Friday, October 28, 2016

Blu-ray Review: “The Neon Demon”

Movie: ** 1/2
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: *** 1/2
Extras: ** 1/2

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Most people probably don’t realize that Nicolas Winding Refn has been directing movies since long before Drive. Always reveling in the underworld, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking. It probably didn’t hurt having worked with actors such as John Turturro (Fear X), Mads Mikkelsen (Bleeder, Pusher, Valhalla Rising), and Tom Hardy (Bronson). The most interesting fact is that his best film (Drive) he didn’t write.

Ever since Refn made the anti-Fast and Furious, he’s never been able to recapture that lightning in a bottle. Only God Forgives wound up being an indecipherable disaster. A least with The Neon Demon, Refn manages to make a visually stunning film, even if it still fails to connect the dots on any kind of story level. Not even Elle Fanning’s knockout performance can cobble the pieces together to make The Neon Demon worth the self indulgent two-hour runtime.

Sixteen-year-old Jesse (Fanning) is an aspiring model and is quickly taken under the wings of makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who introduces her to the jealous Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote). Jesse has that perfect look that most models would kill for, quickly scooping up private jobs for the highly-coveted photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington) and end-girl at a runway show. The stakes continue to get higher as Jesse slips her way up the runway ladder with Sarah, Gigi, and Ruby hatching a plan to try to get whatever it is she has.

Broadgreen Pictures distributes The Neon Demon for Amazon Studios on Blu-ray with stunning results. Say what you want about the Refn’s meandering plot, but the film looks spectacular in high def. Colors explode off the screen while never blooming or bleeding, and blacks never crush unless intentionally. Detail could have used a little bit of a boost; the film never looks as in focus as it could. Unfortunately, a hint case of banding can be spotted in the sky behind Fanning and co-star Karl Glusman in a nighttime scene. And a tiny case of judder affects a door frame in Jesse’s hotel room during a long pan. Aside from that, this is a tip top presentation.

The 5.1 DTS-HD track could also have used a bit of a life. Never fully utilizing the surround speakers, this is one front heavy mix. The music is placed at the forefront, but dialogue is never completely drowned out. Bass is never as punchy as you’d expect considering composer Cliff Curtis’s use of disco-infused beats, but it’s still an almost intoxicating score. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t put to better use to fully envelope the viewer in Refn’s mad, mad world. A Spanish 5.1 DTS Digital Surround mix, along with English and Spanish subtitles are included.

 Considering how much love Refn has for his own film, the special features are particularly lacking. Anyone hoping to learn more about the production is stuck with an “Audio Commentary with Refn and Elle Fanning.” It’s more interesting to hear Fanning ooh and aah over her first commentary recording than to hear Refn try to explain his supposed symbolism. “Behind the Soundtrack” (5 mins) consists of Refn and Curtis gloat over the score and “About The Neon Demon” (1 min) is a super quick EPK piece with Fanning talking about how she had to be involved in a horror film revolving around models.

The Neon Demon is never particularly bad, but rarely really good. You watch each scene play out hoping that it leads up to some kind of brilliant finale. Instead, all we get are the end credits. It’s like listening to a two hour crescendo only to have the power go out before anything really happens. It feels incomplete, yet nothing happens that makes you wish there was more. To avoid spoiler territory, all I can say is that without the return of Fanning, there’s absolutely no way to continue anyway. Bolstering a fantastic video transfer — hindered by an unengaging sound mix — and lacking an effective allotment of bonus features, The Neon Demon never sinks its teeth into the material like it thinks it is. It’s every bit as vapid and beautiful as the models it sets out to mock. With some luck, Refn will finally be able to rise back up to the brilliance of Drive, but this is definitely not it.

