Category Archives: Film

FILM REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

I was never a Disney kid. I managed to avoid nearly all the studio’s nineties hits, including the ‘classic’ Beauty and the Beast. The only Disney animation I ever saw on a reasonably big screen was The Lion King, and that was just because I was trapped on a ferry to France at the time.

So I wasn’t going to take umbrage with the live-action remake offensive that Disney seems to be on these days.

Still, I was aware there was a lot of fuss surrounding this particular release. For starters, Belle –  Ms. Emma Watson – is said to have passed on La La Land for the role, which is pretty understandable; nobody could have known that the Damian Chazelle-directed feature was going to become such an overrated hype job.

And luckily, Watson has come up smelling of roses. She’s made serious bank as Belle and will now have first pick of future roles. She’s young enough and pretty enough – she’ll get her Oscar. Cynicism intended.

Problem no. 2: Watson has also been front and centre in the media selling Beauty as a modern, empowering, feminist take on the fairy tale. For what it’s worth, I thought her Belle was brave and courageous. A simple village girl, she knows her own mind and has no trouble rejecting Luke Evans’s ghastly Gaston.

So despite all the concerns that the movie was going to be a retread of a ‘problematic’ tale, once the friendship between Belle and Beastie is established, he’s revealed as her intellectual equal, and he doesn’t turn on her like a snarling dog later on.

To my utter surprise, Emma Watson is not nails-down-a-chalkboard. (Maybe she wouldn’t have been bad in La La Land; she can’t particularly sing, but then neither can Emma Stone.)

The rest of the cast are all on good form, including Ewan McGregor as a candlestick holder, Ian McKellen as a clock, Emma Thompson as a teapot, Dan Stevens as the Beast, Kevin Kline as Belle’s pa, and Josh Gad as Gaston’s sidekick Le Fou (what gay storyline?).

If I’m going to nitpick, I’d say it’s too long and I wasn’t 100% on the Beast’s CGI, but my audience applauded and I’ve been happily humming the songs since I left the cinema.

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.

La La Land

La La Land follows Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia, and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling), two selfish creatives who supposedly fall in love in modern-day LA.

A ‘tribute’ to Hollywood Golden-Age musicals, there seemed to be a troubling lack of memorable, knockout numbers.

Captain Fantastic 

Viggo Mortensen is raising six kids off-grid in the Pacific Northwest forest, including preteen River Phoenix lookalike Rellian, and Bo (a standout George MacKay), who has secretly applied to and got into every Ivy League college.

When the children learn their mother has died in hospital, Viggo buses them to her funeral across country. Along the way, Bo and Rellian discover they’re clueless about the world, while their cousins are Typical Western Teenagers in all their ignorant, idle glory.

I was expecting a fish-out-of-water comedy, but it’s a balanced little drama that holds back from portraying Viggo’s character Ben as either enlightened or misguided.

Doctor Strange 

Bad guys led by Mads Mikkelson vandalise a book, making Smug Superior Being Tilda Swinton go all Inception on them.

When Doctor Strange, an arrogant surgeon…I mean a surgeon, damages his hands in a car crash, he turns to Smug’s sorcerers for advice on spatial paradoxes and continuum probabilities. Smug is reluctant to train him in case he turns to the dark side and starts damaging library books.

Eschewing the metal-clanging showdown of superhero tradition, everyone Parkours over buildings and moving stairways. It’s like Hogwarts on acid. To think I nearly made it through a Marvel thingy without resorting to headache pills, then I got vertigo instead!

Deepwater Horizon

Based on the 2010 offshore rig disaster, early scenes establish Mark Wahlberg as a family man with a cutesy movie daughter whose school project explains daddy’s job deepwater drilling to the viewer.

Luckily, we’re soon off to the rig! Once the jokey banter has been mined to completion, wild-eyed BP exec John Malkovich starts giving Transocean employees grief. If you’ve seen the SNL sketch of Kylo Ren as an Undercover Boss – it’s like that.)

Its strength is the no-let-up action (the director is Peter Berg).

The Light Between Oceans

…or as I keep calling it – The Light Between Oscars – was once tipped to give Alicia Vikander another shot at Best Actress after 2016’s The Danish Girl.

Based on the novel by M.L Stedman, Australian serviceman Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns from WWI to live in his remote lighthouse with wife Alicia Vikander – who is such an ingénue it looks like Fassy plucked a child bride from the sea too.

After she suffers two harrowing miscarriages, a lifeboat with a corpse and a squalling baby washes ashore, which they decide to raise as their own. Things take a Hardyesque twist when Fassy stumbles across Rachel Weisz weeping beautifully in the graveyard of the same church where the Sherbournes are holding the christening.

