Film Review: My Cousin Rachel (2017)

***No spoilers***

This is the second film adaptation of Daphne Du Marier’s novel. The first was in 1952, starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. Unfortunately, I have never seen the 1952 version, so the modern remake is spared my usual complaint about remakes on this occasion.

It is an historical romantic drama, set in England and Italy during the early 19th century. Trying to avoid spoilers, I can only give a vague outline of the plot. A young orphan is taken in and raised by his cousin, living a comfortable life in 1830s Cornwall. Philip adores Ambrose, the older relative, who is exceptionally kind to him.

Ambrose decides to travel to Italy, to improve his health in the sunny climate. Philip is left in the care of his godfather, Mr Kendall, and his daughter Louise. She grows very close to Philip, and expects that one day they will marry. News arrives from Italy. Ambrose has fallen madly in love with a widow named Rachel, and they are married. She also happens to be a distant cousin of the family.

Very soon, letters arrive from Philip. His illness is becoming worse, and he suspects Rachel and her lawyer friend, Mr Rainaldi, of colluding to poison him. Young Philip is worried, so makes the long journey to Florence to confront Rachel. On arrival, he is devastated to discover that Ambrose is dead and buried. Rachel has left the country, and the lawyer Rainaldi tells him she has left everything to him, in accordance with Ambrose’s original will.

Not long after he returns to England, Rachel arrives at the family home in Cornwall. Philip is immediately smitten by the beauty of the older woman, and begins to lavish gifts and attention on her, much to the chagrin of Mr Kendall, and his daughter Louise. He tells Rachel he wants her to have the inheritance, as Ambrose’s widow, but she declines. Eventually, he forces it on her legally, along with the extensive collection of jewels once owned by his mother.

But he soon starts to become ill, with similar symptoms to those suffered by cousin Ambrose. Then he finds letters in a trunk of books left by Ambrose, and becomes convinced that Rachel is guilty. She stalls his concerns by becoming his lover, but the tension builds when she refuses to marry him.

That’s it for the story. I will say it has a satisfying twist that I suspected, but still enjoyed. Period detail is wonderful, and the casting feels just perfect too. Rachel Weisz as Rachel is simply lovely to look at, as well as playing her role to perfection. Sam Clafin is very convincing as the naive, love-struck young man, and the under-used Iain Glen strikes just the right note as the concerned godfather.

An exceptionally good film that I enjoyed much more than I expected to.

(For the information of UK readers, this should be available free on All4, the Channel 4 streaming service.)

Here’s a trailer.

Film And TV Stuff

I have been watching a few films lately, and that got me thinking. Most of those I watched were being shown on TV. Mainstream channels, not Netflix or Amazon. (Both of which I have access to) I have Netflix through a relative, but I cannot remember the last time I watched anything on it. I am also a member of Amazon Prime, though I mainly use it for the next day delivery service, and don’t take any of the ‘free’ books or make much use of any other membership options. I have only ever watched three films on it, and none of their own popular series.

There is also the NOW TV box, which I have had for some years. Offering access to Sky Atlantic, and many ‘free’ films too. (Most of which I have seen)

I use the marks around ‘free’ as nothing is free of course.

My stepson pays for Netflix, and we are on his account. I pay for Amazon Prime, and also for the NOW TV box. Those monthly subscriptions start to add up, but we get used to paying them, and don’t even think about what we could do with that £18-40 a month people like me pay for streaming services.

Many people pay much more. I have a close friend who has the whole SKY Q package. That includes everything, and live sports too. But SKY currently charges around £70 a month for all that. As with mobile phone and broadband contracts, it becomes ‘normal’ to pay out for them every month, and we mostly forget about those costs.

New kids on the streaming block here include Disney+. They are getting wise though. Many streaming providers are outbidding regular TV networks for popular series. So if you are a long-term fan of things like ‘The Walking Dead’, or anticipating a new series of ‘Loki’, you have to pay up, subscribe, or not get to see your favourite shows.

