Tag Archive: Kenneth Branagh


When we created last year’s preview of 2019 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best.  All year we tried to keep up with what Hollywood had to offer and homed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our annual picks in our Best Movies of 2019.

GenredomAs always, we’re after the best genre content of the year–with our top categories from the Best in Movies.  There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest of the film world, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch.  What do all of this year’s selections have in common?  In addition to those elements that define each part of genredom, each has a good story.  Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.

Come back later this month for our print media picks, and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees.  And if you missed it, check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2019 here.  Wait no further, here are our movie picks for 2019:

Best Film, Best Superhero Movie, Best Re-Imagining on Film Shazam! (Warner Bros.).  Movies are supposed to be a wonder, right?  What brought the magic of the movies back to theaters more than Shazam?  Why did DC take so long to adapt a superhero to the scene perfectly?  Who cares–they finally did it.  Faithful to the character from the #1 selling superhero book of the 1940s, this was the superhero movie many of us have been waiting for for the past 50 years (or more).  Full of superhero fun, one of the best training montages ever, Zachary Levi’s boyish hero was perfectly matched to Jack Dylan Grazer’s take on best pal Freddy.  It’s also the only superhero movie we can think of that got better as it went along, culminating in a fantastic, satisfying third act and finale.  This is what we want more of.  And it was the first DC superhero movie of the millennium that could be watched and enjoyed by the entire family.  Honorable mention: Glass (Universal), Spider-Man: Far From Home (Sony Pictures).

Best Fantasy Movie, Best Adventure Movie, Best Comedy MovieJumanji: The Next Level (Columbia Pictures).  The only issue with this film was that its status as a sequel will prompt some to not recognize it for the gigantic success it truly is.  With adventure scenes bigger and better than anything in the entire Indiana Jones franchise, two movies in and director Jake Kasdan proved a sequel can actually be as good as the original.  The four stars didn’t miss a beat, swapping roles and adding new laughs, and the new characters inside and outside the game were perfectly spliced in to tell a new tale.  The bridge crossing scene is now the adventure film scene to beat.  An epic fantasy that’s loads of fun.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Movie: Shazam! (Disney/Marvel), Captain Marvel (Disney/Marvel).

Best Movie Borg, Best Borg Film – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Carl, Terminator: Dark Fate (Paramount Pictures).  It would have been almost impossible for James Cameron and director Tim Miller not to get this right, a new thread through time reuniting Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and a new T-800 with Arnold back with another take on his greatest borg of all time.  New characters and new effects kept the franchise from getting boring, but this was more than just getting by, a big sci-fi spectacle with great cyborg battles, and easily the best cyborg fix this year.

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Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2020.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year–and they are only the films we know about so far.  We pulled 85 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production, slated for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks to top the list for most fanboys and fangirls?  Ghostbusters: Afterlife Scarlett Johannson solo in Black WidowA new James Bond movie, No Time to DieVin Diesel in Bloodshot and a new Fast & FuriousThe original Tom Clancy novel series is finally continuing with an adaptation of Without Remorse Comic book adaptations are in less supply in 2020, but look for Venom 2, Wonder Woman 1984, Eternals, The New Mutants, Morbius, Birds of Prey, The Old Guard, and did we mention Black WidowCompare the below list to our 2019 list and even the 2018 list, 2017 list, 2016 list, 2015 list, or 2014 list, and your takeaway may be seeing the studios moving genre content from the big screen to the small screen via streaming services.

Do you like sequels?  There are far less coming to theaters in 2020 than in 2019, but many more remakes of movies, books, and TV shows are on the way.  In fact, with all the blockbusters in 2019, 2020 looks pretty tame as the cinema marquee is concerned.  Some films don’t have locked in release dates yet: Amazon Studios and Netflix haven’t revealed dates for the following 2020 releases (those we know you’ll find on the calendar below):

