The Girl On The Train

Emily Blunt is good. Her title role in The Girl On The Train as a sad, damaged soul is the kind that often nets awards nominations. She manages the role well, avoiding the temptation to overact.

But it is the storytellers—novelist Paula Hawkins, screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and director Tate Taylor—who make TGOTT a compelling, suspenseful mystery. The unfolding of the film’s set-up is accomplished smoothly, revealing characters and situations in a manner that grabs one’s attention and doesn’t let go.

When Rachel (Blunt) mentions her vivid imagination in an opening voiceover, it’s a clue that what is seen through her eyes may not be accurate. Factor in the alcoholism that rules her life and she becomes an unreliable source for certain plot elements. She does, however, have voyeuristic tendencies, so she is highly observant.

Two other key female characters, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and Megan (Haley Bennett), are women that Rachel has watched from her seat the train that takes commuters into Manhattan from the suburbs. Anna is married to Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). Megan is Anna’s neighbor who helps care for Anna and Tom’s baby.

Rachel often sees Megan embracing her husband on the upstairs deck of their home located not far from the tracks. She also sees her ex and his new wife—the woman he had an affair with while married to Rachel.

One day she notices Megan is on the deck with a different man. Soon after, Megan disappears. Rachel’s recollections may be of help to the lead police investigator (Allison Janney) determine what happened but the time in question is a blackout period due to her excessive drinking.

Among the talented cast are two favorite former sitcom stars. Martha (Lisa Kudrow of Friends fame) is a woman from Rachel and Tom’s past. Cathy (Laura Prepon of That 70s Show) gives Rachel a place to stay when her drinking problem is at its worst.

You may be able to solve this movie’s puzzle before the big reveal, but a lingering question remains unanswered after the end titles: is Emily Blunt’s performance awardworthy? Director Tate Taylor’s 2011 film The Help resulted in three acting Oscar nominations and a win for Octavia Spencer.

Blunt is a solid pro. Depending on what comes down the cinematic track during the next few weeks, that girl on that train may not be on the inside looking out come awards season.

 

 

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Into The Woods

 

Into The Woods is a pure delight. The performances are fun and funny. And what a cast!

Wonderful Stephen Sondheim songs bring together characters from favorite fairy tales. (The script is by James Lapine.) The songs have clever lyrics that you can understand. The songs have those Sondheim melodies that don’t always go where you expect them to go.

Into The Woods is directed by Rob Marshall who hit it out of the park with his Oscar-nominated direction of Chicago in 2002. (His 2009 film version of the musical Nine was more like a bloop single.)

The story begins with The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who want a baby. The witch (Meryl Streep) says she will lift her curse on the baker’s family if the couple accomplish three specific tasks. They must go into the woods to get things done.

The large cast of characters also includes Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), The Wolf (Johnny Depp), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Stepmother (Christine Baranski), The Prince (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Jack’s mother (Tracy Ullman), The Giant (Francis La Tour), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and more.

The story that weaves all these characters together is ingenious. Though these are children’s stories, the movie is made for adults. Disney toned down some of the more grownup content from the stage version of Into The Woods to make the film more family friendly. Yes, you can take your kids—it’s rated PG—but younger children are likely to become fatigued.

The film’s strongest performances come from Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and (surprise) Chris Pine. On the down side, the movie seems longer than it is. Run time is 2 hours, 4 minutes. Resolving multiple story lines takes a while. The pace of the film, just perfect at the start, seems to bog down a bit in the end.

But there are joys aplenty in Into The Woods. If you like musicals, you need to experience and enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edge of Tomorrow

You don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy the new Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow. And while the story features a man living the same day over and over, this film is very different from Groundhog Day.

Edge of Tomorrow, which opens on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, centers on a military invasion on a beach in France. The enemy this time (in the not too distant future) is a group of alien creatures who have invaded earth. They’re called “Mimics.” (They look like giant metallic spiders.)

William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an Army major who finds himself thrown into a combat unit stationed in London at Heathrow. The next day he hits the beach to attack the aliens. He’s fitted with cool automatic weapons strapped onto each arm. He is killed. And, so, we hit the reset button.

He goes back to the day before and his arrival at Heathrow. He keeps living the battle over and over again, gaining greater success with each replay, but ultimately dying each time.

With help from Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a buff special forces soldier who has enjoyed some success against the Mimics, Cage gains insight and physical skill. She introduces him to Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), a mad scientist type, who concludes that to stop the alien menace the “Omega” must be defeated.

