First Look At Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”!

Greta Gerwig, visionary director of the 2017 critical darling Lady Bird, is teaming up again with her Academy Award-nominated star, Saoirse Ronan – but now they’re heading all the way back to the 19th Century for a romantic historical-fiction romp. And this time, Gerwig’s status has allowed her to muster an impressive cast alongside Ronan, including Beauty & The Beast‘s Emma Watson, screen legend Meryl Streep, actress and director Laura Dern, Oscar-nominee Timothée Chalamet (also from Lady Bird), and rising star Florence Pugh. The ensemble of stars will be donning petticoats, sunbonnets and dainty pastel outfits for their outing in Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, a book that has been adapted to the big screen precisely ten-thousand times – fine, seven, but that’s still too many.

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Even though the first photos released today have all the misty-eyed stares and tidy drawing-rooms that are stereotypical of all adaptations of 19th Century romances (literally, every adaptation of a Jane Austen novel ever), don’t expect the movie to be as blatantly prim and pristine as it appears on the surface: Gerwig has made it clear that, during her research on Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, she became deeply interested in the period’s gender norms and views on feminism, especially – issues that were also close to Alcott’s own heart, and which naturally appear in the film, in the form of subtle social commentary: Gerwig even seemed to imply that Ronan and Chalamet’s androgynous appearances made them perfect for the kind of story she’s telling, one in which her protagonists will throw out the restrictions of their heteronormative lifestyle in favor of a more relaxed semi-platonic relationship and free love. All that is fine, but when Gerwig described the main characters as an “intellectual hippie family”, I’ll admit that’s what truly perplexed me, and got me thinking: who wants a Little Women adaptation when we could have Little Women Go To Woodstock?

Ronan will portray the novel’s heroine, Josephine “Jo” March, in the film: March’s rebellious spirit and relentless determination made her one of literature’s earliest great female role models, and I can’t think of a better fit for the role than the equally inspiring Irish actress. Emma Watson, on the other hand, will be perhaps trapped in the role of Meg March, whom critics have often derided for being an introverted and unambitious character who steadfastly remains devoted to her home and husband. Hopefully Watson can get past those criticisms with a stellar performance. Eliza Scanlen and Florence Pugh are the young sisters, Beth and Amy respectively, who are nearly identical when the story opens: Beth, shy, diplomatic and gentle-tempered; Amy, artistic, delicate and pampered.

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And of course we can expect Meryl Streep to be the powerhouse that she is, in the role of Aunt Josephine (not to be confused with the Aunt Josephine of A Series of Unfortunate Events). The cranky and discouraging widow with a heart of gold, her archetypal character will probably have a large number of scene-stealing moments – thankfully, the rest of the cast ensures (or should ensure, at least) that Streep doesn’t end up stealing the entire movie.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Little Women? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

So…A “Hunger Games” Prequel Is Happening…

Ever since the Hunger Games franchise left theaters back in 2015, Lionsgate Studios has been trying to find a replacement for what was, along with the Twilight Saga, their largest film property: their top three highest-grossing movies are still The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and The Hunger Games. Sadly, the studio has not had much luck doing that: stand-alone films such as Robin Hood (remember that? No?) flopped, and the Divergent series fizzled out. John Wick has recently begun to fill the role that Hunger Games once held, thanks to the sudden frenzy of interest surrounding star Keanu Reeves, but now it looks like Lionsgate doesn’t need to move on from its young-adult dystopian thriller roots at all.

That’s right: today, accompanying news that Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins will be releasing a prequel to her best-selling book series in May 2020, Lionsgate Studios wasted no time announcing that they are communicating with Collins  about “the movie”. Apparently there’s not even any doubt or hesitation about this project – there will be a movie prequel to The Hunger Games, whether you want it or not.

Don’t expect Jennifer Lawrence to be reprising the role of Katniss, however, and don’t expect many (or possibly any) familiar faces. The prequel novel will be set 64 years before the first book in the original trilogy, and will probably explore the origins or early days of the Games themselves, in a time when the world of Panem was still recovering from the scars of war; what Collins calls “the Dark Days”. Setting it so long ago in her world’s past will presumably give the prequel some freedom to breathe: traditionally, with prequels, they’re set in the time period directly before their successors, so that they can include hundreds of unnecessary cameos from, for instance, the parents of our original protagonists, or the backstories of recognizable antagonists. This is almost always a bad idea: rather than selling us on the premise of the novel that we’re currently reading, these types of prequels instead get bogged down while trying to remind us that we’re actually not getting the full story – to understand that, you’d have to stop by your local Barnes & Noble and pick up an expensive hardcover copy of the book you should be reading.

