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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Weisz’

Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz

“MY COUSIN RACHEL”  My rating: B- 

106 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Ambiguity can be a wondrous thing on the printed page, as exemplified by Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.”

In the dramatic arts, though, ambiguity  can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction.

“My Cousin Rachel,” the second filmed version of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel (the first, in 1952, starred Olivia DeHavilland and introduced Richard Burton to American audiences), is a well-made, well-acted yarn that is overwhelmingly faithful to the source material.

Problem is, the source material is one big guessing game — a game in which cut-and-dried answers are not forthcoming. It gives us a title character whose motivations and inner are  deliberately left obscured.

We can watch with intellectual fascination, but it’s hard to be moved when you don’t know who to root for.

Set in 19th century rural England, the tale centers on the orphaned Philip (Sam Claflin of “The Hunger Games,” “Me Before You” and “Their Finest”). Philip was reared by his wealthy cousin Ambrose on a remote Cornish estate where a bachelor ethos has always prevailed…i.e. no women.

As the film begins the ailing Ambrose (seen only fleetingly in flashbacks) has gone to Italy where the climate is more beneficial, leaving Philip in charge of the estate. Ambrose sends back letters describing meeting an English/Italian widow named Rachel, whom he marries.

But the tone of his letters soon turns dark. Ambrose accuses his new bride of slowly poisoning him and intercepting his outgoing epistles. Philip rushes to Italy but arrives too late — Ambrose has died (of a brain tumor, according to an inquest) and his new wife is nowhere to be found.

Philip returns to the vast English properties he now owns, only to find that Rachel (Rachel Weisz) has followed him to England. Initially Philip treats her with suspicion and contempt, but gradually warms to her courtesy, friendliness and seeming lack of interest in taking control of her late husband’s property. (As it turns out, Ambrose died before revising his will, so she has no claim.)

“Rachel” is a love story, but one studded with all sorts of caveats and concerns.  Philip finds himself falling for Rachel, but then he’s not exactly the most sophisticated guy when it comes to women.  Like his benefactor Ambrose, he knows zip about the fairer sex, which makes him an easy mark if Rachel is running some sort of scam.

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Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt

Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt

“DENIAL”  My rating: B

110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The arrival of “Denial” could hardly be more timely, given the increased white nationalism encouraged — or at least not denounced — by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Based on historian’s Deborah Lipstadt’s 2005  memoir History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, Mick Jackson’s film  is a legal drama with repercussions far beyond the courtroom.

In 1997 Holocaust-denying historian David Irving  sued Lipstadt (of Emory University) and her publisher, Penguin Books,  for defaming him  and his theories in  her book Denying the Holocaust.

Irving opted to sue in a British court, choosing that venue rather than one in America at least in part because under British law persons accused of libel must prove their innocence  (in theU.S. it’s the plaintiff who must prove wrongdoing).

Timothy Spall

Timothy Spall

The resulting film is well acted, informative, and emotional for the quiet contempt it heaps upon anti-Semitism with a scholarly face.

Rachel Weisz portrays Lipstadt with a tightly-wound, steely exterior that periodically bursts into fierce flame.

She first encounters Irving (Timothy Spall) face to face when he shows up at her college lecture and waves $1000 which he’ll give anyone who can prove that any Jew was ever killed in a Nazi gas chamber.

The bulk of the film centers on Lipstadt’s interactions with her British solicitor (the lawyer who will prepare her case) and her barrister (who will argue it in court).  These figures of probity and quiet dignity are portrayed, respectively, by Anthony Scott (best known as Moriarty on the PBS “Sherlock”) and the ever-wonderful Tom Wilkinson.

Part of the team’s preparations involves a trip to Auschwitz (on a eerily beautiful foggy winter’s day), where Lipstadt is moved by the echoes of dead souls but also somewhat perplexed…before the war ended the Germans blew up the gas chambers in an effort to destroy evidence of their crimes.

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Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz

“COMPLETE UNKNOWN”  My rating: B (Opens Sept. 9 at the Tivoli)

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Some films dole out facts.

Others, like “Complete Unknown,” trade in mood.

Joshua Marston’s film isn’t a thriller exactly…more like a character study…except that’s not quite right either, since the main character of Martson‘s screenplay (written with Julian Sheppard) is a sort of human chameleon.

In a brilliantly assembled opening sequence we see a woman (Rachel Weisz) in a variety of situations. She’s a grad student renting an apartment. A magician‘s assistant in what appears to be China. An E.R. nurse.

The woman is Alice (at least that’s her current name) and we slowly realize that she is a master imposter, someone who every few months or years changes her identity, personality and career.

It isn’t like Alice is antisocial. She’s witty, charming, entertaining, and has terrific stories about the various jobs she’s held all over the world.

