jane fallon book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Tell Me a Secret by Jane Fallon

Jane Fallon describes her work as chick noir. I’ve never read any of the non-noir variety, but this is my third Fallon, and I looked forward to another wry delight with a happily-ever-after.

I don’t expect a psychological thriller exploring the dark side of human relationships and our own worst fears,  but a self-effacing heroine turning the tables on a cheating fella with the help of a bubbly best friend. There’s revenge, but it doesn’t involve death, cannibalism and crime.

Well, maybe a little bit of crime, but only ever for a good cause, and nobody gets really hurt.

In Tell Me a Secret, Holly is a fortysomething professional, and this time it’s a job, not a man, that she ends up fighting dirty over. She works as script editor for a TV show. She’s just won a promotion, when her office pal Roz starts running a campaign to make her look bad in front of the boss.

Roz is an unholy terror, and Holly a bit of a meek and gullible sidekick, hanging out with her and share in her gossiping and Mean Girl-ing. It’s a mystery how she got the promotion in the first place, and you also question her professionalism when her idea of retaliation is to hide Roz’s scripts.

There are cliffhangers, dramatic twists, and over-the-top antics, but also suspense and a real edge: How are you supposed to react when you’re targeted by a workplace bully? The Rozs of the world excel at playing the victim, and funnily I’ve always found authority figures tend to fall for it!

But this is escapist revenge chick lit. Before becoming a bestselling author with the likes of My Sweet Revenge, Fallon was a TV producer on shows including Eastenders and This Life, so it’s a backstage world she knows well.

With its supporting cast of badly-behaved z-listers and raging egos, I can imagine Tell Me a Secret on the small screen as a bright comedy-drama .

It was a fun read for a difficult time.

🍷🍷🍷🍷

Monthly Blog Wrap-Up Thing

Someone said the other day that Januarys are a lot like Mondays i.e. the hardest and bitterest of the bunch. The weather is bone-chilling (North Americans, I know the UK’s got nothing on you!) and the horizon seems pretty bleak and empty.

Of course this year I’m still coping with the death of my dad. Thanks to everyone for the responses to that post.

Anyway, I’ve decided to do these monthly wrap-up things, which at the moment would be an accounting of my failures, but I think they’re a good way of trying to connect more with readers and fellow bloggers and give others an insight into my cold, crazy life on the Isle of Wight.

Also it’s fun to chuck words and photos and links at the page. It’s like gluing stuff to the screen and standing back.

Currently Reading

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Considering everything, it probably isn’t surprising that I’m still finishing my reads for this, er, last, month. I started with Jane Fallon’s newbie revenge chick lit Tell Me a Secret, as I love her wicked sense of humour and her cat’s Twitter tantrums.

I went mad and bought a copy of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and I love it – it feels  more focused than her debut Conversations with Friends.

January Blog Posts

Only a Red Sparrow review I’m afraid 😦 It got a fine response, thanks to the fascination with Ms Jennifer Lawrence.

Movies I watched

Apart from X-Men Days of Future Past on Netflix, zilch. I want to see Mary Queen of Scots, but I can’t leave the house as my cat has taken to screaming when she can’t find me. She sounds like an escapee from Jurassic Park. The vet wonders if it might be her eyesight.

She’s starred on my blog before, as a fan of Guardians of the Galaxy, and the other day she ‘disliked’ a video on Youtube! Go Kitty! She’s outlived everyone but me…

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JURASSIC PARK

Success!

I am stingy with successes. It’s been all about survival. But my successes are:

Finally returning to my novel. I’m working at the moment on little snippets of text and redrafting a lot of the 20,000 words of tripe I produced a couple years ago. I’m also trying to come up with a structure or outline so I have a clearer idea of where I’m headed.

I have an irrational phobia of various online payment methods, but I purchased some sweet filters from an Instagram planner app. Please head over and give me a follow on IG – I can follow back and I’m finally getting better on that platform.

Coming up

I’m taking it easy on myself. I’m busy decluttering my hoarder father’s possessions, God rest him. In the spring they will find my emaciated corpse surrounded by piles of junk.

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I’m wondering if I should look into hiring some kind of blogging coach to help me turn this little blog into something more professional and commercial. It’d be nice to have a little business. Any blog coaches out there?!

Happy Feb Lx

RED SPARROW: Book/Movie Review

Jennifer Lawrence stars in this grisly thriller as a Bolshoi prima ballerina devoted to her ill mother. Unfortunately her dance career is kiboshed when her clumsy partner (Sergei Polunin from Orient Express) delivers a gruesome, bone-shattering injury during a live performance. Bad luck.

Dominika’s (JLaw) uncle Vanya doesn’t believe in bad luck. High up in Russian Intelligence, he gives her the tidings that her dance partner is shagging her understudy, so Dominika goes to the steam room and clubs them with her walking stick.

After forcing her to seduce a gangster in scenes that end in a bloodbath, Dominika’s uncle recruits her for sexpionage, shipping her off to become a Sparrow at a “whore school”. She is deployed to Budapest to entrap a CIA agent called..drum roll..”Nate Nash” – yes really – who is handling a Russian mole, code named MARBLE.

Who is MARBLE? I’m not saying, but Nate Nash shares more chemistry with them during a brush-past in a nighttime park than he does in an entire movie with JLaw, who actually has incredible magnetism with Matthias Schoenaerts (the sleazy uncle with more than professional designs on his niece).

The comparison was inevitable, but Red Sparrow isn’t a Black Swan-style psychological thriller. It’s also not the action movie you might expect – there aren’t any scenes where Dominika uses her dance skills to shimmy between laser beams or strangle adversaries with her thighs.

Instead it’s a bleak thriller that defines itself with icky, graphic nudity and sadistic violence, all while garroting itself with gibberish like the stupid scene where Dominika alters her appearance with a home hair dye kit, transforming from raven to platinum. If only!

It doesn’t help the authenticity, especially when it’s perhaps a stretch to buy the premise that a limping Moscow ballet star could slip undercover for Mother Russia.

🐦🐦

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (2013)

Director Francis Lawrence decided against having an actor portray the real-life Russian president in the movie, because he was too scared it would have been a “different movie” – like that would have been a bad thing?

Putin does get to feature in Jason Matthews’ 2013 novel. The movie had already set the barre (haha) pretty low for me, so I really only expected a trashy airport read. But the author is former CIA, and the novel bristles with tradecraft and insights into modern Russia.

Dominka is born into privilege – her mother a former musician, her father one of the country’s most revered academics. A child prodigy, she has the curious gift of synaesthesia, something pop stars and celebrities would kill to have.

She studies at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, until a rival ends her promising future. When her father dies her uncle reels her into his dirty work before offering her a clerical role, which she rejects, demanding entry to the Foreign Intelligence Academy (AVR) – the first woman to be admitted.

Dominika is fiercely idealistic and patriotic, wanting to serve her country in an elite job. Yet she finds herself belittled as a female operative and ultimately abused and betrayed, before she turns double agent.

Although she spars with Nate over politics, the romance element felt pretty tepid on the page too. (Poor Uncle Varya doesn’t look like Matthias Schoenaerts, and there are no incest overtones.)

