Tag Archives: Thoughts

The SOLO trailer saunters on to our screens. I already love Qi’Ra

qira

I wasn’t going to post about the new Star Wars spin-off trailer, when and if it ever arrived. But after being ill and feeling so low, a trailer has been about the most demanding thing I’ve been able to watch and review in weeks.

Solo seems so nonchalant about the whole publicity machine, like it knows it’s a surefire hit anyway. The action scenes, the visuals and the extension of the Star Wars mythology will probably make it another Rogue One.

Of course the cast looks great too. Emilia Clarke, who has really grown on me lately, looks very regal.

Qi’Ra sounds like a Game Of Thrones name, but ‘Kira’ was actually Rey’s original name during The Force Awakens production, and it also crops up a lot in the old pre-Disney books and games. I always thought it was a nod to the director Akira Kurosawa, whose Hidden Fortress was a direct influence on a young George Lucas.

Donald Glover as Lando will walk away with Han’s movie (payback for Han taking the Falcon), while Alden Ehrenreich – who looks and sounds nothing like Harrison Ford – is probably going to be the most divisive element.

Although Alden is diminutive next to Ford’s 6’1, and his voice is nasal-sounding, they’ve still slapped the same hairdo on him that Ford had in the Originals, as if that’ll help. Fans have offered unconvincing in-canon explanations for the physical differences like, “Oh men can have growth spurts really late”, or ‘Voices deepen with age.”

I’ll just accept that they either couldn’t or wouldn’t find someone more like Ford (I think people at Lucasfilm really wanted Alden, and a Ford clone from Kamino would’ve had the door slammed in his face). Alden’s obviously a talented actor, even if he isn’t a movie star/leading man, and he has to make the role his own.

Younger kids and future generations will probably like Alden more than Harrison anyway. He’ll be their definitive Han.

The galaxy is changing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arya recalls how he caught her secretly practicing archery. “I knew that what I was doing was against the rules, but he was smiling, so I knew it wasn’t wrong,” she says. “The rules were wrong.”

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

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

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

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

Dakota Fanning talks American Pastoral, The Bell Jar and sibling rivalry with The Edit

Dakota Fanning perhaps isn’t as mega-famous as contemporaries like Jennifer Lawrence, but for years I’ve seen people rave about her talents as a child and teen actress.

Dakota’s got a new movie out, American Pastoral, which is directed by Ewan McGregor and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth novel. I was planning to read the book, although I’m not sure whether to see the film first.

Anyway, Dakota really manages to carry off a stunning gothic look for Net-a-Porter’s online magazine The Edit:

In her interview, Dakota mentions her American Pastoral character Merry, who becomes radicalized during the turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War. Dakota’s taken on darker roles and more adult roles before, but could this be the breakthrough role that showcases her as a major “grown-up” star?

One thing that Dakota’s phenomenal career has done was pave the way for her younger sister Elle to launch a Hollywood career. Although there isn’t any evidence of a rift, people automatically suspect that there is rivalry between the two. In her interview she says:

“People unfortunately love to see conflict. And if it’s between family? Between sisters? Even better. The assumption that we’re really competitive, that people even ask that, is horrible. It’s implied our family [is] torn apart by jealousy.”

Dakota goes on to say that they don’t really look similar, which is true – Dakota’s look is much more mutable, and she’s the more ‘relatable’ of the two. (I would have thought Dakota’s closest competition would be Saorise Ronan?)

She also reminds me of another, slightly older former child actress – Kirsten Dunst. Dakota mentions Kirsten and the project they are working on together – an adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Apparently, Dakota hired Kirsten (“We vibe so much”) to direct the new adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s only published novel, which Dakota herself is co-producing and starring in.

It’s a confident shoot and interview, and she certainly sounds a lot more together (or better advised) than Kirsten did at that age.

Apparently Dakota gets asked a lot in interviews why she never went off the rails like so many child stars before her. (Perhaps she was fortunate to have never had the negative experiences that some vulnerable showbiz kids suffer? Better support networks? A personality that responds better to the pressures of fame? Who knows.)

Got to admit, Dakota’s pretty impressive, and I’m looking forward to seeing American Pastoral. It’s getting some really bad reviews from the critics, although I’ve heard audiences find it a slightly more worthwhile experience.