  • 7500, a film about a highjacked airplane, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Amazon Studios)
  • The Dig, a film about a woman finding archaeological treasures on her land, starring Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, and Carey Mulligan (Netflix)
  • Horse Girl, Alison Brie stars and directs this story about an awkward girl who fuses her dreams with reality (Netflix)
  • Jingle Jangle, an animated Christmas story with the voices of Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, and Hugh Bonneville (Netflix)
  • Louis Wain, biopic of the 19th century artist starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, and Andrea Riseborough (Amazon Studios)
  • The Old Guard, adaptation of comic book story, starring Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Netflix)
  • Radioactive, a film about Marie Curie, starring Rosamund Pike and Anya Taylor-Joy (Amazon)
  • Rebecca, adaptation and remake of the Daphne Du Maurier classic novel, starring Lily James, Keely Hawes, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Armie Hammer (Netflix)
  • Welcome to Sudden Death, sequel to Jean-Claude van Damme 1995 movie starring Michael Jai White (Netflix)
  • The Willoughbys, animated adaptation of the Lois Lowry book, with voices of Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, and Jane Krakowski (Netflix)
  • Wonderland, murder conspiracy mystery starring Mark Wahlberg, Allan Arkin, and Colleen Camp (Netflix)

Some of these films will have revised release dates, or get pushed to 2021.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2020 (and some you might not!):

January

The Informer – Thriller, starring Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Ana de Armas, Common, and Clive Owen – January 10.

Underwater – Thriller, stars Kristin Stewart in underwater horror story – January 10.

Dolittle – Family/Comedy, stars Robert Downey, Jr. in remake of the classic, with voices of Tom Holland, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Emma Thompson, Antonio Banderas, Ralph Fiennes, and Michael Sheen – January 17.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Nothing taken away from the work of actor Joseph Fiennes in the romance-comedy Shakespeare in Love, but in the 2019 biopic All is True, it’s hard to imagine any actor as perfectly cast as William Shakespeare himself than Sir Kenneth Branagh.  In one conversation between Branagh’s Shakespeare and Sir Ian McKellen′s Earl of Southampton, the quiet beauty of language and craft they convey will make you think no two people were better suited to their art.  Taking a cue from the subtitle of Shakespeare’s final play, Henry VIII–the play being performed when Shakespeare’s Globe Theater caught fire (pro tip: don’t put stage cannons in your scripts)–All is True takes Shakespeare from there to his death, as he quits writing and returns to his home, his wife, and their two daughters to retire.

Ghosts of his past catch up with Shakespeare, as the rural village of his birth does not forget the scandals of his family’s past and present, silly things today that meant everything to English society in 1613.  One of those ghosts is that of his son, Hamnet, the twin of his younger daughter, who died in real life of unknown causes at eleven, and which is expanded upon for dramatic sake in this story by writer/comedian Ben Elton (Much Ado About Nothing).  Elton’s script smartly stitches together what history knows about Shakespeare and his family after his plays and what is probable or at least possible, providing a faithful, glorious look at what someone who knew his own legacy in his own time might have done next.  Branagh reflects the kind of ego that must have been behind the man.  Shakespeare neglected his family for years, and his youngest daughter, played by Kathryn Wilder (Ready Player One), lets him know it.

Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, 18 years his senior in real life, is played as impeccably as audiences would expect from Dame Judi Dench, and although 26 years his senior in real life it all works seamlessly.  Branagh is hardly recognizable at first, until his undeniable voice takes over, thanks to a prosthetic nose that never leaves any doubt that Branagh conjured the ghost of Shakespeare for this performance.  Equal to the performance is the year’s best cinematography by Zac Nicholson (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society), who frames every scene as if it were an adaptation of an original oil painting by Johannes Vermeer or Rembrandt van Rijn.  His use of light–especially his scenes shot by candlelight to mimic chiaroscuro–is magical.

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Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2019.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year–and they are only the films we know about so far.  We pulled 78 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production, slated for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks to top the list for most fanboys and fangirls?  The last of the nine films in the Star Wars saga.  Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home.  Shazam! is DC’s contribution.  Quentin Tarentino returns to movies to direct Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Martin Scorsese is back with an all-star cast in The Irishman (on Netflix).  M. Night Shyamalan finishes his dark superhero trilogy with GlassArnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton return in TerminatorJordan Peele is back with another horror film with Us.

