Monthly Archives: December 2017

Film Review- Star Wars: Episode 8 – The Last Jedi



‘Hope is like the sun.  If you only believe in it when you see it you’ll never make it through the night.’

General Organa, quoted by Vice Admiral Holdo and Poe Dameron.

‘The greatest teacher failure is.’

Master Yoda.

The first quote is utterly beautiful, and I will refer back to it for years. The second is a philosophy I have always tried to live by; if I do something wrong, I have learnt a way that doesn’t work.

The theme of this film is failure, which is exactly what the filmmakers did as well. They failed, because I can see their puppet strings. I can see their influence over the characters in order to make the plot they wanted work.

Let’s go back to that first quote; Vice Admiral Holdo is not a stupid woman, yet for some reason she doesn’t tell anyone on board the plan. She doesn’t tell them there is a base nearby, which they can all escape to in order to survive. Instead this woman who demands that Poe Dameron should trust her, gives him absolutely no reason to do so, because she clearly doesn’t trust any of them. Except, you wouldn’t become a Vice Admiral under General Organa by displaying any of these tendencies. You most certainly wouldn’t be her friend.

The puppet strings keep Holdo quiet, because for some reason that is how the filmmakers wanted Finn and Rose’s plot to be able to happen. And it was a great disservice to Holdo, Poe, Finn, Rose and even to Leia.

I normally delay my posts about new Star Wars films in order to give people the chance to see it and not have it spoiled. Unfortunately, in the case of ‘The Last Jedi’ I have delayed it for a different reason. The first time I saw it I absolutely hated the film, and it is solely because of the above plot point. I needed to think about it, and see it again so I could discuss it properly.

Fine, Holdo might not have trusted Poe because he disobeyed orders and destroyed the Dreadnaught. Equally though destroying the Dreadnaught extended the life span of the Resistance, because if they hadn’t the Dreadnaught would have followed with the First Order’s new tracking technology, and with it’s big guns could have destroyed the rest of the fleet. Poe was proved right pretty quickly that they needed to take that opportunity to destroy the ‘fleet-killer’, even though the cost was high.

When a leader like Holdo can no longer see the hope in the faces of those around her and there is a brig full of people being charged with attempted desertion, and the man everyone rallies around is asking to know what they are going to do, someone like Vice Admiral Holdo would tell them. Hope is not something physical you can always see, but the point of great leaders is to inspire hope when hope is needed, which is why people were easily swayed into committing mutiny by Poe. Leia and Holdo have strong faith, but the very fact Leia wanted Luke back as a spark of hope for those who have weaker faith is very telling of just how much hope they all needed.

But the filmmaker’s puppet strings were used to stop Admiral Holdo from telling Poe Dameron the plan, because had she told him the plan, half of the film then wouldn’t have happened, or at least it wouldn’t have happened how it did.

Had Holdo told Poe the plan was to aim for an old rebel hideout, when Finn and Rose went to him with their knowledge, then he would have taken them to Holdo and a better plan of action could have been put in place as a back-up plan in order to save the one ship they had left that had shields and weapons. The entire sub-plot involving Finn and Rose could have been better; the former storm trooper and the girl who works behind pipes all day could have a proper plot, not what felt like a slapdash afterthought.

Had Finn and Rose gone on an authorized mission, they could have taken an experienced member of the Resistance with them to advice that parking on the beach is a crap idea; that running around a high stakes casino and blatantly looking like you don’t fit in is a bad idea; and that you need to retrieve the person you have been sent to retrieve because a friend you trust, trusts them. Just retrieving someone else you don’t know who you met in a prison cell (I repeat in a prison cell) is a bad idea!

The theme of failure needed to be explored, because failure is a great teacher like Master Yoda says, and it is also a very good way for writers to develop character arcs, but it was forced. And the only reason I can think they wanted to do it the way they did was so Benicio del Toro could play a complex, double crossing, slightly mysterious code breaker. Apparently that was more important, so they had to make Finn and Rose incompetent, shallow characters, which they aren’t, in order for the meet-cute with DJ to happen, and to override their common sense by playing up their desperation.

