Tag Archives: movie reviews

FILM REVIEW Solo: A Star Wars Story might have been suited to TV streaming series

I was sceptical when Alden Ehrenreich – who doesn’t look or sound anything like Harrison Ford – was cast as young Han. Where Ford is tall, rangy, and rugged, Alden could be a member of a galactic boy band (except he’s solo).

After a troubled production and reports of an acting coach, it seemed as if the odds of Alden successfully navigating young Han were approximately 3,720 to 1.

But the wise-cracking smuggler never did set much store by the odds, ‘cos if you have enough swagger, you can pull anything off. So I can vaguely imagine Alden maturing into Original Trilogy Han. (Way better than I could reconcile Hayden Christensen with the man in the mask – even after I watched it lowered onto his charred face.)

For starters, Solo is a straightforward, pulpy adventure that introduces young Han on his scuzzy home planet of Corellia, long before he met a Princess and fathered a Supreme Idiot. He’s serving a slimy crime boss, a bit like Rey did on Jakku, except Han and his girl Qi’Ra clearly have time for appointments at the hair salon.

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

Beckett is stealing hyperfuel for a crime syndicate, but at the first sight of pirates, Han drops his shipment, angering boss Dryden Vos. He wants his fuel or else, so it’s all aboard the Falcon for that infamous Kessel Run. Dryden orders Qi’Ra, now his top lieutenant, to supervise them.

Now Han could be such a dark character: he grew up in Corellia’s murky underworld as a child slave, he fought for the Empire on a planet resembling a WWI hellscape, he lost his childhood sweetheart. But all he wants is to be a cool pilot and make a quick buck.

But Qi’Ra knows that under the cocky attitude, he’s one of the good guys. (Was it just me or did a certain bad guy look happy to get ‘closer’ to Emilia Clarke’s Bond girl femme fatale? Isn’t he a cyborg/robotic below the waist?)

Given the box office, sequels are unlikely, and there’s going to be a lot of analysis about what went ‘wrong’. I’m no expert, but Rogue One benefited from novelty and from charged audiences wanting something to sustain them until Episode VIII.

Solo feels very “Adventures of Young Han” – perhaps suited to Disney’s new streaming channel. It lacks the ‘event’ feel and the awe that Star Wars, including Rogue One, has always inspired.

And no, I didn’t get the significance of the dice either. 🎲🎲

Tomb Raider’s Terrible Reboot. (OK it was more ‘meh’ than terrible.)

tombraider

London has never looked like a better location for a twee romantic comedy than it does at the start of the rebooted Tomb Raider, a capable origin story and actioner with no sense of humour or wonder.

Kickboxing at a local gym and bantering with her bicycle courier co-workers, Lara Croft is slumming it harder than most; all she has to do is sign some documents declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead, and she inherits a fortune.

Although he’s been gone for seven years, Lara (Alicia Vikander) adamantly refuses to accept that Richard Croft – superrich business man, adventurer and aristocrat – is no more. Flashbacks show the Crofts in sappier times, where West keeps calling Lara by the nickname “Sprout”, and declaring “Daddy loves you”.

Swede Alicia Vikander is a good actress, whatever those three crazy Michael Fassbender stans say. She makes a tomboyish Lara, whose defining characteristic is bullheaded stubbornness. Having beaten the likes of Daisy Ridley for the role, she’s convincingly English enough to be to the (Croft) manor born.

While participating in an illegal and reckless bike chase through our capital’s streets, Lara crashes into a police patrol car. Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), an associate at Croft’s company, pops up to post bail and warn Lara that if she doesn’t claim her inheritance, her father’s estate will be sold off.

I must check and see if Scott Thomas did any interviews to promote this artistic endeavour, because I just live for her rants about life as an ageing actress. The still beautiful KST grits her teeth at the sight of Vikander’s dewy prettiness, and wishes the fool had been crunched under those car wheels.

