Big Little Lies (series 1)

“A perfect life is a perfect lie.”

Life in Monterey is pretty perfect. Great schools, great beach, gorgeous weather, gorgeous people. How irksome that Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) has to deal with her ex and his new partner, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz), having a daughter in the same class as her youngest. Her best friend Celeste (Nicole Kidman) – gorgeous, filthy rich, and sickeningly still in love with her twins’ father (Alexander Skarsgard) – joins her in befriending newcomer and single mom, Jane (Shailene Woodley), especially after mutual ‘frenemy’, Renata (Laura Dern), starts a feud on day one of school.

So far, so mundane, right? Except, all of the above – and the bulk of the series – is actually told in flashback. In the ‘now’, we get snippets of police interviews, the other residents of Monterey sharing all the dirty gossip, all the little lies that led up to a shocking murder…

Ooh – can we say tension?! I freaking loved this TV show, not least because of the way the story is told, keeping you guessing right til the end the who, the how, and the why.

The initial draw had been that cast, and they are awesome. I’ve since heard interviews and the fact that these are ‘older’ (!) actresses getting super-meaty roles should not go unnoticed. Mostly I’m a plot person, and the edge-of-the-seat, need-to-know is still what impressed me most, but quite frankly those pitch-perfect performances, each with their own dark issues and web of lies surrounding them, would see me happily watch it all again even now I know the answers!

Now, usually I will choose to read the book before watching an adaptation, but for one reason or another I started the TV series first – but picked up the book a few episodes in. I’ll review the book shortly, but I have to say I love the way the story is subtly altered to ramp up the tensions even more.

It’s not exactly an easy, cheery, watch – this is one very dark show about all the secrets of marriages and relationships – but absolutely worth the time. And read the book, too – the alterations are a masterclass in storytelling, just as an added bonus!

First broadcast: March 2017 (UK)
Series: 1 so far, talks about a second series reported
Episodes: 7 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

In 1492, the war between the Templars and the shadowy Brotherhood of Assassins is reaching a peak. The latter are guardians of the ‘Apple’ – a Mcguffin with the ability to remove mankind’s free will- while the former are keen to get their hands on it to ensure world peace – via perfect obedience from the entire world.

Fast forward a half century or so, and the Abstergo company has developed the ‘Animus’, a machine capable of unlocking genetic memories. Their aim is to use the descendants of the Assassins to ‘remember’ the Apple’s last hiding place, but so far they have found every memory ends in death before the answer is revealed.

The last hope is Cal (Michael Fassbender), an inmate on death row. Can the memories of his ancestor, Aguilar (also Fassbender, with brown contact lenses), lead the company to their prize – and Cal to his own answers? More to the point, will he survive the process – physically or mentally?

Reviews have been rather shoddy for Assassin’s Creed, and to be honest I can see why people are picking holes in the movie. The plot is tenuous to say the least (although it does have some cool ideas) with holes to drive a truck through if you want to go looking for them. On the other hand, it looks *amazing* and is crammed full of action – and I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of parkour!?!

I’ve never played the game(s) this is based on (and hey, there was a warning sign!), but it’s quite clear that there’s a lot of effort gone into making it look similar and/or tie-in with the game. I read that the game is praised for historical detail, which perhaps explains why the 15th Century scenes are in subtitled Spanish – not quite what you might have expected!

Aside from the fighting, the acting is all a little bit moody-stares and not much else. Alas, this doesn’t work well for leading lady Marion Cotillard, who doesn’t get to fight and is lumbered with a career-low script. I confess to being a little confused at her character ‘development’. At least Fassbender gets to distract a bit with physicality ::ahem:: 😉

This isn’t going to go down as the movie that breaks the curse of video game to screen adaptations, but if you go in expecting it to be pretty dire you might just be pleasantly surprised. I got what I was after: mindless fun and some really great visuals. Sometimes there’s a place for that!

