Tag Archives: movies

catherine steadman something in the water movie

BOOK REVIEW: Something in the Water….

While scuba diving on your dream honeymoon, you discover something sinister. Do you a) report it to the authorities b) speed away and pretend it didn’t happen, or c) get in way over your head?

Sadly some people – like film school grad Erin and her jobless banker husband Mark – don’t make good choices.

Catherine Steadman’s debut isn’t exactly a hidden gem. In the UK I couldn’t avoid the hype, while across the pond it was a New York Times Bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon book club pick. (Steadman is an accomplished actress herself, with Downton Abbey among her credits.)

With Witherspoon’s new production company Hello Sunshine set to make the Something in the Water movie, normally I would have been all over this like a shark in a feeding frenzy, but it was described as a ‘beach read’, which put me off. (Granted, that term gets chucked around a lot.)

Luckily, I took the plunge when Jonetta @Blue Mood Cafe recommended it!

After a much-admired opening chapter, we head backwards as our narrator Erin plans an exclusive wedding followed by a honeymoon on Bora Bora, and we’re treated to sumptuous descriptions of super-first class travel and deluxe wedding menus.

Their showy lifestyle is funded by Mark’s job in investment banking, while Erin has a creative background and is working on a documentary about prisoners on the verge of release.

Her greatest catch is a gangland legend named Eddie Bishop, who knows a scary amount about Erin. But she has bigger problems; before the honeymoon, Mark lost his job in spectacular, escorted-from-the-building-by-security fashion.

Then they find something in the water that could literally change their fortunes forever – if they’re smart. Ahem.

The narrative is shadowed by the fear and mistrust caused by the financial crash, and the subtleties of the class system. When Erin visits the home of another one of her prisoners, she is paranoid about sounding condescending or bourgeois.

Yet while Mark – used to babysitting wealthy clients – flies First Class like it’s no big deal, Erin is a fish out of water. She quickly learns that having real money isn’t all about buying nice things, so much as it’s about avoiding the rules.

The sickly way Mark talks to Erin – like she needs constant soothing and reassurance – grates, but then she really ramps up the stupid, making rookie criminal mistakes (not that I’m an expert!) and being really, really slow on the uptake, so maybe he was right.

I know some readers expected more confrontation or climax, but the story is less about who the bad guys are and what they want, and more about what greed and dishonesty do to normal people, and how much we ever truly know each other, even that stunning Millennial couple with the perfect life.

“Careful what you wish for…”

🌴🌴🌴🌴

Mini movie reviews for the weekend!

I live on an island, and I have to get a boat to see most of the cooler stuff on at cinemas. But with movies coming out so fast on digital platforms and DVD, why spend all that money on choppy trips to the multiplex?

Flatliners 

How did the Oscars miss this little gem about five medical students stopping their hearts to experience the afterlife?

It starts out strong thanks to a talented cast including Ellen Page and Diego Luna. Keifer Sutherland cameos but he’s not reprising his role from the original and imparting any wisdom like “Don’t stop your hearts!” so it seems pointless.

With such a great cast, I’d have loved a dark psychological drama about ambitious, cutthroat young medics playing God. Sub-par horror.

Ingrid Goes West 

Aubrey Plaza gains your sympathy and alarm as a woman with an unspecified mental disorder whose only meaningful connection comes via Instagram. With inheritance money she heads to California to trick her way into insta-star Taylor Sloane’s seemingly perfect life.

But where Instagram is just a career tool for blandly commercial Taylor, for needy Ingrid it’s toxic. After a suspenseful and sun bleached hour of social media satire, the final act becomes more of a “psycho” thriller, and possibly sends confused messages about mental health.

The Limehouse Golem

The late Alan Rickman was set to lead this lurid, Ripper-style mystery, until his illness meant Bill Nighy took over as the elegant Inspector Kildare, investigating the grisly Limehouse murders.

Music-hall star Lizzie Cree is on trial for killing her husband – who Kildare suspects may have been the infamous Golem. Hoping to save the angelic-looking accused from the gallows, he dashes around an atmospheric Victorian London (it’s a treat to see Karl Marx pop up as a suspect).

An entertaining spin on the never-subtle dead prostitute genre. Nighy is softly restrained, but Olivia Cooke – who looks like a cross between Carey Mulligan and Jenna Coleman – is the standout.

Victoria & Abdul 

Queen Victoria had her summer home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. She holidayed here with her family, and it’s where she retreated during her long mourning for Prince Albert.

The widowed Queen’s relationship with John Brown was dramatized with Judi Dench and Billy Connolly in 1997. Dench returns opposite Ali Fazal as Indian manservant Abdul, who incited jealousy and panic among her household and the imperialist government, including son Bertie (Eddie Izzard).