Oblivious to the KST death rays, Lara stumps into swanky Croft HQ to meet lawyer Derek Jacobi. She finds her father’s secret office, and his message detailing his research into Himiko, the mythical Japanese queen known as “the mother of death” or something. Richard warns Lara to destroy his work, in case it ends up in the wrong hands.

Hot on the trail of her father’s final destination, Lara heads east but gets captured by mercenaries funded by a shadowy organisation called Trinity, who definitely qualify as the wrong hands. They’d been failing at locating Himiko’s resting place when Lara turned up with Croft’s map, which pinpoints the exact spot the tomb is hidden.

Earlier in the movie we saw a waifish Ruby Rose lookalike easily put Lara in a headlock, but her survival instinct really kicks in, as she overpowers the hired toughs in hand-to-hand combat, before discovering Richard Croft living as a Tom Hanks castaway. He mutters, “Ignore it, it’s not real, it’ll go away, it always does,” when Lara appears, which is what my dad always says when he sees me.

Seconds later Lara’s dear old pa is back to normal. So did Sprout go to Oxford, or Cambridge? Look, Lord Sprout, this girl keeps landing on her thick skull, and the only reason there’s no damage is because she’s so dense.

Sigh. Croft performs amateur surgery on an injured Lara/Sprout and finally – it’s time to raid some tombs! Or rather, stop other people from raiding them in the case of the Trinity morons versus Himiko.

In what could be the start of an exciting-sounding premise (shame it comes at the end), Lara discovers that Trinity is actually a subsidiary of Croft Holdings, and a front for a secret organisation hunting for mysterious artifacts to control humanity. If Scott Thomas is in on it, believe me, they’ll be looking for the elixir of eternal youth 24/7. I know how she ticks.

FILM REVIEW: Black Panther

The Hollywood Reporter recently pointed out the obvious; even Jennifer Lawrence can’t open a movie. Studios don’t look to big star names any longer, but to brands like Marvel.

Now I’ve always thought superhero or comic book movie blockbusters were empty calories. This is unpopular I know, but Marvel makes me feel like I overindulged on Haribo candy (and the DCEU can feel like toothache).

Luckily, Black Panther isn’t another glib Marvel product, but a self-contained story about family, duty and honour. Set in the fictional African country of Wakanda, the War of the Panthers is a kid-friendly Game of Thrones, where cousins and different tribes fight for power, and the future of the kingdom hinges on revelations about an individual character’s parentage.

The language, artwork, costumes and makeup of this mythical land echo real-world African traditions, while the fantasy element Vibranium  is the source of Wakanda’s secret high-tech infrastructure.

The new king T’Challa is no flashy show-off à la Tony Stark, even if his royal duties include dressing up like a panther. He’s a noble character haunted by the death of his father and torn between protecting his people and overcoming his nation’s isolationism.

It’s a credit to Chadwick Boseman that his graceful performance doesn’t get blasted off the screen by Michael B. Jordan’s swaggering, vicious Killmonger, who wants to swipe the throne and the panther suit, and lead the country in a more hawkish direction.

Killmonger might even have clawed his way into the Top Ten Movie Villains of All Time. Because the superhero is king, the superhero is the brand, but the performances are key. If Hollywood is committed to saving the endangered species of the mega-movie star, it won’t find a worthier candidate.

It’s a strong cast: Angela Bassett is regal as the Queen Mother, Lupita Nyong’o is headstrong as T’Challa’s on-off love interest, while Winston Duke’s renegade tribal leader looks like Khal Drogo but is actually a cuddly vegetarian – and I know I’m not alone in spotting the GoT parallels, as Daniel Kaluuya made the link a year ago.

I zoned out during the casino scene and the car chase; seeing how they are two of my least favourite things in movies. Yet beneath the special effects, there’s a gentle, sincere exploration of Wakandan politics and culture which makes Black Panther a fresh addition to the comic book genre.

