Review – The Girl on the Train

Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) and based on Paula Hawkins’ popular novel of the same name, The Girl on the Train is a lurid whodunit where our protagonist isn’t merely an unreliable narrator, there’s a strong change she’s the killer everyone is trying to uncover. Said narrator is Rachel (Emily Blunt), a thoroughly drunk woman whose life has become a sad routine of heading into New York City every morning, sipping on a thermos of booze and staring at the neighborhood she once resided in with her now ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux). As Rachel’s life flops on, Tom remains in the pair’s old home, where he lives with new wifey Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their young child; a little one the former were never able to produce together.

The flame of yesteryear isn’t the only thing Rachel’s obsesses over, as their’s also Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), a seemingly idealic twosome whom Rachel projects all of life’s missed blisses. That is until Rachel witnesses Megan in the arms of another amidst one ride, leading to her own private investigation of this new figure, a decision that comes with screaming, a figure in a dark tunnel and our lead waking up with caked blood all over her clothes and body.

The Girl on the Train is the kind of film that would definitely have featured Michael Douglas were it released in the early 90s. Slightly pulpy, erotic and erratic, Taylor’s take on this kind of story is slightly conservative. The violent acts are started in frame but the impact, especially the most severe moments, aren’t shown. The various sexual trists begin and aren’t lingered on for long. This isn’t Paul Verhoeven, but rather a work attempting for an austere take on the genre. The end result is an alright movie that gets a lot of juice from a terrific Emily Blunt performance. Her Rachel is an unflinching life that’s gone off the rails. She stumbles here, lies to strangers there and is always, always on the verge of tears. Blunt keeps Rachel a vivid character; a troubling pseudo-sleuth in it for herself more than the person that has gone missing.

The movie’s main struggles take up the periphery. Taking a note from the book’s layout, we occasionally cut to the other leading ladies of this tale. We get a little time with Anna, displaying her anxiousness about Rachel still hanging about the edges of her and Tom’s life. We also get glimpses of Megan, where her melancholy over a life of mistakes and insecurities regularly bubble up. However, these ventures into the times and turmoils of Anna and Megan don’t walk the line well. There is too little room given to their existences to make them compelling, yet too much shown to justify the minutes spent on them, as each visit grows increasingly expository. This weighs down The Girl on the Train, as those making up this fictional playground aren’t intriguing enough to make up for the lack of trashiness.

Yet, when the conclusion comes and everyone’s motives are revealed, there is a bit of a punch. Even with flashbacks being a tad too prominent, the viscera finally flows and there is an outstanding use of a corkscrew that may lead to quite a few squeals. The whole is not great. It’s not a must-see. It is good enough.

A Few Words on Blair Witch

Blair Witch, the unexpected sequel to 1999’s love-it or hate-it horror phenomenon is as unnecessary, occasionally enjoyable and largely mediocre as 99% of horror follow-ups. That it was made in secret by pair of, so-far, quite talented fellas (Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett of You’re Next and The Guest) is more an interesting note than a sign of quality.

The woods of Burkitsville, Maryland once again have twenty-something wannabe documentarians enter its unending sprawl. This time, however, the legend still hangs in the air. Where in The Blair Witch Project the locals of a middle of nowhere town talked about the mysterious happenings of the surrounding wilderness as if it was a story from the area’s founding fathers, here the peculiar disappearance of those from the original movie uncomfortably lingers. The – far – younger brother of Heather, she of the runny nose who led the trio of Project, still ponders if big-sis is out there. He is James (James Allen McCune), and he’s recently come across some new footage that appears to be filmed in the same don’t-go-in-that-fucking-house where Heather was last seen howling in terror. Thus, James, three buddies and the pair that found this new tape go back into the depths of Burkitsville to find the truth.

The truth is entirely what you’d expect. Noises in the night. Walking in circles. Those awesome wooden stick-figures. There is new stuff too. Wingard and Barrett double-down on weirdness, coming up with an inventive manner for our protagonists to struggles in their never-ending attempt to find where the damn car is parked. Yet, what’s there remains familiar to the point of tedious. Sure there’s fresh tech, allowing a larger variety of camera angles. A drone too. That drone goes up, looks at lots of trees, and then goes down, before being a part of one of the all-time dumb character decisions I can recall.

