Tag Archives: star wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rey’s parentage.

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

But trailers hinting at Rey’s Skywalker identity were protecting the Ben Solo reveal. Just half an hour in, a guileless Rey turns to Finn and says: “Luke Skywalker! I thought he was a myth.” Neither Han nor Leia knew her, plus she had romantic tension with Kylo.

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

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

ren

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

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

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

Kill the theories

I’d buy a ticket for Episode IX for Driver’s performance alone. Abrams will be back, book-ending the trilogy, although hopes that he’ll roll back the Reylo romance, or make Rey a Solo might be in for future disappointment.

Perhaps there was some explanation for the Kylo-Rey connection held back from Jedi, but I’m not going to hold my breath…

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

The Last Jedi: Luke what you made me do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Um, so on that note,

xx —-Merry Christmas!—- xx

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

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

Supreme Leader Ren will see you now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great performance by Adam Driver.

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

Book Haul! Future adaptations Ophelia & The Lost Wife

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

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

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

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein

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Ophelia by Lisa Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FILM REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blogger from the isle of wight

The Year Ahead

It’s my first post of 2017, and I thought I better get it published before this month is over, the Oscars have been handed out, and we’re moving into summer blockbuster territory.

This is about movies slated for release this year that I just might casually wind up seeing, like, um, Episode VIII. If I can find the time, of course. Ahem.

Honestly, I’ll probably be at home watching movies (*cough Star Wars I – VII cough*) on DVD and catching the latest digital releases on streaming platforms far more than I will be seeing the newest flicks at the local multiplex.

But these are the films calling me, blinking, out into 2017…

Remember last year when everyone was going on about Brie Larson in Room and Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl (when they weren’t going on about it being Leo’s turn)? They were the It Girls and went on to win Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively. Well this year, it’s all about Natalie Portman vs Emma Stone for Best Actress.

I want to see Stone in La La Land, and I’ll also try to see Jackie, although Portman’s voice in the trailers makes me want to stuff my ears with one of the late First Lady’s headscarves. Yes, it really looks like Portman will be a two-time Oscar winner come February.

Last year’s winner, Larson, is back with Kong: Skull Island, which I’m actually excited for as I loved the 2005 Peter Jackson King Kong. (The new movie is an original take on the tale, and not connected to the earlier movie, BTW.)

Vikander’s 2017 bow, meanwhile, will be in the long-delayed historical drama Tulip Fever. It’ll also feature Cara Delevingne, although the interesting wannabe actress will have a bigger part in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Will it be up there with the best of Besson?

Sticking to the sci-fi theme, nothing is keeping me away from Alien: Covenant (oh my beloved Prometheus) and Ghost in the Shell. Nothing!

I want to see Victoria and Abdul, which filmed over at Osborne house on the Isle of Wight. Judi Dench will play Queen Victoria in the drama about the monarch’s friendship with a young Indian servant. Based on the book by Shrabani Basu (which I haven’t read) it sounds similar to the award-winning Mrs Brown, which also saw Dench reign as Queen Victoria.

Another adaptation I’m looking out for is Mudbound, starring Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, it premieres at Sundance later this month.

What else? Sofia Coppola is back, and she brings with her Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell and Elle Fanning for The Beguiled, a remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1971 movie of the same name. Seriously, that cast is amazing.

I want to see Kristen Stewart in Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper. Long before Twilight, Stewart’s brand of twitchy lip-biting was considered profound by critics. And so it is once more.

Really, there’s a lot of stuff that seems promising right now – films like Hidden Figures, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Ex Machina director Alex Garland’s Annihilation (starring Portman), Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson biopic A Quiet Passion, and the comedy Logan Lucky from Steven Soderbergh, starring Adam Driver.

And OK, I admit it: if I were only allowed one cinema trip this year, I’d forgo everything else to see Star Wars: Episode VIII when it arrives in December.

What movies are you most looking forward to in 2017? 

FILM REVIEW: Rogue One

As I’m sure everyone knows, Rogue One is the true story of the previously unsung gang of rebels who swiped the plans to the original Death Star. At last, Earthlings (and anyone else watching) will know of their bravery.

Following The Force Awakens –  a fresh, vibrant remake of A New Hope that reassured audiences still badly traumatized by the prequel saga – Star Wars has delivered on its first standalone gamble.

Like everyone else, I read all about reshoots and clashes over the tone of the movie. Whatever went on, director Garth Edwards’ vision of a gritty war movie won out.

Angry loner Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is sprung from prison by the Rebel Alliance in order to exploit her connections to her Imperial scientist father Galen Erso. Ironically, the Alliance are less Disney: their dashing captains bump off informants, and waifs and strays like Jyn are sacrificed for the cause.

Edwards wanted Jyn to be different to other Star Wars heroines, citing Ripley from the Alien franchise as inspiration. I doubted Felicity would have the size and presence, but she nails the attitude and is a convincing leader.

