Tag Archives: reviews

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…”

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BOOK REVIEW: Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown

The Shoebill is a prehistoric-looking bird that exists in the marshes of East Africa. Scientists know that these intensely private creatures rarely raise more than one chick; a second is insurance in case the older one doesn’t make it.

A similar philosophy underlies the concept of the royal heir and the spare. The lionized firstborn is groomed to rule, but being a second-born royal can be trickier; modern spares must accept indifference and resentment from the press and public, especially when cute toddlers pile up in the palace nursery.

Such was the fate of HRH Princess Margaret Rose, younger sister to Elizabeth II. The Crown has renewed interest in the glam yet troubled royal, whose star faded long before Diana arrived to swipe her tiara. Luckily for Princess Margaret’s new admirers, Craig Brown’s Ma’am Darling arrived last year to gushing reviews.

Subtitled “99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret”, he takes a magpie approach, including letters, palace statements, interviews, and snippets from memoirs penned by creepy footmen and VIPs who, er, encountered the queen’s sister.

Having only Netflix and Vanessa Kirby’s portrayal of Margaret as a spoiled, party-loving Millennial to go on, I didn’t know just how frosty and demeaning she could be.

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Bought from Amazon UK. I give Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown¬†ūüĎĎūüĎĎūüĎϬ†1/2

The princess definitely loved to party, and nobody could break protocol by leaving before her. She was drawn to celebrities, and the feeling was mutual – she was a princess, after all. Girls copied her clothes, while Picasso was among the many men who wanted to marry her.

But celebs and diarists also swapped horror stories. Of all the jaw-dropping anecdotes, it’s hard to top the time she turned to a disabled guest at a party and asked: ‚ÄúHave you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and seen the way you walk?‚ÄĚ

Or when she was opening an old folks’ home and was presented with a specially cooked chicken dish. “That looks like sick,” she said.

While her sister was groomed to be queen and meet ambassadors and presidents, birth order discrimination meant Margaret was pushed to the background, destined for a lifetime – as Brown puts it – of opening “scout huts and pumping stations.”

Ma’am Darling almost gets repetitive with examples of bad behaviour, but Brown throws in some counter-factual flourishes too, such as Queen Margaret delivering a DGAF Christmas speech.

There’s been speculation that Princess Margaret’s life was ruined by the Townsend saga – when she supposedly couldn’t marry her beloved Group Captain without losing her royal status and income. Brown doesn’t seem to buy the fairy tale, and is skeptical of the 16 years older Group Captain.

Princess Margaret eventually married Antony Armstrong-Jones, photographer to the rich and famous. The Snowdons, as they became known, lived a bohemian life, but the marriage was unhappy, with Brown even accusing Snowdon of ‘gaslighting’ – that terrifying common tactic of abusers and bullies everywhere.

Ma’am Darling is a whimsical book. I didn’t find it as hysterically funny as some critics did, and I got exhausted by all the ‘famous’ names from the mid-century arts world and high society. But Brown looks at Princess Margaret from many angles, that you pity her and dislike her at the same time. It feels like her life was never her own.¬†

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13 reasons why book differences

NETFLIX 13 Reasons Why: Book/Show Review

Recently I read the new story collection, “You Think It, I’ll say It”, by Curtis Sittenfeld, whose work often features adult women still seething at the injustices of high school.

It made me want to watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s 2007 YA novel about a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves a suicide note blaming her classmates before taking her own life. Her ‘note’ is actually a set of audio tapes, passed between thirteen recipients under threat of being exposed by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen listens to the tapes, trying to figure out his place in the story, Hannah’s tale unspools in flashbacks. Played by Katherine Langford, she’s prettier and sweeter than¬†an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, and a whole episode is devoted to that character and about what Hannah says they did wrong, and about everything that was going wrong in their own lives, which, we discover, was¬†a lot…

Because we move from mean girls and school cliques to sexual harassment, multiple rapes, victim blaming, abusive parents, fatal car crashes, gun incidents, drug addiction, self-harm and more. It seems like a lot of problems for a dozen or so under-18s, even if the cast do look more like 25.

Netflix even nightmared up a second season/sequel to Asher’s book where Clay – now straight-up cray – develops a saviour complex and runs an amateur rehab clinic under his parents’ noses, while Hannah’s absentee parents sue the school whose teachers lazily ignored a brutal culture of bullying and rape.