Dench’s frail old lady might be Empress of India, but she’s outlived her loved ones, and feels trapped and lonely. It’s a devastating depiction of old age. I think it’s meant as a feelgood, comedy-drama like The King’s Speech, but the larky tone and silent comedy jar with the classism and racism of the British Raj.

Viceroy’s House 

Following WWII, the British Empire was dying, and Victoria’s great-grandson Louis Mountbatten was dispatched to the Indian subcontinent to bury the Raj with dignity.

The 1947 partition of India triggered one of the bloodiest upheavals in history. Here it gets the Downton Abbey treatment, with a fictional ‘upstairs, downstairs’ romance between two servants in the Viceroy’s palace. It’s a stately, well-lit costume drama. Not my cup of tea.

mother!

Jennifer Lawrence is in an unpleasant relationship as dutiful wife to selfish creative Javier Bardem. When her quiet home is invaded by uninvited guests Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, Bardem won’t tell them to shove it, much to Lawrence’s dismay.

mother! feels like a bad M. Night Shyamalan, before it becomes an unmistakable Darren Aronofsky fever dream. An ambitious climate change allegory which draws incoherently on the Bible, it’s messy and chaotic, but JL is a force of nature.

All the Money in the World

This is where they recast Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer so that audiences and Oscar voters wouldn’t be distracted by the misconduct allegations against the former. It’s based on the 1973 kidnapping ordeal of tragic John Paul Getty III in Italy, and how the boy’s tight-fisted billionaire grandpa had to have his arm twisted to pay the ransom.

Of all the movies I’ve just reviewed, this is the one with the most general appeal. It’s watchable, but there’s something airless about it.  It’s strongest point is Michelle Williams and her chemistry with negotiator Mark Wahlberg.

 

The Book Blogger Insider Tag!

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Hi everyone! My focus recently has been on reviews, especially movie reviews. I wanted to open up my blog and vary the posts a bit, and Q&As always tend to be popular. Thanks to Jenny in Neverland for this open book tag!

Top 3 Book Pet Peeves

a) When people ask “..and what are you reading at the moment?” with the anticipation that you’ll confess you only ever read Vogue magazine…b) When someone spills orange juice (or any kind of beverage) on my books. It’s only happened to me once, but it was my teacher and she practically marinated Amanda Foreman’s Duchess of Devonshire biography…c) Books that are too big to sit on my shelves and have to be laid flat. Grrr.

Perfect Reading Spot

At home somewhere. Especially next to a radiator. Or if it’s sunny, I’ll sit in the garden with my cat.

3 Book Confessions

a) I nearly always think the book is better than the film.. b) I feel awful if I don’t finish a book – I expect a lot of people feel like that! I had to force myself to finish Swing Time by Zadie Smith…c) Books are forever and parting with them is hard.

Last Time You Cried Reading a Book

I did tear up a bit at the end of The Lost Wife. It’s by Alyson Richman, who I think has a background in art history. It’s a very beautiful romance set against the backdrop of the Holocaust – the romance didn’t affect me, but the camps at Terezin and Auschwitz, were, sadly, very real.

Number of Books on Your Bedside Table

Zero. I keep a ‘to be read’ pile in a corner on my desk. If I fall asleep in bed with a book I wake up with it on my chest. And my cat near my head.

Favourite Reading Snack

No snacks! I drink an iced coffee.

3 Books You’d Recommend to Anyone

Lion was a great memoir, better even than the film, which was good too. I loved American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to everyone, so…Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield feels like an ‘anyone’ book. Harry Potter is always a good distracting read that most people could enjoy.

A Picture of Your Favourite Bookshelf

Um, I really don’t have one! Nearly all my books are in stacks or in boxes. One day, if I have a favourite bookshelf, I’ll post a photo.

How Much Books Mean to You (in 3 words)

Quite a lot.

Biggest Reading Secret

I remain committed to physical books. I love the smell of newly-bought books, although there is often something about the smell of secondhand books that I don’t like.

Sometimes I get an electronic copy as back up, to make it easier for me to get through, especially if I’m not enjoying it or if I’m tired. I find varying the medium helps break the experience up. Also e-books make it easier to go back and look for something, and make notes. Yes it’s pricier, but I don’t read that many books (for a book blogger) and it’s a worthwhile way to spend my time.

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That’s all and thanks for reading! I’m excited to have several book reviews coming up on my blog over the summer, and I’ll also be posting short reviews on my Instagram page. Bye for now, L.

Young Solo Adventures would have been better suited to streaming and the small screen

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, chisel-jawed 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. Better than I could reconcile Hayden Christensen with the man in the mask, even after I watched it lowered onto his charred face.

Solo is a fairly straightforward, pulpy adventure that introduces 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 have more time for hair salon appointments.

After an escape bid sees Qi’Ra captured, Han signs up for the Empire – who use the Imperial March in recruiting drives. Kicked out the Academy, he meets pro thief Tobias Beckett (the least imaginative SW name) and co. 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.

