Movie Review: BLACKBIRD

The films of Roger Michell often concern the tragedy of love, and Blackbird is no exception.

Set in the wealthy suburban landscape of the coastal Hamptons, in upstate New York, the family of Lily (Susan Sarandon), ill and dying from a terminal illness, gather not just to say goodbye but also to play their part in a planned euthanasia Lily wants before the disease ravages her in her final weeks. Her husband Paul (Sam Neill) knows it isn’t quite legal. Yet they all seem to be on the same page, aware that Lily seeks to die on her own terms with a level of dignity, with her faculties, with good final memories of the people she loves. Then, as is always the case in a Michell drama, the wheels come off. Revelations abound. Feelings emerge. And Lily’s intended, graceful departure is compromised.

To Blackbird’s credit, while it languishes in the realm of melodrama, it never accedes to it. Michell’s piece remains free of histrionics, choosing instead to deal in ambiguities and painful characteristics.

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Scene by Scene: SKYFALL Pt I – ‘Take the Bloody Shot!’

As we close in on No Time to Die, and the final Daniel Craig-era James Bond movie, I’m going to take a scene by scene look back in the next couple of months at Sam Mendes’ 2012 Bond mega hit, Skyfall

The opening shot of Skyfall feels like a reintroduction to James Bond, which is perhaps appropriate for Sam Mendes’ first 007 movie.

Bond, out of focus, glides quickly into frame—set to an immediate Monty Norman flourish from composer Thomas Newman—at the end of a dark Istanbul hallway, framed behind by light, before swaggering toward the camera as Daniel Craig’s face edges out of shadow into view, raising his Walther PPK almost into our faces. It stands as the first of many glorious shots from Mendes and his Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins which elevate the 23rd James Bond movie out of mere cinema and into the realm of art.

It also reminds us that our hero will, once again, be front and centre across a story which will dig into 007’s psychology in a manner the series had never before attempted. Fitting for the 50th anniversary Skyfall celebrated since the debut of Bond as a cinematic icon, with Sean Connery’s Dr No in 1962. Mendes’ film, right from the beginning and a pre-titles sequence that for the first time since the Pierce Brosnan-era, truly embraces the Bond formula of old in kickstarting the picture with a thrilling, action-packed mini-movie. Skyfall’s pulse-pounding chase through Istanbul, by jeep, bike and later train, serves as one of the series’ finest.

Four years had passed since Quantum of Solace, a Bond film which, while not without its merits, underwhelmed a vast amount of audiences as largely a post-script to Casino Royale’s bravura introduction to the Craig-era. Skyfall, across the first fifteen minutes, screams loudly and clearly: this is the first true follow up. And it’s going to be an epic journey.

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New Podcast: MOTION PICTURES – ‘Legacyquels’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Motion Pictures, myself and my co-host Carl Sweeney discuss the ‘Legacyquel’, the idea proposed by Matt Singer in 2015 of what to call sequels which arrive years, sometimes decades, later – such as the recently released Bill and Ted Face the Music.

They look at many films which qualify for this bracket, including Star Wars, Star Trek and Terminator sequels, and wonder quite what their prevalence means for modern mainstream cinema. Plus! They discuss recent (as of September 2020) happenings in the Covid-era for cinema releases.

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New Horrified Article: HORROR IN THE BRITCOM – Victor Meldrew’s New Nightmare

New article for Horrified Magazine!

Horrified is a new kid on the block but is producing some fine work in the realm of British horror, both in terms of analysis and original fiction, so I was delighted when the editor, Freddy, was keen on my pitch for a recurring series called ‘Horror in the Britcom’, unpicking the intersection between horror and comedy in British sitcoms…

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THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF is exactly what we need right now

Precipitously timed as we head into deeper, restrictive Covid-19 measures in the U.K., The Great British Bake Off is a breath of fresh air.

Yes, I’m a fan of this show, particularly in recent years. I didn’t get on with Mel & Sue generally but once they left, and the charming mixture of Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig filled the breach when the show transitioned from BBC1 to Channel Four, it rapidly became a show I enjoyed with my wife as opposed to doing other things while she had it on. As with any ‘reality’ show, the combination of presenters and on-screen talent are the key ingredients to engagement. These kind of shows are, as a result, entirely subjective – I may have found Mel & Sue irritating, but many would have turned away from the show with Noel & Sandi taking their place, or the posh, grandmotherly Mary Berry being replaced by the equally posh, schoolmistress-y Prue Leith.