New to streaming & DVD: Wind River lingers like a chill…

windy

I wish I hadn’t watched Wind River on a Saturday morning. It’s an evening movie; when it’s over, you can lock your doors and hopefully not have nightmares.

That’s the unsettling effect Taylor Sheridan’s latest had on me. I’m currently working through some of the most buzzed-about movies of 2017, and of course this was something I wanted to see.

Sheridan’s screenwriting career so far has given us the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, and the Denis Villeneuve-directed Sicario, which starred Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent helplessly mixed up with shady alphas Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the war on drugs.

In Wind River – Sheridan’s first time as writer-director – Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner is another FBI agent out of her depth, this time not in Sheridan’s native Texas but in the wintry wild west of Wyoming.

Jurisdictional matters have dragged Banner in to investigate the death of a teenage Native American girl, who was found frozen and barefoot in the snowy tundra by Jeremy Renner’s quiet wildlife officer, Cory Lambert, for whom the case has disturbing echoes of his own grief.

Technically Olsen is in charge of the investigation, but with his deep connections to the land and to the dead girl’s marginalized community, the story belongs to Renner’s softly-spoken cowboy as he supports the outsider FBI and the tribal police.

Olsen is not completely robbed of agency like Sicario’s Kate Macer, yet she has no backstory, and we never learn what makes her so driven.

She looks like she should be reading the news in a warm studio somewhere, as she is comically underprepared for the conditions and isolation (‘Shouldn’t we just maybe wait for some backup?’ she bats her lashes. ‘This isn’t the land of backup, Jane … this is the land of “you’re on your own.”‘)

Where Macer was caught at the border by political forces beyond her control, Banner plants face-first into a community blighted by poverty, addiction and hopelessness. I wasn’t sure if she was merely incompetent and inexperienced, or if she was truly meant as a symbol for governmental disinterest and mishandling.

The violence, when it comes, is more personal and depressingly universal, but no less brutal and shocking.

Verdict? Despite the shaky camera triggering my vertigo, I thought Wind River was another well-made action thriller. Renner and Olsen are great, but I don’t feel that the movie is as ambitious or exciting as Sicario, perhaps because it lacks the tension and moral conflict between the leads.

Sheridan really stands out for his dialogue, and as auteur he delivers on a similar level to previous directors of his scripts, especially in the realistic-yet-stylish bursts of violence, and that creepy sense of dread that outlasts the film.

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

FILM REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Light Between Oceans is Instagram-worthy, if not awards-worthy

The Light Between Oceans, or as I keep calling it – The Light Between Oscars – was once quite buzzy, tipped to give Alicia Vikander another shot at Best Actress after she lifted the trophy for The Danish Girl in 2016.

Based on a very popular work of historical fiction by M.L Stedman, an Australian serviceman, Tom Sherbourne (Fassy), returns from WWI. He marries Isabel (Vikander), and they go and live in his remote lighthouse.

After Isabel suffers two harrowing miscarriages, a lifeboat with a dead man and a squalling baby washes ashore.

A hesitant Fassy lets his wife keep the baby and raise her as their own. Things then take a Hardyesque twist when Fassy stumbles across Hannah (Rachel Weisz) weeping beautifully beside a memorial at the same church where the Sherbournes are holding their child’s christening.

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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Entertainment One

This is, I think, the first big studio film by Derek Cianfrance, director of the indie hit Blue Valentine (skipped it – Ryan Gosling does my head in).

Light is a melodramatic, sweeping romance but Vikander is so intense, and the premise so far-fetched, that early on I wondered if it would veer off into psychological horror, with the lighthouse and the baby manifestations of the character’s break with reality.

After that early, creepy suspense, it gets really overwrought, with an ending that felt badly rushed.

Rachel Weisz is surprisingly a gentle undercurrent to the lighthouse couple; Fassy gives a very reserved, stoic performance as the traumatized veteran, while the new Lara Croft Vikander is a storm to be reckoned with once again.

