Tag Archives: Allison Janney

All Aboard

‘The Girl on the Train’ is dark, juicy fem-centric thriller

Film Title: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
Starring Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett & Rebecca Ferguson
Directed by Tate Taylor
R

“My husband used to tell me I have an overactive imagination,” says Rachel (Emily Blunt), watching the scenes of New York’s Hudson Valley go by as she stares out the window of the train she takes on her daily commute into the city.

Those scenes, that train and that “girl”—Rachel—drive the drama in the highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of British author Paula Hawkins’ 2015 thriller, which has sold some 11 million copies worldwide.

After her divorce, Rachel spiraled even deeper into her alcohol-soaked resentment—and it tortures her every day when the train passes her old house, now occupied by her former husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), his new wife and former mistress, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their new baby daughter.

Haley Bennett

Haley Bennett

But it’s another house, and another set of occupants, that really intrigues Rachel. A beautiful young blonde woman (Haley Bennett) and her adoring husband (Luke Evans) seem to be so obviously, passionately, completely in love. Sipping on vodka as the train zips by, morning and night, Rachel fantasizes about them, and especially about her. “She’s what I lost,” she muses. “She’s everything I want to be.”

The young woman’s name is Megan, and she works as Anna and Tom’s nanny—and loathes it.

As Rachel’s bitterness about Tom and Anna grows, her voyeuristic beguilement with Megan intensifies when she sees her in the embrace of another man, triggering Rachel’s memories of her own husband’s unfaithfulness. One evening Rachel goes on a drunken tirade about Anna the “whore,” takes the train to her neighborhood, but then blacks out—and wakes up the next morning covered in mud and blood.

And Megan has disappeared—or worse. When Allison Janney steps in as a homicide detective, it becomes a murder case. (Did the screen suddenly pick up a stream of CSI: Westchester County or something?) Did Rachel do it? She honestly doesn’t remember. And as blurry as her memory is, she wants to find out the truth, as twisted as it might turn out to be.

Rebecca Ferguson

Rebecca Ferguson

Tate Taylor—who also directed The Help (2011), another drama with a powerful female ensemble—builds the mystery by toggling between Rachel, Megan and Anna and each of their stories, going backward and forward in time to pick up pieces of the fractured, fragmented puzzle.

The performances are all super-solid, especially from the three women playing the triad of females in various states of personal misery and psychological abuse; as the movie takes us deeper into their stories, we see how they all connect, interweave and eventually collide. It’s about secrets, lies, loneliness, love, infidelity, rage, motherhood, things that aren’t always as they seem, and layers and layers of buried hurt and loss that finally come frothing to the surface, spilling into the light. The shocking conclusion splashes out dark, red and juicy—a catharsis that taps a wellspring of pent-up emotions.

Emily Blunt is an extremely versatile actress who’s done musicals (Into the Woods), comedy (The Devil Wears Prada), sci-fi (Edge of Tomorrow, Looper), family flicks (The Muppets), fairy-tale fantasy (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) and action (Sicaro). Now she’s landed a role that will get her even more serious mainstream attention. For her, especially, this Train is just the ticket.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Welcome, Oddballs!

Tim Burton makes misfits feel at ease at ‘Miss Peregrine’s’

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Starring Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell & Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Tim Burton
PG-13

The teenage years can be rough, making kids feel like outsiders, outcasts, oddballs. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were a place young misfits could feel welcome, safe, protected, understood—and important?

And no, I’m not talking about the chess club.

In Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, director Tim Burton creates just such a place—or, more specifically, brings it spectacularly to life from Ransom Riggs’ 2011 young adult novel, a sprawling tall tale of mystery, monsters, a young boy on a tick-tocking, time-looping quest to discover his past, and some very, very peculiar kids.

“Did you ever feel like nothing you do matters?” asks teenage Jake (Asa Butterfield) in the opening scene as a crab scuttles across a footprint on a Florida beach seconds before a wave washes it away. Soon enough Jake himself will be swept across the water on a journey to a magical place that previously existed only in his imagination, fueled by colorful bedtime stories of his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp), where he’ll find out just how needed he can be.

