My Cousin Rachel (2017)

2018 #33
Roger Michell | 106 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English | 12 / PG-13

My Cousin Rachel

Adapted from a lesser-known Daphne Du Maurier novel (previously filmed in 1952 with Olivia de Havilland, and here relocated from Cornwall to Devon to avoid comparisons to Poldark (really)), My Cousin Rachel is the story of an orphaned young man, Philip (Sam Claflin), who’s raised by his older cousin Ambrose until the latter’s health forces him to leave for Florence. There Ambrose falls in love with their cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz) and marries her, but shortly after dies. His final letter to Philip implies Rachel may’ve had a part in his demise. When she arrives at their estate in England, Philip is determined to confront her, but soon finds himself entranced by her, as does everyone. Is she a scheming murderess intent on using her wiles to acquire the family’s estate, or did Philip’s imagination get the better of him?

That mystery is really the heart of My Cousin Rachel, which unfurls as a classy, lightly Gothic melodrama. It’s a puzzle that’s not so much investigated as gradually hinted at, leaving the audience to make up their own mind. It certainly was successful in having me change my opinion on where it was headed multiple times. The pace is fairly leisurely, which some reviewers have found to be trying; but while it’s certainly a slow burner, for me that was part of why it worked. The passage of time and the opportunity it grants for overthinking sways Philip’s mind hither and thither, and so the film gives the viewer similar space to think, for their opinion to shift, back and forth. It makes you a part of his paranoia.

Who's playing who?

Rachel Weisz is typically excellent, delivering a finely balanced performance that is at once charming and suspicious — is Rachel simply quietly enigmatic, or she hiding a scheming and deadly nature? Sam Claflin is very effective as the hot-headed, easily-led young man at the centre of the story, exhibiting these characteristics which sell Philip’s flip-flopping opinions, which could otherwise have come across as inconsistent. You can believe their passion of each other — or, certainly, his for her — which leads to some earthy bits that might surprise anyone expecting a quaint Heritage melodrama. Thrusting among the flowers aside, the overall style does evoke those Sunday evening costume dramas (you can see why they were wary of a Poldark comparison), as does the pretty photography by DP Mike Eley — it’s not the most outright gorgeous film you’ve ever seen, but it’s a bit of a looker.

My Cousin Rachel’s unhurried storytelling may put off some viewers, but if you settle into its rhythm then it’s a paranoia-fuelled guessing game that will keep you rethinking the truth up until its closing moments.

4 out of 5

My Cousin Rachel is available on Sky Cinema from today.

The Lobster (2015)

2016 #114
Yorgos Lanthimos | 114 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | Ireland, UK, Greece, France & Netherlands / English & French | 15 / R

The LobsterThe first English language feature from Greek writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (of Dogtooth) is set in a relationship-obsessed near-future dystopia. Any person not in a relationship is sent to The Hotel, where they have 45 days to find a partner among the other guests or they get turned into an animal of their choice. Guests can earn extensions to their time in The Hotel by shooting loners — singleton escapees who live in The Woods nearby — during regular hunting trips. The film begins with David (Colin Farrell) discovering his wife has left him, thereby automatically banishing him to The Hotel, where he arrives with his brother — who has been before and failed, so is now a dog. Not an anthropomorphic dog, just a dog. As David makes friends and tries to make a romantic connection, events push him closer to the loners…

The Lobster is the kind of odd movie that critics adore (90% on Rotten Tomatoes) and then, I always feel, spend some of their time looking down their noses at regular folk who don’t get it. In my experience, you have a 50/50 chance of such movies actually being any good. For me, The Lobster straddles that divide. At times it provides wryly amusing absurdist comedy, with the cast’s deliberately stilted performances and the strange situations the characters are subjected to. It also presents almost-thought-provoking observations on the objectively-bizarre rituals of social niceties, filtered through the prism of these unusual individuals and how they use, or don’t, methods of social interaction familiar from our world. If that all sounds a bit pretentious, well, that’s the level you have to engage with The Lobster on if you want to get anything out of it beyond a smattering of oddball laughs.

