Tag Archives: Jim Broadbent

I Spy

Six Minutes to Midnight

by Hope Madden

Eddie Izzard always brings an unexpected charm and wit to roles, most of which benefit from the surprise in casting. Shadow of the Vampire, several different Oceans movies, and the beloved Get Duked! come to mind.

Between those films and Six Minutes to Midnight, Izzard changed pronouns. (Go girl!) This is relevant only in that I will be referring to Izzard as she, regardless of the fact that she plays British intelligence agent Thomas Miller, a he.

Miller finds himself filling in as substitute teacher at the prestigious Augusta-Victoria College at Brexhill-on-Sea in England. It’s August of 1939, which means England is days away from being drawn into WWII, and the institution is a finishing school for wealthy German girls.

It was a real school, run with Nazi ideals. It went so far as to contain a swastika alongside the union jack on its official school logo and badge. The existence of this anomaly in British history inspired the screenplay by Izzard and co-star Celyn Jones.

The idea also drew a stellar cast including Judi Dench, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent and Carla Juri. Each member of the supporting ensemble offers a strong, sometimes unexpected performance in a film that feels intentionally stilted.

The physical difference between Dench and Juri matches their characters’ emotional gap, an excellent metaphor for the schism in the school itself. Darcy is much fun, and Broadbent is never less than wonderful, as you would expect.

Director Andy Goddard, who’s done a lot of TV, keeps the thrills intimate, using the coastal setting to create a sense of isolation. Goddard’s frequent collaborator Chris Seager lenses the film with a throw-back elegance that suits it.

What works best in Six Minutes is an understated theme of culture clash, and a reminder that England contained plenty of German sympathizers who felt the only opportunity to survive, should this war come, was to embrace the concept of hail to victory.

Izzard, unfortunately, doesn’t work as well. There’s a melancholy to the character that is effective, but as the central figure in a spy thriller, Izzard seems miscast. There is a great deal of running—so, so much running—which eventually comes off as comedic even when it should not.

The writing is often rushed and the plotting superficial. Goddard has trouble finding and sticking with a tone, and regardless of the time-bomb of a title, the film feels less like a mad dash to end a cataclysm and more like a series of bumblings that somehow turn out OK.  

It’s not enough to ruin the effort, but it’s enough to keep Six Minutes to Midnight from leaving a lasting impression.

The Studio’s Apprentice

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

by Matt Weiner

There’s something about the helpless awkwardness of growing up that guarantees the enduring appeal of magic. Mary and the Witch’s Flower taps into that spirit with appealing grace. And it’s a promising first feature from Studio Ponoc, home to a Studio Ghibli diaspora that formed after the venerable Japanese animation studio announced a production break back in 2014.

When a walk in the woods leads to a chance encounter with special flowers, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill in the English language version) gains temporary magical powers. Her broomstick whisks her away to the magical college Endor, which looks about like if Hogwarts put down stakes in Spirited Away.

Mistaken for a witch and propped up by the magical flowers (apparently the PEDs of the wizarding world), Mary is deemed a prodigy by the excited school faculty. She soon learns she’s not the only one interested in those flowers, and outsider or not it will be up to her to save magic for everyone.

Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Ghibli veteran and Oscar nominee for When Marnie Was There, keeps the visual charm turned up throughout the film—a good thing, given that his script (co-written by Riko Sakaguchi and based on a children’s novel by Mary Stewart) lacks the heft of a typical Ghibli film.

For adult viewers, Yonebayashi’s light touch can be a bit too light. Mary, with her wild hair and strong will, is a charming stand-in for kids, but her hero’s journey will be instantly familiar. Endor professors Madam Mumblechook and Doctor Dee (Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent) exude sinister charm, but the rest of the sparse supporting roles don’t have much to add beyond perfunctory plot points.

These are minor complaints though. And the animation, especially the magical set pieces that test Mary’s mettle, makes up the difference. The film offers up a fully-formed magical world with smart visual economy over exposition (cough Fantastic Beasts cough). Mary’s determination is contagious, and even if her saving the day is inevitable it’s impossible not to feel moved by the choices she makes to get there.

For all the magic that infuses Endor, Doctor Dee was on the right track when he told Mary that electricity is just another form of magic. If Mary and the Witch’s Flower doesn’t always have the preternatural spirit that animates the best of Studio Ghibli, it’s a delightful visual successor even when it’s working a little harder to keep the spark alive.

Bridget Jones, Back in Medium-Rare Form

Bridget Jones’s Baby

by Matt Weiner

It’s been over a decade since Bridget Jones last went through an embarrassing series of personal and professional mishaps on the way to learning that opposites attract after all. Anyone expecting a change in formula will be disappointed, but there are worse ways to spend two hours finding Mr. Right (again) than with Jones, thanks in large part to Renée Zellweger.