They still torture the shit out of people – the filmmakers didn’t go out on a limb in that regard! But it’s an intelligent, ambitious thriller that might have been done better justice with a series.

🐦🐦🐦

pulmonary fibrosis

Blogging Break due to Bereavement

The last time I blogged was September 17. The last time I posted on Instagram was September 18. While I was never prolific, 14 weeks is a significant gap, especially as I was almost getting into the swing of things. But after years of making pulmonary fibrosis look like a head cold, my dad suddenly worsened.

We’d had a content, peaceful few months together. We already knew things would never be the same, as our 20-year-old cat was clearly basking in her last summer. Then in the middle of September, dad started to decline. I had to call three ambulances in ten days, and eventually he spent several weeks in hospital before finally leaving us in October.

Obviously this isn’t a very festive post, but today, Boxing Day, was his birthday, and I couldn’t just return to blogging in the New Year without explaining my absence or mentioning that my entire life had changed forever.

I didn’t exactly have a typical relationship with my dad. He was a very popular and funny man – in his final decade he had become something of a local legend/eccentric. But underneath the jokes and the outgoing persona he hid trauma, and grave mental and physical illness.

He was very brave, incredibly tough, and his faith only got stronger.

Having witnessed his determination, held his hand at the end, and barely survived a funeral, I finally think I might want to write again.

I’m very hopeful that I’ll be back in 2019 with my light-hearted reviews. I always did find comfort in books and movies; so far this holiday I’ve watched his favourite movie (Elf) twice.

Perhaps I will have more time and energy and will belatedly gain a new efficiency. (This post alone is a slight leap of faith – far more personal than usual.)

So here’s to 2019. xx

catherine steadman something in the water movie

BOOK REVIEW: Something in the Water….

While scuba diving on your dream honeymoon, you discover something sinister. Do you a) report it to the authorities b) speed away and pretend it didn’t happen, or c) get in way over your head?

Sadly some people – like film school grad Erin and her jobless banker husband Mark – don’t make good choices.

Catherine Steadman’s debut isn’t exactly a hidden gem. In the UK I couldn’t avoid the hype, while across the pond it was a New York Times Bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon book club pick. (Steadman is an accomplished actress herself, with Downton Abbey among her credits.)

With Witherspoon’s new production company Hello Sunshine set to make the Something in the Water movie, normally I would have been all over this like a shark in a feeding frenzy, but it was described as a ‘beach read’, which put me off.

Luckily, I took the plunge when Jonetta @Blue Mood Cafe recommended it!

After a much-admired opening chapter, we head backwards as our narrator Erin plans an exclusive London wedding and a honeymoon on Bora Bora, with sumptuous descriptions of super-first class travel and deluxe wedding menus.

Their showy lifestyle is funded by Mark’s job in investment banking, while Erin has a creative background and is working on a documentary about prisoners on the verge of release.

Her greatest catch is a gangland legend named Eddie Bishop, who knows a scary amount about Erin. But she has bigger problems; before the honeymoon, Mark lost his job in spectacular, escorted-from-the-building-by-security fashion.

Then they find something in the water that could literally change their fortunes forever – if they’re smart. Ahem.

The narrative is shadowed by the fear and mistrust caused by the financial crash, and the subtleties of the class system. When Erin visits the home of another one of her prisoners, she is paranoid about sounding condescending or bourgeois.

Yet while Mark – used to babysitting wealthy clients – flies First Class like it’s no big deal, Erin is a fish out of water. She quickly learns that having real money isn’t all about buying nice things, so much as it’s about avoiding the rules.

The sickly way Mark talks to Erin – like she needs constant soothing and reassurance – grates, but then she really ramps up the stupid, making rookie criminal mistakes (not that I’m an expert!) and being really, really slow on the uptake, so maybe he was right.

I know some readers expected more confrontation or climax, but the story is less about who the bad guys are and what they want, and more about what greed and dishonesty do to normal people, and how much we ever truly know each other, even that stunning Millennial couple with the perfect life.

“Careful what you wish for…”

🌴🌴🌴🌴

BOOK REVIEW: Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown

The Shoebill is a prehistoric-looking bird that exists in the marshes of East Africa. Scientists know that these intensely private creatures rarely raise more than one chick; a second is insurance in case the older one doesn’t make it.

A similar philosophy underlies the concept of the royal heir and the spare. The lionized firstborn is groomed to rule, but being a second-born royal can be trickier; modern spares must accept indifference and resentment from the press and public, especially when cute toddlers pile up in the palace nursery.

Such was the fate of HRH Princess Margaret Rose, younger sister to Elizabeth II. The Crown has renewed interest in the glam yet troubled royal, whose star faded long before Diana arrived to swipe her tiara. Luckily for Princess Margaret’s new admirers, Craig Brown’s Ma’am Darling was published last year to gushing reviews.

Subtitled “99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret”, he takes a magpie approach, including letters, palace statements, interviews, and snippets from memoirs penned by creepy footmen and VIPs who, er, encountered the queen’s sister.

Having only Netflix and Vanessa Kirby’s portrayal of Margaret as a spoiled, party-loving Millennial to go on, I didn’t know just how frosty and demeaning she could be.

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Bought from Amazon UK. I give Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown 👑👑👑 1/2

The princess definitely loved to party, and nobody could break protocol by leaving before her. She was drawn to celebrities, and the feeling was mutual – she was a princess, after all. Girls copied her clothes, while Picasso was among the many men who wanted to marry her.

But celebs and diarists also swapped horror stories. Of all the jaw-dropping anecdotes, it’s hard to top the time she turned to a disabled guest at a party and asked: “Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and seen the way you walk?”

Or when she was opening an old folks’ home and was presented with a specially cooked chicken dish. “That looks like sick,” she said.

While her sister was groomed to be queen and meet ambassadors and presidents, birth order discrimination meant Margaret was pushed to the background, destined for a lifetime – as Brown puts it – of opening “scout huts and pumping stations.”

Ma’am Darling almost gets repetitive with examples of bad behaviour, but Brown throws in some counter-factual flourishes too, such as Queen Margaret delivering a DGAF Christmas speech.

There’s been speculation that Princess Margaret’s life was ruined by the Townsend saga – when she supposedly couldn’t marry her beloved Group Captain without losing her royal status and income. Brown doesn’t seem to buy the fairy tale, and is skeptical of the 16 years older Group Captain.

Princess Margaret eventually married Antony Armstrong-Jones, photographer to the rich and famous. The Snowdons, as they became known, lived a bohemian life, but the marriage was unhappy, with Brown even accusing Snowdon of ‘gaslighting’ – that terrifying common tactic of abusers and bullies everywhere.

Ma’am Darling is a whimsical book. I didn’t find it as hysterically funny as some critics did, and I got exhausted by all the ‘famous’ names from the mid-century arts world and high society. But Brown looks at Princess Margaret from many angles, that you pity her and dislike her at the same time. It feels like her life was never her own. 

👑👑👑 1/2

13 reasons why book differences

NETFLIX 13 Reasons Why: Book/Show Review

Recently I read the new story collection, “You Think It, I’ll say It”, by Curtis Sittenfeld, whose work often features adult women still seething at the injustices of high school.