Visiting a remote, mist-shrouded island off the coast of Wales with his father (Chris O’Dowd), Jake discovers a decrepit old mansion bombed to rubble by German air raids in World War II. But stumbling into a “time loop” leads him back to 1943, just before the raids—when Miss Peregrine, her home and all the “peculiar children” were in full swing.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDRENThere’s lovely, lighter-than-air Emma (Ella Purnell), who must use steampunk-ish lead boots and rope tethers to keep her from floating away. Hot-handed Olive (Lauren McCrostie) can set things ablaze with a simple touch. Millard (Cameron King), an invisible boy, likes to run around naked—not that you’d notice. Tiny Bronwyn (Pixie Davies) has the strength of a brute. Whenever Hugh (Milo Parker) opens his mouth, bees that live in his stomach come swarming out. Sweet-looking Claire (Raffiella Chapman) has a nasty surprise underneath the blonde curls of her hair. Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) has a creepy power to animate inanimate objects—including the dead.

The faces of two “twin cousins” are always covered, in spooky white hoods with holes for their eyes and mouths—for a reason not revealed until close to the end of the movie.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Eva Green plays Miss Peregrine.

And as the exotic, pipe-smoking Miss Peregrine, Eva Green (Bond girl Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale) superbly channels her character’s enchanted mission with steely British resolve and flinty maternal focus. She can also morph into a bird, a fleet, regal peregrine falcon. How cool is that?!

Samuel L. Jackson is the evil Mr. Barron—no actor mixes campy humor and genuine menace with such unsettling ease or malevolent charm. There’s Allison Janney and Judi Dench. There’s danger, derring-do, adventure, excitement, laughter, young love and a couple of gross-out creature-feature moments that might be too much for little eyes.

But mostly, there’s director Tim Burton’s thematic signature, everywhere. Burton has always had a thing for outsiders and outliers, misfits like Pee-Wee Herman, Sweeny Todd, Beetlejuice and Willy Wonka, and for classic Hollywood quirk. The topiaries in Miss Peregrine’s courtyard—an elephant, a dinosaur, a centaur—look like they could have been the whimsical snip-snip artistry of Edward Scissorhands. And one major scene is a huge nod—an homage, certainly—to the cheesy highlight of a specific 1960s movie (with stop-motion effects by the late special-effects guru Ray Harryhausen) that Burton has admitted is one of his all-time favorites.

Burton even slips into the action for a super-quick, gob-smacked cameo. Blink and you’ll miss him!

So outsiders, outcasts and oddballs everywhere, of all ages, let your freak flag fly—courtesy of Miss Peregrine, and Tim Burton!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yellow Fellows

‘Minions’ breaks out ‘Despicable’ sidekicks for solo shenanigans

2421_DS_S0200P0020_0119R

Starring Sandra Bullock & Jon Hamm

Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda

PG

Their sideline shenanigans got some of the biggest laughs in Despicable Me (2010) and its 2013 sequel. Now the minions, those little nubby, yellow, evil-enabling assistants, headline their own madcap spinoff about their long, crazy quest to find the “most despicable master” of all to serve.

And what a quest—it begins, we find out (as guided by the narration of Geoffrey Rush) in primordial ooze and quickly bops through various incidents across the centuries as the minions seek out a succession of “bad guys” from dinosaurs and Dracula to an Egyptian pharaoh, Napoleon and an abominable snowman. But they always bungle things, with comically disastrous consequences.

So they keep moving, throughout the centuries and around the globe, until a trio of minion explorers (Kevin, Bob and Stuart) lands in New York City in 1968. Then things shift into comedic high gear as directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda riff on the vibrant sights and sounds of the era (the movie has a killer soundtrack of groovy late-’60s tunes) and serve up a buffet of pop-cultural cleverness for all ages.

2421_FPF2_00051RWhen Kevin, Bob and Stuart see a late-night TV ad for Villain-Con, an upcoming Comic-Con-like convocation of baddies, they know they have to hook up with event’s headliner, the queen of mean, Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock).

The minions have always had an instant appeal to kids, for obvious reasons: They look like wobbly toddlers, they speak gibberish (a goo-goo gush of Euro-babble, provided by director Coffin) and there’s an innate goodness and innocence underneath whatever “bad” they might otherwise be trying to do. They’re guaranteed laughs from children by just walking onto the screen.

2421_SHM_DS_S1100P2230_L_0304R

Sandra Bullock provides the voice of supervillain Scarlett Overkill.

