Tag Archives: Film

Sunshine Blogger Award #2

This is the second time I’ve been nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award, and this time it is thanks to Jason’s Movie Blog!! Hi Jason, hope all is well, sending you happy thoughts across the blogosphere.

The Sunshine nomination rules:

  1. Thank the person(s) who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog
  2. Answer the 11 questions sent by the person who nominated you
  3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post and/or on your blog.

Here are my responses to Jason’s 11 questions:

  • Question #1 – What was your favorite movie of 2016?

I’d say Rogue One or Jackie.

  • Question #2 – What was your least favorite movie of 2016?

Tarzan was a waste of time.

  • Question #3 – What is your most anticipated movie of 2017?

The Last Jedi.

  • Question #4 – What is your favorite food?

Chocolate

  • Question #5 – If you could attend a 2017 movie premiere, what movie would it be?

Ghost in the Shell or…The Last Jedi.

  • Question #6 – And who would you bring with you?

I’d probably see if one of my fellow bloggers was around London and wanted to come along. I don’t really mix my writing and my real life.

  • Question #7 – Where do you rather venture to…. Narnia or Middle-Earth?

The childhood me would have said Narnia, but then those films happened. How do you get to Middle Earth? Middle Earth, depending on the travel arrangements.

  • Question #8 – Have you ever attended an advance screening for a movie?

There have been a few offers but I haven’t been able to.

  • Question #9 – Favorite movie quote?

“I am your father!” Ha ha, I don’t have one really! But I loved the conversation The Priest (the late John Hurt) has with Portman in Jackie.

  • Question #10 – Beyond blogging, what do you (as a job)?

Sleep a lot. No, I study!

  • Question #11 – Do you ever sneak in food / drinks when you go to the movies / cinemas?

Maybe.

Nominations: 

I’m just going to take the time to say hello to the following people. It’s been great to read your writing and even to interact on here from time to time. So hi, and thanks for all your posts!

My own questions, if anyone wants to run the nomination on their blog:

  • Favourite hero of fiction?
  • Early bird or night owl?
  • La La Land – overrated, yes or no?
  • Top travel tip?
  • Are there any words or phrases you overuse?
  • What is your idea of the perfect day?
  • Are there any movie/book genres you don’t watch/read?
  • You can only have movies or books. You would choose…
  • Any one thing that always motivates you to blog?
  • Fast reader or slow?
  • Is there a creative talent you wish you had?

That’s it guys! Thanks everyone. Lx

Teen Wolf leads me to Ian Bohen to Wind River and Soldado

I only got my free Netflix trial last year to watch the phenomenon that is Stranger Things. Soon, I was back to my old ways, guiltily exploring ‘TV Sci-Fi’ and even ‘Teen TV’.

I tried to reconnect with The Vampire Diaries, but it should have bit the dust when Nina Dobrev left. I also tried its humourless spin-off The Originals, before binge-watching Tatiana Maslany in the cyberpunk series Orphan Black.

To my surprise, Teen Wolf – the MTV show based on the 1985 Michael J. Fox hit of the same name – has been pretty entertaining, in a Buffy kind of way.

The breakout of the show, Dylan O’Brien, plays the comedy sidekick, and there’s an actor called Ian Bohen, who plays the mysterious Big Bad Wolf in Season One, before returning in a neutered capacity as a snarky mentor figure later on.

I don’t know much about him, but I was keeping tabs on Sundance and he showed up at the Wind River premiere.

Apparently he has a small role in the movie – a thriller written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, who wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water, which just got four Oscar nominations.

Wind River had a positive response at Sundance, especially for the final ‘kinetic’ gun battle. (It’s not Sheridan’s first time directing, although it’s being called his directorial debut.)

Bohen is now filming Soldado, Sheridan’s follow-up to Sicario. It’s directed by Stefano Sollima, and we know it’s not a sequel, but a standalone story with some of Sicario’s characters. Emily Blunt is out, and apparently we’ll see what happens when Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are off the leash. Yikes.

