Tag Archives: Entertainment

Murder on the Orient Express – 2017 millennial version

“Not another remake!” is a familiar online cry, normally accompanied by declarations that Hollywood has run out of ideas.

The word ‘remake’ provokes a knee-jerk hostility. Having just dodged the new, BBC Little Women over Christmas, I was worried I’d caught the same faux fatigue. I’ve seen a stage play of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, while the still-fresh ’94 Winona Ryder film with a young, scene-stealing Kirsten Dunst is in my DVD collection.

I realized my aversion wasn’t because Winona Will Forever Be My Jo March! – it was because it looked genuinely bad. The accents sounded atrocious, and the actresses were more like sorority sisters in 2018 than impoverished, Civil War-era siblings. (Dunst at least was the right age to play Amy.)

Agatha Christie’s ’34 novel Murder on the Orient Express, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, has also been regularly re-crafted for screen. So there was a lot of online negativity around director-star Kenneth Branagh’s new blockbuster version; a perfectly good, Oscar-nominated 1974 Sidney Lumet adaptation already exists, so there was no need…

Au contraire, mon ami! OK, no need maybe, but judging by the box office, people were attracted to this gorgeous new production – which loses a lot of the mystery and suspense of the Lumet version, while upping the action.

David Suchet’s performance in the BBC Poirot is considered closest to Christie’s peculiar, egghead creation. Where Suchet was an odd duck, Branagh’s detective is eccentric by way of a comedy Belgian accent, and an OTT moustache. He certainly knows his own worth, calling himself the “greatest detective in the world”.

We meet him in Jerusalem as he closes a preposterous jewel theft case (easily the dullest bit), and then finally he’s on the Orient thundering west across Europe when an avalanche derails the train. While trapped high in the stunning Alps, a passenger named Ratchett is murdered, making everyone in First Class a suspect.

This brings us to another problem people have with the movie – Ratchett is played by none other than alleged train wreck Johnny Depp.

Depp-boycotters should know that despite starring prominently in the marketing bumf, he plays a) the most hateful character (“I do not like your face,” says Poirot) and b) is swiftly bumped off, with a troupe of Hollywood actors all in the frame for his brutal stabbing. Imagine if they’d cast Harvey Weinstein as a baggage handler.

Was it Judi Dench’s Russian princess? Or could it have been Michelle Pfeiffer’s vampy husband-hunter, or Penélope Cruz’s missionary (reminding me of her early role as a nun in Almodóvar’s All About My Mother)?

There’s an achingly relevant younger cast, including Beauty and the Beast’s Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley (a less grating Keira Knightley), and rising actress Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) as a enigmatic aristocrat. Plus Leslie Odom Jr. (Tony winner for Hamilton) is Dr Arbuthnot – played in ’74 by that old dinosaur Sean Connery.

Although the critics have insisted that it all “offers nothing new,” the contemporary cast open the story up with different races, nationalities and ages – even if everyone only gets a thin slice of screen time. (Michelle Pfeiffer alone is worth seeing.)

Cinema continues to modernize and amaze us, and Orient is an immersive experience, capturing the allure of the golden age of travel. And of course there’s that much-raved about epic five minute 65mm Steadicam closing shot.

Perhaps I liked this film for superficial reasons, but it was surprisingly poignant, presenting a moral conundrum for Poirot – the man who sees everything as right or wrong with no in-between.

Leaving me only to add that I didn’t cry at the end when the Patrick Doyle score was playing. I got some orange juice in my eye, and anyone who says otherwise is 100% lying.

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Like my review? Please consider liking it and following my book, film and lifestyle blog as we go forward into 2018! Happy New Year everyone! 

The Last Jedi: Luke what you made me do

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. But, then, depression set in.

It wasn’t disappointment over Rey’s parentage. Frankly, certain fans needed to get their heads out of their half-cocked theories. Sure, after the first trailer for The Force Awakens, I thought Padmé-lookalike Rey was Han and Leia’s kid, while Kylo was a Vader-obsessed loser (true) wanting to continue the bloodline with Rey.

