Tag Archives: Emily Blunt

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

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S’no Go

Muddled ‘Snow White’ prequel-sequel mash-up can’t find its way

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

PG-13

Hey Snow, where’d you go?

In 2012, Snow White and the Huntsman gave the age-old fairy tale a sassy new action-y feminist twist, with Kristin Stewart as the feisty, fair-skinned maiden—foretold by the Magic Mirror to be the loveliest in the land—and Chris Hemsworth as the evil queen’s “huntsman” ordered to take her into the woods and kill her.

Of course, things didn’t quite work out that way—and now we have The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a sequel. Actually it’s a prequel. Well, I think it’s a little of both, and a mash-up of several other things, too, and quite a bit of an all-around muddled mess.

Jessica Chastain

And Snow White seems to have wisely decided to steer clear from it all. So there’s no Snow in this Huntsman, unless you count the times she’s mentioned by name. But the movie certainly isn’t hurting for other talent. Hemsworth is back, and so is Charlize Theron as the wicked monarch Ravenna. Emily Blunt is newly aboard as Ravenna’s sister Freya, turned into a cruel “ice queen” by an act of heartless treachery. Jessica Chastain is Sara, who like Hemsworth’s rebellious Huntsman, grew up as an abducted child soldier forced to serve in Freya’s army of marauders.

British comedic actors Nick Frost and Rob Brydon, shrunk to wee size by the modern magic of digital effects, play a pair of dwarf brothers who provide most of the chuckles in this otherwise dull and dreary trek through a disjointed plot that feels like someone threw bits of Game of Thrones, Disney’s Frozen, Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz into a blender with some crushed ice, black goo and gold flecks, then set it to puree.

Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron

If you’re into ornate costumes, you might dig the over-the-top duds in which Blunt and Theron get to vamp. In the couple of scenes they’re together, I kept wishing Cher would suddenly appear—maybe descending from the ceiling—for a full-on Las Vegas revue.

The storybook decor is lush and quite lovely, especially when the Huntsman, Sara, the two dwarves and their special-effect dwarf dates (Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith) take a day trip to Goblin Land, or something like that, to retrieve the purloined Magic Mirror, which looks like a huge polished cymbal from a music store. Some of the location filming was done in England’s Windsor Great Park, although I’m pretty sure you won’t find any big, blue ape-men, giant moss-covered snakes or tiny florescent flying fairies there.

Not campy and gonzo enough to be real fun, nor dark and dangerous enough to qualify as truly grim, this is instead a drab, disjointed stab by a first-time feature director who, bless his heart, can’t seem to find his target in all the icy, FX-laden glop. The best—and most amazing—thing about it by far is its all-star, A-list cast, all of whom who gamely give it their best in the service of something clearly less than “the fairest of them all.”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Drugs ‘R’ Us

Tense, thought-provoking ‘Sicario’ is gripping, gut-punch thriller

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Sicario

Starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin & Benicio Del Toro

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

R

A gauzy curtain wafts in the breeze early in Sicario, a gripping, gut-punch thriller about America’s “war on drugs” along our southern border.

The swath of fabric is a membrane-thin divider, its shape is constantly shifting, offering little protection from what’s on the other side, and you can’t really see clearly through it—great metaphors for everything that happens in French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s visceral, thought-provoking saga about an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who joins a task force to track down a brutal Mexican drug lord.

Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benecio Del Toro are members of a covert task force tracking a brutal Mexican drug czar in ‘Sicario.’

After informing us in the opening that its title is a Mexican word for “hit man,” taken from a term for zealots in ancient Jerusalem who hunted and killed Romans that invaded their homeland, Sicario starts with a bang—literally. An armored vehicle explodes through a brick wall, and things don’t soften up for the next two hours.

After Blunt’s agent Macer leads a raid on a suburban home just outside of Phoenix that turns out to be a house of horrors connected to a Mexican drug kingpin, she’s all aboard to help a governmental black-ops cowboy (Josh Brolin) and his even shadier partner, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), shut him down.

There’s more to the mission than that, as Macer—and we—find out. Like Blunt’s assignment, and the war on drugs itself, nothing in Sicario moves in a clean, straight line, nothing is really as it appears to be, and no one can really be trusted—or can they?