Supposedly a ‘realistic’ portrayal of teen life, they’re all feverishly conforming to¬†that TV contrivance of¬†‘protecting’ their parents from reality, and being a ‘good kid’. Oh Netflix! We’re a few weeks into the UK summer vacation, and all I’ve heard are teenagers complaining about boredom and being unable to find any clean underwear!

That’s the immature demographic Netflix are targeting – and winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. I get that certain aspects – such as the bullying and social pressures – hit home for many young female viewers, but the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving that I don’t get the appeal.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (2007)

After ditching the show before the end of Season 2, I was curious about the novel, so I checked the YA section in my local bookshop. “We’re not allowed to shelve that in YA!” cried¬†51syyO7qB5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgthe sales assistant, nearly fainting, although he agreed it’s marketed at young people.

It was sold out, anyway.

Asher’s book is both gentler and sadder than the series. Instead of cramming in every social issue, it’s tightly focused on the mind of one suicidal girl, and Clay’s rising horror as he listens to the tapes over a single night.

At times their voices merge confusingly into one, and the premise still feels a touch far-fetched; I think if you have a dozen kids involved, somebody would have confided to a parent.

The school isn’t radioactive, but bullying goes on everywhere, and ongoing exposure can be a factor in suicidal behaviour. The book nails how hurtful gossip and rumours can be, and how one or two malevolent individuals, or pack leaders, can dominate a school or group.

Hannah clearly felt victimized, but as he listens Clay contradicts her – not because she’s a liar, but because of her mental state. He listens, powerless, as tape Hannah goes down a reckless, self-destructive path. (“You knew it was the worst choice possible….You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible.”)

He remembers Hannah withdrawing and avoiding eye contact, but he avoided talking to her partly because of what other kids would say if they knew he liked her. He had no idea who she really was; he just believed what other people said. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age, and I think the message is less about trying to ‘save’ others, as it is to reach out, and be friendly and undaunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe schools and colleges could be easier for the Hannah Bakers of the world.

The number for the Samaritans in the UK is 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Further international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

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.

 

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.

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.

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? ūüė¶ 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 РThe 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. ūüôā

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

‚ÄúNot another remake!‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôve already seen a stage play of¬†Louisa May Alcott‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 1934¬†Murder on the Orient Express, featuring her best-known creation ‚Äď genius detective Hercule Poirot ‚Äď 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‚Ķ

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‚Äôs peculiar, egghead creation. Where Suchet was an odd duck, Branagh‚Äôs detective is eccentric by way of a comedy Belgian accent, an OTT moustache and little perfectionist quirks, like straightening peoples‚Äô 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 Pen√©lope Cruz’s missionary (reminding me of her early role as a nun in Almod√≥var‚Äôs¬†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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď played in ‚Äô74 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 РRatchett 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‚Äôd cast Harvey Weinstein as a baggage handler.

Although the critics have insisted that it all ‚Äúoffers nothing new,‚ÄĚ 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 Рthe 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! 

TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones, where the rules are all wrong

Dany-02Farewell Season Seven. You left me even more Thrones-ambivalent then ever before.

And farewell Viserion! Considering all the characters who met tragic ends, I don’t know why I sniffled when a CGI dragon took his leave.

Moving on, because everything was anticlimactic after that poor innocent (Reminder to self: He’s not real!) firebreather slid into his icy grave. Sob.

…But seriously that Night King is a legend in his own icy mind. OK, he can throw a javelin, but Westerosi politics would shatter him. To defeat him, I propose a marriage alliance with Cersei. I can’t think of a worse fate for any man.

Get Littlefinger on it, he’s the wedding planner…oh. He was murdered by that pesky trio of non-acting Stark kids. Totally ungrateful of them, because there’d literally be no show without his scheming, and all three would be busy accruing student debt instead of playing princesses, blank-eyed assassins and three-eyed ravens.

We’ve got pompous psychic Bran, and pompous psycho Arya. I’ve touched on this before, but what would people call Bran if he threatened to cut off his sister’s face and wear it? Ramsay Bolton? Hannibal Lecter?

When psycho Arya isn’t menacing Sansa, she’s missing¬†dear old dead dad Ned, like the rest of us. He haunts the show, rattling his chains and reminding us how good Thrones used to be.