Vikander’s performance is so intense, she almost manages to trick the audience into thinking this overwrought melodrama is psychological horror, questioning whether the lighthouse and the baby are manifestations of her character’s break with reality.

Manchester by the Sea

Deep in a wintry Boston suburb, depressed janitor Lee’s (Casey Affleck) guilt-ridden existence is 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, the film is 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 cause of Lee’s misery and the reason why he can’t stay.

Heaven knows how Kyle Chandler could come up with this Hedges kid, who is otherwise 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 is scarily believable, while the movie is saved from being too harrowing as it somehow finds humour in loss.

FILM REVIEW: Incredible Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in a 90 minute horror

Who in their right mind would want to live in the White House?

In Pablo Larraín’s heady and unsettling look at the days following the assassination of JFK, life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for widow Jackie is more claustrophobic horror than corridors of power.

(It’s no coincidence that it’s reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining – Larraín is a huge Kubrick fan, with some of the shots a deliberate homage to the filmmaker.)

A three-hander starring Natalie Portman, a score by Mica Levy (Under the Skin) and a gore-spattered pink Chanel suit, Larraín has rejected a cradle-to-the-grave biopic formula in favour of the experimental snapshot.

There’s a basic framework in the form of an interview Jackie gave to a journalist (Billy Crudup) a week after the assassination. The film jumps back and forth between roughly three timelines – the interview, Jackie’s infamous 1962 televised tour of the White House, and her husband’s funeral.

Leading up to the movie’s release, critics were hailing Portman’s performance as Oscar-worthy, yet clips from the movie revealing her distracting baby voice sounded absurd, no matter how ‘accurate’ it was supposed to be.

And for the first few scenes I suffered vicarious embarrassment. Even Larraín admitted he initially thought Portman’s accent was “too much.”  If this had been a more conventional picture, (imagine a ten-part Netflix series entitled Camelot) it might have been disastrous.

When Claire Foy was asked about getting the young Queen Elizabeth’s cut-glass 1950s accent right for The Crown, she said it would sound so alien today, they went with a “modulated” version instead.

Perhaps Portman could have tried a similar approach, but a strange thing happens; the diabolical lead performance becomes another string in Levi’s discordant score. The actress is terrific in this crazy, mannered straitjacket, every gesture and inflection both significant and strange, her only false note the row with brother-in-law Bobby.

Portman and Jackie aren’t a perfect physical match, but even that works – the tiny, frail figure of Portman swallowed up by shock and grief. She looks like a little girl clopping about in Kennedy’s heels and bouffant hair, like she raided the dressing-up box.

She’s not entirely fragile – she’s vicious as she wrong foots Crudup’s unnamed journalist. “Don’t think fer a secahnd I’m going to leht you pwint thaht,” she lisps.

This is Jackie crafting her husband’s legacy. It’s the gulf between her public persona (style icon, embodiment of the American Blue Blood) and her private persona. She mentions her miscarriages over and over; the conversations with the priest (John Hurt) stuck with me, as did the scene of the (now former) First Lady removing her blood-stained hosiery and scrubbing the brain matter from her nails.

Verdict: I have a newfound appreciation for the brittle talents of Natalie Portman. Jackie is like shattered glass. Best of all, it’s only 90 minutes. Go see!

Lx

FILM REVIEW: Rogue One

Rogue One is the true story of the previously unsung gang of rebels who swiped the plans to the Death Star in A New Hope.

Angry loner Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is sprung from prison by the Rebel Alliance to exploit her connections to her Imperial scientist dad Galen Erso. She ends up leading a rag-tag group of those rebels in a bid to stop Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) delivering the weapon to the Empire.

Krennic reports to a terrifying overseer- Darth Vader – who you might recall never much liked the Death Star. After it is unleashed for the first time he tells Krennic that they’ll blag the Senate that the city they just wiped out was destroyed in a mining accident.

Now, I’m not up on my galactic politics, but wouldn’t the Death Star require significant funds that would have thrown up a few red flags in some kind of purchasing committee?

Rogue One is not so much a lead-in to A New Hope as a broadside that either shows up all the original’s flaws or enhances it, I’m not sure.

The fight scene between Vader and Obi-Wan has aged badly and looks even worse after seeing the way Vader moves in Rogue One.

On the other hand, it always jarred that Tarkin was ‘holding Vader’s leash’ in the first movie, before we get all-out badass Vader in Empire. CGI Tarkin seems to acknowledge Lord Vader’s talents in Rogue One, so I’m reinterpreting their New Hope relationship as one of grudging respect.

