Mrs. Mystery

Rebecca

by George Wolf

Let’s give credit where it’s due. Remaking a Hitchcock classic takes some stones. Beyond putting aside the inevitable comparisons, you’ve got to find a way to follow your own vision while honoring the elements that make the film worth revisiting.

A look at Ben Wheatley’s resume (Kill List, A Field in England, Sightseers, High Rise, Free Fire) suggests the promise of edge and/or sly wit. But Wheatley’s update of Hitch’s 1940 gothic potboiler Rebecca can never quite fulfill that promise.

Things start well enough. Armie Hammer cuts a detached and dashing figure as wealthy heir Maxim de Winter. Surrounded by luxury on a Monte Carlo holiday in the late 1930s, he still struggles to recover from the sudden death of his wife, Rebecca.

Max’s mood improves when he meets a young ladies’ maid (Lily James), who must sneak away from her employer Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd) each time Max sends handwritten invitations for increasingly intimate meetups.

The whirlwind courtship leads to an impulsive marriage, with Max taking the new Mrs. de Winter back to Manderlay, his family’s sprawling estate on the windswept English coast.

The new bride’s welcome, led by Manderlay’s imposing head servant Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott-Thomas, icy perfection), is less than warm.

The memory of Rebecca permeates the house and haunts the new wife. But even as she struggles to compete with the ghost of a seemingly perfect woman, the second Mrs. de Winter is drawn into a growing mystery of what really happened to the first.

James is a natural at delivering the innocence and naïveté of the never-named proletarian suddenly thrust into aristocracy. Likewise, Hammer’s chisled handsomeness and graceful manner make Max’s required mix of societal etiquette and subtle condescension instantly identifiable.

But their character arcs – like much of Rebecca‘s stylish narrative – begin to crumble with each new breadcrumb. Wheatley, going bigger than ever with a veteran writing trio’s new adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s celebrated novel, checks off the revelations in a workmanlike succession that’s almost completely devoid of the suspense and sexual anxiety that propel the original film.

So when the seismic power shift strikes the de Winter’s marriage, it lands as a turn less earned and more like a matter of melodramatic convenience.

It’s all perfectly grand and respectable, but never memorable. And by the time Wheatley’s final shot suggests a haphazard attempt to re-frame all of it, this Rebecca, like the young Mrs. de Winter, has a tough time measuring up.

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The Party

by Matt Weiner

Sally Potter’s jet-black comedy The Party mostly succeeds as social satire examining the savagery churning just below the surface of the polite and prosperous. Where it definitely succeeds, in ways that must seem truly unfair to every single other actor alive today, is crowning Patricia Clarkson as a national treasure.

Not that the rest of the tight ensemble is full of slouches. Clarkson plays April, one of five guests attending a party for Janet (the almost equally superb Kristin Scott Thomas), who is celebrating a political promotion.

Janet’s guests fall into broadly recognizable personalities who are practically begging to have their worlds turned inside out: from the New Age life coach Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) to the supercilious professor Martha (Cherry Jones, also—and you might be sensing a theme here—outstanding).

Timothy Spall plays Bill, Janet’s husband and a literal odd man out: he is nearly catatonic when the guests arrive. When he finally reveals why, it sets off a series of violent delights, both verbal and physical.

The cast might actually be too good for the material (written by Potter). That’s an envious problem for a movie to have, but it’s still a real one. The repartee is shocking and funny in turn. Just about every single line delivery from Clarkson, Scott Thomas and Spall is perfectly measured—so much so that the barbs feel like they’re cutting a lot deeper than they really are.

And Emily Mortimer provides a welcome degree of grounding as Jinny, Martha’s partner and the only party guest who seems recognizably human rather than an outsized target ripe for mockery.

But for all the wicked pleasures to be had from watching this masterclass in verbal sparring, there’s a nagging superficiality to it all. The rapid-fire pace distracts from the reality that nobody besides maybe Jinny ends up discovering some deeper personal meaning about themselves other than rank hypocrisy. And a gimmicky twist at the end doesn’t help.

