“Rebecca” 2020 Review!

I went into the 2020 adaptation of Daphne de Maurier’s classic crime thriller Rebecca prepared to at least try and like it. This was partly because I’ve watched Alfred Hitchcock’s famous adaptation, and…well, I have to admit I see why Hitchcock himself later attempted to distance himself from the film, feeling it wasn’t one of his best works. It’s actually quite good right up until the third act, where I feel it just becomes rather boring. So when I started hearing that this new Netflix adaptation makes some big changes to the ending of the story, I was curious and cautiously optimistic.

Rebecca
Lily James and Armie Hammer | cnn.com

Little did I know that the ending to 2020’s Rebecca isn’t just the worst part of the film, but also manages to make a mockery out of Daphne de Maurier’s story. So, without getting into spoilers, my advice to all of you is that, if you are also mistakenly led to believe that this film has some exciting new twist at the ending, don’t fall for it. Back out now. Save yourself two hours of your time and escape from Rebecca while you still can – because I assure you that as much as the characters in the movie might be trying desperately to convince you that it’s all terribly exciting to be caught up in her web of intrigue and betrayal, it’s really not.

The biggest problem with this new version of the classic story, which follows a nameless female protagonist (played by Lily James, usually a pure delight no matter how bland the role) as she tries to outmaneuver the phantoms of her mysterious husband’s ex-wife’s phantom, is that it simply can’t pick a single, consistent tone. Clearly it thinks it’s every bit as intellectual and engaging as its source material, a suspenseful novelette written in 1938, but at the same time it really just wants to be a modern, pulpy, “don’t-think-too-hard-about-this” kind of retelling, and the clash between those two wildly different ideas (both of which would probably be perfectly valid, separately) leads to a discombobulated hybrid that never feels able to stay on track for very long. I personally think it would be absolutely fine to go a little pulpier, a little campier even, and just transfer the whole story into a modern day setting and go from there, as long as de Maurier’s message was preserved (another thing 2020’s Rebecca failed to do). At least it would be a choice. But I feel like someone behind the scenes must have decided that they couldn’t possibly do that because it would rob the film of any “credibility” or “respectability” – two things which the screenwriters have tried to forcibly inject into the film’s dull, unsubtle script…to no avail, because at every turn they undermine their own best efforts with a string of anachronistic and jarring casting choices, mannerisms, styling decisions, story beats, and even song choices (modern indie music, in case you were wondering), none of which seem to have been designed with Academy Awards voters in mind.

Rebecca
Lily James and Armie Hammer | thefilmstage.com

And because the film can’t figure out its target audience, everyone loses. Sometimes it looks like it’s trying to aim for a demographic who love sensual, sensational, addictive page-turners, and it’s at these points where it unfortunately feels like it should be most comfortable – I say “unfortunately” not because this demographic is inferior to any other (in fact, Rebecca, at the time of its publication, was widely considered as pulp fiction for the masses), but because Rebecca simply can’t give this demographic what they want without alienating everyone who loves the original story because of what it has to say about romance, relationships and gender roles – things that are, for the most part, utterly foreign to the romance genre. Rebecca (the novel, that is) isn’t a typical romance, and that’s the problem. De Maurier herself called it “a study in jealousy”. But when the screenwriters of 2020’s Rebecca were faced with the task of adapting it, they chose to adapt it as one would a typical romance…and so their creation, a ghastly chimaera if ever I saw one, dies on impact. None of the storytelling choices made in the novel even feel suitable for the kind of story that this creative team are telling.

A good example of this is the namelessness of our protagonist: as in past iterations of the story, our heroine goes through the entire story, start to finish, without a name, only going by the title “the second Mrs. de Winter”, as a cruel, cynical reference to how she is unable to carve out any semblance of identity when compared to her predecessor, the incomparable Rebecca – but this version rarely if ever feels engaging enough on a psychological level to warrant keeping this bold decision by de Maurier (who was drawing on her own unhappy relationship with her husband and his ex-wife for inspiration). Then again, it rarely feels engaging, period.