Arya recalls how he caught her secretly practicing archery. ‚ÄúI knew that what I was doing was against the rules, but he was smiling, so I knew it wasn‚Äôt wrong,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúThe rules were wrong.‚ÄĚ

There’s a lot of talk now about changing the world, about ‘breaking the wheel’ and making Westeros a better place.¬†Tyrion tried bandying around alternative political systems to absolute monarchist Daenerys. At The Wall (R.I.P) a group of largely illiterate men elect their leader. He hopes¬†this might catch on and pave the way for a brighter future.

Careful what you wish for T – the last lot stabbed Jon full of holes after an incredibly divisive campaign and election, and his wounds still look kind of oozy and gross.

It’s not just the rules that are wrong; the rhythms of the show are as disordered as the crazy seasons. Thrones¬†took too long on the road to this point, and now they’re rushing through with dazzling set pieces to reach the end.

And the show isn’t fooling anyone.¬†After a final season of death, deprivation and dragon human suffering, it’ll all end with a benevolent fairyland ruler – beautiful like Daenerys, but good like Jon. Their child, I’d imagine. Stark-Targaryen 2019.

TV REVIEW: 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!)

TV REVIEW: Channel 4’s The Windsors

thewindsors

Channel 4

Channel 4’s spoof royal soap opera The Windsors – which just returned for a second run – may not be subtle, but it’s a fun distraction, and if there’s any one thing this blogger is addicted to, it is fun distractions.

I know a lot of people think the show is puerile.

Yes,¬†the actors (led by Harry Enfield as Prince Charles) all give outrageous, panto performances. They’re either gin-soaked villains and/or monumentally, irredeemably stupid.

Save for the Duke of Edinburgh’s expletive-riddled written missives (“Dear Funny Foreigner…”) which are read out by other characters, the Queen and her husband are absent, which is more than fine, as they’ve got The Crown, and it’s on Netflix and it’s waaay more prestigious.

And although The Windsors is meant to be silly, all the characters are actually quite sweet and sad and touching, like poor Fergie (Katy Wix), desperate to be allowed back into the fold.

I’ve read the anonymous comments about the real Royal Family on places like¬†Mail Online¬†and people can be harsh and resentful (to put it lightly). Then there are fawning blogs, where for ‘Princess Kate’ fans, she’s Cinderella. (The Windsors writers Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffrie have the former Miss Middleton as a gullible sweetheart from a family of travellers.)

With the media focus on the ‘main three’ of Kate, William and Harry, Fergie’s girls have been relegated to bit-part players, but Tyler-Moore and Jeffrie have made B&E (Ellie White and Celeste Dring) main characters, which is nice. They’re depicted as airhead Sloanes who didn’t get the memo that they’re on the fringes of their own family, which..isn’t so nice.

It makes me feel almost sorry for the real Yorks, who sadly lack a certain media-friendly, fashion-savvy charm (constantly referred to as the ‘ugly stepsisters’), unlike the willowy Delevingne sisters, or even the Middletons. (I’ve written before that nothing would end the monarchy faster than an unattractive princess/future queen waiting in the wings.)

Pippa too (played here by the very talented Morgana Robinson as a vampish vixen seething with sisterly jealousy) can’t be seen to be having too much fun, before some online commentator yells: “Your sister is royal not you!!!” It’s as if to kowtow to the Cambridges, we have to remind ourselves we have some dignity by gloating at the position of the ‘lesser’ royals and royals-by-association.

Miss Markle, are you sure you want to join the cast of this real-life institution?!

The Windsors series 2 consists of six episodes. It continues on Channel 4 in the UK on Wednesdays. Get ready for the arrival of one President Trump!

The Mummy and Wonder Woman

I haven’t been enjoying the cinema very much lately. I keep getting hit with mild vertigo every time I go. I think I’m overpowered by all the fragrances and aftershave that people seem to douse themselves with before they head to the multiplex.

Yet I have bravely fought on, just like the wondrous Diana of Themyscira charging across No Man’s Land into enemy fire. (OK slight exaggeration.)

I realise everything has already been said about Woman Woman so I’ll keep it very brief: It’s a really good superhero movie. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are great (all the cast are), and I thought the decision to shift the backdrop to WWI worked really well.

Well done DCEU, I always knew you had it in you.

The Mummy was… a different experience.