Check out Dakota’s interview over at Net-a-Porter!

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’. It would have been ‘Baroque’, but I just don’t have that option on my laptop, sadly.

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 and becomes absorbed in the world of headmistress Miss Peregrine and her young charges.

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 famed for working with his now ex-partner Helena Bonham Carter and with 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 Dreadful, you 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!

Kirsten Dunst to direct The Bell Jar? Bring it on!

Speaking to Nylon mag back in 2004, Kirsten Dunst dared to criticize Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of poet Sylvia Plath – and Goop has done nothing to her for this insolence.

Now Kirsten (above in the sublimely terrifying Melancholia) is going to make her feature film directorial debut with an adaptation of Plath’s only published novel, The Bell Jar. Kirsten has already directed two shorts and will also pick up a co-writer credit for this latest project.

For some, Plath’s book ranks as ‘unfilmable’ and is best left well enough alone. A 1979 version seems largely forgotten, probably for good reason. But Kirsten’s a Hollywood veteran, and one of the most talented and confident stars working today.

She broke out around the same time as Natalie Portman – Kirsten the vengeful bloodsucker trapped in a eternal child’s body in Interview with the Vampire, Natalie a juvenile assassin with a killer bob haircut in Léon.

Because they got their starts playing tough adult roles, they were never really pigeonholed as child stars. While Natalie remained scandal-free, famously attended Harvard and bagged an Oscar, Kirsten’s image got a bit tarnished. The gossip blogger Perez Hilton nicknamed her “Kiki Drunkst” – when actresses, more so than their male counterparts, have to be very protective of their reputations.

Kirsten has made movies even a serious fan wouldn’t touch, things that she has said she’d love to erase, and a truly critically celebrated performance escaped her until Lars von Trier’s Melancholia won her Best Actress at Cannes in 2011.

But now there’s also an Emmy nomination for her performance in the second season of the FX series Fargo, which really played to her strengths with its intelligent, sharp dialogue and black comedy. “It’s nice to promote something and not have to lie about it,” she said on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

I kind of admire her more for the messiness of her CV as opposed the careful way less-talented actresses build their careers so precisely.

I used to read one super-knowledgeable film buff who argued that the greatest actresses go through ups and downs with the public. The risks they take and their vulnerability mean audiences don’t always understand and appreciate them.

Kirsten has been candid about her struggles with depression, the pressures put on famous actors and about the lack of guidance she had in her career.

Although The Bell Jar seems like a massive challenge, hopefully Kirsten’s talent and experiences – both personal and professional – will translate to success.

Mini reviews: Suffragette, Brooklyn, Macbeth

Awards season is over. But before we greet the arrival of 2016’s summer blockbusters, some of the Best Picture nominees are still on the big screen, possibly enjoying a little post-Oscars boost.

There are also got some great recent and recent-ish movie releases available on DVD/Blu-ray and on digital.

March is Women’s History Month, so therefore, I thought I should start with…

Suffragette

The fight for women’s voting rights in the UK is a complicated narrative that began in the nineteenth century and dragged on for years. The campaign took many forms and involved various divisions and splinter groups.

Director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan have set their story just before the outbreak of the First World War, when the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) were intensifying their demonstrations and acts of militancy.

The movie’s focus is not on the famous Pankhurst family or other powerful, real-life figures, but on the fictional character of plain old Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). She’s a London washerwoman who becomes involved in the turmoil when she sees a co-worker lob a brick through a shop window.

Maud has few joys besides her small, sickly son. As she becomes increasingly drawn in to the movement she discovers a different way of looking at life. She takes up the WPSU’s motto: “Deeds not words”. Her new stance brings her into conflict with her husband, her employer and of course, the authorities.

Mulligan is inescapably modern and patrician, no matter ‘ow much she drops ‘er h’s. But her palpable intelligence serves the film well. She throws herself into the role with such furious conviction it’s impossible not to care.

Mulligan’s performance, along with support from Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff (plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Meryl Streep) make this well-made historical drama engrossing and moving.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a wholesome, refreshing drama that casts a spell on the viewer. Based on Colm Tóibín’s award-winning 2009 novel (which I haven’t read), it follows a young 1950s Irish woman starting a new life in the titular New York borough.

