Peter Rabbit

Cast: James Corden, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley (voices), Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Sam Neill

Director: Will Gluck

Writers: Rob Lieber, Will Gluck


Peter Rabbit, a modern adaptation of a beloved British children’s literary classic, is inevitably going to draw comparisons to Paddington. The latter is a charming, enjoyable film that was able to depict an updated version of the Michael Bond stories while retaining and respecting what people loved about them in the first place and that offers something for children and grown ups alike. Peter Rabbit is none of those things. Not only is this film entirely devoid of charm, wit, and wonder, it unapologetically flies in the face of everything that made the Beatrix Potter stories so appealing. The movie is so obnoxiously deaf to the quaint, pure, profusely British tone of the source material that those who made it ought to be ashamed that they had the audacity to attach this mockery to the same name. If there is one things that disgusts me about this clueless, insufferable travesty above all else, it is the thought of young children being taught that this abominable caricature is an accurate representation of what Potter’s original stories stood for.

Here Peter Rabbit is irritatingly voiced by James Corden (although it would be more accurate to say that the character is James Corden as James Corden as Peter Rabbit as James Corden). He plays Peter as a smart-talking, troublemaking rascal but comes across less as the Artful Dodger and more as Alex DeLarge, a nasty, deceptive, narcissistic sociopath committing juvenile acts with reckless abandon. We first meet him as he and his posse, made up of his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail (voiced by Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki and Daisy Ridley respectively) and their cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody), hatch a plan to sneak into Farmer McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden to steal his vegetables. While there Peter cannot resist the urge to try and insert a carrot into the unsuspecting farmer’s exposed rear end, a prank that ends up triggering a fatal heart attack. McGregor dies and Peter, celebrating his victory without an inkling of remorse, invites all the woodland animals into the empty house before the unfortunate old man’s corpse is even cold to run rampant and feast on vegetables all day long.

Their revelry is brought to an end however by the arrival of Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), the distant nephew who inherited McGregor’s estate not long after losing his job at Harrods. Thomas is a neurotic city boy who cannot abide chaos or messiness and hates everything about the countryside. His sole intention is to clean up the house, sell it, and use the profits to start his own toy shop to rival Harrods. He reinforces the estate’s security to keep intruders out, leading to an all out war between himself and the woodland creatures involving electric fences and dynamite. The neutral power in this war is Bea (Rose Byrne), presumably a surrogate for Beatrix Potter considering that she is an artist whose work evokes the watercolour illustrations of the books. She lives next door to the McGregor farm and simply adores Peter and all the other animals, but she soon develops a bit of a soft spot for Thomas as she gets to know him and they start spending time together. A jealous Peter thus devotes himself towards destroying Thomas and banishing him from the land.

I wish this film could have just been about Bea and Thomas because Byrne and Gleeson actually work really well together. Both actors try their utmost to bring some layer of appeal to this film and they almost succeed in the brief moments when they are alone together without this detestable CGI pest butting in to make everything about him. She is a compassionate, nurturing figure with a talent for seeing the best in everybody and he is a rigid, obsessive buffoon whose heart is gradually warmed by her presence. Both actors put real feeling and effort into their performances and their chemistry is undeniable. I daresay the two could even have made a half-decent film together about the lives of Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis were they not too young. Their quirky countryside love story however is trapped in a crass, abhorrent, shamelessly puerile farce with digital animals and there is nothing either actor can do to save it.

I shudder to think what Potter might have thought had she seen this incarnation of her most beloved character. Peter Rabbit, a mischievous but lovable creature, resilient and brave but also impulsive and childish, a boy who gets wiser as he grows older and learns from his mistakes, and a model of the Edwardian morals and sensibilities of Potter’s generation, is reduced here to an amalgamation of James Corden’s personality and 21st century millennial tropes. This is a Peter who twerks, sings a song written by the guy from Vampire Weekend (because James Corden can never not sing under any circumstances whatsoever), and makes leaves of lettuce rain as if he were a rapper in a strip club. He’s also utterly loathsome from start to finish; he is one of those characters who simply has to be the centre of attention no matter what, is unbearably full of himself, and is indiscriminately horrible to all around him, friend and foe alike. He manipulates and exploits his loved ones, looks out for his own interests above all else, and is incapable of empathy and reason. The final straw for me was the film’s infamous allergy scene, not because allergies are off limits in comedy, but because it’s the scene that truly shows this Peter for the irredeemable piece of trash that he is.