I predict this will be the way of things, sooner rather than later. Streaming companies will outbid established providers like the BBC, and make many of our favourite TV shows only available to their subscribers. Anyone who cannot afford to pay out for all the various players in the streaming ring will be stuck with whatever everyday programming is left to the free channels.

And what about DVD films? Do you still buy them? I do. I mostly buy used copies from Marketplace sellers at much less than £5. But sometimes I have to pay full price for something unusual. I just checked the shelves behind me, and I have 52 DVD films yet to be watched. Most are still in their cellophane wrapping, and some I have had for as long as five years without watching them. The majority are foreign language films, and most of those could be described as ‘obscure’. They are never going to turn up on mainstream TV, or on a streaming service.

So what of those films in the future, when companies just stop making DVDs in the same way they did with VHS tapes?

I have no idea, but I suspect it will be a case of having to see them at a cinema that shows rare films (of which there is only one on Norfolk) or never be able to see them at all.

You know that I am old now, and resistant to change. But I will rue the day when streaming becomes the only option to watch anything, and anyone without the money to subscribe is sidelined.

Just my thoughts.

Film Review: Black KkKlansman (2018)

**No Spoilers**

I used to be a big fan of the work of American film-maker, Spike Lee. Over the past few years, I seem to have missed a lot of his releases, and I got a bit miffed with him for remaking the wonderful Korean film ‘Old Boy’ for no good reason.

When ‘Black KkKlansman’ came along in 2018, I was intrigued to discover it was a true story, and there was a lot of praise from both critics and audiences for this historical take on one policeman’s story. Last week, it was on TV here, so I decided to watch it.

If you don’t know about the real events, they concern the first-ever black policeman to be hired by the Colorado Springs police department, in 1972. Ron Stallworth was a college educated man who sported a large afro hairdo, and had a desire to become a police officer. Most of his colleagues are overtly racist, so the police chief sticks Ron in the boring job of the Records Office, where he is subject to racist abuse and intimidation by many of the white officers.

When he applies to become an undercover detective, that coincides with a visit to the city by black power activist, Stokely Carmichael. The chief sees an opportunity to use Ron to infiltrate Carmichael’s supporters, and he does a good job getting to know them and being accepted by them.

Following this, Ron is reassigned to Intelligence, and cheekily decides to apply to join the Ku Klux Klan, the racist group very active at the time. He does all this over the telephone, but when the local KKK organiser insists on meeting him, he has to get a white colleague to impersonate him. The added difficulty is that his colleague is Jewish, and must hide that fact from the other KKK members he meets.

With no spoilers, that’s the plot.

This is a long film, over two hours forty minutes on the TV version I watched. It covers a deception that leads right up to the then head of the KKK, David Duke, and has much to say about racism in America at the time, in the 21st century, and in an historical context. It uses clips from the film ‘Birth of A Nation’, as well as photos from lynchings and murders of black men in the past, and at times has a documentary feel.

During the scenes when the undercover cops face the danger of being discovered by other KKK members there is genuine tension, and the 1970s setting is very well rendered, with clothes, vehicles, and sets all feeling authentic. Casting is good too, with John David Washington as Ron, Adam Driver as his Jewish undercover colleague, and Michael Buschemi (looking uncannily like his brother Steve) as the third member of the team. Harry Belafonte makes a dignified appearance as Jerome Turner, and Topher Grace is a good choice for David Duke.

I wanted to really like this film. It is an important subject, and we all know that the KKK is still very active today, emboldened by the Trump years.

But, there’s a big BUT.

Parts of the film are played as a comedy. I got the feeling at times that Washington was channelling a young Richard Pryor. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is anything remotely amusing about the KKK. And for that reason alone, I was left feeling very disappointed.

But you might like it, so here’s a trailer.

Film Review: Destroyer (2018)

Another 2018 film that had escaped my notice, until it arrived on the BBC recently. Nicole Kidman starring? That has to be worth watching.

