Tag Archives: reviews

BBC 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’s alternate-history novel – is set in a dystopian 1941 where the Nazis won the Battle of Britain.

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’s finest hasn’t 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 Standartenführer 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’s strange ambivalence is simply that there isn’t 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.

 

Sunshine Blogger Award #2

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

The Sunshine nomination rules:

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

Here are my responses to Jason’s 11 questions:

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

I’d say Rogue One or Jackie.

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

Tarzan was a waste of time.

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

The Last Jedi.

  • Question #4 – What is your favorite food?

Chocolate

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

Ghost in the Shell or…The Last Jedi.

  • Question #6 – And who would you bring with you?

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

  • Question #7 – Where do you rather venture to…. Narnia or Middle-Earth?

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

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

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

  • Question #9 – Favorite movie quote?

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

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

Sleep a lot. No, I study!

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

Maybe.

Nominations: 

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

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

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

That’s it guys! Thanks everyone. Lx

Victoria episodes 3, 4 and 5, review: Melbourne does the morally right & historically accurate thing

Hallelujah! Hallleluujah!!

Nope, Victoria isn’t a singing competition, even if it does fit beautifully into ITV’s weekend line-up, right next to The X Factor.

But 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.

I already mentioned that Jenna Coleman’s Victoria reminds me of Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, and even the music is like a candied version of Thrones’ epic theme.

This eight-part look at the early years of V’s reign has proved to be Downton Abbey with a teen queen and the same upstairs/downstairs theme, and does an OK job at hinting at a world of social change.

To recap: in the first episodes we saw the mini-monarch come to the throne following the death of her uncle William IV. A hormonal teenager, Victoria is nobody’s ideal head of state, but such are the perils of hereditary monarchy.

Gossip Girl Vicky gets the hots for her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), whom she relies on as her mentor. Historians have really recoiled at this notion of a romantic attraction between queen and PM, but writer Daisy Goodwin could be onto something.

Diarists and cartoonists at the time noted the unusually intense relationship, dubbing young Vicky “Lady Melbourne”. It’s not hard to believe that the sheltered girl fell for the powerful urbane older man, even if he didn’t look anything like Rufus Sewell.

But by episode three M does the morally right and historically accurate thing, and doesn’t marry Vicky.

Instead, a certain German princeling arrives at court – it’s Albert, accompanied by his bad boy brother Ernest. Albert is on a mission to sweep Victoria off her feet, but fictional Victoria isn’t impressed with the moany-looking hipster, even if he has a fab profile. (In reality she was instantly smitten.)

Poor Albert isn’t 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.

We are supposed to laugh at Albert’s nerdiness; but he is a man of the future, Melbourne is a man of the past. As episode five arrives, it is clear that the spell binding Victoria and her prime minister is broken. The British public were slow to take to Albert, and audiences might struggle too, as he has totally usurped the smouldering Sewell.

Queen Victoria was famously devoted to Albert (when he croaked she wore black for 40 years) but she wasn’t necessarily the mothering type. It will be interesting to see how the series portrays the next chapter in her life: Domestic tyrant, or domestic bliss?  

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

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

As soon as I started writing about Eva Green, my font immediately switched itself 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.

The movie is based on Ransom Riggs’ New York Times best seller about a boy who discovers an abandoned orphanage run by headmistress Miss Peregrine.

Eva told The Edit how much she loved playing a character defined by her devotion to her students. “It was nice not to be a love interest,” she said. “To play the guardian of those children, who would risk her life to protect them – I loved the idea that her children are her life.”

In The Edit interview Eva also shared that she hates social media and selfies.

The cynic in me thinks this is a popular statement for celebrities who wish to appeal to middlebrow gossip fans and cultivate a certain image. But for what it’s worth, Burton has described his new star as “private” and “mysterious”.

The director is famous for working with his now ex-partner Helena Bonham Carter, plus one Mr. Johnny Depp. Back in 2012, Eva made her Burton debut alongside both stars in Dark Shadows.

Eva certainly fits Burton’s strong, beautiful imagery and the cool/creepy vibe of his movies. But this time there is no HBC and no Johnny. Instead, it will be Eva leading a strong cast including Samuel L. Jackson and Judi Dench.