It made me want to watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s 2007 YA novel about a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves a suicide note blaming her classmates before taking her own life. Her ‘note’ is actually a set of audio tapes, passed between thirteen recipients under threat of being exposed by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen listens to the tapes, trying to figure out his place in the story, Hannah’s tale unspools in flashbacks. Played by Katherine Langford, she’s prettier and sweeter than an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, and a whole episode is devoted to that character and about what Hannah says they did wrong, and about everything that was going wrong in their own lives, which, we discover, was a lot…

Because we move from mean girls and school cliques to sexual harassment, multiple rapes, victim blaming, abusive parents, fatal car crashes, gun incidents, drug addiction, self-harm and more. It seems like a lot of problems for a dozen or so under-18s, even if the cast do look more like 25.

Netflix even nightmared up a second season/sequel to Asher’s book where Clay – now straight-up cray – develops a saviour complex and runs an amateur rehab clinic under his parents’ noses, while Hannah’s absentee parents sue the school whose teachers lazily ignored a brutal culture of bullying and rape.

Supposedly a ‘realistic’ portrayal of teen life, they’re all feverishly conforming to that TV contrivance of ‘protecting’ their parents from reality, and being a ‘good kid’. Oh Netflix! We’re a few weeks into the UK summer vacation, and all I’ve heard are teenagers complaining about boredom and being unable to find any clean underwear!

That’s the immature demographic Netflix are targeting – and winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. I get that certain aspects – such as the bullying and social pressures – hit home for many young female viewers, but the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving that I don’t get the appeal.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (2007)

After ditching the show before the end of Season 2, I was curious about the novel, so I checked the YA section in my local bookshop. “We’re not allowed to shelve that in YA!” cried 51syyO7qB5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgthe sales assistant, nearly fainting, although he agreed it’s marketed at young people.

It was sold out, anyway.

Asher’s book is both gentler and sadder than the series. Instead of cramming in every social issue, it’s tightly focused on the mind of one suicidal girl, and Clay’s rising horror as he listens to the tapes over a single night.

At times their voices merge confusingly into one, and the premise still feels a touch far-fetched; I think if you have a dozen kids involved, somebody would have confided to a parent.

The school isn’t radioactive, but bullying goes on everywhere, and ongoing exposure can be a factor in suicidal behaviour. The book nails how hurtful gossip and rumours can be, and how one or two malevolent individuals, or pack leaders, can dominate a school or group.

Hannah clearly felt victimized, but as he listens Clay contradicts her – not because she’s a liar, but because of her mental state. He listens, powerless, as tape Hannah goes down a reckless, self-destructive path. (“You knew it was the worst choice possible….You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible.”)

He remembers Hannah withdrawing and avoiding eye contact, but he avoided talking to her partly because of what other kids would say if they knew he liked her. He had no idea who she really was; he just believed what other people said. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age, and I think the message is less about trying to ‘save’ others, as it is to reach out, and be friendly and undaunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe schools and colleges could be easier for the Hannah Bakers of the world.

The number for the Samaritans in the UK is 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Further international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

Mystery Blogger Award

Amy @ Quixotic Pixels nominated me for the Mystery Blogger Award! She’s a blogger from Seattle, WA. I recommend you check out her blog for “beautiful photographs, personal essays, book reviews, travel logs, and brag posts about sewing and knitting projects.”

Thank you for nominating me Amy, and also for alerting me to Women In Translation Month, which celebrates the literary efforts of women around the world whose works have been translated into English.

The “Mystery Blogger Award,” creator is Okoto Enigma, (*whose blog is down for me) and it’s an award “for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.”

Er, I’d say I’m the latter kind!

THE RULES ARE:
Put the award logo/image on your blog
List the rules. 
Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog. 
Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well 
Tell your readers 3 things about yourself 
You have to nominate 10 – 20 people 
Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog 
Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify) 
Share a link to your best post(s)

Three Things About Me:

  1. I’m in Gryffindor!! I identify with Harry, but also Luna Lovegood, who’s in Ravenclaw. I think that would be my ‘second’ house!
  2. I left school pretty young, and there have been lifelong positive and negative consequences.
  3. When I was very small, I used to take things very literally. Someone once said they could “read my face like a book”, and I literally thought I had print all over my face.

My Best Posts:

The ones that got the most hits from search engines were really random posts, but I think my best work is reflected by the ‘likes’ they get from other bloggers. Really, I think other bloggers are the best judges.

Amy’s Questions:

What three characters (from a book, TV show, or movie) would you like to have as guests at a dinner party?
Hmm, I would say Dumbledore, but he never gives much away, so I’d say Grindelwald. I want to know what happens in Fantastic Beasts, and I doubt Grindelwald would be precious about spoilers. And secondly, Kylo Ren. Third, Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy, because my cat is a huge admirer.
What fictional world would you most like to visit?
I’ve been asked this before, and I always feel it would very much depend on the travel arrangements. Does anyone know how you get to Middle Earth? I’d like to visit Rowling’s magical world very much, and it’s easy to get to.
How do you get to your job/school now? If you lived in a fantasy world, how would you get to your job/school?
I work at home. I get terrible vertigo and motion sickness, so travelling is not much fun for me. (I’ve got mild vertigo at my desk as I write this.) If I lived in a fantasy world, I’d like to just be able to teleport or Apparate. Knowing my luck, I’d probably still get sick!
What are you most proud of?
Being a good mummy to my cat. She didn’t have the easiest life before. She really taught me about putting someone else first, and about being content, and about being patient.
(My “weird” question) What is your theme song?
Cat Stevens’ “If you want to sing out, sing out.”

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She is legit watching Guardians of the Galaxy!!

My Nominees:

This is tough because some people really don’t have time for tags, other people do. As a true Gryffindor, I don’t set much store by the rules, so I nominate all of you! Oh and let me know your Hogwarts house in the comments! (Unless you have no clue what I’m raving on about.)

My Questions:

What keeps you coming back to a blog?
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
Would you rather time travel to the past or to the future? (Weird/Funny)
What is the best career advice that you’ve received?
If you had to move to another country, what country would you pick?

x~Lindsay~x

Book Reviews Blog

Would you rather…

Although I’ve technically had this blog for a few years, I’ve only been well enough to put more time in recently. My goal is to post every week, but I’ve been too weak this, er…week, so I’m rather grateful to Sara @ The Bibilophagist for this open book-related tag!

WOULD YOU RATHER…

1. Rather read only a series or stand-alone books?
Stand-alone books.

2. Rather read a book whose main character is male or female?
I notice that I tend to pick books with a female main character. I seem more likely to gravitate to female-led stories and authors, but I don’t feel I have an active preference, if that makes sense.

3. Rather shop only at Barnes & Noble (or another actual bookstore) or Amazon?
I find buying online is cheaper.

4. Rather all books become movies or tv shows?
The TV show format is clearly more attractive, because you have more time. Especially now where you have streaming shows and you can watch 10 plus hours in one go.