The best thing though, is the return of a certain Sith Lord. It’s carnage. 

Vader never much liked the Death Star. A “technological terror” more trouble than it’s worth, according to Vader. After it’s unleashed for the first time he tells Ben Mendelsohn’s Imperial that they’ll blag the Senate that the city they just wiped out was destroyed in a mining accident.

Now, I’m not up on my galactic politics, but wouldn’t the Death Star require significant funds that would have thrown up a few red flags in some kind of purchasing or planning committee? How do you keep that thing secret?!

Rogue One is not so much a lead-in to A New Hope as a broadside that either shows up all the original’s flaws or enhances it, I’m not sure. The fight scene between Vader and Obi-Wan has aged badly and now looks even worse after seeing the way Vader moves in Rogue One.

It always jarred that Tarkin was ‘holding Vader’s leash’ in the first movie, when we get all-out cool bad guy Vader #2 in Empire. Tarkin seems to acknowledge Lord Vader’s talents in Rogue One, so I’m reinterpreting their New Hope relationship as one of grudging respect.

My verdict? I zoned out a bit throughout Rogue One, but the final 40 minutes are some of the most entertaining I’ve had watching a blockbuster. All future Star Wars standalones should feature Vader going berserk in the final five minutes.

leia

My favourite photo of Princess Leia, always.

 

Sunshine Blogger Award!

A couple of weeks ago, I was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by raistlin0903.

Thank you for the nomination, and here is my belated response!

These are the 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

My answers to the questions I was asked:

-How long have you been blogging, and what made you get started in the first place?

I started the blog in 2014 because I had dreams (and they were very distant dreams) about writing as a career. I spoke to a careers adviser who said: “Well you have a WordPress blog, right?” I only started to blog frequently in September this year.

-Say that you could interview someone on your blog, who would it be, and why him/her?

I suppose I’d love to interview a British actress, probably Daisy Ridley as she is the new Star Wars star.

-What is your favourite Anime/Movie/TV show of all time?

The Empire Strikes Back. More formative than anything. Second place the Mysterious Cities of Gold cartoon series.

-Do you own any merchandise? If so, what is the thing that you like the most in your collection?

I have one Star Wars figure. Shaak Ti from the prequels!

-Is there anything you would like to do someday, but just have not yet been able to accomplish?

Publish my first novel for starters.

-What is the post you are most proud of, and why is that?

Tough question. Really I’m just pleased that my writing is getting better (I hope).

-Has there ever been a post on your blog that you have regretted writing? If so, why is that?

I don’t regret any of the stuff on my blog, but there’s this weird thing where sometimes I hit publish but the post is time-stamped as hours/days earlier and it gets buried. I also really try to hold back from being critical, as I think it turns people off. But I don’t like everything and I want to be authentic and honest.

-Why did you get interested in Movies/Anime?

As a toddler I just wanted to read and watch movies. I wanted to escape!

-Do you have any goals that you would like to ultimately achieve with your blog?

It would be great if I have a couple hundred fellow bloggers and readers who visit regularly. And if I can make them smile/roll their eyes. It’s also great to make contacts with people who are often very passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects.

-What if you could star in your own Anime/Movie? What kind of Anime/Movie would it be, and who would you play?

It would be a sci-fi like Prometheus. I’d play an incompetent scientist who bumbles across the universe.

-What was the worst Anime/Movie that you have ever seen?

Hope Floats.

My nominations:

I’ve pretty much stuck to movie and book blogs.

I know everyone is busy – I barely have time to keep up with the blogs I follow. But I have to spread the sunshine on a very cloudy day….(and if I’ve nominated you and it’s an impertinence by all means ignore me!)

My questions:

  • If you could make any actor/actress/filmmaker/writer just disappear to continue their reign of terror in another dimension, who would it be?
  • Is there a city where you would really love to set your own film/book, and what would it be about?
  • Have you ever visited a city/country because it was featured in a film or book?
  • Were there any TV shows/movies/books that you lived and breathed when you were a child/teen?
  • Is it better to make a classic, respected novel into a movie, or better to adapt a poor novel and try to improve it?
  • Is there a movie you liked better than the book?
  • Are there any actors/actresses/writers/directors that you feel are vastly underrated?
  • How do you feel about all the sequels/reboots etc? Still love ’em or bored?
  • Do you have any favourite books or websites that helped you learn about blogging/writing/film criticism?
  • Are there any films/books on your shelf still begging to be read?
  • Who (is) are your favourite film directors/novelists (of all time)?

Lx

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 chilly for NASA botanist Mark Watney (Damon) after he’s accidentally abandoned by the rest of his team, ET-style.