We read about the reshoots and clashes over the tone of the movie, but whatever went down, Star Wars has apparently delivered on its first standalone gamble. For future success, all Star Wars standalones should feature Vader going berserk in the final five minutes.

leia

My favourite photo of Princess Leia, always.

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.

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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!

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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?

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FILM REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Rigg’s YA fantasy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children sold millions and has been translated into 40 languages. Now Tim Burton’s adaptation has found a perch at the top of the US and international box offices.

On the advice of his shrink, the story’s hero Jake has left his Florida home for rainy Wales, hoping to unravel his Grandpa’s tales of growing up in an orphanage for “Peculiars” with extraordinary abilities – ranging from super strength and invisibility, to a girl with teeth at the back of her skull, and a lad who likes to belch up a swarm of bees.

Count me out of school dinners at this place.

peculiar

20th Century Fox. (Halloween costumes sorted!)

Jake finds a gateway to the 1940s orphanage, which exists on a one-day time-loop. He bonds with Emma Bloom (rising star Ella Purnell), a Burtonesque blonde ingénue who’d float away without her platform shoes. Poor Jake – she’s blooming beautiful, but she’s also an octogenarian who used to fancy his granddad.

Headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) is a “Ymbryne”, who can a) manipulate time and b) transform into a falcon – a mother bird hiding her young from Samuel L. Jackson’s mad scientist and the monstrous, eyeball-chomping Hollowgasts.

The most haunting moment comes when she gathers her pupils to reset the day, and she plays the popular WWII era song Run Rabbit Run on the gramophone. We know Grandpa witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust (Hollowgast?), but the movie does not engage further with the historical context.

The movie has some scary imagery, but it wasn’t the dark fantasy elements that I found most unnerving. As if being cursed with a set of teeth at the back of your skull and dodging evil creatures that want to eat you isn’t bad enough, imagine being trapped for an eternity at school.

It’s driven at least one Peculiar mad; seer Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) – among stiff competition – is the creepiest inhabitant of this child prison world, with his old-fashioned manners and weird fixation with tailoring.

There’s something skin-creeping about the movie, like a Victorian era freak show. It’s like one of those nursery rhymes with a sinister meaning – and as someone who spent their childhood secretly hoping they’d fall through a wardrobe into Narnia, it’s a fictional fantasy world I would not want to visit.

Miss Peregrine’s Eva Green talks social media, roles for women with The Edit

As soon as I started writing about Eva Green, my font immediately switched itself to ‘Century Gothic’.

The otherworldly Miss Eva covers the latest issue of The Edit, Net-A-Porter’s online magazine. She is promoting her new movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by Tim Burton.

The movie is based on Ransom Riggs’ New York Times best seller about a boy who discovers an abandoned orphanage run by headmistress Miss Peregrine.

Eva told The Edit how much she loved playing a character defined by her devotion to her students. “It was nice not to be a love interest,” she said. “To play the guardian of those children, who would risk her life to protect them – I loved the idea that her children are her life.”

In The Edit interview Eva also shared that she hates social media and selfies.

The cynic in me thinks this is a popular statement for celebrities who wish to appeal to middlebrow gossip fans and cultivate a certain image. But for what it’s worth, Burton has described his new star as “private” and “mysterious”.

The director is famous for working with his now ex-partner Helena Bonham Carter, plus one Mr. Johnny Depp. Back in 2012, Eva made her Burton debut alongside both stars in Dark Shadows.

Eva certainly fits Burton’s strong, beautiful imagery and the cool/creepy vibe of his movies. But this time there is no HBC and no Johnny. Instead, it will be Eva leading a strong cast including Samuel L. Jackson and Judi Dench.

Although Dark Shadows paled in comparison to Burton’s earlier classics like Beetlejuice, I’m looking forward to Miss Peregrine. I haven’t read the book, but it sounds similar to the Lemony Snicket novels, which led to an underrated movie starring Jim Carrey. (A Netflix series is now in production with Neil Patrick Harris.)

For anyone mourning the end of Penny Dreadfulyou can catch Eva in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, out September 30 in the UK and USA. Personally, I think I’m more excited for Eva’s red carpet looks!

Amber Heard, her acting career and Johnny Depp

If you’re interested in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard divorce saga, you’re probably pro-Johnny. According to predominant public opinion, he’s a Legend and she’s trying to smear his name and squeeze him for cash.

To put it mildly, this so-called ‘gold-digger’ doesn’t seem to have much of a fan base prepared to come to her defence.

