Film Review: Blackbird


Director Roger Michell’s drama Blackbird features a stellar cast on excellent form. 

Lily has a terminal illness and is in decline. She gathers her family together for one last weekend before she dies…

Focusing on a terminally ill woman who wishes to take her life before her condition worsens, Blackbird functions as a last supper for protagonist and her family. The film takes place over the course of a weekend, with characters looking with trepidation to the final goodbye with Lily.

A remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart (Christian Torpe writes this screenplay as well), Blackbird focuses on a difficult issue. Euthanasia is illegal where Blackbird is set, and the film deals with the agency of the individual as well as the spectre of mortality. As the weekend progresses, more issues come to light within the family dynamic. Michell explores these themes with a gentle touch. 

Despite the subject matter, Blackbird is not a total tearjerker. There are laughs to be had; Michell effectively balances light and dark. There are messages illuminated by the film, yet it is most interesting when it concentrates on the flawed and all too human characters at play. 

One of the aspects of Blackbird which stands out is the wealth of the family. The beautiful and spacious house, the fine wine, and the expectation of parents all point to a comfortable family. This is a film that does not cut across social strata; there is a privilege for Lily to take her life on exactly her own terms which would not be afforded to everyone in her position. 

Susan Sarandon delivers a solid performance as Lily. It is the supporting cast however, who do the heavy lifting. Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska are excellent as daughters Jennifer and Anna. Sam Neill, Rainn Wilson and Lindsay Duncan are also great. The ensemble cast really does elevate the film.

Blackbird tackles a tricky subject with both sobriety and humour. Roger Michell gets the best out of his cast. 

Blackbird is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

Film Review: Mary and the Witch’s Flower

Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower is an enchanting fantasy adventure. The film combines beautiful animation and an entertaining story.

Mary is a young girl living in the countryside with her great aunt. With friends around, one day Mary follows a mysterious cat which leads her to a broomstick and an unusual looking flower…

Based on the story The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, Mary and the Witch’s Flower combines the charm of Studio Ponoc (founded by Studio Ghibli alums including Yoshiaki Nishimura) and a quintessentially English setting. And indeed, even the fantasy seems to combine the folklore of Britain with the imagination of the Japanese filmmakers. 

The narrative at first seems to be something of a coming of age tale for the protagonist. Mary is a young girl in a new place, who needs to settle into her new life. However, the film develops into something more, thanks to good storytelling. The protagonist is developed well as the film progresses.

Whilst the focus is on Mary, other characters are however developed sufficiently for their roles. Mary and the Witch’s Flower provides contrasting archetypes, yet the villains are not quite as clear cut as they first appear. It is certainly a positive thing that the antagonists do not fully adhere to archetypes. Although the film does follow an expected path, it is by no means totally predictable. The film depicts magic in an interesting light. There is the element of power and control which appears in other fantasy films of this ilk, but also a question of the ethics of its use.

In the English-dubbed version, Ruby Barnhill is well cast as the voice of Mary. She is ably assisted by Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent. The animation is as lush as one would expect from the studio. Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a great movie for both children and adults. The film is engaging and enchanting.

Previews: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Featurette, More!

This week’s preview of coming attractions includes the latest Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom featurette, The New Mutants, and more…

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Featurette

Ahead of the trailer’s launch tomorrow, this Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom featurette reveals a little bit more about the plot and characters. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return, and are joined by Jurassic Park royalty Jeff Goldblum. A Monster Calls‘ J.A. Bayona directs this sequel, taking the helm from Jurassic World‘s Colin Trevorrow. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom hits UK screens on 7th June 2018.

The New Mutants Poster

Here is the new poster for the forthcoming The New Mutants. The film is part of the X-Men franchise, and is about the first graduates from Charles Xavier’s school. The film looks like something different from the superhero genre, in that there is an emphasis on horror rather than just action adventure. The New Mutants will be released in 2018.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower Trailer

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the first feature from Studio Ponoc, formed by Studio Ghibli alums. The film is about a young girl who discovers a flower which gives her the power to be a witch. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There), the English voice cast features Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, and Jim Broadbent. Mary and the Witch’s Flower is scheduled for release in UK cinemas in Spring 2018.

A Matter of Life and Death Trailer

Here is a trailer for the 4K restoration of the Powell & Pressburger’s classic A Matter of Life and Death. The film was originally released in 1946, and combines fantasy and romance as an air force pilot is given additional time on Earth by an afterlife jury. Starring David Niven, a 4K restoration of A Matter of Life and Death will be released in UK cinemas on 8th December 2017.

Previews: Flatliners Trailer, Girls Trip, More!