5. Rather read 5 pages per day or read 5 books per week?
I salute bloggers who read 5 books a week! I would love to read 5 books a week, but I give myself a pat on the back if I manage two books a week, max. So I’d have to say 5 pages. 😦

6. Rather be a professional book reviewer or an author?
I want to be an author. I am working on it, and it’s one of the reasons I haven’t blogged as much as I would like, because I just don’t have the strength to focus on my writing projects and my blog. 🤕🤒

7.  Rather only read the same 20 books over and over or get to read a new book every 6 months?
Ugh. Neither. But I’d rather get a new book every 6 months.

8. Rather be a librarian or own a bookstore?
I think I would be best suited to owning my own book shop. It would be very interesting.

9. Rather only read your favourite genre or your favourite author?
My favourite genre for sure. I would be unhappy restricted to one author.

10. Rather only read physical books or eBooks?
I love the feel and the smell of new books. On the other hand, eBooks are instantly available on download, and they make it so much easier to make notes. Sadly, I’d have to choose eBooks.


 My Goodreads| My Twitter| My Instagram|

All seriously neglected, but I’m trying to get into the swing. I follow back all book, movie and writing accounts! Lx

Mini movie reviews for the weekend!

I live on an island, and I have to get a boat to see most of the cooler stuff on at cinemas. But with movies coming out so fast on digital platforms and DVD, why spend all that money on choppy trips to the multiplex?

Flatliners 

How did the Oscars miss this little gem about five medical students stopping their hearts to experience the afterlife?

It starts out strong thanks to a talented cast including Ellen Page and Diego Luna. Keifer Sutherland cameos but he’s not reprising his role from the original and imparting any wisdom like “Don’t stop your hearts!” so it seems pointless.

With such a great cast, I’d have loved a dark psychological drama about ambitious, cutthroat young medics playing God. Sub-par horror.

Ingrid Goes West 

Aubrey Plaza gains your sympathy and alarm as a woman with an unspecified mental disorder whose only meaningful connection comes via Instagram. With inheritance money she heads to California to trick her way into insta-star Taylor Sloane’s seemingly perfect life.

But where Instagram is just a career tool for blandly commercial Taylor, for needy Ingrid it’s toxic. After a suspenseful and sun bleached hour of social media satire, the final act becomes more of a “psycho” thriller, and possibly sends confused messages about mental health.

The Limehouse Golem

The late Alan Rickman was set to lead this lurid, Ripper-style mystery, until his illness meant Bill Nighy took over as the elegant Inspector Kildare, investigating the grisly Limehouse murders.

Music-hall star Lizzie Cree is on trial for killing her husband – who Kildare suspects may have been the infamous Golem. Hoping to save the angelic-looking accused from the gallows, he dashes around an atmospheric Victorian London (it’s a treat to see Karl Marx pop up as a suspect).

An entertaining spin on the never-subtle dead prostitute genre. Nighy is softly restrained, but Olivia Cooke – who looks like a cross between Carey Mulligan and Jenna Coleman – is the standout.

Victoria & Abdul 

Queen Victoria had her summer home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. She holidayed here with her family, and it’s where she retreated during her long mourning for Prince Albert.

The widowed Queen’s relationship with John Brown was dramatized with Judi Dench and Billy Connolly in 1997. Dench returns opposite Ali Fazal as Indian manservant Abdul, who incited jealousy and panic among her household and the imperialist government, including son Bertie (Eddie Izzard).

Dench’s frail old lady might be Empress of India, but she’s outlived her loved ones, and feels trapped and lonely. It’s a devastating depiction of old age. I think it’s meant as a feelgood, comedy-drama like The King’s Speech, but the larky tone and silent comedy jar with the classism and racism of the British Raj.

Viceroy’s House 

Following WWII, the British Empire was dying, and Victoria’s great-grandson Louis Mountbatten was dispatched to the Indian subcontinent to bury the Raj with dignity.

The 1947 partition of India triggered one of the bloodiest upheavals in history. Here it gets the Downton Abbey treatment, with a fictional ‘upstairs, downstairs’ romance between two servants in the Viceroy’s palace. It’s a stately, well-lit costume drama. Not my cup of tea.

mother!

Jennifer Lawrence is in an unpleasant relationship as dutiful wife to selfish creative Javier Bardem. When her quiet home is invaded by uninvited guests Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, Bardem won’t tell them to shove it, much to Lawrence’s dismay.

mother! feels like a bad M. Night Shyamalan, before it becomes an unmistakable Darren Aronofsky fever dream. An ambitious climate change allegory which draws incoherently on the Bible, it’s messy and chaotic, but JL is a force of nature.

All the Money in the World

This is where they recast Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer so that audiences and Oscar voters wouldn’t be distracted by the misconduct allegations against the former. It’s based on the 1973 kidnapping ordeal of tragic John Paul Getty III in Italy, and how the boy’s tight-fisted billionaire grandpa had to have his arm twisted to pay the ransom.

Of all the movies I’ve just reviewed, this is the one with the most general appeal. It’s watchable, but there’s something airless about it.  It’s strongest point is Michelle Williams and her chemistry with negotiator Mark Wahlberg.

Book Review: The Princess Diarist

Carrie Fisher once gave a cow tongue wrapped in a Tiffany box to a film producer who allegedly attacked her friend. My first thought was “poor cow”, and my second was “yep, that sounds like Fisher.”

It’s a tale that surfaced in October 2017, as #MeToo was going viral. Fisher was already gone, dying from sleep apnea and “other factors” in 2016 while promoting her memoir about life as teenage space royalty and the affair known as Carrison.

Having previously written about her addiction and Bipolar disorder, this memoir is based around the journals – which are really an opus to Harrison Ford – that Fisher kept while filming the original Star Wars (“the only girl in an all-boys fantasy“) and re-discovered while renovating her house in the Hollywood Hills.

She starts pre-Leia, ambivalent about following her mother, Singin’ in the Rain’s Debbie Reynolds, into showbusiness. Reflecting this, the shy and retiring Carrie:

  • dropped out of school to be a chorus girl in one of her mother’s Broadway shows
  • visited the set of Shampoo! when she knew there might be a role in it for her
  • auditioned for and attended the Central School of Speech and Drama
  • left drama school after landing her first big professional gig – Star Wars!

She admits she might have been kidding herself. For all the hardships actresses face, their daughters seem drawn to the limelight (including Fisher’s child Billie Lourd).

Carrie herself was born during Reynolds’ marriage to 50’s singer Eddie Fisher, who left his family for Liz Taylor – which, in Carrie’s words was “one of the great midcentury tabloid feeding frenzies.”

Although Fisher writes with her trademark wit, she was traumatized by her mother’s love life and her father’s abandonment, and undermined by self-loathing.

After successfully auditioning for George Lucas, she was ordered to lose ten pounds – and worried she’d be fired when she didn’t. She quips that although just 110 pounds, she “carried about half of them in my face”.

Insecurity makes girls easy prey. At a party the crew plan a “joke” abduction – before Harrison Ford intervenes. Soon they’re having “sleepovers” at her flat, with Fisher falling obsessively in love with the married Ford.

A selection of diary entries and poems from her journals take up the book’s mid-section. They’re not her best work, but are disturbing in their intensity. Fisher poured her heart out on paper because she couldn’t talk to Harrison – who to be fair, doesn’t have a rep for easygoing chattiness.