This isn’t just because the script is badly-written: unfortunately, a large part of the blame falls on Lily James and especially Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter (a character intended to be very charismatic and mysterious), neither of whom can muster much passion, fear, excitement or…well, any emotion, really. Not once in two hours does Armie Hammer manage to look even remotely interested in the supposedly very compelling and personal story unraveling at high speed all around him: mostly all he does is stand around and widen his eyes periodically to demonstrate anger or overwhelming emotion. Also, he sleepwalks…once, for some reason, because that’s a thing that apparently needed to happen.

That strange scene is only one in a series of back-to-back instances in which Lily James is repeatedly hammered (no pun intended) over the head with increasingly loud and unsubtle references to Rebecca. When she’s not being berated and physically attacked by Maxim’s elderly mother, who starts clawing at her after finding out that her dear daughter in law Rebecca is dead, she’s instead being passed handkerchiefs, hair brushes and various small household articles all monogrammed with Rebecca’s enormous initial. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but when it occurs in every scene for most of the second act, it’s hard to become hooked on the element of suspense. Jane Goldman’s script isn’t designed to cleverly lure you along on any sort of harrowing journey: it’s just a series of one character after another doing everything but breaking down the fourth wall to remind us about Rebecca. Hitchock’s script, in comparison, takes its time, spreading out these more obvious scenes and punctuating them with quieter, subtler moments that feel significant without needing to literally spell out why they’re significant. There’s even a (very random) scene with an entire swarm of birds that come dangerously close to forming the shape of a giant R in the sky.

Rebecca
Kristen Scott Thomas and Lily James | bostonhassle.com

The film’s greatest crime is what it does to Mrs. Danvers (Kristen Scott Thomas), an iconic character in literary and cinematic history. Thomas would probably be a good Mrs. Danvers in another writer and director’s hands, but her story – particularly its conclusion – are bungled this time around; a sad downgrade from Judith Anderson’s spellbinding performance in Hitchcock’s film. One gets the sense that Thomas wanted desperately to go full camp and lean far more heavily on the novel and original film’s famous queer subtext (the delicate finger caress that she and James exchange when Thomas hands her a fallen glove is the most sexually charged scene in a movie that mistakenly assumes Armie Hammer is its most attractive cast member), but was prevented from doing so by a script that seems suspiciously hell-bent on trying to strip away said subtext…and of course, insists on making Thomas act all dour and serious. When a movie made in 2020 and apparently trying to be progressive feels more uptight and conservative than a film made in 1940 under the surveillance of the Hayes Code, you’re doing something wrong. Maxim himself, also suggested by some book readers to be queer-coded and played by Laurence Olivier in the Hitchcock film, is straight through and through: not a big deal, but another instance where the writers could have done something interesting and chose not to.

Several other side characters receive the same treatment, and nobody apart from Thomas makes any lasting impression: not even Ann Dowd, who makes the least of what should have been her glorified cameo in the film – no thanks to the script, which has taken the funny, flirtatious character of Edythe Van Hopper and turned her into a grotesque, leering abuser who seems personally invested in trying to make her lady’s companion miserable: whether that’s by gaslighting her while the girl cries, locked inside her bedroom, or by amusing her equally wicked friends with stories of her awkward antics.

Rebecca
The superior version of Rebecca | telegraph.co.uk

Is there anything that redeems this Rebecca? I suppose the locations are very beautiful (though Manderley isn’t quite as lavish as one would want), and the costumes are all appropriately fashionable by modern standards. I have a bit of a hard time believing that our protagonist, who is meant to be shy and reserved, would be running around in big, baggy trousers in the late 1930’s, at a time when such a thing would still be considered eyebrow-raising if no longer totally scandalous, but it is what it is. It’s just more proof that director Ben Wheatley and Jane Goldman should not have been making a period piece, when it’s clear that wasn’t what they wanted to do.

