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Review – My Cousin Rachel (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2/5

Director

  • Roger Mitchell – Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus, Le Week-End

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rael Jones – White Lie, Suite Française, Harlots, Noor

A psychological thriller should play with the viewer’s mind. The audience should not know the past or the motives of the key characters until they are revealed at crucial moments in the film. It is what gave movies like Basic InstinctGone Girl and Elle an edge and keeps viewers on their toes. My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller, but it is so dull. Why?

Philip (Sam Claflin) and Rachel (Rachel Weisz) awkwardly talking over tea upon meeting.

The film is based on the 1951 book with the same title by Daphne du Maurier. Philip (Sam Claflin) is raised by his cousin after his parents die when he is young. Now, almost old enough to inherit his cousin’s estate, he learns that his cousin died shortly after marrying a woman called Rachel (Rachel Weisz).

Philip believes that Rachel murdered his cousin and is enraged to find out that she will be coming to live at the estate. However, his feelings soon get complicated as he becomes infatuated with her, all the while wondering if Rachel will do the same to him as she did to his cousin…

My Cousin Rachel is a psychological thriller set in Jane Austin-era England. Nevertheless, its edge is immediately blunted when our central protagonist, Philip, narrates ‘did she or didn’t she,’ before proceeding to tell us the entire backstory of the movie up to the moment when he learns of his cousin’s death. This ruins the film and ignores the first rule of film-making: show, don’t tell. The audience does not need to have the backstory spelled out for them so early on and this information should have been dished out at the appropriate moments during the film. As a result, the audience’s curiosity of how the characters have come to this point, and how they have come to be who they are, is lost.

The terrible opening is just the start, though, as My Cousin Rachel goes downhill from then on. This is irritating because the film has a captivating premise. A man who falls in love with the possible murderer of his father-like figure should make for a compelling watch as the protagonist’s feelings should drive him to madness. Yet, the movie misses this open goal. Instead, it steers off course and becomes a nauseating calamity about a young man desperate for the attentions of an older woman. What on earth made Director Roger Mitchell think that that would make for a good psychological thriller?

Louise (Holliday Grainger) looking on sadly, as if she feels that she is losing her friend, Philip, to Rachel.

In case that were not bad enough, Philip is implausibly stupid and highly immature. He makes illogical and irrational decisions that test the patience (and the sympathy) of the audience. When a viewer starts to feel their patience wearing thin with the central protagonist, one begins to wonder why they should keep watching him and the film, unless the supporting cast make it worthwhile.

Sadly, this is a mixed bag. Ian Glen brings charm and gravitas to My Cousin Rachel with his Ser Jorah Mormont-voice that can melt butter. Glen does his utmost best with the (limited) script and time he has been given, and it is to the movie’s detriment that he is not given more to do. His on-screen daughter, Holliday Grainger, is unremarkable as the female support for Philip. One has sympathy for her character/Louise and this works in Grainger’s favour. However, Louise’s demeanour reminds one of Grainger’s past roles as Lucrezia Borgia and Anastacia in The Borgias and Cinderella, respectively. This taints Louise adversely. The sense that she may have an ulterior motive is never far from the viewer’s mind, especially as My Cousin Rachel is (or at least is supposed to be) a psychological thriller.

Nonetheless, Glen and Grainger are peripheral characters. It is Rachel Weisz as the titular Rachel that one looks out for. And Weisz is unusually poor here. Her chemistry with Claflin is non-existent and Rachel does not come across as manipulative or dangerous. This makes one wonder what her purpose is to the story (other than to be Philip’s fascination). It is not all Weisz’s fault that she comes across badly. The director does not give Rachel the screen-time or the script to demonstrate her true colours. But, still, Weisz looks disinterested throughout, and this negative energy emanates onto the audience who feel the same way about the film.

Nick (Ian Glen, left) giving Philip some much needed advice about Rachel, as she may not be who she seems.

  My Cousin Rachel, though, is not without its positives. The Cornwall countryside is wondrous to behold and the Victorian, aristocratic mansion that Philip lives in is dark and creepy. These features create a noir atmosphere that is tailor-made for a great psychological thriller. But cinematography alone cannot carry a film, even if it is used to its maximum potential.