But there’s so much more to the humor here; parents will be greatly entertained by the vocal performances of Bullock as the preening villainess (which some major unresolved childhood issues); Jon Hamm as her groovy spy-gadget-guru husband; and Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as a bank-robbing mom and pop.

The plot zips and zings through dozens of silly sight gags, especially when things move to England and a scheme to steal the queen’s crown. A minion on stilt-like, spy-suit extension legs runs amok in the streets of London to the tune of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Two minions flee a buzzing bee round and round on a cathedral chandelier, and with every frantic lap the fixture unscrews more and more. Rays from a “hypno hat” cause a trio of royal guards strip down to their undies—and break into a gonzo chorus from the musical Hair. The minions intrude on The Beatles’ photo shoot for the cover of Abbey Road.

Stay for a closing-credits montage that brings the minions full circle with Gru (Steve Carell), their master in the two Despicible movies—and a delightful ensemble treat from the whole cast.

At times it made me think of what the Three Stooges would be like if Moe, Larry and Curly were recast for the modern age as pint-size, goggle-wearing, butter-hued niblets. It may not be high humor, but boy, it sure made me laugh.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Anything for a Laugh

Melissa McCarthy is up for anything…but is that a good thing?

6L8A5296.dng

Tammy

Starring Melissa McCarthy & Susan Sarandon

Directed by Ben Falcone

R, 96 min.

Melissa McCarthy’s breakout, in the raunchy hit 2011 comedy Bridesmaids, was an Oscar-nominated supporting role in which her character pooped in a bathroom sink.

As her star ascended, with Sandra Bullock in The Heat and Jason Bateman in Identity Thief, her humor didn’t necessarily rise alongside it to a higher, classier level. Now, in her first bona fide star vehicle—which she co-wrote and produced and her husband, actor Ben Falcone, directed—she sticks with the type of character, for better but mostly for worse, her fans have come to recognize…and expect.

We meet Tammy in the first scene driving her junk car, stuffing her face and jamming out to classic rock on the radio. She’s a big, sloppy mess with a big heart—and big problems. Soon enough, she loses her job, finds her husband cheating with another woman, and sets off on a boozy cross-country road trip with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon) to see Niagara Falls.

L14A2579.dngIt’s all meant to be a custom-made template for the wide-open, plus-size shenanigans of the boldly physical McCarthy, who fearlessly charges and barges from one gag to the next. Tammy crashes a jet ski into a pier. Tammy brags about her irresistible sexual prowess—only to be flatly rebuffed by every guy she approaches in a bar. Tammy puts a greasy paper bag on her head to stick up a hamburger joint.

The story careens between crude, lewd slapstick, sentiment, and family woes so deep and dark you’ll have to remind yourself you’re watching a comedy. The characters of Tammy and her grandmother are so poorly written, so badly formed, they seem to be different people at different times, sometimes during the same scene.

The supporting cast—Kathy Bates, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Dan Aykroyd—loll about, pop in, pop out. But none of them are given anything of real significance to do, and I have to wonder what Kathy Bates was thinking as she delivered a ridiculous soliloquy to a piece of sporting equipment at a Viking funeral.

And, shades of Thelma and Louise, what is Susan Sarandon, wearing a grey wig that looks like it’s on loan from the prop closet of TV’s Mama’s Family, doing here at all? She’s a total pro, but she’s barely 20 years older than McCarthy, and the movie wants us to believe she can be Tammy’s grandmother? It’s a colossal casting fail, and it further bungles this bumpy inter-generational road trip.

TAMMYMcCarthy and her director husband Falcone (who appears in an early scene as Tammy’s boss) may enjoy working together, but it appears that what McCarthy really needs is someone who can funnel her comedic chops into something more focused and refined.

At one point, Tammy drives a car between two trees, where it gets stuck. But she keeps giving it the the gas, yelling, ripping off the rearview mirrors, denting the doors and the fenders, determined to get through—which she eventually does.

Like Tammy, McCarthy just keeps pressing, pushing, running, rolling, slamming and bamming—anything for a laugh, a chuckle, a giggle. Tammy may be one banged-up, scuffed-up, dented mess of a movie, but somehow, nonetheless, McCarthy makes it out, to the other side. To what, now, is the real question.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , ,