Tag Archives: Review

Saorise Ronan on movie poster

Film reviews winter 2019-20

As it’s a new year, Slow to the Party would like to swiftly wish everyone a Happy 2020!

The weather is depressing, but I’ve bravely left the safety of my bed to catch up with the sorta-latest flicks!

Here are my smallish reviews. I’m not calling ’em mini reviews anymore.

Charlie’s Angels

After the negative press, I was disappointed NOT to feel bashed over the head with woke, man-hating propaganda courtesy of star/writer/director/terrible publicist for the movie, Elizabeth Banks.

It actually isn’t any worse than anything else I’ve seen. The plot is thin, which is frankly more of a relief in these days of convoluted blockbusters. ⭐⭐⭐ Speaking of…

The Rise of Skywalker

I’ve always been a big fan of the Skywalker story and the galaxy far, far away. But The Last Jedi undid the thankless groundwork laid by The Force Awakens. Screenshot_2020-01-01-13-57-40-01.jpeg

Skywalker returns the favour by unpicking Jedi. The Holdo ‘plot hole’ is flung from the future of the franchise, while Finn’s former love interest Rose wilts on the sidelines. Luke returns as a Force ghost, admitting it wasn’t really ‘Luke’ to exile himself on an island, milking sea cows.

As for Rey…I simply don’t care.

Maybe its destiny was always to disappoint. That’s what happens when you have a strict schedule, with no map.

Expect further, more satisfying revelations in the comics. ⭐⭐⭐

Last Christmas

In a toned-down version of her ear-splitting Me Before You performance, Emilia Clarke is Kate, a wannabe singer/actress slumming around twinkly London in a drunken fug, avoiding her overbearing mother (film co-writer Emma Thompson, inexplicably cast as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia).

A jukebox musical named for the 1984 festive hit by Wham!, one moment it’s a sub-par rom-com, then wham! (no pun) there’s this heinous twist. London’s homeless, played by a cast of twee thespians, provide the ‘heartwarming’ backdrop.⭐⭐

Marriage Story

Charlie (Adam Driver) is a self-made off-Broadway theatre director.  His soon-to-be ex-wife Nicole (Scar Jo) is a showbiz industry brat and former Hollywood It girl.

It’s unclear how calculated Nicole is, uprooting their son Henry to LA to consult with multiple lawyers, but Charlie seems to have the bigger battle – including convincing a judge that they are a New York family.

Nicole is bitter, combative and sulky. Charlie rages that life with was her joyless. She feels overlooked next to his genius, yet she’s the one who pushed for marriage too young.

They remind me of La La Land’s selfish creatives. The only real villains are the lawyers, the victim Henry. It’s a clever, accessible film with high re-watch and debate value. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Little Women

From the trailers I thought this looked insufferable. Why can’t they ever cast to the book ages? Why can’t the March girls look like sisters not college roommates?

There was a spot of a backlash when Greta Gerwig was snubbed for best director, followed by another backlash along the lines of: “Well I’m a woman and I didn’t like it!” hot takes.

Gerwig’s moves are to highlight the novel’s semi-autobiographical nature, and play with the chronology, switching between 1861 and 1868. She also makes Amy (Florence Pugh) a pragmatic misfit in an unconventional family – a much appreciated new dimension to the character. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari)

Le Mans tells the true(ish) story of how automotive designer Carroll (Matt Damon) Shelby teamed up with Ken Miles (Christian Bale) – a British racing car driver with a temper – to build a Ford race car that would end snooty Ferrari’s dominance.

Caitriona Balfe plays Miles’ long-suffering wife, winning over audiences with a ‘comic’ scene where she drives at high speed while rowing with her husband. There’s little about the seven-times-married Shelby’s home life.

More interesting than the central bromance was the rivalry between the crass, insecure Henry Ford II (veteran character actor Tracy Lett), and old world denizen Enzo Ferrari. Le Mans is a well-engineered, middle-of-the-road crowd-pleaser that I couldn’t wait to see over the finish line.⭐⭐⭐

Helen Mirren in Catherine the great Press cuttings

Catherine the Great’s open relationship

In Catherine the Great – HBO and Sky’s new four-parter – the cast talk like they’re in The Crown (Jason Clarke does his own thing – more on him later). Luckily the big fur hats let you know you’re in RUSSIA.

With Helen Mirren playing Catherine, the series aims to provide a balanced image, celebrating her as a socially enlightened female ruler in a man’s world, while not shying away from the fact she ruled with an iron fist.

Politics and empire-building are just a backdrop, though. The true heart of the piece is slowly revealed to be the passionate bond between Catherine and her military leader Potemkin (Clarke), whose existing letters to each other show a loving, open relationship, and an almost modern way of working together.