Over-all, My Cousin Rachel is a disappointing movie. For a psychological thriller, it lacks the edge that makes films within the genre intriguing and nerve-wracking. The film is not helped by a poor script, key characters lacking in enthusiasm, and a premise that falls short of its promise. Ultimately, My Cousin Rachel is a self-pitying drama instead of a psychological thriller, and that is criminal for the genre.

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Review – Wrath of the Titans 3D (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

The poverty of Clash of the Titans was so blatant, it was embarrassing. Yet, after making an astonishing near-$500million, Hollywood has (rather unsurprisingly) made a sequel. And with Jonathan Liebesman (Darkness Falls, Battle: Los Angeles, Ninja Turtles) replacing Louis Leterrier as director, Wrath of the Titans is a marked improvement on the first in the series.

Perseus (Sam Worthington), the mortal son of Zeus, taking on a one-eyed giant. Perseus’s hand must be stronger than it looks to hold the giant’s strength at bay.

Wrath of the Titans takes place in ancient Greece, ten years after Perseus defeated the kraken. With his wife now dead, Perseus (Sam Worthington – Clash of the Titans, The Debt, Drift) has to bring up his son, Helius (John Bell – A Shine of Rainbows, Battleship, The Hobbit I-II), alone.

It is then that Zeus (Liam Neeson – Star Wars I, Clash of the Titans, The Dark Knight Rises), Perseus’s father, comes to Earth to warn his son that the gods need the help of the ‘half-gods’ to defeat the storm that is coming in the form of the vengeful titans. With treachery afoot in Tartarus, the underworld in which Hades (Ralph Fiennes – Clash of the Titans, Harry Potter VII(ii), Skyfall) is lord, it is only a matter of time before Cronus, the leader of the titans, unleashes his fury. Perseus will need the help of Hephaestus (Bill Nighy – Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, Harry Potter VII(i), I, Frankenstein), Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike – Die Another Day, An Education, Gone Girl) and her men, as well as the last of the gods and the ‘half-gods’ to defeat the evil that is to strike at ancient Greece.

Yes, the storyline is as ludicrous as that. When a film opens up with a narrator saying that the ancient world was ruled by “gods and monsters,” one has a fairly good idea that he/she is not going to be watching a classic, intellectually-stimulating film (to say the least).

Hades (Ralph Fiennes), the younger brother of Zeus and Lord of the Underworld, holding his pitch fork. Will he side with the evil titans?

Nonetheless, Wrath of the Titans is far from a hundred minutes of painful viewing. To make up for the plot’s (abundant) deficiencies, the film has many fighting scenes and a plethora of pretty good special effects to keep viewers entertained. The clockwork-like structure of the city of Tartarus has been put together exceptionally well, with much creativity and imagination. If there is one redeeming feature of the movie, it is Tartarus. (And it would have looked even better had the producers bothered to put some effort into the 3D.)

In addition, Wrath of the Titans is surprisingly accurate when it comes to informing its audience on certain aspects of ancient Greek mythology, such as how Hades became Lord of the Underworld; and who made his forked-pitch, as well as Zeus’ bolt and Poseidon’s triton.

However, the parts of the movie that have been done well are likely to be forgotten amidst the paucity of the rest of it. The music sounds like a contrived version of the uplifting score used in Transformers I-III. And if the music and the storyline aren’t bad enough, the acting and the dialogue are wooden and shallow. Sam Worthington, Rosamund Pike, Edgar Ramires (The Bourne Ultimatum, Carlos the Jackal, Zero Dark Thirty), playing Ares, and Toby Kebbell (Match Point, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, The East), playing Agenor, are all seemingly unfit for their respective roles (and it’s not as if Worthington hasn’t played a hero before either).

Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) looking good as a warrior queen in boiled leather. Will her army rally to her cause to save ancient Greece from the destruction that will be unleashed with the wrath of the titans?

Moreover, one must wonder why Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and, to some extent, Bill Nighy, who reprises his bizarre Scottish accent that he used in Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, would accept such roles. One almost doesn’t want to see them in these sorts of films as they can only humiliate themselves by doing so. (Seriously, do they need the money that much?)

All-in-all, Wrath of the Titans suffers from similar insufficiencies as Clash of the Titans. The film has a ludicrous storyline, a cast that plays poorly, and an appalling script. Nonetheless, Wrath of the Titans is quite entertaining and an upgrade on the first in the series. Not that that is saying much.