Turns out that the Omega is at the Louvre in Paris. And underwater to boot! The journey to Paris is a long and arduous one for Cage and Rita, but, after numerous delays and side trips, they get there for the climactic battle.

Edge of Tomorrow is a fun, futuristic sci-fi action adventure. This is my favorite non-Mission Impossible Cruise movie since 2002’s Minority Report. Like many films of this genre, there are some WTF moments, but the Live, Die, Repeat structure works better on film than it sounds on paper. Gamers who’ve had characters die, only to instantly regenerate, will appreciate the way this film works.

Surprisingly, while there’s smoldering sexual tension between Cage and Rita, they never get beyond a single passionate kiss. One might’ve imagined their waking up together at film’s end, but the film’s end goes another way.

Tom Cruise is a genuine movie star and he carries Edge of Tomorrow with his talent and his teeth. Well done, Tom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises is a beautiful Japanese anime by the master, director Hayao Miyazaki. Mixing historical reality with imaginative fantasy, Miyazaki delivers another gorgeous animated film. Miyazaki has said that this will be his last film.

My experience is with the original version which has Japanese voices and English subtitles. This original version is set to play at the Tivoli. The dubbed version (playing elsewhere in St. Louis) features the voices of actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci and Mandy Patinkin, among others.

Miyazaki’s films have a mixture of reality and fantasy. His most famous film Spirited Away is mainly fantasy. The Wind Rises is rooted in reality with a smaller amount of fantasy.

This story of real life Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Gordon-Levitt) begins when he is a student in the early days of the 20th century. He is obsessed with aviation. After completing his studies, he works in the industry in Japan and goes on to design the Mitsubishi Zero, the plane that his country used against America in World War II.

Jiro’s life story features the devastation of an earthquake, a trip to Germany to study their techniques and various personal relationships. But always, his focus is on designing airplanes. Many of the film’s fantasy segments involve his muse, Italian designer Caproni, voiced by Tucci.

For true anime fans and fans of Japanese culture, The Wind Rises is a “must see.” If you’ve never seen a Miyazaki film, you may appreciate the fact that the film is a fictionalized version of true events. (Some of his other films have a dreamy weirdness.)

As an American who has seen the films and heard the stories of the Pearl Harbor attack, it is odd to see Jiro depicted as a hero. But Jiro’s life’s work is designing planes, not ordering military missions.

The Wind Rises moves at a leisurely pace. The film is longer than most U.S. animated features, just over two hours. Some viewers, especially restless youngsters, may find it too slow. (Its rating is PG-13 for disturbing images and smoking.) For me, this movie’s gorgeous images and creative storytelling manage to overshadow any pacing issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looper

“Looper” is a mildly entertaining time travel sci-fi film with three likable stars: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt.

Time travel is often used as a gimmicky crutch, as in the TV series “Lost.” To build a whole movie around time travel is risky. When a character interacts with his older self, things can get confusing. Gordon-Levitt and Willis play the same character, Joe, at different ages.

The movie is set in a not-especially-futuristic-looking 2044. Most of their vehicles appear about the same as those we drive today—except for that one cool jet-powered scooter. In 2044, time travel has not yet been developed. But 30 years beyond, time travel has been perfected. But it’s only used by the bad guys.

Because, we are told, it’s hard to dispose of human bodies in 2074, mob hits are accomplished by sending the poor suckers back to 2044 where they are quickly offed and tossed into a furnace. Among those sent back to be killed are older versions of some of those young assassins. They “loop” back, hence the title.

One looper who is sent back—the older Joe—escapes death at the hand of his younger self. He begins a mission to kill a 2044 vintage kid, before he grows up to become a gang leader called The Rainmaker. Still with me? This is where Emily Blunt comes in. She is a single mom, living in a rural farm house with her precocious child. Her kid may the one who would become the Rainmaker. The boy does have some mighty anger issues!

Jeff Daniels gives a standout performance as a crime boss with a wicked sense of humor.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s strange makeup (presumably to make him even slightly resemble Bruce Willis) gives him odd-looking lips and eyes. Emily Blunt sounds like a native-born American, squelching her limey accent.

“Looper’s” plot is messy. The movie’s pace hits the brakes just past its midway point. And the sci-fi lacks those “oh, wow” effects/settings/technology that you expect in a movie like this one.

“Looper” is not a bad movie, just one that needs more truly compelling content. One might presume that writer/director Rian Johnson figured the time travel bit might be a strong enough frame to build the movie on. Not quite.