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.

Qi’Ra knows that under the cocky attitude, Han’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?)

Anyway, Emilia does a great mix of resigned and ambitious, a survivor in too deep. She’s more interesting than her former flame, and the other female characters – so much for Thandie Newton’s ‘prominent’ role, while Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hyped droid L3 doesn’t get the same chance to shine as Rogue One’s K-2SO.

Considering the weekend box office, mooted sequels are unlikely.  I wonder why they didn’t do “Adventures of Young Han Solo” on Disney’s new streaming channel. Then Alden would have been TV Han.

There’s going to be a lot of analysis about ‘what went wrong’. Perhaps Rogue One benefited from the novelty of being the first ‘standalone’, and from charged audiences wanting something to sustain them until Episode VIII. Plus Darth Vader going berserk in the rebel-rousing finale probably helped.

There just wasn’t the enthusiasm for a full movie about a non-Force user. Now Obi-Wan on the other han……

NETFLIX: Annihilation – future cult classic or subpar sci-fi?

A meteorite streaks past the camera. It carries some kind of alien mineral, and it ain’t Vibranium. It smashes into a lighthouse: the invasion of planet Earth has begun.

Ground Zero is covered by an iridescent dome – like a soap bubble, or a gigantic blister. They call it ‘the Shimmer’. Inside, communications fail, and those who enter don’t return. The government are keeping it top secret, but not for long; the phenomenon is expanding, and will eventually swallow up whole cities and states…

‘Annihilation’ started life as the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘weird fiction’ Southern Reach trilogy, where a nameless four-woman crew venture into the unknown Area X. (A fifth turns back.) One, a perpetual student and passionate observer of tide pools known only as “the biologist”, served as narrator.

In Alex Garland’s adaptation, the biologist – now Lena – is played by a characteristically poised, brittle Natalie Portman as an ex-military John Hopkins professor. Flashbacks reveal her cheating on her angelic-looking husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) with Daniel (Interstellar’s David Gyasi).

We see Lena Portmansplaining cellular senescence, AKA aging, to Kane. They playfully argue over whether God can make mistakes, and discuss the unusual ‘silence’ around Kane’s deployment. Kane tenderly says they will be under the same stars, but Lena mocks the idea of pining for her husband.

Kane goes MIA but materializes a year later at their home, clearly unwell. The couple are ambushed and held in a facility where Lena meets creepy wierdo Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who explains that Kane volunteered for and escaped the Shimmer, but is now in multi-organ failure.

With Oscar Isaac on a ventilator, a guilt-wracked Lena joins Ventress on the next Shimmer trip. The rest of the team are all damaged in different ways: an unkempt Tessa Thompson is self-harming physicist Josie, Gina Rodriguez is recovering addict Anya, while geologist Cass is a grieving mother. “We’re all damaged goods here,” she explains.

Inside the Shimmer, radio waves are scrambled and time is distorted. Flowers twist into the human form, deer have tree branches, and alligators have shark teeth.

“The Shimmer is a prism, but it refracts everything,” realizes Josie, meaning DNA gets reshuffled and recombined. When Cass is killed by a mutant bear, its jaws open and her voice screams for help. Josie doesn’t want terror to be her surviving fragment; shoots and buds are already pushing out of her self-harm scars, and she walks peacefully into the flower mannequin forest.

For most, the thought of being broken down and incorporated into this new ecosystem would be grotesque. Ventress rages that it feels like the onset of dementia. Lena realizes that Ventress was already dying and is resigned to her fate, but wants to face the alien entity while still herself.

So is Annihilation about how we accept the inevitable? Some viewers saw it as a movie about cancer, or interpreted the Shimmer as a manifestation of Lena’s guilt. To others it’s a searing depiction of depression, or all about Pokémon. Garland, meanwhile, said he was actually going for something on a theme of self destructiveness.

annihilation swimming pool

F U Humanity!!

OK, but this stupid thing invaded us. And although Lena believes the organism doesn’t ‘want’ anything, it’s hard not to take it personally; there’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool and the artfully arranged skeletons that feel like they sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Despite the triumph of Ex Machina, Paramount had little faith in Annihilation; international rights went to Netflix. American audiences – who had the benefit of experiencing this admittedly visually and aurally accomplished movie on a cinema screen – only gave it a ‘C’ CinemaScore.

Maybe it’s because of the incoherent narrative. Some claim to enjoy the fact that it “doesn’t give us all the answers”. Others might point to the umpteen articles ‘unpacking’ the movie as a sign that it falls back on making audiences feel stupid for finding it all a bit of a muddle.

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 witchy 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 got crunched under those cop 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 pre-recorded 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 the task of locating Himiko’s resting place when Lara turned up with Croft’s map, which pinpoints the exact spot the tomb is hidden on the undocumented island of Yamatai.

