Saturday, June 24, 2017

Movie: My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel: a gothic drama based upon the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name.  The story  takes place in the 1830’s primarily on a estate in Cornwall.  The principal male character is Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin), who was orphaned as a child and raised by his older cousin, Ambrose Ashley (also played by Claflin).  A key to the unfolding story is that Philip is raised without the significant presence of any women.  Following a brief foray into the characters’ background, we meet Philip as a man in his early 20’s.  We learn that he is entitled to receive his inheritance on his 25th birthday.  Due to health concerns, guardian/cousin Ambrose is residing in sunny Italy.   Through Ambrose’s letters to Philip, we are introduced to Rachel (Rachel Weisz), whom Ambrose has met in Italy, and learn that Ambrose and Rachel have married.  After the marriage occurs Ambrose’s correspondence with regards to Rachel turns dark.  Ambrose summons Philip to Italy, however, by the time Philip arrives, Ambrose is dead.  The Italian lawyer advises Philip that Rachel has left the villa and given the lawyer instructions to liquidate the Italian assets.  Philip, in anger, returns to Cornwall.  Then Rachel arrives.  The film hints that Rachel is a “Black Widow” but, as the tale unfolds, ambiguity takes center stage.  Almost upon first sight, Philip’s anger towards Rachel melts as he falls in love with her.  Rachel’s feelings are far more complex.  There are other people at Cornwall – house and field servants - but they are clearly secondary characters.  The cinematography is outstanding and brought to mind another British period drama, Barry Lyndon.  The directorial talent of Robert Michell, Weisz’s excellent performance and the spectacular camera shots make this 106 minute film worth seeing.  The degree to which you enjoy the film will depend, I think, on your reaction to Philip.  Personally, I could not relate to him.  He is an upper class man-child of 1830’s England whose world and lifestyle is totally foreign to  present day sensibilities.   While I understand that Philip is smitten by Rachel, it is hard to empathize with his behavior.  I note that my comments are shared in the context of Weisz dominating every scene in which she appears.  It is admittedly a bit early in the year, but Weisz’s performance is definitely Oscar worthy.  In fact, both Weisz and the film’s cinematographer are deserving of nominations.  This version of My Cousin Rachel is a remake of the 1952 movie starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton who, I understand, played Philip with a touch of madness.  I’ve not seen the 1952 film, but seeing a deeper, more complex version of Philip would have elevated this film’s rating to four stars. 


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Movie: Megan Leavey

Megan Leavey:  not your typical soldier flick.  This one is for dog lovers.  The film is based upon the actual experiences of a Marine corporal who was deployed to Iraq with a bomb sniffing dog named Rex.  At the beginning of the film, we meet Megan (Kate Mara) and get a glimpse of what her life was like prior to joining the Marines.  She is living with her mother (Edie Falco, who is probably quite unhappy with her one dimensional portrait) and stepfather (Will Patton, whose scenes are brief).  Once the film makes its point that pre-Marines Megan was adrift and having problems connecting with people, the story moves forward to boot camp.  Because Megan continues to mess up, she is assigned to kennel cleaning duty.  When we first meet Rex, he is an aggressive German Shepherd.   Rex is assigned to Megan after he disables his handler.  The storyline then progresses to Iraq.  The war scenes are well done and the film remains on track as to standard war storytelling.  If you’ve seen The Hurt Locker, this film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, offers a similar perspective on a very dangerous job.  However, the focus of this movie is on the developing relationship between Rex and Megan and their work together seeking out improvised explosive devices (IED).  It tracks Megan’s efforts to have Rex retired and transferred to her care following an incident in which Rex saves Megan’s life but Rex is also injured.   While Megan gets to retire, Rex is shipped to Afghanistan with a new handler.  It is the second half of this 116 minute movie that makes it worth your time to see this film.   Kate Mara is excellent throughout the film and is particularly believable in her pursuit of saving Rex.  Woven into the storyline is Megan’s relationship with a fellow dog handler (Ramon Rodriguez).  At the film’s conclusion there are snapshots of the real Megan and Rex.  An interesting side note is that in 2011, Rex’s first handler , Marine Corps Sgt. Mike Dowling, wrote Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog.  Throughout the film, the primary focus remains on Megan and Rex as one of the first female led canine IED seeking teams in Iraq.  This is a well done tear jerker with a true story happy ending.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Movie: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman:  the DC Comics character is brought successfully to the big screen.  For a movie based on a comic book character to succeed, the person portraying the super hero must be believable.  In far too many of the recent comic based films, that has simply not been the case.  Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, the Wonder Woman, is the exception.  The success of the Wonder Woman character, coupled with the directing skills of Patty Jenkins, results in an enjoyable 141 minute movie.  Notwithstanding these positive comments, the film’s opening scenes are weak; you become leery that the same tired format used by most of the recent DC/Marvel-based character movies will be repeated.  The opening includes scenes of Diana as a child, then moves to her training as a warrior while simultaneously telling the Amazon Greek mythology storyline.  Allan Heinberg’s story becomes more interesting upon the crash landing of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) near Themyscira, the Amazons’ island home, and Diana showing up to save him.  This opening sequences could have shortened.  By the time the real action begins it is 1917 when Diana and Steve depart Themyscira to fight the Germans in WW I.   From this point forward, the film is interesting and entertaining.  The Germans seem to be derived from some campy propaganda film about “The Enemy”.  However, due to a good supporting cast and a healthy helping of “suspension of reality”, the film keeps you entwined.  Ewen Bremner as a singing Scottish sharpshooter, Said Taghmaoui as a fixer and Eugene Brave Rock as a Native American trader are all wonderful.  These three characters play off superbly against each other and with Steve and Diana.  There are some light comedic moments reminiscent of 1930’s film making where jokes are made about Wonder Woman’s clothing and there having been no men in Diana’s life prior to meeting Steve.  Most importantly, the action scenes work because they remain focused on the individual characters.  The Wonder Woman character is refreshing and a pleasant contrast to the male comedic characters.  She is an optimistic person with a positive viewpoint despite the horrors of war and mankind’s bad behavior.  In Gal Gadot, we are seeing a super star.  In this current political atmosphere, this film’s outlook is refreshing.  The movie offers an enjoyable escapism and that is a definite positive.