Eilish (Saoirse Ronan) is from a small town in the Emerald Isle, where her only bonds are her mother and older sister. Eilis’ part-time job comes with a gossipy, bitter boss known as Nettles Kelly (Brid Brennan).

Across the sea in Brooklyn, Eilish lives in a boarding house with other women, attends night classes and meets a charming Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen). Best of all she has Julie Walters as her landlady and a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) to watch over her as she battles homesickness.

Just as Eilish is blossoming, deaths and marriages call her back to Ireland. She meets the reserved Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), the kind of lad who wasn’t around when she left. (Or maybe, her new experiences mean she sees people in a different way.) Ultimately, Eilish has to make a wrenching decision.

It is a beautiful film – lovely and gentle without ever becoming boring or syrupy. .

Macbeth

I won’t be the first to say that this is Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation, where the production values of HBO collide with the Bard’s verse. The playwright based his famous tale of treachery and tyranny on historical accounts of Scottish rulers, while George R.R. Martin’s books are hugely inspired by the country’s history.

Director Justin Kurzel’s re-working of Shakespeare’s classic tale is one of stark landscapes, mud and battle scenes. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran was heavily influenced by Norse clothing and architecture, and there is a distinct Vikings-feel, while Kurzel’s brother Jed composed the breathtaking, hypnotic score.

Out of the cold Scottish mist comes Michael Fassbender as warrior nobleman Macbeth. Fassbender’s Macbeth is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress; he endures flashbacks in slow-mo while soldiers slain in battle haunt him with their thousand-yard stares.

Marion Cotillard is Lady Macbeth, urging her husband to gain the throne from King Duncan (David Thewlis). Cotillard is the first French actress to portray Lady Macbeth on film in an English-language production.

She makes the character more sympathetic than expected – in this version, her scheming is linked to grief and a lost child. She goads Macbeth into his first evil act, which seems to totally unhinge him for good. Cotillard then seems to slink back in terror as Fassbender gets scarier and bloodier.

It’s nearly over – Oscars 2016: my random musings ;)

Every actor wants to win an Oscar. And nobody wants to win more than Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio.

Either I missed the campaigns for Fassbender, Cranston and Damon, or they all just accepted that it’s Leo’s year. It’s finally “his turn”; that’s the narrative, and it’s unstoppable.

Best Actor

Leo’s campaign centred on how difficult the shoot for The Revenant was.

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I haven’t seen the movie yet, but Leo doesn’t look like he could survive much adversity. He’s been famous since he was a foetus, and his biggest struggle has probably been which model to pick from the catalogue. But it’s his year, so go Leo!

Perhaps his only rival tonight is Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper. Redmayne campaigned so stealthily you didn’t even notice, but his portrayal of a transgender woman was divisive. Personally, I’m on the side of those who say the performance was a sub-par one for the actor.

 

Best Actress

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Alicia Vikander carried The Danish Girl, and got better, more consistent reviews than Redmayne. I understand why she landed in supporting, but truthfully, it was lead.

Amazingly, it wasn’t even her best performance this year.

She was the highlight (along with Elizabeth Debicki) of The Man from U.N.CL.E, but I’d agree with the critics who say she should have got a supporting nod for Ex Machina. 

Vikander’s finest performance, though, was in director James Kent’s Testament of Youth, based on Vera Brittain’s memoir. If Tom Hooper had directed Testament, it wouldn’t have been as good, but it would have garnered Vikander a nomination.

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I’d have rounded out Best Actress with a joint nomination for the magnificent Blanchett/Rooney Mara for Carol, Brie Larson for Room, Emily Blunt for Sicarioand Saorise Ronan for Brooklyn.

Larson will win; it’s probably one of the dead certs of the night. She’s new to the awards circuit, but she’s a total pro. I get the feeling some more established actresses may find her unnerving…

…and last but most most importantly, Star Wars! 

Great to see that The Force Awakens got five nominations, although all in the technical categories like editing and visual effects. It deserves the recognition; TFA was well-made and fun. A huge part of that was how invisible the CG was, making it feel like the Star Wars of old.

REVIEW: Room (2015)

I saw this little film in a theatre with only three other couples. The couple to my left got up and walked out after 15 minutes. The female half of the pair in front spent the movie texting.

