The Girl on the Train

October 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett
Directed by: Tate Taylor (“The Help,” “Get on Up”)
Written by: Erin Cressida Wilson (“Men, Women & Children”)

High-class trashiness in entertainment is underrated. Who doesn’t enjoy some preposterous airplane novel about a conspiracy to quash knowledge of Jesus’ wife and children? Or a well-made TV show about the O.J. Simpson trial featuring respected actors dolled up in ‘90s Court TV cosplay?

Based on the novel by Paula Hawkins you saw everyone at Starbucks reading, the film version of “The Girl on the Train” follows closely in the footsteps of that other twisty-turny-trashy novel-turned-movie “Gone Girl,” piling on the double crosses and diversions, only without ever elevating the trashiness to an enjoyable level or executing a satisfying twist.

Boozy, bedraggled Rachel (Emily Blunt) goes about her life in an alcoholic haze, riding the train into Manhattan every day. She fixates on the people who live (pretty unfortunately) near the track, namely a young blonde woman named Megan (Haley Bennett) upon whom Rachel projects her dream of a perfect life. She has a sexy husband (Luke Evans) and a beautiful home (if you don’t factor in the proximity to a commuter rail line). But, as we learn through shifts in storytellers, she is hardly happy. Megan is enamored with her therapist (Edgar Ramirez) and hates children and her job as a nanny working for Anna (Rebecca Ferguson)—who lives two doors down from Megan, is married to Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and is fed up with Rachel’s stalker-like behavior. When Rachel spies Megan canoodling with another man on the balcony as the train passes by, she makes a booze-fueled fateful decision to get off the train and confront Megan for ruining her own life, only to wake up hours later to find she’s a suspect in Megan’s disappearance.

Where “The Girl on the Train” falters in comparison to something like David Fincher’s spiritually-similar “Gone Girl” is the absence of an appealing character when all of the dust settles. Bennett’s Megan is a petulant, dissatisfied adulterer. Ferguson’s Anna is a cold, shrill yuppie wife. And Rachel is a raging, destructive alcoholic—unless she wasn’t always, as the script weakly and ineffectively bails her out in the third act. The twist ending, if you can call it that, is easy to spot from a mile away and isn’t scandalous enough or, frankly, outrageously batshit crazy enough to elevate the material to the sublime nastiness a film like this demands.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

April 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt
Directed by:  Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (debut)
Written by:  Evan Spiliotopoulos (“Hercules”) and Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

I know for a fact that I saw 2012’s “Snow White and The Huntsman” on DVD, delivered to my mailbox by Netflix (!) and watched with all of the urgency I could muster (meaning it sat on the TV stand for months before I decided to just get it over with). Perhaps best known for featuring a dull “Twilight”-era Kristen Stewart (as Snow White) paired with slumming Thor Chris Hemsworth (as Eric, the Huntsman) to take on evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron in a vampy ham sandwich performance) and some fairly striking imagery featuring a liquidy golden mirror on the wall, the first adventure did well enough (I guess) to warrant this odd, Stewart-less prequel/sequel that isn’t afraid to outright steal from things that are popular with the kids these days, namely “Game of Thrones” and “Frozen.”

“The Hunstman: Winter’s War” opens years before the first film, with dastardly Ravenna taking control of a kingdom after killing the sitting king during a magically-charged chess match. Meanwhile, her kindly sister Freya (Emily Blunt) has fallen in love with a prince and given birth to a daughter. Tragedy strikes, however, and when it appears the prince has killed the girl, Freya’s latent ice-princess powers are activated, and in her rage and sadness she exiles herself to the frozen north to conjure up an ice castle of her own. Please, stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Anyway, Freya enslaves children in her kingdom, training them as Huntsmen and forbidding them to fall in love. Two of them grow up to be Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who, of course, fall in love. Freya loses her cool, however, and ices things up (sorry) by making Eric believe Sara has been killed. He runs for his life and goes on to have his adventures with Snow White in the first movie.