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. Personally, I think I’m more excited for Eva’s red carpet looks!

REVIEW: Victoria – Jenna Coleman in a royal TV drama

Soap actress and Doctor Who sidekick Jenna Coleman made her bow as Queen Victoria this past weekend.

ITV’s new series is an eight-part look at the early years of Victoria’s reign.

The show is more Downton Abbey than Game of Thrones, but I was still struck by how Jenna’s portrayal owes a lot to Emilia Clarke’s performance as Daenerys Targaryen. I can totally see Victoria screaming “WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!!!”

She even has a “mad” grandfather, George III, who lost America – just like Daenerys’ father the Mad King lost the Seven Kingdoms.

Anyway, it’s not been lost on Twitter users that Jenna Coleman’s little queen is far more beautiful than Victoria ever was. Looks wise, Alfie Allen in a wig could have doubled for Queen Victoria (although the craziest royal casting ever would still be Ray Winstone as Henry VIII).

Of course Jenna is too pretty to be Victoria. More importantly, would a modern-day Victoria be pretty enough to be queen in the age of appearances and celebrity? Considering the grief her 4X great granddaughters Beatrice and Eugenie get for their figures and frumpiness, no. I think nothing would end the monarchy faster than an unattractive princess waiting in the wings.

But Victoria is a frothy period drama, and movies and TV do tend to cast actors far better-looking that their real life counterparts – Rufus Sewell is too handsome for Victoria’s first PM, Lord Melbourne.

And it is such a good career move for Jenna, even if it’s not a heavyweight drama that taps into the debate about the future of the monarchy in a 21st century democracy.

Another royal drama – this time a real prestige project – arrives in November in the shape of Netflix’s super-ambitious The Crown. Planned to run for six series, it will trace the life of Queen Elizabeth II (played by Claire Foy) from her wedding to the present day. Actor Matt Smith, who plays Prince Philip, has promised that the writing – although respectful – is not “overly reverential”.

I’m all for dramas about the modern royal family that aren’t either rousing and predictable (The King’s Speech) or just silly (Will & Kate: The Movie). Victoria is entertainment somewhere between the two, and set in a time when royals didn’t pretend to be Just Like Us.

I wonder how long it will be before we get a well-researched, blockbuster Middleton/Cambridge biopic. Any scrutiny of them, however mild, seems to really hit a nerve.

At least Victoria will only upset historians.

Amber Heard, her acting career and Johnny Depp

If you’re interested in the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard divorce saga, you’re probably pro-Johnny. According to predominant public opinion, he’s a Legend and she’s trying to smear his name and squeeze him for cash.

To put it mildly, this so-called ‘gold-digger’ doesn’t seem to have much of a fan base prepared to come to her defence.

So who is Amber Heard? Before she filed for divorce, I’d have thought:

  • she’s a mean Margot Robbie
  • she stars in dodgy Nicolas Cage movies
  • she’s married to an actor that isn’t Nic Cage, but is similarly weird and old enough to be her dad.

At the moment, she has a part to play in the expanding Warner Bros/DC cinematic universe. I say ‘at the moment’, because internet commentators are hoping she’ll lose her role as Mera in Justice League and Aquaman. Something to do with accusing Johnny Depp of domestic violence.

Amber got to know Johnny on the 2009 set of the film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel The Rum Diary. She had beaten higher profile starlets like Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley for the very slight and purely decorative role of Depp’s love interest. She turned 23 during filming, Depp was 45.

The Rum Diary ranks as one of the biggest flops of Saint Depp’s career. (For a beloved icon, audiences aren’t interested when he isn’t doing silly walks and gimmicks.) I watched it a few days ago, and it’s actually an OK movie with some funny moments and enjoyable performances, especially from Depp and Richard Jenkins.

People have always questioned Amber’s motives for marrying the multimillionaire superstar, but Rum Diary-era Depp still looked like the handsome Johnny of old. (Officially, they didn’t start dating until 2012.)

Amber is very beautiful like Angelina Jolie or Marilyn Monroe, but cinema-goers haven’t been able to see any vulnerability or softness in her turns as yet another femme fatale, scream queen or hot chick.