The two women behind me kept up a running commentary on the movie. They started with a loud discussion about the gender of Jacob Tremblay’s character Jack. They concluded that he was indeed a boy, and had a good giggle about his waist-length hair.

The character actually has far bigger problems than looking a bit like a girl. Jack and his Ma (Brie Larson) have spent his entire five years of life in a locked, soundproofed shed that they call “Room”. They call their captor (Sean Bridgers) Old Nick.

Old Nick snatched a teenage Joy Newsome seven years ago, before she became Jack’s Ma. Every evening the captor visits with supplies and spends the night in Room while little Jack sleeps in a closet – Ma won’t let Old Nick see, touch or talk to the boy, and Old Nick seems to bow to her wishes on this.

Ma makes a bid for freedom by pretending Jack is sick and convincing Old Nick to take him to a hospital, so she makes herself vomit over Jack’s bed. The women behind me were revolted.

Ma and Jack eventually pull off a rather implausible escape, and wake up in hospital with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast cityscape. This 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.

As with Emma Donoghue’s novel, her screenplay unfolds from Jack’s perspective. This is (I think) to stop Room from becoming too harrowing. But perhaps Joy’s/Ma’s recovery would have been more compelling and interesting.

There’s a great scene where she rails at her mother (Joan Allen) for raising her to be “nice”. Being nice got her kidnapped, she spits. Bree’s father (William H. Macy) gets a moment where he won’t acknowledge Jack, then Macy is out of the picture, never to be seen again. Even Larson is hauled off-screen in the final act as she recovers from a suicide attempt.

Instead we get screechy little Jack making cakes with grandma and getting a haircut. The women behind me were pleased.

Acting – not for the working class?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the media about working class actors and the lack of diversity in UK theatre.

Most of the country’s current crop of top acting stars, from Benedict Cumberbatch to Emilia Clarke, were privately educated before they attended the most prestigious drama schools.

Drama school is the only way in for most Brits. Those that don’t formally train say that casting directors won’t consider anyone that didn’t attend one of the renowned schools.

Naturally, the drama schools claim their intakes are diverse, saying that the number of pupils qualifying for financial help proves that training isn’t just for the rich or middle class.

Interestingly, while acknowledging the excellence of the “elite breed” of actors like Cumberbatch, one acting coach told me:

“If you go to the Royal Shakespeare Company, it is full of working class actors. It’s very diverse, because they’re employed because of their talent. Plus television is full of jobbing actors.

“The working class actor has to work a bit harder to make the contacts and to stay in the frame compared to those that have the connections. But it’s not impossible.”

I’m sure, as a blogger interested in the arts and education, I’ll return to this topic again.

Great minds on celluloid – The Theory of Everything & The Imitation Game

It’s awards season, when ‘prestige’ movies captivate susceptible audiences. Sometimes these movies are genuinely beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking feats of cinema. And even when they’re not, it’s easy to get swept away by subject matter, high-mindedness and publicity campaigns.

Although there’s no guarantee, films about real-life people – especially notable historical figures or those with physical or psychological ailments – tend to be attractive to award voters.

Enter The Imitation Game, about pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). Tragically persecuted for his sexuality, his codebreaking had a profound impact on the course of the Second World War.

It is a fine showcase for the popular Cumberbatch. But The Imitation Game does not feel truly Best Picture-worthy. Or rather it does – it just doesn’t feel like great film-making. It’s one of those worthy biopics that glosses over complex, messy lives. It’s a watchable film with a conventional narrative, as crisp as fellow star Keira Knightley’s vowels.

Knightley is a surprise. She has struggled, but seems to revel in playing eccentric, intelligent women. She actually manages to connect with her character and mean what she says as cryptanalyst Joan Clarke, striking a deep chord as the lone woman on Turing’s code-cracking team.

The Imitation Game is not our only awards-bothering British academic biopic, as Eddie Redmayne transforms into Stephen Hawking for director James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything.

I saw this movie in a packed, expectant theatre, and it has taken the top spot at the UK box office.

Based on Hawking’s first wife’s memoirs, it’s on the sentimental end of the biopic spectrum. It does stay with you a bit longer, not because it is genuinely more affecting but because it drags a bit.

Once you get past predictable scenes with annoying Oxbridge types down the pub, the two leads, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones (as Jane Hawking) are fantastic.