TCFF 2017 Reviews: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri + Blue Balloons

It’s just two days left in TCFF and I’m playing catch-up with posting reviews! You might’ve noticed I’ve got to post a couple of things in a day at times… too many films too little time (both to watch and to review!)

Well, below are couple of reviews from Day 6 and 7.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
review by Andy Ellis

It’s described as a dark comedy, but writer and director Martin McDonagh’s newest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has a lot more to offer. The film, led by Frances McDormand who plays Mildred who causes some small town chaos by using three billboards to ask local officials why they haven’t found her daughter’s murderer and rapist yet.

A subject such as this must be treaded upon carefully, and it’s done very well here. The humor comes from the fact that none of the characters hold anything back. Mildred has has no problem telling the local priest how she really feels, or anyone else for that matter. Sam Rockwell shines as Dixon,  a small-minded Sheriff’s Deputy with a short temper ends up costing him dearly in one key scene. If there’s a character who keeps his calm the best in the story it’s Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, the main target of Mildred’s billboard messages.

It’s also a film with a lot of heart in it as well, and it helps round out the characters. One scene causes causes Mildred to switch moods so fast you’ll realize that beneath that pissed-off no-nonsense barrier is a mother that just wants her daughter back. And this role may even earn McDormond some awards recognition, and then same goes for Rockwell.

The rest of the cast rounds out the story pretty well, too, with each one getting their own chance to shine—and they do. Lucas Hodges plays Mildred’s son Robbie who isn’t all on board with his mom’s methods, and Abbie Cornish plays the Sheriff’s wife Anne. Caleb Landry Jones has great scenes as Red Welby the owner of the billboards, and Peter Dinklage has a very small but memorable role. John Hawkes plays Charlie, Mildred’s ex-husband, and Samara Weaving steals the show a couple times as Penelope, Charlie’s young girlfriend.

This film is a great mix of everything, and throws more than a few a surprises in there as well. The acting is superb and it’ll leave you wanting more. Now if only more films would grab a hold of you like this one did.


BLUE BALLOONS
Review by Ruth Maramis

This is one of the films with a Minnesota connection that I actually didn’t know much about. So I pretty much going in blindly about the story, other than the fact that the story deals with a terminal illness.

Right from the start, this film feels deeply personal. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but Blue Balloons is an honest, realistic story about a family gripping with the complexity of cancer. Written, directed and produced by Emily Troedson, who also acts as the eldest daughter Claire of the Kippson family, the story is told from her perspective. I like that it paints the day-to-day life of the family in a matter-of-fact, candid way… especially in the way Claire is questioning her faith and her existence in a devout Lutheran community.

Chari and Emily in Blue Balloons

The film’s pacing is a bit slow and really tries your patience at times. I have to say some of the acting by the supporting cast aren’t convincing (crying with no tears visible??), but overall it’s a well-crafted piece with genuinely poignant moments as well as interesting artistic choices. I wish there were more mother-daughter relationship being explored here, though I think the dynamic of the family is portrayed pretty well.

Chari Eckmann as Joanne

I connected most with Emily’s character and she did an amazing job juggling so many roles in the film. Being a daughter who dealt with an ill mother at a young age, there are parts that was hard to watch for me. I also have to commend Chari Eckmann‘s performance (as the cancer-stricken Joanne), her emotional transformation and deterioration throughout the film is believable.

Glad to see so many talented writer/director like Emily having their films at TCFF! I sure hope she continues to make films in the future.


There’s more films and festivities to be had at TCFF!

 

TEN Notable Foreign Actors to Watch – Where Are They Now?

I first published this list back in November 2009, and I’ve been wanting to do an update in a while, thanks to the suggestion from Iba @ ILuvCinema.

As I said back then, this kind of list is a matter of opinion/preference, and it’s impossible to please everyone. This one in particular is not meant to be a prediction of ‘the next big thing,’ whatever the heck that means, but more of an indication that these non-American actors have been generating some buzz for current or upcoming flicks, or accolades for their performances as of 2009.

