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FILM REVIEW: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Thursday, October 20, 2016

As you may know, I've spent the last six months either deep inside my writing cave, finishing my next novel ... or on the road, travelling to England, Wales, France, Byron Bay, Brisbane, Mudgee, St Albans, Melbourne ...

My husband and I have been the proverbial ships-in-the-night.

So when Paramount Pictures & Penguin Random House very kindly invited me along to see a preview of the new Jack Reacher movie, I was very excited. 

Can I bring my hubby? I asked. Thinking: Date Night!

They said yes, and so we scrubbed up and went along to the Paramount offices in Pyrmont where they have a very dinky little movie theatre. We had a couple of glasses of wine and settled in to watch.


Action thrillers are my very favourite type of movie. I did not see the first Jack Reacher movie, and I've never read one of the Lee Child books before, and so I was not quite sure what to expect, apart from Tom Cruise, a gorgeous kick-arse girl, fight scenes, chase scenes, and maybe an explosion or two.

And that's exactly what I got.

Tom Cruise was great. His character was intense, moody, yet with hints of vulnerability and loneliness. I've heard that Jack Reacher fans were unhappy with him in the role, because apparently in the book, the man is a big hulking kind of a guy. Not having those expectations, I was very happy watching Tom for a few hours. He has a lot of charisma, and throws himself into whatever he's doing with everything he's got. The fight scenes were ferocious. I amused everyone around me by hiding my face in my husband's arm a few times. 

I also loved seeing Cobie Smulders playing the role of the gorgeous yet tough major, falsely accused of treason. I watched her for years in 'How I Met Your Mother', and it's so great seeing her getting such a meaty role.




Although she's playing second fiddle to Tom, and so is rescued by him and, as she says at one point, patronised by him, she was still a strong character and ran just as fast and punched just as hard. We don't get to see much of her back story, so she remains one-dimensional, but it's a very enjoyable one-dimension.

The bad guys were suitably bad, and the movie moved along so fast there's not much time to stop and worry about some of the implausibilities in the plot. 

One of these implausibilities is, without a doubt, the addition of Sam, the 15-year old girl who may or not be Jack Reacher's daughter.  



Played by Danika Yarosh, she too was drawn in broad brushstrokes - sweet-faced but sassy, tough but vulnerable, super-smart yet underprivileged, with a good heart but sneak-thief fingers - yet she raised the stakes for Jack and for the audience, and helped us see Jack's softer side. 

I'd have liked a bit more romance, and a little more of a connection between Jack Reacher, ex-major, and Major Susan Turner to explain why he got himself so involved in her business having never met her before ... but it seems that Jack Reacher being lonely and on his own, travelling the world and righting wrongs, is what the character is all about and too much sappiness would undermine that rough-hewn independence of his. 

Though, mind you, Tom allowing his character Jack to be beaten up, to be wrong, to be hurt, to show his weariness and loneliness, and yes, even his ageing, were the best parts of the movie for me. It made the character and the situation just that little bit more real ... which I like in a good thriller. 

So, all in all, I enjoyed it hugely. 

It's actually one of the best thrillers I've watched for a while, because - while the plot is undeniably slight - it had a lot of heart and two great female actors were given a whole lot of screen time in a genre that often fails in this area. And Major Susan Turner kept her clothes on (much to my husband's disappointment).  

    


 


 



FILM REVIEWS: Five Best Fairy Tale Films chosen by Susanne Rath

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Suzanne Rath is a writer, producer and co-founder of Idle Wrath Films who are currently in pre-production on a wonderful short film, 'Fairy Fort.' 



Their crowd-funding campaign, running for the month of July, offers lots of fun rewards for lovers of fairy tales, fantasy & magical realism - you can support Idle Wrath here

To celebrate their crowd-funding push, Suzanne has kindly chosen her 5 favourite films based on the Grimm Brother's fairy tales.

Over to Suzanne!

The Brothers Grimm need no introduction for those of us who are still inspired by the fairytales we grew up with. The stories they collected, including well- known tales such as Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood have been adapted into successful films by filmmakers such as Walt Disney and Lotte Reiniger. However, not all of the cinematic re- tellings are aimed at younger audiences. In the list below, I've named my five favourite films based on Grimms' fairytales- some may surprise you!



