Category Archives: mini reviews

7 Hair-Raising Books & Movies for ‘Halloween’

What scares me probably doesn’t scare you.

At Halloween, a lot of bloggers do horror or ghost-themed posts. I’ve always avoided the genre – not out of snobbishness – but because I always end up sleeping with the light on.

Something has changed lately, and I binge-watched three seasons of American Horror Story without flinching! I’m living my best, devil-may-care life.

This a post about some of the scary books and films I’ve encountered recently. Stuff that creeped me out for…reasons. Mostly I just want to do a round-up post.

ELI (Netflix)

Why is it scary? Well, it goes something like this:

Viewer: Oh goody, a standard ‘sick kid in a haunted house’ tale.

Eli: WE’LL SEE WHAT SATAN HAS TO SAY ABOUT THAT!!

I don’t know what they were smoking when they came up with this. Like Annihilation, it was originally a Paramount piece, dumped on Netflix when the studio didn’t know how to market it.

A SIMPLE FAVOUR by Darcey Bell

Why is it scary? It’s a gleeful little domestic suspense whose main character, Stephanie, is that terrifying breed: a mommy blogger.

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A Simple Favour feels like a younger, less elegant Gone Girl. When fashion PR Emily disappears, leaving her British husband Sean and their young son behind, her deluded ‘best friend’ Stephanie sets out to discover the truth.

Debut novelist Bell mercilessly satirises Stephanie’s ‘Captain Mom’ routine. Of course I’m not so happy about the way she writes about us Brits. I don’t know what we ever did.

We get the perspectives of Sean, Emily, and Stephanie – via her thoughts and her inane blog. Ahem. They’re all liars, for different reasons. Emily is reckless and predatory; Stephanie is an insecure dolt. (A “fuzzy bath mat pretending to be a person”, according to Emily.) Sean is…Sean.

Emily’s grand scheme is dumb, but it’s less a true mystery, more a biting satire.

A SIMPLE FAVOUR (movie)

Why is it scary? Directed by Paul ‘Bridesmaids’ Feig, the adaptation of Bell’s novel veers unevenly between black comedy and thriller.

The performances are fun – Emily’s (Blake Lively) unhinged fashion designer boss (Rupert Friend) makes a hilarious cameo. Lively is perfect for Emily, while Anna Kendrick’s Stephanie isn’t just a bath mat, as she evolves from timid mom in cat socks to confident crime solver.

Avoiding spoilers, but Kendrick’s mucky secret doesn’t work on the screen. It’s just plonked in a flashback, when it is waaaay too lurid to pass unexplored or without greater payoff.

THE FORGETTING TIME by Sharon Guskin

Why is it scary? Noah, 4, is Haley Joel Osment. Booted from preschool for talking about guns and..Harry Potter, he hates water, and wants his ‘other mommy’.

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When Noey’s (ugh) doctors suggest schizophrenia (!) hysterical ‘mommy-mom’ Janie contacts past life investigator Dr Jerry Anderson. (Guskin includes excerpts from work by UVA’s Dr Jim Tucker, who inspired the book.)

Janie is dim for an architect, and rude and ungrateful to dementia-stricken Jerry, who is racing to finish his research. I felt greater investment in him as he considers his life, and tries to solve the mystery of Noah’s memories.

Early interactions with secondary characters involve many ‘encouraging smiles’ and eyes ‘welling with concern’ or ‘shining with sadness’. Once it gets going though, it’s an intelligent and thoughtful story about three families’ grief.

SERENITY

Why is it scary? The marketing department hawked it as neo-noir. I saw the trailer, and I swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. It’s notorious for its stupid ‘twist’.

Set on a fictional tropical island, washed-up war vet Dill toils as a fisherman/gigolo, obsessed with catching a tuna he’s named Justice. Poor Djimon Hounsou is stranded as first mate and conscience.

Sexy thriller undercurrents arrive with Dill’s femme fatale ex Anne Hathaway, who wants him to have an ‘accident’ at sea with her abusive husband, Jason Clarke.

Then it gets really weird. I want to say this movie should be canned but Clarke blames culture-wide resistance to experimental, ambitious films. Hmm. Maybe like Eli, it could have found fame on Netflix.

