Category: Reviews

My Cousin Rachel (Movie Review 2017)

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“Rachel, my torment. “

Do not expect to have a definitive answer at the end of the movie if Rachel is good or evil. You will leave pondering that question for some time and for good reason. She is an intriguing character, tormenting you as you sift through the lies and innuendos to find the truth.

I came into this movie unfamiliar with the outcome never having read the original novel by Daphne du Maurier.  Clueless as to the ending, I was quite satisfied as I left the theater asking the other four patrons around me, “did she or didn’t she?” Their responses I shall keep silent.

If you’re a period movie junkie, no doubt you’ll be running to watch this suspenseful tale of a very different kind of woman.  She, too, is a wonder woman of sorts, as you’re dragged along wondering about her motives through the entire film. It borders on the Gothic melodrama with enough suspense to keep you guessing.

It begins with the narration of Ambrose Ashley’s cousin and how he takes in Philip to raise him after his parents die.  Ambrose is like a father to him, but he becomes ill and goes to Italy to “take in the sun.” (This is England, you know, dark, gloomy, rains a lot, has gray clouds, etc.).  Ambrose writes often and eventually announces he has met a woman named Rachel, who he marries.  When Philip receives a disturbing letter from his cousin, asking him to come to him, he leaves. By the time he arrives, his cousin is dead and Rachel has left. Thinking that she had inherited his estate and land, he is surprised to discover that his cousin left everything to him in an unchanged will, which he will inherit upon his twenty-fifth birthday.

Rachel finally arrives in England. Philip, determined to confront her on the allegations she may have poisoned his cousin, discovers a very different female than he anticipated. With a charismatic personality and beauty, he falls desperately in love to the point of obsession. He rewrites his will and leaves everything to Rachel — his inheritance, the estate, and all the family jewels.

The relationship between the two individuals unfolds in a strange way.  The insinuation constantly lurks that she plans to kill Philip because she’s always brewing strange cups of tea that taste disgusting. Philip’s godfather warns him about her rather questionable character, but he refuses to believe anything until they begin to have contentious periods after she allows him to make love to her.

The film slowly unfolds but it is needed to build up the questionable suspense as the characters’ personalities are revealed and begin to interact. Beautiful daytime landscapes and candlelight in the evening add to the authenticity of the times.  It feels period perfect in the sense of costumes and scenery, but it’s difficult to come to a clear conclusion of who Rachel is underneath the black veil.

It is fresh on the Tomato Meter with a fine performance from Rachel Weisz (as Rachel) and Sam Claflin (as Philip).  Though some reviewers term it as a romance, I disagree with that analogy. There is no romance.  He loves her but there’s no reciprocation on her part.  It’s a questionable relationship between two very different people whose personalities don’t blend together in love. Instead, there is obsession and suspicion that makes for a surprise ending that you do not see coming.




Wonder Woman (Movie Review 2017)

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Dust off your knowledge of Greek mythology and enter into the world of the Amazons – a tribe of women warriors. Greek mythology, per DC Comics, tells us the Amazons were created by the gods to protect mankind from Ares, the god of war. They ride horses, wield swords, are skilled archers, and have no qualms in defending themselves with brutal force.

The story begins with Diana, a young girl, who is yet to understand her powers, as she is raised on the island of Themyscira by her mother and queen. Beautiful aquamarine waters surround the mountainous location, shielded and hidden from the real world. It’s here that Diana learns her warrior skills, even though her mother would prefer she remains clueless about her true origin.

As she grows into a warrior, World War I, the war of all wars, rages outside their shielded world until a pilot crashes his plane through the barrier at their idyllic location. Saved by Diana from drowning, she brings the handsome pilot, Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, to her mother. The ladies force him to confess as he is wound up in that glowing lasso of truth. Discovering that the war rages, Diana is convinced that the evil Ares lives and needs to be destroyed so mankind can be saved. Of course, is mankind worth saving? Are we inherently corrupt and a lost cause? Diana, believing it’s her duty and destiny, leaves the island with the pilot to kill Ares and end the war.

Diana is clueless when she comes in contact with a man and life outside her world. It’s a dirty and ugly place, and the clothes of 1917 don’t work for a warrior woman. Carrying around her sword and shield is a real pain. Steve tries to keep her powers under wraps but finds it hard to control a woman with a cause.

Kudos to Gal Gadot, the wonder woman Israeli actress who did a stunning job with a physically difficult role as the warrior woman.  It does make me wonder if she did all her own stunts or another wonder lady took her place. I cannot think of anyone better suited to play the role as she is both fierce and soulful. The other women of the island are all buff, young, and gorgeous in their outfits, with skills that make my aging body look pathetic.

Of course, the story is a struggle of good versus evil, and the prime purpose is the destruction of Ares by Wonder Woman. Along the way to her final mission, she manages a rather brutal encounter with the German army on the battlefield. The sad realities of the war are reiterated, which we should never forget. Though it was supposedly the war to end all wars, it did finally end after 8,528,831 military deaths worldwide (including a few of my distant cousins), not counting the casualties of civilians. If we had superheroes in the world such as Diana, perhaps these staggering statistics could be avoided. The reality, of course, is that we do not. Our imaginations continue to create these saviors of mankind to satisfy our need for salvation from ourselves.

The movie overall was good. Since I’m not a comic book superhero junkie by any means, my only complaints about these types of tales (even Superman with handsome Henry Cavill in his tights), is that the final battle between good and evil drags on and on and on. They throw everything in the book at each other, as well as throwing each other around like rag dolls that result in no cuts or bruises.