The Tom Cruise-starrer kicks off Universal’s Dark Universe, but it seems there just wasn’t an appetite for another Mummy. It needed amazing word of mouth to entice people.

To my surprise it was a 15 certificate, although as the movie progressed I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t a 12A. It starts off a bit dark and intriguing, with¬†Russell Crowe in the present day finding a crypt, then a load of exposition involving Ancient Egypt and a curse, before we’re back to now, where tomb raider Tom Cruise triggers said curse.

I would make a crack about Cruise being too old for this kind of action hero thing, but a load of fiftysixty-somethings (and one seventy-year-old) totally crushed me at running 5k (3.1 miles) last week, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut on that score.

Chris Martin’s girlfriend is also in the movie as an archaeologist who has an affair with Cruise.

I felt sorry for the actress Sofia Boutella because her Mummy is an interesting idea. Ahmanet is an Egyptian princess who got royally screwed over and then makes bad choices by entering into a pact with the evil god Set. She is way scarier than campy old Imhotep. (Weird thing, there was a guy who looked just like that crazy high priest right behind me.)

It’s a heavy, oppressive summer blockbuster, with out-of-control sound levels, but there is a good movie in there – perhaps it was the rumoured troubled production. Keep going Universal, you’ll get your Wonder Woman.

REVIEW: Alien: Covenant (randomly deleted..)

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

However, in the Alien franchise, it seems I’d be well-qualified. In Interstellar the crew represent the best of humanity; they’re the bravest, the best scientific minds. Compare this to the inept crew of Prometheus, and the hardscrabble, quotable marines of Aliens. Truth is, Xenomorph Expedition’s workforce¬†are never exactly¬†first draft. No offence, Ripley, ma’am.

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

Now I loved Prometheus. I loved the blueness of it, I loved Shaw Рdespite everything Рand I loved David because the crew were so infuriatingly stupid and hostile you rooted for the evil robot genius. Shaw and David survived the events of Prometheus together and set off to track down the Engineers Рthe race who created humans.

shaw

Sadly missed: Dr Elizabeth Shaw Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

I was probably alone in the universe in basically just wanting Prometheus 2, and with¬†‘Covenant’ in the title it looked like my prayers might still¬†be answered.¬†More dodgy philosophizing please! I avoided¬†trailers and publicity because I wanted to be surprised in the theatre.

People who didn’t like Prometheus (and, ahem, there were a fair few) had made their feelings known, and as with all things, those who shout the loudest tend to get their way.¬†So I had¬†to get¬†over the disappointment that Covenant wasn’t a continuation of the adventures of David and Shaw, but¬†a return¬†to typical – if bloody – blockbuster terrain.

Covenant’s newly-awakened crew are lured away from their target planet by an eerie transmission that I¬†think was Shaw singing John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’. Upon hearing her, I realized I just couldn’t¬†care about these Covenant losers and I never would.

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

Daniels and Arm lead some of the other marrieds and a security¬†team¬†on¬†this strange new¬†world and despite knowing nothing about it, people¬†are soon¬†moaning and stopping for cigarette breaks like this is just a routine rekkie. There’s no professionalism, no training, no¬†common sense. I wanted to scream at the screen: “It’s not Earth guys!”

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

Apart from the creepy android-on-android flute scene, we know where all this is headed: an all-action face-off with an Xenomorph through the halls of the Covenant. This is Aliens minus the snappy dialogue and (my earlier disrespect notwithstanding) the memorable supporting cast.

If Ridley Scott couldn’t do¬†a¬†George Lucas and remain unrepentant following¬†Prometheus, insisting this was the prequel¬†story¬†he always wanted to make only he didn’t have the tech – it¬†might have been better if this¬†venerable franchise had stayed in a permanent cryo-sleep since the 80s.

TV REVIEW: King Charles III on BBC2 and PBS

charlesiii

BBC/Drama Republic

When “Charles III” trended on Twitter last Wednesday there were probably more than a few people who feared that an era had ended.

Luckily, Wednesday’s tweets were about the¬†BBC TV adaptation of Mike Bartlett’s award-winning future history play.

After¬†the glossy Netflix hit¬†The Crown, and¬†ITV’s vapid¬†Victoria, it was a more unsettling production.¬†First staged in 2014, it imagines the current Prince of Wales as a tormented ruler¬†who causes constitutional chaos by¬†refusing to grant Royal Assent to a bill passed by Parliament.