Setting the tone for the movie, Watney patches himself up after getting harpooned in the gut. It’s realistic and gritty, unlike my beloved Prometheus . It’s clear that Ridley and Watney are going to “science the shit” out of this one.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, the scenes on Earth get as dry as Martian soil. Luckily, whenever things get a bit lofty at NASA HQ, something goes wrong for Watney (not that I actively wanted him to suffer or anything.)

Mars looks like a great destination (?) and the astronauts 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 still a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity,  human strength and the will to survive. Matt Damon is the Best Actor on Mars.

❄❄❄

SICARIO

A fictional war-on-drugs action crime thriller so brutal I wondered what I was doing watching it.

Idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is a kidnap response expert who makes a  gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), a DoD/CIA bod and his even shadier partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro).

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’s the audience’s proxy, not driving the story forward so much as along for the ride; in this movie, the good guys fight dirty.

Del Toro is so enigmatic he makes waking up from a nap compelling. Kate can’t tear her eyes off him; neither can the audience. She appears attracted to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

❄❄❄❄

THE DANISH GIRL

Save all your tears for The Danish Girl, a lavish costume drama based on 1920s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who starts her journey as Einar, married to fellow painter/illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander).

They are devoted to one another, with a circle of friends who love to hear about their blissful wedded life. (An earsplitting, hyper Amber Heard cameos as ballerina Ulla, a confidante of the couple.)

But an unhappy Lili eventually meets a humane physician and becomes one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery, before antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs. “I am… entirely… myself,” beams an unconvincing Redmayne from Lili’s sick bed.

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

❄❄

ROOM

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

Their captor, Old Nick, snatched a teenage Joy Newsome seven years ago, before she became Ma. Every evening Old Nick visits with supplies and inflicts himself on Ma while little Jack sleeps in a closet.

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.

Soon, other characters start piling in: Ma’s divorced parents, lawyers, doctors, television hosts, and this is where I felt it lost its hold.

As with Emma Donoghue’s novel, her screenplay unfolds from Jack’s perspective. Larson is off-screen in the final act as she recovers from a suicide attempt, and we get screechy little Jack making cakes with grandma and getting a haircut. Moving in places.

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CAROL

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

Their acquaintance becomes a love affair – dangerous, especially if Carol’s husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) has anything to do with it.

Hounded by her Harge-faced husband’s private investigators, Blanchett is a free spirit – there’s definitely something predatory about her.

Todd Haynes’ restrained and elegant film feels set in a repressive fairy tale. Every frame is beautiful from the perspective of a photographer, however..it is slow, and the lack of right-on wrath may make it too removed for some.

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CRIMSON PEAK

I expected a subpar Victorian horror. I knew it had a pedigree, with stars Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain directed by Guillermo del Toro, but Crimson Peak flopped at the box office.

Aspiring writer Edith’s (Mia) mother is dead, but her dad is a decent, bearded fellow – he’s got British aristo Hiddles trying to convince him to invest in his mining inventions.

But Pa dislikes him and  his Bronte mean girl sister Chastain, but Edith marries Hiddles and returns to England to live at his crumbling estate, where gross red clay oozes through the walls and floorboards. And there’s a ghost, too.

Although sinister, it doesn’t deliver shocks or scares like the Victorian Gothic The Woman in Black, and probably isn’t intended as a horror, but a dark costume drama, a weird Tim Burtonish fantasy and a brooding romance – I’m not sure. I wonder if anyone in charge of the marketing knew either.

The fab cast and the decomposing goo-mansion seem to breathe as one determined mess. Kudos to the movie’s strange warmth and passion, and to the best costumes.

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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, his sullen ambivalence and his rejection of his former identity.

Before the movie’s release we learned that Kylo idolized Darth Vader. It’s why he stomps around in a black mask that he doesn’t need.

Fans speculated that new heroine Rey was a Solo-Skywalker. I wondered of Kylo would pursue her as a dark side bride and have little Vader great-grand babies. Instead we learn that Kylo himself is of Vader’s bloodline.

But he is very interested in Rey., even sweeping her into his arms and carrying her to his ship. 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? Technically, she’s just a scavenger abandoned by her parents. She’s no one, but her relationship with Kylo may be central to his redemption.

Her lineage has become one of the big mysteries of The Force Awakens, and there are plenty of theories.

Rey and Ren are siblings

Well poor Han had no clue.

hansolo

Credit: Lucasfilm

Some people think he 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.

Leia’s reaction to Rey is warm but ambiguous. She greets her with a hug because the girl cared for Han and saw him die, and because Leia can sense she is strong with the force.

But are Rey and Kylo siblings? I’d say no.

They’re cousins

Did Luke’s facial expression scream Skywalker family reunion?

luke

Credit: Lucasfilm

As Rey reached out to him, he looked like he was going to chuck himself off the cliff, like that time he jumped off a 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. That’s not going to be shocking. And they could have done it in VII.