In the series, Catherine has usurped her husband and their son. Amid tension with her military co-conspirators – including her estranged lover Orlov – she glimpses the swaggering Potemkin. Catherine likes hunky (younger) men, but she’s running a country, so she gets her lady-in-waiting to test his er, political prowess.

By hour two, we’re two years into the Russo-Turkish war. Potemkin has been away covering himself in glory, rising through the ranks. Catherine impulsively orders his return, only to ghost him. They try to make one another jealous, before having an awkward chat about their exes.

It’s true Catherine had multiple lovers, and her sexual liberation gave rise to fake news. Even now, urban legends persist – including the notorious slur involving a horse. Despite the recent press hype, Catherine and Potemkin’s onscreen romance is only steamy in the sense that they (eventually) kiss in a bathhouse.

They settle into domestic bliss, but, rather like the ‘action man’ Prince Phillip portrayed by The Crown, a (literally) thrusting Potemkin becomes petulant and bored. He wants to Make Russia Great, annex the Crimea, and shag half the population while doing so.

As Potemkin, Clarke goes from a clean-cut Aussie Don Cossack, to sounding and looking like the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly.

Poor Catherine can’t live with him, can’t live without him. She pines for him and distracts herself with toy boys – some procured by Potemkin, who then has the comical nerve to be jealous.

The script reminds us repeatedly that she’s a brilliant woman, a patron of the arts, but she mostly indulges in sex, paranoia, and bickering with her son and council. It presents a sad case of living long enough to see yourself become the villain, tossing the Voltaire on a bonfire.

Its difficulty is having three decades of history, but only four hours. There needs to be a focus, and the series loses sight of it. Only a pivotal final scene goes a long way to redeeming Catherine the Great as a bittersweet mini-epic about one of history’s greatest love affairs.

Grindelwald dvd on white table

Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald – film review

You’d imagine J.K. Rowling had earned enough goodwill that people might give her the benefit of the doubt.

But even before her Fantastic Beasts sequel started filming, there was controversy. Firstly it centered on her support for tabloid-stricken star Johnny Depp, 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.

Then a scene in the trailer supposedly broke canon, before the release of the official cast list drew fury for messing with timelines established in books/minds.

But J.K writes great mysteries and she doesn’t make it up as she goes along, right?

OK, there are some potential canonical problems here, but it’s only the second film of five. What’s worse is the critical consensus that it’s the worst Potter ever – that it has too many characters and confusing subplots,no clear protagonist, and exists only to set up later chapters.

To be clear, the first Beasts wasn’t fantabulous – my review was basically, “Wow how hot is Colin Farrell?!” However, I could see it was the start of a story that promised to tap into the richer HP mythology.

Crimes opens with an impressive action scene, even if the criminal was actually already free, and just wanted his escape to have a certain degree of flair.

Depp’s take on the character is more Black Mass than Captain Jack, but dark magic must take a toll, as Jamie Campbell Bower’s blond, handsome, spindly young wizard is just a mirage in the Mirror of Erised.

Grindelwald’s crimes include cruelty to cute critters (justice for Antonio!), murder, and nearly destroying Paris. He’s also guilty of making hot Dumbledore lovesick and mopey…after they spent a summer together in their teens, to put this in perspective.

The benignly manipulative Dumbledore has twisted Newt’s arm into protecting Credence – who is trying to discover his origins. And what a persuasive way Dumbledore has – “Hey Newt, you’re not popular, funny, or charming, but you do what’s right!”

So did Rowling have this new sibling twist planned, or did she come up with it between script revisions, à la George Lucas with Luke and Leia?

Well, there was a distinct lack of buildup. Audiences didn’t really finish the first movie speculating about a particular character’s parentage.

Of course Dumbledore always knows more than he lets on. “For the Greater Good” and all that – old ways die hard. Personally, I’ve always suspected he broke his dad out of Azkaban.

🧙🧙1/2

It’s fantastic Rowling is adding to the mythology of her world. I hope she stays true to her vision. Shame she didn’t leave this new franchise simmering in the cauldron for a bit longer.

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

A meteorite streaks past the camera. It carries an 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 called the Shimmer, which looks like a soap bubble, or a gigantic blister. Those who enter don’t return. It’s top secret, but the phenomenon is expanding, threatening to swallow up whole cities and states…

Annihilation started life as the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach book trilogy, where a nameless four-woman crew venture into the mysterious Area X. One, a perpetual student and passionate observer of tide pools known only as “the biologist”, served as narrator.