FlixChatter's Top Ten Foreign Actors to Watch
FlixChatter’s Top Ten Foreign Actors to Watch

The criteria was that at the time, these actors were virtually unknown to the average movie-going public (even if they had seen their movies), but are definitely on the radar of cinephiles and movie bloggers alike. To help narrow things down, I kept the age range between 20-40 years old (as of the time I made the list).

Well, so how are they doing now, almost three years later? Take a look below on how each of the talent’s career has taken them:

Tom Hardy, 34

Thanks to Christopher Nolan’s final Batman movie, Tom Hardy’s name has perhaps become a household name by now. Since I made the list, I’ve seen him in three additional films: Inception, Warrior, The Dark Knight Rises. As I said before, I quite like his comic skills in Rocknrolla, but since his roles have showcased his dramatic chops and a penchant for the theatrics for his role of Bane. No, I haven’t seen him in This Means War yet, though I have not ruled that out yet.

What’s Next? He’s currently starring in the prohibition-era thriller Lawless. I look forward to seeing him in the new Mad Max action adventure Fury Road with Charlize Theron.
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Sam Worthington, 36

Now this is quite unfortunate. Though I was initially keen on the Kiwi actor after Terminator Salvation and Avatar, now I’m actually not as fond of him. Blame the awful Clash of the Titans for that, I guess, and also some dismal reviews for Man On Ledge, which didn’t sound too promising from the start. But no doubt Worthington’s career continues to be on the rise. I mean, heck, he’s now got another franchise besides Avatar as the sequel to ‘Clash‘ was released this past Summer.

What’s Next? He’s signed on for several movies out next year, but the one I’m most curious about is Thunder Run that’s reportedly on pre-production. The Iraq-war thriller about the surprise assault on Baghdad also stars Gerry Butler and Matthew McConaughey.
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Carey Mulligan, 27

After seeing her fabulous performance in An Education, she wowed me again in Never Let Me Go. I haven’t seen Drive and Shame, but those two movie caught a lot of buzz with critics and moviegoers alike. Seems like the talented Londoner (one of my faves born in the UK capital) is perfectly suited for both indies and more mainstream fares like Wall Street: Money Never Sleep.

What’s Next? Too bad The Great Gatsby‘s been pushed back to next year from this Christmas. I think she’d make a compelling Daisy Buchanan in the tale of tragic romance amidst the lavish world of Jay Gatsby. On a personal front, Carey has also now been married Marcus Mumford, the lead singer of Mumford & Sons band last April.
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Tobey Kebbell, 30

As I said before, it’s pure coincidence that three actors on this list have been in Rocknrolla! I guess Guy Ritchie’s pretty good at spotting real talents. I’ve since only seen Kebbell in one other film, War Horse, but his scene was easily one of the most memorable. Unlike Hardy though, Kebbell’s career hasn’t really quite taken off. Perhaps because his two films following Rocknrolla (The Conspirator and Prince of Persia) weren’t really well-received nor become box office hits.

What’s Next? His upcoming film The East with Alexander Skarsgård and Brit Marling sounds interesting, but I doubt it’ll be his big break as it’s a low-budget movie. Kebbell is still young though, so there’s still time for his career to hit it off.
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Chiwetel Ejiofor, 39

Since I just saw a movie with him in the lead role in Endgame, I’m so glad I put him on my list! He had a memorable role in Children of Men and also American Gangster. Even in brief screen time as Keira Knightley’s groom in Love, Actually, it’s hard not to notice the handsome London-born actor (born of Nigerian parents). I wish he had been as prolific as fellow British/African Idris Elba, as both are charismatic and talented actors. As displayed in Endgame, I am convinced Ejiofor can carry a movie as a leading man. He’s obviously very easy on the eyes, but also got that intellectual, sophisticated vibe that’d make him suitable for a variety of roles.