Released: 1st January 2017
Viewed: 13th January 2017
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Arrival (2016)

This is a movie that’s worth knowing as little as possible about until you see it. And you should see it. It’s not flashy action sci-fi, like Rogue One, it’s quiet and builds slowly. You’re not sitting there wondering what the ‘twist’ is, or thinking ‘ahah, I bet it’s…’ – because it’s not that kind of movie. By the time you find out what’s going on, it’s just ‘oh’, and because the story has been revealed at just the right time.

I confess, the trailers left me cold. Alien spacecraft arrive on – or rather, hovering just above – the Earth. A linguistics specialist (Amy Adams) is called in to try to make contact, to find out what the aliens want.

To say much more would be a crime. I avoided this for ages, until reports started filtering in about how good the movie was, and the fact that it was still in the cinema over a month on was another excellent sign. Take it: this is a measured, considered story (based on a short work by the marvellous Ted Chiang), and a film with the other kind of wow factor than all of those big showy action-filled blockbusters.

Released: 10th November 2016
Viewed: 17th December 2016
Running time: 116 minutes
Rated: 12A, but very slow and measured so unlike to appeal to youngsters

My rating: 9/10

Labyrinth: one classic film, 55 sonnets – Anne Corrigan

“Perhaps, in childhood, you a movie saw; the title of said film, ’twas Labyrinth.”

Once in a while something really random catches my eye on Netgalley, such as a book of poetry based on the classic film, Labyrinth (1986). I really loved the concept: the author being a huge fan of the movie (well, who isn’t, quite frankly! :)) found the novelisation (which I didn’t know existed) lacked any of the poetry or visual flair of the screen version, and set out to do her own version.

It’s very true that the movie is worthy inspiration for any number of poems, paintings, and other creative endeavours. However, while this book has flashes of really lovely phrases, I can’t help but think that the author constrained herself too much by (a) choosing the sonnet form, which means 14 lines and a certain amount of iambic pentameter, and (b) retelling the whole movie, faithfully. Sadly the combination can lead to somewhat sticky, clunky rhymes, or scenes that just aren’t that, well, poetic. Is it anti-art to suggest that a focus on the more lyrical moments would have been preferable to trying to shoe-horn in every scene?

That said, there are some quite lovely parts of this, and I particularly liked the moments where the author’s sympathies shine out more than is warranted by the screen version. It’s been too long since I watched the movie, and this was a nice reminder of the story. Perhaps if I were a bigger fan of poetry, or more geeky about the film, I would have gotten more from this book.

NetGalley eArc: 55 pages/sonnets
First published: October 2016
Series: none
Read from 24th-28th October 2016

My rating: 6/10

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

Jack Reacher left the army for the life of an off-the-grid drifter. He’s impossible to find, tough as nails, and sharp as a tack. So when he sticks his nose into an internal army investigation that might just be a cover up for something much bigger, the attempt to stop him needs some drastic measures. Like, bringing in another former army man turned renegade killer (because, yes, our ‘good guy’ very much is a killer!) and threatening the daughter Reacher never knew he had – or, does he?

Set up for murder and arrested himself, Reacher breaks Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) out of military jail, and rescues the possible-offspring. It’s not long before he realises that solving the case whilst being hunted by some ruthless baddies is the easy bit: dealing with a 15 year old and a woman just as capable as he is might be the bigger challenges!

I suspect the best way to enjoy the Jack Reacher movies is to never have read the books. I hear this one has a fair few differences from the source material – possibly improving the plot/pacing/ending – and I’m not talking just about the loss of a foot of height in the leading character. Still, I have yet to try the novels, and Tom Cruise can certainly kick ass (and run. A lot!). Whether that’s enough to differentiate this from other action movies… hmm, not so much.

So what we’re left with is a perfectly serviceable action fest. No fast cars/motorbikes for a change, just a lot of running and punching and that sort of thing. Whether that appeals or not is, of course, entirely your choice.

