Bandersnatch, streaming on Netflix and produced by the team behind the series Black Mirror, offers viewers a first-of-its-kind experience, bringing the Choose Your Own Adventure format popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s to the usually passive activity of watching a movie. The overall story of the film follows Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) as he tries to adapt a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, Bandersnatch, into a video game. He also struggles to cope with grief over the role he may have unwittingly played in his mother’s death. Over the course of the movie, the audience is offered small choices (what to eat for breakfast, what music to listen to) and more critical ones (no spoilers). It is worth noting, that because of the interactive nature of the movie, it may not play on all devices. We had to watch on a laptop rather than Chromecasting to the TV, for example.
We did not have any prior experience with Black Mirror but were still able to follow and understand Bandersnatch, as the story stands on its own. Although the acting in Bandersnatch was often weak or overly-dramatic, and the storytelling sometimes verged toward obvious metaphors or hyperbolic options, we still enjoyed playing along. The novelty of choosing different directions in the story makes up for some of the places where the movie falls short. I was especially impressed by how seamlessly the transitions flowed after we made a choice. The film is a technical achievement and I want to go back and play again. Bandersnatch was written by Charlie Brooker and directed by David Slade. It lives up to the hype and is definitely worth a try.
In the theater, I saw Vice, a new biopic about the rise of former vice president Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), as well as his career through the George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) Administration. Vice was written and directed by Adam McKay, most famous for his film The Big Short, which uses humor to explain the lead up to the housing market crash and the 2008 financial crisis. In telling Cheney’s story, McKay similarly uses narrative devices including Shakespearean drama, faux closing credits, and a mysterious narrator (Jesse Plemons) to draw the audience into the political machinations of the relatively bland leading character. Although the film clearly has an opinion, and the storytelling swerves hard into heavy-handed techniques toward the end, it is generally well-made and compelling. When McKay makes a point, he backs it up.
The real draw for the movie, however, is the performances. As Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, Christian Bale and Sam Rockwell give uncannily good performances. They disappear so thoroughly into the characters, and master their mannerisms so well, that at times I had to do a double take and remember that they were actors, not the real men. Amy Adams is a knockout as Lynne Cheney and Alison Pill gives a moving performance as their daughter, Mary. As Donald Rumsfeld, Steve Carell gives the only performance that looks like a parody, perhaps because it is hard to lose sight of him in the character. Even still, his performance is strong and very funny.
Vice runs for 2 hours and 12 minutes and is rated R. It is kind of a tough watch, and more violent than I expected, but the acting alone is worth checking out.
Now available for rental is First Man, another biopic that follows Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and the hard work and personal struggles he underwent to become the first person to walk on the moon. (First Man is based on the book by James Hansen, who was a Waynedale resident. Stories about Hansen and the book can still be found on The Waynedale News website.) The film is a somewhat sprawling depiction of what it took for the astronauts as individuals and as a team to put a man on the moon. The story delves into the personal tragedies and struggles of Armstrong and his wife, Janet (Claire Foy), as well as the tensions between Armstrong and other astronauts including Ed White (Jason Clarke) and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll). It’s also worth noting that Kyle Chandler makes an appearance as Deke Slayton.
With outstanding performances by Claire Foy and Ryan Gosling, First Man is a meticulously, artfully made film. The score recently won a Golden Globe and the sound design was very strong as well. It’s the kind of film worth testing your surround sound on. In other ways, First Man is a slow movie. It takes a lot of work to get to the moon and the methodical journey in the first half of the film will not appeal to all viewers. On a snowy weekend, however, it is a great option for spending an afternoon or evening in with the family.
First Man was directed by Damien Chazelle and written by Josh Singer. It runs 2 hours and 21 minutes and is rated PG-13.
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