What draconian new¬†law upsets Charles so much he’d risk the monarchy? Banning homeopathy on the NHS? War on one of his other pet causes? Nope, he’s royally peeved about a nasty bit of legislation that restricts the freedom of the press. (Hooray for Charles! Journalists probably aren’t his favourite people.) Cue¬†rioting outside the palace and Diana apparitions wafting down the corridors.

The actors in this play-turned-TV-drama make the blank verse dialogue sound easy (most of the cast are veterans from the stage run): the late Tim Pigott-Smith is Charles; Chris Oliver is a dithering, weak-willed Wills; Richard Goulding a dour, hunched, Daniel Radcliffe-like (Prince) Harry.

The cast¬†aren’t¬†doing impersonations so much as original portrayals of real people in a parallel universe; the only thing Goulding’s Harry shares with the prince is red hair.

And poor Harry! While¬†the real ‘spare’ has created a role for himself, in the play he’s a ‘ginger joke’. There are really embarrassing, unbelievable scenes featuring¬†the melancholy prince with Working Class Londoners¬†who don’t recognize him.

There’s¬†an unlikely love interest in a working-class woman¬†named Jessica (Tamara Lawrance),¬†who is¬†not Meghan Markle, the glam, highly-educated American actress and¬†true-life Harry girlfriend. She came along too late to be written in, although¬†there is Camilla (Margot Leicester), and there is Kate (Charlotte Riley.)

The BBC were criticised for portraying William’s wife as a scheming Lady Macbeth when Catherine has actually always seemed¬†more quietly traditional than quietly revolutionary.

While the real Kate doesn’t seem career-driven or devoted to public service, in Bartlett’s play it’s her children’s¬†royal status that is jeopardized, and she acts decisively to protect them and their social standing. (Charlotte Riley defended her character as ‘just being pragmatic’…)

Charles III might be a little alienating and cold for some audiences, with its Shakespearean black verse and apparitions etc. It reminded me of¬†Pablo Larra√≠n’s crazy Jackie biopic: a dark little 90 minute horror with powerful, haunting¬†music (by Jocelyn Pook), while a country is in limbo and mourning.

REVIEW: Ghost in the Shell

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

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

Her¬†character is Mira, or Major. Created¬†by the shadowy Hanka Robotics, her¬†brain is housed in a fully cybernetic body. People¬†have all kinds of cutting-edge enhancements, like X-ray vision, but we’re told 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 – the robot workforce is coming to take everyone’s¬†jobs.)

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

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

The performances do match the spectacle, with¬†Pilou Asb√¶k as Major’s second in command Batou, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano as the boss of Section 9, Juliette Binoche as the scientist Dr Oulet, and Michael Pitt as the villain Kuze.¬†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 Johansson’s 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 was probably¬†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.

Mini Reviews: Doctor Strange, Deepwater Horizon, Kubo And The Two Strings

Well, there was a monumental flub at the Oscars ceremony¬†just over a week ago: I wasn’t invited. I know right! (The organizers obviously read my blog and know that I don’t like travelling. Yes, yes, that must be it.)

Last year I watched part of the show, but that was only because I was up all night with a streaming¬†cold. This year I went to bed, knowing full well¬†there wouldn’t be any nice¬†surprises.¬†Sigh. #OscarsSoDull.

But I¬†don’t want to write about the awards and their tedious machinations and untrammelled sexism/ageism. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on the fact that some of the films I’ve got the most enjoyment from over the last few years have tended to be nominated in the technical categories.

Out of this year’s crop of visual effects nominees,¬†I’d seen Rogue One and eventual winner The Jungle Book, but it was time to check out the other contenders…

Doctor Strange 

A bunch of baddies led by Mads Mikkelson rip some pages out of a book and chuck it on the floor, so Smug Superior Being Tilda Swinton goes all Inception on them. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange, an arrogant surgeon with a good grasp of popular culture, has a horror car crash and damages his hands.

When he goes to Smug Being for a cure we swap medical blah blah for¬†spatial paradoxes and continuum probabilities. The Avengers may protect us from physical perils, but Smug’s Sorcerers, including Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), guard against mystical threats.