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

We see Lena Portmansplaining cellular senescence – AKA aging to Kane, playfully arguing whether God makes mistakes. As they discuss the odd silence around Kane’s deployment, he tenderly says they’ll be under the same stars, but Lena mocks the idea of pining for her husband. He goes MIA, before mysteriously returning, clinging to life.

annihilation swimming pool

F*%! you, humanity! There’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool that feels like it sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Learning Oscar Isaac escaped the Shimmer, a guilt-wracked Lena leaves him on a ventilator to join Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for the next mission. The rest of their team are all damaged goods: Tessa Thompson is self-harming physicist Josie, Gina Rodriguez is addict Anya, Tuva Novotny’s geologist Cass is a grieving mother.

Inside, time is distorted. Josie theorizes that the Shimmer is a prism that refracts everything. DNA is reshuffled so that flowers twist into human shapes, deer have twig antlers, alligators grow shark teeth. Cass dies in the jaws of a mutant bear who later bellows with its victim’s voice.

Faced with the grotesque fate of being broken down into this new ecosystem, an already cancer-stricken Ventress rages that it feels like dementia. Josie refuses to let terror be her surviving fragment. She walks peacefully into the flower mannequin forest, buds sprouting from her self-harm scars.

Is Annihilation, therefore, about how we choose to accept the inevitable? While some thought it was about cancer, or interpreted the Shimmer as a manifestation of Lena’s guilt (to others it was about depression, or Pokémon), Garland himself said he was going for something on a theme of self destructiveness.

OK, but this stupid thing invaded us. 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, or the artfully arranged skeletons, that feel like they sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Following the trend for virtue signaling when sub-par movies debut on streaming platforms, there was outcry when international rights went to Netflix. Yet US theatre-goers only graded it a C CinemaScore. Fans try to ‘unpack’ the movie, lauding the way it ‘doesn’t give us all the answers’, rather than admit it loses its way as it nears the epicentre.

Wind River cameos Teen Wolf’s Ian Bohen! From Sicario, Soldado’s Sheridan

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, hoping you don’t have nightmares.

Taylor Sheridan’s screenwriting has already given us Hell or High Water, and 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, Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner is another FBI agent out of her depth. We’re no longer in Sheridan’s native Texas, but the wintry wild west of Wyoming.

Jurisdictional matters have pulled Banner in to investigate the death of a teenage Native American girl, 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.

Although Olsen is in charge of the investigation, his deep connections to the land and to the dead girl’s marginalized community mean the story belongs to Renner’s softly-spoken cowboy.

We get no backstory to Olsen’s character, who dresses like she should be reading the news in a warm studio somewhere. (‘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. It’s unclear if she’s meant to be a symbol for governmental disinterest and mishandling.

Vertigo-inducing camerawork aside, Sheridan delivers like previous directors of his scripts. Incidentally, Wind River isn’t his directorial debut, despite what he said at Sundance, where the movie won praise, especially for the final gun battle (where Teen Wolf’s Ian Bohen – due to appear in Sicario sequel Soldado – makes a cameo!).

Wind River isn’t as ambitious as Sicario, with its tension between the leads. The violence, however, when it comes, is more personal, but no less shocking, while the creepy sense of dread outlasts the film.

netflix edition mudbound novel

Mudbound – the novel versus Netflix

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

Distributed by Netflix (there were no other takers following its Sundance premiere), the film is a female-helmed drama about two families – one white, one black – living side by side in the Jim Crow South. The script is adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2006 Bellwether Prize-winner (for ‘socially engaged fiction’).

It’s perfectly-timed, with the industry currently under scrutiny for #OscarsSoWhite. There was a landslide of articles emphasizing the tough shoot and the transformation of star Mary J. Blige, warning voters that the movie must not be overlooked.

Mudbound sees stubborn Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) drag his kids and wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), plus racist father Pappy, to a dilapidated farm in the Mississippi Delta where the frequent rains strand them in acres of mud.

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

The veterans form a bond that riles Pappy, while Laura becomes infatuated with her brother-in-law – although unlike the prickly character of Laura in the book, she isn’t checking his shirts for lipstick, or taking her frustrations out on Florence.

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 etc etc. According to Refinery39, “both women…feel the growing weight of a patriarchal society bearing down on their shoulders...”

This is an interesting projection, as – in what is a very long and slow movie –  writer-director Dee Rees seems to concentrate on the friendship between 6’2 leading man Hedlund, and quirky little character actor Mitchell, miscast as the noble Ronsel.

Rees keeps Jordan’s strategy of spreading narration between six characters, but Hedlund emerges as the hero.He’s more enlightened than his book counterpart – instead of being shocked by interracial dating, Hedlund leers: “Ever been with a white girl?“.