This, of course, extends to movies as well: Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy fell into this trap, by wasting time on tie-ins and unsubtle nods to his original Lord of the Rings trilogy (for instance, making The Hobbit into a trilogy to begin with, and then throwing in Legolas, and trying to make the characters at his disposal into carbon-copies of existing ones from Lord of the Rings).

Now, simply setting it 64 years in the past doesn’t necessarily mean the Hunger Games prequel won’t do the same thing: The Hobbit was set 60 years before the Lord of the Rings (though, that particular story also deals with extremely long-lived and in some cases immortal characters, so I’ll let that slide). J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts prequels to the modern world of Harry Potter, however, while great movies (yeah, I said it), are set in the 1920s and still manage to include an inordinate amount of inexplicable cameos from characters who really shouldn’t be alive yet in her timeline, most notably Professor McGonagall. Let’s not even get started on that, though.

Anyway, we will be getting both a novel and a movie set long before Hunger Games, and presumably Lionsgate will try to turn this into a huge franchise, just as it was back in 2013, when Catching Fire grossed 865 million dollars worldwide and became the 18th highest-grossing movie of all time in North America. Will they be able to do it? More importantly, will they be able to do it and also make a good movie in the process? They have it in them: all four of the movies in the franchise received Fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, with the first two even reaching Certified Fresh status. Setting the prequel long before the events of the original trilogy also helps, since we can assume (for now) that it will have its own distinct atmosphere and story, rather than leaning too heavily on the books that came before.

Let the Games begin.

“Murder Mystery” Review!

Where to start with this review? Well, how about this: the movie does not begin on a dark and stormy night – but that’s one of the very few mystery-story cliches it does not tackle in its surprisingly short, swiftly-paced runtime. And I mean, one of the very few: this is a movie that comes packed with all the requisite elements of a classic mystery; from the suave British host to the alluring city-streets of Monaco, illegitimate children of English nobility, enigmatic French detectives and lethal Indian daggers. Every overdone trope gets its moment of melodrama in the spotlight – before it is inevitably wrestled to the ground by hilarious, heartfelt satire.

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But no, our story begins in New York City, with our protagonists: lazy NYPD detective Nick Spitz (Adam Sandler) and inquisitive, bookish hairdresser Audrey Spitz (Jennifer Aniston). The couple are bored and tired in their middle-class American lives, until their wedding anniversary, when Nick agrees to take his wife on a long-awaited European vacation – a honeymoon fifteen years in the making. On the plane, they run into the aforementioned suave British gentleman, Charles Cavendish; elegantly portrayed by Luke Evans, Cavendish is immediately suspect even before Audrey openly states that, with a name like his, he would be the bad guy in a mystery story. Nevertheless, he politely invites Mr. and Mrs. Spitz to be his guests on a private yacht rather than have to spend their honeymoon traveling on a crowded tour bus learning about aged Italian ham.

Naturally, the mystery begins there.

The usual suspects are all present. Aside from Charles, we are presented with prospective-heir-to-a-magnificent-fortune Tobias Quince (David Walliams), Charles’ ex-girlfriend Suzi Nakamura (Shioli Kutsuna), the Maharajah Vikram Govindan (Adeel Akhtar), grizzled war hero Colonel Ulenga (John Kani), the celebrity race-car driver Juan Carlos Rivera (Luis Gerardo Méndez), and the silent Russian bodyguard known as Sergei (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), plus the film’s most lavish star aside from the three leads, Gemma Arterton, playing…well, the film’s most lavish star, actress Grace Ballard. The actors all get a chance to take themselves far too seriously, as their caricature characters clash (try saying that one three times fast) in a desperate attempt to win the love – and magnificent fortune – of the elderly, steely-eyed tycoon Malcolm Quince. Terence Stamp gives a brief, but almost Christopher Lee-like performance as Mr. Quince, before he is dramatically slain with, you guessed it, the Indian dagger. The scene immediately preceding his death, in which Mr. Quince realizes that he has two unexpected (and decidedly civilian) guests in Mr. and Mrs. Spitz, is absolutely hilarious – Aniston and Sandler are brilliant in their roles, and somehow sell the premise that they are, in fact, the odd ones out on this high-end French yacht full of celebrities and moviestar personalities.

