What I’ve Been Watching – February 2018

Your Name

Your Name is a charming and visually sumptuous anime about two students who occasionally wake up in each other’s bodies and live each other’s lives for a day. While I generally don’t like body-swapping stories, I absolutely love this one.

Most body-swapping stories involve someone causing mayhem and mischief in someone else’s name. Your Name instead shows the two characters setting ground rules for each other and being respectful of each other’s lives (for the most part anyway). We don’t actually see a lot of the body-swap incidents outside of brief montages… The characters themselves have trouble even remembering the events until their friends and colleagues point out how weirdly they were acting the previous day. It’s a familiar concept presented in an entirely new way.

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Fun aside, the story leads to something more sweeping, more sad and more dramatic than I expected. For the second half, I found my heart to be constantly beating fast and certain moments absolutely took my breath away.

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The music and visuals are genuinely gorgeous. It has to be one of the best looking animated films I’ve ever seen… not just because of the quality of animation but because of the atmosphere it creates. I want to be in the locations we see, exploring the beauty of Japan. It truly is a feast for the eyes and is full of heart and soul.

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Your Name is sure to become one of those timeless animated classics that I never get tired of watching, joining the ranks of My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Wings of Honneamise.

Black Mirror – Season 4

I haven’t written about Black Mirror on my blog before because I feel like I’d need to write an essay on each individual episode to do it justice. Each episode demonstrates not just imagination, but a cutting examination of the many facets of humanity and how technology can make us better or worse.

What strikes me most about Black Mirror is that for all the cautionary tales about new technology it throws our way, it’s always the abuse of technology by humans that leads to something horrible, not the technology itself. This is a theme that runs through every episode of season 4 with the arguable exception of Metalheads, which was my least favourite episode and seemed like nothing more than filler.

USS Callister is the most visually appealing episode, and certainly one with considerable production values. It’s a look at ego, toxic fandom, and how human beings should treat each other. It’s clearly inspired by Star Trek, a show that is specifically about how we treat each other.

Arkangel seems to be a warning to all overly protective parents, showing the breakdown of a mother-child relationship through the use of technology that was – of course – initiated with the best of intentions.

Crocodile is by far the most harrowing and violent episode. I found this one very difficult to watch in places. I would describe it as the story of someone who keeps trying to dig themselves out of a hole by digging harder and harder… I’m sure you can guess what happens instead.

Black Museum gets a little meta in a way I didn’t expect. It offers some unexpected connective tissue between the previous episodes which – as far as I know – has never been done in Black Mirror. All of the episodes are meant to be separate worlds/dimension/stories created independently from one another. This episode joins them in a way I’m still pondering about, even though it’s not the main point of the story.

Lastly, my favourite (and my wife’s favourite) episode is Hang the DJ, which I would describe as this season’s San Junipero.

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This episode instantly kicked us off with an intriguing premise and got us to care about the main characters and what they’re going through. It kept us guessing and discussing what was happening all throughout. The final reveal of the ‘mystery’ was not what either of us predicted. It had a lovely vibe and will probably be the one I’m most likely to re-watch from this season.

Black Mirror is currently available on Netflix.

Dunkirk

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I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing this, as I assumed it wouldn’t show me anything I hadn’t already seen before in a World War 2 film. However, it became apparent from the first few minutes that I was wrong.

Forgoing plot, characterisation and even any significant amount of dialogue, the film focuses entirely on what individuals felt during the bleak retreat of British forces from mainland Europe. What they saw… how they reacted… all of it is conveyed effectively as the audience witnesses things as if we were standing right beside them. Some things are not explained because the person we’re currently following can’t explain them (where did that torpedo come from? I thought we were safe here).

It was clear even before we watched the Making Of documentary that the film was made practically with only a little CGI. Given some of the scenes we witness (like the number of soldiers queuing on a beach), it is impressive to know that what we are looking at is real.

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Christopher Nolan certainly chooses his projects wisely… given the variety of films he makes, it makes me wonder what he’ll turn his director’s eye toward next.