Zellweger grounds Jones this time around as quirky, confident and—more or less—competent TV news producer. Colin firth returns as the priggish Mark Darcy, and Patrick Dempsey steps into the Hugh Grant point on the love triangle as the charming Jack Qwant. (Metaphor alert: Qwant made a fortune off a dating website but hasn’t found his own perfect match.)

Jones has one-night stands with both men, getting pregnant by one of them and setting off a competition between the suitors to prove their worth as potential fathers—and win Jones’s heart in the process. (A fear of needles rules out the in-utero test that would’ve made for a much briefer film.)

Despite the tension the film wants to set up between Darcy and Qwant, the best running theme for much of the movie is that Jones doesn’t need either of the boobs vying for her. And it’s a credit to the film that the madcap finale turns out some of the movie’s biggest laughs without cheapening everything Jones has done to get to that point.

Bridget Jones stands on her own far more in this film than the previous two, with most of the supporting characters—from best friend Miranda (Sarah Solemani) to Darcy and Qwant—simply along for well-timed banter or convenient plot devices. Two exceptions are Bridget’s father, Colin—filled with a depth of emotion that far exceeds Jim Broadbent’s criminal lack of screen time—and Bridget’s physician, Dr. Rawlings (Emma Thompson). Thompson delivers every line and fixes every stare with the tart awareness that reduces the men in Bridget’s life from masters of the universe to emperors with no clothes.

Bridget Jones’s Baby is directed by Sharon Maguire—who also directed the first Jones film, Bridget Jones’s Diary—and the latest entry is a welcome improvement on 2004’s inane Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. But the film has little of the light touch and keen observation that made Bridget Jones’s Diary a refreshing romantic comedy back in 2001.

This latest installment doesn’t break any new ground for romcoms. The satire is easy, toothless and, somehow, already dated. But this marks a comfortable return for Bridget Jones. She’s hard to root against even in bad times. Maybe it’s unfair to grade on a curve, but we’ve seen Jones much worse off than this. It’s hard not to crack a smile when she’s on top.




Happy Anniversary, Now Shut Up!


Le Week-End

by George Wolf


When my brother and I were kids, we would quietly laugh anytime our grandparents traded caustic put-downs, which, the older they got, was often. Did they still even love each other? We didn’t think about that, we just thought that two old married people openly showing weary disgust was pretty funny.

It’s funny in Le Week-End as well, and made even more effective when balanced with the couple’s search for their long-lost romantic side.

Brits Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) are celebrating their wedding anniversary with a weekend in Paris, the site of their honeymoon 30 years earlier. The finances are nearly as empty as their nest, and their love life……well, it’s been awhile.

Most times, you’d be able to fill in the rest of the blanks: Paris! Romance! Sex! Love! Happy!

Instead, director Roger Mitchell (Notting Hill/Hyde Park on Hudson) and writer Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette/Venus) explore plenty of dark side, giving us a couple at a crossroads in life that feels real, often heartbreakingly so.

As Nick, Broadbent is his usual sublime self, effortlessly bringing to life the quiet desperation described so succinctly by Pink Floyd as “the English way.” Broadbent’s performance is both funny and poignant, never letting us forget that Nick’s desperation over his golden years is rooted in the fear of losing his wife.

No wonder, as Duncan is glorious. In her hands, Meg is playful, hateful, and still plenty sexy. Most of all, she is an intelligent, accomplished woman with a yearning that she’s not quite sure how to satisfy.

Kureishi’s smart, snappy script doesn’t take sides or provide easy answers. Though a scene-stealing performance from Jeff Goldblum as an old friend of Nick’s shows a glimpse of the film’s hand, we’re trusted to be party guests capable of our own conclusions about this couple, the human condition, and our own lives.

How novel.

One or two convenient plot turns aside, Le Week-End is a treat that, while frequently sobering, remains ultimately inspiring.





Heady Business for Your Queue

Out this week on DVD and Blu Ray is the surprisingly watchable Cloud Atlas – a challenging yet accessible sci-fi fantasy. Nesting six stories inside each other, Atlas connects human souls over generations, from a 19th Century shipwrecked notary to a clone awaiting execution in a dystopian future and onward. The large cast is anchored by solid performances from Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Jim Sturgess, all playing multiple roles as settings quickly move across time and space.

Viewed individually, some of the segments do struggle to keep silliness at bay, making the nearly three hour running time feel a bit bloated. As a whole, though, Cloud Atlas is ambitious, often visually stunning, and constantly fascinating.

For an even stronger existential dream across time and space, check out Terrence Malick’s glorious 2011 effort, The Tree of Life. As gorgeous a film as you’ll find, Malick’s rumination on innocence lost boasts magnificent performances from Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. It’s a masterpiece of a film, as big an effort as anything Malick or any other director has tackled. Talk about ambitious!