Do you like sequels?  This is your year.  Another Men in Black, X-Men, Shaft, Happy Death Day, Lego Movie, Hellboy, John Wick, Kingsman, Jumanji, The Secret Life of Pets, How to Train Your Dragon, Fast and the Furious, Zombieland, Addams Family, Charlie’s Angels, Godzilla, Shaun the Sheep, Annabelle,and Stephen King’s It and Pet SemataryDisney is trying to get you to move into your local theater with another Toy Story, Aladdin, Dumbo, Frozen, and Lion King–all in one year.  Yep, lots and lots of sequels are coming.

Some films don’t have locked-in release dates yet.  Amazon Prime and Netflix haven’t revealed dates for these 2019 releases:

  • Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman, a film about Jimmy Hoffa starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, and Bobby Cannavale (Netflix)
  • The Kid, a Western biopic with Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, and Vincent D’Onofrio (Netflix)
  • The Man Who Killed Hitler Then Bigfoot, starring Sam Elliott (Netflix)
  • 6 Underground, a Michael Bay film starring Ryan Reynolds, Ben Hardy, Dave Franco, and Mélanie Laurent (Netflix)
  • The Last Thing He Wanted, Dee Rees directs Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, and Toby Jones; journalist quits newspaper job to become an arms dealer for a covert government agency (Netflix)
  • The Laundromat, Steven Soderbergh directs Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, James Cromwell, about the Pentagon Papers (Netflix)
  • Radioactive, Rosamund Pike plays Marie Curie, with Anya Taylor-Joy (Amazon)

Some of these films will have revised release dates, or get pushed to 2020.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2019 (and many you might not):

January

Glass – Superhero, M. Night Shyamalan trilogy part 3, stars Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy; continues where Unbreakable and Split left off – January 18.

Serenity – Mystery/Thriller, stars Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong, Diane Lane; sorry, no relation to Firefly – January 25.

King of Thieves – Heist Comedy, stars Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon, and Ray Winstone – January 25.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

This month Marvel is celebrating the first ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a look back at the first three phases of the films in a new hardcover book, Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years With the March 2019 release of Captain Marvel the official fourth phase of the MCU will begin.  With that shift to a new era quickly approaching, as well as an uncertain future thanks to the imminent completion of the acquisition of the X-Men characters, and the 10-year benchmark, it’s a good time to assess all Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige was able to pull together beginning way back when we first saw Robert Downey, Jr. don the Iron Man armor for the first time.  This nostalgic trip back over the past decade will be published by Titan in conjunction with Marvel.

Readers will find interviews with Feige, co-president Louis D’Esposito, Stan Lee, Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Anthony and Joe Russo, James Gunn, Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo, Chadwick Boseman, Evangeline Lilly, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt, and Josh Brolin.  Multi-page sections focus on each of the 22 films in the series.  High-quality color photographs accompany the discussion of each film in chronological order, most with behind-the-scenes images, like a great image of all the parts to Ant-Man’s helmet laid out on a table.

Fascinating discussion points include D’Esposito pointing out how the produces intentionally made each new film a different genre, not just a superhero movie.  He also indicates that casting Robert Downey, Jr. was the most important casting decision of the franchise.  Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn talks about using the soundtracks on set for everyone to get the feel of the two Guardians movies.  The book even provides some preview information for next year’s Captain Marvel movie.  And there are several Easter eggs that most fans will have never read about anywhere else, often 10 or more for each film (the Collector and the Grandmaster are brothers?).  Here are a few pages from Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Something about a film created contemporary to the World War II years automatically lends itself to a greater level of authenticity than the modern attempt at an epic war film.  Dunkirk is one of those modern large-scale productions, falling in line behind the likes of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and 2001’s Pearl Harbor.  Dunkirk is better than both, and although it doesn’t have the gravitas of 1993’s Schindler’s List and is not as nail-biting as something like 1981’s Das Boot, Dunkirk still provides some good nuggets of emotion as we hone in on a dozen soldiers, sailors, and civilians attempting to get to the end of a week during the Battle of France–May 26 to June 4, 1940.  Dunkirk doesn’t tell a story full of intrigue like 2008’s Valkyrie, but its reflection of the war seems all the more reality-based despite not using film methods like that of Steven Spielberg, who tends to film historical settings with filters that make audiences feel more like “we were there.”  The most important lessons of history can be found in the study of World War II so any World War II film is a success if it can tell a story of brave leadership, brave soldiering, and accountability of the citizenry as Dunkirk does.