It’s a shame that, along with other splashes of dark humour, his drunken encounter with a hapless cow has been culled.

What the picture does achieve, despite its small budget, is a truly epic look, especially in the flashback scenes. We get lots of stunning farmland vistas courtesy of Rachel Morrison’s cinematography, which earned her the distinction of becoming the first woman to be Oscar nominated in the category.

Deferential Oscar voters also handed Blige 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 historical suspense into solemn prestige.

🏆 1/2

Murder on the Orient Express – 2017 millennial version

“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. Having just dodged the new, BBC Little Women over Christmas, I was worried I’d caught the same faux fatigue. I’ve seen a stage play of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, while the still-fresh ’94 Winona Ryder film with a young, scene-stealing Kirsten Dunst is in my DVD collection.

I realized my aversion wasn’t because Winona Will Forever Be My Jo March! – it was because it looked genuinely bad. The accents sounded atrocious, and the actresses were more like sorority sisters in 2018 than impoverished, Civil War-era siblings. (Dunst at least was the right age to play Amy.)

Agatha Christie’s ’34 novel Murder on the Orient Express, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, has also been regularly re-crafted for screen. So there was a lot of online negativity around director-star Kenneth Branagh’s new blockbuster version; a perfectly good, Oscar-nominated 1974 Sidney Lumet adaptation already exists, so there was no need…

Au contraire, mon ami! OK, no need maybe, but judging by the box office, people were attracted to 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 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, and an OTT moustache. 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.

This brings us to another problem people have with the movie – Ratchett is 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.

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, including Beauty and the Beast’s Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley (a less grating Keira Knightley), and rising actress Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) as a enigmatic aristocrat. Plus Leslie Odom Jr. (Tony winner for Hamilton) is Dr Arbuthnot – played in ’74 by that old dinosaur Sean Connery.

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 an immersive experience, capturing the allure of the golden age of travel. And of course there’s that much-raved about epic five minute 65mm Steadicam closing shot.

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.

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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! 

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

All the teasing, the memes, the SNL sketch and parody Twitter accounts took their toll on poor Kylo Ren. There is only so much 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. 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.

He didn’t see it coming, like Han Solo. (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 with Rey, when Kylo thought it was just love.

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.

I just can’t believe it’s been two years since the last Star Wars. 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!!

What is the Personal Shopper movie about? Explanation

It’s 2007, before teen audiences would learn that Kristen Stewart was to be their Bella Swan. There’s such outsize acclaim for her tiny role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, you’d be forgiven for thinking the former child actress was being prepped for major stardom.

While Twilight made Stewart an object of fascination, it also made her a fixture on Hollywood’s Most Hated lists. Now, she’s the ‘Best of her Generation’ — as Olivier Assayas described her after directing her to a César (the first American to win the French Oscar) for her role as an assistant to a neurotic actress in Clouds of Sils Maria.

Assayas would write Personal Shopper with Stewart in mind to star as Maureen, a young expat in Paris. Once again, she’s cast as a celeb flunky, running around upscale boutiques for her spoiled supermodel employer, Kyra.

But Maureen is more than an underling. She’s a psychic medium, in limbo in the French capital mourning her twin brother, who died from a heart defect she shares. The film opens with her alone at night in his eerie mansion, trying to reach him on the other side.

The angry spirits that appear to Maureen, scratching out her artwork, appear terrifyingly real to her. 

Stewart is so believable when she mumbles about the challenges of finding portals to the other side, she’d make a decent living as a psychic if she left showbiz. From that truthful base, she even makes the name ‘Maureen’ plausible on a twentysomething.

When she’s harassed by text messages, we question whether she’s 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? Is this all in her head?

Viewers have come up with some overly-intricate theories, confused by the way the script decides to glide from supernatural psychological horror to whodunnit.

In the final scene, Maureen encounters a ghost who begins trying to communicate with her – one knock for yes, two for no. She asks the ghost if it’s Lewis, and it seems to say it is. She asks if it’s at peace, and the answer is ambiguous. Then she asks if it’s in her head. It knocks for yes.

Perhaps the best way to interpret it would be through this J.K. Rowling gem: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

book adaptation pile

Page to screen book haul! Ophelia, Annihilation, Oasis, The Lost Wife

Earlier this year I read Lion, the true story of a little boy who survives the streets of Kolkata before being adopted by an Australian family. Years later, he tracks down his mother in rural India using Google Earth.

It became a hit movie, which inspired me to get cracking with more novels destined to reach our screens!

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein, finished filming in July after shooting in the Czech Republic, with Daisy Ridley in the title role. 