As husband and wife, they have an interesting chemistry and are quite contrasting onscreen. Vikander is still such an ingénue it looks like Fassbender might have plucked a child bride from the sea. He’s a rarefied thespian; she’s raw and tumultuous.

By all means, I think people should see The Light Between Oceans, just for all the talent on board. It is probably the most beautiful film of last year, with the stunning coast and stark lighthouse interiors. You could Instagram the living daylights out of it.

NETFLIX REVIEW: To the Bone…

to-the-bone-sundance-e1495026297494-03To the Bone opens with two alien stick figures walking down a bright corridor. It’s peaceful, as the beings glide from the light towards the camera.

….and into a group therapy session/art class. A girl is feigning righteous anger at magazines for promoting thinness, when a sarcastic voice interrupts.

“Ugh. Society’s to blame. The world is so unfair. I have to die.” Meet Ellen (Lily Collins), a twenty-year-old anorexic artist bored out of her mind. “There’s no point in blaming everybody. Live with it,” she sneers, before holding up a crude sign saying “suck my skinny balls.”

Not eating makes you cranky. The anorexic Queen of Shade – in off-duty model chic – goes to the middle-class Californian home of her stepmother and half-sister, where she does sit-ups, counts calories, and misses meals. Anorexic stuff.

Ellen’s mother and her lesbian partner are living at their ranch in Arizona and “feeling blessed” on Facebook. Ellen’s father is always working, and interestingly, he’s never onscreen.

His wife, Ellen’s stepmom, played by Carrie Preston, is the driving force behind finding a new specialist, Dr Beckham. He’s described as ‘unconventional’, although it’s not clear why. Perhaps because he’s good-looking and played by Keanu Reeves. He agrees to treat Ellen, as long as she is admitted as an inpatient.

She moves to Threshold, a facility for young people with anorexia and other types of eating disorder such as bulimia and binge eating disorder. Here she befriends a young Brit patient named Luke, who is an annoying show-off. He already knows who Ellen is, thanks to a whole angsty subplot about her Tumblr artwork supposedly inspiring a girl’s suicide.

Family therapy with Keanu Reeves proves to be a waste of time, although it does allow the film to communicate the contemporary understanding that eating disorders are complex conditions with no single ’cause’. The film is also good at portraying the powerlessness and frustration that families often feel.

Viewers are likely to be as confused as Ellen’s sister, wondering why she doesn’t “just eat.” Anorexia is abstract and internal. Films can show emaciation with weight loss, body doubles, makeup and CGI. But anorexic thoughts, or a compulsive urge to get ‘down to the bone’, is a challenge for storytellers.

Perhaps anorexia could be better explored through fantastical, less literal means. To the Bone’s opening moments promised something more creative, and Ellen’s out-of-body experience where she sees her malnourished form with a different lens also had the inkling of something more original.

As balance, there’s a cringe-making dance scene that goes on forever, as artsy dance scenes tend to do.

Verdict: Lily Collins proves there is more to life than being beautiful and the product of nepotism. To the Bone is a conventional teen drama, with a message of hope, recovery, and fighting for your own identity.

FILM REVIEW: Alien: Covenant

There are probably certain things you just know about yourself – like whether or not you’d be cut out for daring interplanetary exploration. Personally, I can confidently say I wouldn’t be much good.

However, in this sci-fi franchise, I’d be well-qualified. From the hardscrabble marines of Aliens to the inept scientists of Prometheus, Xenomorph Expedition’s workforce aren’t exactly first pick.

This brings us to the Covenant, a beautiful hunk of a ship housing a crew of married couples, jolted out of hypersleep by a neutrino burst. (Yes I’m totally going to pretend I know what that is.) Playing nursemaid is Walter (Michael Fassbender), the nice android brother/updated model to Prometheus’ smarmy malcontent David.