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 original Death Star. We all read about the reshoots and clashes over the tone of the movie; whatever went on, Star Wars has delivered on its first standalone gamble.

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 rebels rebelling against the cautious Rebel Alliance, to stop Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) delivering the ultimate weapon to the Empire.

Director Gareth Edwards wanted Jyn to be different to other Star Wars heroines, citing Ripley from the Alien franchise as inspiration. I doubted Felicity would have the physical presence, but if Yoda taught me anything, it was to not judge beings by their size.

The best thing though, is the return of certain Sith Lord. It’s carnage.

Vader never much liked the Death Star – a ‘technological terror’ that is more trouble than it’s worth. When 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 or planning 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 now looks even worse after seeing the way Vader moves in Rogue One.

It always jarred that Tarkin was ‘holding Vader’s leash’ in the first movie, when we get all-out cool bad guy Vader #2 in Empire. Tarkin seems to acknowledge Lord Vader’s talents in Rogue One, so I’m reinterpreting their New Hope relationship as one of grudging respect.

I zoned out a bit throughout Rogue One, but the final 40 minutes are some of the most entertaining I’ve had watching a blockbuster. All future Star Wars standalones should feature Vader going berserk in the final five minutes.

leia

My favourite photo of Princess Leia, always.

NETFLIX REVIEW: The Crown

Netflix’s new series, The Crown, cost around 100 million dollars to make, which would cover nearly a third of the huge cost of the Buckingham Palace renovations.

It’s got great reviews, too – the series, not the impending renovations – which are proving quite controversial. (And all for a palace that according to this series, nobody wants to live in.)

Now I don’t enjoy cooing over the royals, or cooing over pretend-royals in sumptuous costumes. But I love royal history, and The Crown is well-made and absorbing. It’s an intensely, richly, cinematic imagining of Queen Elizabeth II’s life behind palace doors.

Ten episodes take us from the then Princess Elizabeth’s 1947 marriage to Prince Philip, right up ’til the brink of the Suez crisis of 1956. In between the historical milestones, the young royal is embroiled in family dramas, and in each chapter she will have to choose between the ones she loves, and duty.

“The fact is,” her grandmother admonishes her, “the crown must win – must always win.”

I wasn’t sure about Claire Foy as our unknowable queen, with her open face and large cornflower blue eyes. (Sarah Gadon in the fanciful A Royal Night Out looked more the part.) But Foy is believable as a simple countrywoman, more concerned with her dogs and horses than politics or people.

Creator/writer Peter Morgan’s series is actually all about the hat, not the person wearing it. “An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination,” is how her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, describes Elizabeth during his bitchy coronation commentary. Once anointed, she is transformed, he says, into a “goddess”.

Matt Smith layers his rubbery-faced, zany energy over the mannerisms and ‘wit’ of the notoriously prickly Duke of Edinburgh. I kept expecting him to suggest a Doctor Who-themed nursery for Charles and Anne.

In fact, almost everyone seems far nicer than they probably were/are in real life – even Eileen Atkins as scary Queen Mary. Well,  almost everyone. There’s the fabulously brittle duo of Alex Jennings as the Duke of Windsor and Lia Williams (I had to check it wasn’t Game of Thrones’ Red Woman – Carice van Houten) as Wallis Simpson.

The Crown is secure enough in its power that we also spend plenty of time with the politicians. Still really needing a movie to themselves are John Lithgow as Churchill, and Stephen Dillane as the painter Graham Sutherland, hired to produce a portrait of the PM. (It ends up on a bonfire – true story, apparently).

The Crown can be artificial, as things have to be explained to the audience. Underlings tell Her Majesty: “And your father’s real name was Albert, and of course your uncle’s real name was David and your name is Elizabeth…”

It’s a bit like a popular history book come to life, and I suppose we couldn’t have expected anything more controversial in our nostalgia-obsessed times. With six more series to go, I’m waiting for someone to stop fretting over whether the Crown will endure, and instead wonder if it should.

the young pope

TV REVIEW: What do we know about Jude Law in The Young Pope? Who is Lenny Belardo?

