The Girl on the Train (2016): Gone Girl…Not (Review)

Emily Blunt as Rachel

Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson based on the book of the same name by English author Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is a splendid mix of layers hidden amongst a myriad of smoke and mirrors. The film has been compared to the 2014 film Gone Girl, but there really is nothing to bring the two together. 

There is a missing woman, which is the big theme in the Gillian Flynn novel and movie. But where the characters in Flynn’s opus are all self centered and obsessed with their own character arcs, Hawkins’ people are all illusion, pain and hidden misery.

No one is as they appear initially. Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the “girl on the train,” who seems to be calm and retrospective. She fantasizes about the young woman she sees from the moving vehicle. On her journey to and from New York, she sees Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) as the “perfect couple.” 

As the film progresses we learn that the couple she “spies” on live right near where she and her ex-husband lived. Justin Theroux plays Tom, Rachel’s ex, and he has a new life with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their child Evie. 

The Girl on the Train is a long film that manages to seem much shorter than its nearly two hour running time.  We are lead down a path that twists and turns with each new revelation. Things are seen mainly from Rachel’s point of view but we are also let in on Megan’s state of mind.

Each character in the film has a secret, some hidden on purpose and others via misdirection and at least one character has the truth skewed by someone else. The end of the film, as well as the murder midway through, is surprising.

This drama/mystery/thriller is a perfect whodunit with a trail of confusing  clues that slowly but surely lead us to the killer.  It is only with the final reveal that we learn the truth and on top of it being somewhat heartbreaking for at least two of the characters  it is also shocking.

Not having read the source book by Hawkins it is unclear just how closely Tate and Wilson followed the original storyline. In the end, however, it does not really matter as the film is put together perfectly. We stick with the story, as it unfolds in fits and starts, and we get caught up in each character’s tale.

Blunt may have the best backstory and she manages, with the aid of some brilliant makeup and spot on acting, to utterly convince as the alcoholic with memory problems. She unflinchingly allows the camera to linger on her blotchy complexion and those slightly unfocused eyes. It is a real tour de force performance.

Bennett is sexy, sultry, remote and dissatisfied. It is all too easy to see where her fixation with sex comes from and her need to live in the moment.

Ferguson comes across as the trophy wife who is, like Bennett’s character, a little distant.  She has issues with Blunt’s character and emotes a certain naivety that is both sad and surprising.

Lisa Kudrow makes the most of a crucial cameo as Tom’s old boss and Allison Janney almost steals the show as Detective Riley. 

The Girl on the Train has also been called a “woman’s film” and indeed this story features a microscopic look at the three women featured in the movie. However, the film works on many more levels than just a “chick flick” and as a mystery/thriller hits every single note without one miss.

By the end of the film we care and feel for each major female character. It says a lot about the quality of the script, the acting and the direction that we can empathize with everyone but the one real villain of the piece.

The Girl on the Train is a full 5 star film.  Once one begins watching it, there is no question that it must be finished. The urge to learn the truth amidst all the false clues and misremembered events overwhelms all. Watch this film now and get caught up in the story and its characters.

SNL: Emily Blunt and Bruno Mars – So-So (Review)

Saturday Night Live - Season 42

SNL toasted guest host Brit actress Emily Blunt by plugging her upcoming  Mary Poppins sequel (2018) and The Girl on the Train (2016). Bruno Mars wowed both Ms. Blunt and the audience with each of his performances. In keeping with the musical artists doing cameo’s, poor Mars was included in the least funny skit of the evening.

Overall, with the previous two episodes featuring  guest hosts Margot Robbie and Lin-Manuel Miranda kicking off season 42 with a double bang, Emily Blunt’s segment was only so-so.

There were some standout moments, including Emily corpsing at her own line, “oopsy doopsy, I muffed it again.” (And Kate McKinnon almost breaking in the Honda Robotic’s gag as Blunt’s robot asks if she wants a “cheesy mini quesadilla” pronounced in the  Queen’s English as Kes-ah-dilla. Repeatedly.)

In terms of clever, there was the “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” hamster skit. Despite the fact that the two arguing were not named George and Martha, it was disappointing not to hear “monkey nipples.”