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Review – The Lion King 3D (U) [2011; originally released in 1994]

Star Rating: 5/5

Many argue (and not without justification) that the re-release of old Disney films in 3D is simply a scam to make more money. Well, whether true or not, the magnificent 1994 The Lion King is fully worth paying to see again. (Warning, this review contains spoilers.)

Rafiki holding Simba at the latter’s birth presentation to the kingdom. Sarabi (voiced by Madge Sinclair) and Mufasa, Simba’s mother and father, respectively, watch on proudly.

The movie starts with the presentation of the birth of Simba, the future King of Pride Rock. From early on, cheeky young Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) learns from his father, King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones – Star Wars IV-VI, Criminal Intent, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride), about the circle of life and how to become a responsible king. Simultaneously, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons – The Man In The Iron Mask, The Borgias, The Words), Mufasa’s younger brother and Simba’s uncle, secretly plots to kill both Mufasa and Simba. Using his three main hyena henchmen, Shenzi (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg – Sister Act I & II, For Coloured Girls, The Muppets), Banzai (voiced by Cheech Marin – From Dusk Til Dawn, Cars I & II, Machete) and Ed (voiced Jim Cummings – Aladdin I-III, Hercules, Zambezio), Scar intends to usurp the throne.

He half succeeds. Scar kills Mufasa, but Simba escapes, fleeing into exile. There, Simba meets a Meerkat, called Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane – The Producers, Stuart Little I & II, The English Teacher), and a Warthog, called Pumba (voiced by Ernie Sabella – The Lion King II & III, Listen To Your Heart). Simba grows up with them and enjoys life, forgetting that he is meant to be ruling the now-ravaged plains of Pride Rock. It is only when Nala (when young, voiced by Niketa Calame; when adult, voiced by Moira Kelly – The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, Dangerous Beauty, One Tree Hill), Simba’s childhood friend, and Rafiki (Robert Guillaume – The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride), a wise baboon and an old family friend, find him that Simba realises that he must return to the Pride Lands and fight his uncle for the kingdom.

The Lion King’s storyline is easy to follow and gripping. Ostensibly for children, adults can like the movie just as much. (If not even more!) Whilst children may enjoy the sing-along-songs and the funny Timon and Pumba; adults can appreciate the intelligent, wry humour (not to mention how appalling some of Timon’s jokes are), as well as the satire in the film, such as Scar’s Hitler-like moment when he’s standing on a podium addressing his army of goose-step marching hyenas.

The silver-tongued, smiling Scar convincing his young, naive nephew, Simba, to stay and wait in gorge for his father, who has a ‘marvellous surprise’ for him. It’s apparently so good it’s ‘to die for.’ For once, Scar might even be telling the truth.

Adults and children may get pleasure from different aspects of the film; yet, everyone can equally be enamoured with the movie’s beautiful music, composed by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV, The Dark Knight Rises). Much of the film adopts Zulu-style music, which is not only apt for the setting (after-all, The Lion King is based in South Africa), it enriches every scene wonderfully.

The music, though, would not have the same impact if the characters and the dialogue were not so well defined, written and articulated. All the characters have great depth, from the cunning, forked-tongued, yet cowardly Scar (that he is such an offhandedly sinister villain, rather than a pantomime one gives him an added chilling dimension); to the mischievous-cum-deferent-cum-bold Simba; to the stupid, moaning hyenas; to the funny but sensitive Pumba, to mention four of many.

The fine brilliance of the music and the dialogue is epitomised in the scene following Mufasa’s death. Seldom in Disney films (where death is surprisingly common) have audiences, in general, been reduced to tears. The empathy one has for Simba at that point is heart-breaking. That this is followed by Scar wickedly manipulating the situation to his advantage (as intelligent, psychopathic leaders always do) makes the dosage so much more potent. Since this scene, perhaps only the ending to the excellent Toy Story 3 has come close to making viewers feel the same way again, and for very different reasons.

