The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl on the Train

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Synopsis: Rachel spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day, until one morning she sees something shocking happen there and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds

Release Date:  October 7, 2016

Thoughts: For several years now I find myself thinking at the end of most movies “Emily Blunt should have been in this…Emily Blunt makes everything good.” and it’s an opinion I hold fast to. Luckily, Blunt (Into the Woods) is front and center in this new trailer for the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel The Girl on the Train.  Sure it shares not only an October release date but a plot kinship with 2014’s nice and twisted Gone Girl, but if this first look is any indication (and, I know, it’s not) Blunt could find herself with an Oscar nomination like Rosamund Pike did for Gone Girl.  Plus…I mean, look at the cast: Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back), Justin Theroux (Wanderlust), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Lisa Kudrow (Neighbors)…just a roster of dependable, stellar talent. October is a great month for mystery and I’m ready for my ticket to ride this Train.

Movie Review ~ Sicario

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

Stars: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I can’t tell you how much fun it is to watch a movie by a filmmaker that knows how to turn the screws on an unsuspecting audience. There are moments in Sicario where Denis Villeneuve seems to be taking an almost perverse delight in extending the suspense until it becomes almost unbearable…making for refreshing and exhilarating viewing.

The Quebec born filmmaker made a splash in 2010 with the Oscar nominated drama Incendies, before turning in two very different releases in 2013.  First up was the haunting (and unjustly Oscar ignored) Prisoners, a showcase not only for Villeneuve’s flair for suspense and cinematographer Roger Deakins brilliant cinematography but for Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s towering lead performances.  Made before Prisoners but released after was another collaboration with Gyllenhaal, Enemy, and while it was fairly inaccessible and barely made a blip on the art-house circuit it once again demonstrated that Villeneuve knew exactly what he was doing.

Villeneuve and Deakins are matched again in Sicario (the Spanish word for hitman) and it’s yet another cinematic trophy both men can add to their growing wall of accolades.  A harrowing and terrifying look into the war on drugs, the movie pulls no punches and leaves no dark corner unexplored.

The plot of Sicario is so complex and labyrinthine that the full attention of the audience is pretty much required to keep up with Taylor Sheridan’s serpentine script, a lean and mean story that doesn’t have an ounce of excess fat on it.  You’re advised to note everything that’s said because even the smallest detail could play a factor into what will transpire when an FBI agent gets involved with a covert operation involving drug kingpins and Mexican cartels.

I’m of the mindset that every movie needs more Emily Blunt in it.  Often I’ll be watching a film and just wonder what Blunt would have done with various female (or male) roles that may not be quite up to snuff.  Easily transitioning from comedic second-fiddle (The Five-Year Engagement) to action second-fiddle (Looper) to dramatic lead (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) before the 2014 one-two punch of Edge of Tomorrow and Into the Woods, with Sicario Blunt may just have the best performance (and first Oscar nomination) of her burgeoning career.  As principled FBI agent Kate Macer, Blunt has to show a lot of different colors throughout the film and she does so with believable skill.  When she’s offered a chance to volunteer for an undisclosed purpose on a government task force, she sees it as an opportunity for advancement and as a way to help right the wrongs she sees on a daily basis.

Lead into uncertain darkness by CIA agent Matt (Josh Brolin, Oldboy, seemingly getting most of his performance from an ever-present wad of gum), Kate finds herself traveling between Mexico and the U.S. for several nail-biting missions that blur the line between the good guys and the bad guys.  It isn’t long before she’s in over her head, but her pride keeps her treading water even while the sharks start to circle her.

One of those sharks may be Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro, Guardians of the Galaxy, in his best role since his Oscar win for Traffic), even though he’s supposedly on her side.  His motives for tagging along seem unclear and the movie never gets so far ahead of the audience that we know the answer before Kate does.  Even Kate’s partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya, Kick-Ass 2) has loyalty issues that are tested along the way, putting Kate on an island by herself where only she is responsible for her survival.

