My Cousin Rachel: Wannabe Hitchcock

* ½ (out of 4)

If you haven’t actually seen Roger Michell’s My Cousin Rachel, you could easily be tricked into believing that it faithfully carries forth the Hitchcockian tradition of suspense. The story, after all, is based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, the English author of the books that inspired Hitchcock’s Rebecca and The Birds. Rachel’s various trailers take pains to amplify the “mysterious” nature of the plot – which, for reference, follows a man named Philip (Sam Claflin) as he gets to know a woman (named Rachel, played by Rachel Weisz) who may or may not be responsible for the death of his guardian. Even Michell himself has openly stated that he made Rachel with the intention of creating “the sensation of horror hovering at the edge of the frame.”

With such high expectations buffeting Rachel before you enter the theater, you’re bound to come out at least somewhat dissatisfied. Yet even if you watch Rachel with no knowledge of its background, the movie completely underwhelms. Continue reading

A Ghost Story: Love in the Time of Death

**** (out of 4)

Anyone who’s been through childhood knows how it goes. In the middle of the night, somewhere in your house or apartment, something abruptly creaks or thumps. You turn the lights on, maybe check locks if you’re paranoid – but nothing turns up, no matter how hard you look. By the time you’re an adult, these moments usually mean little, and they’re easily forgotten. But if you really did have a childhood, you at some point probably came up with some kind of theory to explain all those noises away, whether that entailed bogeymen, mice, ghosts, or a combination of all three.

In A Ghost Story, writer-director David Lowery supplies his own explanation for the source of such noises: they’re movements of those spirits who cannot bear to abandon this world. Continue reading

Obit: The Nostalgia of Death

*** (out of 4)

When it comes to selecting a career, the post of obituary writer probably isn’t anywhere even close to the top of your list. It lacks the prestige and name recognition of a job as a critic or columnist…and given what the position entails, you wouldn’t think it exactly invigorating. Yet as anyone who even glances at the back page of The Economist soon realizes, good obit writers easily defy the stereotypically morbid limits of their genre – to the point that they’re often more fun to read than anything else in whatever publication they’re working for. In many ways, a well-written tribute to a dead person can be the exact opposite of what you’d expect: an unabashed celebration of life.

In its best moments, Obit, a Page One-esque documentary about the obit writers at The New York Times, succeeds in translating the surprising vibrancy of the obit-writing world to the screen. Continue reading