Fisher explains that she presented a false appearance, a “kind of ironic, amused, disenchanted creature.”

She must have just seemed like a hip, rising young actress from a famous family, living in a fancy London flat. With the Harrison affair, she was good at “hiding in plain sight, mocking the suggestion that there was anything going on” – a bluffing technique she says she’d use throughout her life.

Well-matched onscreen and hooking up off of it, Fisher still thought Ford was out of her league, destined for greater stardom. Was she bitter? “…not so you’d notice“.

Of course she could never have foreseen the phenomenon Star Wars would become, or her own enduring fame. It rankled to the end that, aged just 19, she had signed away all merchandising rights relating to her image for the “little space movie”.

In the final third of the book, Fisher laments “celebrity lap dances” AKA signing photos for money at fan conventions AKA “has-been roundups”. She discerns a lack of empathy among some of the fans. (Kelly Marie Tran, Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best might agree.)

But Carrie still had compassion for the “sweet and mystifying” fans who’d wait in line for hours, including the poor kid named Leia Carrie and the man who thanks Fisher for his childhood and walks off. She knows he didn’t mean his whole childhood, “just the good bits. The parts he escaped to”.

It must have felt like listening to the prayers of the galaxy.

Carrie Fisher is often remembered as a tough rebel leader with a strong sense of destiny and self-worth. Online tributes call her a feminist icon and a “bad ass” role model, skimming over her profound problems and confusing her with a fictional character. In this surprisingly raw book, Fisher’s wit and wisdom fail to disguise her lifelong pain, revealing a side to a woman who was deeply damaged, but charming to the last. 

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The Book Blogger Insider Tag!

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Hi everyone! My focus recently has been on reviews, especially movie reviews. I wanted to open up my blog and vary the posts a bit, and Q&As always tend to be popular. Thanks to Jenny in Neverland for this open book tag!

Top 3 Book Pet Peeves

a) When people ask “..and what are you reading at the moment?” with the anticipation that you’ll confess you only ever read Vogue magazine…b) When someone spills orange juice (or any kind of beverage) on my books. It’s only happened to me once, but it was my teacher and she practically marinated Amanda Foreman’s Duchess of Devonshire biography…c) Books that are too big to sit on my shelves and have to be laid flat. Grrr.

Perfect Reading Spot

At home somewhere. Especially next to a radiator. Or if it’s sunny, I’ll sit in the garden with my cat.

3 Book Confessions

a) I nearly always think the book is better than the film.. b) I feel awful if I don’t finish a book – I expect a lot of people feel like that! I had to force myself to finish Swing Time by Zadie Smith…c) Books are forever and parting with them is hard.

Last Time You Cried Reading a Book

I did tear up a bit at the end of The Lost Wife. It’s by Alyson Richman, who I think has a background in art history. It’s a very beautiful romance set against the backdrop of the Holocaust – the romance didn’t affect me, but the camps at Terezin and Auschwitz, were, sadly, very real.

Number of Books on Your Bedside Table

Zero. I keep a ‘to be read’ pile in a corner on my desk. If I fall asleep in bed with a book I wake up with it on my chest. And my cat near my head.

Favourite Reading Snack

No snacks! I drink an iced coffee.

3 Books You’d Recommend to Anyone

Lion was a great memoir, better even than the film, which was good too. I loved American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to everyone, so…Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield feels like an ‘anyone’ book. Harry Potter is always a good distracting read that most people could enjoy.

A Picture of Your Favourite Bookshelf

Um, I really don’t have one! Nearly all my books are in stacks or in boxes. One day, if I have a favourite bookshelf, I’ll post a photo.

How Much Books Mean to You (in 3 words)

Quite a lot.

Biggest Reading Secret

I remain committed to physical books. I love the smell of newly-bought books, although there is often something about the smell of secondhand books that I don’t like.

Sometimes I get an electronic copy as back up, to make it easier for me to get through, especially if I’m not enjoying it or if I’m tired. I find varying the medium helps break the experience up. Also e-books make it easier to go back and look for something, and make notes. Yes it’s pricier, but I don’t read that many books (for a book blogger) and it’s a worthwhile way to spend my time.

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That’s all and thanks for reading! I’m excited to have several book reviews coming up on my blog over the summer, and I’ll also be posting short reviews on my Instagram page. Bye for now, L.

FILM REVIEW Solo: A Star Wars Story might have been suited to TV streaming series

I was sceptical when Alden Ehrenreich – who doesn’t look or sound anything like Harrison Ford – was cast as young Han. Where Ford is tall, rangy, and rugged, Alden could be a member of a galactic boy band (except he’s solo).

After a troubled production and reports of an acting coach, it seemed as if the odds of Alden successfully navigating young Han were approximately 3,720 to 1.

But the wise-cracking smuggler never did set much store by the odds, ‘cos if you have enough swagger, you can pull anything off. So I can vaguely imagine Alden maturing into Original Trilogy Han. (Way better than I could reconcile Hayden Christensen with the man in the mask – even after I watched it lowered onto his charred face.)

For starters, Solo is a straightforward, pulpy adventure that introduces young Han on his scuzzy home planet of Corellia, long before he met a Princess and fathered a Supreme Idiot. He’s serving a slimy crime boss, a bit like Rey did on Jakku, except Han and his girl Qi’Ra clearly have time for appointments at the hair salon.

When an escape bid sees Qi’Ra captured, Han signs up for a stint with the Empire, before meeting pro thief Tobias Beckett (guys, that’s the least imaginative SW name ever) and his gang. They chuck Han to ‘The Beast’ – no not a Rancor…it’s Chewbacca!

Beckett is stealing hyperfuel for a crime syndicate, but at the first sight of pirates, Han drops his shipment, angering boss Dryden Vos. He wants his fuel or else, so it’s all aboard the Falcon for that infamous Kessel Run. Dryden orders Qi’Ra, now his top lieutenant, to supervise them.

Now Han could be such a dark character: he grew up in Corellia’s murky underworld as a child slave, he fought for the Empire on a planet resembling a WWI hellscape, he lost his childhood sweetheart. But all he wants is to be a cool pilot and make a quick buck.

But Qi’Ra knows that under the cocky attitude, he’s one of the good guys. (Was it just me or did a certain bad guy look happy to get ‘closer’ to Emilia Clarke’s Bond girl femme fatale? Isn’t he a cyborg/robotic below the waist?)

Given the box office, sequels are unlikely, and there’s going to be a lot of analysis about what went ‘wrong’. I’m no expert, but Rogue One benefited from novelty and from charged audiences wanting something to sustain them until Episode VIII.

Solo feels very “Adventures of Young Han” – perhaps suited to Disney’s new streaming channel. It lacks the ‘event’ feel and the awe that Star Wars, including Rogue One, has always inspired.

And no, I didn’t get the significance of the dice either. 🎲🎲

NETFLIX REVIEW: Annihilation – future cult classic or subpar sci-fi?

A meteorite streaks past the camera. It carries some kind of alien mineral, and it ain’t Vibranium. It smashes into a lighthouse: the invasion of planet Earth has begun.