Lisa Klein’s re-imagining of Hamlet from his love interest’s point of view has forever banished thoughts of Ophelia as a tragic waif. When the story opens she’s a motherless girl moving with her ambitious father Polonius and callow brother Laertes to the court of Danish King Hamlet.

Yet under Queen Gertrude’s capricious care, Ophelia grows into an intelligent woman. She becomes an expert in botany and herbology, learning to cure the ailments of people at court. To escape the tragedy engulfing her country, she uses those skills to feign madness and death.

I was a bit doubtful when I read that the characters talk with ‘contemporary language’, but it’s a far cry from “Yo Hamlet, your mother’s a total MILF.” (Gertrude will be played by Naomi Watts.)

There is a vivid sense of time and place – Klein is a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature. It’s an atmospheric YA novel with an impressive heroine, useful for young readers wanting to gain a better understanding of Shakespeare.

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman: Production status unknown!

Daisy Ridley is having a busy time! In The Lost Wife, she is slated to play Lenka, a young art student living with her well-heeled Jewish family in pre-WWII Prague. She falls in love with a friend’s older brother, Josef, who is following his father’s footsteps into medicine.

While Josef escapes with his family for the USA, Lenka’s own family are sent to the ghetto Terezin, where art became a way to resist the Nazi regime. She joins the underground painters’ movement, who managed to smuggle their work to the outside world. 

Author Richman studied art history, and she’s written a very, glamorous, beautiful novel which is perfect for fans of this genre of Holocaust chick lit. 

There seems to be few updates about the potential movie, but I hope they change it so that the ending….is at the end.

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer, is soon to be released on Netflix in the UK.

Four women are sent by a secret government agency to investigate Area X, a stretch of quarantined coast in the USA. 

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

As if I had breathed in the spores from the cover, the genre-defying Annihilation is immersive and sinister.

It does take the Biologist’s field journal as source material, and while she’s content 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 like Alien Covenant,  with scientists behaving stupidly while trudging through the wilderness. Luckily, it’s directed by Alex Garland, who proved he knows a thing or two about creepy tension with Ex Machina!

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber, which is now an Amazon pilot, renamed Oasis.

From a woman of science to a man of faith – King of the North Richard Madden has gone interstellar, playing a chaplain in budget sci-fi Oasis, which also stars Haley Joel Osment.

The pilot takes as very loose inspiration Michel (Under the Skin) Faber’s melancholy novel The Book of Strange New Things (published in 2014). Chaplain Peter Leigh leaves his beloved wife to work for 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. They’ve 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?!)

A monumental, genre-defying novel about grief, it seems very unlikely that the pilot will go to series. 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – film review

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?

Game of Thrones season 7 is short and full of terrors

At the start of season seven I wrote a grumpy post about how much I didn’t love Game of Thrones. Once they used up Grim’s good books (the first three!) from the Ice and Fire series, and then outpaced the novels entirely, the HBO show went downhill.

Of course, I carried on watching for the sheer spectacle. It’s fun to read the theories and get into the post-episode breakdowns. Plus (with a few glaring exceptions) it’s a fine cast, and easy to invest in the characters (knowing full well they’ll get killed off when you do).

I like to muse over which character I’d be if Westeros were real, although I’d probably be stone cold dead. I’d try to live by the sea, eking out my days and avoiding trouble – basically the same as my life here on Earth really.

The Red Priestess gig looks good. They never seem to feel the cold, and Stannis’ erstwhile sorceress possesses the hocus-pocus to look fab at 400 years old.

I’d love to be that arch and dramatic, but I’m more of a Gilly, the girl who thought being a Wildling made her “sound a bit dangerous.” She’s currently in the Citadel with Sam, who has turned out to be a total wildcard.

gilly

Knocking spots off that Targaryen girl: Hannah Murray as the absent Gilly. Credit HBO

Jon, meanwhile, is busy stomping around Dragonstone for his precious obsidian. (He got Davos to make those cave drawings, right?)

I hope Tyrion gets behind Jon, and I hope Jon & Dany don’t happen. Kit needs something to act opposite, and Jon, like Robb, needs to avoid exotic bimbos and marry a nice Westerosi girl. Meera Reed is available…

Because Bran is the Three Eyed Raven now, and people are gunning for Sansa to claim the North. Really? So far, Sansa has excelled at two things: being brutalized and running a castle. She was born to be a good highborn wife and run the domestic sphere – not command men or be a politician.

High on my Thrones wish list is seeing Jaime get together with Brienne, assuming she’ll still have him after he got sucker-punched by an old lady. I suppose the Kingslayer is a catch, although I wouldn’t want Cersei’s cast-offs. Ugh.

I think in the books he was well shot of her by now. Maybe the Drogon near-miss and the dip in a lake will bring him to his senses, finally.

