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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. 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 like the odds of Alden successfully navigating young Han were approximately 3,720 to 1.

But the wise-cracking smuggler never set much store by the odds, ‘cos if you’ve got enough swagger, you can pull anything off. I can vaguely imagine Alden morphing into Original Trilogy Han, better than I could reconcile Hayden Christensen with the man in the mask – even after I saw it lowered onto his charred face.

We meet 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 on Jakku – except Han and his girl Qi’Ra have time for trips to the hair salon.

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

The pair are drawn into the world of a crime syndicate, where Han’s old flame Qi’Ra has risen through the ranks as a top lieutenant. (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?)

It all whizzes along as a straightforward, pulpy adventure, lacking the awe that Star Wars ought to inspire. It feels rather “Adventures of Young Han” – more suited to Disney’s new streaming channel.

Han could be a dark character like Anakin: he was enslaved, before fighting for the Empire and losing his childhood sweetheart. But all he wants is to be a cool pilot and make a quick buck. Under the leather jacket, he was always one of the good guys.

🎲🎲

Page 2 screen book haul: Ophelia, Annihilation, Oasis, The Lost Wife

Earlier this year I read Lion, the true story of a little boy who survives the streets of Kolkata before being adopted by an Australian family. Years later, he tracks down his mother in rural India using Google Earth.

It became a hit movie, which inspired me to get cracking with novels on my TBR that are destined to reach our screens!

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein. Finished filming in July after shooting in the Czech Republic. 

Not as passionate as Juliet, or as witty as Beatrice, Lisa Klein’s re-imagining of Hamlet from his love interest’s point of view has forever banished thoughts of Ophelia as a tragic waif.

We meet Ophelia as a motherless girl moving – with her ambitious father Polonius and callow brother Laertes – to the court of Danish King Hamlet.

Under Queen Gertrude’s rather capricious care, Ophelia grows into an intelligent woman. She becomes an expert in botany and herbology, curing the ailments of people at court. To escape the tragedy engulfing her country, she uses her skills to feign madness and death.

I was a bit doubtful when I read that the characters talk with ‘contemporary language’, but it’s not “Yo Hamlet, your mother’s a total MILF.” (Gertrude will be played by Naomi Watts.)

They don’t speak in blank verse, but there is a vivid sense of time and place – Klein is a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature. It’s an atmospheric YA novel with an impressive heroine, useful for young readers wanting to gain a better understanding of Shakespeare.

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman. Production status unknown!

Daisy Ridley is having a busy year (or two). In this, she is slated to play Lenka, a young art student living with her well-heeled Jewish family in pre-WWII Prague. She falls in love with a friend’s older brother, Josef, who is following his father’s footsteps into medicine.

They marry, but while Josef escapes with his family for the USA, Lenka’s own family are sent to the ghetto Terezin, where art became a way to resist the Nazi regime. She joins an underground painters’ movement, hiding or smuggling their work outside.

Richman, who studied art history, has written a very beautiful novel – chapters depicting Lenka’s life in Prague are irresistibly glamorous.

There seems to be few updates about the possible movie, but I hope they change it so that the ending….is at the end.

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer. To be released on Netflix in the UK.

Four women are sent by a secretive government agency to investigate Area X, a stretch of quarantined coast in the USA. The Biologist, the Psychologist, the Surveyor and the Anthropologist (we are given no names) uncover a terrifying force writing on the walls of an uncharted subterranean tower: “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner…”

As if I had breathed in the spores from the cover, the genre-defying Annihilation is immersive and sinister.

One issue I had was that it takes the Biologist’s field journal as source material. While she may be happy spending hours observing lifeforms in tidal pools, I’m not! (The novel also flashes back to her life with her husband, who volunteered for an earlier, doomed, expedition.)

I hope the movie doesn’t end up feeling like Alien Covenant – scientists behaving stupidly while trudging through the wilderness. Luckily, it’s directed by Alex Garland, who proved he knows a thing or two about creepy tension with Ex Machina!

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. Now an Amazon Pilot, renamed Oasis.  

From a woman of science to a man of faith. King of the North Richard Madden has gone interstellar, playing a chaplain in this forgettable budget sci-fi, most notable for featuring Haley Joel Osment.

It seems unlikely it will go to series!

It takes as very loose inspiration Michel (Under the Skin) Faber’s melancholy novel The Book of Strange New Things (published in 2014 before the Netflix phenomenon). Chaplain Peter Leigh leaves his beloved wife for a job with a shadowy multinational, ministering to the native inhabitants of a distant colonized planet named Oasis.

Peter’s new congregation were introduced to the Bible by his (missing) predecessor. They’ve taken to it enthusiastically, calling themselves Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Two, etc. Their ‘faces’ resemble “a placenta with two foetuses…nestled knee to knee.”