Our newly-awakened crew are lured from their target planet by an eerie transmission of sole Prometheus survivor Shaw singing John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’. Upon hearing her, I realized I didn’t care about these new Covenant losers, and I never would.

The only person against deviating from their planned course is Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the Ripley-esque heroine for the journey. Widowed when Captain James Franco got Anakin Skywalker’d in his malfunctioning sleep pod, she’s now second-in-command to Billy Crudup’s wimpy Captain Arm (OK it’s Oram, but it sounded like they were saying ‘arm’).

Daniels and Arm lead some of the other marrieds and a security team to explore this strange new world, and despite knowing nothing about it, they’re soon moaning and stopping for cigarette breaks like it’s a routine rekkie.

Luckily David (minus Shaw – Sob!) is back, so ha-ha for our marrieds! Bye, suckers! David’s been busy experimenting with the Engineer’s black goo, which infects the Covenant idiots, who are so rubbish with firearms they shoot up their own landing craft.

Now, I loved Prometheus. Not just David (the crew were so stupid and hostile you rooted for his evil robot genius) – I loved Shaw, and I loved the blueness, and the weirdness of it. I was probably alone in the universe in just wanting Prometheus 2: More Dodgy Philosophizing Please!

But we know where this sequel-prequel is headed: a CGI face-off with an Xenomorph in the halls of the Covenant. It’s Aliens, minus the snappy dialogue and (my earlier disrespect notwithstanding) the memorable supporting cast.

People who didn’t like Prometheus (there were a fair few) have got their way: Alien Covenant is a return to typical, hardcore blockbuster terrain. Return it to a permanent cryo-sleep. zzzz

👾👾

FILM REVIEW: Ghost in the Shell

The live-action Ghost in the Shell is a box office dud then, and there are people who are really happy about that. Not necessarily because they are die-hard fans of the original Japanese manga and anime, but because of so-called “whitewashing”.

To some, this movie was actually an “opportunity” to cast a hitherto largely unknown Japanese or Asian-American actress, instead of a big Hollywood star. But Paramount hired Scarlett Johansson, the Tony Award-winning actress who looks good in a catsuit.

Her character is Mira, or Major. Created by the shadowy Hanka Robotics, her brain is housed in a fully cybernetic body. People have all kinds of cutting-edge enhancements, like X-ray vision, but Mira is the first of her kind and the future of humanity.

As an agent of an elite government task force called Section 9, she is dispatched across a grimy, futuristic city to fight criminals like the mysterious hacker Kuze. (Forget whitewashing ‘cos the robot workforce is coming to take everyone’s jobs.)

Very mature themes and concepts were posed by the cult 1995 anime movie, but this 12A (or PG-13) remake really struggles doesn’t much bother with questions like: “What is it to be human in a technologically advanced society?”

Ghost is essentially a dark, stylish actioner that doesn’t get too philosophical. As with director Rupert Sanders’ debut movie Snow White and the Huntsman, it’s remarkable for its dazzling visuals and sounds.

The performances match the spectacle, with Pilou Asbæk as Major’s second in command, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano as their boss, Juliette Binoche as the scientist Dr Oulet, and Michael Pitt as the villain. Johansson, for her part, has onscreen appeal and proven action prowess. She might not be able to open a $100 million movie, but she can carry one.

This isn’t a kitschy fun film, like her 2014 sci-fi hit Lucy. It isn’t as famous a property as other recent blockbuster releases, like ‘Kong’ or ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and it just didn’t capture the public imagination. Ultimately, Ghost seemed doomed to fail.

Still, it isn’t the travesty that the 46% Rotten Tomatoes rating suggests. (The casting negativity may have had a discouraging effect on critics.) Yes, the story needed more work, but the soundtrack, the cool visuals, and the acting make it a solid three out of five stars.

