Thursday, 22 June 2017

My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel, 12A, 106 mins, BBC Films.

Starring: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Vikki Pepperdine.

Director Roger Michell, whose eclectic output ranges from culture-clash rom-com classic Notting Hill, to two sets of circumstances where strangers meeting turns deadly, in both Changing Lanes and Ian McEwan’s terrific chimera Enduring Love - the only role for me, that Daniel Craig ever suited - controversial I know! But true, I assure you.
 Strangers seemingly exuding a deceptive benevolence, is a thematic strand which carries through to this latest adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic. An author who revels in suggested and suggestive subtext, the phrase: ‘reading between the lines’ has never been more vitally important. This also applies particularly here, as the dialogue is far too modern for whenever the elusive period may be. Would sniping retorts of ‘God knows’ really have been repeated as both readily and casually as they are here?
  What is kept intact, is the continuous motif of sickness, poisoning, secret rendezvous by shadowy candlelight - and all-important pathetic fallacy.
  Rachel Weisz plays the morally capricious Mrs. Danvers figure, the titular Rachel - under suspicion, and soon a - severely underpowered - seduction from young Philip - played stoically by Sam Claflin.
Claflin’s having a huge year thanks to being excellent here, stealing the privileged show in the Posh adaptation, the exceptional The Riot Club in 2014, and receiving rave reviews for the redeemed reporter in Their Finest - surely a nomination for the only public-voted catagory of the EE Rising Star award in February 2018 is long-overdue?
  Speaking of nominations, Weisz is surely one of the earliest predictions for a statuette in awards season next year. She’s one of the most poised, precise, brilliant actresses of her generation - very underrated, a personal favourite of mine, also fantastic and similarly ‘wicked as they come’ as Evanora in 2013’s Oz, and Denial as holocaust Professor Deborah Lipschadt.
  She calibrates the camera to her changing gaze magnificently here. She is by turns obliging, nervy and keen-to-please, but as soon as Michell’s frame pans ominously around staircases or dimly lit rooms where endlessly suspicions cups of something horrible are sipped and served, she switches on a sixpence to conniving and coldly manipulative. But even the increasingly desperate Rachel couldn’t stoop to murdering her husband - could she…?

Rating: * * *

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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman, 12A, 141 mins, DC/Warner Bros.

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis.

Wonder Woman, immortalized by a spinning Lynda Carter in the seventies kitsch TV series, has now become the talk of Hollywood, after a much protracted, golden-lassoed quantum leap, into the twenty-first century.
  Director Patty Jenkins has already made history by being the first female director ever to oversee a multi-million dollar production.
  It’s a confident, rich, twisty, stylish, highly enjoyable addition to the superhero canon. Forget gods vs. humans, DC Vs. Marvel has been waging its own needless war for a couple of years now, thanks to DC’s latest incarnation, with the terrific Batman Vs. Superman - much maligned for its doomy posturing, but I thought it was hugely accomplished.
The reception wasn’t much better for Suicide Squad, perfectly enjoyable, but all over the place structurally. But I liked the riskier, edgier take both of these (reboots of sorts) took; albeit never hoping to reach the stirringly crescendoed heights of Nolan and Bale - or original multiplex-charm of Reeve.
  This structural meandering is jettisoned - but in creating a more streamlined screenplay - convention mostly - but doesn’t always, favour customary thrills.  
  Gal Gadot is a very strong choice for the role, but so much was made of the fact that its the first female superhero, that the more her back-story is revealed, the more earnest & rightfully empowering she becomes. The humour doesn't always work - with cliche not meaning irony. (Jasper Carrott’s daughter, Lucy Davis, is given the completely thankless comic relief).
  What works far better is the villainy. Danny Huston (brother of Angelica, uncle to Jack (Ben-Hur, American Hustle), son of John and grandson of Walter), is consistently convincing - from Hitchcock to Magic City and Origins: Wolverine. Here, he’s a gleefully maniacal antagonist, working with the disfigured, aptly named Dr. Poison - a genuinely unnerving, extraordinary performance from Elena Anaya - the Joker equivalent of WWI.
David Thewlis steals the show, playing moral ambiguity to the hilt, again (Lupin in Harry Potter, (Earthworm in James And The Giant Peach, Dragonheart).
The speed-ramped action and effects are very impressive, particularly in the first third - set on the Amazonian idyll.
Chris Pine always makes smart choices, and the incomparable Lindy Hemming’s costumes are a delight - similarly to the film - they’re a master-class in intricacy.

Rating: * * *
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Friday, 2 June 2017

Pirates Of The Caribbean 5: Dead Men Tell No Tales (US) / Salazar's Revenge (UK)

The recent critical reception of the box-office swashbuckling Pirates franchise has, in the majority, gone somewhat from a miscreant’s trove of riches, to being run aground by rags.
After the powerhouse back-lot grandiosity and sharp script of director Gore Verbinski’s and writers Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio’s original trilogy (2003-2007), Rob Marshall’s (Chicago, Into The Woods, the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns), On Stranger Tides in 2011, felt enjoyable, albeit expositionally heavy, and the absence of the vital coupling of Orlando Bloom and Keria Knightley was especially keenly felt. I wonder…
  Here, with its absolutely terrific fifth installment blasting surprises out of multiple canons, it’s put absolutely back on top of the parchment roster of one of the very best blockbuster-franchises in mainstream, twenty-first century cinema.
  It simultainiously feels absolutely inimitably set within the Pirates atmosphere of studio-lead scale, a glorious reprise of both high-spirited golden-age romanticism and humour; and the main themes of Hans Zimmer’s unmistakably rousing orchestral score, the very slickest of visual effects, and the threatening, plotting chimera of danger around every doomy, crescendoed turn.
  At the same time it feels utterly new, thanks to the injection of brilliant new talent inhabiting brand new characters. Brenton Thwaites is just as fresh-faced and resourceful as both Bloom and Knightley were, starring as Henry Turner, son to their characters; Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Kaya Scodelario is also equally impessive as astrologer Karina, allowing for a particularly inventive sub-plot involving blood-moons and star trajectories.
 Of course, tottering fantastically upfront and centre, is Johnny Depp’s infamous Captain Jack Sparrow, whose facial expressions, agitprop physicality and slurred delivery, are as joyous as ever. It’s also a series thriving on the surprise of its villainy and set-pieces, possibly never more so than here, as Javier Bardem (Skyfall) continues his litany of gleeful malevenlence as Salazar, who in his ghostly, genuinely unnerving, deliciously unpredictable wake (similarly to Ralph Fiennes’s Voldermort), leaves lots of options for both peerless cinematography, and 3D to complement each other with aplomb. Sea-birds quark and swoop into camera, sharks circle and jump in speed-ramped editing, armies of undead charge on-mass, and waterfall tombs nearly leave you drenched!
  To reveal more of the many twists would spoil. Stay after the credits!

  Rating: * * * *
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