Blu-ray Review: “The Wailing”

Movie: **** 1/2
Video: **** 1/2
Audio: ****
Extras: **

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If there’s one genre finally getting a little more brains, it’s horror. While not all of them can come out winners, it’s about time the genre became respectable again. Horror films aren’t all exactly the same, there are even fewer close to what The Wailing has to offer. Director Na Hong-jin has crafted an epic (156 minutes) yarn that smoothly careens through several genre tropes with ease. You never know what to expect as a quiet village is overwhelmed with mysterious deaths and illnesses. Along with stars Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimara, Woo-hee Chun, and the young Kim Hwan-hee, they deliver one of the year’s best horror films, if not one of the best of the year.

At the sleepy village of Goksung, a mysterious Japanese man, only referred to as The Stranger (Kunimara), has arrived, living in seclusion up in the mountains. Amongst the deaths and illnesses taking over the village, the bumbling police officer Jong-goo (Do-won) winds up on the case after he has a run in with The Stranger and The Woman of No-name (Chun) after one of the victim’s house burns down. It doesn’t take long before Jong-goo has to join forces with his fellow lawmen, a young priest, and a local Shaman (Jung-min), to find out who really is behind the evil and save his daughter.

Well Go USA has done a masterful job bringing The Wailing to Blu-ray. Considering it’s length, the 50GB disc was a wise choice. The picture at times — captured on Arri digital cameras, at least as far as the end credits indicate — is gorgeous. Every detail is razor sharp, with a great amount of shadow delineation. Crush is never an issue, even if at times the blacks are never as dark as they could be. It’s a good thing here though, as you can always see what’s going on, no matter how much you might not want to at times. I did catch a few seconds of fleeting banding in one of the earlier scenes, but it never rears its head again.

Greens are extra lush while blood reds are dark and shiny, no blooming or bleeding here. The Korean 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track could have been a little better. Once you get the volume adjusted, dialogue and sound effects are never drowned out by the score. It’s just a shame the mix is as front heavy as it is. Prioritization is always spot on when needed, and bass gets a good workout when the Shaman performs his exorcism ceremony. But it also holds the film back from being more terrifying. I can imagine how much scarier this would be in a theater. There is no additional audio tracks, but English subtitles are available.

Considering how good the film is, it’s a shame the special features are so scant. “The Beginning of The Wailing” (1:51) is a quick EPK with the director and cast discussing how much they wanted to be involved with the production. It was nice to hear Hong-jin mention that he wanted to build on different genres’ strengths to diminish their weaknesses, because that’s exactly what he does. “Making Of” (4:56) concretes that the director set out to make a very stylized slow burn and discusses how long it took to shoot the film. Shooting on-location, they had to literally carry the rain machines with them through the mountains, along with battling the weather. We also learn it took days to film some scenes, and a total of 18 months — six months of production and 12 months of pre-production — to complete the project. The film’s trailer (1:54) rounds things out. The disc also comes front-loaded with previews for Train to Busan, Kill Your Friends, and Black Coal, Thin Ice.

Horror fans — especially those of the exemplary foreign market — will find a lot to love with The Wailing. At first they may not be sure exactly what it is they’re watching as the tones shift around so quickly. But the film stands as far more than the sum of its parts. Featuring stellar video, the best advice would be to make sure you have enough time on your hands and sit back and enjoy the ride. The Wailing is one you won’t soon forget.

Blu-ray Review: “Cat People”

Movie: **** out of 5
Video: *****
Audio: ****
Extras: **** 1/2

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Through the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, Universal Studios reigned supreme with a stranglehold on monster movies. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, there was no end to what Universal had waiting in the wings to scare audiences out of their hard earned cash. On the flipside, RKO Pictures and producer Val Lewton tried taking a more cerebral approach after hitting it big with Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. Joining forces with French auteur Jacques Tourneur, the two unleashed Cat People, a film that outplayed Citizen Kane by a full week and scared the pants off filmgoers with nothing more than some effective lighting and their own imagination.

In Cat People, a young Serbian woman, Irena (Simone Simon), meets Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) at the zoo. The two make their way back to Irena’s place where Oliver is betwixt by Irena’s collection of Serbian figurines. Here she tells him stories of her culture’s beliefs in “cat people” who can change their appearance due to witchcraft. Oliver dismisses the stories as silly folklore, looks past the “crazy cat lady” persona, and the two wed.  Things start to take a turn for the supernatural when Oliver’s co-worker Alice starts to make advances on him, while Irena’s psychologist, Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway) starts to make his own on her. Little do they know, that Irena’s beliefs may be more than what’s in her head, putting everyone in possible danger.