Ground Zero is covered by an iridescent dome – like a soap bubble, or a gigantic blister. They call it ‘the Shimmer’. Inside, communications fail, and those who enter don’t return. The government are keeping it top secret, but not for long; the phenomenon is expanding, and will eventually swallow up whole cities and states…

‘Annihilation’ started life as the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘weird fiction’ Southern Reach trilogy, where a nameless four-woman crew venture into the unknown Area X. (A fifth turns back.) One, a perpetual student and passionate observer of tide pools known only as “the biologist”, served as narrator.

In Alex Garland’s adaptation, the biologist – now Lena – is played by a characteristically poised, brittle Natalie Portman as an ex-military John Hopkins professor. Flashbacks reveal her cheating on her angelic-looking husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) with Daniel (Interstellar’s David Gyasi).

We see Lena Portmansplaining cellular senescence, AKA aging, to Kane. They playfully argue over whether God can make mistakes, and discuss the unusual ‘silence’ around Kane’s deployment. Kane tenderly says they will be under the same stars, but Lena mocks the idea of pining for her husband.

Kane goes MIA but materializes a year later at their home, clearly unwell. The couple are ambushed and held in a facility where Lena meets creepy wierdo Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who explains that Kane volunteered for and escaped the Shimmer, but is now in multi-organ failure.

With Oscar Isaac on a ventilator, a guilt-wracked Lena joins Ventress on the next Shimmer trip. The rest of the team are all damaged in different ways: an unkempt Tessa Thompson is self-harming physicist Josie, Gina Rodriguez is recovering addict Anya, while geologist Cass is a grieving mother. “We’re all damaged goods here,” she explains.

Inside the Shimmer, radio waves are scrambled and time is distorted. Flowers twist into the human form, deer have tree branches, and alligators have shark teeth.

“The Shimmer is a prism, but it refracts everything,” realizes Josie, meaning DNA gets reshuffled and recombined. When Cass is killed by a mutant bear, its jaws open and her voice screams for help. Josie doesn’t want terror to be her surviving fragment; shoots and buds are already pushing out of her self-harm scars, and she walks peacefully into the flower mannequin forest.

For most, the thought of being broken down and incorporated into this new ecosystem would be grotesque. Ventress rages that it feels like the onset of dementia. Lena realizes that Ventress was already dying and is resigned to her fate, but wants to face the alien entity while still herself.

So is Annihilation about how we accept the inevitable? Some viewers saw it as a movie about cancer, or interpreted the Shimmer as a manifestation of Lena’s guilt. To others it’s a searing depiction of depression, or all about Pokémon. Garland, meanwhile, said he was actually going for something on a theme of self destructiveness.

annihilation swimming pool

F U Humanity!!

OK, but this stupid thing invaded us. And although Lena believes the organism doesn’t ‘want’ anything, it’s hard not to take it personally; there’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool and the artfully arranged skeletons that feel like they sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Despite the triumph of Ex Machina, Paramount had little faith in Annihilation; international rights went to Netflix. American audiences – who had the benefit of experiencing this admittedly visually and aurally accomplished movie on a cinema screen – only gave it a ‘C’ CinemaScore.

Maybe it’s because of the incoherent narrative. Some claim to enjoy the fact that it “doesn’t give us all the answers”. Others might point to the umpteen articles ‘unpacking’ the movie as a sign that it falls back on making audiences feel stupid for finding it all a bit of a muddle.

Tomb Raider’s Terrible Reboot. (OK it was more ‘meh’ than terrible.)

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London has never looked like a better location for a twee romantic comedy than it does at the start of the rebooted Tomb Raider, a capable origin story and actioner with no sense of humour or wonder.

Kickboxing at a local gym and bantering with her bicycle courier co-workers, Lara Croft is slumming it harder than most; all she has to do is sign some documents declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead, and she inherits a fortune.

Although he’s been gone for seven years, Lara (Alicia Vikander) adamantly refuses to accept that Richard Croft – superrich business man, adventurer and aristocrat – is no more. Flashbacks show the Crofts in sappier times, where West keeps calling Lara by the nickname “Sprout”, and declaring “Daddy loves you”.

Swede Alicia Vikander is a good actress, whatever those three crazy Michael Fassbender stans say. She makes a tomboyish Lara, whose defining characteristic is bullheaded stubbornness. Having beaten the likes of Daisy Ridley for the role, she’s convincingly English enough to be to the (Croft) manor born.

While participating in an illegal and reckless bike chase through our capital’s streets, Lara crashes into a police patrol car. Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), an associate at Croft’s company, pops up to post bail and warn Lara that if she doesn’t claim her inheritance, her father’s estate will be sold off.

I must check and see if Scott Thomas did any interviews to promote this artistic endeavour, because I just live for her witchy rants about life as an ageing actress. The still beautiful KST grits her teeth at the sight of Vikander’s dewy prettiness, and wishes the fool had got crunched under those cop car wheels.

Oblivious to the KST death rays, Lara stumps into swanky Croft HQ to meet lawyer Derek Jacobi. She finds her father’s secret office, and his pre-recorded message detailing his research into Himiko, the mythical Japanese queen known as “the mother of death” or something. Richard warns Lara to destroy his work, in case it ends up in the wrong hands.

Hot on the trail of her father’s final destination, Lara heads east but gets captured by mercenaries funded by a shadowy organisation called Trinity, who definitely qualify as the wrong hands. They’d been failing at the task of locating Himiko’s resting place when Lara turned up with Croft’s map, which pinpoints the exact spot the tomb is hidden on the undocumented island of Yamatai.

Earlier in the movie we saw a waifish Ruby Rose lookalike easily put Lara in a headlock, but her survival instinct really kicks in, as she overpowers the hired toughs in hand-to-hand combat, before discovering Richard Croft living as a Tom Hanks castaway. He mutters, “Ignore it, it’s not real, it’ll go away, it always does,” when Lara appears, which is what my dad always says when he sees me.

Seconds later Lara’s dear old pa is back to normal. So did Sprout go to Oxford, or Cambridge? Look, Lord Sprout, this girl keeps landing on her thick skull, and the only reason there’s no damage is because she’s so dense.

Sigh. Croft performs amateur surgery on an injured Lara/Sprout and finally – it’s time to raid some tombs! Or rather, stop other people from raiding them in the case of the Trinity morons versus Himiko.

In what could be the start of an exciting-sounding premise (shame it comes at the end), Lara discovers that Trinity is actually a subsidiary of Croft Holdings, and a front for a secret organisation hunting for mysterious artifacts to control humanity. If Scott Thomas is in on it, believe me, they’ll be looking for the elixir of eternal youth 24/7. I know how she ticks.

FILM REVIEW: Black Panther

The Hollywood Reporter recently pointed out the obvious; even Jennifer Lawrence can’t open a movie. Studios don’t look to big star names any longer, but to brands like Marvel.

Now I’ve always thought superhero or comic book movie blockbusters were empty calories. This is unpopular I know, but Marvel makes me feel like I overindulged on Haribo candy (and the DCEU can feel like toothache).

Luckily, Black Panther isn’t another glib Marvel product, but a self-contained story about family, duty and honour. Set in the fictional African country of Wakanda, the War of the Panthers is a kid-friendly Game of Thrones, where cousins and different tribes fight for power, and the future of the kingdom hinges on revelations about an individual character’s parentage.