So who is Amber Heard? Before she filed for divorce, I’d have thought:

  • she’s a mean Margot Robbie
  • she stars in dodgy Nicolas Cage movies
  • she’s married to an actor that isn’t Nic Cage, but is similarly weird and old enough to be her dad.

At the moment, she has a part to play in the expanding Warner Bros/DC cinematic universe. I say ‘at the moment’, because internet commentators are hoping she’ll lose her role as Mera in Justice League and Aquaman. Something to do with accusing Johnny Depp of domestic violence.

Amber got to know Johnny on the 2009 set of the film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel The Rum Diary. She had beaten higher profile starlets like Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley for the very slight and purely decorative role of Depp’s love interest. She turned 23 during filming, Depp was 45.

The Rum Diary ranks as one of the biggest flops of Saint Depp’s career. (For a beloved icon, audiences aren’t interested when he isn’t doing silly walks and gimmicks.) I watched it a few days ago, and it’s actually an OK movie with some funny moments and enjoyable performances, especially from Depp and Richard Jenkins.

People have always questioned Amber’s motives for marrying the multimillionaire superstar, but Rum Diary-era Depp still looked like the handsome Johnny of old. (Officially, they didn’t start dating until 2012.)

Amber is very beautiful like Angelina Jolie or Marilyn Monroe, but cinema-goers haven’t been able to see any vulnerability or softness in her turns as yet another femme fatale, scream queen or hot chick.

She had a supporting role in The Danish Girl as a bohemian ballerina, where it was a genuine surprise to see her in genteel Oscar bait instead of genre fare. Amber seemed so grateful for the gig she got a bit overenthusiastic, but there was heart to the performance at least.

The clip below is of Amber as the young Charlize Theron in an upsetting scene from 2005’s North Country. She’s unrecognizable – more girl-next-door than the sex sirens she portrays now.

I really wanted to get a sense of Amber as an actress, which hasn’t been easy with her body of work. I expect she must be used to losing roles to Jennifer Lawrence, Margot Robbie and Kristen Stewart.

If marrying Depp was a planned career move, it was a bad one, because having your tabloid persona overshadow your work is pretty fatal for actresses.

Perhaps after her divorce she’ll no longer be a big-ticket gossip draw.

I still maintain she’s a little hard on the ears, but it’ll be interesting to see where she goes next.

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 (Matt Damon) after he’s abandoned ET-style by his team.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, the scenes on Earth are as dry as Martian soil, but Mars looks like a fab destination. The astronauts even 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 a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity, and the will to survive.

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SICARIO

In the brutal war on drugs, idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) makes a  gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), and his even shadier partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro). In Sicario, the good guys fight dirty.

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 the audience’s proxy, not driving the story forward so much as along for the ride.

Del Toro is so enigmatic he makes waking up from a nap compelling. Kate appears drawn to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

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THE DANISH GIRL

Save all your tears for The Danish Girl, a lavish costume drama based on 1920s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe.

We begin the film with Lili-as-Einar, who’s married to fellow painter/illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander). They are devoted to one another, with a circle of friends (including an earsplitting Amber Heard) who all love to hear about their blissful wedded life.

Lili tries on a dress, then has this thunderclap realization that she’s a woman. Mistreated until she meets a humane physician, she becomes one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery, before antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs.

“I am… entirely… myself,” beams an unconvincing Redmayne.

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

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ROOM

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

Their captor, Old Nick, snatched a teenage Joy Newsome. It shouldn’t need to be spelled out, but yes Jack is the result of Old Nick’s nighttime assaults on Joy.

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.

The book was told through Jack’s eyes, but in the movie, this doesn’t work. The final act is a letdown as we wince through screechy little Jack effortlessly getting used to his freedom, instead of concentrating on Joy’s much-harder rehabilitation.

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CAROL

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

Blanchett plays her as a free spirit, with hint of something predatory, or maybe just reckless, as their acquaintance becomes a love affair – dangerous for the times, especially if Carol’s husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) has anything to do with it.

Every frame is beautiful, but the striking lack of right-on wrath may make it too removed for some.

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CRIMSON PEAK

Set in the early 20th Century, aspiring writer Edith (Mia Wasikowska) falls for British aristocrat Tom Hiddleston, who is trying to convince her Pa to invest in his mining inventions.

Although Pa dislikes him and his Bronte mean girl sister Jessica Chastain, Edith marries Hiddles and returns to England to live at his crumbling estate, where gross red clay oozes through the walls and floorboards. Oh, and there’s a ghost, too, in this decomposing goo-mansion.

Crimson Peak doesn’t deliver scares like The Woman in Black, and likely isn’t intended as a horror. A gothic costume drama and a brooding Victorian romance – I’m not sure anyone in charge of the marketing knew what to do with it.