Peter Rabbit is just an awful, awful film. It has an attractive duo in Byrne and Gleeson and there is the occasional laugh, but the pros don’t even begin to make up for the cons. For every decent joke, there are five that range from obvious to crude to stupid. Even then, I feel I could have gone along with more of those jokes were Peter himself not so excruciatingly horrible. Anytime I feel like I’m about to be drawn in by Bea and Thomas, Peter rears his ugly CGI head in and kills the moment dead. Never before have I wanted to punch a rabbit in the face so badly. The film is gaudy, low-brow and obnoxious and is nothing less than an insult to Potter’s memory. There is one scene in the film where we see a flashback recounting the deaths of Peter’s parents which adopts the style of Potter’s illustrations and matches her tone. It is the only scene in the entire film that I liked and, by showing me just a glimpse of what this movie could have been, it made me accordingly hate the rest of the movie even more. The adults who grew up with Potter’s timeless works and the children who have yet to be introduced all deserve better than this.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson


The reception The Last Jedi has proven to be rather divisive, perhaps more so than even the prequels, and I must confess that I myself wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. In that kind of situation I think it is important to consider what exactly it is you expect of a film such as this going in. With The Force Awakens for example, with the prequel PTSD still making itself felt, I went in hoping to see a movie that looked, sounded, and felt like the Star Wars I loved as a child. If that meant playing it safe and recycling plot points from the previous movies then so be it because I walked out feeling elated in the way that only Star Wars can make me feel. This time, with my child-like faith now restored, I hoped to see a movie that would take more risks and would take the franchise in new directions. The Last Jedi did exactly that and it caught me completely off guard the first time I saw it. On the second viewing I loved it more than I loved The Force Awakens.

The film picks up immediately after Episode VII with what’s left of the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the dearly departed Carrie Fisher), fleeing the First Order. A counter-attack by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) allows them a chance to escape, but Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and his fleet remain relentlessly hot on their trail. After an attack led (but not executed) by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) leaves his mother incapacitated, Leia’s command is assumed by Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Disapproving of her inactive strategy Poe, Finn (John Boyega), mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and BB-8 concoct a plan to disable the device that allows the First Order to track their fleet through light speed. Meanwhile Rey (Daisy Ridley), having arrived on Ahch-To with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and R2D2 in search of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), find him living there in a self-imposed exile, disillusioned by his own failures and with the teachings of the Jedi. It falls onto her to inspire Luke to complete her training and to help them save the Resistance from the wrath of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and the First Order before it’s too late.

Making a great sequel is a tricky thing, especially with an iconic property like Star Wars. It’s a matter of making things feel old and new at the same time; giving the audience what they want and also what they didn’t know they wanted. The Force Awakens did this by reviving a familiar story while throwing in new, compelling, likeable characters. The Last Jedi does this in a more challenging but ultimately more rewarding way. It harkens back to the past, sometimes nostalgically, sometimes humorously, and sometimes unsentimentally, and provides arcs for the characters that parallel what we’ve seen in the original trilogy, but it also builds on the new elements that were introduced in the prior instalment and allows the torch to be passed into the hands that promise to lead the franchise into an unfamiliar but promising future. The movie tackles themes of legacy and questions whether the past is something that we should allow to shape us and define us or if it is something that should be rejected so we may be allowed to decide our own futures. The answer, the film shows us, is somewhere in the middle and it is fascinating to see how the it gets there.

This is evident in Rey’s anguish over not knowing who her parents are and not knowing her place in the galaxy and in Kylo’s agony over destroying those for whom he cares in order to forge his own destiny, two arcs we get to see mirror each other wonderfully in the telepathic conversations they share. Both feel broken and lost and they find within each other the potential to overcome their past traumas and build a greater future for themselves (for light and for dark). Luke meanwhile, having already grown from a young and naïve dreamer to a learned and capable warrior, is now old, cynical and haunted by his past in a way that Rey can recognise but barely begin to understand. Hamill delivers one of the greatest performances in the epic saga’s decades-long history as a Luke who failed to live up to the promises of Return of the Jedi and has spent the years since punishing himself for it. The fulfilment of his arc at the end is moving and profound in a way that only a story told over several years with a reflective, poetic sense of theme and character can possibly be.

