Author: Jack Blackwell

I'm a student at King's College London, studying a BA in History and War Studies. Basically, I love films and I love writing critically and creatively, so why not do a blog that combines the two? I enjoy most genres, as long as they're done well, but if pushed, I'd have to say my preference lies with comedies.

Spotlight, Early Review – Doggedly authentic

Spotlight

Spotlight’s most obvious ‘eureka moment’ scene does not arrive, as in so many journalist procedurals, after a long night of drinking and piecing things together with clippings and red string. Nor is there some sort of secret source who demands a dangerously mysterious meet-up after dark. Instead, three reporters look through a series of public domain files, during work hours, and discover a pattern that has to be confirmed via the use of an Excel spreadsheet. It’s this stubborn commitment to authenticity that makes Spotlight such a distinct Oscar-friendly true story film, the lack of embellishment on an already fascinating story both one of its most commendable virtues and a contributor to its main weakness. Justice is done to this important tale, at the occasional expense of conventional dramatics, in an unshowy and sharply subversive Best Picture frontrunner.  (more…)

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Spectre Review – Audaciously confident showmanship

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in the action film

Spectre’s opening sequence sets out the film’s purpose perfectly. We’re in Mexico City, swooping over the celebrations for the Dia de Muertos, a festival in which the living and the dead collide. Over the next 2 and a half hours, the film itself pulls off the same trick – the new, Bourne-inspired muscularity of the Daniel Craig era is very much intact, with the added relevance of an anti-surveillance message, but Spectre also delights in giving us some very old-school Bond tropes. Villainous lairs in meteorite craters, a near-mute powerhouse who fights 007 on a train, and the eponymous evil organisation evoke the Bond of the ‘60s and ‘70s, whilst retaining most of the elements that made Casino Royale and Skyfall so successful.  (more…)

Mississippi Grind Review -Red Hot Poker

Mississippi Grind

If you want to make a film that evokes the ‘70s, it’s hard to go wrong with a gambling story. Casino towns, at least according to Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Mississippi Grind, don’t seem to have changed at all in the last 40 years, and, apart from size, there’s not much to tell the places themselves apart. All bathed in the same damp neon sadness, the only thing that makes any gambling town distinctive is the amount of money you can win, or more likely lose, there. Half James Caan’s The Gambler, half road/buddy movie, Mississippi Grind is a brilliantly character-driven film, with incredible performances from its two leads.  (more…)

Crimson Peak Review – Deliciously Macabre

Crimson Peak

After the blockbuster bombast of the Hellboy series and Pacific Rim, the question was raised of whether or not Guillermo del Toro could translate his mastery of dark fantasy into English. Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the finest modern examples of the genre, and whilst Crimson Peak is not quite as good, it answers the above question in the affirmative with style. At the same time, it also shows that 19th Century literature can make for thrilling cinema, as long as there’s a visually ingenious director at the helm. Influenced by everything from Jane Eyre to Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, with a little bit of Sherlock HolmesCrimson Peak is not only a fantastic film in its own right, but also an exciting revitalisation of an old-fashioned sort of storytelling.  (more…)

The Lobster Review – Animal House

Lobster

The Lobster makes no attempt to ease you in to its surreal world. Opening on a woman shooting a donkey with a handgun whilst disconcerting string music screeches around her, we then move to a scene of a wife leaving her husband (Colin Farrell) for another man, leaving the husband to be carted off almost immediately to a strange hotel. Yorgos Lanthimos gives a statement of intent in his first few minutes – if you don’t want to be slightly confused and alienated, then The Lobster isn’t for you. As it turns out, the hotel is a place for singles, a punitive resort where you either find a match in 45 days or end up being turned into an animal.  (more…)

Carol, Early Review – The Year’s Best Love Story

(L-R) KYLE CHANDLER and CATE BLANCHETT star in CAROL

With gorgeous craftsmanship, an insightful slow-burn of a love story, and inspired casting, director Todd Haynes and writer Phyllis Nagy have achieved the rarest of things, an adaptation of a classic novel that surpasses its source, itself now a classic staple of feminist and lesbian literature. Written in the early ‘50s under a pseudonym, The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith was revolutionary in that it never presented homosexuality as something to be psychologised. Whilst Todd Haynes’ Carol is deprived of that vital context, it’s more emotionally involving than the book, distilling the essence of the story into a film so rich and sumptuous that the atmosphere and tensions are practically tangible. Incredibly, this is the first film script by Phyllis Nagy, a piece of writing with the assured confidence and skill of a veteran, delivered by the immensely powerful duo of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.  (more…)

The Lady in the Van, Early Review – Transient in Transit

THE LADY IN THE VAN

‘I’m not a carer, I do not care’, rants Alex Jennings’ Alan Bennett at a social worker assigned to look in on the odd woman currently residing in a van in his driveway. Obviously, this is a delusion – The Lady in the Van is all about caring. After all, how else could Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) survive for 15 years on one street without ever once sleeping in a real bed? Whether they’re motivated by goodwill, paid to care, see a good story in helping her, or are simply driven by the guilt that infects the London middle class, the instinct to care is at the heart of this story, keeping it warmly watchable despite its harsher or more misjudged moments.  (more…)

Brooklyn, Early Review – Home is Where the Hearts are

Brooklyn

2015 seems to be the year of the ‘50s New York department store on film. Two of the biggest players in the lead up to this year’s Oscars, Brooklyn and Carol, centre around a young woman in the mid-20th Century finding love whilst working behind a counter in a fancy shop for wealthy East Coasters. Whilst, of these films, Carol is the true masterpiece, singing the praises of Brooklyn is all too easy as well. John Crowley and Nick Hornby have adapted the lovely novel by Colm Toibin and crafted one of the best crowdpleasers of the awards season, featuring a spate of brilliant performances as well as two believable and touching romances.  (more…)

Black Mass, Early Review – Boston Illegal

Black Mass

Three films into his career, Scott Cooper appears to have found a rhythm that suits him. Both Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace were un-flourishy showcases of the remarkable talents of his actors, and his latest effort Black Mass follows the same pattern, whilst being a lot more entertaining than either of its predecessors. Crazy Heart won Jeff Bridges a long-overdue Oscar, Furnace was further proof of Casey Affleck’s considerable abilities, and now Black Mass is a high-profile comeback for Johnny Depp. After over a decade of playing Jack Sparrow and other characters with the exact same quirks, Depp’s performance as notorious Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger proves that he can still be award-winningly good.  (more…)

A Bigger Splash, Early Review – Fiennesest Hour

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In the Q+A after the London Film Festival screening of A Bigger Splash, director Luca Guadagnino said that to make a film about holidays that didn’t feature much nudity would be dishonest. To his credit, A Bigger Splash is a very naked film, but, more importantly, is also incredibly honest. A four-hander of simmering tensions, the entire lead quartet of actors imbue their characters with rich and real inner lives. It doesn’t hurt that two of these actors are the magisterial Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, giving top-drawer performances. Matthias Schoenarts and Dakota Johnson, two of the hottest properties in Hollywood at the moment, round out the four, and whilst they can’t match their more experienced co-stars, they’re still scorchingly good, and the entire four generates incredible chemistry.  (more…)