Sicario feels very timely, very now and its situations are ripped from the very real headlines of the war on drugs that rages on along the U.S. border.  A nerve-shredding trip to Juárez, MX finds bodies hanging from highway overpasses as both the marking of certain territory and as a warning for all who dare enter…it’s a city of horrors that are grounded in a frightening reality.

Villeneuve starts the movie with a corker of an opener and only accelerates from there.  Aided by staggering cinematography from Deakins (Skyfall, The Secret Garden) and the droning score from Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything), there’s a sense of dread in nearly every frame.  That can make for a solemn viewing experience but paired with an intriguing story and taut performances, it’s ultimately a thrilling thrill ride of a movie.  From start to finish, top to bottom, it’s excellent.  Sicario is why we go to movies.

The Silver Bullet ~ Sicario

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Synopsis: In the lawless border area stretching between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elite government task force official to aid in the escalating war against drugs

Release Date:  September 18, 2015

Thoughts: Back in 2013 I placed director Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners on my best of the year list and while his 2014 follow-up, Enemy, didn’t rank quite as high in my book it still showed a filmmaker with dexterity, definitely someone to keep an eye on.

Villeneuve’s 2015 offering is Sicario, a taut-looking thriller following an FBI agent (Emily Blunt, Into the Woods) as she travels to the dark underside of drug trafficking along the U.S. border.  Villeneuve has demonstrated a thrilling style for these kind of tense character studies and, while I hadn’t heard of Sicario before catching this trailer, it’s quickly risen to one of my most anticipated movies of the year.  I think Blunt has demonstrated that she can nimbly balance her tough side (Edge of Tomorrow) with lighter turns (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) but this could be her true break-through role alongside Benicio Del Toro (Inherent Vice) and Josh Brolin (The Goonies).  Keep your eyes peeled for this one.

Movie Review ~ Into the Woods

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, Tracey Ullman, Frances de la Tour, Johnny Depp, Lucy Punch, Simon Russell Beale, Tammy Blanchard, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Christine Baranski, Billy Magnussen, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, MacKenzie Mauzy, Richard Glover, Joanna Riding, Annette Crosbie

Director: Rob Marshall

Rated: PG

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here & Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: If there’s one take-away from the big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s Into the Woods it would be that director Rob Marshall proves once again that it’s possible to transition a stage-bound work quite nicely to the silver screen.  As he did with his Oscar-winning Chicago (which, to be fair, was a far trickier beast to wrangle), Marshall brings a sense of wonderful theatricality to the proceedings that helps keep a saggy second act afloat.

Arriving on the heels of the disappointing remake/reboot of Annie, the first 75 minutes or so of Into the Woods is a gleefully wry take on the fairy tales we all grew up with.  There’s Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) spunky as all get-out, even when faced with a zoot-suited Wolf (Johnny Depp, The Lone Ranger) intent on making her his next meal.  Depp is, pardon the pun, howlingly bad in his brief cameo and you’ll be glad to know that his total screen time amounts to about 5 minutes…which still feels too long.

We also get Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect) fresh-faced and clarion voiced even under a pile of soot.  Kendrick has true musical theater chops and Marshall gives her a wonderful moment to shine in a delightfully reimagined “On the Steps of the Palace” which takes place in a bit of suspended time as Cinderella ponders her next move.

Then there’s the Baker (James Corden, One Chance) and his wife (Emily Blunt, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) so desperate for a child they agree to fetch items for a next-door Witch (Meryl Streep, Hope Springs) who promises in return to have the ‘curse reversed’.  Venturing into the woods (a-ha!) to find the items they run into Little Red, Cinderella, as well as a pre-Beanstalk Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), and a variety of other storybook figures.

It’s within the first half of the film that the best scene arrives featuring two puff-chested Princes (Star Trek’s Chris Pine and Broadway newcomer Billy Magnussen) hysterically belaboring their romantic entanglements (one with Cinderella, one with Rapunzel) while traipsing around a waterfall.  It’s the crown jewel of a film sparkles quite a lot.

Then something happens…and if we were in a theater I would say it was Intermission.

You see, it’s in the second half of the film that I found the same sort of problems I have with the stage show.  I know that the whole point of the second act of Into the Woods is to show what happens “after happily ever after” and that’s all well and good but where the stage show becomes somewhat intriguingly heavy handed the screen musical loses its spark and never fully recovers.