The film demonstrates far more interest in telling the story it wants to tell rather than playing to audience’s expectations (not least of which is its complete and total indifference for fan theories), and that can be understandably unfulfilling and even alienating for fans who deeply love this franchise and its characters. Those who love the hopeful ending to Return of the Jedi and the state of redemption and enlightenment that Luke is able to reach after all he’s been through might not be able to reconcile themselves with this disheartened, pessimistic Luke whose triumphs were defeated by his own failures. But if we truly want Star Wars to continue and evolve as a franchise, we must necessarily open ourselves to ideas and directions that go against our expectations, whether or not we ultimately agree with and embrace the road taken. Personally, I found the direction taken by The Last Jedi to be not only great but also true to the spirit of the franchise and to the characters in it.

The debate over whether The Last Jedi is the best or worst movie in the Star Wars canon is one that will continue to rage many, many years after we’re all dead, buried, and forgotten, but everyone can surely agree that this is the most visually stunning Star Wars movie ever crafted. The set-pieces we see such as Snoke’s throne room, dominated by a shade of red so dreadful and sinister it could’ve been lifted straight out of a Roger Corman film, or the climatic battle on the salt planet, where the white surface is brushed aside to reveal an under-layer of crimson, almost as if the planet itself were bleeding, are masterpieces of colour and composition. Another visual highlight involves a starship going into hyperspace in a way that is as blindingly striking as it is emotionally powerful (and it involves a character we only just met!). Johnson, in my eyes, has secured this movie’s position as the best directed Star Wars movie in the series not just for his inspired visual realisation but for how he handles the story as well. Using the lessons he presumably learned from his tenure on Breaking Bad, he unravels the story with the confidence of a director who trusts that the different plot threads will come together and that everything that has been set up will come through, even when it appears the movie has seemingly miscalculated and leads us down a worrisome path. It all pays off in the end and is all the more powerful for having been doubted by us in the first place.

There are imperfections, as there always have been with Star Wars. The quest undertaken by Finn and Rose feels like more of an aside than it does a major part of the plot (even if it does ultimately get them where they need to be by the time we reach the climax), there is an early scene involving Leia that I’m still not sure how to feel about considering her untimely death, and the resolution to the conflict between Poe and Holdo doesn’t really make much sense. However, after the film’s marvellous work of character development done with Rey, Kylo and Luke, the bold story, the stupendous action, the sharp sense of humour, and all the emotionally overwhelming moments that follow, I’d have been willing to forgive a lot more. This is a movie that fulfils the promise of taking this universe into uncharted waters, expanding on the mythology in unprecedented ways, and bringing a beloved chapter of this franchise to a satisfying close so that we might follow it into a promising and exciting future. It is also an enormously thrilling, funny, moving film that delivers all a Star Wars fan could possibly want and more. As I beheld the image of a sunset that recalled Luke’s last night on Tatooine before the start of his great adventure, I felt that same sense of wonder, sensation and awe that makes Star Wars so special.

★★★★★

Murder on the Orient Express

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer: Michael Green


Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Without those two names you don’t get the classic whodunit as we know it today. Christie’s work is now so iconic that you don’t even have to have read a single word of her writing to recognise the formula. There’s been a murder, everyone’s a suspect, a top detective is brought in to solve the crime and the audience sees if they can crack the case before the big reveal. It’s a formula that we’ve seen in movies time and time again from the classic Hollywood film noirs and Clair’s adaptation of Christie’s And Then There Were None to more recent examples like Clue and The Hateful Eight. Murder on the Orient Express is perhaps the most famous single story Christie ever wrote and it has been adapted numerous times, most notably in 1974 with Albert Finney and in 2010 with David Suchet. This time it’s Branagh, sporting a hideous moustache, who steps into the shoes of Christie’s iconic detective in what he hoped would be a dynamic retelling of the classic mystery.