To speak their language, Peter would “need to rip off his own head and gargle through the stump.” (Any linguists want a challenge?!)

A monumental, genre-defying novel about grief.  

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – film review

valerian-v-poster-full-highres-01The search for a male star who can replace Harrison Ford continues. As the eponymous Valerian, Dane DeHaan is supposed to be a happy-go-lucky, square-jawed hero and roguish galactic agent.

Instead he looks like he should be playing a space cadet in some sort of academy somewhere with fellow cast member Clive Owen as the bullying principal.

Unfamiliar with the comics, I briefly and mistakenly thought Valerian and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) were siblings, like a Luke and Leia crime-fighting duo.

In fact, the French-Belgian Valerian et Laureline comics were a suspected early influence on George Lucas.

But Valerian drools over Cara (more than Luke did Leia) and it quickly gets annoying to watch the little twerp sexually harassing model Delevingne. “He’s got no chance!” I thought.

The romance is pure Attack of the Clones level space crash, complete with stilted dialogue.

There are hints of Avatar’s Na’vi in the humanoids from the destroyed planet of Mül, who stow away in the bowels of a giant free-floating metropolis called Alpha (the City of a Thousand Planets). There, different alien species all pool their knowledge in brilliant harmony. Or not.

There’s a plot involving the annihilated planet, Alpha’s Commander Clive Owen, plus a kidnapping and a little MacGuffin creature everybody is trying to get their hands on.

Agents Valerian and Laureline both get captured and have to save each other. Laureline puts a giant mind-reading jellyfish on her head to find Valerian, who later has to swoop in with a shapeshifting Rihanna to stop Laureline from getting her brains eaten by a race of master chefs on Alpha. (So much for harmony!)

The largely teenage audience were probably there for RiRi, but it’s just a cameo really. There’s a rushed immigration subtext involving her character, and the film has a message of love conquering all.

Director Luc Besson has an established reputation for style over substance. Valerian – his passion project – is a zany, hot mess, with the characters slaloming and sloshing around his crazy pinball machine universe. I tried to enjoy it – I loved the score and the soundtrack – I just would have liked better dialogue too.

Verdict: Valerian is like spending two and a quarter hours(!) on the now-defunct Bubbleworks ride at Chessington. Isn’t it amazing the childhood nightmares that can be dredged up years later?

Game of Thrones season 7 is short and full of terrors

At the start of season seven I wrote a grumpy post about how much I didn’t love Game of Thrones. Once they used up Grim’s good books (the first three!) from the Ice and Fire series, and then outpaced the novels entirely, the HBO show went downhill.

Of course, I carried on watching for the sheer spectacle. It’s fun to read the theories and get into the post-episode breakdowns. Plus (with a few glaring exceptions) it’s a fine cast, and easy to invest in the characters (knowing full well they’ll get killed off when you do).

I like to muse over which character I’d be if Westeros were real, although I’d probably be stone cold dead. I’d try to live by the sea, eking out my days and avoiding trouble – basically the same as my life here on Earth really.

The Red Priestess gig looks good. They never seem to feel the cold, and Stannis’ erstwhile sorceress possesses the hocus-pocus to look fab at 400 years old.

I’d love to be that arch and dramatic, but I’m more of a Gilly, the girl who thought being a Wildling made her “sound a bit dangerous.” She’s currently in the Citadel with Sam, who has turned out to be a total wildcard.

gilly

Knocking spots off that Targaryen girl: Hannah Murray as the absent Gilly. Credit HBO

Jon, meanwhile, is busy stomping around Dragonstone for his precious obsidian. (He got Davos to make those cave drawings, right?)

I hope Tyrion gets behind Jon, and I hope Jon & Dany don’t happen. Kit needs something to act opposite, and Jon, like Robb, needs to avoid exotic bimbos and marry a nice Westerosi girl. Meera Reed is available…

Because Bran is the Three Eyed Raven now, and people are gunning for Sansa to claim the North. Really? So far, Sansa has excelled at two things: being brutalized and running a castle. She was born to be a good highborn wife and run the domestic sphere – not command men or be a politician.

High on my Thrones wish list is seeing Jaime get together with Brienne, assuming she’ll still have him after he got sucker-punched by an old lady. I suppose the Kingslayer is a catch, although I wouldn’t want Cersei’s cast-offs. Ugh.

I think in the books he was well shot of her by now. Maybe the Drogon near-miss and the dip in a lake will bring him to his senses, finally.

It’s winter for our heroes, but summer for us fans. Years of trudging through the seasons have led to this payoff –  dragons over Westeros, Stark reunions and the unveiling of secret Targaryens.

And yup, we’ve already hit this season’s halfway point, for it is short and full of terrors…(Come back Melisandre!)