Cat People clawed its mark into the pantheon of classic horror films and has been given the Criterion treatment with stunning results. Presented on Blu-ray in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Cat People serves as another example of just how gorgeous black and white film looks in high def. Considering the amount of low-angled lighting, wall textures and building facades look every bit as fantastic as the wardrobe choices. Detail is razor sharp making the film look brand new — it only takes watching the extra features to see just how good it looks. There are a few soft focus shots, but it never gets in the way.

Grain is always present with blacks never diving into crush with no scratches, dirt, hairs, or specks. The uncompressed Mono track is just as good. While you may have to turn the sound up just a tad to make sure you hear all the dialogue, there are no hiss or pops to distract. There are a few instances of the slightest buzzing, but it’s only really noticeable because you have to turn up the audio above reference level. There are no alternate audio options — English subtitles are available.

The special features may look scant compared to your typical Criterion disc, but what they lack in quantity is well made up for in quality. The best feature is the full-length documentary, “Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows” (76 mins). Narrated by Martin Scorsese, New York Film Festival director Kent Jones provides a fantastic look at the uber producer’s life. From RKO’s takeover and the butchering of Welles’s Magnificent Ambersons to kickstarting the new low budget horror branch with Cat People. It’s mentioned that Universal was spending anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million, Lewton knew he could make films just as good for even less. Cat People was made on a mere $100,000 and grossed around $4 million. They also understand the difference between horror vs fear — revulsion vs fear. As good as Cat People is, this doc makes it even more worth the money.

Adding to the documentary is the inclusion of Tourneur’s appearance on the French TV show, Cine Regards (26 mins). Here Tourneur discusses making the film, along with him coming to Hollywood to take part in the “film factory.” It’s also fun to hear him talk about creating the cat effects using just a flashlight and his hand, and dealing with American censorship with everything from beds being measured away from each other and kissing being timed to a mere three seconds. Another treat is “John Bailey” (16 mins) where the director of photography on director Paul Schrader’s remake discusses Nicholas Musuraca’s work on the original. The film’s trailer (1 min) and an audio commentary ported over from the 2005 Warner Bros. DVD release with film historian Gregory Mank fill in any blanks left from the aforementioned features. A leaflet folds out featuring a mini-poster of sorts and an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien.

Cat People may be most remembered thanks to its nudity-filled remake, but the original stands on its own against any of the Universal monster films. Criterion has given the film an exquisite transfer and a wealth of special features making it a no-brainer to pick up a copy on Blu-ray. I can’t see the film looking any better than it does here outside of a full 4K restoration, but even at 2K, it looks marvelous and gets the due it deserves bringing the film out of the shadows for a broader audience. And the best part being right in time for Halloween.

Movie Review: “Inferno”


** out of 5
121 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality

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Considering who swiftly Hollywood cranks out sequels, it’s surprisingly been 10 years since Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code hit theaters. Based on the worldwide bestselling novel, Ron Howard returned to the director’s chair for Angels & Demons only three years after Code. While A&D may have garnered slightly better reviews — absolutely not from this guy — the box office was not as sweet upon Tom Hanks’s Robert Langdon’s return to the silver screen. And now, the third installment, Inferno, arrives seven years after A&D — and too little too late. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more boring thriller released this year. Inferno manages to make The Girl on the Train feel like a runaway freight train.

Billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) has had it with the world’s overpopulation and the World Health Organization is hot on his heels in Italy to stop him from unleashing hell on earth using a manufactured plague. Meanwhile, Langdon is in the hospital suffering from a head wound and amnesia. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) reacts swiftly when Vayentha (Ana Ularu) tries to kill him while posing as the police. Before you can figure out a Rubik’s Cube, Langdon and Brooks are hiding out in her apartment, where Langdon discovers a Faraday Pointer in his pocket. Soon enough, the two are on the run from everyone trying to piece together the clues Zobrist left behind before his plague wipes out the world’s overpopulation issue.