LULLABY (THE PERFECT NANNY) by Leila Slimani

(translated by Sam Taylor)

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Why is it scary? It’s the infamous killer-nanny book that won prestigious awards and was one of the most hyped books of 2018.

I was worried it would be tacky or exploitative, but it’s a darkly literary novel, which explores themes of race, class, motherhood and domesticity.

The Moroccan-French Slimani is incredibly clever, and the prose is sublime – but I wasn’t sure the author had full grasp of her villain.

PET SEMATARY

Why is it scary? It’s not. But Jason Clarke plays another bad dad/husband.

I’ve never read any Stephen King (remember I have to sleep with the light on) but apparently King himself hails this as one of the best adaptations of his books.

Somehow, I’ve managed to watch The Shining, and in comparison, Pet Sematary seems like basic horror.

There are some well-publicised changes. The ‘child’ isn’t the toddler son but the older girl – and the young actress, Jeté Laurance, is excellent and would be perfect casting for a Greta Thunberg biopic.

Lady Bird Review

Snapshot reviews: Lady Bird + others!

Lately, I’ve hated movies a lot more. Where I used to watch any old thing, I withstood two minutes of the latest Guardians of the Galaxy before switching off.

I began to wonder if I was on a permanent downer. I decided to ease myself back into film-watching and blogging with some of the latest, more highly-acclaimed movies – after all, Oscars are a sure indicator of quality, right?! Errr…. First up:

FIRST MAN

Having glanced at the Neil Armstrong biography First Man (Ryan Gosling) is based on, I expected it to be as entertaining as a double seminar on the physics of rocket propulsion.

It’s the practical effects that really excel; NASA was essentially firing men to space in tin cans. “You’re a bunch of boys,” rages Claire Foy’s formidable Mrs. Armstrong. Sometimes that’s all it takes…

I’d rather watch Brad Pitt fight Moon pirates tho.. 🐞🐞🐞🐞

THE FAVOURITE

A luminous Restoration-era comedy-drama, The Favourite is the fictionalized tale of ailing Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) relationship with brash aristocrat Sarah (Rachel Weisz). They’re depicted as carer/patient, friends, and as lovers, with Sarah the power behind the throne.

Where Mary Queen of Scots was a traditional costume drama with a woke angle, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is unconventional to its marrow.

Emma Stone, so insipid in La La Land, inserts herself into the bawdy period setting – and the Sarah/Anne relationship – with razor-sharp skill (and a spot-on English accent).

Where women in power are as vile as the men. 🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞

LADY BIRD

At her Catholic private school, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ (Saorise Ronan) is embarrassed by her relatively poor background, and mean-girls in order to fit in with an edgier crowd.

Set just post 9/11, she can’t wait to ditch her hometown of Sacramento and head east for college – upsetting her hard-working mother, frustrated that her daughter can’t be grateful for what she has. (I’d say putting a continent between them is clearly for the best.)

Even if Lady Bird needs to spread her wings, director Greta Gerwig makes their shared hometown look like bliss. It’s a love letter to contentment, and to Sacramento.

Little Women still looks insufferable. 🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) believes local cops failed her slain daughter, so she rents three billboards with a damning message for Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), provoking his Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell) into a conflict that escalates to Molotov cocktails.

In Martin McDonagh’s earlier, 2008 cult hit In Bruges, you felt sorry for Colin Farrell’s bungling hitman, even though he (inadvertently) shot a child. You laughed when he beat up the Canadian Guy. In Ebbing, senseless violence makes viewers wince, while racist thug Dixon never endears like Farrell.

A ‘dark fairy tale’, or just full of plot holes? 🐞🐞🐞

GREEN BOOK

Named after the pre-Civil Rights guidebook for African-American road trippers, Green Book is based on the true story of classical/jazz musician Dr Don Shirley’s (Mahershala Ali) tour of the South.

Meant as heartwarming fare about the power of friendship, comedy is mined from the pairing of the refined Shirley and his driver/heavy Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), an uncouth, working-class Italian-American.

So feelgood, you could almost forget why it was called ‘Green Book’!

Yikes, Aragorn really went to seed. 🐞🐞🐞

I, TONYA

This reminded me of David O. Russell’s American Hustle, so a no-go for me straight off the bat-on. It’s something to do with the camerawork and heavy-handed period detail.