What’s Next? He’s starring with Thandie Newton in a film set around Nigeria’s independence, Half of a Yellow Sun. And hopefully starring in the Steve McQueen’s historical drama Twelve Years A Slave would also boost his career even more.
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Michael Fassbender, 35

Well I think this Irish-German actor’s career has been on a meteoric rise in the past three years, wouldn’t you say? He nabbed nominations left and right for his performance in Shame, though he was egregiously snubbed by the Academy Award. Since 300, I’ve loved his performance in Centurion, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class and Prometheus. I think it’s safe to say Fassbender has ‘arrived’ in Hollywood, and I’m glad to see him getting more prominent roles.

What’s Next? Fassbender will be collaborating with London-born director Steve McQueen for the third time in Twelve Years A Slave that I’ve mentioned above. He’s also co-starring with Brad Pitt in the Ridley Scott’s drug-trafficking thriller The Counselor set for next year.
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Abbie Cornish, 28

I have to admit I haven’t seen Cornish in anything new since Bright Star, apart from watching her in A Good Year with Russell Crowe. She’s obviously VERY talented, and she could perhaps have the career of fellow Aussie actresses like Naomi Watts or Mia Waskikowska, but yet she’s not as well-known. She’s quite in demand though, she’s starring in five new films in the next couple of years.

What’s Next? She’s been cast in the much-beleaguered RoboCop reboot alongside Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) and Gary Oldman. This seems to be the most high profile she’s involved in as the others seem to be small-budget fares.
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Sharlto Copley, 38

I LOVE his performance in District 9, that’s why he’s on this list. But it seems to be a slow-burn rise for the South African actor, as he hasn’t starred in anything since the A-Team reboot a few years ago. Not sure why that is but perhaps he’s busy working on the District 9 follow-up Elysium with Neill Blomkamp, even though it seems that it’s Matt Damon who’s got the starring role in that movie.

What’s Next? He’s listed on IMDb as having five upcoming projects, including the Sleeping Beauty spin-off Maleficent with Angelina Jolie and the Korean cult favorite Oldboy remake with Spike Lee. Not sure how big his role is in those two films. I do hope he gets another starring role in a sci-fi movie, he certainly has the chops to carry a film.

Gemma Arterton, 26

Now, out of the ten actors I put on the list, Gemma is the only one I wish I hadn’t. I guess I’m just too fond of her. I probably would rather put fellow Brit Hayley Atwell in her place. It’s interesting that she was Sam Worthington’s co-star in Clash of the Titans, whom I initially liked but now I’ve grown cold on. Like Worthington, Arterton is also in quite a high demand, she even played a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace and balancing smaller-budget fares (Tamara Drewe) and blockbusters (Prince of Persia).

What’s Next? You might’ve seen her in the recently-released trailer of Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (if not, you can see it here), just one of the four projects she’s got in 2013. None of them I’m really interested in however, that Hansel and Gretel one looks like crap.
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Ben Whishaw, 31

The UK actor has since been on my radar since his leading role as John Keats in Bright Star and a small role in The International. I’ve been meaning to rent the ensemble-cast Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There in which he portrayed Arthur Rimbaud, but haven’t got around to it. Needless to say, I haven’t seen him in anything since but I’m hoping to see him in two films before year’s end: Cloud Atlas and Bond 23 Skyfall as the new, young and hip Q!

What’s Next? There’s nothing else listed for him in IMDb after Skyfall, but he’s also starring in a BBC four-part miniseries The Hollow Crown (you can read all about it here on Dezzy’s blog) Hopefully this massively talented actor gets a leading role sometime soon!


Honorable mentions:

  • Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21, Fifty Dead Men Walking)
  • Rupert Friend (Cheri, The Young Victoria)
  • Idris Elba (Rocknrolla, The Losers, Prometheus)
  • Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Dorian Gray)
  • Ben Barnes (Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Dorian Gray)

Again, I made this original list three years ago. Now, with hindsight, I would’ve probably swapped a couple from the main list, such as Idris Elba and Rebecca Hall. Especially for Idris, I’m psyched that his career continues to rise now, he deserved it!!


Well, that’s it for the updates folks. Thoughts on any of these actors and/or their projects?

The Flix List: Five noteworthy young actresses (under 30)

A week ago, I posted the five noteworthy young actors (under 30) list, and a loyal reader Julian asked if there is a female counterpart to this post. Why of course! Took me a while to get the write-up for each, but picking them was easy.