The music and the dialogue in The Lion King has rightly been praised. Likewise, although it’s easily missed, should the expressions of the characters. Since the majority of the characters are not human-like, since they don’t have arms and legs, the producers/artists had to rely on the characters’ body-language and body-movements to make up for it. Indeed, the way each character moves is indicative of his/her personality and circumstance at any given point. For instance, mischievous little Simba walks (struts) very differently to when he is guilt-riddled in exile. The producers/artists should justifiably take credit for this, as it gives the characters greater subtlety and complexity.

Simba, all grown up now, happily singing, with Timon and Pumba, the joyful ‘Hakuna Matata.’ It means ‘no worries,’ which is exactly how Simba has been living in exile.

Similarly, the hard work that the producers/artists put into the graphics should also be recognised. 2011 viewers may find the graphics antiquated or unsatisfactory. If this is the case, it is most unfair. One has to remember that this film was initially released in the pre-Pixar era, at the time of Beauty & The Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992), meaning one cannot compare the results of today’s technology with those of the early 1990s. And irrespective of the relative backwardness of the graphics, The Lion King has been converted magnificently into 3D. Unlike recent animations like Rio or The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, the 3D here makes a difference to the extent of making The Lion King spell-binding; especially, during the fight between Simba and Scar at the end.

All-in-all, The Lion King is a Disney classic for many reasons. Bringing it back to the cinemas in 3D may be a ploy to make more money, but one should see it anyway and treasure this encapsulating masterpiece once again.

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Review – Pirates of the Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides 3D (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

When it comes to a fourth movie in a franchise, a sceptic might wonder if it is merely an easy excuse to rake in money, ahead of taking a risk and dreaming up something innovative. Other fourth instalments, such as Die Hard 4 and Fast 4 (not to mention Fast 5), have lacked creativity in favour of the familiar themes and characters that audiences have come to love. The same can be said for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Despite director Rob Marshall’s (Memories of a Geisha, Nine, Chicago) attempts to spice up the Pirates of the Caribbean series, On Stranger Tides illustrates that it might have been better just to have ended the series after the third instalment, At World’s End.

Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the reformed pirate, dressed admirably as a respectable Royal Navy Officer.

On Stranger Tides is based on the book by Tim Powers and centres once again on Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, The Tourist), as the droll pirate with warped logic and a twisted moral complexion. This time around, he is out to find the Fountain of Youth. The Spanish and the English are also in a race to find this place, and only Sparrow knows the way. (Although, whether Sparrow has actually been to the Fountain of Youth is, of course, a little dubious, due to his canny nature.)

But to enter the fountain requires certain things that will not be simple to acquire. Plus, the feared and ruthless pirate, Blackbeard (Ian McShane – Kung Fu Panda, Coraline, The Golden Compass), is also hell-bent on reaching the fountain in order to preserve his life for many more years.

The plot is filled with twists and deceptions that have become a predictable feature of the series. The storyline is at times ridiculous; yet, one accepts it knowing that he/she has not gone to watch a serious or realistic film.

One of the new characters in the series, the feared pirate, Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

However, the most disappointing aspect of On Stranger Tides is the script. It hampers the film and, primarily, sells the two main stars short. Whilst Johnny Depp gives another fine performance as Captain Sparrow, he lacks his trademark wittiness and oddities. Even his outrageous stunts no longer appear so outrageous anymore. Maybe we are too used to ‘witty Jack’ and expect too much from him. In fairness, it is almost impossible to light up the scene all the time with a brilliant comeback line. Nevertheless, the script for this movie is a far cry from that of Part I, The Curse of the Black Pearl, which had some fantastic lines.

Just as Depp has been let down, so too has Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, The Tailor of Panama, The King’s Speech). Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, who has now seemingly given up the life of a pirate for that of a respectable English naval officer. Barbossa’s character is a pale shadow of the one who entertained us so magnificently in the first three films. This is a real shame, as his rivalry with Sparrow in the past has made for terrific entertainment.

Captain Sparrow taking the beautiful Angelica to the Fountain of Youth via a river in the jungle.

Despite being conspicuously absent from this film, the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are certainly not missed. Their performances in the series deteriorated with each movie. Alas, their replacements, Blackbeard and Angelica (Penélope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Sahara, Nine), are hardly much better. McShane does not perform badly, even though Blackbeard’s character does not have the depth to be the ‘next Davie Jones’ (played by Bill Nighy in parts II, Dead Man’s Chest, & III in the series); whilst the sexy Cruz offers so much and delivers agonisingly little.