The PBS coverage of the “Great British Bake Off” was also quite clever with the two northern “Coronation Street” type contestants (Blunt and Strong) who thought that they were on “Big Brother.” While some of the other accents were a tad dodgy, the jokes were funny.

Moynihan’s “shaking in me wellies” was spot on as was the “getting pissed down the pub.”  McKinnon’s one weak point, it seems, is her “English” accent as proven in this sketch.

It was also a sly dig at British contestant type shows where the grand prizes for winning pale in comparison to the overblown ones offered on American shows. “There’s no prize money!”

The skit with high-class escorts, where Blunt and Jones double-teamed two middle-aged virgins was funny if a bit unevenly paced. (Somewhat like the episode.) Jones doing Stewie from Family Guy, badly, was topnotch as was her  giant “Stewie” onesie.

Emily cracking up at her own line and slipping the lampshade over her face was the best part of the entire sketch though.

Two of the three pre-recorded segments were definite hits. The faux commercial for “unique” women’s body sizes by the company Chonk, was hysterically funny.

The second pre-recorded sketch was the Melania Trump music video with all the women in the presidential candidate’s life. It was funny, relevant and Emily Blunt was part of the cadre of Trump women who secretly hate the man.

Brilliant.

The Burger King stretch limo was the least amusing of the night with most of the impressions dying a death with the audience.  The payoff was Bruno Mars popping up in the last window and both the BK employees ditching their jobs to join the party on wheels.

The cold open with Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon doing the presidential debate, part two, was brilliant. These two do not have many Saturday nights left before the country makes up its mind on who will be the next president. It will be interesting to see what they come up with after the election.

The Weekend Update with Colin Jost and Michael Che was mainly about Donald Trump. Clearly this segment is getting its shots in while they are still relevant. McKinnon did a Russian turn to good effect but it was Vanessa Bayer’s Laura Parsons segment that stole all the Weekend Update thunder.

Bayer’s naughty newsgirl spontaneously auditioning for the new Mary Poppins and her usual glee at being incorrect were show stoppers. Out of all the characters that are paraded across the Update stage, this is one is top notch.

Emily Blunt did very well on her first stint as guest host on SNL.  The singing open, the first plug for Mary Poppins,  was entertaining. However the rest of the show was just so-so. It was as if the episode had been a carry over from last season’s hit and miss presentations.

The best line from the show, apart from Blunt’s Michael Crawford-ish line from the escort skit, was the “As you can tell from my accent, I’m smarter than you.”

One can only hope that Emily is invited back and offered a better set of skits to perform in

Sicario: Taut, Tense and Tortured (Review)

Thrumming, strident and evocative of the “train” sound emitted by the surrounding native contingent in the 1964 film Zulu, or a rhythmic overbalanced bass emanating from a woofer one step from shaking itself to death, Sicario begins with a soundtrack guaranteed to elevate the viewer’s adrenaline levels.

Emily Blunt as Kate Macer

Thrumming, strident and evocative of the “train” sound emitted by the surrounding native contingent  in the 1964 film Zuluor a rhythmic overbalanced bass emanating from a woofer one step from shaking itself to death, Sicario begins with a soundtrack guaranteed to elevate the viewer’s adrenaline levels.  This foreboding score begins the film as two definitions of the title appear onscreen. One; being a zealot (a killer who hunted down invaders of their homeland), the other;  meaning hitman. The Denis Villeneuve film is, fittingly enough, about both.

The film’s score, by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Foxcatcher, Prisoners) sets the tone and the pace of the feature from frame one. It manages to dictate the action, the feelings of impending doom and confusion (felt by the movie’s protagonist FBI agent Kate Macer, played brilliantly by Brit actress Emily Blunt) as well as the feeling that everything is one half-step away from stampeding out of control.

Sicario stars Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.  Playing Macer’s professional partner Reggie Wayne is another Brit actor Daniel Kaluuya. Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Fargo) and Victor Garber (The Flash, Power) have impressive cameos in this film about drug cartels and the struggle to control them. The Walking Dead actorJon Bernthal has tiny cameo as a crooked cop.

