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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: My Cousin Rachel

“Baywatch” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

Ah, youth. The impulsivity, the impetuousness, the…well…hard-headed, hormone-driven, emotion-based stupidity. No, it’s not just Millennials who act like brash know it alls. As “My Cousin Rachel,” adapted from the novel by Daphne Du Maurier to the big screen for the second time (first time being 1952, in a movie of the same name starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland) shows, this behavior has been going on for centuries.

“My Cousin Rachel” takes place in England in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Twenty-four year old Philip Ashley (Sam Claflin) is absolutely incensed at his cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz). He believes that she married and then murdered his other cousin Ambrose (brief and uncredited performance by Deano Bugatti), who took care of him since he was a child. The motive for the murder is uncertain. All he knows is that his cousin fell ill, went from England to Italy to recuperate, met Rachel, married her, then wound up dead. His only proof that Rachel has anything to do with it are some frantically written, paranoid-sounding letters that he received from Ambrose shortly before his demise.



Tossing logic, reason, and deduction (Ambrose had a brain tumor that may account for his behavior) out the window, Philip blindly accepts his cousin Ambrose’s word and believes—based on pure emotion—that Rachel is a killer. That is, until she comes to visit him at his estate in England and he sees her. Very quickly the emotion he feels turns from rage to lust. Having not been around many women, he doesn’t know how to direct what he’s feeling and becomes consumed by his passion. So much so that he makes some very poorly thought out, rash decisions that will make anyone with an ounce of maturity want to grab his lapels and shake some sense in to him. It’s a small miracle that his godfather Kendall (Iain Glen) shows such amazing restraint.

This is not to say that Rachel is completely innocent and has no part to play in the events that transpire. She’s an older, more worldly woman who knows she is dealing with a far less experienced young man and uses the disparity to her advantage. There are scenes in which Rachel—as we say in modern parlance—“shit tests” Philip to see what she can get away with. Once she discovers that he is wrapped around her little finger, she pushes things further. This woman knows exactly what she is doing and how to do it. Perhaps she did the same thing with Ambrose. If an older man fell so easily into her charms, what chance does a younger man have?

This question is central to the mystery of “My Cousin Rachel.” Much like in a classic Hitchcock movie such as “Suspicion,” (side note: his movies “Rebecca” and “The Birds” are also based off of Du Maurier works), there is a substantial amount of tension around Rachel’s actions. Is she a murderer? Also, what are her intentions toward Philip? Writer/director Roger Michell deserves praise for finding just the right middle ground to keep us guessing. We see the story through the eyes of Philip. As information comes to him, it is revealed to us as well. The problem is that not all is as it seems, but then again, that’s also the fun. Rent it.

Also New This Week

Baywatch

“Baywatch” is an action-comedy that gets the job half done. As much as I enjoyed the action, the comedy fell flat on its face. Since this movie is billed as more comedy than action movie, that poses a huge problem.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. Seth Gordon is a very good director. One of his earliest features is the excellent video game documentary, “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” which is I highly recommend. His credits also include the hilarious first “Horrible Bosses” movie, which I still think is one of the sharpest, funniest comedies ever made. But that movie had a funny script. “Baywatch” does not.

What “Baywatch” does have are some well-executed action set pieces. Gordon’s chosen angles and camera movement show that he has a good eye for how to properly stage and film an action scene. Particularly impressive is the single take, unbroken shot in which brazen, hot shot life guard Matt Brody (Zac Efron) rides a motorcycle on a pier, weaves in and out around people and objects, makes it to the edge of the pier, then dives into the water on his way to a rescue. It’s every bit as riveting as anything cooked up by John McTiernan (“Die Hard”) or Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”). I couldn’t help but admire the skill and proficiency in Gordon’s camera work.


Too bad it’s wasted on such a shamble of a script. As great as the action scenes are, the comedy scenes, which comprise most of the movie, are the exact opposite. Tired gags, such as the one where young recruit Ronnie (Jon Bass) gets his “junk” caught in a beach chair, and cheap humor, like when CJ (Kelly Rohrbach) catches Ronnie naked in the life guard shower, are old hat and more cringey than funny. I won’t even get into the scene in the morgue, which goes from cringe to just plain wrong. Matt has a line that essentially makes fun of the old “Baywatch” television show from the 1990s, on which this movie is based, about how they’re life guards but they solve crimes like cops. The movie then goes on to do the same thing it makes fun of the old show for doing, as if making fun of it is an excuse to do it. No, it’s just a cop out. The only genuine laughs involve a running gag in which head life guard Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) won’t call Matt by his real first name until he earns it. Some of his rips, including calling him “High School Musical” are pretty clever and perfectly delivered by Johnson. That’s the only compliment I can give comedy-wise.

As cheap and unfunny as the comedy is, and as exhilarating as the action scenes are, the plot that they’re hung on is a dud. It’s standard fare about drug smuggling, as the crew investigate the local queen of crime Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), who has some kind of plan to flood the bay with drugs to bring down property values and buy everything up. It’s the one consistent story thread we get in “Baywatch” as the movie loses focus every few scenes and forgets to follow the basic screenwriting tenet of having a main character. Is it Mitch—the leader who has to solve the drug smuggling crime? Is it Matt—the egotistical and now disgraced ex-Olympic athlete with something to prove? Or is it Ronnie—a nerdy guy who gains self-confidence by doing his best and achieving his goals? Any one of them would have made a good protagonist. All the writers had to do was pick one. But there are six writers for this movie credited for story and screenplay, which goes to prove the old adage that too many chefs spoil the soup. The script for “Baywatch” is about as rancid as a soup can get. Skip it.

Batman and Harley Quinn

One could be forgiven when watching the first ten minutes or so of “Batman and Harley Quinn” if you think it’s going to be another dark animated tale, along the same lines as “The Killing Joke.” After all, during a robbery at a biotech lab by criminal fiends Poison Ivy (voice of Paget Brewster) and Floronic Man (voice of Kevin Michael Richardson), the guards get beaten up pretty brutally, and there is even a quick shot of blood spatter.

I’m inclined to think that the movie was supposed to have this darker tone, then somewhere in development they decided to make it more hokey and camp. It’s essentially the animated version of the 1960s “Batman” television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Except where that show is charming and fun, this movie tries too hard at darker adult humor and fails. Even the “Pow” and “Zap” from the old TV show get a more cynical upgrade to things like “Bleed” and “Ow! My Balls!”

Not that it’s all adult-oriented. There’s a scene in which Harley Quinn (voice of Melissa Rauch) suffers some gastro-intestinal distress while sitting in the back seat of the Batmobile, and it grosses out Nightwing (voice of Loren Lester) and Batman (voice of Kevin Conroy). It’s the kind of bathroom joke an eleven year old would write in his “Batman” fan fiction. That’s exactly how “Batman and Harley Quinn” plays out—like a piece of fan fiction written for adults by an eleven year old boy. If that sounds good to you, then by all means watch this thinly-plotted waste of time. But for most, even the most hardcore Batman fans, do yourself a favor and Skip it.

More New Releases: “Bring It On: Worldwide # Cheersmack,” airheaded antics go global in this latest entry to the cheerleading comedy franchise; “The Nth Ward,” about an engineer with the US Army Corps who encounters voodoo and deceit while investigating the damage done by a hurricane; and “Inconceivable,” a tale of lies, obsession, and manipulation starring Gina Gershon, Faye Dunaway, Nicolas Cage, and Nicky Whelan.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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