The special effects at least give the film a semi-redemptive feature. With the exception of one or two instances, they are pretty decent throughout the movie. Again though, they look hardly any different from scenes in the other films in the franchise, so viewers are unlikely to give producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, Black Hawk Down, National Treasure) much credit. The 3D is virtually non-existent too.

Over-all, On Stranger Tides continues the worsening trend of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and of over-extended franchises in general. The fourth instalment appears tired and out of ideas, to the extent that not even Captain Sparrow can make us enjoy, or think much of the film. But hey, fans of the series will flock to cinemas worldwide in great numbers to see their favourite characters again, enabling those involved in the movie to make a fortune once more. And fans will probably do the same again when the fifth part comes out in a few years time.

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Review – The Tourist (12a) [2010]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

When a guy generally sits on a train (or a bus or an aeroplane for that matter), he hopes and prays that a drop-dead gorgeous girl sits either next to or opposite him. Alas, this generally does not happen. Similarly, when two or more star actors combine for a film, the movie usually does not live up to its expectations. The Tourist is a casualty of this syndrome.

Nevertheless, Frank (Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean I, II, III & IV, Sweeney Todd, Alice In Wonderland), a single and simple maths teacher from Wisconsin, has a dream come true at the start of the film when the stunning Elise (Angelina Jolie – Salt, Wanted, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) sits opposite him on a train to Venice. Better still, she is interested in him. Unfortunately for Frank (if there is such a thing as ‘misfortune’ in this scenario), Elise is being followed by Scotland Yard and by Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff – A Clockwork Orange, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a murderous mafia boss. Both parties are after her husband, Alexander. Elise intends to use Frank as a decoy, to dupe the authorities and Shaw into believing that Frank is her husband.

Depp and Jolie gazing at one another as they dance at a ball. When it comes to glamour, there is only one winner.

Frank has no idea about any of this. As Frank, Depp plays a very different character to the intense, weird roles that he has done in previous films. (Think the barber in Sweeney Todd or Willy Wonker in Charlie In The Chocolate Factory.) In The Tourist, Depp plays a bumbling fool, who is in shock that a woman as striking as Elise would want him. Frank is totally infatuated with Elise throughout the movie and Depp does well to constantly remind us of this without being cringe-worthy. Not only is he nervous and uncertain of himself around her; whenever Elise speaks of her husband, one sees a twinkle of crushing depression form in Frank’s eyes as well as a lump develop in his throat. As a result, one has nothing but empathy for Frank: there are few things more gut-wrenching than going out with a girl and having to listen to her talk about how much she loves someone else; especially if you fancy her.

However, as good as Depp is, Jolie outclasses him. As Elise, Jolie plays a cunning, strong-willed and intimidatingly beautiful, high-class woman. The way she dresses, walks and talks (the English accent, last heard when Jolie starred as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, definitely adds to the appeal) make her the object of fascination throughout the film. That we are unsure for more or less the whole film whose side she’s on ensures she is an enigma. This is far from frustrating. Rather, this has the effect of increasing Elise’s/Jolie’s attractiveness several times over.

Depp and Jolie enjoying Venice's romantic charm as they take an evening boat ride.

Whilst Depp and Jolie play very well, the plot is nothing special and has holes in it that must be taken with a pinch of salt. Although the storyline is quite entertaining and full of twists (some of which are quite predictable); at times, particularly in the middle of the film, it can be a bit dull. If one were harsh, one could even go so far as to argue that it is not the storyline but the two main characters that keep the audience interested. That is never a good sign for a movie.

The choice of Venice for a location is a refreshing change. This film could easily have been shot in any of the over-used major cities in films (like London, New York, LA, Paris or Rome amongst many others). Yet, Venice has its unique allure, which is quite well captured throughout the film. The movie also reveals other not-so-wonderful aspects of Venice, and Italy in general, such as corruption within the police. But that is beside the point.

All in all, The Tourist is a tad disappointing. The actors and the charm of Venice undoubtedly make up for many of the shortfalls in the plot. Yet, even if the storyline has its flaws for much of the film, the ending is a different matter altogether. The ending is nothing short of brilliance and will leave one feeling very satisfied indeed.

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