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.

Belated Black Panther Review :)

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. And without stars, it argues, studios will be “forced back on machine-honed product, which might be fine entertainment but hardly nourishes the soul”.

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 – which fell from the sky eons ago –  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 righting past wrongs and 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 – especially the movie-star calibre Jordan. 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 M’Baku looks like Khal Drogo (although in a surprising twist he’s actually a cuddly vegetarian).

I’m not alone in spotting the GoT parallels, as Daniel Kaluuya made the link a year ago. He plays W’Kabi, border security chief and one of Wakanda’s more reactionary voices, whose relationship with General Okoye seemed like an afterthought. There’s a pivotal moment in a battle scene which didn’t make sense, as I’d forgotten they were meant to be lovers. Perhaps I zoned out. 😦

I know I zoned out during the casino scene and the car chase; casinos and car chases 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 the most invigorating, sane addition to the comic book genre.

The SOLO trailer saunters on to our screens. I already love Qi’Ra

qira

I wasn’t going to post about the new Star Wars spin-off trailer, when and if it ever arrived. But after being ill and feeling so low, a trailer has been about the most demanding thing I’ve been able to watch and review in weeks.

Solo seems so nonchalant about the whole publicity machine, like it knows it’s a surefire hit anyway. The action scenes, the visuals and the extension of the Star Wars mythology will probably make it another Rogue One.

Of course the cast looks great too. Emilia Clarke, who has really grown on me lately, looks very regal.

Qi’Ra sounds like a Game Of Thrones name, but ‘Kira’ was actually Rey’s original name during The Force Awakens production, and it also crops up a lot in the old pre-Disney books and games. I always thought it was a nod to the director Akira Kurosawa, whose Hidden Fortress was a direct influence on a young George Lucas.

Donald Glover as Lando will walk away with Han’s movie (payback for Han taking the Falcon), while Alden Ehrenreich – who looks and sounds nothing like Harrison Ford – is probably going to be the most divisive element.

Although Alden is diminutive next to Ford’s 6’1, and his voice is nasal-sounding, they’ve still slapped the same hairdo on him that Ford had in the Originals, as if that’ll help. Fans have offered unconvincing in-canon explanations for the physical differences like, “Oh men can have growth spurts really late”, or ‘Voices deepen with age.”

I’ll just accept that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t find someone more like Ford (I think people at Lucasfilm really wanted Alden, and a Ford clone from Kamino would’ve had the door slammed in his face). Alden’s obviously a talented actor, even if he isn’t a movie star/leading man, and he has to make the role his own.

Younger kids and future generations will probably like Alden more than Harrison anyway. He’ll be their definitive Han.

The galaxy is changing.

Mudbound – historical page-turner becomes solemn NETFLIX prestige

“Mudbound is the Oscar movie we need right now,” admonished The Washington Post.

The female-helmed drama about two families – one white, the other black – living side by side in the Jim Crow South, seems to embody the term “Oscar bait”, with its all-star cast and script adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2006 Bellwether Prize-winner (for ‘socially engaged fiction’).

It is also extremely well-timed; it follows in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, and appears during a season when the industry is under scrutiny for its systemic sexism.

One snag – Mudbound is distributed by the inexperienced awards player Netflix, and voters apparently remain sniffy about a streaming service project that shuns traditional theatrical runs.

There was a landslide of articles emphasizing the tough shoot and the transformation of star Mary J. Blige, and warning voters that the movie should not be overlooked.

For me, Mudbound’s Netflix berth (there were no other takers following its Sundance premiere) meant I actually got to see it – while I can’t compare it to its competition, as Oscar movies tend to reach UK screens after awards season.

Narrated by members of both the McAllan and the Jackson families, the story unfolds when stubborn Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) drags his prim wife Laura (a simpering Carey Mulligan) and their small children to a dilapidated shack/farm in the Mississippi Delta, where the frequent rains leave them stranded in acres of mud.

The lives become entangled with those of their share tenants, Hap and Florence Jackson (Blige), who keep house for the McAllans. Their voices are joined by Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and the Jackson’s son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), who are both returning from WWII Europe.

The veterans form a bond that riles racist McAllan patriarch Pappy, while Laura becomes infatuated with her brother-in-law (although unlike the prickly character of Laura in the book, she doesn’t check his shirts for lipstick, or take her frustrations out on Florence).

Some writers have described the movie as focused on Florence and Laura as two Strong Women whose differing views of the world are shaped by race and class. According to Refinery39, “both women…feel the growing weight of a patriarchal society bearing down on their shoulders...”

This is an interesting projection, as writer-director Dee Rees concentrates on the friendship between two men. 6’2 leading man Hedlund’s Jamie is portrayed as more heroic and enlightened, while Ronsel (as played by quirky little character actor Mitchell) is far less remarkable than his book counterpart.

