Posts Tagged D-rated films

My Cousin Rachel

Year of release: 2017              Directed by Roger Michell.                Starring Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, and Pierfrancesco Favino.

Compare and contrast the following sentences. “They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.” “Did she; or didn’t she? Who’s to blame?” One of them is the opening to a masterpiece of 20th century literature, which brilliantly sets the stage for a world balanced between beauty and menace with an aura of perpetual ambiguity, wracked by guilt, inner torment, and memories. The other is the opening line of a film adapted from the Wikipedia summary of the same novel.

I will say right now, that on a technical level, this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel is not a bad film. A couple clumsy edits aside, the cinematography is (mostly) gorgeous, the production design is exquisite, the acting is competent, and the directing passable. None of that makes up for the utter ruination of the novel, which as full disclosure, is one of my three favorite books.

The problems begin with the vapid opening line, which heavy-handedly suggests the conclusion of the story rather than introducing us to Philip (Sam Claflin) and giving us a background to make him sympathetic even as he makes reckless decisions throughout the course of the story. That background, which takes nearly eighty pages in the novel, is bull dozed through in about ten minutes as a prologue before the title card. That pacing barely relents for the remainder of the film.

We see throughout the film that Philip is a rash imprudent man, but since the film races through the story with equal recklessness, we never learn why. Thus we never understand the full tragedy or motivation behind his often conflicting actions.

We learn Philip was orphaned as a young boy, and his wealthy older cousin Ambrose took him in, despite the church ladies insisting a young boy needs to grow up around a woman, which is a hurried way of acknowledging Philip’s sexism and difficulty in relating to women. We do not see any of Philip’s fond or troubled memories with Ambrose that we do in the book, and the film completely omits the crucial detail that Philip worshiped Ambrose, embodying both his virtues and his faults.

The film then rushes to its next plot point to check off: Ambrose fell ill and went to Italy to recover. There, despite his self-affirmed perpetual bachelorhood, he fell in love with Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and married her. Then, Ambrose wrote one more letter to England in which he implored Philip to save him from Rachel who was poisoning him. Philip set out for Italy immediately, consumed with hatred for his murderous witch of a cousin, only to learn Ambrose had died of a brain tumor that made him paranoid and irrational.

Shortly afterwards Rachel comes to England to meet Philip, and when he sees her, his resentment instantly melts. In the scene where they first meet, Weisz embodies du Maurier’s title character so perfectly, that for a brief moment, I was almost swept away along with Philip and tempted to forgive the film its faults, but then it went and butchered her most crucial scenes by rushing through them, which undermined the gravity of Philip’s former antagonism.

The biggest problem with this film is that it seems to think that fidelity to the novel merely consists of hitting all the major plot points. With that it fundamentally misunderstands Daphne du Maurier. No one reads a du Maurier novel primarily for its plot. The biggest weakness of her breakthrough novel Jamaica Inn is the thin and kind of predictable plot. Nonetheless, that novel was successful because of its foreboding atmosphere, generating sympathy for its conflicted protagonist thrown into unethical situations against her will, and because of the way it powerfully painted the Cornish countryside as simultaneously dangerous and liberating. Foreboding atmosphere, morally compromised yet sympathetic protagonists, and a love for the Cornish countryside by the sea are the three things that made du Maurier the great writer she was. This film is interested in none of them.

It needs to be mentioned that Philip’s relationship with Louise (Holliday Grainger), the daughter of his godfather and estate manager Mr. Kendall (Iain Glen), and her unreturned affection for him is also glazed over, which makes her presence at later climactic scenes irrelevant. More damningly, it makes the film’s coda, which is not in the book, appalling not only for the way it downplays the horror of the story, but also for its sexist treatment of Louise and exoneration of Philip.

The greatest strength of du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel is the perpetual ambiguity that hangs over the story. Did Rachel murder Ambrose, or did he have a brain tumor? Is she just careless with money, or is she hiding dark secrets for which she needs money? And finally, is she plotting to murder Philip, or not? The film takes very clear sides, so clear that the attempt to turn the tables is completely unbelievable. In stark contrast, the book builds its atmosphere of horror and tragedy by constantly allowing the reader to second guess himself. That sort of subtlety is as foreign to the film as Rachel’s mysterious Italian friend Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino) is to England.