That’s due in some small part to the ‘Disney-fication’ of the film.  With the House of Mouse forking over the dough for funding certain adjustments were necessitated and that includes softening of more than a few rough edges that helped define the stage musical.  Now, certain tragedies that helped drive the musical to a conclusion onstage are rather toothless here…with some changes downright confusing from a narrative point of view.  Even die-hard fans of the show may be left scratching their heads wondering what just happened.

Were the performances not so strong, this type of late in the game mishap may have spelled certain doom for Marshall and company but he’s assembled a frothy cast with several unexpected delights.  Streep is, of course, right on the money with her hag witch popping up (and in and out) at just the right moments.  She eschews the delivery of any previous Witch and makes the part wholly her own.  I question the decision in the second half to give her a peculiar set of buck-tooth veneers that have a worrisome impact on her speech but otherwise she looks and sounds exactly how you’d imagine.

The roly-poly Corden and ethereal Blunt make a nice pair and the two play off of each other quite nicely.  Both have pleasant voices with Blunt the real surprise as she tackles the difficult passages Sondheim created.  Crawford, Mauzy, and Magnussen acquit themselves nicely but as the film progressed I found that Pine’s bo-hunk royal, with his affected upper-crust accent, didn’t work for me.  Pine takes the cartoon-y nature of his character a bit too far and Marshall should have reined him in a bit.

With a gorgeous production design (the majority of the film was shot in a man-made forest) and Colleen Atwood’s trusty duds the film looks like a fairy tale come to life.  Even with a slower second half the film doesn’t feel long and breezes by as fast as Sondheim’s score.  Worth a trip into the theater.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Into the Woods (Trailer #2)

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Synopsis: A witch conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children’s stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.

Release Date:  December 25, 2014

Thoughts: Though some have turned their noses up at Stephen Sondheim’s musical being given the big screen treatment by Walt Disney Studios, this final trailer for Into the Woods looks positively charming. Considering the budget was “only” 40 million dollars, I’m happy to see that a lot of that money was seemingly spent on actual sets and not some CGI created world for the impressive roster of actors to play out Sondheim and James Lapine’s sly take on the fairy tales we all grew up with. Meryl Streep (Hope Springs) sounds like a perfect Witch and while I’m not too keen on the notion of Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) as Cinderella or Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger) as a zoot-suit wearing Wolf, I’ve got a feeling director Rob Marshall will wrangle this into one enchanting evening.

The Silver Bullet ~ Into the Woods

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Synopsis: A witch conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children’s stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.

Release Date:  December 25, 2014

Thoughts: The anticipation is certainly building for the big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods, with Disney carefully releasing nice bits and pieces in recent days.  After dropping some dreamy looking pictures earlier this week of the star heavy ensemble all fairy-tale-d up, the first preview is finally at hand and it’s a nifty little teaser that pleasantly keeps some of the bigger names in shadows while  predictably avoiding any musical cues hinting that the film is largely sung.  No matter, with Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Chris Pine (People Like Us) leading the cast the stage is set for a lovely transition from stage to screen.

Movie Review ~ Edge of Tomorrow

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An officer finds himself caught in a time loop in a war with an alien race. His skills increase as he faces the same brutal combat scenarios, and his union with a Special Forces warrior gets him closer and closer to defeating the enemy.

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor, Kick Gurry, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Jonas Armstrong, Franz Drameh, Masayoshi Haneda, Tony Way

Director: Doug Liman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 113 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I was discussing Tom Cruise with a casual acquaintance in a group setting the other day and when I mentioned how much I like his films, she responded with “Yeah, but he’ll always be that crazy couch jumper.”  It’s hard to believe that nearly a decade since the couch jump heard ‘round the world people still can’t let that one go…not that Cruise has helped his case by taking a critical stance against anti-depressants and being the poster boy for Scientology in the intervening years.

