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Monday, 26 October 2020 12:49

‘Rebecca’ offers stylish gothic thrills

It takes a lot of chutzpah to remake Alfred Hitchcock.

There are a handful of acknowledged masters in the cinematic realm that pretty much everyone can agree on, filmmakers who are universally acclaimed as the very best at what they do … and Hitchcock is on that list. No one has demonstrated such mastery of the psychological thriller. Even now, nearly 50 years after his last film, he’s the maestro.

His 1940 “Rebecca” – based on Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name – was his first American project, a film that landed 11 Academy Award nominations and won two, including Hitchcock’s only Best Picture win.

So to tackle a movie that remakes not just any Hitchcock, but one of his best, well … like I said. Chutzpah.

Yet here we are, with Netflix producing a remake of the classic, directed by Ben Wheatley from a screenplay adaptation by Jane Goldman, Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. And it’s a pretty solid effort, with a talented cast and a suitably sumptuous aesthetic. The biggest strike against it – and it is a big one – is that it was preceded by a legitimate masterpiece.

The story of a young woman who marries into a situation far more complex and shadowy than she ever could have imagined, “Rebecca” is a gothic thriller set against the lush English countryside in the heady days preceding World War II. It is a tale of the darkness within – and the fact that even those closest to us may be keeping secrets.

Published in Movies

Recounting real-life stories in movies is complicated business. The filmmakers must decide where to strike the balance between historical veracity and dramatic license – and the line moves. Finding the proper offset between telling the truth and telling a story is tough when that tipping point is in different places. The best docudramas are the ones that toe the line without crossing it, finding the correct distribution of truth and fiction for a particular film.

Making a movie such as “Hotel Mumbai,” a retelling of the real-life 2008 Mumbai attacks focusing on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, demands that delicacy of touch. Not only was this a huge tragedy, but a brutal and violent one; it’s an event that demands sensitivity in its presentation, yet also requires a certain bluntness to be truthful. Director Anthony Maras – who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Collee – had to step carefully.

And for the most part, he did so.

This is an undeniably tense and unexpectedly graphic account of what happened in those hours. While there are moments that skate up to the edge of exploitation, Maras manages to avoid crossing those lines. The visceral brutality of the film is, by most accounts, true to life. And the starkness of the violence allows the moments of selflessness and heroism to stand out the more.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 16 January 2019 13:50

OG RBG – ‘On the Basis of Sex’

Biopics are harder than you think. Telling the story of a real person – a person that your audience likely has some foreknowledge of and feelings about – requires a delicate touch, finding the balance between veracity and narrative. You want it to be true, but you also need it to be engaging.

And when you’re dealing with a person who’s currently living, it’s a good deal tougher still.

That’s where we are with “On the Basis of Sex,” the new biopic telling the story of the early days of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she crusaded for the cause of gender equality in classrooms and courtrooms – the same Ruth Bader Ginsburg currently sitting on our country’s Supreme Court. It’s the story of one brilliant woman’s efforts to be taken seriously in a world ruled by men who doubt not just her, but everyone with whom she shares a gender.

It’s a story with its compelling moments, to be sure, with a young RBG unapologetically striving to do what is right against seemingly insurmountable odds. And the cast is really talented from the top down. But it never really rises. It’s a nice enough movie, well-acted with a fascinating subject, but it isn’t much more than that – the kind of pretty good film that you expected to be a bit better.

Published in Movies

It’s rare for movies to really surprise us anymore. Oh, there are the plot twists and turns that will sometimes catch us off guard. We anticipate a bad movie and get a good one or vice versa, that’s unexpected. But for a movie to legitimately SURPRISE us, to be something far more than we ever could have prepared for, well … that’s an uncommon treat.

“Sorry to Bother You” – written and directed by hip-hop activist Boots Riley – wasn’t really on my radar before a few weeks ago. What little I initially gleaned was that it was a sort of workplace comedy with something to say about race and class. But then the murmurs started. People whose opinions I trusted – critics and friends alike – were talking about this film. Talking about it in hushed and reverent tones while still keeping everything very close to the vest. My interest piqued, I went to see it for myself.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 12 October 2016 11:57

Rising up - 'The Birth of a Nation'

Film brings the story of Nat Turner to the screen

I'm always leery of referring to any movie as 'important.' While there's no doubt that many significant events and issues have been addressed in the cinematic medium, there's something presumptuous and vaguely smug about throwing around that label.

Published in Movies
Thursday, 11 July 2013 10:01

The Lone Ranger' a woeful misfire

Big-budget adaptation a cynical mess

The summer season is a time of cinematic spectacle. Nine-figure budgets and global stars are brought together in an attempt to build and/or maintain billion-dollar franchises. Sometimes, these plans go as intended and you get a real blockbuster. Other times, a variety of factors go awry cost overruns, reshoots, misreading of audiences and you get films that fall flat. These are movies that, while not necessarily utter disasters, nevertheless fail to deliver on expectations.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 14:46

Mirror Mirror' worth a look

New film offers a reboot of Snow White

In this age of remakes and reboots, it should come as no surprise that Hollywood eventually got down to really raiding the Grimm's Fairy Tales cupboard. It appears that Snow White is the first of those childhood favorites to get a heavy-duty 21st century makeover with the release of 'Mirror Mirror' as well as the imminent summer release of 'Snow White and the Huntsman.'

Be glad this one came first.

'Mirror Mirror' stars Lily Collins ('Abduction') as Snow White. Her father the king was killed by the fabled 'beast' of the forest, leaving her wicked stepmother (Julia Roberts, 'Larry Crowne') as Queen. The Queen keeps Snow White locked away in the castle so that she can mercilessly tax her subjects and fritter away the kingdom's money.

Meanwhile, Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer, 'J. Edgar') is wandering through the forest, months into a search for adventure. He is beset by a band of bandits bandits who ultimately prove to be the seven dwarves we all know and love. The Prince is robbed and left helpless in the woods, to be discovered and freed by Snow White, who has sneaked out of the castle in order to see for herself the state of the kingdom.

Published in Movies

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