For all the running and chasing happening throughout Inferno, Howard is barely able to keep his audience awake. If you find yourself dozing off at some point, don’t be surprised. Sadly, not even Hanks is up to par with the material provided. David Koepp may have tried to keep the runtime to a minimum, but even he is above Brown’s source material. When your name is attached to a string of hits such as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Stir of Echoes, Panic Room, Spider-Man, War of the Worlds, and Zathura, we try to forgive you for things like The Shadow, Snake Eyes, and even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The man knows how to inject a sense of fun and energy into a screenplay, so the only real culprit seems to be Brown.

Even Howard is usually better than this. I can’t help but think he was contracted into continuing the further misadventures of Robert Langdon due to his attachment to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. But all I can say is that after bearing witness to Inferno, we can thank the film gods that he’s not directing The Dark Tower himself. Gone is the heydey when the Imagine Entertainment logo used to mean something: The ’Burbs, Parenthood, Kindergarten Cop, My Girl, Apollo 13, Liar Liar, 8 Mile, Arrested Development. See what I mean? All we’re left with Inferno is another trip to the well, but the well was dry even with The Da Vinci Code.

The only thing audiences are bound to compare this to, is suffering through Dante’s Inferno themselves. Boring, predictable at every turn, and unintentionally hilarious, Inferno is where the buck needs to stop. Everyone involved needs to safely retreat from the Dan Brown business and leave well enough alone.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Movie Review: “Keeping Up with the Joneses”

Keeping Up with the Joneses

*** out of 5
105 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language
20th Century Fox

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Not every comedy needs to be the next classic. There are plenty of fantastic comedies that most people have probably never heard of. That’s not to say Keeping Up with the Joneses is a new classic — it’s far from it. But it’s also never horrible either. Some comedies can maintain enough momentum to justify their existence, even if it’s barely enough to keep it out of straight-to-video bargain bins. Director Greg Mottola’s last three films — Superbad, Adventureland, and Paul — may have set expectations higher than they should be, but it never completely flops either. It’s just that Mottola — along with his cast of Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, and Jon Hamm — could have given us so much more.

Jeff (Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Fisher) live such exhausted, routine lives that when they send their kids away to camp, the only thing they wanna do is queue up the DVR and pop some popcorn. They lack the spark they used to have, but it seems to reawaken after the Joneses — Tim (Hamm) and Natalie (Gadot) — move in across the street. They just seem too perfect and it starts eating away at Karen so much that she starts following Natalie around town. After Jeff and Karen find a surveillance monitor in a gift from the Joneses, all their suspicions are confirmed and they become embroiled in trying to keep their squeaky clean suburban demeanor. All while, you guessed it, keeping up with the Joneses in a high stakes game of espionage.

Michael LeSieur’s screenplay has some fun lines scattered throughout — the funniest being Jeff and Karen bickering about that time Karen thought he was possessed — and tries toying with spy conventions, but this is absolutely the least funny film of Mottola’s career. Of course, when you look back at who was responsible for his string of hits — Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Paul), Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad), and himself for Adventureland — there was obviously a little spit shine still needed before the screenplay made its way in front of the camera. Considering the only recognizable film on LeSieur’s resume is You, Me and Dupree, it’s not a total shock at the absence of hilarity.

At least the cast seems to be having fun. Galifianakis is more likeable than he almost ever has been as a lead and makes his pairing alongside Fisher surprisingly believable. Gadot and Hamm, however, steal the whole movie. The two have considerable chemistry and it would actually be hilarious if a sequel/spin-off featured them trying to keep up with the Gaffneys while living a truly domesticated life and trying to let old habits die hard. I’m sure any married with children couple will find plenty to laugh at, while spy fans will have fun watching Wonder Woman and Don Draper save the day in style. Keeping Up with the Joneses may not be the funniest film of the year, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion to recommend as a fun date movie.