After Quince’s sudden demise, just when the film should really take off, the movie suddenly jolts in the opposite direction – or maybe “jolt” is too strong a word. Our protagonists sort of just…idle, while the plot stands still around them, allowing for a handful of genuinely funny moments, most of them provided by our French detective, Inspector de la Croix (Dany Boon). But while he can blow an impressive smoke-ring, Hercule Poirot he is not. To make matters worse, Sandler’s characters suffers with sleepiness throughout the movie, but seems to get especially lackadaisical just when things get interesting. With a little less than an hour left, the movie suddenly remembers that it is, in fact, supposed to be entertaining: like a crimson Ferrari gunned into action (that metaphor will make sense later), the story gets fun, fast. We’re treated to another death, an obligatory escape-out-the-window scene in a luxury hotel, and hysterical humor. From that point on, except for some unnecessary marital drama, Murder Mystery gleams. Most of the film’s best material is packed into the last thirty minutes.

The high-points of the movie are the performances, and the finale: Aniston, Sandler and Evans are all exceptional – Evans does grow less so as the movie progresses, and his dashing elegance is, unfortunately, never shattered with comedic precision, but his charm is enough to make up for that. Many of the smaller roles are enjoyable to watch: Akhtar’s Maharajah is delightfully cool; Arterton is blessed with a large enough role in which to show off her range; and, as previously noted, Stamp gets one delectably funny scene, which he dominates. Only Ólafsson and Méndez are forgettable in their roles.

As for the finale – well, I did not actually guess the murderer’s identity correctly. But I loved the way that, even in its closing minutes, the movie had time to turn the tables on one more mystery cliche: and it’s a good one, too. There’s an excruciatingly funny car chase as well, involving one beautiful red Ferrari – I was not expecting goats, but I got goats, and I loved them. The film’s final scene can be read as either a tease of sequels down the line, or just a loving nod to the genre; an apology, of sorts, for all the mischief and madness committed in the name of mystery.

So, is Murder Mystery worth seeing? Well, if nothing else, it will definitely have you smiling and probably laughing out loud in its best moments – it’s not brilliant, and it’s not even the most brilliant use of satire, but it is heartfelt and heartwarming. Sandler and Aniston make a great duo, and have a fun supporting cast. So if you’re an insomniac on a dark and stormy night, why not check it out?

Movie Rating: 6.5/10

Mindy Kaling Discusses A “Ms. Marvel” Movie?

With Mindy Kaling’s latest film venture, Late Night, receiving stellar reviews and a lot of buzz for the actress/director, she’s obviously looking at many more successes down the line. Interestingly, one of her next projects could be for Marvel Studios.

Kaling revealed that she has spoken to executives at Marvel with the express intent of pushing for a Ms. Marvel movie, something that Marvel president Kevin Feige has already suggested is in the works. “They’re trying to figure out what to do with it,” Kaling said in an interview, “and I told them I would help in any way, because I truly love her”.

The superhero in question, Ms. Marvel or Kamala Khan, clearly has a lot of emotional significance for Kaling, and it’s not surprising: Kaling is of Indian descent, while Khan is a fiercely outspoken Pakistani American teenager, and the first Muslim lead character in Marvel comics. With Marvel taking a new approach to its characters, turning the spotlight on diverse heroes, it was only a matter of time before Khan was next in line. A Ms. Marvel movie could be a huge cultural phenomenon like Black Panther was – and like the upcoming Shang-Chi and The Eternals probably will be. The main obstacle keeping her from joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe years ago was the absence of Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel – in comic lore, Carol is Khan’s role model, and Khan, when not acting as a hero in her own right, is generally portrayed as Carol’s sidekick and close friend – the Spider-man to Carol’s Iron Man, so to speak. But now Carol has been introduced to the MCU with huge success, paving the way for a sequel in which we’ll probably see many new characters.

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In fact, Carol might become mentor to not one, but two female superheroes: Kamala Khan and possibly Monica Rambeau. Rambeau was a young girl in the Captain Marvel movie, which took place in the 1990s – that means she’s probably in her thirties now, and, if we’re going by the comics, then she might already have her own set of cosmic superpowers. Thankfully, Captain Marvel actress Brie Larson is more than ready for the responsibility: a few months ago, she said that she also hopes to see Khan in the inevitable Captain Marvel sequel.

Kaling also hinted that Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed is similarly excited about the possibility of a Ms. Marvel movie: while she noted that the movie might head to the Disney Plus streaming platform, if it has Kaling attached as a director and Ahmed as one of the film’s leads, it could be some high-quality entertainment. As for who would play Kamala Khan herself, Kaling didn’t seem to have any fancasts – “I think it might have to be an unknown”, she said.