Several years later, Snow White (played by the back of a brunette’s head, since Stewart doesn’t return) sends her prince to tell Eric he has to get Ravenna’s mirror and destroy it, since it’s killing Snow White. Or something. So he and a couple of dwarves (Nick Frost and Rob Brydon) set off on a quest to get this done, and are helped along the way by a mysterious stranger who…screw it, it’s Sara. She was never dead. It was a trick!

After 45 minutes of unpacking the backstory and connective tissue, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” finally kicks into the story and…it’s just not that interesting, and the blatant cribbing from other medieval-ish media is supremely distracting as well. Chastain’s thankless character is essentially a less-vulgar version of Ygritte the Wildling in “Game of Thrones,” and all the shit with Blunt’s ice queen borders on “Frozen” plagiarism so much you can imagine Disney lawyers drafting a lawsuit as the film unfolds. Theron, in what amounts to a cameo appearance, seems to be the only one having any fun, which will be true for the audience as well.

Sicario

October 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”)
Written by: Taylor Sheridan (debut)

As a life-long Texan, in the last 30 years I’ve seen Mexico’s border towns along the Rio Grande go from quick day trips where you could buy cheap tequila and handmade leather belts to cartel-run nightmares where violence rules and American tourists fear to tread. Four years ago, I stood on a rooftop in Eagle Pass, Texas – looking half a mile down the road into Piedras Negras – and wondered if it would ever be as safe as it was when I was a kid to pay 20 cents to walk across the international bridge. After seeing the fantastic “Sicario,” however, I’m thinking the border may not be somewhere I – or anyone else – will be able to safely visit (or live) again.

When a raid in suburban Phoenix looking for kidnap victims turns into a house of horrors and costs several Phoenix PD officers their lives, FBI special agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is invited to join a shadowy inter-agency mission with the CIA led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, sporting a perpetual shit-eating grin) and assisted by the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Macer tags along to El Paso, only to find Special Forces soldiers gearing up for a grab-and-go mission into Juarez, Mexico, that culminates in the sort of casual international violence that would be an act of war if the interaction was between any nations other than the United States and Mexico. As Mercer dives deeper into the hell on Earth that is the Mexican border and the war on drugs, she finds herself torn between trying to cut the head off a snake via less than legal means or live with a never-ending war.

Director Denis Villeneuve isn’t shy about portraying Mexico as an essentially lawless hellhole dominated by drug cartels and unspeakable violence, a point of view that may serve to validate the ramblings of Donald Trump to certain interested parties. Politics aside, Villeneuve stages most of the action through Mercer’s point of view, pushing the character past her limits by making her a pawn in the game between the CIA, the cartel, and whoever it is Alejandro answers to. With explosive violence bubbling beneath the surface at times – none better than a white-knuckle traffic jam on an international bridge – and solid work from Blunt, Brolin, and Del Toro, “Sicario” is timely and powerful enough to excuse some minor faults that, from time to time, seem to place Del Toro’s character outside of the reality the rest of the movie inhabits. Even so, “Sicario” remains one of the best movies of the year.

Edge of Tomorrow

June 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”)
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Jez Butterworth (“Fair Game”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Fair Game”)

Okay, sure, “Edge of Tomorrow” looks like a sci-fi spin on “Groundhog Day” and yeah, that’s the premise in a nutshell. When you have a guy reliving the same day over and over and over again, the Bill Murray classic is instantly top of mind. But more so than that, though, the film is a mildly satirical, exceedingly clever adventure featuring the most accessible and likeable performance by Tom Cruise that we’ve seen in years.

As a TV-friendly officer charged with selling a land war with aliens to the world, Cruise’s Major William Cage is ordered to the front lines with a camera crew to record the great victory over the so-called Mimics. When Cage resists, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) cooks up a conspiracy to bust him down to private. Cage is assigned to J-Squad under Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton) where no one cares if he lives or dies. The next day, after some hasty training and brutal hazing, Cage suits up in his futuristic exo-skeletal armor and is dropped in the middle of a massacre with the rest of the infantry. Cage manages to survive the firefight long enough to come face to face with an “Alpha,” one of the rarer Mimics, only to be burned to death by its blood. Immediately upon dying, though, Cage awakes to relive the previous day, destined to fight and die again. This happens over and over and over, with Cage improving his skills every re-lived day with the help of military superstar Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the one person who understands what he’s going through.