  1. Emily Blunt (27)
    Everyone who’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada would vouch that the English starlet stole scenes as the sardonic fashion assistant. Not too long after that I saw her playing a completely different character in The Jane Austen Book Club as Prudie, the young French teacher on the brink of an affair with his student. I adore her in this movie, she just screams sophistication and elegance, but still gives that icy undercurrent that adds to her allure. She was also terrific in The Young Victoria, a role which nabbed her a Golden Globes nomination.

    Her new movie Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon has been pushed back to next March 2011.
  2. Abbie Cornish (27)
    I’ve only seen two of her movies, but that’s enough to see what a gifted performer she is. That’s why I’ve picked her as one of my Top Ten Aussie Actors, and in my review of Bright Star, I mentioned that she really was the brightest thing about the biopic of John Keats. Her portrayal of the lovestruck Fanny Brawne was simply breathtaking that I believe she was robbed of some major nominations that year. Recently I rented A Good Year, and Abbie totally could hold her own opposite Russell Crowe. I’d love to see the two work together again in the future.

    Cornish is one of the girl fighters in the Zack Snyder’s fantasy thriller Sucker Punch.
  3. Natalie Portman (29)
    I almost didn’t include her in this list thinking that Natalie is already over 30. I guess the Israeli-born actress is a bit of an old soul. Her feature film debut at the age of 11 in The Professional (or Léon internationally) was a dark, indelible performance. No wonder it got people talking and still referred to as one of her best roles.  She garnered worldwide fame when cast as Queen Amidala in Star Wars, but continue to balance her blockbuster projects with a more personal independent projects. In between two Star Wars films, she nabbed an Oscar nomination playing a stripper in the drama Closer. She was compelling as Evey in the sci-fi thriller V for Vendetta, one of those rare beauty who still looks stunning even with a bald head!

    Portman’s next projects include the comic adaptation Thor and a bizarre project called Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.
  4. Keira Knightley (25)
    A lot of people probably saw Keira for the first time in Star Wars without realizing who she was. She played Queen Amidala’s decoy as obviously she bears a striking resemblance to Portman. According to IMDb trivia, when in makeup, not even the mothers of the actresses could tell them apart! Well, suffice to say she’s come a long way since then. The waif actress has grown to be a remarkable actress and has chosen her roles quite well, varying between tomboy-ish roles (Domino, King Arthur) and romantic leading lady (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice). I initially thought she was far too pretty to play Elizabeth Bennett, but her earthy quality and down-to-earth portrayal made the portrayal quite believable.

    Her new movie Never Let Me Go is out on limited release in mid September.
  5. Ellen Page (23)
    The fresh-faced Canadian is easily one of the most talented young actors of this generation. It doesn’t take an Oscar nomination (for Juno) for people to realize that, though that certainly is well-deserved. She comes across as the brainy girl, though there’s a sinister side of her if you’ve seen even a glimpse of Hard Candy, which will make any pedophile shudder at what a seemingly-wholesome teen is capable of. Christopher Nolan obviously thought highly of her when he cast her in a key role in Inception.

    Next up for Miss Page is the action/comedy Super with Rainn Wilson.

Honorable Mentions (I will add this feature to the actors post as well):

  • Carey Mulligan (Haven’t seen An Education yet, but I hear she’s quite good)
  • Anna Kendrick (Fantastic in Up in the Air, can’t believe she’s the same girl in Twilight!)
  • Scarlett Johansson (Love her in Lost in Translation, but hasn’t impressed me in other stuff lately)
  • Chloe Moretz (Impressive as the wise-beyond-her-years sister of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer
  • Saiorse Ronan (Delivered a brilliant performance as the young Briony in Atonement. A challenging role for anyone at any age, let alone a 13 year-old!)

Ok folks, your turn. Which young actress(s) have impressed you lately?

DVD Picks: The Cove, The Boys Are Back, Bright Star

The Cove – Documentary
Synopsis: Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renown dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taiji, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.