The addition of ‘character expanding’ elements like the stroppy teenager (not *too* irritating, but borderline!) and a female Major with a hair-trigger reaction to sexism have their pluses and minuses. The latter is one rather shoe-horned in scene, imo, although letting Smulders kick some serious butt all over the place (and not wearing a ton of makeup or skimpy clothing whilst doing so!) is its own message. As for the family angle – yeah, fair enough. It is, apparently, the reason this so-so plotline was picked for this second Reacher outing – and I think it’s safe to say there will be a third.

Released: 20th October 2016
Viewed: 21st October 2016
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated: 12A- should a movie with a man beating another man to death really get this low a rating?! o_O

My rating: 6/10 – nothing amazing, but reasonably polished for a popcorn action flick

Inferno (2016)

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in hospital with no memory of the past few days – indeed, he cannot recall how or why he’s in Italy, never mind why someone might have been shooting at him.

Despite hallucinations and sensory overload from his head wound, it’s not too long before the Professor of symbology is dashing through Florence solving puzzle clues left by a madman – leading to nothing less than a plague that will wipe out half of mankind! Assisted by the lovely genius doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones, soon to be seen in Rogue One), Langdon chases puzzles based around Dante’s inferno – the poet’s defining vision of hell. Unable to remember or figure out who they can trust, can the duo prevent the apocalypse?

Having seen a lot of movies in a short space of time, this was easily the most disappointing. It does that usual thing of being very Big and Flashy, and ultimately hollow and not desperately satisfying. On the other hand, that sounds pretty much right for a Dan Brown adaptation 😉

What is done well:  the opening of the movie has a good stab at portraying the effects of head trauma, and the special effects showing Langdon’s hallucinations of Dante’s hell. These look pretty great on the big screen, although aren’t necessarily used as well as they could have been. Certainly, by the time we get to the end they’ve been shown so often as to have lost much of the drama.

The rest isn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s all a bit ‘meh’ at the end of the day – the kind of movie that helps me see what some of my blockbuster-phobic friends have against this kind of soulless, big screen ‘movie of the week’ spectacle that ultimately manages to be borderline on entertainment only if you switch your brain off. And while I will argue with them massively over superhero movies, this one isn’t really worth the effort.

Overall: if you liked the first two, this one’s probably a little better. Maybe.

Released: 14th October 2016
Viewed: 15th October 2016
Running time: 121 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10

Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

The name ‘Bridget Jones’ has become synonymous with a certain kind of woman, a rather sad and sorry singleton. We’ve followed her adventures in trying to get her man (Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)) and then trying to figure out if ‘true love’ was everything she was after (Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason (2004)). It came as something of a relief when the trailers hyped up Bridget in a slightly more accepting phase: good job, nice flat, target weight (!), and while back to being single, enjoying the chance to hook up with Patrick Dempsey. Well…!

Of course, the heroine’s life never did run smooth, and when she also takes the opportunity to briefly reunite with old flame Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), it leaves her with a bit of dilemma upon discovering she’s ‘up the duff’: which of the two is the daddy? And quite frankly, is Bridget really cut out for motherhood?

I’m not usually a fan of ‘chick flicks’, but I have to say I was in the mood to thoroughly enjoy this and its daft humour. I liked the progression in Bridget’s life – not quite so desperate and needy and hopeless – since the first movie (I can barely remember the middle installment, tbh), while still surrounded by friends and causing disasters left right and centre!

I was a little disappointed in the development of the new love interest character, Jack, who goes from dreamy dish to new-age hippy a little too irritatingly, mainly to counteract Mark Darcy’s incredibly uptight Englishness. The question, of course, becomes: who would Bridget prefer to be the father?

The supporting cast are all brilliant, part of what really makes these movies. Best role goes to the wonderful Emma Thompson as Bridget’s doctor, getting some wonderful lines and just being super-cool. Even Hugh Grants gets a sort-of cameo 😉

Overall, it’s not deep and it’s not Shakespeare, but it was a lot of fun and might well be the best movie in a series that’s become part of pop-culture.

Released: 16th September 2016
Viewed: 13th October 2016
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10 – not my preferred genre, but a good example of it