It’s winter for our heroes, but summer for us fans. Years of trudging through the seasons have led to this payoff –  dragons over Westeros, Stark reunions and the unveiling of secret Targaryens.

And yup, we’ve already hit this season’s halfway point, for it is short and full of terrors…(Come back Melisandre!)

To the Bone – Netflix review

To 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, where a girl is feigning righteous anger at magazines for promoting thinness.

A sarcastic voice interrupts. “Ugh. Society’s to blame. The world is so unfair. I have to die.” Ellen (Lily Collins) is a twenty-year-old anorexic artist. “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 – returns to the middle-class Californian home of her stepmother and half-sister, where she does sit-ups, counts calories, skips meals. Anorexic stuff.

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

It’s Ellen’s stepmom who is the driving force behind finding a new specialist, Dr Beckham. Yes. Dr Beckham. He’s described as ‘unconventional’, although it’s not clear why. Because he’s played by Keanu Reeves?

He agrees to treat Ellen as an inpatient at Threshold, a facility for young people with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Ellen befriends an annoying show-off named Luke. He already knows who Ellen is, thanks to an angsty subplot about her Tumblr artwork inspiring a girl’s suicide.

Family therapy with Keanu 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 good at portraying the powerlessness and frustration that families often feel, although 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.

The opening moments promised something more creative, and Ellen’s out-of-body experience where she see finally sees her malnourished form without the veil of anorexia also had the hint of something more inspired.

But To The Bone is a typical teen drama with a stock message of hope, recovery, and fighting for your own identity, and an old-fashioned little made-for-TV flick that would have slipped by unnoticed on Netflix’s roster if it weren’t for the valuable controversy.

At least star Lily Collins emerges from it well, having proved there is way more to her than being beautiful and the product of nepotism.

girls book on cafe table

The Girls by Emma Cline – a book review

The Girls was one of the biggest, most hyped books of 2016. Debut author Emma Cline’s manuscript sparked a bidding war and was optioned by a powerful Hollywood producer long before it even reached shelves.

Amy Adams-lookalike Cline is young, enigmatic – and like the heroine of her coming-of-age novel – she grew up in sun-kissed California. There the similarity ends, with The Girls set during the late sixties, with a story inspired (rather luridly) by the infamous Manson cult murders.

girls

The novel focuses on its 14-year-old narrator Evie Boyd. Her parents are newly divorced; her father lives with his young girlfriend in another town, while Evie’s mother is busy dating and following every New Age trend going.

Evie studies the studio portrait of her late maternal grandmother – a famous, beautiful actress. “The realization was bracing” she thinks, “we looked nothing alike.” Evie’s dour best friend dumps her for a new best friend, who throws a drink in Evie’s face.

Bored and crippled by insecurity, Evie’s the kind of girl Russell Hadrick preys on. He’s teaching his followers about a “new kind of society”, that’s “free from racism, free from exclusion, free from hierarchy.” Except it’s not Russell, but his teenage lieutenant Suzanne, who holds a dark pull for Evie.

Some of the girls in thrall to Russell have vague histories of abuse and violence, but Suzanne’s a sly one – her past, motives and feelings for Evie remain obscure. During her long summer at the group’s decrepit ranch, Evie becomes less passive, acquiring coarser edges from Suzanne and co. as they scavenge, steal, and drop acid.

It’s been compared to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, another queasily authentic look at the horrors of being an ordinary, unpopular teenage girl.

Sections with the older, adult Evie aren’t as successful, with Cline struggling to write a character much older then herself. But The Girls is a bleak, woozy, sometimes overwritten debut about the forces that shape and ruin girls’ lives.

Game of Thrones is back…

IMG_20170717_180832-01Are you glad it’s back? And by ‘it’ I mean the TV phenomenon that’s as big as Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings?

I’m not a constant admirer of the Game of Thrones juggernaut anymore. Characters get arranged into starting positions for epic showdowns, rinse and repeat. This season has seven episodes, and “Dragonstone” probably won’t be the only hour devoted to groundwork and prepping the set pieces.

We had Sam in the library, and Sam emptying bedpans. We had Emilia “I Can. And I Will” Clarke strutting around her ancestral home like a dumpy 12-year-old emulating a haughty catwalk queen. (And I’m not sure the show has enough time to explore the attraction dangling between her eunuch warrior and her handmaiden…)

Like Dany, Sansa is coming into her own, as the Lady of Winterfell. Soft-hearted Sansa now feeds her husbands to hungry hounds, and while I’m all for character growth, not every female character has to be a Strong Woman, and Strong Women don’t have to commit grisly murders to be powerful.