Director Villeneuve likes working taut, tough and raw; his previous films include the brutal revenge thriller Prisoners (2013), with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, and the Oscar-nominated mystery drama Incendies (2010). Here he steers his outstanding cast through a murky maze of escalating tension, ratcheting suspense and ghastly acts of violence. Quickly, Macer’s moral compass starts to spin out of control; she can’t sort good guys from bad, tell right from wrong, or even keep track of which side of which line she’s on.

Benecio Del Toro

Blunt is phenomenal, charging through the movie as the audience surrogate, making us feel every nuance of Macer’s journey from determination to disillusion. In a performance that seethes with mystery and menace, Del Toro speaks volumes with simmering silences—and can inflict pain with only his finger. As the gum-smacking, flip-flop-wearing special operative, Brolin may not always play by the rules, but he sure knows how to “stir the pot that causes criminals to react.”

Sicario has an all-star team behind the scenes, too. Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins gives everything his meticulous master’s touch, and a haunting soundtrack by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson pumps, prods and pushes the drama along like a throbbing electronic heartbeat. In a movie where almost everything stands out, several scenes stand out more, including a freeway traffic jam that erupts in a lethal shootout, and a gripping “night-vision” blackout raid on a desolate desert tunnel used by the cartel. It’s terrific, first-class filmmaking.

How far is too far to go to fight a war that may never be won? Sicario doesn’t have an easy answer, but it sure makes you think hard about the question.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Grimm & Grand

Disney version of hit fairy-tale mash-up musical hits all the right notes

INTO THE WOODS

Into the Woods

Starring Meryl Streep, James Cordon & Emily Blunt

Directed by Rob Marshall

PG

Composer Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning 1987 Broadway play, a marvelously intertwined tapestry of several Grimm fairy tales laced with decidedly grown-up themes, debuts on the big screen with an all-star cast—and enough Disney tweaking to make it marketable to younger audiences.

Sondheim’s musical mash-up takes well-known characters from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella,” adds a few others, and puts them all on a woodland collision course of fate and fortune—and sometimes, alas, misfortune.

“Anything can happen in the woods,” goes a line in one of the songs.

INTO THE WOODS

Emily Blunt and James Cordon

And it certainly does, as a kindly baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt) embark on a journey to find the magical ingredients that will break a generational curse cast by a witch (Meryl Streep) that has prevented them from having a child.

Before they go, they send Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) traipsing off with a basket of baked goods to see her granny. Soon enough, they come across Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) fleeing from an arduous prince (Chris Pine), and the young village peasant Jack (Daniel Huddlestone), whose trade of a beloved milk cow for some magic beans will come to have calamitous effects for everyone.

INTO THE WOODS

Anna Kendrick

As anyone familiar with the musical knows, Sondheim’s storyline and wonderfully clever, crafty songs work on multiple levels. They traffic in some serious, decidedly heavy topics—parenting, choices, decisions, guilt, forgiveness, infidelity, murder and mortality. But they pack in some soft, tender moments, too, and some hilarious highlights, as well. Younger kids may think Johnny Depp’s two-scene cameo as The (big, bad) Wolf is just a howl-y hoot, but adults will easily catch the “sumptuous carnality” in the role’s campy pedophilic undertones. And you won’t come across many more amusing surprises than “Agony,” the preening, prancing “prince”-off duet between Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, whose royal character yearns for the tower-trapped damsel with the golden hair, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy).

INTO THE WOODS

Meryl Streep

Other recognizable faces include Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother and Christine Baranski as Cinderella’s stepmother. Everyone sings, and does a terrific job. You might have known Streep and Kendrick, from previous movies, had the pipes for their roles, but prepared to be blown away by everyone else, especially Blunt (who was—ironically—pregnant during much of the shoot) and Cordon, who you’ll be seeing even more of when he takes over The Late Late Show on CBS in March.

This fractured fairy tale might get a bit grim, especially for overly sensitive little ones; it was never intended as a sweet-dreams bedtime story. Disney has softened some of its coarser edges and made other modifications, but the “Be careful what you wish for” morality-tale message in the show’s not-always-so-happily-ever-after remains intact.

Yes, anything can happen in the woods. Who knows, you might find magic beans, witches, princes, big bad wolves, and much more—like the year’s best, most delightful, star-packed movie musical.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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