**No spoilers**

Kidman plays a haggard LAPD police detective in a film that runs along two time lines. In 2018, she is worn out, drunk most of the time, and unpopular with her colleagues. She is almost unrecognisable as Nicole Kidman too, with clever use of prosthetic make-up, and a very gruff voice. The 2002 part of the story brings us a more familiar Nicole, as her and her partner are undercover police officers, infiltrating a dangerous gang of bank robbers.

The two time periods swap from scene to scene, so make sure you are wide awake when watching.

Essentially, this is a revenge thriller. In 2002, the detective and her partner are going along undercover on a robbery. Something goes badly wrong, leaving her shaken and disillusioned. Then in 2018, she receives a message that brings it all back, and goes on a one-woman revenge spree to find the leader of the gang from back in the day.

Unfortunately, it comes with a lot of well-used plot devices.

*She has spilt from her husband.
*She doesn’t get on with her teenage stepdaughter, who runs around with older men and refuses to behave.
*She keeps her detective partner in the dark about what she is doing, and ignores requests from her superior officers to report in.
*There is a hint at something dark in her past that is slowly revealed.
*She operates a ‘Dirty Harry’ style of justice for anyone she finds connected to the gang.

For a lot of the film I was thinking, ‘Seen it all before’.

Of course, the fact it is a female detective and not a male one is something different, but otherwise it is situation normal for a modern cop-thriller.

BUT.

Very close to the end, something great happens. The film turns full circle, and we realise that what we have been watching wasn’t exactly what we thought it was.

Just for that, it was worth watching. It really was.

Despite the fairly large cast, it is definitely a one-woman film. Kidman is in every scene, and dominates those scenes. She is physical, no-nonsense yet vulnerable, and perfectly credible throughout. Probably why she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance.

Film Review: The Old Man And The Gun (2018)

I had never heard of this film, but reading through the TV guide, I spotted the cast. Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, and Keith Carradine. They were all pretty old by 2018 when this film was released, and they had been brought together to film this true story of one of America’s most prolific bank robbers and prison escapers, Forrest Tucker.

Free to watch, so why not?

Most of the film is set during the 1980s, with minimal flashbacks to establish some of the back story. Forrest is a gentleman bank robber. He passes notes across the counter, telling the clerk there is a bank robbery in progress, and he has a gun. Sometimes, he shows the gun, just to convince them he is serious. They are usually bemused. Here is a smartly dressed old man, smiling and affable, yet he is robbing their bank. They fill his case with money, and he strolls out tipping his hat and smiling as he goes.

We see Forrest carrying out some meticulous planning. For bigger jobs, he takes along his sidekicks to help with diversions, driving, or just carrying the loot. He appears to have no wife, and no romantic connection that stops him traversing the country to carry out robberies in many different states.

Then one day, he meets an elderly widow, Jewel. (Spacek) He likes her from the start, and she obviously likes him. Her car has broken down, and he gives her a lift home, discovering that she lives on a heavily-mortgaged horse ranch. She could sell, but loves her horses enough to want to stay.

What follows is a gentle film, as gentle as the bank robber, Forrest. There are no shoot-outs, and the only car chases are short, and in flashback. Forrest cannot stop himself robbing banks. Despite falling for Jewel, he continues his crime spree, and comes to the notice of Dallas detective, John Hunt. (Casey Affleck) He slowly begins to put the pieces together, and is soon on the trail of the elusive Forrest and his cronies. Then the FBI gets involved, and the search is on.

Okay, with no spoilers, that’s about it. Redford gives an easy, almost sleepy performance as Forrest. He is very ‘Redford’ throughout, and his role is not too taxing. Danny Glover and Tom Waits do solid jobs as his occasional partners, and Sissy Spacek is perfectly cast as the elderly love interest. For me, Casey Affleck stood out, as the determined cop who is actually thinking of quitting the force, but his enthusiasm is rekindled by his hunt for the gang of old guys. I think he is constantly underrated, and should get more starring roles. And the always reliable Elizabeth Moss makes the very best of a small role as the daughter Forrest never knew he had.

Don’t expect any excitement, and you won’t be disappointed. Just enjoy some old actors close to the end of their careers, and a couple of young ones who have much more to offer yet.