It is 1934 and we are introduced to world-famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh and his ridiculous moustache) as he solves a case in Jerusalem. He must then immediately return to London for another case and is offered passage on the Orient Express by his good friend Bouc (Tom Bateman). Soon after the train departs Poirot receives an offer from the shady businessman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) to protect him from harm for the three-day journey after receiving an anonymous threatening letter, an offer which Poirot declines. The next morning Ratchett is discovered dead in his compartment and an avalanche stops the train in its tracks. A note is discovered connecting Ratchett’s murder to the infamous case of a murdered little girl in the USA and Poirot resolves to discover who among the other passengers killed him. His suspects include the governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), the missionary Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz), Count Rudolph (Segei Polunin) and Countess Helena Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton), the butler Edward Henry Masterman (Derek Jacobi), the widow Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) and her maid Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), Professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), the deceased’s assistant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), and Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.).

For me the biggest reservation I had going into this film was Kenneth Branagh as Poirot. Not because I dislike Branagh as an actor (I don’t) or because of that inhuman abomination to both man and God that he calls a moustache, but because David Suchet embodied the famous detective so perfectly on the ITV series that all other incarnations of the character, including the Oscar-nominated Finney and the Bafta-nominated Ustinov, will forever be fighting for second place. Still Branagh puts on the gross eyesore that occupies his upper lip and he has a go at Christie’s most famous character, playing him as an inflexible control-freak who cannot tolerate imperfections in the world, whether they be the physical imperfections of two uneven boiled eggs or the moral imperfections of human beings. Branagh is a good enough actor that he is able to play the atrociously-moustached Poirot with the sufficient flash and gravitas while also scoring some laughs with his one-liners, but his decision to attribute Poirot’s meticulousness as obsessive-compulsive tendencies made for what I found to be a far less interesting character than the altogether more eloquently-moustached Suchet, whose perfectionism as Poirot came from a steadfast, unyielding belief in the absolute virtue of the law, God, and decency.

Still, Branagh the actor didn’t bother me as much as Branagh the director did. He makes a strong attempt to make the Christie mystery feel cinematic, which is an effort that I do admire but don’t think ultimately worked. When we see Poirot boarding the Orient Express in a single, sweeping tracking shot or when we witness the discovery of Ratchett’s body with a static overhead shot that leaves the corpse just out of frame, the style of these shots called so much attention to themselves that they struck me as self-indulgent flourishes rather than as creative cinematic storytelling techniques. It’s the same kind of self-indulgence that I imagine inspired Branagh to feature Poirot and his ghastly facial fur at centre stage throughout the whole film at the detriment of the all-star ensemble at his disposal. Some actors do manage to give out a great deal with the little they’re dealt, most notably Pfeiffer as the glamorous and wealthy widow in search of her next husband, but other characters, including those played by the enormously talented likes of Olivia Colman and Derek Jacobi, simply do not get enough time to dance in their acting shoes. All are side-lined and are mainly there to sit and look astonished so the film can spend as much time as it can focusing on how incredibly impressive Poirot and his egregious display of horrendous facial hair are.

I saw the film with two friends who did not know the ending and, while the final twist did seem to take them by surprise, they left feeling overall underwhelmed. The movie just doesn’t have that edge-of-your-seat momentum that a great whodunit should have. The private interrogations that Poirot conducts with each of the passengers do not have that captivating sense of intrigue and feeling of inquisitiveness because Branagh is much more interested in showcasing the deductive brilliance of Poirot and his abominable whiskers than in fleshing out all these secretive characters and getting to the heart of the mystery. The movie is so desperate for tension that it resorts to a cheap, generic Hollywood chase scene along the exterior of the train. Even the big reveal fails to impress as it relies too much on style and not enough on substance, even going so far as to arrange all the characters into an impractical pose that evokes The Last Supper (I guess making Poirot Da Vinci because that’s how much of a genius he is). As with the later seasons of Sherlock, this is a case of an artist getting so carried away with showing everyone how brilliantly brilliant his brilliant character and brilliant style are that all else gets swept aside and the story suffers because of it. Murder on the Orient Express is a stylish but empty remake that did not need to be made. Also I didn’t like the moustache.