This week’s preview of coming attractions features the new Flatliners trailer, Girls Trip, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and more…

Flatliners Trailer

Is it a remake of the 1990 movie, or is it a sequel? This new Flatliners trailer reveals a lot about the plot, but does not answer the question resolutely. The film stars Ellen Page and Diego Luna as medical students who decide to experiment with near-death experiences. Flatliners will hit UK cinemas on 29th September 2017.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard Trailer

This movie looks like a lot of fun. Action comedy The Hitman’s Bodyguard is about a notorious hitman who has to be guarded Trailerby a top protection agent. The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson, Salma Hayek, and Gary Oldman. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is out in UK cinemas on 18th August 2017.

The Mountain Between Us Trailer

Here is the new trailer for The Mountain Between Us. The film is a thriller about two strangers who become stranded on a mountain following a crash. Based on the novel of the same name, the film is directed by Hany Abu-Assad, and stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. The Mountain Between Us is released on UK screens on 6th October 2017.

Girls Trip Poster

Here is the new poster for Girls Trip. The film is about four long-time friends who head down to New Orleans for the Essence Festival. The film stars Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish. Girls Trip is out in UK cinemas on 26th July 2017.

Spider-Man: Homecoming Featurette

This Spider-Man: Homecoming featurette focuses on the Spidey Suit. The film stars Tom Holland in the title role. He is joined by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, as well as Michael Keaton, Zendaya, and Marisa Tomei. Spider-Man: Homecoming launches onto UK screens on 5th July 2017.

Scribe Trailer

Here is the trailer for political thriller Scribe. The film is about a middle-aged man who is hired by a mysterious employer to transcribe phone-tapped conversations. François Cluzet, Scribe is released in UK cinemas and on demand from 21st July 2017.

Previews: Live By Night Trailer, Doctor Strange, More!

Plenty in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the Live By Night trailer, Doctor Strange poster, and more…

Live By Night Trailer

Here is the new Live By Night trailer. The film is directed and scripted by, and stars Ben Affleck, based on Dennis Lehane’s novel. Set during the 1920s, Live By Night concentrates on gangster Joe Coughlin and the murky world of prohibition Boston. Also starring Elle Fanning, Bendan Gleeson and Zoe Saldana, Live By Night is set for release on 13th January 2016.

Doctor Strange Poster

Doctor Strange Poster

This new poster for Doctor Strange looks wonderful. Benedict Strange stars as the title character in the latest Marvel movie.Cumberbatch plays an injured surgeon who who meets a mentor on his journey to recovery. Also starring Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams, Doctor Strange hits UK screens on 25th October 2016.

Hidden Figures Featurette

Here is a featurette on the upcoming Hidden Figures. Producer Pharrell Williams talks about why he had to get on board with the film, which is about the black female scientists behind NASA’s space race. The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. Hidden Figures is scheduled for release in 2017.

Collateral Beauty Trailer

Here is the trailer for Collateral Beauty, an ensemble drama. The film is about an advertising executive who experiences a tragedy, and the colleagues who attempt to help him. With a cast that includes Will Smith, Kate Winslet, and Keira Knightley, Collateral Beauty is out in cinemas on Boxing Day, 26th December 2016.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children Clip

This clip from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children reveals a little more about the film’s antagonist. Director Tim Burton’s latest film is based on the best-selling novel. Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, and Samuel L. Jackson, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children hits UK screens on 30th September 2016.

Nocturnal Animals Poster

Nocturnal Animals Poster

These Nocturnal Animals posters certainly are striking. Tom Ford writes and directs the film, based on Austin Wright’s Tony and Susan. The film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Shannon. After Ford’s magnificent A Single Man,  hopes are high for this feature. Nocturnal Animals will screen at the BFI London Film Festival in October, and will be released in UK cinemas on 4th November 2016.

Amanda Knox Trailer

Here is a trailer for Netflix’s upcoming documentary Amanda Knox. The film focus on the prime suspect in the murder of British student Meredith Kercher. Knox has been convicted and acquitted of the crime twice, and this documentary explores events around the case. Amanda Knox will launch globally on Netflix on 30th September 2016.

Film Review: The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker is an amusing comedy drama which offers good performance.

Dress designer Tilly Dunnage returns to her small hometown in Australia for the first time since her childhood. With her stylish wardrobe and talent for design, Tilly certainly turns heads. However, Tilly must confront a trauma from her past…

Based on Rosalie Ham’s novel, The Dressmaker tells the story of an accomplished designer returning to her small childhood home after many years away. Director Jocelyn Moorhouse’s film offers several strands, combining drama with comedy and mystery.