This doc was highly-recommended by a group of friends as we’re having dinner. I haven’t watched many documentaries, but I know that if done well, it can be as powerful and thrilling as any film. The Cove is definitely one that delivers suspense, thrill, and adrenaline rush, but most of all, emotional punch! Even in the first few minutes, one feels for the dolphins and the man who strives to save them. O’Barry is the man who started it all, and he told the cameras that he felt partly responsible for the public’s fascination with dolphins as he was the trainer for the TV show Flipper. The show’s popularity no doubt kicked off the multimillion-dollar seaquarium industry. “I spent 10 years building, and the next 35 trying to tear down,” he said. His change of heart happened right after Kathy, the lead dolphin of the show, died in his arms. He even called it a suicide as the mammal was so miserable living in that man-made water tank. Ever since that day, he put everything he had into the cause of freeing the dolphins.

The large part of this eco-documentary took place in a cove in Taiji where approximately 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered in the most heinous way every year. Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos (known for his photography work for National Geographic) – who’s also a licensed scuba diver – brought a group of daredevil volunteers that include a pair of world-class divers, tech experts and cameramen to help O’Barry’s cause. It’s fascinating watching them find clever ways to get some video footage of this secret ‘slaughter house,’ even enlisting Psihoyos’ friend from Industrial Light Magic! The documentary also delves deeper into mercury-poisoning, with research/analysis support from Japanese scientists. If you eat sushi and fish regularly, you definitely need to watch this!

There’s a reason this movie won a gazillion awards (there are at least 20 of them listed in Wikipedia). But even with all the tech gizmos and breathtaking underwater scenery, what makes this doc great is it never forgets the ‘heart’ of the story, which are O’Barry with his inspiring tenacity, and of course, the subject of his cause. The scenes of the dolphins swimming freely and happily in the ocean are so beautiful and moving, and an Aussie pro surfer told a touching tale of how these dolphins actually saved him from a shark attack. The way these friendly cetaceans are depicted here make the brutal slaying all the more devastating. Suffice to say, I won’t be going to Sea World ever again after this, and I’m certainly glad I don’t eat fish!

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The Boys Are Back
Synopsis: Set in South Australia, this memoir-based film tells the story of a sports-writer Joe Warr who’s suddenly faced with the task of raising his young son after the untimely death of his second wife.

Growing up without a father myself, I’m somewhat drawn to fatherhood-type of movies like this one and Dear Frankie with Gerard Butler. Perhaps I’m also curious how these typically bad-ass actors would fare in a soulful, quieter roles. Well, let me just say that Clive Owen pulls off the tricky role of a grieving husband and befuddled dad believably, which is a 180-degree change from his perpetually cool and confident action hero we’re used to seeing. This film no doubt tugs your heart strings but veers away from being too sentimental or schmaltzy. The credits goes to Owen’s affecting performance, but George MacKay (Harry) and Nicholas McAnulty (Artie) who play his kids are just as noteworthy.

There’s something deliberately unfussy about how the story is told, this is definitely a better and more poignant parenting-themed film from director Scott Hicks than No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart. Joe’s journey and his struggle to cope with 6-year-old Artie – who doesn’t know how to express his own grief – feels genuinely real. There’s a particular scene when Artie throws tantrum during an arduous road trip, McAnulty’s wordless performance with his wide, evocative eyes is heart-wrenching. Refusing the help of his protective mother-in-law, Joe sets his own parenting rule, which no doubt make his house look like it’s been hit by a tornado. But somehow, the father and son muddle through the best they know how, and the way the story was handled make their eventual bond feel natural and unforced. I also like the fact that the movie doesn’t gloss over Joe’s past mistakes of abandoning his first wife and son for another woman, nor does it set an unrealistic turn of events as an excuse to ‘spice things up.’ I’m referring to the tentative ‘romance’ if you will, between Joe and a young, benevolent recent divorcee Laura, though it’s clear their attraction is mutual.