Erased

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I checked this out after a recommendation from a fellow blogger. This live-action series is based on a manga I’m not familiar with, following a struggling artist called Satoru. With no explanation of how or why, he finds himself skipping back in time to prevent random people from dying.

I’m not particularly into time-travel stories, but I found this one to be incredibly compelling, particularly from episode 2. In tone, it reminded me a lot of Stranger Things but with the bleak overtones of crime dramas like The Killing or Fortitude.

Satoru observes the world with a certain detachment, creating the idea that he’s just a little boy trying to affect change in a world that’s too big for him. This is echoed brilliantly by the director with shots of him looking small and alone in large urban environments.

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Every victory Satoru earns feels like a true success. His narration also creates a lot of empathy and certain moments feel genuinely creepy thanks to some excellent sound design.

The show has moments that feel warm and beautiful, followed by moments of dread and suspense. The moments are effectively done and they really had me biting my lip at times. It also has to be said that the child actors playing Satoru and Kayo are superb.

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The snowy scenes make this perfect viewing for these cold winter months. Erased is currently streamable and downloadable on Netflix.

So that’s what I’ve been watching lately. Feel free to share any thoughts in the comments 🙂

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13 thoughts on “What I’ve Been Watching – February 2018

    1. Really? That’s interesting. I didn’t hate Metalheads – I just thought it was a bit thin compared to the rest of the series. But yes! Hang the DJ was great! I’m glad you enjoyed it too 🙂

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  1. I think the problem I would have with Black Mirror is the same problem I have with modern satire in general; it forgoes all subtlety and empathy for the sake of its message. Works like that are really good at reaffirming the beliefs of its fans, but not so much at changing the minds of those who could actually use an eye-opening experience. I generally don’t like it when characters purely exist for the sake of getting the author’s point across, as it makes it difficult to care.

    I had the honor of watching Your Name in theaters, and it was an excellent film. It was a really interesting take on the “Body Swap” plot; especially when it was revealed that the two characters were traveling through time whenever it happened.

    Dunkirk is another triumph from Christopher Nolan. I kind of got a Memento vibe from it in how the three stories were taking place across different lengths of time. It seems fitting that it was released in the same year as Darkest Hour, as they complement each other perfectly.

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    1. That’s an excellent point about Black Mirror! I hadn’t looked at it from that perspective before. I envy you seeing Your Name in the cinema… it had such a limited release in the UK that I only had one window of opportunity to see it (which I missed). I bet seeing it on a big screen was beautiful 🙂 I’ve yet to see Darkest Hour but I’m also thinking it would make a great double bill with Dunkirk. Thanks for reading and making such insightful comments 🙂

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      1. I think attitude also has a lot to do with it. Classic satirists wrote what they wrote because they believed people could change for the better. Modern satirists seem very resigned – as though they feel people are hopeless, and when it comes to the question of what people need to do to improve, they’re often stumped for an answer (and that’s assuming it’s brought up at all). In any case, defeatists can’t effect a positive change, so if it turns out Black Mirror and the like failed to improve people for the better in the long run, I wouldn’t be surprised.

        Funny story about that – I never heard of Your Name until somebody else on WordPress wrote a review on it. I then looked it up online, realized it was being shown at a nearby theater, and immediately left to go see it.

        Darkest Hour may not have been my favorite 2017 film, but it’s worth a watch.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Haha I have wondered if Charlie Brooker is a force for change or simply defeated by the weight of the world. If his annual Wipe shows are anything to go by, it’s definitely the latter. He didn’t even do one for 2017, but admittedly I’m not sure of the reason.

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      3. Yeah, and it’s dangerous when enough people believe stuff like that to be realistic and not deliberately exaggerated. A lot of people praise the show for predicting the future, yet I believe at least part of it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, so I’m rather unsympathetic with them.

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  2. I’m glad you watched Erased!!! 😀 I agree with everything you said, haha. I am not too familiar with the other shows/films except for Your Name. I keep hearing about Black Mirror everywhere and after reading your post, I am much more curious now… I might watch it!

    Liked by 1 person

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