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.

The Assassin, Early Review – Truly Beguiling

Assassin

Before mentioning anything else about The Assassin, the first full film in seven years from Chinese director Hsiao-Hsien Hou, I have to admit that I was completely baffled throughout most of the film. Having very, very little familiarity with the wuxia genre, the opaque plot flew, for the most part, over my head. Yet, somewhat bizarrely, this barely impacted on my enjoyment of the piece, which is so stunningly beautiful that it can never be boring, instead delivering its audience into a state of serenity, occasionally violently broken by a wonderfully staged fight sequence. As a purely visual experience, there is very little out there that can match it, and this praise is only vaguely tempered by the difficulties I had with the story.  (more…)

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Program Review – The Drugs Do Work

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Ben Foster, in films like The Messenger and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, has proven himself to be a highly capable supporting actor, underutilised in the variety of sub-par genre pieces that he’s been a part of. In Stephen Frears’ new film, an examination of the lie at the heart of the life of Lance Armstrong, Foster finally shows the world exactly what he can do if given the right character. He’s mesmerizingly good as the disgraced cyclist, indistinguishable in mannerisms from his real-life counterpart, elevating what is otherwise a relatively mediocre, sometimes even boring, biopic. Frears found great success two years ago with his lovely true-life tale Philomena, but The Program struggles to achieve any real narrative lift, mired in frequent press conference scenes and not actually contributing much to the ongoing debate.  (more…)

Room, Early Review – The Whole World in his Shed

Room

Following the recent and harrowing real-life cases of the Fritzel family and the Ariel Castro kidnappings, long-term false imprisonments have burned themselves into the public consciousness. One of the best things to be said about Room, an adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 bestseller (scripted by Donoghue herself), is that instead of concerning itself with the gruesome details of suffering in such an environment, it focuses on the bravery and self-imposed routines used by the victims to survive. Room is full of such understated examples of tastefulness; nothing we can work out for ourselves is explained to us, and the focus on characters over explicit traumas was absolutely the right call. Unfortunately, it’s also a film prone to self-sabotage, which lets down one of the year’s most powerful premises.  (more…)

Macbeth Review – ‘A Thrilling Revitalisation of Shakespeare on Screen’

Macbeth

There is very little in mainstream western literature with such a streak of nihilism as Macbeth. The lead character is an irredeemable monster, created by his overly ambitious schemer of a wife, and the legacy he leaves is of a barren, wasted Scotland. The kingship Malcolm (Jack Reynor), son of the murdered Duncan (David Thewlis), inherits is hardly desirable, and that is never felt more keenly than in the final act of this new adaptation. As Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Macduff (Sean Harris) fight to decide the future of their homeland, it becomes clear that whoever wins will govern not a nation, but an extension of Hell itself.  (more…)

The Walk Review – Utterly Sincere, Impossible to Dislike

Walk

The Walk opens on Joseph-Gordon Levitt, standing atop the Statue of Liberty, breaking the fourth wall, and speaking in a committed but honestly rather silly French accent. That this tone carries through the entire film and, for the most part, works is both surprising and impressive, and a pleasing return to purely enjoyable, family-friendly fare for the legendary Robert Zemeckis after Flight. Only his second live action film since 2000’s Cast Away, the director of Back to the FutureWho Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump proves that he’s lost none of his flair for breathtaking visual trickery combined with zippy, engaging stories, even if The Walk doesn’t come close to touching those classics.  (more…)

99 Homes Review – A Deeply Human Tale of the American Dream Gone Bad

99 Homes

99 Homes is not your typical heartstrings-tugging movie that usually pops up around Oscar season. Yet no scene this year has had quite the emotional impact on me as the eviction of a confused old man from his foreclosed upon house. As he desperately and muddledly tries to explain the mortgage he and his wife took out just before the 2008 financial crisis, the heart-wrenching human impact of the irresponsibility of the world’s banks becomes astoundingly clear, cementing 99 Homes as one of 2015’s must-see films. By a long way the most high-profile film yet from writer/director Ramin Bahrani, it marks him out as someone to watch very closely in the future.  (more…)

Sicario, Early Review – Say No to Drug Wars

Sicario

There are no real victories in Sicario, Denis Villeneuve’s terrifying, captivating, and utterly brilliant War on Drugs tale. Towards the end of the film, we see a series of events that most other films would take as crowning moments of success and glory. Instead, once it’s all over, all we and the characters feel is scared and a bit sick. Playing more like a war movie than a conventional cops vs gangs piece, Sicario makes some bold, but not browbeating, statements about America’s position as World Police, whilst simultaneously easily being the tensest movie of the year. It’s the best work yet by Enemy and Prisoners director Villeneuve, who will next take on the Blade Runner sequel, aided by a great quartet of lead actors and staggeringly good work by master cinematographer Roger Deakins.  (more…)

Life Review – Stock Footage

Life

The short but incredibly vibrant life of James Dean has received its fair share of attention since he died at the age of just 24. It’s natural that Hollywood would find him so fascinating, someone who simultaneously represented and reacted against superstardom, and was then tragically killed before he could fully decide on either direction. Anton Corbijn’s new take focuses less on Dean himself than his friend-for-a-month, Dennis Stock, the Life Magazine photographer who shot the iconic Times Square image. Whilst this makes sense, especially given that Corbijn is still more famous as a photographer than a director, and avoids criticisms of following an overly-familiar story, Dane DeHaan’s version of the troubled star makes you wish that he had taken the lead. (more…)

While We’re Young Review – Middle-Aging Gracefully

While We're Young

Further proving that accessibility is no bad thing in movies, While We’re Young, writer/director Noah Baumbach’s most audience-friendly film to date, is also his best work thus far, with the caveat that his latest, Mistress America, has not yet seen a UK release. Following in the footsteps of his regular collaborator Wes Anderson and his Oscar-winning masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel, Baumbach has sacrificed some of his idiosyncrasies in favour of crafting a warm, sincere, and very funny film whilst also managing to maintain his distinctive voice. It feels very fitting that a story so concerned with the effects of age should show its creator at his most mature, handling inter-generational conflicts without resorting to clichés or easy judgements of its characters. (more…)

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review – Kingdom vs Heaven

exodus

What is most striking about, and undoubtedly the first thing you’ll notice when watching, Exodus: Gods and Kings, the latest film from Ridley Scott, is that it is big. In fact, it is perhaps Scott’s biggest film to date, and for a director who made the lavish epics Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, that’s really saying something. Enormous physical sets coincide with hundreds upon hundreds of extras to create the kind of old-school scale that cinema has only very rarely seen since the early ‘60s. Fittingly, much like the grand epics of Golden Age Hollywood, Exodus is a desert story, retelling the immediately familiar tale of Moses (Christian Bale) leading the Jews out of Egypt. The sheer scope of the film is almost overwhelming, but through well-marshalled action sequences, incredible effects, and a knowing sense of campiness, Scott manages to avoid any boredom, which one may justifiably associate with a two and a half hour Old Testament adaptation. (more…)