Things get more interesting as Joe’s angst-ridden teenage son comes to visit from England. I laughed when Joe explains of the his rules of ‘no cussing’ to Harry, as he himself repeatedly uses God’s name in vain. So blasphemy apparently doesn’t count as foul language? [shakes head] In any case, tension mounts between Joe and Harry, who feels abandoned by his father. At the same time, conflicts arise when the demand of his job requires him to travel. A series of events that follow make the three of them analyze and truly ponder what it means to be a family. As the voice-over says, “life is a journey to be traveled no matter how bad the road,” it really resonates with me, and how true that statement is. There’s really no such thing as a ‘perfect’ family, but we’re all called to make the best of what we have. The Boys Are Back is a satisfying ride, both emotionally and visually, boasting stunning scenery of South Australia countryside with its rolling hills, dusty roads. This easily rival Baz Luhrman’s Australia as a tourism-boasting flick for the land down under.

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Bright Star

Synopsis: Period drama based on the three-year romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, which was cut short by Keats’ untimely death at age 25.

My girlfriends and I watched this on our monthly movie nite last month. I’m a sucker for period dramas, a mere mention of tragic/unrequited/slow-burn love stories and I’m there! Given the unanimous critical praise (97% on Rotten Tomatoes!), I was prepared to be dazzled. Alas, the movie doesn’t quite live up to its title. Such a pity because it seems to have a lot going for it and certainly John Keats’ story is worth-telling.

So what’s the problem?

Well, for one it’s the agonizing pace. Granted a measured pace is what one should expect from movies of this genre, but there’s s-l-o-w and there’s s…l…o..o..o..o…w… I mean it just trudges along far too long that our patience is wearing thin. It’s as if the director wants us to reflect meditate on all the lush photography (they are indeed stunning) and savor every little detail on a room, the wildflowers, a bonnet, pretty much everything the camera captures. The critics call this ‘understated’ but the word I’d use is tedious.

But the crucial reason this movie fail to captivate us is because we simply couldn’t connect with Fanny the way we did with other heroines of similar genres, i.e. Jane Austen’s Fannie Price, The Dashwoods, Lizzy Bennett, or most notably Margaret Hale from Elizabeth Gaskells’ North and South. It’s not so much as the actress’ fault as the way her character’s written. Fanny comes out like a whiny & spoiled brat at times, and certainly fits her reputation of being a frivolous fashionista. Yet despite her affinity for fashion, her costumes aren’t that fabulous. Yet Campion keeps hitting us over the head with all the details… yes, yes I get it, she’s a fashion designer, but if I want to see a movie about clothes, I might as well rent The September Issue! Then there’s John Keats himself. I’ve heard lots of good things about Ben Wishaw, but somehow his portrayal comes across as eternally glum and frail, sans the charismatic quality the real poet supposedly had. Worst of all, I don’t find him appealing at all, nor do I find that undeniable chemistry between the two.

Perhaps it’s due to those very reasons that the movie fail to engage on the crucial selling point: the romance. Despite all the flirtation, the poetic letters, the longing glances, I just don’t ‘feel the love,’ that burning passion so fierce and vigorous that a serene bloke like Keats can only express through his poems. I’m not dismissing Keat’s poems by any means, but I don’t think one need to be well-versed in poetry in order to empathize with people falling in love. But even by the end of this movie, I feel like I still don’t know what to make of the characters & their motivation.

Perhaps the one ‘bright’ thing about the movie is Abbie Cornish’s performance. Despite what I’ve said about her character, it’s undeniable that Cornish is a talented actress. She has a certain grace about her and her acting seems refreshingly authentic. I dare say she has a huge potential to follow in the footsteps of Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett because she really is that talented. The one scene where I shed a tear is when John’s death is announced, which caused Fanny to sob so forcefully she’s gasping for air. That performance alone merits an Oscar nomination! Paul Schneider as Keats’ best friend Charles Brown turn in a compelling performance as well. In fact, I could say that his character leaves more of an impression to everyone in our group than the poet himself.

To sum things up, Bright Star isn’t a terrible movie, it’s got its fine moments I suppose, but it’s definitely not great.

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So readers, have you seen or plan to see any of these flicks? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.