So how does Wonder Woman finally win the battle against the evil Ares? Well, realizing who she is in the scheme of the universe and choosing love over hate. Thankfully, we still make movies where superheroes win over evil. If we start writing stories where evil wins over good, we’re a doomed society.

In closing, I can say, that I felt a bit puffed up as a female at the end. Kudos to our gender! We can be pretty badass without blaming it on PMS.

Mildred Pierce (HBO Series 2011)

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Streaming on Amazon Prime is another remake of Mildred Pierce starring Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, and Evan Rachel Wood, among others.  I vaguely remember the 1945 version with Joan Crawford, but watching this version was an entirely new experience and a depressing one, to say the least.

What is it about mothers and daughters?  Just like fathers and sons, the mother and daughter dynamic can be a bitch.  Mildred Pierce is based on a novel about a woman in the depression era 1930s, whose husband has an affair. She kicks him out of the house and is left alone with two daughters to raise and no money. She’s a great cook, fantastic baker, and after taking a job as a waitress, finally opens her own restaurant and it’s a hit.

However, this story is not so much about her great chicken, waffles, and scrumptious pies, it’s about her daughter Veda.  Her daughter has a snobbish screw loose in her head and is embarrassed by her mother at every turn.  She dreams of becoming a concert pianist but doesn’t have the natural talent to succeed.  When she grows up into a young woman, she discovers she has a voice and can sing like an angel. Unfortunately, the girl is a demon, to say the least.  Veda is a spoiled, manipulative, mother-hating machine, causing destruction in her mother’s life.  Well played by Evan Rachel Wood, you’ll want to strangle her yourself by the end of the series.

Kate Winslet, of course, is great.  Does Kate ever do anything terrible? I’ve yet to see her in a role that didn’t touch my heart one way or the other.  Guy Pearce (no relation to the fictional Mildred Pierce) is her on and off lover who has an agenda of his own.  Mildred is slightly blind when it comes to being used by others, which is her flaw.  You might get a little bored with too many restaurant scenes, pie baking, piano playing, and singing.  I think they could have cut out a good hour of filler, but I’m not the director/producer.  Be prepared for a few sex scenes and naked bodies, which probably take too long as well. Mildred slaps Veda across the face and gives her a good spanking in her younger years, both of which I endured at the hand of my mother and survived.

The movie is a bummer if you’ve had a bad relationship with your mother growing up or a child that you could not control and hated. Nevertheless, it is a good story if you like the dramatic emotional type with a complex mother/daughter relationship.  Of course, Mildred isn’t so much the mommy dearest in this tale as Veda is the monster and rotten child.

In the end, Mildred can finally say, “to hell with her.”  It just takes her five episodes to get there.

Criminal Justice (BBC Season 2)

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Streaming on Acorn TV is a former series entitled Criminal Justice.  I tuned into Season 2, which ran five consecutive nights in October of 2009. It’s a series where the audience travels through an individual’s life from the beginning of the crime to final decision of the justice system.   It’s an interesting story that focuses on the victim, the individual who committed the crime, the results of that crime upon family members and acquaintances, the police investigation, the defense solicitor and barrister, and, of course, the individual on trial.

Season 2 focuses on a woman by the name of Juliet Miller (played by Maxine Peake), the wife of a successful barrister Joe Miller (played by Matthew Macfadyen).  In the opening scenes Juliet is the focus as a nervous and depressed individual sitting in a car who eventually returns home to take a shower.  Joe, on the other hand, has been trying to reach her by telephone multiple times but she ignores his calls.

Joe later comes home, obviously suspicious over his wife’s behavior.  She is sullen, nervous, forgetful, and avoids him. After dinner with their teenage daughter in the household, everyone retires to bed. Joe wants to initiate sex but Juliet pulls away. She leaves the bed to retrieve something (which I cannot tell you since it’s a spoiler) and then stops in the kitchen. Her thoughts turn toward the knives on the kitchen counter. She chooses three, lines them up, and picks the large six-inch wide blade and carries it back to bed.

After hiding the weapon under the pillow, Joe re-initiates the sexual encounter. Their daughter hears groaning noises from their bedroom and goes to investigate. As she peeks around the corner, her father is on her mother groaning but then rolls off with a knife sticking out of his belly.  Hence the crime has been committed, and the underlying causes of the tragedy take five episodes to unfold one by one until the final verdict.

It’s an interesting, albeit extremely slow unfolding story. If you like action, this is not the series for you. You witness prejudices and preconceived ideas among the police. Joe ends up in intensive care, while the investigation begins. Along comes the solicitor, with her own agenda to get her client off by immediately painting Joe as an evil abusive husband. She nurses a vindictive goal, while one police investigator wants to see justice served regardless of the circumstances since Juliet did stab him in the gut. Everyone has their opinion – everyone is emotionally affected by the case.

To discover the ins and outs of this emotional series and the outcome, you’ll have to watch it yourself. If I say anything further, I’ll be writing SPOILER all over this post. Frankly, be prepared to watch many minutes of silent brooding from the actors and painful reflection. You could probably chalk up an entire hour of merely watching the characters say nothing except crying and staring off into the distance. It will be a bore or you will be sucked into the emotional aspect of this story as the writers have obviously intended. Their goal is to drag you through the emotions of their characters.

Maxine Peake’s heart-wrenching performance deserved accolades, but you are quite torn between giving her sympathy or wishing that the United Kingdom still used hanging for punishment.  It was shocking to see she did not win an award but instead, Matthew MacFadyen won supporting actor at the British Academy Television Awards 2009.  His screen time is minimal, to say the least.

As far as Season 1 of Criminal Justice, I’ve yet to watch those episodes.  Frankly, I need to wind down after this slow and painful journey of Juliet Miller before I take on another British crime show.


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