Some Britsploitation films

Another old film post from 2013, a look at some very different British films. I think only Eddy and Vinnie have seen this one previously.

beetleypete

The Antipodean film buff, and blogger extraordinaire, James Curnow, recently added an interesting post on his website, at http://curnblog.com/  It was a look at twelve Australian films, and he wittily entitled it, ‘Ozpolitation: Twelve Australian Exploitation Classics.’ This was a play on the often-used term, ‘Blaxpolitation’, common in film writing to describe a genre of American films that featured predominantly black casts, small budgets, huge Afro hairstyles, and jive-talking leading men. These films were mostly made in the 1970’s, taking popular cinematic subjects of the day, and re-making them with a black cast, and lots of cultural references relevant to the largely black-populated districts of America’s cities. Well-known examples include; ‘Cleopatra Jones’, ‘Car Wash’, ‘Shaft’, and ‘Superfly’. They usually had soundtracks featuring leading black artists of the day, including such leading lights as Curtis Mayfield, and Isaac Hayes.

This gave me food for thought. British Cinema has not escaped this…

View original post 1,297 more words

Film Review: Bad Times At The El Royale (2018)

I am not a sports fan. That marks me out as weird, in England. The European football championships are on TV. Most days, they are on both sides, no matter how obscure the match, or which teams are playing. So when I settle down in the evening, I have to search the channels that do not show sport for something to watch.

That is how I found this film, which I had never heard of before, for some reason. (British readers should be able to find this for free, on ‘All-4’.)

**Update** Fraggle has just reminded me that I read a review of this film on her blog. I had completely forgotten that, which is worrying! Apologies to her. https://fragglesotherplace.com/2020/03/02/march-2nd-movie-monday/

***No spoilers***

The action begins in 1969, at a hotel that once played host to high-rollers and famous people. The El Royale straddles the border between California and Nevada, with the state line quite literally running through the centre of the building. Its glory has long-faded, and the location off the beaten track no longer attracts holiday-makers and gamblers to the area around Reno and Lake Tahoe.

Ten years earlier, something happened at the hotel. An event that will bring a small group of strangers together on a rainy night.

Scene-setting begins with the separate arrivals of a Priest, and a black woman. Inside the hotel, they find a vacuum cleaner salesman waiting in the huge lobby. He is noisy and brash, and explains to them that there is no clerk around, despite having rung the bell on the counter numerous times.

When the young clerk finally shows up, we soon discover that he is the only person working there. He also cleans the rooms, serves at the bar, and does anything else that needs doing. He actively tries to discourage them from taking rooms, but they all insist on booking in.

Then an edgy young woman shows up, also looking for a room. She is rude and aggressive, for no good reason.

Once each person receives their key, we begin to find out why they are there, and get each backstory through flashbacks. Not only does each one of them have their own secrets and demons, the hotel itself is keeping a darker secret from all of them. And not one of the characters is who they appear to be on the surface, including the clerk. The tension builds as they interact, and it becomes clear that something bad is going to happen.

And it does.

Sorry, but without spoilers that’s it. I can tell you that this is very much ‘film noir’ for the 21st century, despite the often lurid use of colour. The script is spot on, the sets of the hotel are simply amazing, and the pop-music of the era soundtrack is a complete delight. Everyone in the small cast plays their role to perfection, and even after the ‘reveal’, there are still enough surprises in store to keep your attention in quite a long film.

The flashbacks are very well done, and not remotely confusing. Period feel is completely authentic throughout, as are costume and vehicles. That cast includes Jeff Bridges as The Priest, Dakota Johnson as the edgy woman, John Hamm as the vacuum cleaner salesman, and Chris Hemsworth as a nasty man who shows up later. And it’s a great cast!

This feels like the Quentin Tarantino film that Quentin didn’t get around to making. Quirky, occasionally violent, and all to a soundtrack of appropriate music, it has his hallmarks. It’s certainly as good as most of his offerings, and better than some. On release, it flopped, and lost money on its budget. Despite critical acclaim, the public stayed away. Maybe because the director was Drew Goddard, and not Tarantino.