Personally I don’t know why DJ couldn’t be the one Maz Kanata trusted in the first place? True, she has a lot of experience and wouldn’t be easily fooled, but other aspects of this film talked about how people are not perfect, they are not legends. So why couldn’t there be a character in the Star Wars universe that proves even Maz isn’t right all the time? I mean Kylo Ren manages to fool Supreme Leader Snoke in a spectacular twist, so why couldn’t DJ be someone who would betray Maz’s faith in him?

Tip for filmmakers: it is fine for your darlings to fail, however if you set them up to fail through incompetent writing they don’t fall as far. If you set them up doing everything right, with everything going their way and then pull the rug out from under them, not only are you more respectful of your characters’ competence and determination, the impact of failure has more resonnace with the characters and the audience. If you set it all up to make the ending you want work and do so by making characters act out of character, what actually happens is you end up with a character like DJ, whose lack of loyalty is so predictable you wouldn’t have been able to lay a bet on whether he’d sell the Resistance out to save his own skin because it was a dead cert.

I’ll stop now, because just thinking about how badly executed the plots surrounding the Resistance were executed riles me up (I can’t even bring myself to mention Captain Plasma because I might wear out my caps lock function discussing her abysmal cameo), which is a massive shame, because otherwise the film is utterly brilliant, with some spectacular cinematography and as always a soundtrack by John Williams, which proves why he is the best at what he does.

Chewbacca falls to the wayside a bit with the Porgs (who only exist because puffins are real and if you film at one of their nesting grounds, they turn out to be hard to CGI out; good excuse for something cute in my mind), but Chewie’s there when he needs to be, and gets to hug Leia this time so it’s not all bad.

The storyline between Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren is brilliant. The filmmakers nailed it. There are still a few unanswered questions, and a few questions that got answers which may not necessarily be true, but it worked. I feel as if Rey may have forgiven Kylo Ren just a little bit too quickly for killing Han, but the time scale of the film meant she had to turn to Kylo Ren as quickly as she did because Luke was slow on the uptake and too haunted by the past to want to help her find what she is looking for: someone to show her what her place in all this is meant to be.

And in the Red Room she finds her place; she may have let her naivety lead her to that room, and her certainty about being able to save Ben Solo might be misplaced, but she doesn’t let her failure deter her or blind her to what’s needs to be done next if she can’t rely on Ben Solo to help her save the Resistance. Unlike Kylo Ren who looses focus because of his anger and hatred, in moments of clarity she finds her practical instincts kicking in. Jakku might have been no-where, but it was a good training ground for teaching someone how to survive on nothing, which is what the Resistance needs.

The resolution of Rey and Kylo’s storyline will make the next film very interesting indeed, hopefully sans puppet strings, and lots more sly looks from General Hux in Kylo’s direction that clearly say ‘Really, you want to do it that way? Okay, it’s not a good idea but I don’t want to be force-choked.’

Film Review: Moana



Moana sort of passed me by when it came to cinemas, and because it didn’t have as massive a hype as Frozen it sort of kept passing me by. That is until lots and lots of adults I know both in real life and via social media were absolutely buzzing about this film.

And unlike with Frozen I can understand why; Moana is one the most determined and fearless Disney characters of recent times. And OMG is she patience, because Maui is intolerable.

I know he was written to be like that, and there are elements of his personality that can be sympathetic (mainly his tattoo who I felt really sorry for), he is one of my least favourite Disney characters.

But then again I don’t like people who don’t take responsibility for their actions. I hate it even more when others have to fix their mistakes, and the person responsible isn’t willing to admit they even made one. I am gritting my teeth just thinking about him.

Thank goodness the ocean was on Moana’s side, because Maui extremely selfish. I would have thought a better ending would have been him having to accept life without his precious hook. Given he essentially pushed Moana into the ocean to drown her multiple times, and left her locked in a cave to starve, he really needed to be taught a lesson and I don’t feel as if he had been.

I understand perfectly why Te Fiti became Ta Ka, all because of Maui. And the ending was something special; Moana approaching Ta Ka with reason and admiration, and quite a lot of understanding as to why Ta Ka was so angry. The message that not everything has to be resolved with violence was something we really do need more of in our world.