Staged mockumentary-style (à la Drop Dead Gorgeous) I, Tonya follows 90s champ skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) and her connection to the attack (orchestrated by her husband, Jeff Gillooly) on her rival Nancy Kerrigan.

Tonya’s traumatic childhood and abusive marriage are set to retro tunes and playfully presented – she’s a gutsy chick sticking it to the snooty skating authorities, who never gave her a chance. An interesting take, challenged by some.

As exhausting and stressful as Margot Robbie’s frizzball hairdo. 🐞🐞

DUNKIRK

Christopher Nolan’s film about the evacuation of Allied soldiers in WWII sees practical effects again triumph. Kenneth Brannagh and Mark Rylance do stoic bravery; pilots Jack Lowden and Tom Hardy do stoic RAF fighter cover, while young soldiers including Harry Styles run the gauntlet.

Historical disaster re-enactment. 🐞🐞🐞

What are your fave films from the last few years? Recommendations please! 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.

Mini movie reviews for 2017!

There was a monumental flub at the Oscars ceremony this year: I wasn’t invited! The organizers obviously read my blog and know I don’t like travelling. Yes, yes, that must be it.

I’m not going to hold it against them.  Instead, I’m going to mini review some of the movies nominated in various categories. Starting with the biggies, like Best Actor and Picture..

Manchester by the Sea

Deep in a wintry Boston suburb, depressed janitor Lee (Casey Affleck) has his guilt-ridden existence ruined by the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), forcing him to return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for teen nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Like another Oscar contender, Jackie, it’s all about planning a funeral, except here the ground is too hard and cold to bury the dead. Flashbacks show Lee as a boisterous man married to Michelle Williams. The couple have a shared tragedy – the reason for Lee’s misery and why he can’t stay.

I don’t know how Kyle Chandler came up with this Hedges kid, but he’s fine (cringe-worthy crying scene aside) as a selfish teen who doesn’t want his grimy life uprooted, or to be stuck with a violent, inarticulate time bomb – Affleck has a terrifying authenticity that the likes of Gosling couldn’t match.

I didn’t find it too harrowing thanks to the well-observed humour, but it’s very long – whether it’s a bona fide masterpiece or just another well-made Sundance indie.

La La Land

“I hate jazz,” says Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia to jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) at the start of their relationship. Ugh, me too. And I know little about the Hollywood Golden-Age movie musicals that La La is a ‘tribute’ to.

My ignorance granted, there seemed to be a lack of memorable knockout numbers. I thought the waltz and tap were nice and the music and voices thin – are we going to be singing tunes from this five decades from now? City of Stars? What a dirge.

I’ve seen it described as big and bombastic, but I found it a slightly melancholy, albeit  visually lovely treat about two selfish creatives in a dull relationship.

Hyped as a movie for the ages, perhaps that’s because of a lack of competition in the genre.

Captain Fantastic 

Viggo Mortensen is raising six kids in the Pacific Northwest forest, home schooling them and teaching them survival and endurance training.

Eldest son Bo has secretly got into every Ivy. There’s two redheaded interchangeable sisters and a pair of blond moppets, but the only other sprog to emerge from the picture is angry preteen River Phoenix/Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton).

Mom is in a psychiatric facility, when news filters through to the wilderness of her death. The family take their bus to her funeral, and Bo and Rellian discover they’re clueless about the world, while their cousins are Typical Western Teenagers in all their ignorant, idle glory.

I expected a fish-out-of-water comedy, then an agonising teen drama about an overbearing, misguided parent, but it’s a neat little drama that holds back from portraying Ben as either a megalomaniac cult figure or as a saintly man with all the answers.

Kubo and the Two Strings

A stop-motion set in ancient Japan, young Kubo lives in a cave with his ill mother. No ordinary boy, he is a one-eyed storyteller who can bring origami figures to life.

His magical gifts entertain local villagers, but he must be home before dark because his grandfather (Ralph Fiennes) and fluttering Dementor-like aunts want to steal his other eye. When Kubo stays out one night his mother has to use the last of her magic to spirit him away.

Charlize Theron voices Kubo’s monkey-guardian in the kind of bored, superior tone she might use for press interviews.

Kubo got a thumbs up everywhere, and I have to acknowledge the painstaking work that goes into creating something like this, but.. animation leaves me cold.