Now she shows up at a dinner party as the date of Clyde (Michael Chernus), a schlubby government paper pusher and colleague of Tom (Michael Shannon), whose birthday is being celebrated.

Tom immediately realizes that this woman calling herself Alice is in fact Jenny, with whom he was living when she vanished 15 years earlier. Tom is now married (though that union is shaky). Nevertheless Alice/Jenny has befriended Clyde precisely so she can reconnect with her old flame Tom.

“You were the last person who really knew me before I left,” she explains.

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Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender

Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender

“THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS”  My rating: C+ 

  132 minutes | MPAA rating:  PG-13

There’s a world of weeping on display in “The Light Between Oceans.”

The good news is that most of the sobbing is done by Alicia Vikander.  If you’ve got to stare for two hours at a tear-stained face, it might as well be that of this Oscar-winning actress. She makes suffering almost transcendent.

The not-so-good news is that in making its transition from best seller to big screen, M.L. Stedman’s story has lost a good deal of its power.

For all the lacerating emotions displayed by Vikander and co-stars Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz, relatively little of it is experienced by the viewer.

What was deeply moving on the printed page seems mechanically melodramatic when dramatized.  You want to be moved, but can’t shake the feeling that mostly you’re being manipulated.

After four years in the trenches of World War I, Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) returns to his native Australia a hollow man. Seeking solitude and time to rediscover himself, he signs up as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, a windswept hunk of rock 100 miles from the nearest coast.

But he won’t be alone for long. In one of the most satisfying passages in Derek Cianfrance’s film, he meets, woos and weds Isabel (Vikander), a local girl who seems to relish life on the island. Their’s is a civilization of two…the only thing that could make it better would be a baby to share the experience.

Fate has other plans.  Isabel suffers a miscarriage (during a hurricane, no less) and later gives birth to a stillborn child.  Things are looking pretty glum.

And then a rowboat floats in on the tide. Inside is a dead man and a baby girl. (more…)

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Youth“YOUTH”  My rating: A- 

124 minutes | MPAA rating: R

I had to watch “Youth” a second time to really appreciate it.

Glad I did.

As with his previous film, “The Great Beauty,” which was inspired by Fellini’s “La Dolce Vida,” the latest from filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino is inspired by (and often directly copies) Fellini’s “8 1/2.” My mistake the first time around was to see it first and foremost as an homage rather than a free-standing effort that playfully samples a great film from the past.

And then there’s the fact that this is about as subtle a movie as we’re going to encounter this holiday season — minimal plotting, zero action, maximum atmosphere. Do not see “Youth” if you’re tired or short-tempered or preoccupied.

Unfolding almost entirely at a posh hotel and spa in the Swiss Alps, the film centers on two old friends rapidly approaching 80.

As the film begins composer/conductor Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is being approached by an agent of Queen Elizabeth, who for Prince Philip’s birthday wants Ballinger to conduct a performance of his seminal work “Simple Songs.” Ballinger turns down the offer and the accompanying knighthood, telling the oily emissary that he is retired. Period.

In the same hotel veteran filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) is working with five young writers to complete the script of his next — and penultimate — film.

Fred and Mick find plenty of time to hang out together. Not only is Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) married to Nick’s son, but the two men have been friends for 60 years.  They used to compete for the same women; now they battle over who has the most uncooperative prostate and shakiest memory.

There are other celebs to rub elbows with, like the current Miss Universe (who shocks and delights the two old cronies by swimming nude) and an American movie actor  (Paul Dano) who quietly seethes because his fame rests almost entirely on a cheesy sci-fi flick in which he played a robot. (To stir things up he attends dinner made up and costumed as Adolf Hitler.)

Fred and Mick also amuse themselves studying on other guests, like the obese South American who was once the world’s best soccer player, a Tibetan llama who reputedly has powers of levitation, a small boy learning the violin by playing Fred’s “Simple Songs,” and a young girl who is vastly more advanced than her hovering and provincial mom.

The film even opens its arms to embrace the staff of the hotel, especially a nearly-mute young masseuse with a mouthful of orthodontics — she communicates with her fingers, not her tongue — and a bearded mountaineer who shows up at just in time to catch Lena when her marriage collapses.

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Rachel Weisz

“THE WHISTLEBLOWER” My rating: B (Opening Aug. 26 at the Rio)

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

For a first feature, Larysa Kondracki’s “The Whistleblower” is a more than competent thriller carrying a considerable emotional punch.

Based on the real experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who in the late ‘90s signed up for a United Nations peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia, this suspenser carries a big dose of moral outrage.

Kathryn (Rachel Weisz) is a member of the Lincoln PD who already has lost primary custody of her kids and now faces losing them entirely, since her ex is relocating to another state.

Strapped with debt and unable to find a law enforcement job near the children, she answers an ad for a high-paying job as a U.N. Peacekeeper. Her idea is to return after a year with enough money to start over.

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