The film, written by Taylor Sheridan (His first project as author versus actor.)  begins with a raid on a house in the suburban setting of Chandler, Arizona.  Macer is a kidnap specialist who, with her partner and a team of agents, invades a tract house. Entering, by the device of ramming a vehicle through a wall, the team discover a multitude of dead bodies secreted in the sheetrock walls.

Other agents are going through a storage shed behind the house when they discover it has been rigged to explode. Macer, Wayne and their boss David Jennings (Garber) are injured by the blast and flying debris. After the raid and the discovery of all those bodies, Macer is recruited by “DoD advisor Matt Graver (Brolin) and his shadowy colleague Alejandro (Del Toro). Wayne is not wanted, but tags along anyway to keep an eye on his partner.

Macer is talked into volunteering for a dangerous and vague mission to get the men responsible for the explosion in Chandler and the house of dead bodies.  Sicario follows her descent into the madness of a CIA operation and a father and husband bent on revenge.

The film is harsh, unrelenting and visceral in its depiction of cartel activity and the task force’s foray into “enemy territory.”  The viewer feels as helplessly caught up in events as the two FBI agents Kate and Reggie. The audience share her feelings of being overwhelmed, frustrated and enraged by the events and Reggie’s concern.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) delivers on a level that feels almost guttural in its texture and his use of Jóhannsson to blend and escalate his story is pure genius.  Between the soundtrack and the events unfolding on screen the tension is almost palpable as is the threat.  The tone of the movie is one of a tautness  that nearly screams with a tortured cry of  rage  and confusion from its beleaguered heroine.

Emily Blunt has proven yet again, that a slender and fragile looking English rose can convince as a tough as nails FBI warrior woman who gives as good as she gets.  (Blunt showed off considerable talents in the arena of being a tough customer in both Loopers; “I will cut you the F**k in half” and Edge of Tomorrow; “Bloody hell, it’s the Full Metal Bitch!” and Sicario brings her “action” skills full circle as the American FBI agent in over her head.)

Josh Brolin plays the type of character he specializes in; a real-feeling protagonist who is sitting square in the middle of the fence. A man who is not afraid to create chaos if the end result is order.

Benicio Del Toro is brilliant as the taciturn and scary agent  of Graver’s (Brolin) chaos.  A disturbing mixture of thinly covered pathos tinged with a  deadly air that permeates every scene he is in.  His interactions with Blunt’s character are full of regret and sadness, she reminds him, he says,  of his daughter, which speaks volumes of the FBI agent’s naivety in this new world of cartels and the death they deliver.

Sicario is a powerhouse film that does not have a satisfactory or even clear cut ending. Ambiguity and a sense of confusion are present even after the end credits roll.  The final result is that we the audience have stepped fully into the shoes of Macer and identify with her completely.

This is a full 5 out of 5 stars film.  Tight to the point of screaming;  the plot, the performances and the action all follow that thrumming driving score.  Watch this film and prepare to be wound up like a Swiss precision watch.  Cracking entertainment that should not be missed.

 

Into the Woods: Disney Does Broadway Beautifully (Review and Trailer)

Into the Woods: Disney Does Broadway Beautifully (Review and Trailer)

Having never seen any stage version of this Stephen Sondheim musical it is much easier to take this big screen adaptation of Into the Woods at face value and while Disney does do Broadway beautifully, the film, for all its hype and fan excitement, does not overwhelm or overly impress. Certainly the movie looks gorgeous, the costumes, the set designs, the actors, with the exclusion of James Corden as the baker are all equally beautiful.

‘Annie’ Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz Odd Choices in Remake (Review/Trailer)

‘Annie’ Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz Odd Choices in Remake (Review/Trailer)

The original Annie came out in 1982 and starred Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks and comic legend Carol Burnett as Mrs. Hannigan, this remake has made a couple of odd choices in their replacements where Jamie Foxx is in the Warbucks role, as Will Stacks and Cameron Diaz is in the Burnett role. Granted, Finney was also an odd choice back in the original film but he did, at least, look like the comic book character. To be fair, the real star of this re imagining of an old favorite, is the young actress playing the lead role, Quvenzhané Wallis, who is stepping into the tap shoes of Aileen Quinn. This 11 year old possessor of a huge amount of talent, fills the shoes of the original Annie with relative ease and it is her performance which impresses the most.