care about what will become of them. The casting no doubt helped. Both Hamm and Spall showcase their acting chops in maybe a way we’ve not seen before and they work well together.

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If you’re a fan of previous Black Mirror episodes, this will be right up your street. If you’re new to Brooker and his dark and twisted world, this is a TV experience that will be worth your time. Just know that you’ll be going to the dark side and it will be a gruelling – albeit rewarding – experience once you see it through.

Atwell’s star burns bright in Black Mirror

It’s only been a couple of years since the first round of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror – a drama mini-series consisting of three stand-alone episodes, all set in the not-too-distant-future.

black mirror 15 million merits findlayThe stories aim to hold a mirror up to society and show us where we ultimately could be heading, should we not keep a tighter leash on our moral compass. Production company Endemol describe it as a show that ‘taps into our unease about the contemporary modern world with a techno-paranoia feel’.

For me, the stand-out story from series one was 15 Million Merits, starring Jessica Brown Findlay. A satirical examination of our current obsession with reality TV and constant craving for distraction in our lives. A brilliantly realised tale that was both haunting and scarily believable as a concept.

Therein lies the strength of Brooker’s talent. In fact, the depth to his writing and appeal of the stories has attracted Hollywood’s attention, with Downey Jr planning a feature-length film version of series one episode The Entire History of You, which originally starred Toby Kebbell.

Brilliant Brooker and astonishing Atwell

Series two recently began with the episode Be Right Back, starring Hayley Atwell. An actress who’s been on my radar for a while, but I’ve yet to see her in anything of note. black mirror atwell phone bedHere she puts in a thoroughly believable performance as young, grieving widow Martha, who turns to a mobile app to recreate her recently-deceased partner Ash (Dohmnall Gleeson, son of Brendan), from his email and social media history.

There’s been a few reviewers who have said that, between series one and two, Brooker has matured as a writer. Fatherhood has softened him up, or at least make his writing style less aggressive and shocking. Perhaps that’s true. What is clear is that Be Right Back represents a more considered, mature and sensitive offering, from a clearly talented writer. One whose style and ideas are as distinctive and unsettling, as they are moving and fascinating.

To get the juices flowing, here’s the trailer for the next episode, White Bear. Enjoy!

Top 10 thinking man’s actresses

Hello my film-loving friends. Today I wish to share with you my list of a thinking man’s top actresses. Ladies that have a certain allure in terms of intelligence, physical beauty, acting prowess and – to avoid using an overused French phrase – an indefinable something.

With each actress I’ve also mentioned the films that first made me fall in love with them. Now you may disagree and say some of these ladies are just a pretty face and nothing else – that’s fine. Hopefully I can state my case and change your mind.

  1. Natalie Portman – Garden State, Closer, V for Vendetta
    It’s no secret I hold this actress in high regard and I’ve previously discussed her top performances in another posting. So I’ll just say she makes my top spot by being a perfect blend of intelligence, beauty and vulnerability – a winning combination.
  2. Eva Green – The Dreamers, Casino Royale, Dark Shadows
    Hypnotic, alluring, sensual – she got her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The DreamersThe Director described her as ‘So beautiful, it’s indecent‘. It’s not the world’s best film in terms of plot, but if you want to truly appreciate the appeal of this actress I highly recommend it.
  3. Anne HathawayLove and Other Drugs
    In this film I’ve mentioned she plays a character who has early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Some of her scenes – particularly in the third act – are heartbreaking and put her firmly in third place. Even without Catwoman in The Dark Knight she’d still be here, she’s that good in this film. If you’ve not seen it here’s a nice little clip.
  4. Amanda SeyfriedChloe, Alpha Dog, Dear John, Jennifer’s Body
    An actress with the biggest, most beautiful eyes in Hollywood. You have to love the internet, a quick search turned up a site dedicated to her eyes! That aside, she’s been in an interesting and varied bunch of films that slowly but surely convinced me of her inclusion. Out of them all I recommend you see Chloe.
  5. amber heardAmber Heard – The Rum Diary
    She’s the kind of actress that exudes an old-school Hollywood charm and mystique. But who am I to say these things you ask? Well if you don’t believe me listen to Johnny Depp – he compared her to Veronica Lake and other old Hollywood beauties, she clearly had quite an impact.
  6. Jennifer LawrenceWinter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook
    I heard a story once that Ms Lawrence was walking down the corridor in a Hollywood studio when a bearded guy in a cap stopped her saying ‘Are you the Jennifer Lawrence?’ Turns out this was Steven Spielberg. He’d seen Winter’s Bone and been captivated by her performance, as many of us were seeing her for the first time.
  7. beth albatrossJessica Brown Findlay – Albatross,
    Black Mirror, Misfits, Labyrinth

    If you only know Miss Findlay from Downton Abbey then you’ve missed a trick. I loved her in Albatross, where she plays a bit of a sexy troublemaker, seducing her best friend’s dad. She gives the character warmth, depth and vulnerability – with a sharp, sassy nature to boot.
  8. Marion CotillardPublic Enemies, Inception, Dark Knight Rises
    She won an Oscar for playing Edith Piaf  in La Vie En Rose and I’m excited to see her forthcoming film Rust and Bone, where she plays a killer whale trainer. She was fantastic in Inception – intense, vulnerable and mesmerising. Watch the ‘waiting for a train’ scene.
  9. Mila KunisForgetting Sarah Marshall, Friends with Benefits, Ted
    I struggle with Kunis. She’s still Meg from Family Guy – a problem when she’s clearly stunning and likes to play quite fiesty, yet down-to-earth characters. The perfect girl-next-door, if you happen to live in Hollywood. There’s a rumour she might play Anastasia Steele in the forthcoming Fifty Shades film, an enticing prospect.
  10. Felicity JonesCemetery Junction, Albatross, Like Crazy
    Ah Ms Jones, great up-and-coming actress. She comes across as really sweet and genuine. Like Crazy cleaned up at the Sundance film festival in 2011 with her performance getting compared to Carey Mulligan’s in An Education. Emotional and heartfelt, watch the trailer.

So there’s my list. As ever I was ruthless with the cut – there’s probably a lot more that could have made my top 10 but there you go. I hope you enjoy this selection, until next time.