Me? I loved it! It looks good, and it is as good as it looks.

Here’s a trailer.

Film Review: The Eight Hundred (2020)

I have just had my film review published in the online magazine, Mythaxis.

‘The Eight Hundred’ is a Chinese war film, set during the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

Here is a link, if you are interested in reading it.

(I watched the film in the original Chinese and Japanese languages, with subtitles. The trailer on the link is dubbed)

https://mythaxis.com/2021/06/02/the-eight-hundred-movie-review/

‘Blood Simple’: The Best of The Coens and McDormand?

In 1984, I used to subscribe to film and cinema magazines. (No internet then, don’t forget) There was a lot of ‘buzz’ about a new film soon to be released in the UK. It was called ‘Blood Simple’, and being described as ‘Film Noir for the 1980s’.

Back then, I had never heard of the Coen brothers, or the female lead, actress Frances McDormand. But I had heard of John Getz, the menacing Dan Hedaya, and M. Emmet Walsh. I read in my magazines that this was a family affair. As well as the two brothers writing, producing, and directing, one of them (Joel) was married to McDormand.

The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival too, so it seemed like something I should be watching. One of the good things about living in London then is that there were a lot of cinemas. You could find one showing virtually anything you wanted to watch, seven days a week. And though I lived in Wimbledon at the time, I owned a motorcycle, which meant I could avoid the heavy traffic, and then park for free on a motorcyle bay.

Off I went, to a late afternoon showing before going into work for a night shift later.

I will give you some idea what it’s about of course, but I will start by saying that I loved it. Dark, edgy, violent, and also very humourous at times. Great performances from Getz and Hedaya, who rarely got lead roles, and the ever-reliable M. Emmet Walsh. And that new girl, a Frances McDormand before she started to take herself seriously as a ‘film star’ with a lot of opinions. She was good too. Really good.

Sets, location filming, lighting, good direction from the Coens, and a snappy script. All spot-on.

It is a familiar story. An unhappily-married woman is having an affair. Her husband suspects, and has hired a private detective to spy on them. After that, it stays in still more familiar territory. A dead body, (or is it?) confusion about who killed him, and subsequent disposal of said body. The detective becomes personally involved, (Walsh on top form) and then everything starts to go terribly wrong. That’s about it, with no spoliers.

What makes it so good is the darkness. The dark violence, that dark humour that is interjected, and the scenes filmed at night. It really was ‘Film Noir for the 1980s’ after all.

And for my money it remains the best film the Coens have made, along with the best performance from a younger, fresher McDormand.

More Films About Art

I recently reblogged my old 2013 post about the depiction of some famous artists in films made about their lives. Many readers suggested other films about different artists, some of which had not been released at the time, and others which I had seen but had left out of the original post. I suggested I might publish a second post later this year, but as it is a damp and dismal afternoon in Beetley, I have done it today.

I have only featured films I have actually seen. I know there are many more that I have not got around to viewing.

The Agony And The Ecstasy. (1965)

I was only 14 years old when I saw this at the cinema. It was promoted as an epic tale of the life of Michaelangelo, starring Charlton Heston as the painter and sculptor, and Rex Harrison as The Pope. The film was produced and directed by Carol Reed, one of Britain’s best. It turned out to be mainly about Michaelangelo’s struggle to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Not wanting the job, then unhappy with the finished result.

All this is set around the intense world of politics and war that beset the region in the 16th century.

The result is rather stodgy, to be honest. It felt overlong at 138 minutes, and I was shuffling in my seat long before the halfway point. The worthy supporting cast members give it their best shot, sets and scenery are well-handled, (they recreated the Sistine Chapel on a film set) but Heston overplays his role, and you cannot fail to notice that.

Here’s the official trailer.

Lust For Life. (1956)

Kirk Douglas does very well as the troubled Vincent Van Gogh in this film, and we also get another artist, Paul Gaugin, played by Anthony Quinn. An indication of how good it is was a Golden Globe for Douglas as Best Actor, and an Oscar for Quinn as best supporting actor.