And yet. It’s easy to forgive The Party’s shortcomings after you’ve heard Clarkson tell someone “You are surpassing yourself” or “You could consider murder” in tones so deadpan that we really ought to invent a new adjective.

It’s a strange, perfectly flawed bunch Potter has thrown together. And I could have stayed with them for hours more.

 

 





For Your Queue: Sketchy Parenting with Varying Results

 

Usually we take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a great new release, then pair that with an older film with similarities. But today is so stocked with great new releases, we’ve chosen to just recommend a couple of those. (Check out our Halloween Countdown for another new release recommendation: The Conjuring.) Aside from a theme of sketchy parenting, these two films could not have less in common. Still, both are well worth your time.

The Way, Way Back was one of the summer’s most enjoyable flicks – a nostalgic but smart look at the painful and awkward transitions of adolescence. Sam Rockwell owns the film as Bill Murray-esque mentor to self-conscious teen Duncan (a very believable Liam James), a boy stuck on a summer vacation with his mom (Toni Collette) and her tool boyfriend (Steve Carell, playing marvelously against type). Fresh, funny and surprisingly honest, it’s that rare coming of age tale that hits on all cylinders.

Only God Forgives, on the other hand, is Nicolas Winding Refn’s dreamlike trip through hell itself. Set in Bangkok, the tale that unspools is a slow-moving nightmare in red, a visual spectacle of family dysfunction and vengeance of the most vulgar and unseemly sort. Ryan Gosling smolders, Kristin Scott Thomas stuns, and Visaya Pansringarm sings karaoke, but they all have a lot of blood on their hands. You may not enjoy it, but you will be amazed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcl2hnhze3E





Nightmare in Red

Only God Forgives

by Hope Madden

Welcome to Hell.

Writer/director/Dane Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to the magnificent Drive drops viewers in a Bangkok straight out of Dante’s imagination for a revenge thriller like few others. It’s Only God Forgives, and love it or hate it, you will be amazed.

Julian (Ryan Gosling) finds himself obliged to avenge his brother’s murder. Problem is, his brother was a very nasty man. But Julian’s mom wants vengeance, and Julian’s mom (Kristin Scott Thomas, as you have never seen her) is much, much worse.

It’s a slight premise. What’s more, the characters are profoundly one-dimensional, the dialogue is borderline nonexistent, and what verbiage there is will hardly stick with you. Plus, Winding Refn’s pacing makes the slow boil of Drive look like a madcap romp – all of which feeds into the trancelike quality that makes the film so unusual.

Only God Forgives is a nightmare in red. The tale unspools as if you are inside a dream, saturated in colors and patterns and flowing into ever darker and more awful areas of Julian’s mind.

The filmmaker channels Lynch and Kubrick, but crafts something undeniably his own. Few directors are so bold with color, and he’s an absolute madman with score. For this, his ninth film, he strips away the more traditional elements of storytelling to rely on the image to affect us. Given the vulgar themes and percussive violence, it may not be an image you want, but it is never less than mesmerizing to look at – every shot a brutally gorgeous image.

Gosling’s strong, silent smolder is on high in this one, but it’s the always formidable Kristin Scott Thomas and her unsavory cruelty who steals the picture. It’s unlike anything she’s done in the past, perhaps because it’s unlike any other part out there. And a bad mom will fuck you up, I’ll tell you what.

These are bad people, all of them, with nasty business to attend to.  Awash in righteous indignation, defilement and spoiled masculinity, the film is little more than a dream sequence of death. The battle is not good versus evil, though, because Officer Chang’s (Vithaya Pansringarm) tidy, tight-lipped sadism shows no moral justification.

Only God Forgives is not a film for the squeamish, the impatient, or the sleepy – as the deep and hearty snores from the seats behind me attest. Too bad, because they missed one wallop of a movie.

Verdict-3-5-Stars