FILM REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

I was never a Disney kid. I managed to avoid nearly all the studio’s nineties hits, including the ‘classic’ Beauty and the Beast. The only Disney animation I ever saw on a reasonably big screen was The Lion King, and that was just because I was trapped on a ferry to France at the time.

So I wasn’t going to take umbrage with the live-action remake offensive that Disney seems to be on these days.

Still, I was aware there was a lot of fuss surrounding this particular release. For starters, Belle –  Ms. Emma Watson – is said to have passed on La La Land for the role, which is pretty understandable; nobody could have known that the Damian Chazelle-directed feature was going to become such an overrated hype job.

And luckily, Watson has come up smelling of roses. She’s made serious bank as Belle and will now have first pick of future roles. She’s young enough and pretty enough – she’ll get her Oscar. Cynicism intended.

Problem no. 2: Watson has also been front and centre in the media selling Beauty as a modern, empowering, feminist take on the fairy tale. For what it’s worth, I thought Belle is brave and courageous. Although a simple village girl, she knows her own mind and has no trouble rejecting Luke Evans’s ghastly Gaston.

So despite all the concerns that the movie was going to be a retread of a ‘problematic’ tale, once the friendship between Belle and Beastie is established, he’s revealed as her intellectual equal, and thankfully he doesn’t turn on her like a snarling dog later on.

To my utter surprise, Emma Watson is not nails-down-a-chalkboard. (Maybe she wouldn’t have been bad in La La Land; she can’t particularly sing, but then neither can Emma Stone.)

The rest of the cast are all on good form, including Ewan McGregor as a candlestick holder, Ian McKellen as a clock, Emma Thompson as a teapot, Dan Stevens as the Beast, Kevin Kline as Belle’s pa, and Josh Gad as Gaston’s sidekick Le Fou (what gay storyline?).

If I’m going to nitpick, I’d say it’s too long and I wasn’t 100% on the Beast’s CGI, but my audience applauded and I’ve been happily humming the songs since I left the cinema.

Mini movie reviews for 2017!

There was a monumental flub at the Oscars ceremony this year: I wasn’t invited! The organizers obviously read my blog and know I don’t like travelling. Yes, yes, that must be it.

I’m not going to hold it against them.  Instead, I’m going to mini review some of the movies nominated in various categories. Starting with the biggies, like Best Actor and Picture..

Manchester by the Sea

Deep in a wintry Boston suburb, depressed janitor Lee (Casey Affleck) has his guilt-ridden existence ruined by the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), forcing him to return to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea to care for teen nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges).

Like another Oscar contender, Jackie, it’s all about planning a funeral, except here the ground is too hard and cold to bury the dead. Flashbacks show Lee as a boisterous man married to Michelle Williams. The couple have a shared tragedy – the reason for Lee’s misery and why he can’t stay.

I don’t know how Kyle Chandler came up with this Hedges kid, but he’s fine (cringe-worthy crying scene aside) as a selfish teen who doesn’t want his grimy life uprooted, or to be stuck with a violent, inarticulate time bomb – Affleck has a terrifying authenticity that the likes of Gosling couldn’t match.

I didn’t find it too harrowing thanks to the well-observed humour, but it’s very long – whether it’s a bona fide masterpiece or just another well-made Sundance indie.

La La Land

“I hate jazz,” says Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia to jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) at the start of their relationship. Ugh, me too. And I know little about the Hollywood Golden-Age movie musicals that La La is a ‘tribute’ to.

My ignorance granted, there seemed to be a lack of memorable knockout numbers. I thought the waltz and tap were nice and the music and voices thin – are we going to be singing tunes from this five decades from now? City of Stars? What a dirge.

I’ve seen it described as big and bombastic, but I found it a slightly melancholy, albeit  visually lovely treat about two selfish creatives in a dull relationship.

Hyped as a movie for the ages, perhaps that’s because of a lack of competition in the genre.

