Film Review: Judy & Punch

Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch is an impressive fairy tale. Boasting a distinctive atmosphere and strong performances, the film is an engrossing watch. 

In the town of Seaside (which is nowhere near the sea), puppeteers Punch and Judy are trying to resurrect their marionette show for the rowdy, hotheaded locals…

Loosely based on the Punch & Judy show, writer-director Mirrah Foulkes’ debut is an ambitious combination of fairy tale, satire, and social commentary. The filmmaker combines these elements to create a most memorable picture. 

Judy & Punch functions on a number of levels. Satirical elements are strong throughout. Foulkes’ luxuriates in the darker side of traditional fairy tales. There is a question of the supernatural, yet Foulkes uses slight of hand, just like the magic show depicted. Furthermore, the film asks questions about the nature of violence and retribution. 

The narrative mirrors the marionette show itself, albeit with a much meatier core. Foulkes seems to have fun including various elements of the show whilst keeping focus on the central strand of Judy’s journey. The film is far more satisfying for eschewing a traditional revenge narrative. Instead, Foulkes offers something more thoughtful, whilst sending a clear message. 

The setting of Judy & Punch is wonderful, with the small English town reminiscent of earlier British horror. There is a pervading sense of macabre which is delightful. The darkness comes out in violence, but also in the peril of superstition. Foulkes offers a hopeful conclusion, whilst not neglecting darker aspects. 

Cinematography in the film is great. The opening tracking of the hooded figure into the show a wonderful introduction to both the setting and the tone. Elsewhere, lighting and colour is used very effectively. The film is visually appealing; with great costumes and set design. The visuals are wonderfully enhanced by the music, which combines a new score with established pieces. 

Casting in the film is superb. Mia Wasikowska is excellent as Judy, whilst Damon Herriman brings his strikingly intensity to Punch. Terry Norris and Tom Budge are great among the supporting cast.

Foulkes has delivered an original, creative, and compelling debut with Judy & Punch. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Judy & Punch is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019, and released in UK cinemas on 22nd November 2019.

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.

BFI London Film Festival 2019 Launch

This morning saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. In its 63rd year, the festival is screening 229 feature films, including 28 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The opening and closing films for the BFI London Film Festival 2019 had already been announced. The festival opens with the European premiere of Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. An adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, the film stars Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, and Hugh Laurie. Martin Scorsese‘s hotly-anticipated The Irishman closes the festival. There is an embarrassment of riches among the other headline galas, including Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Marielle Heller’s (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, and Michael Winterbottom’s Greed, starring Steve Coogan and Isla Fisher.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

This year, films screening as part of the Strand Galas include Robert Eggers’ (The Witch) The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The Dare Gala is Mirrah Folks’ debut feature Judy & Punch, a fairy tale starring Mia Wasikowska. Among the Special Presentations are Takashi Miike’s First Love, and Bombay Rose, a hand-drawn animated feature from Gitanjali Rao.

Official Competition

Among the ten features in Official Competition at the London Film Festival 2019 are Haifaa Al-Mansour’s (Wadjda) The Perfect Candidate, about a young doctor who challenges Saudi Arabia’s strict social codes. Thomas Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d stars Maxine Peake and Charles Dance, and is about a woman living with her puritanical husband in 17th century Shropshire. The Documentary Competition features Rubika Shah’s White Riot, about the Rock Against Racism movement, and Lauren Greenfield The Kingmaker, which focuses on Imelda Marcos. The First Feature Competition includes Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, a drama starring Eliza Scanlon and Ben Mendelsohn.

Strands

The eleven thematic programme strands are back once more at the London Film Festival 2019. The Love strand includes La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos’ drama about an illustrator who uses technology to replay the past, and Ga-young Jeong’s Heart. The Debate strand is particularly strong this year with Citizen K (Alex Gibney‘s documentary on Mikhail Khodorkovsky), Chinonye Chukwu’s Sundance winner Clemency, Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, and Scott Z Burns’ The Report, starring Adam Driver. Comedies in the Laugh strand includes Billie Piper’s directorial debut Rare Beasts, whilst Wash Westmoreland’s Earthquake Bird in the Thrill strand stars Alicia Vikander in an 1980s Tokyo-set thriller. Cannes winner The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão is among the films in the Journey category.

The Dare strand features animated coming-of-age tale I Lost My Body and Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird, about a Jewish boy on a journey home during wartime. The Cult strand includes Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge and Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium, with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. Also in this category is Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, a HP Lovecraft adaptation starring Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson. The Experimenta strand includes Brad Butler and Noorafshan Mizra’s Ruptures, whilst Create includes Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. Two highlights of the Family strand are Edmunds Jansons’ Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs and Lorenzo Mattotti’s The Bears’ Famous Invasion. Finally, classics that are showing as part of the Treasures programme include David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price.

The BFI London Film Festival 2019 runs from 2nd-13th October. The full programme can be viewed here.