Doctor Strange 

Bad guys led by Mads Mikkelson vandalise a book and chuck it on the floor, so Smug Superior Being Tilda Swinton goes all Inception on them.

Doctor Strange, an arrogant surgeon, has a car crash and damages his hands, so he comes to Smug and her sorcerers – including Mordo (Chewitel) – for advice on spatial paradoxes and continuum probabilities.

Smug won’t train Strange in case he turns to the dark side and starts damaging library books, but Mordo vouches for him and they have actorly shouting matches, while Mads and Rachel McAdams have settled for more thankless Marvel roles.

At least there’s no metal-clanging showdown of superhero tradition – instead, there’s Parkour and freerunning over buildings and stairways that move and shift, like Hogwarts on acid.

To think I nearly made it through a Marvel thingy without resorting to headache pills. I got vertigo instead. Thanks doc!

Deepwater Horizon

Based on the 2010 offshore rig disaster, early scenes establish Mark Wahlberg as a family man (Kate Hudson will be worried-wife-on-the-phone) with a cutesy movie daughter whose school project explains daddy’s job deepwater drilling.

Soon, we’re off to the rig! Once the one-liners and jokey banter have been mined to completion, wild-eyed BP exec John Malkovich gives Transocean employees grief. If you’ve seen the SNL sketch of Kylo Ren as an Undercover Boss – it’s like that.

Things go wrong, and the action doesn’t let up. But I got the impression the explosion occurred because Malkovich was a money-hungry %$&*. The reality was probably more complex, but the movie does its best to serve as a tribute to the bravery of survivors and those that lost their lives.

Fleur Delacour

Mini reviews: a Wimp’s Guide to Halloween Movies

It’s Halloween, surely a time for a movie fan like me to seek out traditional scary flicks like The Blair Witch Project, or Poltergeist.

Only I’m not very brave. I have a long list of fears, and horror movies are on it. They frighten me so much, my coping strategy used to be that on the rare occasion I watched one, I’d immediately go and see another one to stop the nightmares from the first.

So if I’m too scared to go downstairs at night because of the Babadook (no way), a dose of The Woman in Black (forget it) would calm my fears. After all, they can’t both be real right?! Right?

Given the problems with this logic and my sensitive disposition, I just avoid horror. But I blog about movies now, so I thought I ought to gingerly dip a toe back into the world of toil and trouble…

The Ones Below

It’s more of a psychological thriller than a horror, but the title sounded reminiscent of the Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer classic What Lies Beneath.

Clémence Poésy is married to a nice bloke (Stephen Campbell Moore). They’re both media/creative types and have a gorgeous cat, a lovely flat and a baby on the way.

A new couple move in downstairs – the Governor from The Walking Dead (David Morrissey- shouty) and his blonde wife (Laura Birn), who are also expecting a baby.

Despite the fact the two couples are clearly never going to get along, they have a dinner party. An unfortunate tangle of factors leads to tragedy, and middle class competition turns to revenge.

David (The Night Manager) Farr is the first time film director, from his own script. It felt a little like a one-off TV movie, but the echoes of Polanski, and Poésy’s emaciated, tomboyish appearance and the loopy music, give it a woozy, memorable vibe.

JUMP SCARES: Zero

NIGHTS HIDING UNDER THE COVERS: None, but my aversion to unfriendly dinner parties and The Walking Dead still stands.

👻👻👻

It Follows

Aaaargh what was I thinking?! David Robert Mitchell’s modern horror masterpiece already has me hiding under the covers.

An evil, unstoppable force takes on the guise of various gruesome-looking individuals, and stalks people to death.

The ‘thing’ is passed around like a virus – you have to sleep with someone to infect them, but if it kills its victim it comes back down the chain to snuff you out.

A cast of relatively unknown actors help make it fresh and disorientating.

JUMP SCARES: One

NIGHTS HIDING UNDER THE COVERS: Two so far!

👻👻👻

The Gift

“It’s just one dinner and it’s over…” No no no it’s NEVER over. The past returns to haunt thrusting tech professional Patrick Bateman when he moves to California with his wife Rebecca Hall.

An unrecognizable Joel Edgerton stars as Bateman’s old school friend colleague, an unattractive misfit (“Gordo the Weirdo”) who wrecks havoc with his target’s marriage.