Perhaps they don’t know what to do with Sansa – the whole rushed, overripe Ramsay plot was not her book story – and Sophie isn’t a believable enough actress to play a ruthless killer AKA junior Cersei. Thanks to her dreary line readings and whiny nasal voice, I use Sansa scenes for any unpleasant chores, like putting the recycling out.

But Sansa, like sister Arya (who couldn’t look less like Sophie Turner), are a) fan favourites, and/or b) are part of George R.R. Martin’s endgame, and can’t be bumped off.

Maisie is a good little actress, but she seems super-aware that there’s a huge audience who love Arya and who think a bloodthirsty (female) child assassin is cool, and maybe this awareness is sometimes ever so slightly to the detriment of her performance.

She’s on her way to King’s Landing, where Bad Uncle Euron is trying to woo Evil Queen Cersei and come between her and Jaime, who have reached that stage where they’re more brother/sister, than red hot lovebirds…oh yeah.

There were things I liked, I promise, I’m not as grumpy as Sandor Clegane, who is still with the Brotherhood and in delightfully surly form, shaming Thoros’ topknot hairdo. (He’ll be coming for Jon’s man bun next.) The Hound is seeing visions in the flame, and it sounds like those screeching ice men are going to overcome the Wall by just….walking around it?

Really? Give fans their answers already!

(OK maybe I am as grumpy as the Hound after all.) 😉

My Sweet Revenge by Jane Fallon – book review

In the summer, my cat makes me sit outside where I can’t get any WiFi. Apparently she is too scared to stay in the garden by herself, and just feels safer when I’m there.

I suppose I could spend my enforced no-WiFi time doing Yoga and meditating on how I became so devoted to such a demanding creature, but it’s actually a great chance to catch up on some reading.

My Sweet Revenge was written under the furry supervision of author Jane Fallon’s diva moggy Ollie (she’s a girl) Fallon-Gervais, so it’s only right it should be read while under the paw too.

Ollie has her own Twitter account (37,000 followers) and my familiarity with her social media antics clued me in that I would love Jane’s world. Not that Jane writes Ollie’s Tweets, of course.

So I really have to thank Olls – because this isn’t the kind of book I’d grab off the shelf. I know it’s not necessarily a popular term, but ‘chick lit’ isn’t generally for me. (Fair play to all such writers out there –  I would never have the talent to write it.)

As expected, Jane Fallon’s work has too much drama and deceit to be fluffy or girly. It’s chick lit written by an evil feline genius.

The heroine, Paula, works in a bakery (hence that mouthwatering jacket cover) and her idea of getting back at her (apparently) cheating husband isn’t just to fling a cream pie in his lying face.

(See? That would be the plot of my own romantic revenge novel.)

Paula and her husband Robert met at drama school; his acting career took off, hers didn’t. Robert’s not exactly Benedict Cumberbatch famous, more like second-billed lead on a soap (or ‘long-running drama’) famous, and beloved by the nation’s grannies. The couple’s teenage daughter Georgia is the only celeb sprog on the planet to not be an aspiring actress/photographer/model, and has her heart set on medical school instead.

Their life is shattered when Paula makes a discovery leading her to believe that Robert is having an affair with a gorgeous co-star named Saskia, who is married to a producer on their show Farmer Giles (!). Paula doesn’t confront her husband, deciding instead to execute a scheme for retribution that will make him fall back in love with her, while scuppering any chance he has of happiness with Saskia.

It’s playful, addictive, and about as likely as a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, calorie-free pastry ever tasting good. Paula is a great main character – likeable and with enough gusto to keep the reader engaged. I honestly could not see the twists coming. The book has been an absolute joy and a great vacation read.

Verdict: I haven’t enjoyed a story set in an bakery so much since Pushing Daisies.

Ghost in the Shell – film review

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.

Jackie – more claustrophobic horror than corridors of power

Who in their right mind would want to live in the White House?

In Pablo Larraín’s unsettling look at the days following the assassination of JFK, life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue 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.)

Basically a three-hander starring Natalie Portman as widow Jackie Kennedy, Mica (Under the Skin) Levy’s score, 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 three timelines – the interview, Jackie’s infamous 1962 televised tour of the White House, and her husband’s funeral.

Leading up to the release, critics were hailing Portman’s performance as Oscar-worthy. There seemed to be a potential stumbling block; Portman’s imitation of Jackie’s whispery baby voice sounds absurd, no matter how ‘accurate’ it’s supposed to be. Even Larraín admitted he initially thought Portman’s accent was “too much.”

If this had been a more conventional picture, (imagine a 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; her diabolical performance becomes another string in Levi’s discordant score. It works. The actress is terrific in this crazy, mannered straitjacket, every gesture and inflection significant and strange, her only false note the row with brother-in-law Bobby.