Smug doesn’t want to train Strange because she fears he may fall to the dark side like Mads and start damaging library books, but po-faced Mordo vouches for him.¬†Cumberbatch and Ejiofor score¬†some very actorly shouting matches, while Mads and Strange’s GF Rachel McAdams have settled for the more¬†thankless Marvel roles.

At least we don’t get the usual metal-clanging-against-metal final showdown that superhero movies usually give us.¬†Instead, Strange and the crew do some Parkour and freerunning over buildings and stairways that move and shift like Hogwarts on acid.

Anyway, thanks Doctor – I nearly made it through a Marvel thingy without resorting to the headache pills.

Deepwater Horizon

In Peter Berg’s re-staging of the 2010 offshore rig disaster, early scenes set electronics technician¬†Mark Wahlberg up as a¬†family man¬†married¬†to Kate Hudson, who will be pulling worried-wife-on-the-phone duties.

There’s a scene where¬†their cutesy movie daughter demonstrates¬†her school project (“My daddy’s job”) on deepwater drilling (which goes right over my head because these things always do), and then we’re off to the rig!

Once the predictable one-liners and jokey banter have been mined to completion, we get a volatile situation onboard the rig where wild-eyed¬†BP exec John Malkovich is riding roughshod over¬†Transocean employees, including Wahlberg and Kurt Russel. If you’ve ever seen the SNL sketch of Kylo Ren as an Undercover Boss – it’s like that.

Once the first thing goes wrong on the rig it seems to start¬†a chain reaction and from there the action¬†doesn’t let up. This is devastating movie mayhem¬†that makes Titanic and every other disaster movie look tame, with Berg letting the explosions do the talking.

Watching Horizon,¬†I got the impression the explosion occurred because Malkovich was a money-hungry %$&*. “We just the help ya’ll hire to drill a hole”, grumbles¬†Russell. The reality was more complex, but the movie does its best to serve as a tribute to the bravery of survivors and those that lost their lives.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo is the latest stop-motion from Laika studios, the same people behind The Boxtrolls and Coraline. This latest offering got a major thumbs up from all quarters, and was hailed as the animation movie of the year.

Set in ancient Japan, young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson –¬†Rickon in Game of Thrones) lives in a cave¬†with his ailing mother. No ordinary boy, he is a one-eyed storyteller who can bring his origami figures to life. He uses his magical gifts to entertain local villagers, but he must be home before it gets dark.

This is because his grandfather and wicked aunts (who dwell in some kind of cold spiritual realm) plan to steal his other eye. When Kubo stays out one night, the aunts appear, and his mother uses the last of her magic to spirit him away.

Charlize Theron voices Kubo’s¬†monkey-guardian in the kind¬†of bored, superior tone she might use for press interviews, while Matthew McConaughey plays a dopey samurai-figure cursed to live as a beetle. Ralph Fiennes resurrects the ghost of Voldemort for the Moon King,¬†and Rooney Mara memorably lends her voice to¬†the fluttering¬†Dementor-like aunts.

Kubo definitely has atmosphere to spare and a beautiful soundtrack, but I could see the plot surprises coming. I have to acknowledge the painstaking work that goes into creating something like this, but I know the child version of me would have been bored.

BOOK REVIEW: Lion (A Long Way Home: A Memoir) by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose

In 1980s India, five-year-old Saroo, like many small children in poor communities, looks after¬†a¬†younger sibling; he has special responsibility for his¬†baby sister Shekila. He washes and feeds her, and plays games of peekaboo. Saroo’s streetwise big brothers, Guddu and Kallu, take care of each other and little Saroo.

With no father at home, their mother works on construction sites, carrying rocks and stones on her head in the baking heat. Despite this hardship, Saroo is lucky – his family are poor, but they are, Saroo will recall, “reasonably happy”.

Saroo’s mother is warm and kindhearted, and people in the dry, dusty central Indian town watch out for¬†each other. The little boy loves flying kites, chasing butterflies and tagging behind¬†his older brothers when they hustle for food and money.blogbooks2

On one longer jaunt with his eldest brother Guddu, an exhausted Saroo is left to nod off on a bench on a railway platform. When he wakes up, it is dark, and his brother has vanished. Saroo stumbles onto a waiting train and goes back to sleep.

Childhood memory can be unreliable, but suffice to say Saroo found himself alone and trapped on a moving train, carrying him 1,500km east to the megacity of Kolkata.