5) Ever After
A film for all the family, Ever After was inspired by the original Cinderella story, from which the Brothers Grimm version was derived. There's no magical carriage, or pumpkin, yet the core elements of the story remain. The film opens with the Brothers Grimm arriving at the home of a Grande Dame who offers to tell them the true story of the 'cinder girl'. The story then flashes back to the story of Danielle (Barrymore), a 16th century French girl whose stepmother begins to mistreat her after her father's death. In an unlikely twist on the original fairytale, the heroine Danielle is eventually rescued from imprisonment by Leonardo Da Vinci, so that she may attend the ball and meet the dashing Prince Henry.
Director Andy Tennant treats the subject as historical fiction, creating a visually appealing film with historic French chateaux and period costumes. Anjelica Huston is an excellent evil stepmother, while Danielle (Drew Barrymore) manages to strike up a surprisingly deep and intellectual bond with her prince (Dougray Scott). Ever After was a deserving box office success, taking in over $100million worldwide.


4) Tangled

Featuring Rapunzel as you've never seen her before, Tangled is a 2010 Disney animation/comedy directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard.
Despite several changes, including featuring Rapunzel as a princess (the original version of the fairy-tale by both Charlotte Rose De la Force and that documented by the Grimm brothers depicts her as the daughter of poor parents who fall foul of a witch), Tangled is quite true to the original fairytale. In fact, its name was only changed from Rapunzel to make it more gender neutral.
Like other films on this list, Tangled was a cinematic film, with visuals modelled on Renaissance oil paintings. Complete with an original score influenced by medieval music and 1960s folk rock, this is a fairy-tale adaptation worth viewing.


3) Mirror Mirror

Based on Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, the 2012 film Mirror Mirror stars Julia Roberts as an evil queen who steals control of a kingdom, prompting her exiled step-daughter to recruit seven bandit dwarves to fight her. The title is based on the famous phrase from the fairytale; in the film, the queen's reflection, 'The Mirror Queen' lives within the mirror.
Like many films by director Tarsem Singh, Mirror Mirror is beautiful. The cast put in solid performances and the costumes,e inspired by nineteenth century folk tale illustrations, saw the film's designer nominated for an Academy Award. Despite deviating little from the original fairytale, Mirror Mirror is a  fantastical alternative to the classic Disney animated version of Snow White.


2) The Company of Wolves

Based on a novel by Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves is a stylish film which references the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale heavily. Opening in the modern era, the story takes place within the dreams of Rosaleen. Rosaleen dreams that she lives in an enchanted forest with her parents and sister, who one day is killed by wolves. Rosaleen's grieving parents send her to stay with her grandmother, who gives her a bright red shawl to wear and warns her not to talk to men whose eyebrows meet. However when an attractive huntsman of this description challenges Rosaleen to a race to her grandmother's cottage, he turns out to be a wolf disguised as a man, who eats her grandmother. Rosaleen must deal with avenging her grandmother's death and fighting her desire for the huntsman as the local villagers come in search of the werewolf. The moral of the film, as with many traditional fairytales, is that girls should be wary of strangers!
Directed by Neil Jordan, this creepy gothic horror isn't a story for kids. However, The Company of Wolves was nominated for several BAFTAs and was well received critically. Its biggest success was in its visuals- the enchanted forest of Rosaleen's dreams still appears claustrophic today, while the creatures she encounters there are certainly the stuff of nightmares.


1) Shrek

No list of fairytale- inspired films could be complete without mentioning Shrek, although it can't be described as a re-telling of one particular story. Throughout the films, Shrek referenced an array of Disney films, featured popular fairytale characters such as Cinderella and Snow White and appealed to both children and adults equally through its clever dialogue and use of double entendres.
Shrek tells the story of an ogre of the same name whose solitary life is interrupted when the evil Lord Farquaad exiles fairytale creatures to his swamp. Shrek joins forces with a talking donkey to ask Farquaad to take them back, but when he reaches the lord's palace, he finds himself embroiled in a tournament whose winner is tasked with rescuing a princess for Lord Farquaad to marry. Shrek easily wins the tournament and sets to rescue Princess Fiona, who lives in a castle guarded by a dragon. On the journey back to Lord Farquaad with the newly freed Fiona, Shrek finds he has more in common than he thought with her, after learning she was born an ogre too. From then he must risk the wrath of Lord Farquaad to win the love of his princess.
Shrek was voiced by an all star cast, including Cameron Diaz, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy. It won the first Academy Award for Best Animated feature and was nominated for six BAFTAs. Film critics embraced it as a modern fairytale retelling which upended the cliches of traditional children's fairytales. While the franchise eventually descended into sequels of lesser quality than the first, Shrek remains relevant and entertaining today. 

