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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Claflin’

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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Gemma Atherton, Bill Nighy

“THEIR FINEST” My rating: B-

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

What is it with filmmakers making movies about making movies?

“Their Finest,” the latest from Danish director Lone Scherfig (“Italian for Beginners”), takes that admittedly amusing self-absorption and pumps it up with World War II-era nostalgia and nascent female empowerment.

In Blitz-ravaged London, copywriter Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) lands the gig of a lifetime.  She’s hired by the Ministry of Information’s Film Division to write a feature film — one that is both “authentic and optimistic” — that will embody Britain’s can-do spirit in the face of Hitler’s juggernaut.

The film is intended as pan-Atlantic propaganda that will show war-wary American audiences that Britain is more than supercilious aristocrats, that it’s a nation of everyday men and women fighting heroically for survival.

Catrin finds her subject in the real-life experiences of two spinster sisters who stole their drunken uncle’s boat and became part of the mass evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in France.

Though she already has a significant other (Jack Huston, playing an unsuccessful painter of glum cityscapes), Catrin finds intellectual stimulation (and other sorts as well) in her new writing partner, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). He’s one of those seen-everything cynics who nevertheless knows exactly how to manipulate an audience (“Film is real life with the boring stuff cut out”).

Together they figure out how to cajole a fading matinee idol  (Bill Nighy, playing the sort of jaded egomaniac he does so well) into taking the seemingly inconsequential role of the drunken uncle. Somewhat more perplexing is how they are to satisfy the Ministry by creating a character for a non-acting American  (Jake Lacy) who has been flying missions for the R.A.F.

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Rich twits party hearty in "The Riot Club"

Rich twits party hearty in “The Riot Club”

“THE RIOT CLUB” My rating: B-

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Most major universities have a secret society, an invitation-only clan that allows tomorrow’s leaders to behave like yesterday’s Neanderthals.

“The Riot Club,” director Lone Sherfig’s adaptation of Laura Wade’s stage play, is an angry expose of bad behavior in high places.

The film begins with a sequence set in the 17th century.  The hard-partying Lord Ryott dies at the hands of a cuckolded husband, and his fellow carousers at Oxford form the Riot Club to honor his lurid memory as a world-class debaucher.

In the present,  Alastair (Sam Claflin) and Miles (Max Irons, son of actor Jeremy) come to Oxford as freshmen. Both are sons of wealthy and privileged families.  But while Alastair is a moody, mean alcoholic, Miles is outgoing and open minded.  At least he’s willing to date below his caste, launching a romance with proletarian coed Lauren (Holliday Grainger of Showtime’s “The Borgias”).

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