The central narrative in The Dressmaker focuses on Tilly’s return to her hometown and her reasons for leaving many years before. This aspect of the story affords the film an aspect of mystery. The exact details of what happened when Tilly was a girl are not revealed until a good way into the film. Yet, the mystery of the incident is not the crux of The Dressmaker; there is significant action that takes place after the reveal is made.

Other strands concentrate on Tilly’s relationship with her mother, a love interest, and a thirst for revenge. Some of these strands work better than others. The mother-daughter relationship is well-written and well-cultivated. The relationship develops at a good pace, and feels as if it reaches a satisfying conclusion. The love story is less convincing, however. Given the other incidents that occur in The Dressmaker, the love story could have been substituted for something platonic. The film begins as a mystery drama with comedy flecks, and ends up somewhere else by the finale.

Costumes and styling in The Dressmaker are eye-catching. Kate Winslet offers as competent a performance as ever, whilst Judy Davis is a scene-stealer. Hugo Weaving amuses in a supporting role, but Liam Hemsworth is given little depth to his character.

The Dressmaker can feel a little overlong, but for the most part the film entertains. The tone is certainly amiable.

Previews: Finding Dory Trailer, Triple 9 and More!

Much to see in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the first Finding Dory trailer, Triple 9, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and more…

Finding Dory Trailer

Here is the first Finding Dory Trailer. Finding Nemo is a modern Disney classic, so its sequel has to impress. From the looks of the Finding Dory trailer, the film has the same feel as its predecessor. Finding Dory is set to hit the big screen in Summer 2016.

Triple 9 UK Trailer

Triple 9 has a most enviable cast. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet and Anthony Mackie are among those who star in the crime thriller. When a group of corrupt cops are blackmailed by the Russian mafia, they must go to desperate measures to pull off a heist. Triple 9 will be released in the UK on 19th February 2016.

Zoolander 2 Poster

Zoolander 2 poster

Derek Zoolander and Hansel are doing what they do best in this poster for sequel Zoolander 2. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell are joined by Kirsten Wiig this time round, with a screenplay written by Justin Theroux. Zoolander 2 is out on 12th February 2016.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 Trailer

This seems to have sprung from nowhere. Here is the unexpected trailer for belated sequel My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. The sequel reunites the cast of the original, as the Portokalos family come together for another wedding. Also written by and starring Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 hits UK cinemas on 25th March 2016.

Bridge of Spies Clip

In this Bridge of Spies clip, Tom Hanks’s character James Donavan discusses his controversial forthcoming case with his family. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film also stars Mark Rylance and Alan Alda. Bridge of Spies is out in UK cinemas on 26th November 2015.

Victor Frankenstein Clip

In this clip from Victor Frankenstein, the famed scientist exhibits much enthusiasm for his work. James McAvoy stars as the title character, with Daniel Radcliffe as protégé Igor. The film, written by Max Landis, is a twist on the Mary Shelley classic. Victor Frankenstein hits UK screens on 3rd December 2015.

Previews: Alice Through The Looking Glass and more!

A visual feast in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including Alice Through The Looking Glass, Sisters, and By The Sea

Alice Through The Looking Glass Trailer

Here is the first at upcoming sequel Alice Through The Looking Glass. Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp and the rest of the cast return for the follow-up to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. Alice Through The Looking Glass is directed by James Bobin, whose work on the last two Muppet films is certainly a good sign. Alice Through The Looking Glass is set for release in the UK on 27th May 2016.

Sisters Poster

Sisters Poster

Sisters is the latest venture to reunite Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The film is about two disconnected sisters who return to their family home to clear out their childhood bedroom. Directed by Pitch Perfect‘s Jason Moore, Sisters will hit UK screens on 18th December, with previews from 12th December 2015.

The Good Dinosaur Clip

This just looks magical. The Good Dinosaur poses the question of what if the dinosaurs never became extinct. The notion looks rather wonderful in the film, although I do wonder if in reality in would be some horrible Jurassic Park type situation. The Good Dinosaur is out in UK cinemas on 27th November 2015.

By The Sea Featurette

Angelina Jolie speaks about her ideas behind By The Sea. The film is written, directed and stars Jolie, alongside husband Brad Pitt. She states that she has been influenced by European cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, and audiences will be able to see for themselves when By The Sea is released on 11th December 2015.

The Dressmaker Trailer

The Dressmaker stars Kate Winslet as a designer who returns to her childhood small town in Australia. Also starring Judy Davis and Liam Hemsworth, the comedy drama is based on Rosalie Ham’s bestselling novel. The Dressmaker is out in UK cinemas on 20th November 2015.