Despite all this, I still hope that someone will someday make a better retelling of Rebecca, one that perhaps actually attempts to achieve something worthwhile and gay, and which maybe manages to finally capture throughout the haunting beauty promised by the novel’s famous opening, in which our heroine, ever the restless dreamer, revisits the ruined Manderley in her sleep…because this version’s attempts at tonal consistency are likely to haunt my nightmares.

Rating: 2/10

Rick Riordan Developing “Percy Jackson” For Disney+!

It’s been a long wait, but the hopes and dreams of Percy Jackson fans worldwide (and there are a lot of them, as shown by the way they’ve taken over Twitter) have finally been realized – bestselling author Rick Riordan and his wife announced today that they have convinced Disney to adapt Riordan’s Percy Jackson And The Olympians series: a series many regard to be every bit as iconic and formative as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books, and that, with a dedicated and faithful approach to the source material, could have just as much success onscreen as both those franchises.

Percy Jackson
bookstacked.com

But whereas both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have only had one, definitive adaptation, Percy Jackson is different in that it was adapted once before – and fans of the books, including Riordan himself, were almost unanimous in declaring that the two films derived from the first two books in the series were badly-written, badly-cast, and just….well, bad. After the two films’ poor reception, the planned franchise (then owned by 20th Century Fox) quickly dried up, and any hope of a proper reboot seemed lost. Until this year, when Rick Riordan started casually dropping hints on his social media accounts that implied he had been meeting with Disney executives to discuss the possibility of a reboot – and now, at last, it’s finally here. It’s happening. And it might just be good.

The new adaptation will be a series, planned to debut on Disney+, the studio’s streaming platform. Riordan announced several details about the series: it will be a multi-season commitment, with each season covering one whole book in his original, five-part series (though there will likely be room for spinoffs, perhaps even ones adapting Riordan’s other series’ set in the same universe as Percy Jackson, such as Heroes Of Olympus and The Kane Chronicles, if this series does well). The first season, for instance, will consist of the entirety of the series’ first book, Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief. For those of you not in the know, allow me to give you a quick rundown of the story (and let me assure you, I am not some poser copy-and-pasting summaries of the books from Wikipedia pages: I was and still am a big fan of Riordan’s work, and I own copies of all of his books, all the way through to The Trials Of Apollo. In fact, I’m so much of a fan that it drove me mad that I had to use images from others of Riordan’s books to fill out this post: unfortunately, there’s not enough images solely of art from Lightning Thief).

Percy Jackson
pinterest.com

The Lightning Thief sets up the saga of Percy Jackson, a twelve-year old boy when the story opens (very important point, we’ll get back to that), who quickly discovers that he is the secret son of Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the ocean – which makes Percy both a demigod and a “half-blood”, a term applied to all characters in the series with one mortal and one immortal parent. Percy is swept off to Camp Half-Blood, where he encounters a host of other characters with similar backgrounds – but, for the first few books at least, Percy is the only demigod whose parent is one of the “Big Three”: that is, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades (not to be confused with the Hades who will soon show up in Disney’s live-action remake of Hercules). His supporting cast includes Annabeth Chase, a strategical, ingenious daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom; Grover Underwood, a satyr entrusted with protecting Percy’s life from various mythological monsters (one of the best things about Riordan’s work is that he uses some truly obscure characters from the myths, rather than just exploiting the big names like Medusa, The Minotaur and The Hydra – in fact, those three monsters, despite being the most popular, are probably among those used the least overall in the series); and Luke Castellan, a son of Hermes and one of the senior members of Camp Half-Blood’s management alongside the immortal centaur Chiron and the expelled Olympian Dionysus, who goes by “Mr. D” while on earth. This core cast of characters is expanded as times goes on, and, of course, they are joined from time to time by a number of Greek gods: all of the pantheon, from Zeus to Hestia, show up in some form or another, and some play integral roles in the plot. These gods are on the brink of open war when the story begins, and Percy Jackson gets drawn into the middle of their conflict as a pawn, while trying to locate a dangerous artifact stolen from Zeus’ possession.