“Groundhog Day” memories aside, “Edge of Tomorrow” brings a fresh and funny perspective to what, on the surface, looks like another futuristic snoozer on par with last year’s “Oblivion,” also featuring Cruise. Director Doug Liman never leans too heavily on the overarching gimmick, instead using the days Cage relives that we don’t see to move the narrative forward. When we think we’re seeing progress toward the goal of defeating the Mimics, Rita slowly discovers she and Cage have been in this situation dozens—if not hundreds—of times before. You absolutely feel Cage’s frustration, doubly so if you grew up playing video games without save features in the ‘80s, when a lengthy quest could come to a maddening end just to leave you back at the very beginning. Like Cage, all you’re left with is the accumulated knowledge of what you went through. And, like lots of ‘80s video games, “Edge of Tomorrow” falters near the end, foregoing creativity for mindless action. But truthfully, getting there is all the fun.

The Five-Year-Engagement

April 27, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Segal, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”)
Written by: Jason Segal (“The Muppets”) and Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets”)

Ever since “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” became a hit in 2005, the influence of its director Judd Apatow has been felt in nearly every comedy Hollywood has released since. The raunchy dialogue, the nudity, and the themes of male sentimentality have become a bankable style, used by Apatow proteges and copycats alike.

“The Five-Year Engagement” is the latest vulgar romantic comedy from the Apatow-backed duo of director/writer Nicholas Stoller and writer/star Jason Segal, previously responsible for “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” which itself was responsible for introducing most of the world to Jason Segal’s penis. This time Segal stars as Tom, an affable San Francisco sous chef who opens the film nervously bumbling his way toward proposing to girlfriend Violet (Emily Blunt) by way of a sweetly amateurish skit. With their engagement official, Tom and Violet start to feel the pressure from both sides of the family to marry as soon as possible. However, as it sometimes does, life gets in the way: Violet lands a university job in Michigan, and a reluctantly supportive Tom travels halfway across the country with her, agreeing to postpone their wedding plans while they adjust to life in a new town.

As with the rest of the films producer Apatow has a hand in, the story in “The Five-Year Engagement” is in no particular hurry to unfold. Writers Segal and Stoller take their time, stocking the edges of the story with hilarious minor characters, including the scene-stealing couple played by Chris Pratt and Alison Brie. Director Stoller invites other comedic ringers like Chris Parnell, Brian Posehn, Mindy Kaling, and Kevin Hart to swing by for extended amounts of time just to hang out instead of actually advancing the main plot in any way. The result is a shaggy film that fits squarely in the Apatow/Segal/Stoller brand yet feels like a run-of-the-mill broad romantic comedy at the same time.

With “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Segal and Stoller made a romantic comedy for young men, one wherein the well-meaning man-child was done wrong by an indifferent, uncaring woman. “The Five-Year Engagement” seems to represent an effort to appeal to both men and women, with Segal’s well-meaning man-child being equally responsible for the highs and lows of his relationship with a Blunt’s caring, emotionally-conflicted career woman. At times, though, Segal and Stoller end up outside their comfort zone, littering the plot with threadbare romantic comedy tropes like a fanciful stunt wedding and the rakish older professor (Rhys Ifans) whose ill intentions can be seen coming miles away. But Segal and Stoller still realize the inherent hilarity in seeing Segal’s bare ass, so at least they haven’t forgotten where they came from.

Gnomeo & Juliet

February 11, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine
Directed by: Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”)
Written by: Kelly Asbury (debut), Mark Burton (“Aliens in the Attic”), Kevin Cecil (debut), Emily Cook (debut), Kathy Greenberg (debut), Andy Riley (debut)

William Shakespeare is probably not turning in his grave since his classic stories have been adapted for the big screen in some form or fashion since the beginning of cinema, but with “Gnomeo & Juliet” he has to at least be wondering, “Why?”

