Tag Archives: Entertainment

On the Millennial mainline: Murder on the Orient Express

“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 – and having just dodged the new BBC Little Women over Christmas, I was worried I’d caught the same faux fatigue. I’ve already seen a stage play of Louisa May Alcott’s perennial, while the still-fresh 1994 Winona Ryder/Christian Bale film with a young, scene-stealing Kirsten Dunst sits in my DVD collection.

Luckily, I realized my aversion to the Beeb’s take wasn’t because Winona Will Forever Be My Jo March! – it was because the new three-part show looked genuinely bad. The American accents sounded atrocious, and the actresses looked more like college girls in 2017 than impoverished sisters during the Civil War. (Dunst at least was the right age to play Amy.)

Agatha Christie’s 1934 Murder on the Orient Express, featuring her best-known creation – genius detective Hercule Poirot – is another novel regularly adapted for stage and screen.

I saw a lot of online negativity around the release of director-star Kenneth Branagh’s new blockbuster Orient. A perfectly good, Oscar-nominated 1974 Sidney Lumet adaptation already exists, starring Albert Finney, the argument kept going, so there was no need…

Au contraire, mon ami! OK, no need maybe, but judging by the box office, people were pulled in by the promise of 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 long-running 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, an OTT moustache and little perfectionist quirks, like straightening peoples’ ties. 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.

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, giving us the first chance to see Daisy Ridley outside Star Wars, and she’s fantastic, like a lighter, less grating version of Keira Knightley. Rising actress Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) is a enigmatic aristocrat, and Leslie Odom Jr. (Tony winner for Hamilton) is Dr Arbuthnot – played in ’74 by that old dinosaur Sean Connery.

Fresh off Beauty and the Beast, Josh Gad is the gangster Ratchett’s assistant, bringing us to another problem people have with the movie – Ratchett being 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.

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 meant as an immersive experience, with a much-raved about epic five minute 65mm Steadicam closing shot. It’s like being in a theatrical snow globe, and really captures the allure of the golden age of travel. And I hate travel.

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.

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

Actor Mark Hamill said he hated everything Rian Johnson decided to do with his character, Luke Skywalker, in The Last Jedi. I’m sure he later changed his mind (it’s hard to keep up, Hamill speaks his mind a lot) but I have to agree with the actor’s first instinct.

I understand what happened between Luke and Ben. Luke, like Anakin, wanted to stop a bad thing from happening. Luke sensed the danger in Ben, and had the fateful impulse to strike the boy down while he slept. He was immediately repentant, but it was too late – Luke had created the thing he sought to avoid.

Living with the legacy of Vader,  it’s not surprising Luke sees the dark side in shadows and minds everywhere. Yet what I saw in The Last Jedi was not the son of Vader, but the son of Owen Lars festering away on that 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 may have got a laugh (a very nervous one, in my theatre) but as I watched the story unfold, it struck me that his twin sister should have understood that Luke had gone to a lot of effort to disappear, and let him go.

Leia had been through terrible losses too – her entire planet, her son, her…Han. Luke skulked off to let her deal with everything on her own. The Luke that millions loved would never have been so weak.

He was never the coolest member of his gang. He had to work to become the calm, lethal Luke of Return of the Jedi. And Han still laughed in his face. But although Luke wasn’t necessarily the obvious tough guy type, but he was resourceful, and he never gave up.

We got one glimpse of the cool Luke who faced down Darth Sidious; at the end of The Last Jedi, he Force-beamed his soul across the galaxy to tell his hilariously unhinged nephew that he’s a stupid ass, while wearing an outfit that would have made Padmé Amidala proud.

Did Luke think Kylo was beyond redemption, or did he know it wasn’t his personal destiny to save him? Kylo is Rey’s problem now. Sucks to be her.

Although he hasn’t always been as well-regarded by the wider public – or by some journalists, incredibly – Hamill was the real acTOR out of the classic trio. Carrie was a true original and a writer, Harrison was the movie star. And 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. Considering Luke looked like he last took a bath that night 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.

I imagine creatives overseeing the new global franchise want to lob most of the inherently limiting original trilogy off the edge of Skellig Michael too, along with that lightsaber.