Movie Review: “Ouija: Origin of Evil”

Ouija: Origin of Evil

**** 1/2
99 mins
Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, terror and thematic elements
Universal Pictures

Article first published as published at

Despite how easy it is for a horror sequel to get the greenlight, it’s still surprising that Ouija got one. Based on the Hasbro board game, the original film was banished to deserved critical purgatory, but that didn’t stop it from earning $103 million worldwide on a $5 million budget. Before you can say sequel, here comes Mike Flanagan’s spectacular prequel frightfest, Ouija: Origin of Evil, to save the franchise no one wanted. Having just watched Flanagan’s terrific woman-in-peril-empowerment Netflix flick Hush over the weekend, I was hoping to be able to forgive him for his terrible cop out of an ending in Oculus. Low and behold, this Ouija is everything the first film wasn’t and in the best of ways, blowing it right out of the water.

Going back to 1967, widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) is trying to hold her family together by holding fake seances to provide closure for those dealing with grief. Trying to pay the bills and keep her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) in line, life is looking bleak. After Paulina sneaks out to a party where she plays with an Ouija board, Alice decides to up her game and brings one home. Soon enough, young Doris is communicating with her deceased father and something much more dangerous. Lucky for them, the girls’ school principal Father Tom (Henry Thomas) decides to take an interest in Doris who missed almost a whole week of school, but not before the house starts to have its way with her, unleashing a powerful entity threatening to kill all of them.

As much as I loved The Conjuring 2, it was far too schizophrenic in its tone compared to the first one. This is the year’s scariest film. No offense to James Wan, but Flanagan takes full advantage of his ’60s setting and runs with it right from the opening Universal logo. Cigarette burns litter the corners of frames; music warbles like we’re watching an old VHS tape; and an Exorcist homage sets up the grand finale we’ve been waiting for.

Flanagan — and co-writer/partner-in-crime Jeff Howard (Oculus, Before I Wake, and their upcoming Stephen King adaptation of Gerald’s Game and an I Know What You Did Last Summer reboot) — takes an old school approach, keeping the suspense running high with little scares sprinkled throughout leading up to the big ones. He’s also made this a far more emotional horror movie than audiences may be used to. You’re either going to love it (à la Poltergeist) or be bored while you wait for the goods. Things do get a little reliant on loud noise scares toward the end, but at least the plot makes sense — and the twist doesn’t feel like a cop out like Oculus did.

Ouija: Origin of Evil is the year’s scariest horror film, and keeps things lean and mean and just in time for Halloween!

Movie Review: “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back”

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

** 1/2 out of 5
118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements
Paramount Pictures

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With an ever changing clique of directors, Tom Cruise has gotten a lot of mileage out of his Mission: Impossible franchise. With each new entry, they’ve all managed to make an even better film than the last — with the exception of Christopher McQuarrie’s Rogue Nation because let’s face it, they’re gonna have to really knock it out of the park to best Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol.

Sadly, that isn’t the case with Cruise’s second installment of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, Never Go Back. As unusual casting choice Cruise was to begin with, the same thing could be said of director Edward Zwick. While having directed Cruise before — The Last Samurai — he’s never managed to make a top notch film. It doesn’t help that his resume is all over the map. And even his best films, Glory and Legends of the Fall, are now 27 and 22 years old. His lackadaisical approach encroaches every frame of Never Go Back, always keeping any kind of excitement from finally kicking into high gear. Not something fans of the first film will find endearing.

I can’t help but think that Zwick is trying to stay truer to character, but this Jack Reacher is a complete bore from start to finish. Sure, Zwick gives Cruise plenty of chances to take off on one of his prerequisite jaunts, but costar Cobie Smulders is never able to keep up. Smulders still has yet to find a role that she can conquer and continues to be just another version of everyone’s favorite TV Canadian, Robin Scherbatsky.