She had a supporting role in The Danish Girl as a bohemian ballerina, where it was a genuine surprise to see her in genteel Oscar bait instead of genre fare. Amber seemed so grateful for the gig she got a bit overenthusiastic, but there was heart to the performance at least.

The clip below is of Amber as the young Charlize Theron in an upsetting scene from 2005’s North Country. She’s unrecognizable – more girl-next-door than the sex sirens she portrays now.

I really wanted to get a sense of Amber as an actress, which hasn’t been easy with her body of work. I expect she must be used to losing roles to Jennifer Lawrence, Margot Robbie and Kristen Stewart.

If marrying Depp was a planned career move, it was a bad one, because having your tabloid persona overshadow your work is pretty fatal for actresses.

Perhaps after her divorce she’ll no longer be a big-ticket gossip draw.

I still maintain she’s a little hard on the ears, but it’ll be interesting to see where she goes next.

Mini movie reviews for 2016!

It’s February. That means cold, freezing weather. It is also the culmination of the awards season. Yes, it’s nearly time for the biggest, glitziest celebrity ceremony of the year – the Oscars! Chilly, horrible weather, and awards season? I think I better start with…

THE MARTIAN

Ridley’s Scott’s latest space offering is set on the red planet, where things get pretty cold for NASA botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) after he’s abandoned ET-style by his team.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, the scenes on Earth are as dry as Martian soil, but Mars looks like a fab destination. The astronauts even have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery. It’s not as good or moving as Gravity, but it’s a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity, and the will to survive.

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SICARIO

In the brutal war on drugs, idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) makes a  gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), and his even shadier partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro). In Sicario, the good guys fight dirty.

Blunt is wide-eyed and vulnerable – enough to be affecting, but not so much to be miscast as a door-kicker rolling with Delta Force. She the audience’s proxy, not driving the story forward so much as along for the ride.

Del Toro is so enigmatic he makes waking up from a nap compelling. Kate appears drawn to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

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THE DANISH GIRL

Save all your tears for The Danish Girl, a lavish costume drama based on 1920s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe.

We begin the film with Lili-as-Einar, who’s married to fellow painter/illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander). They are devoted to one another, with a circle of friends (including an earsplitting Amber Heard) who all love to hear about their blissful wedded life.

Lili tries on a dress, then has this thunderclap realization that she’s a woman. Mistreated until she meets a humane physician, she becomes one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery, before antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs.

“I am… entirely… myself,” beams an unconvincing Redmayne.

Although it starts as a two-hander, The Danish Girl is more of a blank canvas for Alicia Vikander.  Luckily its got its timing right, so is bound to find an audience willing to treat it with reverence.

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ROOM

Little Jack and his Ma (Brie Larson) are locked in a soundproofed shed they call “Room”.

Their captor, Old Nick, snatched a teenage Joy Newsome. It shouldn’t need to be spelled out, but yes Jack is the result of Old Nick’s nighttime assaults on Joy.

Mother and son eventually pull off a rather implausible escape, and wake up in hospital with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast cityscape, which seemed like a rapid adjustment for two people used to a cramped room with only a skylight.

The book was told through Jack’s eyes, but in the movie, this doesn’t work. The final act is a letdown as we wince through screechy little Jack effortlessly getting used to his freedom, instead of concentrating on Joy’s much-harder rehabilitation.

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CAROL

Trapped behind a toy counter in a Manhattan department store for the holidays, Therese (looking like a festive fawn in a Santa hat) is dreaming of a creative life as a photographer. Across a blur of Christmas shoppers she locks eyes with statuesque beauty Cate Blanchett’s titular blue-blooded 1950s socialite.

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

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

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CRIMSON PEAK

Set in the early 20th Century, aspiring writer Edith (Mia Wasikowska) falls for British aristocrat Tom Hiddleston, who is trying to convince her Pa to invest in his mining inventions.

Although Pa dislikes him and his Bronte mean girl sister Jessica Chastain, Edith marries Hiddles and returns to England to live at his crumbling estate, where gross red clay oozes through the walls and floorboards. Oh, and there’s a ghost, too, in this decomposing goo-mansion.

Crimson Peak doesn’t deliver scares like The Woman in Black, and likely isn’t intended as a horror. A gothic costume drama and a brooding Victorian romance – I’m not sure anyone in charge of the marketing knew what to do with it.