Um, so on that note,

xx —-Merry Christmas!—- xx

A ghost story for a chic spooky season: PERSONAL SHOPPER starring a striking Kristen Stewart

It’s 2007, before audiences would learn that Kristen Stewart was to be their Bella Swan, and there’s dizzying acclaim for her tiny role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. Anyone would think that the former child actress was being prepped for major stardom.

Of course, Stewart killed the Twilight gig, becoming an object of obsession for girls everywhere, and a fixture on Hollywood’s Most Hated lists. Now, in 2017, she’s finally the ‘Best of her Generation’ — as Olivier Assayas described her after directing her to a César for her role as a PA to a neurotic actress in Clouds of Sils Maria. 

Stewart made history as the first American to win the French equivalent of an Oscar, and Assayas would write Personal Shopper with her in mind to star as a young expat in Paris. Once again, she’s a flunky to an unpleasant celebrity, only this time we merely glimpse the supermodel employer – Kyra – who dispatches her to upscale boutiques to pick up couture and priceless baubles for the red carpet.

Instead i’s Stewart’s Maureen who takes centre stage, and she is so much more than an underling: she’s also a psychic medium, a grieving twin sister, and an artist. And who exactly is the model here? KStew looks preternaturally gorgeous when she tries on her boss’s designer clothes.

Maureen hates her job, but she’s in limbo in the French capital mourning her brother, who died from a heart defect she shares. She sits alone at night in his Parisian mansion, waiting for him to show her a sign from the other side. The building creaks and the pipes rattle, before a rageaholic spirit scratches out her artwork.

Later, when Maureen is harassed by text message, we’re supposed to be unsure whether or not she is 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?

If this sounds like a weird blend of high fashion, ectoplasm, and suspense…you’d be right – it really is an engrossing addition to the whodunnit/horror/coming-of-age genre.

And it probably wouldn’t have worked with a typical lead actress. But Stewart has such incredible authenticity and sincerity, that when she talks – or does that notorious Stewart mumble, mumble, shuffle – about the difficulty of finding portals to the spirit world, it seems perfectly reasonable.

From that truthful base, she is fascinating; you just want to keep watching her and watching her.

Verdict: Personal Shopper is a beautiful and detailed treat, from the Vionnet and Chanel dresses, to Maureen’s beanies, polo shirts and sloppy sweaters. It looks like a fashion shoot, all carried off with Stewart’s trademark insouciance and ambiguity.

She even makes the name ‘Maureen’ sound cool.

For those that celebrate it, have a Happy Halloween! If you have a low fear threshold, check out my Guide to Scary Movies, or if you fancy a really creepy read try the book that inspired Alex Garland’s new movie, Annihilation.

TV REVIEW: Channel 4’s The Windsors

thewindsors

Channel 4

Channel 4’s spoof royal soap opera The Windsors – which just returned for a second run – may not be subtle, but it’s a fun distraction, and if there’s any one thing this blogger is addicted to, it is fun distractions.

I know a lot of people think the show is puerile.

Yes, the actors (led by Harry Enfield as Prince Charles) all give outrageous, panto performances. They’re either gin-soaked villains and/or monumentally, irredeemably stupid.

Save for the Duke of Edinburgh’s expletive-riddled written missives (“Dear Funny Foreigner…”) which are read out by other characters, the Queen and her husband are absent, which is more than fine, as they’ve got The Crown, and it’s on Netflix and it’s waaay more prestigious.

And although The Windsors is meant to be silly, all the characters are actually quite sweet and sad and touching, like poor Fergie (Katy Wix), desperate to be allowed back into the fold.

I’ve read the anonymous comments about the real Royal Family on places like Mail Online and people can be harsh and resentful (to put it lightly). Then there are fawning blogs, where for ‘Princess Kate’ fans, she’s Cinderella. (The Windsors writers Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffrie have the former Miss Middleton as a gullible sweetheart from a family of travellers.)

With the media focus on the ‘main three’ of Kate, William and Harry, Fergie’s girls have been relegated to bit-part players, but Tyler-Moore and Jeffrie have made B&E (Ellie White and Celeste Dring) main characters, which is nice. They’re depicted as airhead Sloanes who didn’t get the memo that they’re on the fringes of their own family, which..isn’t so nice.