The easy answer to that would be because “Gnomeo” rhymes with “Romeo,” the one of the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but you can also argue that the cuteness factor of the gnomes themselves was a major selling pitch. More than likely, these fat figurines will easily lure kids and their parents to the theater for a little 3-D hokum. If this finds box-office success, watch out for “The Urchin of Venice.”

Basically following along the same narrative structure as the original play, but replacing all the characters with garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments, “Gnomeo” finds itself at an impasse when it refuses to inject anything fresh and exciting into the picture. Instead, the animated film takes the easy way out and makes absurd references to other films just for the sake of referencing something. Sure, these gimmicks can work well when told in context with the story (see “Shrek”), but “Gnomeo” screenwriters go too far when they find ways to force in jokes into the script featuring quotes and images from “Brokeback Mountain,” “American Beauty,” and a host of other unrelated allusions.

Where  “Gnomeo” earns a few chuckles is through its use of satire to pick a little fun at Shakespeare himself. Then there’s the actual animation, which is above average when it captures the porcelain features of the garden gnomes and the clanky sounds they would make if they walked or touched each other (like tea cups toasting). Add to that, some fine voice work from an excellent British cast (Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham) and “Gnomeo” isn’t impossible to watch for a short time.

Still, you can almost imagine the ridiculously large group of novice feature film screenwriters attached to this project sitting in a room together tossing ideas and dialogue back and forth and settling on the most obvious gags. Not nearly as funny as it should have been, “Gnomeo” is the first animated film of 2011 and will easily be lost in the shuffle with the other mediocre family films to hit theaters this year. Here to hoping it doesn’t get worse than this.

The Wolfman

February 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
Directed by: Joe Johnston (“Hidalgo”)
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker (“Sleepy Hollow”) and David Self (“The Haunting”)

Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”) phones in his performance as an iconic monster in “The Wolfman,” a re-imaging of the 1941 classic starring Lon Chaney Jr. It’s not only Del Toro, however, who should take the blame for how terribly things go for the creature feature, which was delayed an entire year because of production problems.

Despite starting off on the wrong paw, one can’t ignore the talented cast pinned down for “Wolfman,” including Del Toro. From Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Silence of the Lambs”) to the young and blossoming starlet Emily Blunt (“The Young Victoria”) to the reliable Hugo Weaving (“V for Vendetta”), some of the pieces are definitely here. It’s unfortunate that director Joe Johnston (“Hidalgo”) and screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker (“Sleepy Hollow”) and David Self (“The Haunting”) fail to create any type of suspense or frightening scenes to match these actors’ supporting roles or the eerie gothic cinematography by Shelly Johnson.

Ultimately, “The Wolfman” becomes a film that can’t decide whether it wants to be a throwback to the monster movies of the past mid-century or take the easy way out and go full-gore for mainstream audiences. It chooses both and succeeds at neither.

In the film, Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a thespian who is summoned home to England after many years away to search for his missing brother Ben. Contacted by Ben’s fiancée Gwen (Blunt), Lawrence returns home to find he is too late. His brother’s body was found mutilated in the woods. Theories begin to flood in as to what could have killed Ben in such a manner. Gypsies? A Bengal tiger? A raving lunatic?

When the townspeople find out Lawrence had been sent to an asylum by his father (Hopkins) years before, suspicions start turning to him. Lawrence becomes a prime suspect when he is bitten in the neck by a mysterious beast. Soon, other folks turn up slaughtered and word spreads that the Talbot household is cursed. Weaving plays Scotland Yard Inspector Abberline, who steps in to hunt down whatever is shredding up residents.

As the carnage continues by way of campy decapitations and close-ups of intestines spread across the ground, Johnston provides no real tone or direction and lets “The Wolfman” ride the wave of blood. Is this a story about a man fighting his inner demons and trying to understand the nightmares he continues to have about the death of his mother or is this a straight-forward monster movie in the same mold as “Underworld” and “Van Helsing?”