Even if you accept these goals, Lanthimos’ film eventually goes off the rails. Without meaning to spoil too much, David eventually falls in with the loners, who have their own very specific social rules designed to inhibit partnering up. Revelation: the outsiders are fundamentally the same, just with different rules! That’s about the extent of what I got from this portion of the film; unfortunately, it goes on for a really, really long time. Among this group David meets ‘Short Sighted Woman’ (everyone aside from David is similarly named) and falls in love with her — I mean, of course he does, she’s played by Rachel Weisz. They develop a secret mode of communicating, but will be harshly punished if caught. This storyline is what the film uses to occupy its remaining time, but what it lacks in the offbeat humour of the time in The Hotel it makes up for with… nothing.

At its best, The Lobster is like a Wes Anderson movie run through the mind of a sci-fi-loving sociopath (the dog even gets similar treatment to that of an Anderson movie, again with the same extreme filter). Unfortunately, as you might expect of a sociopath, it doesn’t know when to stop, leaving behind social commentary and alternative humour to drudge through an uninteresting romance to a limp ending. What starts well — though certainly an acquired taste — ends up feeling like a waste of time. Shame.

3 out of 5

The Lobster will be available on Netflix UK from Monday.

The Brothers Bloom (2008)

2011 #84
Rian Johnson | 114 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The Brothers Bloom“Crikey, time flies!” I thought when I compiled this listing and saw that The Brothers Bloom was released in 2008. Somehow it felt like it was only last year, not three (or, if at the start of 2008, closer to four) years ago.

Then I happened to spot the UK release date on IMDb: June 2010. That explains that then.

From the director of the acquired taste that was Brick, The Brothers Bloom looks like it might be a little more mainstream: it’s got a lead cast who are all Oscar nominees, and half of them winners too, and it has a con/heist plot — always popular — and a light tone — a very funny and enjoyable trailer, I thought. But while it’s not as specialised as Brick’s near-impenetrable dialogue and considered (over-considered?) tone, it’s certainly Quirky.

The capital Q may give a clue that I think it may be too forcibly quirky at times. Genuine quirkiness can be a lot of fun, though there’ll always be people who don’t get it, but if you force it then it comes across as weird; silliness for the sake of silliness; trying to be Cool. I don’t think Bloom goes quite that far, but I did feel those involved were trying too hard.

Despite that, it can be surprisingly dramatic in places, at least more so than the trailer suggested. It’s not quite as all-out-fun as it looked… The titular Brothersbut then the job of a trailer is to sell you a film, so if the end result doesn’t match it 100% is that a failing? How are you meant to summarise the entire tone of a film in a two-minute spoiler-free sales burst anyway? That dilemma is emphasised in this case because it’s the opening that feels least like the trailer. I mean, the pre-titles is kinda quirky-fun, but then it gets a little serious and slow, and later — perhaps half-an-hour or three-quarters of an hour in — you get to all the stuff the trailer was selling. And then the last act is back to something more unusually — or, if we’re to be unkind, unevenly — paced and toned. I can imagine the marketing meetings for this were a struggle…

Despite (or perhaps because of) all those shifts, it drags a bit at times, but it still has lots of amusing, quirky and fun moments to help make up for that.

I’d heard the last act was incredibly twisty; too twisty, according to some. Perhaps it was because I read that and was prepared, but I didn’t find it to be so. It has twists, sure, but this is a con movie — con movies have twists. That’s almost the point. They weren’t all the twists I was expecting either, which is probably a good thing.

The cast of the conPerhaps the problem for others was that the ending doesn’t quite spell everything out. I’m certain every question you might have is answered, more or less, but it doesn’t lead you by the hand back over the film pointing everything out, as many twist-ending-ed films do. Part of me appreciates this assumption of intelligence; part of me would like it all handily explained so I don’t sit here wondering it for myself. I don’t feel completely lump-headed not wanting to do that — there’s no Deeper Meaning or Philosophical Insight gained from sorting this out, I don’t believe; just an understanding of who was being conned and when, and who knew what and why.

I score most films right after watching them, even if I don’t post the review for many months. I thought I’d given The Brothers Bloom a three, but coming to write this I find it has a four. Make of that what you will.

4 out of 5