The language, artwork, costumes and makeup of this mythical land echo real-world African traditions, while the fantasy element Vibranium  is the source of Wakanda’s secret high-tech infrastructure.

The new king T’Challa is no flashy show-off à la Tony Stark, even if his royal duties include dressing up like a panther. He’s a noble character haunted by the death of his father and torn between protecting his people and overcoming his nation’s isolationism.

It’s a credit to Chadwick Boseman that his graceful performance doesn’t get blasted off the screen by Michael B. Jordan’s swaggering, vicious Killmonger, who wants to swipe the throne and the panther suit, and lead the country in a more hawkish direction.

Killmonger might even have clawed his way into the Top Ten Movie Villains of All Time. Because the superhero is king, the superhero is the brand, but the performances are key. If Hollywood is committed to saving the endangered species of the mega-movie star, it won’t find a worthier candidate.

It’s a strong cast: Angela Bassett is regal as the Queen Mother, Lupita Nyong’o is headstrong as T’Challa’s on-off love interest, while Winston Duke’s renegade tribal leader looks like Khal Drogo but is actually a cuddly vegetarian – and I know I’m not alone in spotting the GoT parallels, as Daniel Kaluuya made the link a year ago.

I zoned out during the casino scene and the car chase; seeing how they are two of my least favourite things in movies. Yet beneath the special effects, there’s a gentle, sincere exploration of Wakandan politics and culture which makes Black Panther a fresh addition to the comic book genre.

Fantastic Beasts: the five crimes of Grindelwald

One of the great mysteries of the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was how a movie that gained rave reviews, an ‘A’ CinemaScore and crossed the $800 million milestone came to be considered ‘lacklustre’.

Still, I doubt the studio are wringing their hands. Twitter and Youtube were buzzing when the teaser trailer for the next movie – The Crimes Of Grindelwald – was released last week.

If he’s going to be sinning against the magical world, what crimes can we expect Gellert Grindelwald to commit?

Escape custody.

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Obviously. We don’t know how much time has passed since Newt managed to outsmart Grindelwald and deliver him to the wands of MACUSA’s Aurors, but judging by his long hair, he’s been captive for a few months at least.

Apparently audiences groaned when Colin Farrell’s disguise vanished to reveal a bloated and bleached Johnny Depp.

Following his rushed reveal, hair and makeup have worked their magic, casting a Revelio charm on Depp’s cheekbones. Grindelwald needs a hell-raising rock star vibe, and Johnny Depp fits the bill perfectly.

End Madam Picquery’s incompetent reign of smugness.

“Do you think you can hold me?” Grindelwald asked MACUSA’s useless, smug and incompetent Madam Picquery, giving her a contemptuous stare down.

She refused to accept her city had an Obscurial problem, and didn’t notice her right-hand man was being impersonated by the world’s most wanted wizard – all while lecturing European officials for letting him slip through their fingers.

Picquery ignored Tina’s pleas when she apprehended Newt on his arrival in New York, yet later claimed outrage that she didn’t tell her straight away. She had them both arrested, before the pair were nearly executed by Graves/Grindelwald.

I’m surprised more fans didn’t pick up on Picquery’s Fudge-like incompetence. She’s definitely arrogant enough to think she could challenge an escaped Grindelwald.

Kick Newt Scamander’s head in. Again.

If I were a bumbling, animal-loving Brit wanting a quiet life – which I am – and I had thwarted the evil plans of a deranged dark wizard, I would stay as far away from that individual as possible.

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We adore him: Magical bigwigs are terrified Dumbledore will make his own power play

Except Dumbledore is clearly a hard man to say ‘no’ to. “I can’t move against Grindelwald,” he tells Scamander in the trailer. “It has to be you.”

Last time Newt encountered an enraged Grindelwald, the wild-eyed dark wizard pinned him to a railway track and tortured him with Sith lightening.

Newt should have been airlifted by Thestral to New York’s version of St Mungo’s. Somehow – and this is a symptom of the badly rushed final showdown – Newt was fine in seconds.

In the cinema you had to strain to hear Grindelwald’s parting words to Newt: “Will we die just a little?” It was probably ad-libbed by Depp when he couldn’t remember his lines. He meant to say “You’re going to die, little British Hufflepuff weedling.” Gulp.

Corrupt Credence Bowlcut some more.

While Newt crashed around looking for his missing critters, the international threat of dark magic bubbled away like a cauldron in the background.

A third plot line saw teenage orphan Credence Barebone wreak havoc as an Obscurius. Cowering in fear of his religious, witch-hating adoptive mother, Credence was groomed and brutally rejected by Grindelwald, before the dark wizard realized the boy’s raw destructive power.

Don’t expect Credence to be transfigured into a sunny character any time soon. It’ll take more than a new life with the circus and the motherly(?) attention of a fellow performer to turn that Obscurial frown upside down.

Grindelwald looks like he has his Bellatrix Lestrange – Vinda Rosier (played by Poppy Corby-Tuech), from one of Britain’s ancient and prestigious magical bloodlines.

Will he will try to recruit young Credence again? What side will Credence choose?

Mass slaughter for the greater good.

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Hands off my Niffler!

‘For the greater good’ is Grindelwald’s philosophy and his justification for his actions in the wizarding war. Yet ‘Crimes’ is only the second movie in a franchise that will span a 19 year timeline, so it’s unlikely we will see Grindelwald do his worst yet.

Potterheads will know most of the main cast are safe. Little is known about Newt’s brother and his enigmatic fiancée, Leta Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz, but it seems unlikely that such promising characters will get bumped off too quickly.

Grindelwald will probably target Muggles, but personally, I’d be more worried about the magical creatures.

Newt’s beasts could be in serious peril this time.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out 16 November this year.

New to streaming & DVD: Wind River lingers like a chill…

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I wish I hadn’t watched Wind River on a Saturday morning. It’s an evening movie; when it’s over, you can lock your doors and hopefully not have nightmares.

That’s the unsettling effect Taylor Sheridan’s latest had on me. I’m currently working through some of the most buzzed-about movies of 2017, and of course this was something I wanted to see.

Sheridan’s screenwriting career so far has given us the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, and the Denis Villeneuve-directed Sicario, which starred Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent helplessly mixed up with shady alphas Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the war on drugs.

In Wind River – Sheridan’s first time as writer-director – Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner is another FBI agent out of her depth, this time not in Sheridan’s native Texas but in the wintry wild west of Wyoming.

Jurisdictional matters have dragged Banner in to investigate the death of a teenage Native American girl, who was found frozen and barefoot in the snowy tundra by Jeremy Renner’s quiet wildlife officer, Cory Lambert, for whom the case has disturbing echoes of his own grief.

Technically Olsen is in charge of the investigation, but with his deep connections to the land and to the dead girl’s marginalized community, the story belongs to Renner’s softly-spoken cowboy as he supports the outsider FBI and the tribal police.

Olsen is not completely robbed of agency like Sicario’s Kate Macer, yet she has no backstory, and we never learn what makes her so driven.