As a critic, though, you have to be able to put all that aside and look at the work…and when you look at the almost thirty years of Cruise’s Hollywood ventures you’ll see a portfolio filled with major blockbusters (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), guilty pleasures (Cocktail), old-fashioned epics (Far and Away), under-appreciated misfires (Oblivion, Jack Reacher), and miscalculated bombs like Rock of Ages that Cruise managed to emerge victorious from.  Put plainly…the man knows how to deliver the goods and that’s something that no amount of religious discussion or questionably hyper antics can sully.

Cruise is back in summer 2014 with the unexpectedly fun sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow, adapted from the graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.  Already being described by critics as Groundhog Day with guns, the script from Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth rises above the simple ‘Live Die Repeat’ tagline to be a genuinely interesting mind-bender that plays by the rules (mostly) and keeps you on the edge of your seat after taking off like a rocket.

An alien race has arrived on Earth via comet and is lying waste to much of Europe.  In the battle to conquer these invaders, the army has developed specialized metal suits (think Sigourney Weaver in the final battle of Aliens) as armor against some very sneaky creatures that look like Medusa heads and strike with fatal precision.  Playing Cage, a cowardly lion of a military man, Cruise unwillingly finds himself moving from the face of the war recruitment effort into the front lines after running afoul of a general (Brendan Gleeson, Albert Nobbs, The Company You Keep) unimpressed with his spinelessness.

Without any training or real life knowledge of the enemies he’s fighting, Cage is dispatched to a military base where he’ll be one of the first troops to deploy on a deadly mission that plays out like the battle on Omaha Beach. Disoriented and seeing his platoon fall around him, he comes face to face with a Big Nasty Alien and dies.

Only that’s not the end, that’s just the first 20 minutes of director Doug Liman’s smashing freight train of a film.  See, when Cage dies the day starts over again, back when he arrives at the base.  Initially not believing it’s a convenient case déjà vu, when he continues to die in different ways only to wake up in the same spot he begins to figure out a way to change his fate and the fate of those around him.

Helping him out is Emily Blunt (Looper, The Five-Year Engagement) playing hard-ass Rita dubbed the Angel of Verdun for her impressive skills in alien extermination.  Cage soon finds that he has more in common with Rita than he’d ever imagined…and soon both are working together to turn the tables on an enemy always one step ahead of them.  Though the previews for Edge of Tomorrow seem to show a lot, there’s a nice hunk of story left that hasn’t been spoiled by the marketing department and certainly won’t be spoiled by me here.

Cruise is in top form (my date for the evening was heard saying several times “He’s 50!  The man is 50! How does he still look like that?” in the darkened theater) and is more than happy to let Blunt get her moment in the sunshine as well.  A movie star through and through, Cruise has fun playing a man of avarice humbled by his new found curse of living a bad day over and over and over.  Blunt steps up to the plate in a big way, proving to be a formidable co-star and giving the impression she’s just as tough as her leading man and any of the grizzled grunts that populate the film.

Liman keeps the action going strong without muddying the waters.  Originally I was a bit overwhelmed by the onslaught of explosions and battle sequences but it’s all in service to how the script refines what we’re seeing as the film progresses.  The musical score by Christophe Beck (Muppets Most Wanted, Endless Love) is appropriately juggernaut-y and the special effects blend seamlessly with the large scale set pieces necessary to tell the tale.

Movies are often compared to video games and in the case of Edge of Tomorrow that’s a fair comparison.  In video games, when you die you get to repeat the level and do your best to try and avoid past mistakes.  It’s a gimmick the film uses well and even if it bends the rules ever so slightly to get to an ending that was probably unavoidable, it’s a small nitpick for a summer blockbuster that more than gets the job done.  Well worth a watch.

Movie Review ~ The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu)

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II.

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Stanley Tucci, Mandy Patinkin, William H. Macy, Werner Herzog, Mae Whitman, Jennifer Grey, Darren Criss, Elijah Wood, Ronan Farrow

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: After all these years of going to the movies it took The Wind Rises to finally get me to ask myself the question…can you truly appreciate a movie and not wholly like it?  If so, then legendary Oscar winning animator (and driving force behind Japan’s animation juggernaut Studio Ghibli) Hayao Miyazaki has wrapped up his storied career with a highly respectable and deeply personal tale that’s free of the whimsy of fantasia found in his early work and one that’s more grounded in historical reality.

