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.

Get on Up

August 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelson Ellis, Viola Davis
Directed by: Tate Taylor (“The Help”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”) and John-Henry Butterworth (“Edge of Tomorrow”)

When making a biopic about a musician, filmmakers have two major options. One is to hire an actor to both act as the artist and to do their own singing, a feat that got Joaquin Phoenix an Oscar nomination for his role as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” and won Jamie Foxx an Oscar for his role as Ray Charles in “Ray.” The other option is to hire an actor to just play the character parts and lip-synch to the original recordings of the artist. It’s a risky and potentially distracting move, and certainly one that needs to be backed up with a dynamite acting performance. Luckily for director Tate Taylor, Chadwick Boseman delivers exactly that in his portrayal of the hardest working man in show business, James Brown, in “Get on Up.”

If Boseman was seen as a relative unknown in taking on the role of Jackie Robinson in last year’s “42,” his performance in “Get on Up” will quickly erase his anonymity. Boseman is outstanding as the larger-than-life James Brown and completely embodies everything from his speaking voice to his swagger. Where Boseman really shines is during the performance scenes. Boseman is electric in scenes where Brown is performing; constantly moving, dancing, sweating, and putting everything he has into the performance. Though as previously mentioned, Boseman is lip-synching throughout the entire film, there are only a few moments where it is truly jarring. He’s also able to mine some comedic moments from the film, though those don’t quite land as much as they should.

Beyond Boseman’s performance, “Get on Up” is a pretty comprehensive (sometimes to a fault) look at Brown’s life and career. Brown’s music is present throughout the whole film, giving the picture its pulse and sounding as good as it ever has. The issue, however, comes with the direction. Taylor attempts to cram a ton of content into this biopic and ends up with mixed results. It’s a film that comes in at over two hours, and starts to feel redundant with some of the performances by the end. It’s also told in a non-linear fashion, with stories and moments from Brown’s life ping-ponging chronologically in a way that doesn’t serve any real narrative purpose.

As a look back a James Brown’s life, storied career, and his well-earned place in music lore “Get On Up” is a successful endeavor. Still, somehow, it all feels somewhat surface. Taylor flirts with the idea of racism during the rise of Brown, but never really goes anywhere with it other than a show that happened shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Despite the occasional narrative shortcomings, “Get on Up” is a worthy journey into music history, and one that features a fantastic performance from a quickly rising actor poised for a massive breakout.

The Help

August 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Tate Taylor (“Pretty Ugly People”)
Written by: Tate Taylor (“Pretty Ugly People”)

Not since the late Isabel Sanford put a shirtless Sidney Poitier in his place in the 1967 Academy Award-winning film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” has a maid had so much to say than the domesticated ladies of “The Help,” a moving and somewhat frustrating dramedy set in the midst of the simmering ’60s Civil Rights Era.

Adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 bestselling and controversial novel of the same name, “The Help” is set in Jackson, Miss., at the height of segregation during which many African-American women would make their living working as maids for the well-to-do white families of the town by cleaning their homes, cooking their meals, and raising their babies. It’s a bold, but short-sighted perspective given to director/screenwriter Tate Taylor by Stockett, who herself was raised by her family’s black housekeeper as a child during the same era.

As personal of a narrative as it may be for Stockett, Taylor doesn’t let any of the deep-seated emotion become unmanageable on screen. Like the novel, Taylor frames the film into three distinct perspectives and allows each of these characters to define themselves as their own strong-spirited women. It is these multidimensional personalities, emphasized with audaciousness and a much-needed sense of humor, that elevate “The Help” beyond the standard race-relations story.

Emma Stone (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”) plays Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, an independent college graduate with aspirations to become a journalist who writes about real issues. She finds her muse in her friend’s kindhearted maid Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), who she chooses to feature in an in-depth piece about the lives of “the help” in Jackson. Although initially scared about the ramifications of the anonymous writing project if anyone were to find out, other maids, including Aibileen’s outspoken best friend Minny Jackson (Octavia Spencer), join in during storytime as Skeeter anthologizes their personal experiences working for employers who won’t even allow them to use the indoor bathroom. Cruelty is personified in town socialite Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard), a devil in a sundress whose position as President of the Junior League gives her a podium to spout off hate speech and peddle racist policies.

With very little insight given about the changing social structure outside ofJackson, it’s difficult to get the full dynamic of the injustices taking place. At times, the gap between social classes seems like it will cave in at any moment. But there are also scenes in the film that share the same type of tension amongst the queen bees as in “Mean Girls.” Taylor also dodges issues that would’ve served him better to take head on with more self-confidence. Why is Skeeter’s exploitation of these maids only skimmed over? It almost feels like she is doing them a favor by putting them in harm’s way.

Still, the performances prevail in “The Help” as Stone shows her range as a serious actress and Davis epitomizes courage through her somber eyes. Who needs delicate Southern charm when you have this much passion surging through your veins?