Everyone is hindered by Zwick’s lackluster direction, which he is solely responsible for considering he co-wrote the screenplay — along with Marshall Herskovitz (who also contributed to Zwick’s Samurai and Love & Other Drugs) — leaving no room for blame. Richard Wenk (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer, Expendables 2) was probably brought in by Cruise to punch up the screenplay, but all we get is Cruise literally doing way more punching than usual. The plot is a complete throwaway with Smulders’s Major Turner simply along for the ride while Reacher tries to keep her — and an is-she-or-isn’t-she 15-year-old daughter (Danika Yarosh) — out of harm’s way.

Zwick has made one of the most boring and lifeless action sequels possibly ever. While other franchises ramp up the fun, action, and ridiculousness with each chapter, Never Go Back stutters and faults right out of the gate. It’s all coincidence and chance here, leaving Reacher’s Batman-esque detective skills deduced down to simply putting two and two together at the last second. This Jack Reacher may leave it open for more sequels — surprisingly considering this film was made simply on the amount of money raked in overseas to the tune of $138 million while barely making $80 stateside — but Cruise would do well to ditch Zwick now and Never Go Back.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Movie Review: “The Accountant”

The Accountant

**** 1/2
128 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout
Warner Bros. Pictures

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I love a good black comedy. There have been many good and bad over the years, but when done right, they rank right up there as some of my all-time faves. Very Bad Things, Grosse Point Blank, and Death Becomes Her are probably my top three, in no particular order. And now, director Gavin O’Connor’s (Miracle, Warrior) can add his latest Ben Affleck action thriller, The Accountant to the list. A mixture of razor-sharp comedy, and punchy action beats, audiences have no idea what’s in store here. Utilizing a fantastic ensemble, The Accountant is one of my favorite films of the year.

Our titular accountant, Christian Wolff (Affleck), is a quiet, introverted, small town CPA who just so happens to have autism. As a child, Christian’s parents (Robert C. Treveiler and Mary Kraft) have tried everything to help him lead a normal life. After Christian’s mother leaves, his father takes him on an escalating path of self defense with some brutal Jakarta lessons along the way. In the present, Treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) has tasked Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) with finding out who the accountant is behind some of the most notorious gangster across the globe.

Meanwhile, bruiser Brax (Jon Bernthal) is hot on Christian’s tail after he takes on a new client in robotics mogul Lamar Black (John Lithgow). But as Christian gets closer to the truth, the body count starts to rise, along with his morals as he makes an emotional decision to help keep Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) — one of Black’s employees who discovered the trail of missing money — safe.

The less said about the plot the better, it’s surprising how little was actually just divulged. Thankfully, O’Connor keeps Bill Dubuque’s (The Judge) screenplay zipping along at a breakneck pace. The film rarely lags, aside from getting minorly sidetracked with a subplot involving King and the backstory as to why he’s so interested in Christian. The biggest surprise is how funny the film is. Affleck nails his one-liners, keeping them perfectly natural and always hilarious. Some of the biggest laughs come late in the film, but a sense of humor always goes a long way when it comes to action.

Sure, there are a few plot holes, and it could have been squeezed down to a tighter runtime. But, The Accountant gives most action films a run for their money. The action scenes may be more of the small burst variety, but when they hit, they hit hard. And a few are bound to leave audiences’ jaws dropped. It’s also pretty brutal and unflinching. The cast all work fantastic together — even if Medina is a stock throwaway character — but every film needs a pawn, right? The bottom line is, The Accountant is one of the best action films of the year, and the most fun you can have in theaters right now.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Movie Review: “The Girl on the Train”

The Girl on the Train

** 1/2
112 minutes
Rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity
Universal Pictures

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It may seem like there’s one movie every year claiming to be the new “feel bad picture of the year,” but really it’s only been David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. For better and worse, the 2016 edition is The Girl on the Train. It may seem like an odd honor to seek, but, let’s face it, sometimes we wanna watch bad people doing terrible things. It’s a break from the monotony of reality and a fantastic change of pace from most of the sunshiney Hollywood offerings. Unfortunately, Girl on the Train suffers from feeling like a retread or part of a trilogy where third time is not the charm. Director Tate Taylor — best known for The Help and Get on Up — feels wholly uncomfortable working with such dour material and not even the always reliable Emily Blunt can help save the film from feeling simply like more of the same.