You can follow Suzanne on Twitter @SuzoWriting and @Idle Wrath


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!



FILM REVIEW: Maleficent, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty

Monday, July 14, 2014



''Let us tell an old story anew and see how well you know it.''

This is the opening line of Disney’s new remake of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, named after its villainness Maleficent. I love fairy tale retellings, particularly ones which reimagine an old tale in new ways, and so I was really looking forward to ‘Maleficent’. Predictably, perhaps, I loved it (though I did have one or two reservations from a fairy tale perspective, but more on that later).

The film is inspired by the famous 1959 Disney animated version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and stars Angelina Jolie in what may well be her best-ever role. There has always been something wild and dangerous about Angelina’s beauty, and the Disney animators’ brilliant work bring this feyness to riveting life. 



The film’s narrative is concerned with the story of why Maleficent cast her cure on Princess Aurora. The back story shows her as a bright-eyed, strong-winged fairy who falls in love with a human. When he betrays her horribly for power and greed (in a scene which is truly awful to watch), she determines to take her revenge on him. 

So she curses the baby, but finds herself drawn to look over the growing child (played beautifully as a toddler by Angelina’s own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, and as a rather wide-eyed and impossibly sweet Elle Fanning as a teenager). 




Maleficent’s emotional journey is utterly authentic and at times heart-wrenching, and the film itself is visually gorgeous. I particularly loved the many strange and magical creatures of the fairy world.

I have a few problems with the fairy tale aspects of the film. The film’s director Robert Stromberg, has used the 1959 Disney remake of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as his primary source material which means several of the cartoon’s most irritating aspects have been preserved, in particular  the three comical and clumsy fairies that look after the child, and the cloying sweetness and stupidity of Aurora. 

I was also troubled that Aurora does not sleep for a hundred years in the movie, but really only has a cat-nap (does that mean she should be called Napping Beauty instead?) 

These minor quibbles aside, however, I loved ‘Maleficent’ and think it shows the emotional resonance and symbolic power that films drawing upon classic fairy tale can conjure. And I love the raven turned into a man!

You may be interested in my blog on the history & meaning of the 'Sleeping Beauty' fairy tale which includes my favourite retellings of the tale in novel form. 

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK



MOVIE REVIEW: Brave

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yesterday I took my three children to see the new Pixar movie, 'Brave'.

Of course I loved it.

It could have been based on one of my own books - the flame-haired heroine, the Scottish setting, the theme of shapeshifting and transformation, and the message that one must have courage.

'Brave' tells the story of the Princess Merida, the red-haired rebellious daughter of King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson). Given a bow as a little girl by her father, Merida would rather be off practising her archery in the forest and galloping about on her horse than learning how to be a princess.  

The true story begins when Merida learns it is time she beame betrothed  to the son of one of the chieftains. She is determined to defy convention, but her act of wilfulness sets in chain a string of events that result in the cursing of her family. Merida must  find a way to lift the curse before it is too late.

The things I liked best about this movie:

* Of course, the importance of being brave, a song I sing all the time.

* the foregrounding of the relationship betwee Merida and her mother, and how realistic the tension between them was, and also their deep love for each other. Few movies (or books for that matter) show a positive mother-daughter relationship and this was one movie I was really glad to be sharing with my own daughter.

* the way the movie showed the tension between individual freedom and family duty, a tension that many women (and, I am sure, men) must feel. I loved the wild, free, bold spirit of Merida, but I also felt the need for her to learn that we are not islands, but all joined together in a complex web of social relationships, and that tearing apart that web can cause deep and lasting damage

* the gorgeous Scottish landscape

* her unruly red hair 

* the importance, in the movie, of storytelling as a way of acquiring wisdom. This is encapsulated in the lines, which I wish I had written myself, 'Legends are lessons. They ring with truth.'   

As far as the craft of storytelling goes, 'Brave' shows very clearly my mantra that the true narrative arc is always the transformation of the protagonist - their growth and change over the course of the story.


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