There is a frightening and brutal scene near the end, but so much of Jordan’s historical page-turner has been cut (including a drunken Jamie’s comic encounter with a hapless cow) that I can’t work out why the movie is still a two hour-plus slog.

With a small budget and short shoot, it has a sparse yet epic feel, especially in the flashback scenes, and we get lots of stunning farmland vistas courtesy of Rachel Morrison’s cinematography (the first woman to be Oscar nominated in the category).

Blige got a best supporting actress nod for doing little more than look dignified with her arms crossed, while Dee Rees earned an adapted screenplay nomination for turning a compulsively readable historical suspense into solemn prestige.

The Last Jedi theories died so hard (start the Episode IX speculation)

There was lots of red in The Last Jedi, from the blood-coloured soil of Crait, to Snoke’s crimson throne room. And while critics were in raptures – Rian Johnson is an auteur after all – a lot of hardcore fans were left, well, seeing red.

After watching the film on preview night, I came soaring home like Princess Leia through space. VIII had laughs, lightsabers and a brooding Adam Driver.

Yes, it felt like Star Wars. Like the OT, the sequels are funny (levity is actually good in a movie like this.)

The only thing I hated was Luke’s treatment. I understand from a franchise perspective he had to go, but did they have to make him so repulsive? The only way they could have made him more disgusting would have been to have him hit on Rey.

Still, I get the people bewildered by the backlash. Frankly, certain fans needed to get their heads out of their half-cocked theories.

Silly theory #1: Rey’s parentage.

Sure, before Awakens, I thought Padmé-lookalike Rey was Han and Leia’s kid (sadly for them, it was Kylo), and that Kylo was a Vader-obsessed loser (lol true) wanting to continue the bloodline with Rey (also true).

But if trailers hinted at Rey’s Skywalker identity, it was only to protect the Ben Solo reveal. Half an hour in, a wide-eyed, a guileless Rey turns to Finn and says: “Luke Skywalker. I thought he was a myth.” Neither Han nor Leia knew her, plus she had intriguing romantic tension with Kylo.

I watched Flashback Rey and thought: “That kid’s old enough to remember who her parents are.” When Rey told BB-8 her parents would be back, “one day”, you can tell from Daisy’s delivery that Rey was in denial. As Maz said: she already knew the truth.

So going into VIII, I was quietly confident who her parents weren’t.

ren

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

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

‘Cousins fighting’ never struck me as having the pathos of duelling father and son, but those theories got entrenched, and ‘Reylo’ shippers got attacked (“Yuck – they’re related!”).

Silly theory #2: Snoke = Darth Plaguies 

When I first saw Return of the Jedi, I couldn’t believe the Emperor got chucked down a shaft. Now like the Emperor, Snoke was a powerful Force user. Like the Emperor, he was physically damaged and protected by his guards. And like the Emperor, he could be killed. Yet so many fans thought he was ‘a cool bad guy’ and were more excited by him than Rey and Kylo.

Pet theories – that he was Darth Plagueis and/or a force-sucking vampire from beyond the known galaxy – became canon. But the movie was never about Snoke, just like the originals weren’t about Palpatine. The story is about Rey and Kylo, and in order for Vader’s heir to reach his capacity to get worse, he had to smoke Snoke.

Conclusion: Kill the theories

I’d buy a ticket for Episode IX for Driver’s performance alone. Abrams will be back, book-ending the trilogy, although people hoping he’ll roll back the Reylo romance, or still insisting Rey is a Solo(!) might be in for further disappointment. Perhaps there was some explanation for the Kylo-Rey connection held back from Jedi, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

There are only two theories I’m prepared to stick my neck out for – the good guys will win, and there’ll be another incarnation of the Death Star.

Writing a film blog: what to see in 2018

Well, the new blogging year got off to a stellar blogging start for me. As I tried to streamline and organise my content, my site threw a massive toddler tantrum and created a raft of technical problems.

It’s probably the developmental stage the blog is at – the terrible twos and threes. It’s not a baby anymore, and its parent (me) still hasn’t got a clue.

I never set out with a plan of starting a movie review website. I began blogging about whatever took my fancy, and I quickly discovered I was writing mainly about the random films I watched.

Initially I wrote as if I were working for the neglected arts section of a paper. I was almost apologetic about it. Now, I’d say I’m a blogger/nerd/fan. (Of course I can adapt my style for a range of topics and publications, if any paying editors are reading! 2018 would be a great year to hire me!)

About that content streamlining – I’m going to focus on recent(ish) releases on DVD/digital platforms – both film and television – and on loosely movie-related book reviews, plus news and gossip (for example, sometimes I have really deep thoughts about things like casting for Fantastic Beasts), and of course on 2018 cinema releases.