Dunkirk comes closest to Saving Private Ryan, presenting a believable wide-scope, giant battlefield, then bringing viewers into the brief encounters and interactions of a few.  Compelling roles are shared evenly in the three stories by actors young and old–most importantly is newcomer Fionn Whitehead playing a soldier who barely makes it to the battlefield and then seems to have nothing but bad luck as he must make life-and-death choices at every step to try to get closer to home.  From the older set, Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall, The BFG, Ready Player One) is a stoic Brit civilian who has his own reasons to try to bring some soldiers home.  And Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises) plays the key fighter pilot, whose fuel gauge is broken and his assistance from other squadrons is nil.  The aerial dogfights aren’t the exciting stuff of war movies of the past, but the story doesn’t really call for that.  The theme is in the numbers:  Can any individual beat the odds with the German fighter aircraft returning for further attacks on the beach, on the escort and attack vessels, and against the three British airplanes?  Who will make it home, and who will not?

Director Christopher Nolan engages a unique story device, telling three stories simultaneously.  The first begins a week before the finale that follows the fate of 400,000 British ground forces (with a few French soldiers) waiting to be picked up on the beach in Dunkirk for transport back to England after the failure to secure France (or picked off by enemy strafing).  The second story begins one day before the finale, as a man, his son, and a friend answer the call in England for civilian boats to head across the channel to Dunkirk to transport troops home.  The third story begins one hour prior to the end, and follows three British pilots trying to stave off a German aerial assault on the beachhead.  Despite the spliced intersections of three clocks, Nolan makes it work.  Astonishingly the audience is reeled into the story even if we learn almost nothing about the backstory of any character in the film.  The best takeaway?  The relative value in war of one man in a single fighter plane vs. 400,000 ground troops.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Many have asked:  Why make another Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express?  You could just as easily ask: Why adapt another Shakespeare play?  Or Why make another Sherlock Holmes series?  When your story is great, and becomes as classic as Agatha Christie’s famous, timeless 1934 novel, it’s sort of the point of cinema, isn’t it?  From an actor standpoint, being in one of the film versions of Murder on the Orient Express, and portraying such iconic roles, is something like being cast as King Lear.  And who better than Kenneth Branagh to inject his own vision of the story into a new snapshot of acting greats for a new era of audience members?  Of Branagh’s twenty directorial pursuits, you must go back to the early era of Dead Again and Peter’s Friends to find Branagh not serving as puppetmaster of someone else’s well-known world, whether it’s Shakespeare in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet (and the list goes on), or adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Marvel Comics’ Thor, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Branagh is the king of directing adaptations and remakes.  Add Murder on the Orient Express to that list, a faithful adaptation of the book, stylishly filmed with lavish, sweeping sets and landscapes courtesy of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, Branagh’s choice cameraman on four of his past films.

The year’s casting award goes to Lucy Bevan for bring filmgoers back to the age of the all-star cast, where you’d look to 1970s disaster movies (Airport ’76, Towering Inferno, Earthquake) or the odd comedy (think It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) for a pantheon of stars like that found in Orient Express.  Branagh as Hercule Poirot sports that classic era moustache with confidence (Christie herself called Poirot’s moustache “magnificent” and “immense”) and he adds his own quirks and humor to Christie’s legendary greatest detective, providing a new twist on the Holmes/Monk/House, M.D. frustrated genius detective archetype.  So many of the cast members appear every bit like Golden Age film stars here, including Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and Leslie Odom, Jr., with a particularly engaging performance by Tom Bateman as Poirot’s friend Bouc, in what will no doubt be seen as a great breakout role for the actor.

The film will be best for those unfamiliar with the story.  A famous detective receives a message requiring him to squeeze onto a full train at the last minute with a little more than a dozen passengers aboard.  When one passenger who fears for his life and requests assistance from the detective winds up dead in a brutal, bloody murder, the whodunit begins.  Once a snowy avalanche blocks the path of the train, the game is afoot as the delay provides enough time for Detective Poirot to begin interviewing the passengers.  The mystery is laid out with several clues, including just enough to allow the viewer to figure out who killed the victim if he/she is paying close attention.  And Branagh stages the investigation like a game of Clue/Cluedo–including overhead angles that at times make the viewer feel like Murder on the Orient Express is indeed a virtual reality version of the board game.  We know the murder weapons and the location, but who is responsible for the death and why?