It makes me feel almost sorry for the real Yorks, who sadly lack a certain media-friendly, fashion-savvy charm (constantly referred to as the ‘ugly stepsisters’), unlike the willowy Delevingne sisters, or even the Middletons. (I’ve written before that nothing would end the monarchy faster than an unattractive princess/future queen waiting in the wings.)

Pippa too (played here by the very talented Morgana Robinson as a vampish vixen seething with sisterly jealousy) can’t be seen to be having too much fun, before some online commentator yells: “Your sister is royal not you!!!” It’s as if to kowtow to the Cambridges, we have to remind ourselves we have some dignity by gloating at the position of the ‘lesser’ royals and royals-by-association.

Miss Markle, are you sure you want to join the cast of this real-life institution?!

The Windsors series 2 consists of six episodes. It continues on Channel 4 in the UK on Wednesdays. Get ready for the arrival of one President Trump!

About that Han Solo casting: who will Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke play?

clarke

Emilia Clarke/Instagram

Call it a “tremor in the force.” Ever since Disney announced plans to go ahead with a solo Han Solo project, reaction has been mixed. Harrison Ford’s advice for any would-be smugglers was simple: “Don’t do it.”

Yet every every young actor in Hollywood wanted the role that eventually went to Alden Ehrenreich. OK, Princess Leia would say he’s a bit short for a stormtrooper nerf herder, but here he is in Hail, Caesar! Impressive, most impressive…

After directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller landed the popular choice of Donald Glover for Lando, they added none other than Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke to the cast.

There is another…British brunette 

If you’ve never seen Emilia Clarke without her platinum wig, you might not have realized she’s actually a totally adorable brunette.  In fact, there’s been a crazy backlash over another dark-haired British actress following Daisy Ridley and Felicity Jones into the franchise.

Unsurprisingly we know little about her role yet, with the press release stating only that she will “round out a dynamic cast of characters Han and Chewie will encounter on their adventures.”

According to Variety she’s the female lead, meaning we can rule out pre-Original Trilogy Leia, who we know meets Han for the first time in A New Hope. Some say it could be Sana Starros from the Marvel comics, but if you check the character’s Wookieepedia page, it’s unlikely that’s the route they’d take with Clarke.

Lord and Miller apparently passed over Jessica Henwick (the tall, beautiful Sand Snake on GoT), Adria Arjona, Kiersey Clemons, Zoë Kravitz, Naomi Scott and Tessa Thompson.

I wonder what made Clarke attractive for the studio, other than the fact she has a starring role in arguably the most popular TV show around. I’ve been following the careers of the GoT crowd and there’s been a real push to make Clarke HAPPEN.

Her Broadway attempt (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) was roundly panned. Meanwhile, the Mother Of Dragons is a very tricky role that Clarke has never quite nailed, tending to fall back on blank stoicism and creepy smirks. Or in the case of the romantic weepie Me Before You, super super-expressiveness.

Perhaps it was her work in Terminator Genisys that dazzled the studio. I wouldn’t be surprised if her Solo character is some sort of cutesy bounty hunter/all-round bad ass with cool one-liners who shows the boys how it’s done.

Lord and Miller said Ehrenreich underwent an “audition pentathlon” to secure the role as Chewie’s best pal, and after the disastrous prequel-era casting, Star Wars execs are probably being very cautious.

Surely they couldn’t make a misstep with characters and hiring at this point?!

Let me know what you think of the way the Han Solo movie is shaping up. Are you a fan of Emilia’s acting? Which GoT star do you think will have the biggest career?

Dakota Fanning talks American Pastoral, The Bell Jar and sibling rivalry with The Edit

Dakota Fanning perhaps isn’t as mega-famous as contemporaries like Jennifer Lawrence, but for years I’ve seen people rave about her talents as a child and teen actress.

Dakota’s got a new movie out, American Pastoral, which is directed by Ewan McGregor and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth novel. I was planning to read the book, although I’m not sure whether to see the film first.

Anyway, Dakota really manages to carry off a stunning gothic look for Net-a-Porter’s online magazine The Edit:

In her interview, Dakota mentions her American Pastoral character Merry, who becomes radicalized during the turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War. Dakota’s taken on darker roles and more adult roles before, but could this be the breakthrough role that showcases her as a major “grown-up” star?