Though the film is a highly fictionalized work, its central character Jiro Horikoshi was no figment of Miyazaki’s imagination.  Known today for creating the Zero fighter plane, Horikoshi served as chief engineer of many of Japans fighter planes during World War II.  Miyazaki takes the idea of the character of Horikoshi and his life’s work and fashions a biographical tale that has its share of moments that soar into the heavens but more often than not feels too earth bound.

A story that could have (and should have?  and will?) be told as a live-action film, it falls victim to the Miyazaki style of animation favors featureless characters that unfortunately all start to blend together after a while.  Even the animals have odd human-like faces that are more than a tad off-putting for a picture that seems to resist going for a mythical element as is found in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro

Yet even though Miyazaki is going for something more naturalistic, he finds ways to let his imagination run wild such as in the sequences of Horikoshi’s dreams that find him commiserating with Carponi, an Italian aeronautical architect who conjured up some awe-inspiring designs for the future of travel.  Accompanied by a soundtrack made up of human voices that stand in for an orchestra or sound effects, these passages may be cool to the touch but are warm in spirit.

Between earthquakes, sickness, the threat of war, and a love affair with a girl from his past, Horikoshi’s story is revealed in metered bits that somehow manage not to feel choppy or overly episodic.  As with most of Miyazaki’s work, the film runs over two hours and this one feels like it…so I could have done with the film clocking in twenty minutes shorter.  Even so, the value of seeing the final work of Japan’s master makes it worth the extra time in your seat.

Nominated for Best Animated Film at the 2014 Oscars, several theaters will be showing The Wind Rises in its original subtitled version or in a dubbed edition for those that are averse to hearing a film in its native tongue.  I saw the film with the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon), Emily Blunt (The Five Year Engagement), John Krasinski (Promised Land, Big Miracle), Martin Short (Frankenweenie), Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Darren Criss (Girl Most Likely), though none of the Hollywood voices add much to the mix.

A work to be respected, I’m still not sure if I truly liked the film.  It’s slow and a bit of a slog to get through.  Still, like walking through a museum of fine art, I came out of the screening appreciative to have taken the journey.

The Silver Bullet ~ Edge of Tomorrow

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Synopsis: A soldier fighting in a war with aliens finds himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle, though he becomes better skilled along the way.

Release Date:  June 6, 2014

Thoughts: It’s become almost too easy for people to go after Tom Cruise and how he lives his life off-screen.  Yes, the couch jumping was eyebrow raising, the Scientology is head-scratching, and the rumors of his personal life have been tabloid fodder for decades.  Still, it’s hard to deny that the man continues to make very watchable films.  I thought his performance in Rock of Ages was the only saving grace in that mess and the underappreciated Jack Reacher and Oblivion showed the scrappy actor aging gracefully in quality product.

Slightly delayed from its original intended holiday 2013 release date and re-titled from the more interesting All You Need is Kill, Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow has the creative time behind it that suggests it’s more than just another big budget Tranformers-y point and shoot film.  Adding considerable interest to me is Emily Blunt (Looper, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), an actress consistently good but who has yet to lock into that perfect role.  2014 might be her year as she goes action chick in this and shows off her singing pipes in Into The Woods so check back in a year to see where she winds up.  Me, I’m looking forward to this…as I do most Cruise vehicles because they are always cinematically in tune with the times.

The Silver Bullet ~ Arthur Newman

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Synopsis: A story of a man who fakes his own death and assumes a new identity in order to escape his life, who then moves in with a woman who is also trying to leave her past behind.

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Thoughts: Oscar winner Colin Firth and the dependable Emily Blunt are the stars of this dramedy helmed by first time director Dante Ariola in a story of two people trying to escape their pasts.  The trailer for the movie has a nice vibe to it, though the enjoyment of the film is probably heightened if you were interested in traveling cross country with only Firth’s quirky charm and Blunt’s dedicated appeal to keep you company.  I’m a fan of both actors so count me in to chip in for gas when this is released.