We get Vincent’s early life, his departure to Paris with his brother Theo, and his meeting with Gaugin. Kirk Douglas throws everything into the role, and I found him completely convincing. (Yes, the ear cutting scene is included) His descent into madness and hallucinataions is well-handled, and the recreations of the original paintings good enough to make it feel as if Kirk is painting them.

Good sets, some location filming, and nice period feel, great supporting cast, and exceptionally good use of colour make this film stand out. It is still worth seeing now, for anyone interested in the painter and his work, or to watch Kirk Douglas giving one of his best ever performances.

Here’s an old trailer.

Moulin Rouge. (1952)

Thankfully not the awful Baz Luhrmann musical from 2001, this is a biopic of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, starring Jose Ferrer and directed by John Huston. Courtesy of a flashback, we learn that the young Henri suffered injuries in a fall as a child. This caused his legs to be stunted, giving him a lot of pain, and also making him exceptionally odd in appearance.

Unhappy, unlucky in love, and convinced that life will hold no joy for him, he loses himself in his painting, moving to Paris to begin a career. There he spends his time with dancers, entertainers, and prostitutes. He favours the nightclub ‘Moulin Rouge’, where he paints advertising posters of the stars and leading ladies, all the time drinking heavily. There he falls in love with a prostitute, Marie, but their relationship is turbulent, and she takes advantage of him.

As Henri continues to try to find love, he is slowly drinking himself to death, resulting in another accident when he falls down some stairs.

This is a remarkable film; with wonderful recreations of the Moulin Rouge, convincing characters, and a real feel of the turn of the century setting. It is also a tour de force from Ferrer, as he had to work with various props including knee pads and concealed pits to give the impression of his incredibly stunted legs. He also plays his own father, early in the film. I have seen it many times, and even now it is hard to believe it was released the same year I was born.

Here is the official trailer.

Carrington. (1995)

I saw this on TV a few years ago, and really liked it. English painter Dora Carrington is played by Emma Thompson, with the marvellous Jonathan Pryce as Lytton Strachey, her destructive love interest. This film has sexual themes, including homosexuality, and ‘sexual confusion’. Filmed as chapters, it covers a time period from 1915-1932. The film also features a particularly good score, with the music for the soundtrack composed by the talented Michael Nyman.

The supporting cast deserves mention, as it includes some of the best British character actors of the time. Samuel West, Penelope Wilton, Rufus Sewell, Jeremy Northam, and Janet McTeer. (As well as many more) Sets and costumes are never less than flawless, and the direction from Christopher Hampton is perfect. This is as much a film about Stracey though, and was actually adapted from a book about him, choosing to feature his unusual realtionship with Dora as its main theme.

Serving as an acting masterclass from many of the best in the business, this film rewards the serious viewer who is not deterred by some of the content and themes. Pryce and Thompson are simply outstanding.

Here’s the trailer.

Mr.Turner. (2014)

British artist J.M.W.Turner is played by Timothy Spall, who won the Palme’Dor at Cannes for Best Actor in the role. He is joined by a fine supporting cast, including Lesley Manville and Marion Bailey, with direction from the wonderful Mike Leigh. The story looks at the last twenty-five years of Turner’s life, (he died in 1851) including his relationships with the women in his life, and his unusual approach to his painting.

In all honesty, it doesn’t get much better than this, especially if you are a fan of both history, and Turner’s art. Spall is amazing, completely inhabiting the role of the painter. Cinematography, sets, location filming, design, costumes, casting, nothing lets down the viewer. Direction and screenplay from Mike Leigh is as good as ever, and the whole film is a cinema experience and a feast for the eyes. Not much more to say really. Just watch it when you can.

Some reviewers called this film ‘A masterpiece’. No argument from me.

Here is the official trailer.

That’s it from me. I don’t think I have seen any other films about the lives of artists and painters. If I remember one, I will do another post. 🙂