One thing that Dakota’s phenomenal career has done was pave the way for her younger sister Elle to launch a Hollywood career. Although there isn’t any evidence of a rift, people automatically suspect that there is rivalry between the two. In her interview she says:

“People unfortunately love to see conflict. And if it’s between family? Between sisters? Even better. The assumption that we’re really competitive, that people even ask that, is horrible. It’s implied our family [is] torn apart by jealousy.”

Dakota goes on to say that they don’t really look similar, which is true – Dakota’s look is much more mutable, and she’s the more ‘relatable’ of the two. (I would have thought Dakota’s closest competition would be Saorise Ronan?)

She also reminds me of another, slightly older former child actress – Kirsten Dunst. Dakota mentions Kirsten and the project they are working on together – an adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Apparently, Dakota hired Kirsten (“We vibe so much”) to direct the new adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s only published novel, which Dakota herself is co-producing and starring in.

It’s a confident shoot and interview, and she certainly sounds a lot more together (or better advised) than Kirsten did at that age.

Apparently Dakota gets asked a lot in interviews why she never went off the rails like so many child stars before her. (Perhaps she was fortunate to have never had the negative experiences that some vulnerable showbiz kids suffer? Better support networks? A personality that responds better to the pressures of fame? Who knows.)

Got to admit, Dakota’s pretty impressive, and I’m looking forward to seeing American Pastoral. It’s getting some really bad reviews from the critics, although I’ve heard audiences find it a slightly more worthwhile experience.

Check out Dakota’s interview over at Net-a-Porter!

TV REVIEW: Victoria episodes 3, 4 and 5.

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 like they could be 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 – one of the most lavish, expensively produced shows in history – and even the music is like a candied version of Thrones’ epic choral masterpieces.

However, the eight-part look at the early years of V’s reign has really proved to be Downton Abbey with a teen queen and the same upstairs/downstairs theme. Dramatic embellishments notwithstanding, it actually seems to do an OK job at hinting at a world of social change.

To recap: in the first episodes we saw the little 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 a sheltered young woman would fall for a 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. Poor V!

Instead, a certain German princeling arrives at court – it’s Albert, accompanied by his bad boy older 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. At one point he advises the unpopular German brothers to keep a low profile during a visit to the Houses of Parliament, and then later booms out “Your Serene Highnesses” when he bumps into them in the corridors of power. Nice one, M.

We are supposed to titter 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 very slow to take to Albert, and audiences might struggle too, as he has thoroughly 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. She even commented that carrying children was an “occupational hazard” for a wife. 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.

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’. It would have been ‘Baroque’, but I just don’t have that option on my laptop, sadly.

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 and becomes absorbed in the world of headmistress Miss Peregrine and her young charges.

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 famed for working with his now ex-partner Helena Bonham Carter and with 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 Dreadful, you 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!

Kirsten Dunst to direct The Bell Jar? Bring it on!

Speaking to Nylon mag back in 2004, Kirsten Dunst dared to criticize Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of poet Sylvia Plath – and Goop has done nothing to her for this insolence.

Now Kirsten (above in the sublimely terrifying Melancholia) is going to make her feature film directorial debut with an adaptation of Plath’s only published novel, The Bell Jar. Kirsten has already directed two shorts and will also pick up a co-writer credit for this latest project.

For some, Plath’s book ranks as ‘unfilmable’ and is best left well enough alone. A 1979 version seems largely forgotten, probably for good reason. But Kirsten’s a Hollywood veteran, and one of the most talented and confident stars working today.

She broke out around the same time as Natalie Portman – Kirsten the vengeful bloodsucker trapped in a eternal child’s body in Interview with the Vampire, Natalie a juvenile assassin with a killer bob haircut in Léon.

Because they got their starts playing tough adult roles, they were never really pigeonholed as child stars. While Natalie remained scandal-free, famously attended Harvard and bagged an Oscar, Kirsten’s image got a bit tarnished. The gossip blogger Perez Hilton nicknamed her “Kiki Drunkst” – when actresses, more so than their male counterparts, have to be very protective of their reputations.