Captain Fantastic 

Viggo Mortensen is raising six kids in the Pacific Northwest forest, home schooling them and teaching them survival and endurance training.

Eldest son Bo has secretly got into every Ivy. There’s two redheaded interchangeable sisters and a pair of blond moppets, but the only other sprog to emerge from the picture is angry preteen River Phoenix/Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton).

Mom is in a psychiatric facility, when news filters through to the wilderness of her death. The family take their bus to her funeral, and Bo and Rellian discover they’re clueless about the world, while their cousins are Typical Western Teenagers in all their ignorant, idle glory.

I expected a fish-out-of-water comedy, then an agonising teen drama about an overbearing, misguided parent, but it’s a neat little drama that holds back from portraying Ben as either a megalomaniac cult figure or as a saintly man with all the answers.

Kubo and the Two Strings

A stop-motion set in ancient Japan, young Kubo lives in a cave with his ill mother. No ordinary boy, he is a one-eyed storyteller who can bring origami figures to life.

His magical gifts entertain local villagers, but he must be home before dark because his grandfather (Ralph Fiennes) and fluttering Dementor-like aunts want to steal his other eye. When Kubo stays out one night his mother has to use the last of her magic to spirit him away.

Charlize Theron voices Kubo’s monkey-guardian in the kind of bored, superior tone she might use for press interviews.

Kubo got a thumbs up everywhere, and I have to acknowledge the painstaking work that goes into creating something like this, but.. animation leaves me cold.

Doctor Strange 

Bad guys led by Mads Mikkelson vandalise a book and chuck it on the floor, so Smug Superior Being Tilda Swinton goes all Inception on them.

Doctor Strange, an arrogant surgeon, has a car crash and damages his hands, so he comes to Smug and her sorcerers – including Mordo (Chewitel) – for advice on spatial paradoxes and continuum probabilities.

Smug won’t train Strange in case he turns to the dark side and starts damaging library books, but Mordo vouches for him and they have actorly shouting matches, while Mads and Rachel McAdams have settled for more thankless Marvel roles.

At least there’s no metal-clanging showdown of superhero tradition – instead, there’s Parkour and freerunning over buildings and stairways that move and shift, like Hogwarts on acid.

To think I nearly made it through a Marvel thingy without resorting to headache pills. I got vertigo instead. Thanks doc!

Deepwater Horizon

Based on the 2010 offshore rig disaster, early scenes establish Mark Wahlberg as a family man (Kate Hudson will be worried-wife-on-the-phone) with a cutesy movie daughter whose school project explains daddy’s job deepwater drilling.

Soon, we’re off to the rig! Once the one-liners and jokey banter have been mined to completion, wild-eyed BP exec John Malkovich gives Transocean employees grief. If you’ve seen the SNL sketch of Kylo Ren as an Undercover Boss – it’s like that.

Things go wrong, and the action doesn’t let up. But I got the impression the explosion occurred because Malkovich was a money-hungry %$&*. The reality was probably more complex, but the movie does its best to serve as a tribute to the bravery of survivors and those that lost their lives.

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

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 was aghast. It’s a spot-on impersonation, albeit in a ludicrous, spoof kind of way. 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 once Jackie’s bubble has encircled the viewer; the diabolical lead performance almost becomes a grotesque strand 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 (Peter Sarsgaard).

Portman and Kennedy aren’t a great physical match, but even that works – the tiny, frail figure of Portman swallowed up by shock and grief. She looks like a little girl lost 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

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

OK, 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 man (Stephen Campbell Moore) and they’re both media/creative types and have a gorgeous pet 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 combination 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, 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.

👻👻👻

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 randoms (and half-dressed family members) 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?

👻👻👻👻

FILM REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Was anyone surprised Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, starring Eva Green, managed to find a perch at the top of the US and international box offices?