But then I actually saw the film. Just half an hour in, a guileless Rey turns to Finn and says: “Luke Skywalker! I thought he was a myth.”

When Rey told BB-8 her parents would be back, ‘one day’, you could tell from Daisy’s delivery that Rey was in denial. As Maz said: she already knew the truth.

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

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

Considering Luke looked like he last took a bath on Endor, he probably didn’t have any children to carry on the family name. Unless ‘Broom kid’ (Tamiri Blagg) is Luke’s long-lost son. No, I’m joking, please.

This brings me to the biggest of my problems with Rian Johnson’s movie. His bizarre vision of Luke no longer resembled the son of Skywalker, but his step-uncle Owen Lars. Festering away on an island, the only way he could have been more revolting would have been if he’d hit on Rey.

Chucking the lightsaber over his shoulder might have got a cheap laugh (a very nervous one, in my theatre), but the Luke that millions loved would never have been so weak, skulking off to let Leia deal with everything on her own.

OK, he was never the coolest member of the gang – even after maturing into the calm, lethal Luke of Return of the Jedi, Han still laughed in his face. Luke wasn’t necessarily the obvious tough guy type, but he was resourceful, and he never gave up.

We got one glimpse of that Luke when he Force-beamed himself across the galaxy, wearing an outfit that would have made Padmé Amidala proud. Poor old Mark Hamill gave a great send-off performance, even if he didn’t agree with the director’s ‘vision’.

It’s not Luke’s story now. This is a franchise hoping to pick up new fans, and I can imagine committees overseeing the new global franchise want to lob most of the original trilogy off the edge of Skellig Michael, along with that lightsaber.

On that note, I wish you all,

xx —-Merry Christmas!—- xx

What is the Personal Shopper movie about? Explanation

It’s 2007, before teen audiences would learn that Kristen Stewart was to be their Bella Swan. There’s such outsize acclaim for her tiny role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, you’d be forgiven for thinking the former child actress was being prepped for major stardom.

While Twilight made Stewart an object of fascination, it also made her a fixture on Hollywood’s Most Hated lists. Now, she’s the ‘Best of her Generation’ — as Olivier Assayas described her after directing her to a César (the first American to win the French Oscar) for her role as an assistant to a neurotic actress in Clouds of Sils Maria.

Assayas would write Personal Shopper with Stewart in mind to star as Maureen, a young expat in Paris. Once again, she’s cast as a celeb flunky, running around upscale boutiques for her spoiled supermodel employer, Kyra.

But Maureen is more than an underling. She’s a psychic medium, in limbo in the French capital mourning her twin brother, who died from a heart defect she shares. The film opens with her alone at night in his eerie mansion, trying to reach him on the other side.

The angry spirits that appear to Maureen, scratching out her artwork, appear terrifyingly real to her. 

Stewart is so believable when she mumbles about the challenges of finding portals to the other side, she’d make a decent living as a psychic if she left showbiz. From that truthful base, she even makes the name ‘Maureen’ plausible on a twentysomething.

When she’s harassed by text messages, we question whether she’s at the mercy of something more sinister than a fashionista; have ghosts made the jump-scare to the digital era, or has she got a stalker? Is this all in her head?

Viewers have come up with some overly-intricate theories, confused by the way the script decides to glide from supernatural psychological horror to whodunnit.

In the final scene, Maureen encounters a ghost who begins trying to communicate with her – one knock for yes, two for no. She asks the ghost if it’s Lewis, and it seems to say it is. She asks if it’s at peace, and the answer is ambiguous. Then she asks if it’s in her head. It knocks for yes.

Perhaps the best way to interpret it would be through this J.K. Rowling gem: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Victoria episodes 3, 4 and 5, review: Melbourne does the morally right & historically accurate thing

Hallelujah! Hallleluujah!!

Nope, Victoria isn’t a singing competition, even if it does fit beautifully into ITV’s weekend line-up, right next to The X Factor.