There, people mainly speak Bengali. Saroo speaks Hindi, and is unable to¬†pronounce the name of his town or his last name. (It later turns out he was mispronouncing even his first name – his name is actually Sheru, or ‘Lion’ in Hindi.)

He spends a unbelievable three weeks on the streets until an older boy takes him to a police station. When attempts to establish his identity fail, he finds himself first in a frightening juvenile home, and then mercifully in the care of a adoption agency, ISSA, and then flown to his adoptive parents in Tasmania РSue and  John Brierley.

From the impoverished child with broken teeth and a heart murmour, Saroo grows into a healthy and amiable adult, a “proud Tassie”. Yet he never forgets India or fully moves on. Nobody can find his¬†original home until a new technology – Google Earth -leads him¬†to months of searching, eventually reuniting him with his past.

My thoughts (updated after seeing the movie)*

This is a remarkable story that captured the attention of the world. Reading Lion, it’s impossible not to have compassion for little Saroo as¬†he¬†finds himself trapped and terrified, then lost amid¬†Kolkata’s immense Howrah Station.

Despite the pitiless indifference and random cruelty of adults – not to mention some of the sinister near-misses he had on the streets –¬†the adult Saroo says¬†that his journey left him with a sincere belief in the goodness of people.

80,000 children go missing in India each year, yet Saroo does not seem to suffer from the survivor’s guilt that was the driving force in the film adaptation*. Instead he emphasizes the importance of grabbing opportunities when they are presented.

Lion may now be a major Oscar-nominated movie starring Nicole Kidman, but I’m very glad¬†it jumped out at me from the bookshelf first. 5 stars.

TV REVIEW: SS-GB Episode 1

Where¬†The Crown was a soothing, nostalgic view of Britain’s unique greatness,¬†new BBC drama SS-GB – based on Len Deighton‚Äôs alternate-history novel – is a dystopian 1941 where the Nazis won the Battle of Britain and occupied the country with their Swastika flags and spiky road barriers.

Hitler’s head might be on postage stamps and Buckingham Palace in ruins, but Sam Riley’s Superintendent Douglas Archer just wants to keep on policing like nothing has happened.

He’s a Humphrey Bogart-esque detective¬†with a throaty¬†growl¬†(top tip – subtitles ON). Sadly Scotland Yard‚Äôs finest hasn‚Äôt realised that his secretary and lover Sylvia (Maeve Dermody), and his old-school sergeant Harry Woods (Commander Mormont from the Night’s Watch on secondment) are both working with the British Resistance.

When the corpse of a shady antique dealer turns up¬†with fatal gunshot wounds, things get murky, not least when¬†Archer spies New York Times journalist Barbara Barga (Kate Bosworth) slinking away from the scene of the crime. “That outfit’s always going to get you noticed,” he growls of Bosworth, world-famous¬†clothes horse.

She’s in London working on a piece about Americans who decided to remain under the occupation. “A journalist. AND a liar,” proclaims Archer.

As the murder inquiry becomes part of a more sinister investigation, Archer is assigned to work with Standartenf√ľhrer Huth (Lars Eidinger), a haughty (naturally) high-ranking SS officer. Archer finds himself caught up in rivalry between his new SS and German Army overlords, as well as targeted by hardliners in the Resistance who see him as a collaborator.

“Do you work for the Gestapo daddy?” asks Archer’s son. No,¬†daddy¬†works at Scotland Yard for the Met police. The Gestapo are in the building next door…or something. Perhaps the reason for Archer‚Äôs strange ambivalence is simply that there isn‚Äôt much evidence of the repressive Nazi machine or their death-dealing ideology.

Despite its ambition, great acting and noirish intrigue, SS-GB plays more like a standard police procedural with Nazi window-dressing than a chilling counterfactual hell.

SS-GB is on BBC1, Sunday at 9pm.

Photo: BBC/Sid Gentle Films Ltd.

Mini Reviews: The Girl on the Train, Hell or High Water, Captain Fantastic

It’s that time of year when it’s chilly outside and the stars¬†are busy traipsing up and down red carpets without so much as a coat on and covering themselves in shiny awards, while I’m staying home and covering myself with a giant blanket.

Britain’s glitzy BAFTAs were on Sunday, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in attendance. My top fashion picks were Nicole Kidman, Felicity Jones and Thandie Newton – although¬†by sheer dint of her royal status the Duchess managed to outshine the stars.