Edgerton wrote the screenplay and makes his directorial debut, and the result is impressive. Hall is great, her character’s reaction to Gordo veers so far from movie convention and the ending is wonderfully subtle.

JUMP SCARES: One but I really jumped!

NIGHTS HIDING UNDER THE COVERS: Nope, but when will people stop having uncomfortable, wholly avoidable dinner parties?

👻👻👻👻

Mini movie reviews for 2016!

It’s February. That means cold, freezing weather. It is also the culmination of the awards season. Yes, it’s nearly time for the biggest, glitziest celebrity ceremony of the year – The Oscars. Chilly, horrible weather, and awards season? I think I better start with…

THE MARTIAN

Ridley’s Scott’s latest space offering is set on the red planet, where things get pretty cold for NASA botanist Mark Watney (Damon) when he’s abandoned by the rest of his team, ET-style.

Setting the tone for the movie, Watney patches himself up after getting harpooned in the gut. It’s realistic and gritty, unlike my beloved Prometheus . They’re going to “science the shit” out of this one.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, the scenes on Earth are as dry as Martian soil. Luckily, whenever things get a bit lofty at NASA HQ, something goes wrong for Watney (not that I actively wanted him to suffer.)

Mars looks like a fab destination, and the astronauts have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery. It’s not as good or moving as Gravity, but it’s still a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity,  human strength and the will to survive. Matt Damon is the Best Actor on Mars.

❄❄❄

SICARIO

A fictional war-on-drugs action crime thriller so brutal I wondered what I was doing watching it.

Idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is a kidnap response expert who makes a  gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), a DoD/CIA bod and his even shadier partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro).

Blunt is wide-eyed and vulnerable – enough to be affecting, but not so much to be miscast as a door-kicker rolling with Delta Force. She’s the audience’s proxy, not driving the story forward so much as along for the ride; in this movie, the good guys fight dirty.

Del Toro is so enigmatic he makes waking up from a nap compelling. Kate can’t tear her eyes off him; neither can the audience. She appears attracted to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

❄❄❄❄

THE DANISH GIRL

Save all your tears for The Danish Girl, a lavish costume drama based on 1920s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who starts her journey as Einar, married to fellow painter/illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander).

They are devoted to one another, with a circle of friends who love to hear about their blissful wedded life. (An earsplitting, hyper Amber Heard cameos as ballerina Ulla, a confidante of the couple.)

But an unhappy Lili eventually meets a humane physician and becomes one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery, before antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs. “I am… entirely… myself,” beams an unconvincing Redmayne from Lili’s sick bed.

Although it starts as a two-hander, The Danish Girl is more of a blank canvas for Alicia Vikander. But it’s got its timing right, and it’s bound to find an audience willing to treat it with reverence.

❄❄

ROOM

Little Jack and his poor Ma (Brie Larson) are locked in a soundproofed shed they call “Room”.

Their captor, Old Nick, snatched a teenage Joy Newsome seven years ago, before she gave birth to Jack in captivity. In the evenings, Old Nick visits with supplies and inflicts himself on Ma while little Jack sleeps in a closet.

Mother and son eventually pull off a rather implausible escape, and wake up in hospital with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast cityscape, which seemed like a rapid adjustment for two people used to a cramped room with only a skylight.

Other characters start piling in: Ma’s divorced parents, lawyers, doctors, television hosts, and this is where it loses its hold. Larson is off-screen in the final act as she recovers from a suicide attempt, and we’re left with screechy little Jack making cakes with grandma and getting a haircut.

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CAROL

Trapped behind a toy counter in a Manhattan department store for the holidays, Therese (trussed up in a Santa hat like a festive fawn) is dreaming of a creative life as a photographer. Across a blur of Christmas shoppers she locks eyes with a statuesque beauty: it’s Cate Blanchett, as the titular blue-blooded 1950s socialite.

Their acquaintance becomes a love affair – dangerous, especially if Carol’s husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) has anything to do with it. Hounded by his private investigators, Blanchett is a free spirit – although there’s definitely something predatory about her.

Every frame is beautiful, however, it is slow, restrained and elegant – the lack of right-on wrath may make it too removed for some.

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CRIMSON PEAK

I expected a subpar Victorian horror. I knew it had a pedigree, with stars Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain directed by Guillermo del Toro, but Crimson Peak flopped at the box office.