No matter what it wants to be, there’s not enough of a story to support “The Wolfman” and Lawrence’s transformation, whether it’s physical or emotional. Relying mostly on computer-generated effect also doesn’t help its cause as it attempts to claw its way back to the roots of the genre. While six-time Oscar-winning make-up artist Rick Baker (“An American Werewolf in London”) had his hand in this one, it’s evident he didn’t have free reign to do what he does best. For that, “The Wolfman” suffers greatly. This setback, however, is only skin deep. There’s a more elusive identity crisis the film runs into that can’t be cured with a few extra prosthetics or layers of facial hair or even a Del Toro performance where the actor actually decides to show up.

The Young Victoria

January 26, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée (“C.R.A.Z.Y.”)
Written by: Julian Fellowes (“Vanity Fair”)

As a period piece, “The Young Victoria” is fairly generic when it comes to offering a history lesson, but credit must be given to Emily Blunt and her portrayal of Queen Victoria during the first years as ruler of England. As the young queen, Blunt plays the real-life character both mature and inexperienced.  Add to that some top-notch costume design by two-time Oscar nominated (7-time nominee) Sandy Powell (“The Aviator,” “Shakespeare in Love”) and solid production design and “Victoria” is right at the edge of a recommendation.

Sunshine Cleaning

March 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin
Directed by: Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”)
Written by: Megan Holley (debut)

It’s no surprise first-time screenwriter Megan Holley fashioned the script for her dark comedy “Sunshine Cleaning” from a report on National Public Radio. It’s just the type of mildly off-beat story one would expect to hear on a show like “All Things Considered”: Two female friends from Seattle start a crime-scene clean-up company.

The inspiration itself might have easily ruined a feature film — characters written with sensitivity and humor usually don’t ride tragedy’s coattails — but Holley and director Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”) are able to detail the job’s unpleasantness with fake blood and synthetic brain chunks while still managing to create sympathetic characters and a strangely intimate world.

Relocating the women to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and rewriting the female duo as sisters, “Sunshine Cleaning” follows Rose Lorkowski (two-time Academy Award nominee Adams), a 30-something single mother who’s making ends meet as a cleaning lady. Once the popular head cheerleader in high school, Rose relives her glory days through an ongoing affair with married ex-boyfriend Mac (Zahn), who now works as a police officer.

Rose decides she needs a career change after she ends up cleaning the house of a former classmate. She’s also desperate to make extra money to send her eccentric son to a private school because his principal wants her to medicate the boy for his harmless, albeit peculiar, classroom antics (most recently, licking everything he can put his tongue to).

Taking advice from Mac, Rose begins mopping up the blood, and she recruits her burned-out sister Norah (Blunt), who has emotional problems stemming from (minor spoiler alert) their mother’s suicide when they were kids. Why these two would ever decide to start a company where suicide cleanup is part of the job is beyond comprehension, but the lazy parallel does most of the screenwriter’s heavy lifting, and the gals are fairly good at what they do, despite their initial naiveté concerning biohazard-disposal regulations.

Luckily, they receive a crash course in decomp (Tip Number One: You can’t just throw a blood-soaked mattress in a Dumpster) from Winston (Collins), a one-armed model-builder who owns a cleaning-supplies store.

Rose and Norah become haz-mat-suited cleaning women with support from their father (Academy Award winner Alan Arkin, who basically rehashes his grandfatherly role from “Little Miss Sunshine” minus the cocaine), and attempt to scrub away death’s aftermath. In one subplot, Norah searches out a woman named Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub of “24”), a suicide’s daughter whose photo Norah discovers while cleaning up the mess left behind.

It’s these small strokes of sincerity — away from the yellow police tape, decontamination suits, and a few standard pseudo-indie-film clichés — that make “Sunshine Cleaning” a bittersweet, honest, and well-acted gem.