Kirsten has made movies even a serious fan wouldn’t touch, things that she has said she’d love to erase, and a truly critically celebrated performance escaped her until Lars von Trier’s Melancholia won her Best Actress at Cannes in 2011.

But now there’s also an Emmy nomination for her performance in the second season of the FX series Fargo, which really played to her strengths with its intelligent, sharp dialogue and black comedy. “It’s nice to promote something and not have to lie about it,” she said on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

I kind of admire her more for the messiness of her CV as opposed the careful way less-talented actresses build their careers so precisely.

I used to read one super-knowledgeable film buff who argued that the greatest actresses go through ups and downs with the public. The risks they take and their vulnerability mean audiences don’t always understand and appreciate them.

Kirsten has been candid about her struggles with depression, the pressures put on famous actors and about the lack of guidance she had in her career.

Although The Bell Jar seems like a massive challenge, hopefully Kirsten’s talent and experiences – both personal and professional – will translate to success.

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. (Really, 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 virtually 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.

At this point Amber is never going to become one of the biggest names in the industry. If marrying Depp was a planned career move it was a bad one, because having your tabloid persona overshadow your work is perilous for this generation of young actresses.

Perhaps after her divorce she’ll no longer be a big-ticket gossip draw, and will turn her attention to her career. Maybe indie cinema beckons.

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

 

Mini Reviews: Burnt, Paper Towns, Spectre

A very eclectic grouping, I know!

But there are some movies I look forward to watching, like The Revenant. Then there are movies I look forward to, just not quite so much. But I had questions, questions, questions! Is Spectre as silly as Skyfall? How bad is BurntCan Cara Delevingne act?

Paper Towns

Quentin (known as Q) has his whole life mapped out – graduation, college, medical career, marriage, kids. But that’s only if the really cool girl across the street doesn’t get him arrested.

Q (Nat Wolff) has grown up idolizing his neighbour, Margo, but his kooky little playmate is now Cara Delevingne  – waayyy too popular to speak to him.

That’s until one night when she needs him to help inflict revenge on her lying in-crowd pals. Faced with his perfectly understandable reluctance, she gives him some spiel about “living for the now”, and not waiting until you’re 30 to be happy.

We’ve only known her for seconds, but she’s clearly a menace. Does clever Q challenge her, and insist life can be worth living while working towards your goals? He doesn’t, because he’s blinded by her awesomeness, and because he’s a sap.

After a vandalism spree and a slow dance, Margo vanishes. Convinced she’s left clues for the timid lad to follow her, Q leads his geeky friends and Margo’s impossibly beautiful former BFF (Halston Sage) on a road trip.

Nat Wolff is one of those scruffy, shaggy, sort-of-handsome young stars, but the road trip really drags, and a boy urinating into a empty beer can mid-car journey isn’t as funny as the filmmakers think.

Adapted from a John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) YA novel, Paper Towns suffers without the mercurial Margo. Delevingne is really great casting – Margo is a flawed person, but you understand why other teens project enormous mystery and importance onto her.

The lack of parental involvement rings false, as if the film doesn’t know how to work the adults in. When Margo goes all Gone Girl, her parents just shrug. What kind of people just allow their cars to disappear from the driveway, or teenagers to skip school for a road trip? Surely not the parents of this amiable, well-adjusted crowd.

A wholesome teen movie with an edgy star, perhaps Paper Towns just didn’t translate easily to screen. Worth it for Delevingne’s brief performance.

Burnt

Bradley Cooper used to play Jennifer Garner’s housemate on J.J. Abrams’ spy drama Alias. The actor played a clueless chump whose job was to get punched in the face by the CIA.

Now Cooper’s piercing gaze stares out from many a movie poster. He’s been nominated for four Academy Awards – three for acting and one for producing.

Burnt, a star vehicle meant to cash in on the actor’s heat, received a universal panning and a flurry of one-star reviews. But is it a complete turkey? ‘Cos sometimes when the critics sharpen their knives, you find the movie isn’t half-bad, or is only as half-baked as everything else…

Cooper is Adam, a boozy, bad boy chef who got his beloved mentor’s Paris restaurant shut down. After a self-imposed exile shucking oysters, he’s in London, dodging his drug debts and planning a comeback. He rallies his resentful, sceptical old kitchen crew (plus new recruits) like a crime boss back for One Last Job – swiping a Michelin star.