Aspiring writer Edith’s (Mia) mother is dead, and her dad is a decent, bearded fellow – who’s got Brit aristo Hiddles trying to convince him to invest in his mining inventions.

Pa dislikes him and  his Bronte mean girl sister Chastain, but Edith marries Hiddles and returns to England to live at his crumbling estate, where gross red clay oozes through the walls and floorboards.

There’s a ghost, too, but although sinister, Crimson Peak doesn’t deliver shocks or scares like the Victorian Gothic The Woman in Black, and probably isn’t intended as a horror. It’s a dark costume drama, a weird Tim Burtonish fantasy and a brooding romance – I’m not sure. I wonder if anyone in charge of the marketing knew either.

The fab cast and the decomposing goo-mansion seem to breathe as one determined mess. Kudos to the movie’s strange warmth and passion, and to the best costumes.

❄❄❄❄

Mini reviews: My favourite space heroines!

[*Update 20/10/16* I’m hoping more readers will find this post as we approach the release of Rogue One, which, like The Force Awakens, will star another female lead. Will Jyn Erso be as big a success as Daisy Ridley’s Rey?]

The Force Awakens is released this week!

And the latest installment of Star Wars looks set to have more active and intriguing female characters than either the originals or the prequels. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie will appear alongside the female lead, newcomer Daisy Ridley.

The production has been shrouded in secrecy, so little is known about their roles – but in honour of The Force Awakens, here are my favourite movies set among the stars, and the heroines they feature…

Prometheus (2012) 

It probably helps that I’m no scientist.

In fact, I was terrified of the school lab because of all the stories other pupils told me about accidental immolation and experiments gone wrong. Besides, the teacher was as scary as the Engineer Noomi Rapace tangles with in this Alien prequel.

Perhaps because of my unscientific bent, I can ignore some of the sillier twists, errors and logical issues in Prometheus.

I mean, I can appreciate that having an 8ft alien land on your abdomen after you’ve had a caesarean might hurt a bit more than it seems to here. Or that hand-to-hand combat, rappelling and running might be a tad impossible after surgery.

But while Rapace’s archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw isn’t as hard-as-nails as Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley (the “no weapons” stance to exploring an alien planet is annoying), she is a woman of epic determination.

She leads an expedition of doomed idiots to answer the biggest question of all: Why are we here?

Once the feeble team have been picked off, she dusts herself down and as the only mortal survivor of Prometheus she continues her quest for knowledge and truth.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Danish pastry hair buns debuted by Leia in Star Wars and the metal bikini she wore in Jedi are iconic. But I’ve always admired the white jumpsuit and loopy-braid hairdo combo she showcased on Bespin’s Cloud City, complete with blaster.

It’s a practical but chic get-up for her roles as soldier, spy, royal and diplomat.

Despite Carrie Fisher’s recent admission that she was, in fact, higher than the stars when she filmed Empire, Leia is at her best in this movie.

In the first film she’s a brash rebel who witnesses her entire home planet destroyed. By the final film, although still committed to her cause, she appears softer – much like Padme in Revenge of the Sith.

In Empire she is as combative as Han Solo, while starting to show actual feelings for the scene-stealing smuggler.

And given what we’ve been told about the development of the Star Wars plot, there are some uncertain nods to her true identity and origins.

While her brother has a reputation as one of cinema’s greatest whiners, and there are real moments where it looks like the men might not make it, there’s never any doubt Leia is a survivor.

Gravity (2013)

Watching Sandra Bullock spin through space, I unfortunately discovered that Gravity triggers vertigo, so it’s definitely not one I can go back to watch again and again.

Balance issues aside, this is a beautiful and thoughtful drama. Given the hype, the seven Oscars, and the theme of sheer adversity, I wasn’t expecting the movie to be so tender.

Grief-stricken following the loss of her young daughter, newbie astronaut Dr Ryan Stone finds herself stranded after debris wrecks her space shuttle. She must contend with a dwindling air supply, no communications with mission control and the loss of George Clooney.

Gravity is not sci-fi, and the fact that Stone is from our own present-day earth with our real technological limits makes her even more engaging than a character in a futuristic or fantastical setting.

Stone is self-reliant. She is human. She hallucinates and loses the will to live – and then summons it again.

The movie’s message is never give up, and that through perseverance you can achieve the impossible.