Rachel (Blunt) is our titular train rider. A divorcée who watches the same houses every day on her train ride into the city. In one of the houses lives Megan (Haley Bennett), a woman she slowly becomes obsessed with. We are also introduced to not just Megan and her husband Scott (Luke Evans), but Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) who live two houses down. We then learn that Rachel is an alcoholic who suffers from violent blackouts and just in time for Megan to go missing. All fingers point to Scott, but Rachel confesses to him that she saw Megan kissing another man — her shrink, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) — on their back patio. Now, Rachel is caught in a web between her old life and her current self destruction, with Detective Riley (Allison Janney) hot on everyone’s cases.

There’s really nothing inherently wrong with The Girl on the Train, so much as there’s just nothing great either. It just chugs along toward its inevitable conclusion leaving some of us trying to figure it all out, while those who have read the book become bored knowing what’s coming. Director Taylor does what he can with Erin Cressida Wilson’s sluggish adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s novel, but he doesn’t show any affinity for the bleak. Copying Fincher’s style doesn’t pay off. The term sleeper hit had been thrown around prior to the film’s premiere, but the only word I’d use is “sleeper.” The pace is never relentless enough to make you feel like you’re watching a thriller, making this feel like a star-studded big screen Lifetime flick. Ok, it’s never that bad; it’s never really good either.

There also have been some story alterations and character additions — which is always bound to happen — but the original plotting and denouement makes way more sense than what happens here. The ending isn’t as shocking as it should be, and by the time the credits role you’ll just shrug it off and begin anticipating the next film of its kind. Poor Blunt gets stuck in one of her more thankless roles, and tries her best to make Rachel as sympathetically repellant as she can. By the time the big twist rolls around, you won’t care and you’ll just want it to be over. The only good news is that it runs under two hours, so at least they didn’t try to run us through the wringer Gone Girl-style. But where that film was full of excellent performances, style, and intrigue, The Girl on the Train simply makes you wish for the train to stop so you can get off.

Movie Review: “Deepwater Horizon”

Deepwater Horizon

**** out of 5
107 minutes
Rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images

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If there’s one thing the start of the fall movie season can ensure, it’s a firesale on Oscar bait. While everything about Deepwater Horizon may not exactly be first class — there are some questionable effects — but director Peter Berg definitely puts everything he’s got into it. Even though Battleship is unforgivable, the man knows how to deliver an ensemble pic — see Very Bad Things or Friday Night Lights — which could be from his being on E.R. But if there’s one thing to be sure of, while no one has been able to forget the BP oil spill, it’s about time those involved were given their due.

If there’s one thing about Deepwater Horizon working against it, it’s the set up. Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z and Berg’s The Kingdom) and Matthew Sand (Ninja Assassin) devote way too much time building up the story. While I thought the surprisingly short 107 minute runtime would fly right by, it starts with a sluggish pace. Berg wants the film to feel like a powder keg just waiting to ignite, but the fuse is way too long. By the time we finally get to know everyone on board, it’s obvious what’s coming. Thankfully, the wait is worth it, with Berg letting loose the fireworks, pitting us all in the midst of the raging inferno. Terrifying is the only word to describe it.

The cast are all at the top of their game — Wahlberg finally is once he kicks into hero mode giving Mike Williams the humanity he deserves. Kurt Russell gives the growly Jimmy Harrell way more depth than you’d expect as the man knowing their sitting on a heap of dynamite waiting to blow. John Malkovich gets the rare chance to play the truly vile human being Donald Vidrine. Dylan O’Brien gives a better performance here than he ever has as Caleb Holloway and Gina Rodriguez squeezes in a fantastic portrayal of Andrea Fleytas. The film never takes its focus away from the horrors aboard the Horizon and doesn’t exceed into the litigations that followed. Deepwater Horizon is a film about human endurance in the face of tragedy and Berg delivers one of the most unflinching looks at a disaster of the first order.