Anyway, I’m not going to harp on about fashion. I’m wearing a blanket, after all.

Some of the BAFTA nominees for Best Film etc. are in the cinema, but a few are available on DVD and digital already. And I’m lazy. So I’ve¬†been watching…

The Girl on the Train

They’ve both got ‘girl’ in the title and they were both¬†publishing sensations before becoming movie adaptations, but that’s where the similarities between Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train lie down on the tracks to¬†die.

This Emily Blunt-starrer is as much fun as the time I had a migraine and had to get a train from Southampton to Portsmouth, but got on the train to London instead and spent all day trying to get back home.

Blunt is alcoholic Rachel, in such a committed performance you can taste¬†the booze on her breath. She’s divorced, and quasi-stalks her ex¬†Justin Theroux and his new¬†wife Rebecca Ferguson.

Every day on her train, Rachel passes a beautiful house with beautiful couple Luke Evans & Haley Bennett – who looks like a foxier Jennifer Lawrence mixed with Rebecca De Mornay circa The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.

Rachel becomes obsessed with the couple, blackouts, and then wakes up covered in blood with a determined cop (Alison Janney) on her case. Yet despite the cast and all the potential, this adaptation feels like it got left on the platform….zzzz¬†

Captain Fantastic 

Dad Ben (Viggo Mortensen – nominated for Best Actor at Sunday’s BAFTA ceremony), is raising his brood of six kids in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The children follow an¬†intensive literature/philosophy home school program, while undergoing rugged survival and endurance training.

Mom is bipolar and in a psychiatric facility, when news filters through to the wilderness that she’s committed suicide. Meanwhile eldest son Bod (George MacKay – really good) has secretly applied to and been accepted into every Ivy in the land.

There’s two redheaded interchangeable sisters¬†and a pair of smaller blond moppets, but the only other sprog to emerge from the picture is¬†angry preteen River Phoenix/Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton).

The family all hop¬†aboard a school bus and trek off to mom’s funeral and disapproving grandpa Frank Langella, where brothers Bo and Rellian (and their siblings, if we must) discover they aren’t really able to deal with the outside world, while their real world cousins are Typical Western Teenagers in all their ignorant, idle glory.

I expected a fish-out-of-water comedy; then I was convinced it was going to be an intensely personal, stormy teen drama about a monstrously overbearing, misguided parent. It’s neither. It’s¬†a neat little drama with some funny moments that holds back from portraying Ben as either a megalomaniac cult figure or as a saintly man with all the answers.

Hell or High Water

Nominated for Cinematography, Best Supporting Actor for Jeff Bridges, and Best Original Screenplay for Taylor Sheridan at the BAFTAs, Hell or High Water is the surprisingly simple story of divorced dad Toby (Chris Pine) and his explosive ex-con older brother Tanner (Ben Foster).

The brothers carry out a couple of highly-planned robberies (driving past huge signs screaming “DEBT”) at branches of a Texan bank threatening to foreclose on their family land.

I loved all the supporting Texan characters, from the old man in the bank (“You’re damn right I got a gun on me”) to the sweet-voiced diner waitress who¬†befriends Toby.

Ben Foster brings his trademark twitchy intensity, and you can see the training he underwent for such roles as a Navy SEAL in Lone Survivor, although I don’t 100%¬†believe him as the dimwit that Tanner is considered to be.

Texan Ranger Jeff Bridges and his partner Gil Birmingham lie in wait for the outlaws to strike again. A screwup like Tanner is always going to screw up, and the movie quickly and quietly builds to thrilling chase and shootout scenes.

Sunshine Blogger Award #2

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

The Sunshine nomination rules:

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

Here are my responses to Jason’s 11 questions:

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

I’d say Rogue One or Jackie.

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

Tarzan was a waste of time.

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

The Last Jedi.

  • Question #4 ‚Äď What is your favorite food?

Chocolate

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

Ghost in the Shell or…The Last Jedi.

  • Question #6 ‚Äď And who would you bring with you?

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

  • Question #7 ‚Äď Where do you rather venture to‚Ķ. Narnia or Middle-Earth?

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

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

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

  • Question #9 ‚Äď Favorite movie quote?

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

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

Sleep a lot. No, I study!

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

Maybe.

Nominations: 

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

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

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

That’s it guys! Thanks everyone. Lx