Tag Archives: Film

Rogue One – a film review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

leia

My favourite photo of Princess Leia, always.

The Crown – Netflix review

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 building work – which is 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 a well-made, 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, to 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 (Sarah Gadon in the fanciful A Royal Night Out looked more the part.) but she is believable as a supposedly simple countrywoman, more interested in 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).

It can all get artificial, as things are explained to viewers. 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

Jude Law as 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 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.

Except I have a long list of fears, and horror movies are on it. My coping strategy used to be that if I watched one, I’d immediately see another to stop the nightmares from the first. If I’m scared at night thanks to The Babadook, a dose of The Woman in Black 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 appearance give it a woozy, memorable vibe.

JUMP SCARES: Zero

NIGHTS HIDING UNDER THE COVERS: None, but my aversion to dinner parties and The Walking Dead still stands.

👻👻👻

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!

👻👻👻

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?

👻👻👻👻

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’ bestseller 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 being the “love interest”.

Just don’t expect her to Instagram her red carpet looks; 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. 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.

rum diary movie with drink

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, Heard 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 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 reportedly beaten higher profile starlets like Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley for the tiny, purely decorative role of Depp’s love interest. She turned 23 during filming, Depp was 45. (Officially, they didn’t start dating until 2012, after Depp separated from his long-term partner Vanessa Paradis.)

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 enjoyable movie with fantastic performances 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.

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 a younger version of Charlize Theron’s character 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 Robbie, Jennifer Lawrence and Kristen Stewart.

Ultimately, 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 an actress. Maybe after her divorce she’ll no longer be a big-ticket gossip draw.

I still maintain she’s rather hard on the eardrums, but it’ll certainly 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 Scott’s latest space offering is set on the red planet, where things get pretty cold for NASA botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), abandoned ET-style by his team.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, the scenes on Earth are as dry as Martian soil. Mars looks like a fab destination, though – the astronauts even have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery. It’s a fun ride about human ingenuity and the will to survive.

❄❄❄

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 – 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.

❄❄❄❄

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, happily married to fellow painter and illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander). They are devoted to one another, with a circle of friends (including an earsplitting Amber Heard) who love hearing about their blissful wedded life.

The second Lili holds up a dress for Gerda, she realizes that the midwife who assigned her the role of ‘boy’ was greatly mistaken. 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 a deeply unconvincing Redmayne from his death bed.

A blank canvas for the talents of the fiery Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl feels like it should have been released 20 years ago, yet is still bound to find an audience willing to treat it with reverence.

❄❄

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 – 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.

Room is a fab showcase for Larson (nobody is taking her Oscar away).  Like the novel by Emma Donoghue that it is based on, all the film’s action – violence, suicide attempts – are seen through the innocent eyes of little Jack. At least on the page the kid isn’t so screechy.

❄❄

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 a statuesque beauty – Cate Blanchett’s titular blue-blooded 1950s socialite.

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

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

❄❄❄

CRIMSON PEAK

Despite having been marketed as horror, don’t expect Crimson Peak to deliver scares like The Woman in Black.

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 both Hiddles and his Brontë mean girl sister Jessica Chastain, Edith marries Hiddles and returns to England to live at his decomposing goo-mansion, where gross red clay oozes through the walls and floorboards. Oh, and there’s a ghost, too.

❄❄❄

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. 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.

Kylo fighting the granddaughter of his namesake? It’s not really the “deeply and profoundly satisfying” ending Colin 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. Fans can accept space wizards, telekinesis and ghosts, but reincarnation is getting a bit silly, right?

What do you think?

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

Mini reviews: My favourite space heroines!

The Force Awakens is released this week!

And the latest Star Wars chapter looks set to have some intriguing female characters – as Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie join new lead Daisy Ridley.

The production has been shrouded in secrecy, so little is known about their roles just yet. But in honour of The Force Awakens, here are my favourite heroines set among the stars…

Elizabeth Shaw: Prometheus (2012) 

It probably helps that I’m not a scientist. In fact, I was terrified of the school lab because of all the stories that other pupils told me about accidental immolation or experiments gone wrong. And the teacher was as scary as the Engineer Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw tangles with in this Alien prequel.

Perhaps because of my relatively unscientific inclination, I can ignore most of the nonsense in Prometheus. (Although I appreciate that having an 8ft alien land on your abdomen after you had a caesarean might rule out hand-to-hand combat, rappelling and running.)

And yes, archaeologist Shaw’s ‘no weapons’ stance to exploring an alien planet isn’t very clever. But she’s a woman of single-minded determination, leading an expedition of doomed idiots to answer the biggest question of all: Why are we here?

Once her feeble team have predictably been picked off, she dusts herself down to further her quest for knowledge and truth. I salute you, Elizabeth Shaw!

Princess Leia: 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. And although we’re told that Lucas hadn’t yet decided she was destined to be Luke’s sibling, there are still some clues to her true identity.

While her brother has a reputation as one of cinema’s greatest whiners, there’s never any doubt Leia is a survivor.

Dr Ryan Stone: Gravity (2013)

Watching Sandra Bullock spin through space, I discovered that Gravity triggers vertigo, so it’s definitely not one I can go back to watch on repeat. 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, astronaut Dr Ryan Stone finds herself stranded when 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 really sci-fi – this is our present-day Earth, complete with technological limits. This helps make Stone even more engaging than a character in a futuristic or fantastical setting. She 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.