“Frozen 2” Official Trailer!

Brisk and tightly-paced, the first Frozen 2 full-length trailer gives us some interesting food for thought, but not a whole lot of answers to our burning questions. We do know, now, that the story will indeed focus on Queen Elsa’s magic, specifically its origins, as many suspected after the first teaser trailer.

So, right upfront we see the same beach-scene from the teaser, with Elsa running across the ocean, apparently trying to escape – but this time we see what happens after she plunges underwater, seemingly crushed by tons of falling ice. Obviously, she doesn’t die (thank you, plot armor!), but she does have a really weird encounter with a blue glowing horse…underwater. The horse seems to scare her, before it disappears in a cloud of bubbles. I don’t know what that’s about.

Vague exposition is then provided by my absolute least-favorite characters from the first Frozen movie: the Trolls. I mean, yeah, it makes sense that they might know what to do, since the chief Troll (his name is Pabbie, apparently, but I refuse to use that ridiculous name) was the one who originally made Elsa and Anna’s lives miserable. The Trolls sound concerned about Elsa’s powers and helpfully remind her that “the past is not what it seems”, while also providing flashbacks of a young Elsa staring out of the palace window, at the Northern Lights in the sky. The Trolls don’t seem to be the only people concerned for some reason, though: we can clearly see a whole bunch of citizens of Arendelle standing around in the background while Pabbie is talking – it seems clear: Elsa must have done something truly horrible with her ice-powers again, and she needs to figure out how to make it stop.

But…we get a glimpse of what she’s up to these days, and honestly it seems pretty innocent. She’s using magic to conjure up beautiful spectral horses (like the one she encountered earlier, perhaps?), giants, and amazing firework-displays – and she looks really happy about it. Who wouldn’t be? It looks pretty harmless. But no, for some reason, Elsa, Anna, Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff, and their snowman Olaf, all have to pack up and head north, on a journey “across the enchanted lands”, according to them Trolls. Like, seriously, Trolls? You couldn’t even give them a map, or decent directions? Go north across the enchanted lands. What does that even mean? And why do they have to go north? Is there something there that will explain Elsa’s powers?

Clearly, something goes wrong with their little road-trip (thanks a lot, Trolls), because we see Anna and Olaf off on their own, boating down a river in a charming little ice-canoe – and plunging over a waterfall. There’s a pink wildfire spreading through an autumnal forest, and interestingly we can people in gray outfits running away from it: do they live here? Then it looks like the fire was caused by Elsa, as it takes the shape of some hopping, glowing, star-burst thing. Kristoff swoops in on a reindeer to save Anna – except…wait a moment. It’s a quick scene, but we clearly see Anna running towards Elsa, who is curled up on the ground, motionless, when Kristoff rides in and grabs Anna. Why would he do that? Is Kristoff evil? What is going on?

Oh I see, we’re going “into the unknown”, now, thanks to Troll-narration.

Then we get more Trolls, and now they’re talking about how they “always feared” that Elsa’s powers were “too much for this world”. Again, though, the scenes used to back up this preposterous claim are happy, beautiful ones of Elsa conjuring giant snowflakes and stuff – though I’m really confused about one particular scene of her skiing up an ice-ramp and then just standing still, staring up at thousands of tiny crystal-diamonds falling from the sky. But on a side-note, the city of Arendelle has never looked as beautiful as it does in this trailer.

The trailer ends on an ominous note. Elsa and Anna walk hand-in-hand into a foggy circle of standing stones: as someone who knows my Celtic history, I can tell you for a fact that nothing good comes of walking into a circle of standing stones. Those are places of sacrifice, typically of the ritualistic variety.

And the last shot is of Elsa cowering behind a tree, as, in the background, something huge rises up from the darkness.

So, yeah. Something has gone wrong in Arendelle. I’m blaming it on the Trolls, personally, but it definitely looks like we’ll see the mysterious origins of Elsa’s power: is she the only one out there like her? If there are others, what can they do? After the first teaser, there was a lot of speculation that Elsa would run into somebody with Autumn-powers, since that trailer featured so much Autumn imagery, like falling leaves and stuff. Not as much of that shows up here, and we don’t even see the strange boy and girl that we glimpsed in the teaser.

So what do you think? What’s going on? How can Elsa fix this situation – and, what exactly is the situation? Too many Trolls, not enough answers.

Trailer Rating: 7/10