There is so much I really love about this film. I know that there still is quite a lot of discussion about how appropriate it is for Disney to use Polynesian culture for profit. Cultural appropriation is a serious matter. However, if you look beyond the profits, and look at the story and the history behind the story, there is a great deal cultural appreciation.

Moana for me is a way I can appreciate Polynesian cultures, which I have always admired a great deal, because of the immense talent of the Polynesian seafarers. And I want to learn more; I don’t want to use their culture in order to make myself appear enlightened and worldly. I want to quietly read more about their history, so that I learn about them and their perspective on the world.

And what more could you ask of a kid’s film? A great protagonist and a desire to learn more. Well…Maui, but I think you know my opinion of him.

TV Review – The Crown (Season One)



The Crown has been on my watch list for a while now, and when my husband and I finished watching Westworld we were after something else to interest us for an hour or so each evening.

I generally have quite positive opinions of the monarchy, mainly because of the Queen, who is an brilliant role model for girls and women. Apart from the death of Princess Diana though, I don’t actually know anything about them.

The first season of The Crown is utterly brilliant. Even if it wasn’t based on real life, the drama of the series is gripping. The writing is spot on, and a large amount of research has obviously gone into it to make it as historical accurate as a television drama will allow.

What I really love about this series is that it has made the monarchy human; real human beings are having to live in this weird world of being royal. More than that, The Queen has to live with the reality that she has a duty to protect the Crown which is integrated into how government works. She has to work very hard to do her bit and she has several brilliant moments of setting men of power straight.

She also has to do it while dealing with the illness and then death of her father the King; the family politics of her Uncle who abdicated; the politics of the country under the aging Churchill; a sister who has fallen in love with someone deemed unsuitable; and the expectations of her husband having to adjust his life to fit around her in an age when wives did that for husbands not the other way around.

Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again, and the second series which is already underway. I know I will come back to it again and again, all because the writing, acting and production is superb.

Film Review – Sing



I had wanted to go and see ‘Sing’ at the cinema, but it was just one of those films I just couldn’t find the time to get there in order to see it. However, now I have seen it I’m quite delighted really.

I had expected it to be like the X-Factor or similar, but it being a talent show was even better. It was more about the hard work that has to go into performance, both in practicing music and in negotiating real life. It isn’t a perfect film but it is a really good kid’s film, and I sympathise quite a lot with the majority of the characters.

I loved Meena the most, as being frightened and being pushed in directions you might not be ready to be pushed in is something I relate to a lot. I don’t have great self-esteem and her journey towards pushing herself is something I recognised in myself.

Then I think Rosita’s story line was my next favourite; I loved it because despite being a very busy mother, she wasn’t willing to let that define her, especially when the definition of her existence was to essentially be invisible. How none of her children nor her husband noticed she wasn’t there I will never be able to fathom? And while Gunther is the sort of person who would irritate me a great deal in real life, his positive encouragement was exactly what Rosita needed.

And the short film about Gunther being a babysitter for them is hilarious, so find that as well.

It is a great film about how hard it is in the arts, and a great message to kids that if you try to do something you love, be prepared because it is hard work, and you will come across attitudes of people wishing to deter you, and you might not be successful, however if it makes you happy then that is important as well.

Book Review – The Humans by Matt Haig



the humans

This book wasn’t quite what I had expected when I first started to read it. I had expected it to be about a Professor who has a break-down and feels alienated among the humans he knows. Sometimes I feel a bit like this when I have bad mental health days, and being familiar with Haig’s ‘Reasons to be Alive’, I had assumed he had drawn on that experience.

Turns out on reading the interviews at the end, this is exactly what Matt Haig did, but with the story he took it a step further, and my goodness what a brilliant step.

Because Professor Andrew Martin doesn’t just feel alienated, he is an alien. I often wonder what aliens would think of us, and this is what this book is about. From the moment he’s reading a magazine and questioning the point of consumerism, which I often question myself (except books, I never question buying books), I fell in love with the story.

The only one of the protagonist’s opinions of us that I disagree with is his confusion towards our attitude to clothes. I quite like them, but then again I live in Newcastle and we have chilly winds here. Other than that I felt I related better to this alien than I do some people I’ve known in my life.

