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. 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 like the odds of Alden successfully navigating young Han were approximately 3,720 to 1.

But the wise-cracking smuggler never set much store by the odds, ‘cos if you’ve got enough swagger, you can pull anything off. I can vaguely imagine Alden morphing into Original Trilogy Han, better than I could reconcile Hayden Christensen with the man in the mask – even after I saw it lowered onto his charred face.

We meet 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 on Jakku – except Han and his girl Qi’Ra have time for trips to the hair salon.

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

The pair are drawn into the world of a crime syndicate, where Han’s old flame Qi’Ra has risen through the ranks as a top lieutenant. (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?)

It all whizzes along as a straightforward, pulpy adventure, lacking the awe that Star Wars ought to inspire. It feels rather “Adventures of Young Han” – more suited to Disney’s new streaming channel.

Han could be a dark character like Anakin: he was enslaved, before fighting for the Empire and losing his childhood sweetheart. But all he wants is to be a cool pilot and make a quick buck. Under the leather jacket, he was always one of the good guys.

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The Last Jedi: Luke what you made me do

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. But, then, depression set in.

It wasn’t disappointment over Rey’s parentage. Frankly, certain fans needed to get their heads out of their half-cocked theories. Sure, after the first trailer for The Force Awakens, I thought Padmé-lookalike Rey was Han and Leia’s kid, while Kylo was a Vader-obsessed loser (true) wanting to continue the bloodline with Rey.

But then I actually saw the film. Just half an hour in, a guileless Rey turns to Finn and says: “Luke Skywalker! I thought he was a myth.”

When Rey told BB-8 her parents would be back, ‘one day’, you could tell from Daisy’s delivery that Rey was in denial. As Maz said: she already knew the truth.

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

But there were people who thought Palpatine wasn’t Darth Sidious right up until Revenge of the Sith. 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!

Considering Luke looked like he last took a bath 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.

This brings me to the biggest of my problems with Rian Johnson’s movie. His bizarre vision of Luke no longer resembled the son of Skywalker, but his step-uncle Owen Lars. Festering away on an 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 might have got a cheap laugh (a very nervous one, in my theatre), but the Luke that millions loved would never have been so weak, skulking off to let Leia deal with everything on her own.

OK, he was never the coolest member of the gang – even after maturing into the calm, lethal Luke of Return of the Jedi, Han still laughed in his face. Luke wasn’t necessarily the obvious tough guy type, but he was resourceful, and he never gave up.

We got one glimpse of that Luke when he Force-beamed himself across the galaxy, wearing an outfit that would have made Padmé Amidala proud. Poor old Mark 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, and I can imagine committees overseeing the new global franchise want to lob most of the original trilogy off the edge of Skellig Michael, along with that lightsaber.

On that note, I wish you all,

xx —-Merry Christmas!—- xx

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

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

Supreme Leader Ren will see you now.

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

He didn’t see it coming, like Han Solo. (Even Han had an inkling of what would happen when he stepped out on that teeny tiny, narrow bridge in The Force Awakens.)

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

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

I think it was when he found out that Snoke had been arranging those Force FaceTimes with Rey, when Kylo thought it was just love.

So far, we seem to have ascertained that Rey is Rey Random of non-famous parentage. Kylo’s a bit of a snot about it, as if it’s good of him to see her as an equal, what with his mom being a princess and all.

I just can’t believe it’s been two years since the last Star Wars. There are many journeys and other strands to this huge and very long movie, and I’ll probably do a review in a week or so. For now, MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!!

book adaptation pile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It does take the Biologist’s field journal as source material, and while she’s content spending hours observing lifeforms in tidal pools, I’m not! The novel also flashes back to her life with her husband, who volunteered for an earlier, doomed, expedition.

I hope the movie doesn’t end up like Alien Covenant,  with scientists behaving stupidly while trudging through the wilderness. Luckily, it’s directed by Alex Garland, who proved he knows a thing or two about creepy tension with Ex Machina!

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

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

The pilot takes as very loose inspiration Michel (Under the Skin) Faber’s melancholy novel The Book of Strange New Things (published in 2014). Chaplain Peter Leigh leaves his beloved wife to work for a shadowy multinational, ministering to the native inhabitants of a distant colonized planet named Oasis.

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

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

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

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – film review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rogue One – a film review

Rogue One is the true story of the previously unsung gang of rebels who swiped the plans to the Death Star in A New Hope.