★★

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

Director: J.J. Abrams

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt


This is the film I’ve been waiting all year to see. Honestly, I was more excited about this film than I was about Christmas. Like most Star Wars fans I absolutely love the original films and despise the prequel trilogy. I cannot think of any other series of films that has accomplished what the original trilogy did. Not only did they create three incredible films complete with timeless characters, an epic story and groundbreaking visual effects, they created an entire living, breathing universe. Through ingenious storytelling, astonishing creativity and amazing imagination the Star Wars films transported viewers to another world and took on a life of their own. The cultural impact Star Wars has had and its influence on cinema as we know it is astronomical. It is no small task for any film to live up to that kind of legacy and, after an entire trilogy of films that threatened to destroy it, many people including myself were hopeful yet cautious about this film. While the adverts showed much promise I didn’t want Star Wars to let me down again. Thankfully whatever reservations I had were relieved as soon as I saw The Force Awakens.

Picking up thirty years after The Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing and the Galaxy is now in the midst of a civil war between the First Order and the Resistance. When the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) comes across BB-8, a droid holding the secrets to Luke’s whereabouts, it falls onto her and Finn (John Boyega), a rogue stormtrooper, to deliver BB-8 to the Resistance. Along the way they encounter Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) who agree to help them in their quest. Meanwhile a search for the droid is underway led by the dark Jedi Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) of the First Order. Together they command the Starkiller Base, a great weapon of planetary destruction that threatens to destroy the New Republic. As Rey and Finn are drawn further into this conflict they both must decide who they truly are and whether this is a cause they are willing to fight for.

The biggest criticism I’ve heard about this film is that the story is essentially a retread of A New Hope and so I thought I’d start by addressing it. While I do agree that the film borrows heavily not only from Episode IV but from all three films, I wasn’t as bothered by it as other people were. Now, if there is one positive thing to be said about the prequel trilogy it is that Lucas did introduce a lot of original and creative ideas that showed promise. Those ideas however were let down by his failings as a writer and director. Since the prequels caused so much anger and hate amongst Star Wars fans (insert joke about path to the Dark Side here), I think it does make some sense for this film to try and relieve that resentment by bringing fans back to the original trilogy. While I certainly would have liked a more original story with some newer ideas, my biggest concern going into this film was whether or not it would actually be a good Star Wars film. If showing everyone that they could make a good Star Wars film meant recycling plot elements from the original trilogy, then I can live with that. I’m very happy with the result and am now optimistic about the future of this franchise.

Once it gets started the film makes the clever decision not to show us any of the familiar characters from the original trilogy until we’re a good half hour into the movie. This allows the audience the opportunity to get to know the new characters a bit before they’re allowed to welcome back Han and Chewie and all the others. I am very thankful that this film opted for this route because it was the new characters who ended up selling this film for me. Rey and Finn are both fun and interesting characters and I enjoyed following their journey every step of the way. I also enjoyed Kylo Ren who I thought provided Star Wars with a unique and fascinating villain. While I don’t think the criticism about Rey being a Mary Sue is necessarily without merit, I also don’t think it necessarily makes her a bad character. While it’s true that she is unusually resourceful and does succeed at just about every task she sets out to do, I think the struggle is still there. I felt like there was a lot of effort and investment behind her actions which is why none of her victories felt unearned to me. I was very much invested in her journey and thought that she was a terrific protagonist for the film.

With that in mind the inclusion of the old faces of Star Wars was very welcome indeed. I thought the film handled them in just the right way by employing them when they were needed to serve the story without ever making them the central focus. Harrison Ford is particularly good as an old Han Solo who has remained a scoundrel at heart but has been noticeably wearied by the events that followed Return of the Jedi. Carrie Fisher has also returned as Leia who is now the leader of the Resistance. Fisher falls naturally into her new role as a general and is still able to convey the same resolve and spirit that Leia possessed in the original films. Despite the amount of time that has gone by I had absolutely no problem believing that these were the same characters that they played all those years ago.

Is this film perfect? No. Does it rely too heavily on plot elements from the original trilogy? Probably. Is it the best Star Wars film ever made? Absolutely not. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some issues with this film. However at the end of the day they don’t really amount to much more than nit-picks. The Force Awakens is a fun, exciting and wondrous space adventure that boasts of great characters, thrilling action and stunning visuals. The film’s decision to utilise real sets and practical effects pays off beautifully and allows for an engrossing and absorbing spectacle. Whatever issues I may have with it, The Force Awakens looks and feels like a Star Wars film and is one of the best viewing experiences that I’ve had all year. It has captured the magic of the original trilogy and I look forward to seeing where this series goes next.

★★★★★