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The Force Awakens: The Ballad of Ren and Rey?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has broken records, received stellar reviews and revitalized a much-loved franchise.

More importantly it gifted us Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, son of Leia and Han, Master of the Knights of Ren and Creep of the First Order. He has become an internet sensation thanks to his tantrums and his rejection of his former identity.

Before the movie’s release we learned that Kylo idolized Darth Vader, which is why he stomps around in a black mask that he doesn’t need. Yet when Rey taunts him and refers to him as a “creature” he pops his mask off and tosses his hair. “Don’t be afraid, I feel it too,” he smirks.

Rey has to pick her jaw up off the ground and re-assume her own mask – a mask of defiance.

Who is she? There are plenty of theories.

Rey and Ren are siblings

hansolo

Some people imagine Han unburdened his fatherly guilt to Maz Kanata off-camera at her castle. But the reason we cut away in that scene is because the audience didn’t need to hear Han explain Rey’s backstory.

It’s possible Leia secretly had baby Rey before stashing her for safe-keeping. But as the novel Before the Awakening makes clear, Rey suffers an agonizing life, waking up every day starving.

Hardly safe-keeping.

They’re cousins

luke

As Rey reached out to Luke, he looked like he was going to chuck himself off the cliff, a bit like that time he jumped off that ledge in Cloud City in Empire.

Vader begged him to join the dark side; Rey reaches out to him to rejoin the fight for the light. Episode VIII may reveal that Luke is her father, making her Kylo’s cousin.

Sure, although I’m not sure cousin-rivalry will have the pathos of the father-son duel in Return of the Jedi.

Kenobi kin?

obi

A lot of fans are sold on this one; Rey is the granddaughter of old Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi.

Kenobi was dead before Jedi, and Rey was born after the Battle of Endor, so no way is she his daughter. But Kenobi could have had a child who went on to have Rey… It’s unwieldy.

And Kylo fighting the granddaughter of his namesake? It’s not really the “deeply and profoundly satisfying” ending Trevorrow teased.

She’s the Force, reborn…

ani

LucasFilm

Rey picked up piloting and force skills so quickly both Han and then Kylo looked at her with amazement. Perhaps this isn’t Rey’s first rodeo. Yup, she’s the Rey-incarnation of Anakin/Vader.

Maybe after Anakin brought balance to the force, he saw his grandson fall to the dark side. He made the sacrifice to return and redeem him, the way Luke saved Vader.

Hmm. Although fans accept space wizards, telekinesis and ghosts, reincarnation is getting a bit silly, right?

What do you think?

Rey’s relationship with Kylo may be central to his redemption, and her lineage has certainly become one of the big mysteries of The Force Awakens. Please share your own theories below!

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.

FILM REVIEW The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The long journey from 310-page children’s book to incredible three-part movie extravaganza is complete. Originally conceived as two movies, The Hobbit trilogy could never be the epic that was The Lord of the Rings, with filmmakers mining material from Tolkien’s appendices.

Criticized for the excessive padding and thin plot, there is still joy simply in watching Bilbo’s story unfold onscreen, giving audiences the chance, one last time, to immerse themselves in Middle Earth.

The Battle of the Five Armies opens with the terrifying Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashing vengeance upon the residents of Laketown, and again I’m astounded by the fortitude of kids in the audience – Smaug would have given me nightmares for years.

Smaug’s attack prompts some nifty heroics from Bard (Luke Evans) and his annoying offspring; Thorin is going mad in his mountain hall; Bilbo continues to be the brave little chap who won the respect and friendship of the dwarf king and his company.

Evangeline Lilly is Peter Jackson’s own addition to the elf race, Tauriel, and even manages to sell the tricky inter-species romance with dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner). And by tricky I mean I don’t know what Jackson and co were thinking when they came up with that abomination.

And finally! We get to see the magnificent elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace) in action. Of all the characters, he’s the one who catches my imagination the most.

One character with way too much screen time is Ryan Gage’s Alfrid. Pathetically endearing in the second movie, he’s now a thoroughly nasty piece of work jarringly deployed as comic relief. Luckily Billy Connolly’s voice work gets a few laughs as Dain, Thorin’s less-reasonable CGI cousin.

Again, that CGI! The prequel trilogy lacks the gravitas and grandeur of its sibling, but boy does it share its overindulgence in CGI.

Verdict: Looking for the positives here, but the actors are talented and the characters’ resolutions are poignant. If you just enjoy it for what it is – a silly fantasy movie, it’s OK, but fans of LOTR will be analyzing what went wrong for years.