Of course I knew the director Tim Burton has a fan base, but amazingly I had never heard of the source material, which is, er, peculiar, as Ransom Riggs’ YA novel sold millions and has been translated into 40 languages. So now, 20th Century Fox has a hit movie that’s perfect for inspiring this year’s Halloween costumes.

peculiar

20th Century Fox. (Halloween costumes sorted!)

Our young hero is Jake (Asa Butterfield), who has left his Floridian home on the advice of his shrink (Allison Janney) to vacation in rainy Wales. This isn’t because she thinks the trip would be recuperative, but to put to rest Jake’s beloved Grandpa’s (Terence Stamp) tales of growing up in a Welsh orphanage for children with extraordinary abilities.

When his grandpa died in mysterious circumstances, he left Jake with a riddle harking back to those bedtime stories, plus nightmarish memories of a gigantic tentacled creature (hence the shrink) at the scene of his death.

Jake discovers a cave that acts as a gateway to the orphanage, which is stuck on one particular day in 1943 and where the children live in creepy isolation. And they do indeed have abilities; there’s your typical super strength and invisibility, or a girl with razor sharp teeth at the back of her skull, and a boy who seems to have swallowed a hive of bees and likes to belch up a swarm. Count me out of school dinners at this place, thanks.

Jake strikes up a bond with Emma Bloom, a true Burtonesque blonde ingénue who would simply float away if it weren’t for her platform shoes. Ella Purnell is clearly a rising star (she’s played young versions of Angelina Jolie and Keira Knightley), but the romance isn’t convincing. Butterfield is yet to grow into much of a presence, while Emma Bloom is not only blooming beautiful, but also an octogenarian who used to fancy Jake’s granddad.

Headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) is a “Ymbryne”, meaning she can both a) manipulate time and b) transform into a falcon. The ever-luminous Green is the movie’s emotional heart as a mother bird protecting her young from nasties like Samuel L. Jackson’s (underwritten) mad scientist and the eyeball-chomping Hollowgasts.

Plenty of top level talent has been drafted in for what are effectively cameos, including Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd and Judi Dench, but there are too many faceless young peculiars (quite literally, in the case of the invisible kid and the creepy masked twins).

jakeperegrine

20th Century Fox

The movie has some scary imagery, but the smaller kids in my theatre seemed pretty blasé about it all. And it wasn’t the dark fantasy elements that I found unnerving. Being cursed with a set of teeth at the back of your skull would be a tough break, as would dodging evil creatures that want to eat you. Being forced to spend an eternity at school as a young child? That would be hellish.

There is one young peculiar named Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) who has prophetic dreams – why did he have to hide? Couldn’t he pass as ‘normal’? Horace doesn’t have a big role, yet he is possibly the most disturbing character. Perhaps it’s just a big thing about Horace in the books and they decided to keep it, but his old worldy manners and fixation with clothes and tailoring was quite eerie. It’s as if incarceration in what is effectively A PRISON WORLD has unhinged the lad – even Asa Butterfield managed to look alarmed.

The most haunting moment comes just before the Luftwaffe drop a bomb on the orphanage. Miss Peregrine has gathered her pupils to reset the day, as she does every day, and she plays the popular WW2 era song Run Rabbit Run on the gramophone. We know Grandpa witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust (Hollowgast?), and it’s a shame the movie fails to engage further with the historical context.

There’s something skin-creeping about the movie, like the Victorian era “freak show”, that feels very Burton. Peregrine is a bit like one of those jaunty nursery rhymes with some deeply sinister meaning – it’s just that nobody is really clear what that meaning is.

Based on the first of a trilogy, perhaps there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t translate, and I would need a “loop” of my own to go back and understand the time travel twists. If Peregrine does enough business, we might get three more big screen instalments (the final book would be split into two, naturally).

I’m sure I’ll watch them if they happen, but for someone who spent their childhood (and adulthood) secretly hoping they’d fall through a wardrobe into Narnia, this is one fictional fantasy world I would not want to visit.