2018 Movies

Annihilation – Top of many a movie fan’s list. Partly because it is out soon, and partly because it starts with an A. And also because it is directed by Ex Machina’s Alex Garland. In the UK this will find its creepy, weird-science way on Netflix. I am grateful for Netflix.

Ophelia – Daisy Ridley movies are a bit rare right now, but that’s changing! Ophelia will have its Sundance premiere and should hit cinemas later this year.

Tomb Raider  – Is it just me, or are people not rooting for Alicia Vikander? 😦 Prepare for an avalanche of articles and comments about her body.

Mary Magdalene – Gamely providing the whitewashing controversy for the year, Rooney Mara is in the title role, with Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. It’s directed by Garth Edwards (Lion), and will definitely be interesting.

Sicario 2: Soldado – The first Sicario took my breath away. Now hardmen Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin are back, without Emily Blunt or director Villeneuve.

Solo – You hear that Last Jedi backlash Disney? No, of course you don’t – you’re far too busy scrambling to salvage Solo to hear the din. Oh, and counting the $$$.

Mary Queen of Scots – Saorise Ronan has always reminded me of Cate Blanchett, who famously played Elizabeth I. But Ronan is Mary, and Margot Robbie the Tudor queen. I’m a fan (?) of this period of history, so this release is firmly penciled in.

Robin Hood – A new gritty take. I know nothing else about it, except it’s giving me King Arthur vibes. It does star Rogue One’s Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and he plays such a great baddie.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web –  David Fincher and former Lisbeth Salander Rooney Mara are both out over at Sony, in favour of Claire Foy and Don’t Breath’s Fede Alvarez. Claire Foy is hot right now, but Lisbeth?

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – After a rushed and disappointing reveal in the first movie, the most recent photos show Johnny Depp is looking better (slimmer, cooler hair) as villain Grindelwald.

On the blogging skills front, I think it’s important to interact more. 

I have personal goals too, but all lifestyle, photography attempts, career failure, fashion and non film-related book reviews I’m going to shove over to my Instagram page, and maybe eventually start another blog. (I give it five minutes; I hate Instagram.) If anyone wants a followback on Twitter or Insta, let me know. 🙂

Most of all, I just want to finish the first draft of my novel.

But one thing 2017 taught me, is that I’m devastating at sticking to resolutions and lists, when I put my mind to it. I’ve never had a motto before, but my motto for the year is: Do. Or do not. There is no try. What is yours?!

On the Millennial mainline: Murder on the Orient Express

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh off Beauty and the Beast, Josh Gad is the gangster Ratchett’s assistant, bringing us to another problem people have with the movie – Ratchett being played by none other than alleged train wreck Johnny Depp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Jedi: Luke what you made me do

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

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

Living with the legacy of Vader,  it’s not surprising Luke sees the dark side in shadows and minds everywhere. Yet what I saw in The Last Jedi was not the son of Vader, but the son of Owen Lars festering away on that island. The only way he could have been more revolting would have been if he’d hit on Rey.

Chucking the lightsaber over his shoulder may have got a laugh (a very nervous one, in my theatre) but as I watched the story unfold, it struck me that his twin sister should have understood that Luke had gone to a lot of effort to disappear, and let him go.

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

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

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

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

Although he hasn’t always been as well-regarded by the wider public – or by some journalists, incredibly – Hamill was the real acTOR out of the classic trio. Carrie was a true original and a writer, Harrison was the movie star. And Hamill gave a great send-off performance, even if he didn’t agree with the director’s vision.

It’s not Luke’s story now. This is a franchise hoping to pick up new fans. Considering Luke looked like he last took a bath that night on Endor, he probably didn’t have any children to carry on the family name. Unless ‘Broom kid’ (Tamiri Blagg) is Luke’s long-lost son. No, I’m joking, please.

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

Um, so on that note,

xx —-Merry Christmas!—- xx

Cinema 2018 to stay lively with The Crimes of Grindelwald

When Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out last year, it looked like a barrel-scraping side-adventure about the bumbling Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) chasing an escaped zoo around Jazz Age New York.

However, there wasn’t much else on at the cinema, so I mistakenly asked to see Fantastic Creatures, and my review was basically, “Wow how hot is Colin Farrell?!” However, I could see it was the start of a story that promises to tap into the richer HP mythology.

Last month, a cast photo from the sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald gave us our first look at Jude Law’s young(er) Dumbledore, alongside Johnny Depp as the dark wizard Grindelwald.

Filmmakers behind the billion dollar franchise were stunned that the online response focused on Depp and allegations of domestic abuse, prompting director David Yates to release a statement via his agents Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs.

“Duh, he’s literally playing Wizarding Hitler, like literally,” shrugged Yates. “Let’s hope nobody takes a pop at Eddie Redmayne and accuses him of drop-kicking a Niffler. Now that’d be a real PR nightmare!” he laughed.