The last half hour of my screening was permeated with snickering from the audience. I could hardly blame them; the plot points which made sense in the novel, considering the guilt and uncertainty plaguing Philip, seemed ludicrous here with the film’s one sided approach to the central conflict. If there ever was an example of how to ruin a piece of source material while adhering to its major plot points, this would be it.

There will be worse movies I see this year; there have already been worse movies released. There will be none that I hate more than My Cousin Rachel.

 

Personal Recommendation: D-

Content advisory: Two non-graphic sexual encounters, an anachronistic obscenity, and a mild aura of menace.                 MPAA rating: PG-13

Suggested Audience: Teens and up.

 

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

Free Fire

Year of release: 2017              Directed by Ben Wheatley.                  Starring Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, and Michael Smiley.

MV5BYWQ1N2E1ZDQtZmE0My00N2FmLWJhYzctM2VhMjhiOGZiZmM4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY999_SX1776_AL_

I thought Free Fire would be a fun, fast-paced, if violent, action film in which immoral characters exchange witty insults while revealing flickerings of their shared humanity. I was badly mistaken.

Free Fire supposedly has a run time of an hour and a half. I say supposedly, because I would have sworn I was sitting in the theater a lot longer than that. This thing slogs along through a black market gun deal gone wrong as slowly as the bullet ridden bodies drag themselves through the ultimate Mexican standoff which said deal devolves into. I forget at which point precisely this thought occurred to me, and I never imagined I would say this in my entire life; however, this film would have been a lot better had Quentin Tarantino directed it.

Tarantino making this film might have caused some new problems, namely the already nasty violence may have been slightly nastier (but only slightly), but on the other hand, it would have had a pulse, it would have had witty snappy dialogue, and it would have had characters we care about – or at least characters with memorably fascinating quirks, unlike the nondescript sacks of meat filling each other with lead that occupy the run time here.

Ben Wheatley directs a script he co-wrote with Amy Jump, and the two of them edit as well. I’m not entirely sure edit is the right word, because the incoherent jumble of images is nearly impossible to follow, especially as the script randomly throws new characters into the mix without ever wasting any time on trivialities such as character development. If the goal was to show it’s impossible to tell who’s shooting at whom, I suppose the film succeeds at that, but the aggressive editing doesn’t make us reflect on the cost of violence. Since it’s so much work to keep track of anything going on, it just makes it a relief when bullet bank #4 finally bites the dust – that’s one less thing to keep track of.

On the very light plus side, Armie Hammer actually manages to create a character from the practically non-existent material he’s given to work with. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy come close as well.

At some point during pre-production, there was definitely a good idea about the dark humor of a ruthless Mexican standoff, with some worthy nods to themes of violence begetting violence and making it impossible to distinguish allies from foes. Sadly, it seems that was the first causality caught in the crossfires of this mess of a film.

Personal Recommendation: D+

Content Advisory: Graphic violence, some of it quite nasty, and frequent obscene language throughout.

Suggested Audience: Adults with discernment

, ,

Leave a comment

JeruZalem

Year of Release: 2016     Directed by The Paz Brothers. Starring Danielle Jadelyn, Yael Grobglas, and Yon Tumarkin.

Here’s a quiz as to whether or not you should even consider watching JeruZalem.

What do the words: Plan 9 from Outer Space mean to you?

A. Um, I have no idea. Is that some sort of sci-fi thing?

B. Good grief, that’s that terrible Ed Wood movie.

C. A classic example of what not to do in making a movie. Like Zardoz, young film buffs should watch it as a rite of passage, and then promptly try to erase it from their memories.

D. Cult classic, so bad that it’s hilarious. I watch it at least once a year. Zardoz is great too, now that you mention it!

If you answered A, B, or C stay far, far away from JeruZalem. If you answered D, you might (never mind, inappropriate joke about bad movie taste redacted). If you answered D, and if you like cheesy, dumb horror films with absurd premises and a fair amount of gore, then maybe, and I mean maybe, you would enjoy JeruZalem. (For the record, my answer to the above quiz is C.)