Portman isn’t a perfect physical match, but even that works – the tiny, frail figure of Portman swallowed up by shock and grief. She resembles a little girl clopping about in Kennedy’s heels and bouffant hair, like she raided the dressing-up box.

She’s not entirely fragile – she’s vicious as she wrong foots Crudup’s unnamed journalist. “Don’t think fer a secahnd I’m going to leht you pwint thaht,” she lisps.

This is Jackie crafting her husband’s legacy. It’s the gulf between her public persona (style icon, embodiment of the American Blue Blood) and her private persona, the woman who mentions her miscarriages again and again. With the brittle talents of Natalie Portman, Jackie is like shattered glass. Best of all, it’s only 90 minutes. Go see!

Victoria – Melbourne does the morally right, historically accurate thing

Soap actress and Doctor Who sidekick Jenna Coleman has made her bow as Queen Victoria in ITV’s new eight-part series about the monarch’s reign.

It’s more Downton Abbey than Game of Thrones, but I was struck by how Jenna’s portrayal owes a lot to Emilia Clarke’s performance as Daenerys “WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!!!” Targaryen.

Meanwhile the music is like a candied version of Thrones’ epic theme. They keep playing it, so I’m going to have to learn to spell it:  it’s Alleluia by Martin Phipps, with vocals by the Mediaeval Baebes, who sound straight out of Westeros by way of Frozen.

Naturally, Victoria already has historians shaking their fists at the screen, as Gossip Girl Vicky has a massive crush on her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell).

Yet writer Daisy Goodwin could be onto something! Diarists and cartoonists at the time noted their intense relationship, and dubbed the queen ‘Lady Melbourne’.

Of course Lord M looked nothing like Sewell, and it’s also not been lost on Twitter that Jenna Coleman is far more beautiful than poor Victoria ever was – Alfie Allen in a wig would have been a closer fit (although the crown for craziest royal casting would still go to Ray Winstone as Henry VIII).

(Would a modern-day Victoria be pretty enough to be queen? Considering the grief her 4X great granddaughters Beatrice and Eugenie get for their figures and dress sense, no. Nothing would end the monarchy faster than an unattractive princess waiting in the wings.)

Crushing fans swept up by the actors’ chemistry, Lord M does the morally right and historically accurate thing, and doesn’t elope with the queen. Instead, a certain German princeling has arrived at court!

Accompanied by his bad boy brother Ernest, Prince Albert is here to sweep Victoria off her feet. Historically we know from her writings that she was instantly smitten, but Coleman doesn’t dig hipster Albert. He’s not too thrilled either – he has a social conscience, while Victoria isn’t interested in the plight of her poorest subjects.

There’s also the continued presence of Lord M, suffering stoically in the corner. He knows the unpopular German brothers should keep a low profile during a visit to the Houses of Parliament, so greets them loudly when he bumps into them in the corridors of power. Nice one, M.

But Albert is a man of the future, Melbourne is a man of the past. The spell binding Victoria and her prime minister is broken. Fans will rival historians in shaking their fists at the screen as he replaces the smouldering Sewell.

Victoria continues with episode six on Sunday September 25 at 9pm on ITV.

 

eva green shown on tablet screen

Miss Peregrine’s Eva Green talks social media & roles for women with The Edit

As soon as I started writing about Eva Green, I find myself changing the font to ‘Century Gothic’.

The otherworldly Miss Eva covers the latest issue of The Edit, Net-A-Porter’s online magazine. She is promoting her new movie, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by Tim Burton. She will be leading a strong cast, including Samuel L. Jackson and Judi Dench.

The film is based on Ransom Riggs’ bestseller about a boy who discovers an abandoned orphanage, run by the mysterious Miss Peregrine.  Eva told The Edit how much she loved playing a character defined by her devotion to her students, instead of being the “love interest”.

Just don’t expect her to Instagram her red carpet looks; Eva shared that she hates social media and selfies! It seems we will just have to content ourselves with the photo shoot she did for The Edit instead.

Eva has worked with Burton before, in 2012’s Dark Shadows. The French actress certainly fits the strong, beautiful imagery and the cool/creepy vibe of the director’s movies.

Although Dark Shadows paled in comparison to Burton’s earlier classics like Beetlejuice, I’m looking forward to Miss Peregrine. I haven’t read the book, but it sounds similar to the Lemony Snicket novels, which led to an underrated movie starring Jim Carrey. (A Netflix series is now in production with Neil Patrick Harris.)

For anyone mourning the end of Penny Dreadfulyou can catch Eva in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, out September 30 in the UK and USA.