Colin Farrell – who played Grindelwald in disguise – was very popular in the role. There are worse things than being magically stuck looking like Colin Farrell, especially as Johnny’s Grindelwald looks like an older version of Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys.

In Deathly Hallows we learned that the teenage Grindelwald’s friendship with Dumbledore ended in tragedy. Only when the books were finished did Rowling reveal that Dumbledore was gay and had terrible taste in wizards.

It might sound like the Grindelwald/Dumbledore relationship will blast poor old Newt off the screen, but the magizoologist will hopefully have an interesting dynamic with his war hero brother, Theseus, who is married to Newt’s former (I’m going with unrequited) love, Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz).

Alongside Newt, also back from the first movie are Ezra Miller as the Smoke Monster, Alison Sudol and Katherine Waterston as the charming Goldstein sisters, and comedian Dan Fogler as No-Maj Jacob. I do hope his bakery is doing well.

I watch things like this to see what talented actors do with their characters, and I love the cast for this movie (even without Farrell), so I’m sure I’ll be catching Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald when it’s released on 16 November 2018.

Kylo Ren takes off his helmet. And his shirt. (Spoilers)

All the teasing, all the memes, that SNL sketch and the parody Twitter accounts took their toll on poor Kylo Ren. There is only so much all-round mockery an unhinged young Dark Sider can take.

Supreme Leader Ren will see you now.

Snoke huh? His faith in his apprentice, misplaced may have been. Snoke – the biggest, baddest guy in the galaxy, worse than Sidious, worse than Vader; his apprentice kills him with a two finger salute, a literal sleight of hand.

I mean, the creation and the appearance and the presence of Snoke ARE terrifying, but that’s it. He didn’t see it coming, like Han Solo. In fact, I think even Han had an inkling of what would happen when he stepped out on that teeny tiny, narrow bridge in The Force Awakens.

Of course Jedi is so twisty, I honestly kept expecting Snoke to force-knit himself back together after getting lightsabered through the middle. (Talking about smoking torsos, I can confirm Kylo Ren is shredded. Kylo Ren has an eight-pack.)

I’m a bit hazy straight after my first viewing, and I’m not sure when Kylo made the decision to snuff Snoke.

I think it was when he found out that Snoke had been arranging those Force FaceTimes between him and Rey, when Kylo thought it was just fate. Even in TFA, when Kylo wanted to be Rey’s ‘teacher’, it seemed he might be prepared to cast Snoke aside for her.

When Rey calls him ‘Ben’ he gives her a sulky side-eye and basically ignores it. Still so much angst. So far, we seem to have ascertained that Rey is Rey Random of non-famous parentage. Kylo’s a bit of a snot about it, as if it’s good of him to see her as an equal, what with his mom being a princess and all.

Great performance by Adam Driver.

I just can’t believe it’s been two years since the last Star Wars (one year if you count Rogue One, but somehow, I never seem to). There are many journeys and other strands to this huge and very long movie, and I’ll probably do a review in a week or so. For now, MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later, when Maureen is harassed by text message, we’re supposed to be unsure whether or not she is at the mercy of something more sinister than a fashionista; have ghosts made the jump-scare to the digital era, or has she got a stalker?

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

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

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

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

She even makes the name ‘Maureen’ sound cool.

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

BOOK REVIEWS: Annihilation & The Book of Strange New Things..

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I’m too scared to see the movie ‘It’. I know it involves an evil clown and sewers and things that float down there – and of course that it started out as a book by Stephen King.

Recently, I’ve been reading books that are being adapted for the big screen, and one such pick was Annihilation, the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach series, a novel that King himself called ‘creepy’…

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

Four women are sent by a secretive government agency to investigate Area X, a quarantined coastal zone in the USA.

The Biologist, the Psychologist, the Surveyor and the Anthropologist (no names are given) uncover a terrifying force writing on the walls of an uncharted subterranean tower: “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner…” Eek.

And as if I had breathed in the spores from the cover, Annihilation is immersive, sinister, and genre-defying. Although part of a trilogy, it can definitely be read as a standalone.

One issue I had was that it takes the Biologist’s field journal as source material, and while she may be happy spending hours observing lifeforms in tidal pools, I’m not! (The novel also flashes back to her life with her husband, who volunteered for an earlier, doomed, expedition.)

I hope the movie doesn’t end up feeling like Alien Covenant – scientists behaving stupidly while trudging through the wilderness and wrestling with weird mind-bending phenomena.

Luckily, it’s directed by Alex Garland, who proved he knows a thing or two about creepy tension with Ex Machina, and it stars Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Oscar Isaac.

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber 

From a woman of science to a man of faith. The King of the North has gone interstellar in the Amazon pilot ‘Oasis’.