After a “found footage” opening of several decades ago, in which an exorcism in Jerusalem goes horribly wrong and the exorcist shoots the possessed woman, who turns out to have been a demon in disguise, the film cuts to two naive, young American women planning a vacation to Jerusalem. Actually, they are planning to go to Tel Aviv, but after landing in Israel they change their destination to Jerusalem, because they decide it will be more fun, thus setting up the women as classic horror film damsels in distress: cavalier and foolish.

The film’s central gimmick, which is an interesting though unsuccessful idea, is to show the entire story through the perspective of Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) by having her wear a pair of glasses which act as a computer, phone, and video. Since the glasses apparently never need to be recharged, for the entire film, the camera is placed to capture the perspective of Sarah’s glasses, usually whatever she’s seeing when they are on her face, but occasionally a side view from a table when she takes them off. The latter is mostly so the filmmakers have an incredibly stupid and lazy excuse to show her breasts when she has sex with Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), a cool guy she meets on the trip (another horror film cliché in a film overstuffed with them).

The bigger reason that the gimmick does not work is that the glasses are a distraction. First of all the lens width that the directors and cinematographer chose is too narrow to give an accurate feeling of periphery vision. Secondly, whenever Sarah falls or gets hit the glasses briefly short out, and the screen goes black until they reboot. Thirdly, whenever the glasses are searching for a Wi-Fi connection (which is more often than you would expect) a pop-up menu appears onscreen. Finally, since this is a horror film, there’s a lot of running from zombie like monsters, and when you run, your glasses bounce. Consequently, the image becomes an out of focus, shaky mess, which makes it impossible to be scared or care for the characters, as you spend a third of the film unable to see them.

As to the rest of the plot, there’s an opening title card which claims one of three gates to Hell is in Jerusalem. On Yom Kippur that gate opens, and Jerusalem undergoes a sort of Night of the Living Dead, which makes the fleeting cameo of a Godzilla-like monster jarringly out of place.

The biggest problem with JeruZalem is that it’s too gruesome to enjoy as stupid fun like an old Godzilla film or Plan 9 from Outer Space (if you enjoy those), but it’s too stupid and shallow for any of its half-baked theological ideas to have any resonance at all.

 

Content Advisory: Gruesome horror violence, a brief sex scene with nudity, potentially blasphemous acts (one to Jews and one to Catholics), disturbing creatures, and some occasional rough language.     MPAA Rating: R

Suggested Audience: Adults with discernment

Personal Recommendation: D

, ,

Leave a comment

Macbeth

Year of Release: 2015     Directed by Justin Kurzel. Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, and David Thewlis.

940282_ori

When I heard there was a new adaptation of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, my excitement knew no bounds. Macbeth is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, it is highly cinematic, Cotillard and Fassbender are great actors, and the news that it would be an old school adaptation set in the 11th century were all highly encouraging.

This was the biggest cinematic disappointment I have ever experienced. The only quasi-redeeming aspect was Cotillard’s performance as Lady Macbeth, and even she could not save the disaster that was the rest of this movie.

First of all, this is not adapted from Shakespeare’s Macbeth; it’s adapted from the Sparknotes version of Macbeth. Several crucial scenes are missing (the conclusion of Macbeth’s dagger soliloquy, all of “Double double toil and trouble,” the exchange between Lady Macduff and her son, and that’s just for starters .) Considering the film is still two hours (roughly the length of the play), the missing scenes are replaced with new lines by the screenwriters quickly filling in any information that is needed, and two LONG battle sequences that frame both ends of the film, both of which are shot and jarringly edited with absurd slow-motion video game like sequences which look terrible. If watching someone else play a video game is your idea of a good movie then maybe you will appreciate this.

So much of Shakespeare’s play is missing that for this Shakespeare lover a suitable analogy would be watching a film adaptation of the Gospels which removes “The Baptism in the Jordan,” “The Sermon on the Mount,” and “The Agony in the Garden.” Or a film of Les Miserables which cuts “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Who Am I?” and “Bring Him Home.”

Speaking of Les Miserables, many people complained (to some degree deservedly) about Hooper’s sloppy editing and camera work, but compared to this, Hooper looks like Orson Welles. Justin Kurzel relies on an overabundance of close-ups, and his idea of quick pacing is to extremely over edit — I’d be hard pressed to name a single shot that lasts longer than 5 seconds. (I think there were two or three, but I couldn’t swear to it.)