Percy Jackson
wallpapercave.com

Obviously, any adaptation of a work is going to make changes – that’s why it’s called an adaptation, and not a word-for-word translation. But most agree that the Percy Jackson series needs a more faithful adaptation than whatever it was we got in the film duology: in the films, Percy and his friends are all angsty teenagers rather than kids, and their humor is more coarse and adult than the witty style that Riordan wrote into his books; the films use overexposed and frankly boring monsters in place of some of Riordan’s more creative choices – one particularly awful instance is when The Hydra is employed as a substitute for Echidna and The Chimera, two far more compelling monsters; the gods are depicted as stereotypical Greek warriors of gargantuan stature, when in the books one of the defining features of the gods is how human they are – Poseidon wears tacky Hawaiian shirts and enjoys fishing, while Ares is a hyper-aggressive macho biker and Zeus is a permanently dour middle-aged man in a pinstripe suit; and the story is unnecessarily convoluted by the introduction of a new quest to find magical pearls that, in the books, is summed up in a single scene.

Needless to say, fans demand and expect better from Disney – what we (I feel comfortable saying we, because I do regard myself as a hardcore fan) expect is a series that highlights the best aspects of the books and reminds us just how much they meant to us, growing up. Percy Jackson made me into a Greek mythology buff, and I have retained all (or at least most) of the knowledge I obtained when, after reading the books, I would immediately set about researching every single mythological character referenced in the books, from Kronos (Lord of the Titans, imprisoned in Tartarus after brutally murdering his own father and then subsequently being brutally murdered by his own son, temporarily defeated by a hairbrush) to Kampê (demonic, scimitar-wielding entity ordered by Zeus to keep watch over the hundred-handed Hecatonkheires on Alcatraz Island). Thankfully, Rick Riordan assured us all that he will be supervising the development of the series, and will be on-set regularly to make sure everything is going smoothly, and his artistic vision is being respected.

Percy Jackson
hypable.com

I am also certain that Riordan, who has recently established himself as a progressive voice in young adult (YA) literature, will also insist that Disney includes far more diversity than he himself wrote into his first series of books. For example, several characters from his first series are confirmed, in more recent books, to be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum – but I think Riordan will at least try to have those often emotional coming out scenes happen sooner, rather than later. Similarly, I expect there to be several more female characters in the first season of the series than just Annabeth, Percy Jackson’s mom, the camp bully Clarisse, and a scattering of monsters and nymphs. I will also be interested to see if Grover, one of the few characters racebent for the film adaptation, will go back to being a white character in the reboot, or if Riordan will choose to keep that one element from those otherwise easily forgettable adaptations (though, if they do choose to make Grover black in the Disney+ series, I hope his portrayal will be more sympathetic this time, and less borderline overtly racist caricature).

As a side-note, I also just want to point out that I have several fancasts already brewing in my head, and I may feel the need to share some of them with you in another post somewhere down the line. So be on the lookout for that.

What do you think about this idea? How do you feel about Rick Riordan’s close involvement with the series’ production? What do you expect to see from a Percy Jackson show? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Little Women” Non-Spoiler Review!

A century and a half has passed since Louisa May Alcott first set pen to paper and sat down to write the semi-autobiographical story of four sisters’ journeys towards adulthood, but the tale of the “little women” is still just as relevant and iconic nowadays as it was back in 1868. And visionary director Greta Gerwig has lovingly (and masterfully) crafted an adaptation of Alcott’s classic that is not only faithful to the original book, but more in line with both modern sensibilities and Alcott’s own feminist philosophy than any previous iteration.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 1
latimes.com

Gerwig has, first and foremost, chosen to tell the story in a non-linear fashion: while this decision may confuse the unwary (which is why I’m warning you in advance), it is a conscious choice that enables Gerwig to have what are essentially two stories simultaneously playing out onscreen, linked through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and what some may view as a bit of fourth-wall breaking – one story being the first half of the novel Little Women, covering the March sisters’ adolescence and happy, hazy childhood, awash in golden lighting; the other being the novel’s latter half, the grimmer, bleaker post-Civil War era, in which the March sisters have all grown up and gone their separate ways, and heroine Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is beginning to more closely resemble Alcott herself. But while this might at first appear to be a narrative trick to keep the story compelling, it becomes clear in the film’s final minutes that there’s a shockingly exciting reason for the non-linear structure, one that will make Gerwig’s Little Women a topic for debate for many years to come. Keep your eyes peeled, for Gerwig drops plenty of clues and hints as to what’s coming in the finale, but you still might be caught off-guard if you’re not looking – or you might even miss it altogether.