Angry loner Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is sprung from prison by the Rebel Alliance to exploit her connections to her Imperial scientist dad Galen Erso. She ends up leading a rag-tag group of those rebels in a bid to stop Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) delivering the weapon to the Empire.

Krennic reports to a terrifying overseer- Darth Vader – who you might recall never much liked the Death Star. After it is unleashed for the first time he tells Krennic 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 committee?

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 looks even worse after seeing the way Vader moves in Rogue One.

On the other hand, it always jarred that Tarkin was ‘holding Vader’s leash’ in the first movie, before we get all-out badass Vader in Empire. CGI Tarkin seems to acknowledge Lord Vader’s talents in Rogue One, so I’m reinterpreting their New Hope relationship as one of grudging respect.

We read about the reshoots and clashes over the tone of the movie, but whatever went down, Star Wars has apparently delivered on its first standalone gamble. For future success, all Star Wars standalones should feature Vader going berserk in the final five minutes.

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My favourite photo of Princess Leia, always.

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

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, the scenes on Earth are as dry as Martian soil. Mars looks like a fab destination, though – the astronauts even have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery. It’s a fun ride about human 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 – 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.

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 first meet Lili-as-Einar, happily married to fellow painter and illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander). They are devoted to one another, with a circle of friends (including an earsplitting Amber Heard) who love hearing about their blissful wedded life.

The second Lili holds up a dress for Gerda, she realizes that the midwife who assigned her the role of ‘boy’ was greatly mistaken. 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,” flutters a deeply unconvincing Redmayne from his death bed.

A blank canvas for the talents of the fiery Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl feels like it should have been released 20 years ago, yet is still 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 Ma – real name Joy Newsome – years prior. (It shouldn’t need spelling out, but Jack is the result of Old Nick’s nighttime assaults on Joy.)

Mother and son pull off a rather implausible escape, waking up in a 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.

Room is a fab showcase for Larson (nobody is taking her Oscar away).  Like the novel by Emma Donoghue that it is based on, all the film’s action – violence, suicide attempts – are seen through the innocent eyes of little Jack. At least on the page the kid isn’t so screechy.

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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 a statuesque beauty – Cate Blanchett’s titular blue-blooded 1950s socialite.

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

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

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CRIMSON PEAK

Despite having been marketed as horror, don’t expect Crimson Peak to deliver scares like The Woman in Black.

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 both Hiddles and his Brontë mean girl sister Jessica Chastain, Edith marries Hiddles and returns to England to live at his decomposing goo-mansion, where gross red clay oozes through the walls and floorboards. Oh, and there’s a ghost, too.

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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. 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

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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

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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.

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

She’s the Force, reborn…

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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. Fans can accept space wizards, telekinesis and ghosts, but 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!

Mini reviews: My favourite space heroines!

The Force Awakens is released this week!

And the latest Star Wars chapter looks set to have some intriguing female characters – as Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie join new lead Daisy Ridley.

The production has been shrouded in secrecy, so little is known about their roles just yet. But in honour of The Force Awakens, here are my favourite heroines set among the stars…

Elizabeth Shaw: Prometheus (2012) 

It probably helps that I’m not a scientist. In fact, I was terrified of the school lab because of all the stories that other pupils told me about accidental immolation or experiments gone wrong. And the teacher was as scary as the Engineer Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw tangles with in this Alien prequel.

Perhaps because of my relatively unscientific inclination, I can ignore most of the nonsense in Prometheus. (Although I appreciate that having an 8ft alien land on your abdomen after you had a caesarean might rule out hand-to-hand combat, rappelling and running.)

And yes, archaeologist Shaw’s ‘no weapons’ stance to exploring an alien planet isn’t very clever. But she’s a woman of single-minded determination, leading an expedition of doomed idiots to answer the biggest question of all: Why are we here?

Once her feeble team have predictably been picked off, she dusts herself down to further her quest for knowledge and truth. I salute you, Elizabeth Shaw!

Princess Leia: 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. And although we’re told that Lucas hadn’t yet decided she was destined to be Luke’s sibling, there are still some clues to her true identity.

While her brother has a reputation as one of cinema’s greatest whiners, there’s never any doubt Leia is a survivor.

Dr Ryan Stone: Gravity (2013)

Watching Sandra Bullock spin through space, I discovered that Gravity triggers vertigo, so it’s definitely not one I can go back to watch on repeat. 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, astronaut Dr Ryan Stone finds herself stranded when 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 really sci-fi – this is our present-day Earth, complete with technological limits. This helps make Stone even more engaging than a character in a futuristic or fantastical setting. She 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.