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So long as you have a compelling story to tell, sometimes having all the right people on the big screen is enough of a reason to sit through a movie.  But Agathie Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is like watching a play by Shakespeare.  You already know the story is excellent, and the challenge is how creatively the latest director will manipulate the strings and how deftly the actors will portray the characters.

The latest adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express has all the right components for a movie-lover’s two hours of bliss.  How will Kenneth Branagh orchestrate his next opus?  Like the magnificent Henry V or Much Ado About Nothing?  We can hope.  How will this room full of master thespians of the British and American schools play off each other?  Aren’t you inkling to find out?

This latest trailer for the film (see the first here if you missed it) expands the reach of the first, giving us a good look at Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Branagh directing Branagh as Inspector Poirot.  Other stars include Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom, Jr., Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, and Olivia Colman.  And don’t forget, publicity for the film has indicated that the clues of the crime are everywhere, including in posters and the trailers for the film.

Here is the second trailer for Murder on the Orient Express:

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Everyone is a suspect.  The clues are everywhere.  For mystery lovers, it’s a staple.  It’s Agatha Christie’s most well-known 1934 novel come to life, Murder on the Orient Express, the fourth major production for film or television of the classic whodunit in the English language–the 1974 Academy Award winning Sidney Lumet film being the best known.  For the older generation the story is known, but for a new generation the stage is set for a big screen version of Clue/Cluedo.  As with the 1974 version, the cast of the 2017 version is extraordinary.

So how do you cast a film against the last generation of film greats?  Leading a bevy of thespian knights and dames, Sir Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars as master detective Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, played previously by Albert Finney (who refused a knighthood in the year 2000).  Sir Derek Jacobi plays the butler Edward Henry Masterman in a role played by Sir John Gielgud in the earlier version.  Dame Judi Dench plays Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, formerly played by Dame Wendy Hiller.  In an update for the new version, American actor Leslie Odom, Jr. (Supernatural, Gotham) takes on the role of Doctor (formerly Colonel) Arbuthnott, played previously by Sir Sean Connery.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley as governess Mary Debenham, formerly played by Dame Vanessa Redgrave.

The list of American actors includes a fascinating mix of genre favorites old and new.  Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp takes on the role played before by Richard Widmark as the debonair businessman Edward Ratchett.  Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer is widow Harriet Hubbard, a role played in the 1974 film by Lauren Bacall.  Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe is Professor Gerhard Hardman, played earlier by Colin Blakely.  Academy Award winner Penélope Cruz plays a newly named character, Pilar Estravados, a missionary, in the part played before by Ingrid Bergman.  Rounding out the cast is Josh Gad (Frozen) as Ratchett’s assistant Hector McQueen (played before by Anthony Perkins), and British TV regular Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, The Night Manager) plays the maid Hildegarde Schmidt (previously played by Rachel Roberts).

Take a look at this first trailer for the new Murder on the Orient Express:

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Fassbender Macbeth

Henry V is probably the best of William Shakespeare’s dramas adapted for film, garnering for director and lead actor Kenneth Branagh two Oscar nominations.  For the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays, Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, X-Men franchise, Prometheus, Jonah Hex) will take the crown as the title character in this year’s Studiocanal production of Macbeth.  Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) will take on the prized role of Lady Macbeth.

From the first trailer released for the latest Macbeth, we can see plenty that may indicate this film is in the same league as Branagh’s film.  Plenty of artistry in the cinematography and costumes, and indications that some real effort went into the battle scenes.  And isn’t Fassbender a dead ringer for Richard Harris in Camelot?

macbeth movie poster fassbender

Other familiar actors featured in the film include David Thewlis (Timeline, the Harry Potter franchise, RED 2, DragonHeart), Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum, The World’s End), Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and David Hayman (Shetland, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit).

Here’s the first trailer for director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth:

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