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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 – Mission: Impossible V – Rogue Nation (12a) [2015]

MI-V - Title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Christopher McQuarrie – The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow

Cast:

  • Tom Cruise – Eyes Wide Shut, Valkyrie, Mission: Impossible I-IV, Jack Reacher I & II
  • Jeremy Renner – SWAT, Mission: Impossible IV, The Avengers Assemble I & II, , Captain America III
  • Alec Baldwin – The Aviator, To Rome With Love, Blue Jasmine, Still Alice, Caught Stealing
  • Rebecca Ferguson – Drowning Ghost, The White Queen, Hercules, Despite The Falling Snow
  • Ving Rhames – Pulp Fiction, Surrogates, Mission: Impossible I-IV, Operator
  • Simon Pegg – Big Nothing, Mission Impossible III-IV, Paul, Star Trek I, II & III
  • Sean Harris – Harry Brown, The Borgias, Prometheus, ‘71, Macbeth
  • Simon McBurney – The Last King of Scotland, Harry Potter VII(i), The Borgias, The Theory of Everything
  • Tom Hollander – Enigma, Pirates of the Caribbean II-III, American Dad!, Jungle Book: Origins
  • Jens Hultén – The Border, Skyfall, Ragnorak, Johan Falk: Lockdown

Music Composer:

  • Joe Kraemer – The Thirst, Confession of A Gangster, Jack Reacher, Titans of Justice

What has become of the Mission: Impossible franchise? The first film was a proper espionage thriller with a tough mission and the odd elaborate action stunt to give credence to the film’s title. But by the second film, the espionage element had given way to entertaining, if unfeasible action stunts and the veneration of Tom Cruise’s alter ego, Ethan Hunt. And by the fourth film, the storyline had given way to even more entertaining, unfeasible action stunts and venerated Tom Cruise’s alter ego to the point of deification. So what could one expect from Mission: Impossible V – Rogue Nation (M:I-V)? Well, more of the same really!

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) working together to uncover the Syndicate.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) working together to uncover the Syndicate.

M:I-V centres round Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, who else?) hunting down the Syndicate, an international criminal organisation, and its leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). However, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) that Ethan is part of is being closed down by CIA Director Alen Hunley (Alec Baldwin). The CIA believes that the Syndicate does not exist and that the IMF is causing embarrassment to the CIA/America due to its unorthodox methods. They want Ethan to turn himself in.

But rather than hand himself in, Ethan chooses to go rogue so as to uncover the Syndicate and to find Lane, himself. And he will start by going after Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).

That is the vague outline of M:I-V’s plot. But, in truth, M:I-V has no plot. The film flagrantly does not care for the spy thriller ingredient that made the first film so interesting. Instead, M:I-V prefers to go from one entertaining, over-the-top action stunt to another. Indeed, it wouldn’t matter which order the action stunts occurred as the storyline and the dialogue make no sense at all; although, having the first stunt as the one where Ethan hangs off a taking-off aeroplane does set the tone for the rest of the movie. And, astonishingly, Director Christopher McQuarrie manages to maintain this tone for its entire duration. The stunts get ever more outlandish and creative to the extent that one has to question who came up with these ideas (and how) because they are ingenious.

Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) on a bike and in possession of something Ethan needs. Thus, a high-speed bike chase is about to begin...

Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) on a bike and in possession of something Ethan needs. Thus, a high-speed bike chase is about to begin…

However, M:I-V does not solely consist of ingenious, if totally unrealistic action stunts. The film consists of a good amount of banter between the protagonists (more so than in previous instalments), and gives viewers the sense that a family unit is developing within the IMF now that Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames has been in all five films, Simon Pegg has been in them since the third one, and Jeremy Renner since the fourth. Each member of the team has a particular role and whether it is Cruise as Action Man come again and the mastermind who exposes the movie’s villain(s); Rhames as Ethan’s reliable sidekick Luther; Simon Pegg as Ethan’s reliable but goofy, tech-nerd Benji; or Renner as Ethan’s boss Brandt (who Ethan regularly disobeys to ever positive results), each one of them looks like they are enjoying their roles and they make some funny puns whilst they’re at it as well.

Unsurprisingly, Cruise, Rhames, Pegg and Renner all play well in M:I-V even if they do nothing spectacular. Rather, it is the newcomers that arguably make the most impressions on viewers. Rebecca Ferguson, as the ambiguous Ilsa Faust, makes the greatest impression of them all. She is beautiful, sexy and can kick arse! That she holds up against Tom Cruise (and may, heaven forbid, outshine him in his own film) speaks volumes for her talents as an actress.

Yet, the rest of the cast do not have the same impact on viewers. Sean Harris plays decently as the main villain, Solomon Lane. Harris/Lane is cold, unflinching and meant to be scary. But because he is given little screen time or background story, audiences don’t get the chance to feel much for him by the end. For similar reasons, one feels little for Alec Baldwin as the CIA director and Simon McBurney as the head of the British secret services, even if neither of them play badly with the material or time they’re given.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the ice-cold, sociopathic villain at the head of the Syndicate.

Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the ice-cold, sociopathic villain at the head of the Syndicate.

It would have been intriguing to learn more about these characters as they seem, ostensibly, to have depth and more to say for themselves. But to explore them would have meant that the film-makers would have had to come up with a genuine storyline and spent less time showing us how awesome Tom Cruise is. And that would have defeated the whole purpose of M:I-V.

Over-all, M:I-V is a highly enjoyable action film. It has little place for clever espionage and has a veneer of a storyline that does not work at any level. Nevertheless, the movie glorifies Tom Cruise; has plenty of action sequences; several implausible action stunts; good chemistry and humour from the returning cast; and includes a gorgeous, strong female character that could fit seamlessly into any Marvel comic-book film. Thus, M:I-V delivers unashamedly on everything it sets out to achieve.

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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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