Like the parade of Halloween movies, Paranormal Activity pics or the like, Blair Witch 2016 is thoroughly alright. As something to watch on AMC in four years while carving pumpkins, it will do. Beyond that, this is a letdown that will be remembered by few, if any.

Review – Jason Bourne

Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne in…um…Jason Bourne. Does more need to be said? Alright, if we must. Damon’s character is nearly a decade removed from taking down those that transformed a young man looking to better his country into a ruthless killing machine. Knowing the level of trouble he has already caused, Bourne lives on the fringes of society where cameras are rare and meals are bought with the bucks earned from a street fight. This existence takes a turn when a friend/colleague/love-interest from the past reveals that, yet again, there are still secrets about Bourne and the program that molded him.

If this sounds familiar, that would be an accurate insight. Even with director Paul Greengrass at the helm once more, having crafted The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, plus an intriguing cast of Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander and Vincent Cassell, this latest installment is too familiar. There is a pattern to this series, especially since Greengrass took over the directing chair. There’s the scene of officials in Washington D.C. asking for live camera footage from around the world, Bourne walking between the masses controlling the chaos in quiet, an unwitting fool caught between these two forces and an eventual car chase. Jason Bourne rolls through that scenario once more, then does it again about twenty minutes later. Then twenty minutes later at a slightly different angle. Then again.

These pieces work, somewhat, in a vacuum. An opening piece of anarchy in an unstable Greece has some visual pop, with the camera swirling amidst and above burning alleys and the men who fight for their opinions in them, all while Bourne stalks the scene like a phantom. As part of a larger narrative, that includes three previous movies with the same character, it’s a bit of old hat. Lines of dialogue feel lifted from past scripts, with the names of the specific shady government agency or figurehead substituted for whatever new adjective-plus-noun. The cast is a bit of the ol’ walking dead, spouting off lines with the kind of monotone that calls to mind kids forced to read a paragraph aloud in history class. Vikander, an actress with talent for days, is stearn and dull, eyes popped for blank stares and an accent from nowhere U.S.A. Only Tommy Lee Jones appears to be having a glimmer of fun here, screwing around with Bourne with near glee.

There are crumbs to admire in Jason Bourne, from the scale of it’s action staging to the attempt to bring in a modern sense of personal data paranoia. However, it takes more than Bourne popping out of another train to deck a dude or saying Snowden seven times to round out a movie.

Review – Ghostbusters

Erin is on the verge of getting tenure at a top-notch university. A respected scientific mind, Erin (Kristen Wiig) does happen to have one skeleton in her closet, and it’s one whose moldy bones are freshly rattling once more. Years earlier, Erin wrote a lengthy book on the existence and study of the paranormal with her former best friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy). This thoroughly detailed work suddenly pops back onto the internet and sends Erin into a paranoid spiral, leading her to reconnect with Abby, who just so happens to be the one pushing the book’s existence of late. Also, a plethora of ghosts are, you know, showing their spooky faces all over New York City. So that’s something.

A remake of the beloved Ivan Reitman 80s comedy, this edition of Ghostbusters comes from Paul Feig and it sures feels like It. Feig, one of the creators of “Freaks and Geeks,” has risen to cinematic prominence this decade with a trio of hilarious hits; Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy. While the inventive vulgarity or swearing of those pics has been cut back with Ghostbusters, the tone is very much the same. This movie is wall-to-wall jokes, the characters have a fluid banter and people always, always underestimate ours leads. This is the Feig formula and its works smashingly here, as this new Ghostbusters is thoroughly packed with laughs.

A great deal of this comes from that Feig formula. Writing alongside Katie Dippold after The Heat, the pair concoct the right scenarios for improv, setting the character traits down first so the gags have a root in something. We get the moments of Erin being uncomfortable about getting back into the other-worldly, her history with it, how Abby fits into that, as well as the utter glee over meeting something wicked face-to-face. The bond between the two and the bringing into that family of the inventive, eccentric Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and skeptical, take-no-crap Patty (Leslie Jones) can give the warm and fuzzies alongside the chuckles. The chuckles though; they are ample. McKinnon gets to go wild with a cartoonish mad-scientist, giddily tinkering with her toys, even if half of them could level the city. For Jones, there are plenty of highlights, with the best being an interaction with a dumby come-to-life on her first mission.