Cooper looks like he knows his way around a kitchen and every dish looks delectable, but the movie isn’t about food or doing the restaurant world justice. It’s about a burnt out, unlikable man with a world class talent. It’s an intense lead performance, but Cooper never gets to explore Adam’s personal demons and raging perfectionism.

Sienna Miller is decent as a sweaty sous chef/single mother/love interest, while Alicia Vikander is glamorous as Adam’s old flame. But it’s a lukewarm romance yoked with a gritty drama about the need for redemption.

Sadly, Burnt has its fingers in too many pies.

Spectre

Spectre is Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Bond, and again it appears he outgrew the character after 2006’s Casino Royale. Reportedly sick of Bond, the actor has been ambivalent about reprising the role for a fifth time.

In Spectre, a taped tip-off from his dead boss Judi Dench has Bond chasing a shadowy international crime organisation. He takes himself off to Mexico on a terrorist-hunting vacation, where he causes mayhem in a fantastic opening sequence.

The trail leads first to the iconic Monica Bellucci, whose highly publicized appearance is pretty disappointing. Instead, sleepy-eyed French actress Léa Seydoux is our supposedly strong, savvy female character. She looks very young next to craggy Craig, and can’t compare to the memory of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Sob.

While Bond is busy moping over the latest love of his life, Ralph Fiennes get to display why he would have been a better fit as Ian Fleming’s spy. As the new M, Fiennes has to deal with a snotty little upstart codenamed “C” (Andrew Scott), who is pushing to shut down the 00 programme and usher in a global surveillance network.

I preferred the Fiennes/Scott confrontations to the ones between Christophe Waltz’s villain and Craig’s 007, who I kept forgetting is a ruthless government assassin.

Look, it’s a Bond movie (the most expensive one ever made), so it’s easy to be entertained by the scale and the stunts. It really isn’t as silly as Skyfall, with its much-mocked Home Alone-style final battle. But it still isn’t the sequel Casino Royale deserved.

Mini reviews: Suffragette, Brooklyn, Macbeth

Awards season is over. But before we greet the arrival of 2016’s summer blockbusters, some of the Best Picture nominees are still on the big screen, possibly enjoying a little post-Oscars boost.

There are also got some great recent and recent-ish movie releases available on DVD/Blu-ray and on digital.

March is Women’s History Month, so therefore, I thought I should start with…

Suffragette

The fight for women’s voting rights in the UK is a complicated narrative that began in the nineteenth century and dragged on for years. The campaign took many forms and involved various divisions and splinter groups.

Director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan have set their story just before the outbreak of the First World War, when the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) were intensifying their demonstrations and acts of militancy.

The movie’s focus is not on the famous Pankhurst family or other powerful, real-life figures, but on the fictional character of plain old Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). She’s a London washerwoman who becomes involved in the turmoil when she sees a co-worker lob a brick through a shop window.

Maud has few joys besides her small, sickly son. As she becomes increasingly drawn in to the movement she discovers a different way of looking at life. She takes up the WPSU’s motto: “Deeds not words”. Her new stance brings her into conflict with her husband, her employer and of course, the authorities.

Mulligan is inescapably modern and patrician, no matter ‘ow much she drops ‘er h’s. But her palpable intelligence serves the film well. She throws herself into the role with such furious conviction it’s impossible not to care.

Mulligan’s performance, along with support from Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff (plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Meryl Streep) make this well-made historical drama engrossing and moving.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a wholesome, refreshing drama that casts a spell on the viewer. Based on Colm Tóibín’s award-winning 2009 novel (which I haven’t read), it follows a young 1950s Irish woman starting a new life in the titular New York borough.

Eilish (Saoirse Ronan) is from a small town in the Emerald Isle, where her only bonds are her mother and older sister. Eilis’ part-time job comes with a gossipy, bitter boss known as Nettles Kelly (Brid Brennan).

Across the sea in Brooklyn, Eilish lives in a boarding house with other women, attends night classes and meets a charming Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen). Best of all she has Julie Walters as her landlady and a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) to watch over her as she battles homesickness.