It takes as its veeery loose inspiration Michel Faber’s (Under the Skin) melancholy novel The Book of Strange New Things – published in 2014 before the Netflix phenomenon.

The good book focuses on Chaplain Peter Leigh, who leaves his beloved wife for a job with a shadowy multinational, ministering to the native inhabitants of a distant colonized planet named Oasis.

Peter’s new congregation were introduced to the Bible by his (missing) predecessor, and they’ve really taken to it enthusiastically, calling themselves Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Two, etc. Their ‘faces’ resemble “a placenta with two foetuses…nestled knee to knee.”

To speak their language, Peter would “need to rip off his own head and gargle through the stump.” (Any linguists want a challenge?!)

It’s not a mystery or a religious satire, but a tale of grief and failure of communication – interplanetary email can be a bitch.

A word of caution: The Amazon pilot is very different. It’s a budget sci-fi, and the sad heart of TBOSNT is gone. There’s no word yet on whether it will go to series, but the book is certainly worth the near-600 pages.

I’m currently slogging through the latest Zadie Smith, but I should be back with a Wind River review soon……

Book Haul! Future adaptations Ophelia & The Lost Wife

Earlier this year I read Lion, about a little Indian boy, Saroo, who gets lost in Kolkata, and survives on the streets before being adopted by an Australian family. As an adult he tracks down his mother and sister in India by using Google Earth.

The incredible true story became a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel. I watched it and couldn’t help but be disappointed – it wasn’t a patch on the book. Yet if I’d seen it in theatres first, I wouldn’t have bothered picking up the memoir.

As a film blogger, I’d already packed my incredibly packed (not really) reading list with some future adaptations and it’s quite a mix – YA, historical, science fiction. I better get cracking before I’m tempted to laze in front of the screen. Here goes the YA/fluffier reading..

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein

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Ophelia by Lisa Klein

Get thee to a nunnery…not as passionate as Juliet, or bold and witty as Beatrice, Ophelia has always seemed a flimsy role.

But Lisa Klein’s re-imagining of Hamlet from his love interest’s perspective has forever banished thoughts of her as a tragic waif.

We meet Ophelia as a motherless girl moving to the court of Danish King Hamlet, with her ambitious father Polonius and callow brother Laertes.

Under Queen Gertrude’s slightly capricious care, Ophelia grows into an exceptionally intelligent woman whom I can see inhabited by Daisy Ridley. She catches the eye of Prince Hamlet, and becomes an expert on botany and herbology, curing the ailments of people at court.

What if she used those skills – and her formidable intelligence – to try to survive the tragedy that engulfs her family and Denmark?

I was a bit doubtful when I read that the characters talk with ‘contemporary language’, but it’s not “Yo Hamlet, your mother’s a total MILF.” (Gertrude will be played by Naomie Watts.) They don’t speak in blank verse, but there is a vivid sense of time and place.

As a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, Klein knows the setting and characters, and the result is a very atmospheric YA novel with a genuinely impressive heroine, although I did find the final quarter heavy-going.

Wrapped back in July after shooting in the Czech Republic, the film will star George MacKay – who was very good in Captain Fantastic – as Hamlet, and Tom ‘Draco Malfoy’ Felton as Laertes.

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman

Daisy Ridley is having a busy year (or two). In this, she is slated to play a young art student in WWII Prague.

Lenka, a young Jewish woman living with her well-heeled family, falls in love with a classmate’s older brother, Josef, who is following his father’s footsteps into medicine. They marry, but when he escapes with his family for the USA, Lenka’s own family are unable to follow, and the couple are torn apart.

This is well-researched (life in Prague before the occupation; the artwork of Jews suffering in the ghetto Terezin; the bravery of a few to produce an underground movement) but I couldn’t take to it.

Richman’s prose is flowing and romantic, but this is no epic, ambitious narrative. I didn’t believe Lenka and Josef were real people, while the secondary characters are very lightly daubed on the page, and their stories end (tragically) when it is clearly very convenient, which undercuts the tragedy.

I also have doubts about Richman’s decision to start the novel with the conclusion.

It’s hard to dismiss this as lightweight when Auschwitz and Mengele – names which strike immediate horror – appear in the text. Lenka’s choices and circumstances are naturally going to be heart-wrenching, but if I wanted to read a deeply affecting account of the Holocaust, there are plenty of books out there.

I suspect Richman just isn’t a writer I could enjoy. It’s far too early to say anything about the movie, but I hope they change it so that the ending….is at the end.

Next week, I review some forthcoming sci-fi adaptations….

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.

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 French-Belgian Valerian et Laureline comics were a suspected early influence on one Mr. George Lucas, and watching Valerian, I could lovingly remember the prequel trilogy. The romance between the leads 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 – where different alien species all pool their knowledge in brilliant harmony.

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 umpteen times 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!

My 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.

the-light-between-oceans

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.