Then there are the numerous asides and ridiculous bits, including a poltician who does not take kindly to being compared to the mayor from Jaws and Chris Hemsworth playing the most delightful of dimwits. I mean truly, a dumb, dumb man. The only person I can think of as dumber is the one who’d go onto the internet and relentlessly trash a film they haven’t seen because it has women. That person is the dumbest of them all.

Review – The Secret Life of Pets

As a person who posted a photo of one of my cats watching the Beethoven movies on July 4th, and as a movie nerd, it’s fair to say a film like The Secret Life of Pets is aimed at me. After a quick introduction of the lead pooch Max (Louis C.K.), we get into the meat of what the film advertises to be; your beloved animals doing goofy stuff around the house while you work. A bird pretends to be a jet darting between canyons. A poodle rocks out to System of a Down. A cat acts like an asshole.

Then the plot starts and we are reminded that the animation studio Illumination is great at small gags and lackluster at the whole storytelling gig. After the rather excellent Despicable Me, these folks have given us that movie’s so-so sequel and occasionally funny, more often mundane spin-off Minions. As in those films, The Secret Life of Pets lives in a weird world of ” It’s just for kids” laziness and oddly violent, cruel behavior. The latter is a staple of cartoons, with Bugs Bunny regularly causing multiple people to shoot one another with a rifle, or in frequent circumstances, shoot themselves with that same weapon. This is a long way of saying the actions of Pets aren’t troublesome because of their inclusion but tone. The juxtaposition and pace of cute scenes, sad ones and threats of murder are so quick and peculiar Baz Luhrmann would scratch his head.

Worse though, is how boring it feels. The plot is a basic retelling of Toy Story, where the popular kid, in that case Woody and here Max, is separated by his pals while feuding with the newbie, a giant fluffy behemoth named Duke (Eric Stonesteet) standing in for Buzz Lightyear. Lost in The Big Apple, our pair must rely on the kindess of strangers while also attempting to survive the cruelty and craziness of the other strangers. Said cruelty is led by a vengeful bunny (Kevin Hart), out to kill all humans with the world’s other abandoned pets at his side. This all comes across as a superfluous story that is necessary for the gags to bounce off, yet takes up so much of the running time that it manages to detract from the whole.

The only good that arrives after the inital cuteness, which is truly just the trailer in action, is the rise of Gidget, a ball of white cotton-candy with legs that just so happens to love Max. Dainty in movement and naive in the ways of the city beyond her windows, Gidget grows in the expected ways but at least seems to be having fun while doing as such. Her interrogation of one stray cat, whom to a kitten are presented as society’s pricks, gets the one big laugh in the back-half of the picture.

And I know what many of you are thinking. It’s for the childrens! The little ones! Hey Moms. Dads. You worked hard for that cash. Don’t waste it. Just show the moppets the trailer for 90 minutes if they get grumpy. Trust me, it’s cheaper and better.

Reviews – The Nice Guys, Neighbors 2, High Rise

This weekend brings two terrific R-rated comedies, of very different moods. The first is The Nice Guys (review here), a Shane Black pic featuring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as two talented, also occasionally idiotic, snoops trying to find a missing girl. Lots of dead bodies and swearing ensues in delightfully dark ways. The second film is Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (review here), where Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron return to duke it out, but instead of drunk dudes next door, a fresh bunch of ladies have moved into the place. Themes of feminism and the shocking confusion of age-gaps are held amidst a creepy clown (are there any other kind), confusion over the nature of boiling water and the world’s best/eeriest Holocaust joke.

Also, in faaaaar more limited release aka you can also get it on VOD, is Ben Wheatley’s unnerving High Rise aka Snowpiercer in a Tall Building. There’s distinctly more to it than that in this terrific movie (review here).