Little Women is beloved because of its cast of extremely relatable and interesting characters, many of whom are best known to movie-lovers through the 1994 adaptation of the novel that starred Winona Ryder as the rebellious, free-spirited heroine, and a young Christian Bale as her love interest, charming, carefree Laurie. But Gerwig’s Jo and Laurie are slightly more modernized than the prim and proper couple of that film: Laurie, here excellently portrayed by rising star Timothée Chalamet, is a gentle, easygoing, and somewhat gender-neutral character who feels like the perfect soulmate to Saoirse Ronan’s socially awkward but passionate Jo – neither is entirely comfortable within the constraints laid upon them by their gender, but neither can do anything but fight the system in small ways – whether that means marrying for love or trying to establish their own place in the world. To reinforce the essentially gender-fluid relationship between the stars, Gerwig even had Ronan and Chalamet swap articles of clothing onset in order to break down the boundaries between them.

Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of Jo March: it’s sort of a mandatory thing, I think, for most writers. We love her not just because of how sympathetic her daily struggles are, but because of how she chooses to use the written word as a weapon in her fight – hers is a pen far mightier than any sword.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 2
screendaily.com

But Gerwig also allows the other March siblings to have their chance to shine: romantic, idealistic Meg (Emma Watson) is finally given a leg to stand on in her ongoing struggle with her character’s critics and detractors, who have always claimed she’s the least feminist of the sisters, and the most outdated in this modern age. Petty, vainglorious Amy (Florence Pugh) is actually respectable in Gerwig’s film – yes, she’s still a brat, but she’s also forced to grow up too quickly and bear a heavy burden upon her shoulders; she’s the only one of the March sisters who has a chance of marrying well, and for women in Alcott’s era, marriage was a woman’s only respectable method of achieving success. Amy’s speech to Laurie in which she details all the ways in which marriage is nothing but “an economic proposition” is one of the film’s most powerful scenes. Then there’s poor Beth (Eliza Scanlen), who is crucial to the story’s plot but still never quite rises above being the shy, pious outlier in the group without very much to say or do.

On the sidelines, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep have small but excellent performances as Marmee and Aunt March, respectively. Streep, especially, is a delightful addition to the cast with her biting wit, passive aggressive humor, and dainty mannerisms. Louis Garrel has the thankless job of portraying Professor Friedrich Bhaer, one of the most purposefully disappointing characters in Alcott’s novel, but he plays the role as well as he possibly can.

"Little Women" Non-Spoiler Review! 3
cinemablend.com

Little Women is also an exceptionally beautiful film, with a myriad of dreamy, pastel-colored scenes that look almost like they leaped straight from the painter’s canvas onto the big screen (a special shout-out goes to cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, who apparently had the camera follow the Marches like a “fifth sister”, dancing and twirling with them on their youthful frolics and adventures, giving the audience a chance to feel even more connected to the close-knit cast). The production and costume design are superb: every detail of the March family’s dark, cozy homestead and every accouterment of high-society Parisian fashion is lovingly crafted.

Greta Gerwig deserves the Oscar for Best Director, and the fact that just this morning it was revealed that she is one of a multitude of talented women not on the Academy Awards shortlist for that honor is a travesty. What she has designed, directed and delivered is a love-letter to both Alcott’s novel and to Alcott herself, who was forced to play a part all her life and sacrifice her artistic freedom. A century and a half later, Gerwig has finally done justice to this author’s work in a way that seemed almost unimaginable to me, going into the theater. Little Women is an instant classic, despite how hard Hollywood will try to ignore or downplay this incredible work of art.

Movie Rating: 9/10