I’ve been a fan of Haig ever since I read ‘The Radleys’ a few years ago and he did a brilliant twist on a vampire story. In ‘The Humans’ he has created a character who at first views us with contempt but slowly and surely finds enjoyment in simple pleasures, such as music, poetry, and in what it means to be in love. Despite that latter one being hard, with complicated rituals, the protagonist finds himself feeling more and more at home.

The book is a superb reminder to the reader to cherish the little things which make us feel content, because in truth that is the point of human life. Appreciation of what we have and of each other is more important than money and the selfish pursuit of individual triumph at the cost of sacrificing those closest to us.

Film Review – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool


film stars don't die in liverpool

Every now and then I watch a film I’ve been really excited to see, and then I’m left a little bit stumped as to how to explain it.

The film itself is pretty simple and is inspired by a true story; it follows the last couple of years of Academy Award winner, Gloria Grahame’s life and her romance with Peter Turner. It is about the fun they had together, about her insecurity as an aging actress, and about her terminal illness. The story is mostly told in flashback, while she is in Liverpool being cared for by Peter and his family. It is a poignant reflection on how sometimes love isn’t easy.

For the majority of the film I wasn’t actually keen on Grahame, but despite all her flaws, at her core she comes across as a decent person dealing with a difficult diagnosis, which Benning beautifully brings to life. And Jamie Bell as Peter Turner was great to watch, even though I struggled at points to understand the attraction and the chemistry between the two characters.

Well that explains the plot, but I’m struggling to put in words how I felt about the film. I enjoyed it because it was very well written, and the cast do a great job. Technically the film is flawless, and while there are a few plot points that go unseen and unexplained, that doesn’t bother me.

Emotionally the film is grim, but is also a very respectful look at the love that can exist between a couple with an age gap. It is also a tough and realistic look at how hard caring for a loved one who is dying can be.

Beyond being able to say it is a good film, and it is worth watching, I will admit I was left feeling absolutely nothing at the end. I’ve seen it, I’ve understood it, but is isn’t a film that I have been left lingering over. I had a stronger reaction to the trailer and the anticipation/determination I felt in needing to see this film.

Having seen it though and acknowledging it is good, I’m a bit confused at how I failed to connect to the film and the characters when technically there is no reason for me not to have done. Perhaps it is just one of those films that is good, but just isn’t a one meant for me in the end.

Book Review: The White Book by Han Kang


the white book


Books are a vice for me. They do take up space, so I try not to buy too many. I have yet to define what having too many means.

‘The White Book’ by Han Kang was an indulgence: I wouldn’t normally buy a book like this on a whim. I picked it up, read the blurb and I just knew. To look at the world and write about only white things fascinated me.

Books are a vice for me, because my soul seeks to connect to the world, observe it, understand it, and feel as if it is a part of it. Books are one way in which I do this.

I have heard of ‘The Vegetarian’ by the same author, and I am now drawn to want to read more by her for a simple reason. ‘The White Book’ spoke to my soul.

Books are a vice for me: a way to connect to another observer’s viewpoint. This book is an observation on life and death. Of fragile fleeting moments most people wouldn’t notice happening. I feel sometimes as if I wander around and see things other don’t notice.

Are people not mindful? Are they selfishly wrapped up in themselves? Or most horribly of all, don’t they care? Don’t they care about a white handkerchief fluttering out of a window; about why two Yulan trees have been planted in remembrance; about the inner torments of the people who are ‘laughing whitely’?

Books are a vice for me. Unlike most vices that leave you wanting more, this book was satisfying. It is simply genius, if harrowing, but life is full of sadness. Sometimes inexplicable and sometimes obvious. It is sentimental, but then without sentiment and yearning for beautiful things, like minerals that glimmer, or seeing the Milky Way wielding overhead, connecting to the every day world is just that bit more mundane.

And that is why I would recommend this book; it comes from the idea of simply observing the mundane, picking out a detail (the colour ‘white’), and showing people how wondrous the world can be, even in moments of tragedy.

Books are a vice for me, because I write them too. It isn’t often I get a sort of envy that envelops me as a writer, which whispers in the back of my thoughts: ‘I wish I had written this book.’