Just as Eilish is blossoming, deaths and marriages call her back to Ireland. She meets the reserved Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), the kind of lad who wasn’t around when she left. (Or maybe, her new experiences mean she sees people in a different way.) Ultimately, Eilish has to make a wrenching decision.

It is a beautiful film – lovely and gentle without ever becoming boring or syrupy. .

Macbeth

I won’t be the first to say that this is Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation, where the production values of HBO collide with the Bard’s verse. The playwright based his famous tale of treachery and tyranny on historical accounts of Scottish rulers, while George R.R. Martin’s books are hugely inspired by the country’s history.

Director Justin Kurzel’s re-working of Shakespeare’s classic tale is one of stark landscapes, mud and battle scenes. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran was heavily influenced by Norse clothing and architecture, and there is a distinct Vikings-feel, while Kurzel’s brother Jed composed the breathtaking, hypnotic score.

Out of the cold Scottish mist comes Michael Fassbender as warrior nobleman Macbeth. Fassbender’s Macbeth is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress; he endures flashbacks in slow-mo while soldiers slain in battle haunt him with their thousand-yard stares.

Marion Cotillard is Lady Macbeth, urging her husband to gain the throne from King Duncan (David Thewlis). Cotillard is the first French actress to portray Lady Macbeth on film in an English-language production.

She makes the character more sympathetic than expected – in this version, her scheming is linked to grief and a lost child. She goads Macbeth into his first evil act, which seems to totally unhinge him for good. Cotillard then seems to slink back in terror as Fassbender gets scarier and bloodier.

Mini reviews: Sicario, The Martian, Crimson Peak

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. It is nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Actor for Matt Damon, and Best Picture.

In a tale of human strength and the will to survive, NASA botanist Mark Watney (Damon) is abandoned on Mars after being struck by debris. Believed dead by the rest of his team, they blast off and leave him behind ET-style.

Setting the tone for the movie, Watney has to patch himself up after getting harpooned in the gut. It’s realistic and gritty, unlike my beloved Prometheus (also directed by Ridley). It’s clear that Ridley and Watney are going to “science the shit” out of this one.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, it contains laughs – more than in some so-called comedies – even if the Earth scenes get as dry as Martian soil. Luckily, whenever things get a bit boring or lofty at NASA HQ, something goes wrong for Watney and the film becomes engrossing again. (Not that I actively wanted him to suffer or anything.)

The red planet looks like a beautiful destination and the astronauts have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery. Eventually, the lonely Watney almost looks like part of the rocky landscape.

It’s not as good or moving as Gravity, but it’s still a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity. There’s no doubt Matt Damon is the Best Actor on Mars.

CRIMSON PEAK

Before I watch Crimson Peak I have it pegged as a not-very-good Victorian horror.  I know it has a pedigree, with stars like Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain, and cult director Guillermo del Toro. Yet Crimson Peak flopped at the box office.

Wasikowska is aspiring writer Edith Cushing, whose genuine sweetness is never overshadowed by the movie’s darkening atmosphere. Edith’s dad is a decent, bearded fellow; her mother is a creepy, inky ghost. Edith also has a suitor in the shape of Charlie Hunnam’s mild-mannered physician Dr Alan McMichael.

Enter Tom Hiddleston as Sir Thomas Sharpe. Sharpe is a British aristocratic with a crumbling estate back home, and he’s seeking investors for his mining inventions. Pa instantly dislikes him – he certainly seems a bit ineffectual, especially next to his Bronte mean girl sister Lucille (Chastain).

Edith marries the brooding Hiddles and returns to England with him to live at said crumbling estate. There’s a gaping hole in the roof and gross red clay oozing through the walls and the floors. The cast and the decomposing goo-mansion seem to breathe and sigh as one soggy, yet determined and talented mess.

Although it is sinister, it doesn’t deliver shocks or scares like the Victorian Gothic The Woman in Black. This is probably because it isn’t intended as a horror/ghost story. 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.

Kudos to the movie’s strange warmth and passion, and to a great cast and costumes.

SICARIO

There’s horror in Sicario, a fictional war-on-drugs action crime thriller. From the start, it is so brutal I actually had to wonder what I was doing watching it.

Idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is a kidnap response expert who makes a particularly gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), a DoD advisor/CIA- somebody-or-other, 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. If she were named Jennifer Lawrence, she’d have another Oscar nomination in the bag.

There probably isn’t enough there though, for Blunt to have garnered awards consideration. She’s the audience’s proxy, and she doesn’t have many lines or really drive the story forward. She’s along for the ride, just staring in horror at the violence depicted on both sides; in this movie, the good guys have decided to fight very dirty.

Del Toro gives a most enigmatic performance. He actually turns waking up from a nap into compelling onscreen action. Kate can’t tear her eyes off him; neither can the audience.

The two characters have a murky relationship. She appears attracted to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

Sicario is nominated for cinematography, original score and sound editing at the Oscars.

reviews

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, his sullen ambivalence and his rejection of his former identity.

Before the movie’s release we learned that Kylo idolized Darth Vader. It’s why he stomps around in a black mask that he doesn’t need. One early theory was that new heroine Rey was the child of Han and Leia. Kylo could have pursued her in the hopes of a dark side bride and little Vader great-grand babies.

Instead we learn that it is Kylo who is of Vader’s bloodline.

But he is very interested in Rey. He even sweeps her into his arms and carries her to his ship. 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? Technically, she’s just a scavenger abandoned on planet Jakku by her parents. She’s no one, but her relationship with Kylo may be central to his redemption.

Her lineage has become one of the big mysteries of The Force Awakens, and there are plenty of theories.

Rey and Ren are siblings

Well poor Han had no clue.

hansolo

Credit: Lucasfilm

Some people think he 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. “Han told me,” Maz says to Rey when the girl starts to explain that she needs to return to Jakku.

It’s possible Leia secretly had baby Rey and then stashed her for safe-keeping. But Luke and Leia were safely tucked away as babies. Leia grew up a princess on Alderaan, while Luke was raised by his aunt and uncle with Obi-Wan keeping a close eye.

As the novel Before the Awakening (published by Disney-Lucasfilm press) makes clear, Rey suffers an agonizing life, waking up every day starving.

Leia’s reaction to Rey is warm but ambiguous. She greets her with a hug because the girl cared for Han and saw him die, and because Leia can sense she is strong with the force.

But are Rey and Kylo siblings? I’d say no.

They’re cousins

Did Luke’s facial expression scream Skywalker family reunion?

luke

Credit: Lucasfilm

As Rey reached out to him, he looked like he was going to chuck himself off the cliff. It was like that time he jumped off a ledge in Cloud City when Vader propositioned him 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. That’s not going to be shocking. And they could have done it in VII.

Comments from Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow hint that we might not get answers to Rey’s parentage until the end of the trilogy. That’s a long drawn out reveal when half the audience already think she’s Luke’s.

As for Kylo, cousin-rivalry will hardly have the pathos of the father-son duel in Return of the Jedi. Yes, Anakin’s old lightsaber calls to Rey, and she bests Kylo on Star Killer base. But it’s not really fair to play favourites with the grandkids, Ani.

The Kenobi connection

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

obi

LucasFilm

Why Kenobi? He was a mentor figure for Anakin and Luke, and this is the Skywalker family show, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has stated. (We already have a Skywalker – Ren).

Kenobi was long dead before the events of 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 again, Jakku is no place to hide a child for safe-keeping.

Kylo was likely named Ben after Kenobi. So he goes up against the granddaughter of his namesake, who may also be his cousin? It’s not really the “deeply and profoundly satisfying” ending Trevorrow has promised.

Empire, Jedi and Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan has said that Episode VIII will be “some weird thing,” which possibly suggests a stranger answer than Rey-is-a-Kenobi…

She’s the Force, reborn…

ani

LucasFilm

Some people say the shadow of Vader looms over Rey.

Rey picked up piloting and force skills so quickly both Han and then Kylo looked at her with amazement. But 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. Anakin/Vader is the one person whom Kylo would listen to – he’s been begging his grandfather to speak to him, to show him guidance.

Trevorrow said: “Rey is a character that is important in this universe, not just in the context of The Force Awakens, but in the entire galaxy.”

But even in a story about space wizards, telekinesis and ghosts, the fact is that reincarnation is considered silly.