She looks like she should be reading the news in a warm studio somewhere, as she is comically underprepared for the conditions and isolation (‘Shouldn’t we just maybe wait for some backup?’ she bats her lashes. ‘This isn’t the land of backup, Jane … this is the land of “you’re on your own.”‘)

Where Macer was caught at the border by political forces beyond her control, Banner plants face-first into a community blighted by poverty, addiction and hopelessness. I wasn’t sure if she was merely incompetent and inexperienced, or if she was truly meant as a symbol for governmental disinterest and mishandling.

The violence, when it comes, is more personal and depressingly universal, but no less brutal and shocking.

Verdict? Despite the shaky camera triggering my vertigo, I thought Wind River was another well-made action thriller. Renner and Olsen are great, but I don’t feel that the movie is as ambitious or exciting as Sicario, perhaps because it lacks the tension and moral conflict between the leads.

Sheridan really stands out for his dialogue, and as auteur he delivers on a similar level to previous directors of his scripts, especially in the realistic-yet-stylish bursts of violence, and that creepy sense of dread that outlasts the film.

NETFLIX REVIEW: Mudbound – historical page-turner becomes solemn prestige

“Mudbound is the Oscar movie we need right now,” admonished The Washington Post.

The female-helmed drama about two families – one white, the other black – living side by side in the Jim Crow South, seems to embody the term “Oscar bait”, with its all-star cast and a script adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2006 Bellwether Prize-winner (for ‘socially engaged fiction’).

It is also extremely well-timed – it follows in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, while the industry is under scrutiny for its sexism.

One snag – Mudbound is distributed by the inexperienced awards player Netflix, and voters remain sniffy about a streaming service project that shuns traditional theatrical runs.

There was a landslide of articles emphasizing the tough shoot and the transformation of star Mary J. Blige, warning voters that the movie must not be overlooked.

For me, Mudbound’s Netflix berth (there were no other takers following its Sundance premiere) meant I actually got to see it – while I can’t compare it to its competition, as Oscar movies tend to reach UK screens after awards season.

Narrated by members of both the McAllan and the Jackson families, the story unfolds when stubborn Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) drags his prim wife Laura (a simpering Carey Mulligan) and their children – plus the McAllan patriarch Pappy – to a dilapidated farm in the Mississippi Delta, where the frequent rains strand them in acres of mud.

The lives become entangled with those of their share tenants, Hap and Florence Jackson (Blige), who keep house for the McAllans. Their voices are joined by Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and the Jackson’s son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), both returning from WWII Europe.

The veterans form a bond that riles the racist Pappy, while Laura becomes infatuated with her brother-in-law – although unlike the prickly character of Laura in the book, she doesn’t check his shirts for lipstick, or take her frustrations out on Florence.

Some writers have described the movie as focused on Florence and Laura as two Strong Women whose differing views of the world are shaped by race and class etc. According to Refinery39, “both women…feel the growing weight of a patriarchal society bearing down on their shoulders...”

This is an interesting projection, as writer-director Dee Rees actually concentrates on the friendship between two men: 6’2 leading man Hedlund, and quirky little character actor Mitchell, whose Ronsel is markedly less remarkable than his book counterpart.

Despite a small budget and short shoot, it does manage a sparse yet epic look, especially in the flashback scenes, and we get lots of stunning farmland vistas courtesy of Rachel Morrison’s cinematography (the first woman to be Oscar nominated in the category).

Blige got a best supporting actress nod for doing little more than look dignified with her arms crossed, while Dee Rees earned an adapted screenplay nomination for turning a compulsively readable historical suspense into solemn prestige.

There is a frightening and brutal scene near the end, but so much of Jordan’s historical page-turner has been cut (including a drunken Jamie’s comic encounter with a hapless cow) that I can’t work out why the movie is still a two hour-plus slog.

🏆 1/2

The Last Jedi theories died so hard (start the Episode IX speculation)

There was lots of red in The Last Jedi, from the blood-coloured soil of Crait, to Snoke’s crimson throne room. And while critics were in raptures – Rian Johnson is an auteur after all – a lot of hardcore fans were left, well, seeing red.

After watching the film on preview night, I came soaring home like Princess Leia through space. VIII had laughs, lightsabers and a brooding Adam Driver.

Yes, it felt like Star Wars. Like the OT, the sequels are funny (levity is actually good in a movie like this.)

The only thing I hated was Luke’s treatment. I understand from a franchise perspective he had to go, but did they have to make him so repulsive? The only way they could have made him more disgusting would have been to have him hit on Rey.

Still, I get the people bewildered by the backlash. Frankly, certain fans needed to get their heads out of their half-cocked theories.

Silly theory #1: Rey’s parentage.

Sure, before Awakens, I thought Padmé-lookalike Rey was Han and Leia’s kid (sadly for them, it was Kylo), and that Kylo was a Vader-obsessed loser (lol true) wanting to continue the bloodline with Rey (also true).

But if trailers hinted at Rey’s Skywalker identity, it was only to protect the Ben Solo reveal. Half an hour in, a guileless Rey turns to Finn and says: “Luke Skywalker! I thought he was a myth.” Neither Han nor Leia knew her, plus she had intriguing romantic tension with Kylo.

I watched Flashback Rey and thought: “That kid’s old enough to remember who her parents are.” When Rey told BB-8 her parents would be back, “one day”, you can tell from Daisy’s delivery that Rey was in denial. As Maz said: she already knew the truth.

So going into VIII, I was quietly confident who her parents weren’t.

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Kylo sticks his throbbing red lightsaber past Rey’s trembling open mouth. “Why, Kylo, it’s HUGE.”

But hey, there were people who thought Palpatine wasn’t Darth Sidious right up until Revenge of the Sith. This time around, fans insisted Rey was either Kylo’s twin (duh, age gap), or Luke’s child with an unknown woman – perhaps Obi-Wan’s daughter!

‘Cousins fighting’ never struck me as having the pathos of duelling father and son, but those theories got entrenched, and ‘Reylo’ shippers got attacked (“Yuck – they’re related!”). So presumptuous.

Silly theory #2: Snoke = Darth Plaguies 

When I first saw Return of the Jedi, I couldn’t believe the Emperor got chucked down a shaft. Now like the Emperor, Snoke was a powerful Force user. Like the Emperor, he was physically damaged and protected by his guards. And like the Emperor, he could be killed. Yet many fans thought he was ‘a cool bad guy’ and were more excited by him than Rey and Kylo.

Pet theories – that he was Darth Plagueis and/or a force-sucking vampire from beyond the known galaxy – became canon. But the movie was never about Snoke, just like the originals weren’t about Palpatine. The story is about Rey and Kylo, and in order for Vader’s heir to reach his capacity to get worse, he had to smoke Snoke.

Conclusion: Kill the theories

I’d buy a ticket for Episode IX for Driver’s performance alone. Abrams will be back, book-ending the trilogy, although people hoping he’ll roll back the Reylo romance, or still insisting Rey is a Solo(!) might be in for further disappointment. Perhaps there was some explanation for the Kylo-Rey connection held back from Jedi, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

There are only two theories I’m prepared to stick my neck out for – the good guys will win, and there’ll be another incarnation of the Death Star.