Film Review: Alice Through The Looking Glass

Alice Through The Looking Glass

Alice Through The Looking Glass is a visually mesmerising film. James Bobin’s film lacks the fizz of Lewis Carroll’s original novel, but is entertaining nevertheless.

After adventures at sea, Alice makes an unexpected return to Wonderland. One of her treasured friends is in danger, Alice must acquire a device from the Lord of Time in order to put things right…

Screenwriter Linda Woolverton takes a different tact from Carroll’s novel with this sequel. Ardent fans of the book may not be pleased with this, but a traditional adaptation may not have worked well in feature-film format. Alice Through The Looking Glass functions well to provide a sense of adventure and peril.

Where the film falters is with its tone. Director James Bobin’s film misses the zaniness of the books, and indeed the first film. In its place, Alice Through The Looking Glass focuses on a more emotional idea. If this was another narrative, this would not necessarily have been an issue. For the Alice in Wonderland sphere however, this misses the absurdity of the source material which is so appealing. Less sentimentality and more off-beat action would have made the film more satisfying.

The new character of Lord of Time is a welcome addition to Alice Through The Looking Glass. Elsewhere, characters remain much the same as the first film. The Alice that returns to Wonderland is a much more mature and aware protagonist. This works well given the plot; there is less a sense of awe and more determination to complete her mission.

Sasha Baron Cohen delivers a jovial performance as Lord of Time. Mia Wasikowska reprises her role well, whilst Johnny Depp does his usual over the top schtick. Art direction in the film is fantastic.

Whilst the visuals certainly meet expectations, Alice Through The Looking Glass would have benefitted from more zaniness and less sentimentality. Notwithstanding, the film is perfectly enjoyable for those looking for adventure.

Previews: The Accountant trailer, The Woods and more!

Plenty in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including The Accountant trailer, The Woods, and more…

The Accountant Trailer

Here is the new The Accountant trailer. The film stars Ben Affleck as a maths savant who works as a freelance accountant for dangerous criminal organisation. With his latest client, accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick) notices a major discrepancy. The Accountant is set for release on 4th November 2016.

The Woods Trailer

The first-look trailer for The Woods smartly eschews revealing too much. The film has been receiving critical acclaim thus far. It will be interesting to see what You’re Next and The Guest director Adam Wingard has in store for horror fans. The Woods will be released in UK cinemas on 16th September 2016.

Jason Bourne Featurette

Jason Bourne is back in this new featurette for the upcoming action thriller. Jason Bourne reunites Matt Damon with original director Paul Greengrass. Alicia Vikander also joins the cast, which includes Julia Stiles and Tommy Lee Jones. Jason Bourne bounces back onto the big screen on 27th July 2016.

Alice Through The Looking Glass Clip

Here is a new clip from the upcoming Alice Through The Looking Glass. Mia Wasikowska’s Alice returns to Wonderland after an absence to find things have taken a turn for the worse. The film reunites the cast from the 2010 film including Johnny Depp and Anne Hathaway. Alice Through The Looking Glass hits UK screens on 27th May 2016.

The Magnificent Seven Trailer

The Magnificent Seven is a remake of 1960’s The Magnificent Seven (which was, in turn, a remake of Seven Samurai). Antoine Fuqua, which features an all-star cast including Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. The Magnificent Seven will be released in IMAX and regular cinemas 23rd September 2016.

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: Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is a horror that combines a traditional gothic style with gore. The film is heavy on style, even if the substance slightly lacks.

Edith Cushing is the daughter of a wealthy American businessman. When a mysterious English baronet and his sister come to town, Edith is beguiled by him. Her interest in Thomas Sharpe, however, comes at a price…

Crimson Peak has the hallmarks of a traditional gothic horror, albeit with a heady dose of gore. The film is a visual feast, an extravagance for the eyes. Director Guillermo del Toro has created a highly stylised world in Crimson Peak.

Del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins strive for a traditional gothic horror with Crimson Peak. All the tropes of a classic gothic horror are present; the mystery, the duality, the shadowy characters, the foreboding house. The sense of mystery is strong, and functions well to reel in viewers.

Where the film falters is in the execution of its narrative. A couple of the films plot points do not bear scrutiny. The climax of Crimson Peak is protracted, and loses momentum as a result. The film would have more gripping if pacing had been tighter. Some of the aspects which are revealed in the film’s conclusion, clearing up some of the mystery, may feel a bit disappointing given the build up. Furthermore, there is some awkward expository dialogue.

There is great attention to detail in Crimson Peak‘s visual style. The film is a paean to engorgement. Colours are intoxicating in their saturation, and lighting is suitably striking. Sets are archetypically gothic, and costumes are fantastically outlandish. Mia Wasikowska is well cast as heroine Edith. Tom Hiddleston aims for an undercurrent of distrust as Thomas Sharpe. Jessica Chastain is wonderfully theatrical as Lucille.

It is a shame that the narrative of Crimson Peak do not match its visuals. As it stands, the film is enjoyable but flawed.