For the hype about setting this in the 11th century, the Gothic architecture for the castle looked more 14th or 15th century to me.

As I said, Cotillard is good, but it’s hard to tell because the camera is constantly interrupting scenes by jumping to new shots. Kurzel also doesn’t allow her to become as unhinged as she needs to. She merely becomes wracked with guilt; she never loses her mind. I don’t have any idea what Fassbender was doing. He plays Macbeth as a cipher, which I thought was grossly inappropriate, and he has no progression or descent into evil at all. He recites the lines about Macbeth’s guilt and hesitation, but then carries out the murder of Duncan without any hesitation, and he’s not even shaken by having done the deed. The portrayal of the Macbeths ruined the opposite character arcs that the two are supposed to have as they both lose their minds in different ways.

In fairness, I will add that it probably did not help that I watched the very, very good Polanski adaptation for the first time a few weeks ago.

 

Content Advisory: Much intense, highly stylized battlefield violence, gruesome and gory images, and a brief non-graphic sex scene.                           MPAA Rating: R

Suggested Audience: Adults

Personal Recommendation: D+

, , , ,

Leave a comment

If I Stay

Year of Release: 2014     Directed by R. J. Cutler.  Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley, Mireille Enos, and Joshua Leonard.

Opening voiceover (paraphrased from memory): “Life is funny sometimes. We can make our plans for what we will do, but then life comes along with others. Take my pal Beethoven; he was all set to be a famous pianist, but life had other plans for him. At twenty-six he went deaf and could no longer perform. So he turned to composition, and his new gig fit him perfectly.” (Wrong — Beethoven began suffering from tinnitus at twenty-six, his hearing loss became severe a few years later, and he did not go completely deaf until several years after that. He also was an established composer well before his hearing loss began.)

Evan: “Oh, boy. This is not going to be good. Maybe I should leave now and get my money back.”

Unfortunately, I did not leave, and If I Stay was a constant downhill from there. The movie was horrifically and fundamentally misconceived on almost every possible level. Just about nothing worked. The “tragic scenes” were so contrived as to be laughable; the “humor” is so forced and awkward that I cannot imagine anyone laughing at it – her parents are hippie rockers trying to force her to have fun, but she’s a prim and proper classical cellist who’s uncomfortable with partying and underage drinking (apparently the filmmakers never met a classically trained musician); the dialogue was awful – having a teenage girl say, “I hate you (or it)” every time she’s mildly upset is incredibly annoying.

The entire conflict between Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her boyfriend was based on a nonsensical plot point: she’s a super talented cellist who wants to go off to college with her boyfriend in Oregon, but she also wants to pursue her cello studies, which means she has to go to Juilliard. Why does she have to go to Juilliard to study cello? Because the movie needs a stupid unbelievable conflict, and because a “feel good” movie like this needs to have its protagonist get into (or at least audition for) the BEST MUSIC SCHOOL EVER!!!

What? There are phenomenal music schools other than Juilliard, some of which are on the West Coast? You wouldn’t know that from the film, especially since Mia only applies to one college (Juilliard). And when she auditions she selects the most clichéd, well known audition pieces possible that display almost no variety whatsoever, something no serious musician would do, unless she was in a stupid film that wanted soundtrack pieces its audience might know.

On the day that Mia is anxiously awaiting to hear back from Juilliard, and also stewing over a recent fight with her boyfriend, she and her family are in a tragic collision in which her parents and brother die and she is sent into a coma. At that point, she has an out of body experience and narrates the rest of the film wondering what will happen to her life. Will she wake up? If she does, will she and her boyfriend reconcile? And will she be accepted at Juilliard? To quote Roger Ebert, “Anyone who doesn’t immediately know the answers to these questions either lives in a cave or wrote this screenplay.”

How painfully ignorant is If I Stay? Here’s an example: at one point Mia says she used to always think of the cello as a solo instrument but eventually learned that it can be a good ensemble instrument as well. Apparently she has never heard a symphony or a string quartet, the two genres which her idol Beethoven is best known for.

Thankfully, this atrocity is already fading from my memory.

Content Advisory: An implied sexual encounter between teens, occasional profanity, and a possibly upsetting tragedy.                                MPAA rating: PG-13

Suggested Audience: Adults

Personal Recommendation: D-

, ,

Leave a comment