Comments from Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow hint that we might not get answers to Rey’s parentage until the end of the trilogy. That’s a long drawn out reveal when half the audience already think she’s Luke’s.

As for Kylo, cousin-rivalry will hardly have the pathos of the father-son duel in Return of the Jedi.

The Kenobi connection

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

obi

LucasFilm

Why Kenobi? He was a mentor figure for Anakin and Luke, and this is the Skywalker family show, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has stated. (We already have a Skywalker – Ren).

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.

Kylo was likely named Ben after Kenobi. So he goes up against the granddaughter of his namesake, who may also be his cousin? It’s not really the “deeply and profoundly satisfying” ending Trevorrow promised.

Empire writer Lawrence Kasdan has said that Episode VIII will be “some weird thing,” which possibly suggests a stranger answer than Rey-is-a-Kenobi…

She’s the Force, reborn…

ani

LucasFilm

Some people say the shadow of Vader looms over Rey.

Rey picked up piloting and force skills so quickly both Han and then Kylo looked at her with amazement. But 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. Kylo has been begging his grandfather to speak to him, to show him guidance.

Trevorrow said: “Rey is a character that is important in this universe, not just in the context of The Force Awakens, but in the entire galaxy.”

But even in a story about space wizards, telekinesis and ghosts, the fact is, reincarnation is considered silly.

Mini reviews: My favourite space heroines!

[*Update 20/10/16* I’m hoping more readers will find this post as we approach the release of Rogue One, which, like The Force Awakens, will star another female lead. Will Jyn Erso be as big a success as Daisy Ridley’s Rey?]

The Force Awakens is released this week!

And the latest installment of Star Wars looks set to have more active and intriguing female characters than either the originals or the prequels. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie will appear alongside the female lead, newcomer Daisy Ridley.

The production has been shrouded in secrecy, so little is known about their roles – but in honour of The Force Awakens, here are my favourite movies set among the stars, and the heroines they feature…

Prometheus (2012) 

It probably helps that I’m no scientist.

In fact, I was terrified of the school lab because of all the stories other pupils told me about accidental immolation and experiments gone wrong. Besides, the teacher was as scary as the Engineer Noomi Rapace tangles with in this Alien prequel.

Perhaps because of my unscientific bent, I can ignore some of the sillier twists, errors and logical issues in Prometheus.

I mean, I can appreciate that having an 8ft alien land on your abdomen after you’ve had a caesarean might hurt a bit more than it seems to here. Or that hand-to-hand combat, rappelling and running might be a tad impossible after surgery.

But while Rapace’s archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw isn’t as hard-as-nails as Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley (the “no weapons” stance to exploring an alien planet is annoying), she is a woman of epic determination.

She leads an expedition of doomed idiots to answer the biggest question of all: Why are we here?

Once the feeble team have been picked off, she dusts herself down and as the only mortal survivor of Prometheus she continues her quest for knowledge and truth.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Danish pastry hair buns debuted by Leia in Star Wars and the metal bikini she wore in Jedi are iconic. But I’ve always admired the white jumpsuit and loopy-braid hairdo combo she showcased on Bespin’s Cloud City, complete with blaster.

It’s a practical but chic get-up for her roles as soldier, spy, royal and diplomat.

Despite Carrie Fisher’s recent admission that she was, in fact, higher than the stars when she filmed Empire, Leia is at her best in this movie.

In the first film she’s a brash rebel who witnesses her entire home planet destroyed. By the final film, although still committed to her cause, she appears softer – much like Padme in Revenge of the Sith.

In Empire she is as combative as Han Solo, while starting to show actual feelings for the scene-stealing smuggler.

And given what we’ve been told about the development of the Star Wars plot, there are some uncertain nods to her true identity and origins.

While her brother has a reputation as one of cinema’s greatest whiners, and there are real moments where it looks like the men might not make it, there’s never any doubt Leia is a survivor.

Gravity (2013)

Watching Sandra Bullock spin through space, I unfortunately discovered that Gravity triggers vertigo, so it’s definitely not one I can go back to watch again and again.

Balance issues aside, this is a beautiful and thoughtful drama. Given the hype, the seven Oscars, and the theme of sheer adversity, I wasn’t expecting the movie to be so tender.

Grief-stricken following the loss of her young daughter, newbie astronaut Dr Ryan Stone finds herself stranded after debris wrecks her space shuttle. She must contend with a dwindling air supply, no communications with mission control and the loss of George Clooney.

Gravity is not sci-fi, and the fact that Stone is from our own present-day earth with our real technological limits makes her even more engaging than a character in a futuristic or fantastical setting.

Stone is self-reliant. She is human. She hallucinates and loses the will to live – and then summons it again.

The movie’s message is never give up, and that through perseverance you can achieve the impossible.