The newly-elected Pope Pius XIII dreams he’s emerging from a pyramid of sleeping human babies. He awakens, decides what to wear, greets his flunkies and prepares to make his first address from Saint Peter’s Basilica.

Presenting as a statesman with oratorical skill to rival President Obama (he sounds like him at one point; Jude Law does a great American accent) he exhorts the faithful to divorce, have fun etc.

Of course it’s all still part of his dream, although for Pius, it’s truly the stuff of nightmares.

So who is the fictional Pope Pius XIII??

…he’s young (and American) 

“I’m an orphan. And orphans are never young,” he says.

His real name is Lenny Belardo, and he was left at an orphanage by unknown parents for unknown reasons, where Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), raised him.

He rose to be Archbishop of New York, and the protégé of James Cromwell’s Cardinal Spencer, who is angry at being passed over for Pope himself. We learn Pius was chosen to be a “photogenic puppet” – a bridge between progressive and conservative elements in the Church.

…he’s gone rogue, and is actually an arch-conservative

…At first nobody knows Pius’ thoughts on anything, right down to his breakfast choices. “All I have in the morning is a Cherry Coke Zero,” he says.

Would His Holiness care for a regular Diet Coke? “Let’s not utter heresies.”

When he finally does give his first papal address, it’s fire and brimstone. He doesn’t want any “part-time believers”. Intolerant of homosexuality, fiercely anti-abortion, he intends to remain elusive, the Invisible Pope, unseen by anyone outside his inner circle.

He fires the Vatican’s official photographer, and for his first address there will be no lighting, no cameraman. The faithful must only see a dark shadow.

Needless to say he’s going to make himself very unpopular with the press, the church, a billion or so Catholics, all other faiths…etc.

…sometimes The Young Pope is like a documentary set at a glossy fashion mag.

Watching Pius XIII stalking the Vatican corridors with his shades on, all he needs is a handbag and he’d be Anna Wintour. He describes himself as “intransigent, irritable, vindictive.”

And he really puts his mark on the papal wardrobe. Red shoes? Check. He’s even decreed that the papal tiara is IN this season. And the best thing of all? That soundtrack. Divine.

…is he worth the time? 

Trailers may indicate a stylish drama full of political intrigue, but if you’re expecting House of Cards in the Vatican, you’ll be disappointed.

Surreal moments come as thick and fast as Sistine Chapel smoke. There’s the already infamous kangaroo, and Pius messing with that poor priest’s head about being a secret atheist.

At times it feels like the series toys with the viewer – could he be an alien? The Antichrist? Nope and nope, I’d guess.

Many Twitter users said they couldn’t understand Paolo Sorrentino’s swirling ten-hour art movie. But episodes five, six and seven are some of the best television I’ve seen, as scheming cardinals, slimy politicians and insubordinate monks all get their comeuppance.

As even Pius’s surrogate mother and biggest supporter, Sister Mary, fears that his papacy is a calamity for both the man and the future of the church, can a man with his own personal demons be the spiritual leader of a billion people?

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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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!

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 (Damon) when he’s abandoned by the rest of his team, ET-style.

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

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

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

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SICARIO

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

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

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

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

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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, who starts her journey as Einar, married to fellow painter/illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander).

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

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

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

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ROOM

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

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

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

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

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CAROL

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

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

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

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CRIMSON PEAK

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

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

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

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

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

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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, which is why he stomps around in a black mask that he doesn’t need.

With fans already insisting new heroine Rey was the Skywalker descendant, I wondered if Kylo would pursue her as a dark side bride and have little Vader great-grand babies. Instead we learn that Kylo himself is of Vader’s bloodline.

But he is very interested in Rey., even sweeping her into his arms and carrying 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 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.

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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.

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.

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?

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Credit: Lucasfilm

As Rey reached out to him, he looked like he was going to chuck himself off the cliff, like that time he jumped off a 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. 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.

The Kenobi connection

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

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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. And we already have a Skywalker – Ren.

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 promised.

Empire 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…

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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. 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, the truth is that reincarnation is considered silly.

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.