The Revenant Poster

The Revenant

Is this the film that will get Leonardo DiCaprio his coveted Oscar? The Revenant tells the story of Hugo Glass, a man left for dead in uncharted territory. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the film also stars Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Lucas Haas. The Revenant hits UK screens in January 2016.

Dirty Grandpa

Zac Efron stars as the straight-laced groom to be on a road trip with his recently windowed grandfather in comedy Dirty Grandpa. Robert De Niro’s grandfather is not quite the kindly old gentleman however. Also starring Aubrey Plaza, Dirty Grandpa is set for release on 22nd January 2016.

Film Review: Steve Jobs

STEVE JOBS

Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is a compelling drama. Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay provides excellent material for the director to work with.

In 1984, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is getting ready to unveil the Macintosh computer to the world. Behind the scenes of the launch, things are frantic with glitches in the demo, and the mother of Steve’s daughter demanding to talk to him…

Danny Boyle’s pseudo-biopic Steve Jobs is set behind the scenes at the launches of three products by the title character. Given this premise, the film should not be enthralling. However, Steve Jobs bucks this assumption thanks to some brilliant writing by Aaron Sorkin.

The film has a very simple set up, choosing three pivotal periods to tell the story of the protagonist’s life and career. Each segment takes place backstage at a product launch, in the time immediately before a public unveiling. There are also a handful of brief flashback sequences to fill in some of the backstory. It is disputable how much of this resembles real events. Nevertheless, the action that takes place is tense and dramatic.

The ticking clock device works really well in the first segment of Steve Jobs. The pressure of the situation is clear, yet Sorkin piles on a multitude of elements to tell the protagonist’s tale. The more personal aspects of Jobs’ life come through the interactions with his daughter Lisa and her mother Chrisann, as well as conversations with John Sculley. Career and work points are highlighted by Steve Wozniak and Andy Hertzfeld. Meanwhile, marketing executive Joanna Hoffman holds it all together, acting as supreme confidant in the film. Steve Jobs has been carefully crafted to not only take place at important junctures in Apple’s history, but to highlight the changing relationships Jobs has with the main characters.

Michael Fassbender delivers an assured performance as the title character. Michael Stuhlbarg stands out among the supported cast, whilst Kate Winslet is as solid as ever. Music is a great accompaniment, changing to reflect the different eras depicted in the film. The scoring for the first segment is particularly good.

Steve Jobs exhibits what a great screenwriter Sorkin is. The ending  may not please all, but overall the film is immensely engrossing.

Steve Jobs is closing the London Film Festival in October 2015.

Previews: Ant-Man Trailer, Irrational Man Trailer and More

Previews of forthcoming attractions this week include the latest Ant-Man trailer, Irrational Man, Steve Jobs

Ant-Man Trailer

Here is the latest Ant-Man trailer. The film looks like it will have a healthy dose of comedy, and given that the film is about an ant-sized superhero, this will be welcome. Starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, Ant-Man hits the big screen on 17th July 2015.

Irrational Man Trailer

Woody Allen’s latest film Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a philosophy professor who  gets caught in a love triangle with two women. Emma Stone returns for her second performance in an Allen film whilst it is the first for Parker Posey and Joaquin Phoenix. Irrational Man opens in UK cinemas on 11th September 2015.

Steve Jobs Trailer

Here is the debut trailer for Steve Jobs. The film comes with quite a pedigree; it is directed by Danny Boyle, written by Aaron Sorkin, and stars Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen. Steve Jobs will be released in UK cinemas on 13th November 2015.

The Walk Poster

The Walk poster

The Walk is based on the true story of a man who walked between the two World Trade Centre towers in New York. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon and Ben Kingsley, and is directed by Robert Zebecks. The Walk hits the big screen on 2nd October 2015.

Creed

The Rocky franchise gets another instalment, albeit with a bit of a difference. Michael B. Jordan stars as the son of Apollo Creed, and sees Sylvester Stallone reprise his role as the boxing legend. Creed also reunites Jordan with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler. Creed is set for release on 27th November 2015.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl Trailer

The Diary of a Teenage Girl has already won praise at film festivals this year. The film is about a teenage girl growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s. Starring Bel Powley, Kirsten Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård, The Diary of a Teenage Girl will hit the big screen in the UK on 7th August 2015.

Masterminds

New comedy Masterminds tells the true story of a group of idiots who pulled off a $17 million heist. The film stars Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Own Wilson and Jason Sudeikis. Masterminds will hit UK screens on 7th August 2015.