But they keep playing it, so I’m going to have to learn to spell it: it’s Alleluia by Martin Phipps, with vocals by the Mediaeval Baebes, who sound straight out of Westeros by way of Frozen.

I already mentioned that Jenna Coleman’s Victoria reminds me of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, and even the music is like a candied version of Thrones’ epic theme.

This eight-part look at the early years of V’s reign has proved to be Downton Abbey with a teen queen and the same upstairs/downstairs theme, and does an OK job at hinting at a world of social change.

To recap: in the first episodes we saw the mini-monarch come to the throne following the death of her uncle William IV. A hormonal teenager, Victoria is nobody’s ideal head of state, but such are the perils of hereditary monarchy.

Gossip Girl Vicky gets the hots for her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), whom she relies on as her mentor. Historians have really recoiled at this notion of a romantic attraction between queen and PM, but writer Daisy Goodwin could be onto something.

Diarists and cartoonists at the time noted the unusually intense relationship, dubbing young Vicky “Lady Melbourne”. It’s not hard to believe that the sheltered girl fell for the powerful urbane older man, even if he didn’t look anything like Rufus Sewell.

But by episode three M does the morally right and historically accurate thing, and doesn’t marry Vicky.

Instead, a certain German princeling arrives at court – it’s Albert, accompanied by his bad boy brother Ernest. Albert is on a mission to sweep Victoria off her feet, but fictional Victoria isn’t impressed with the moany-looking hipster, even if he has a fab profile. (In reality she was instantly smitten.)

Poor Albert isn’t too thrilled either. He has a social conscience, while Victoria isn’t interested in the plight of her poorest subjects.

There’s also the continued presence of Lord M, suffering stoically in the corner. He knows the unpopular German brothers should keep a low profile during a visit to the Houses of Parliament, so greets them loudly when he bumps into them in the corridors of power. Nice one, M.

We are supposed to laugh at Albert’s nerdiness; but he is a man of the future, Melbourne is a man of the past. As episode five arrives, it is clear that the spell binding Victoria and her prime minister is broken. The British public were slow to take to Albert, and audiences might struggle too, as he has totally usurped the smouldering Sewell.

Queen Victoria was famously devoted to Albert (when he croaked she wore black for 40 years) but she wasn’t necessarily the mothering type. It will be interesting to see how the series portrays the next chapter in her life: Domestic tyrant, or domestic bliss?  

Victoria continues with episode six on Sunday September 25 at 9pm on ITV.

Eva Green Shown on Tablet Screen

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

As soon as I started writing about Eva Green, I find myself changing the font 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.

She will be leading a strong cast including Samuel L. Jackson and Judi Dench.

The film is based on Ransom Riggs’ New York Times best seller about a boy who discovers an abandoned orphanage run by the mysterious Miss Peregrine.  Eva told The Edit how much she loved playing a character defined by her devotion to her students, instead of the “love interest”.

Just don’t expect her to Instagram her red carpet looks, as Eva shared that she hates social media and selfies! It seems we will just have to content ourselves with the photo shoot she did for The Edit instead.

Eva has worked with Burton before,  in 2012’s Dark Shadows, alongside his frequent film collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. The French actress certainly fits the strong, beautiful imagery and the cool/creepy vibe of the director’s movies.

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.

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’s 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 first meet Lili-as-Einar, 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 exist to hear about their blissful wedded life.

Then Lili models a dress for Gerda, and 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,” flutters an unconvincing Redmayne from his death bed.  The film has to be congratulated as a blank canvas for the talents of Alicia Vikander, and for getting it’s timing right – it’s 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 Ma – real name Joy Newsome – from the streets years prior. (It shouldn’t need spelling out, but Jack is the result of Old Nick’s nighttime assaults on Joy.)

Mother and son pull off a rather implausible escape, waking up in a 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.

But then that’s Room. It’s a fab showcase for Larson to spit out angry lines at her mother Joan Allen. Why does this film exist? Abduction, rape, suicide attempts, seen through the eyes of a child, it keeps veering into sentimentality.

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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!