For me, the combination worked, and it allowed the fantasy of Bake Off to engulf me whole. And it is a fantasy. Bake Off exists in a hermetically sealed, English-rose depiction of Britain, one where the sun always shines on canvas tents surrounded by bunting in the gardens of manor houses and stately homes. It’s as if the 19th century gentry allowed the peasants to have a bit of fun on their grounds, yet at the same time it never strives to be elitist. Bake Off feels inclusive, warm and good natured, even if ultimately it’s not really about baking. It’s about personal empowerment, building self-esteem, and proving worth in a fantastical, alternate-universe England where we all live in harmony.

In 2020, more than ever, Bake Off is a pleasant fiction.

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Bill, Ted & the Dark Fate of the Legacyquel

With the arrival of Bill & Ted Face the Music, we find ourselves facing down the latest example of what has become known as the ‘legacyquel’.

First coined in late 2015 by Matt Singer in a piece for ScreenCrush, in advance of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the legacyquel operates from different principles than a traditional, standard follow up. The standard sequel continues the established story introduced in the original narrative – The Godfather Part II, for example. A legacyquel revives a property and the characters we came to know, years after the fact, often once they have been immortalised in popular culture – The Godfather Part III, for example, which gave us the final part of Michael Corleone’s tragic story sixteen years after we last saw him. Such immense gaps of time are common in sequels which are expressly designed to recapture, in the audience, a sense of reconnection with worlds and characters, and indeed the actors who play them, who mean a great deal to us.

This is certainly the case with Bill & Ted Face the Music, which expressly delivers another key aspect of the legacyquel – familiarity. Most legacyquels do not rock the creative boat and if they do, it is for a specific reason; a good example that bucks the trend is Star Trek 2009, which J. J. Abrams uses as both a legacyquel (allowing us to reconnect with Leonard Nimoy) and canonical reboot in which we rediscover Kirk & Spock while experiencing their origin stories. Star Trek in that sense is an aberration, with most legacyquels operating to the Bill & Ted principle: more of the same, with a much longer gap. This is the appeal of the legacyquel. Reboots offer nostalgia while exploring new ideas. Sequels or continuing franchises build on what has come before. Legacyquels are all about bringing you ‘home’ again.

This was, in many respects, the intention behind Terminator: Dark Fate. What saddens me is that it didn’t really work.

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New Podcast: THE MOVIE PALACE – ‘In the Heat of the Night’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of The Movie Palace, in which I take over from host Carl Sweeney, I am joined by co-host Russ Hugo to discuss Norman Jewison’s 1967 racial potboiler In the Heat of the Night.

Another episode originally recorded for my on-hold ‘New Hollywood’ podcast The New Wave, this was a really enjoyable discussion in which we dug deep on this classic Sidney Poitier & Rod Steiger picture. It was a real learning curve, researching this film, and hopefully you’ll learn lots of intriguing information about the Civil Rights movement, the production itself and beyond in this episode.

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Movie Review: TESLA

★ ★ 1/2

Such is the latent tragic power of 19th century genius Nikola Tesla that he remains an enigmatic figure of fascination, as Michael Almereyda’s offbeat biopic suggests.

In 2003, a group of founders including the now infamous billionaire Elon Musk launched Tesla Motors Inc, what would later become Tesla, and emerge as the world’s foremost provider of electric vehicles and clean energy in the modern world. Musk’s well known aspirations as one of this centuries technological pioneers, not to mention his eccentric reputation, all stem from the influence of the original Tesla, the tentacles of his unique, imaginative and ultimately rejected scientific concepts stretching across more than a century. Almereyda’s take on the man’s life, the first dramatic biopic after a recent 2016 documentary (and indeed an appearance by him in Doctor Who), is designed to remind us of his genius.

Inevitably, however, this being an Almereyda picture, Tesla refuses to be a straight down the line, traditional historical portrait, and rather an avant garde, often wilfully navel-gazing depiction of lost greatness.

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New Podcast: BETWEEN THE NOTES #20 – ‘Tenet / The Best of Ludwig Goransson’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Between the Notes, myself and my co-host Sean Wilson discuss Christopher Nolan‘s Tenet and the career of composer Ludwig Goransson. You may have read my Tenet review but if you want to hear me discussing the film in depth, definitely check this episode out.

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New Podcast: MAKE IT SO #31 – ‘Star Trek: Discovery 1×12 – Vaulting Ambition’

Brand new podcast appearance.

In the latest episode of Make It So, myself and my guest Craig McKenzie discuss the twelfth episode of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season, Vaulting Ambition, as we work through the season before the show returns to Star Trek: Picard coverage.

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