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The Force Awakens: The Ballad of Ren and Rey?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has broken records, received stellar reviews and revitalized a much-loved franchise.

More importantly it gifted us Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, son of Leia and Han, Master of the Knights of Ren and Creep of the First Order. He has become an internet sensation thanks to his tantrums and his rejection of his former identity.

Before the movie’s release we learned that Kylo idolized Darth Vader, which is why he stomps around in a black mask that he doesn’t need. Yet when Rey taunts him and refers to him as a “creature” he pops his mask off and tosses his hair. “Don’t be afraid, I feel it too,” he smirks.

Rey has to pick her jaw up off the ground and re-assume her own mask – a mask of defiance.

Who is she? There are plenty of theories.

Rey and Ren are siblings

hansolo

Some people imagine Han unburdened his fatherly guilt to Maz Kanata off-camera at her castle. But the reason we cut away in that scene is because the audience didn’t need to hear Han explain Rey’s backstory.

It’s possible Leia secretly had baby Rey before stashing her for safe-keeping. But as the novel Before the Awakening makes clear, Rey suffers an agonizing life, waking up every day starving.

Hardly safe-keeping.

They’re cousins

luke

As Rey reached out to Luke, he looked like he was going to chuck himself off the cliff, a bit like that time he jumped off that ledge in Cloud City in Empire.

Vader begged him to join the dark side; Rey reaches out to him to rejoin the fight for the light. Episode VIII may reveal that Luke is her father, making her Kylo’s cousin.

Sure, although I’m not sure cousin-rivalry will have the pathos of the father-son duel in Return of the Jedi.

Kenobi kin?

obi

A lot of fans are sold on this one; Rey is the granddaughter of old Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi.

Kenobi was dead before Jedi, and Rey was born after the Battle of Endor, so no way is she his daughter. But Kenobi could have had a child who went on to have Rey… It’s unwieldy.

And Kylo fighting the granddaughter of his namesake? It’s not really the “deeply and profoundly satisfying” ending Trevorrow teased.

She’s the Force, reborn…

ani

LucasFilm

Rey picked up piloting and force skills so quickly both Han and then Kylo looked at her with amazement. Perhaps this isn’t Rey’s first rodeo. Yup, she’s the Rey-incarnation of Anakin/Vader.

Maybe after Anakin brought balance to the force, he saw his grandson fall to the dark side. He made the sacrifice to return and redeem him, the way Luke saved Vader.

Hmm. Although fans accept space wizards, telekinesis and ghosts, reincarnation is getting a bit silly, right?

What do you think?

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

BOOK REVIEW: Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sisterland is a tale about identical twin sisters with hidden gifts. Growing up with a hostile, depressed mother and an ineffectual father in St Louis, Violet and Kate called their eerie dreams, insights, and premonitions their “senses”.

We follow Kate, the novel’s first-person narrator, as they take divergent paths through adulthood. Kate has suppressed her senses and taken the conventional route in life, living with her husband and their children in the suburbs, whereas Violet is a proud, rebellious misfit, earning a crust as a psychic and medium.

After a minor earthquake strikes, Violet has a premonition of a catastrophic follow-up. When she announces the date in a television interview, she becomes an overnight media sensation and the international attention rocks Kate’s domestic life and the siblings’ already tense relationship.

The chapters alternate between the present day fallout and the twins’ troubled back story. It covers a lot of familiar territory for Sittenfeld – such as awkward adolescence and self-identity.

Kate’s abilities are an innate part of her, and are presented as matter-of-fact. These extrasensory flashes are a blessing for the reader, as they help break up Kate’s mundane adult life and judgmental inner voice. As someone who enjoyed the extreme introspection of Sittenfeld’s other, rather similar heroines, Kate is irritatingly priggish.

Violet is lazy, stubborn, and delights in provoking her straight-laced twin, whilst Courtney – a work colleague and friend of Kate’s geologist husband – subtly ratchets up the sarcasm and cutting remarks.

Even if some of Kate’s choices feel unbelievable, Sittenfeld’s characters and the intricacies of female relationships are again depicted with an alarming – almost spooky – perceptiveness.

The ways in which earthquakes – romantic, emotional and physical – play out for the characters make for an absorbing conclusion.