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THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN might have been called "Women on the Tracks" since all the movie does is run down females for two hours. directed by Tate Taylor and written by Erin Cressida Wilson, based on the 2015 debut novel of the same name. The film stars Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez and Lisa Kudrow. Blunt plays Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who divorced her husband Tom (Justin Theroux) after she caught him cheating on her with Anna (Ferguson)... Tom's *new* wife who is a catatonic suburban housewife. In a completely pathetic nosedive life, Rachel takes the train to the city every day where she drinks vodka from a sippy cup and wanders around the city drunk until she can take the train home again. In the strangest premise ever she stares out the window and fantasizes about the relationship of her former neighbors Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), during her sad commute to nowhere. She also stares at her old house that has her ex-husband and new wife. That all changes when she witnesses something from the train window and Megan (who is a sexually promiscuous and broken woman) is missing, presumed dead.
There are a lot of texts, messages, and dropped calls to exes and lovers and former lovers that drive the plot here. Apparently, no one in this community knows how to block a number on a cell phone. Also, everyone lives, works, jogs, and generally exists within 100 yards of a train track. Psychiatrist's offices, houses, walkways, shops, restaurants--all with a train in the background. The plot is told in a non-linear fashion that backs up, moves forward, back again further, then not as far, then a bit further still. Although there are placards indicating these flashbacks, they also work seamlessly running back into the present...which makes for some confusing moments throughout. The film advertises as a thriller but never seems to make its way out of second gear. Although these characters might evoke some sad level of sympathy, they aren't ever very interesting. Instead, they come across like a visual Burberry advertisement. Glassy-eyed and glossy suburbia with enough scandal to move the needle...just barely.
Far worse is the portrayal of women who orbit around abusive men and allow themselves to be manipulated to the point of destruction. Even Allison Janney's local detective role is a bumbling fool that can't seem to figure out what the audience can figure out less than halfway through the movie. Despite all of its attempts to throw out a lot of red herrings, the "mystery" of the film isn't much of one at all. And the tired plot device of "I-Can't-Remember-What-Happened-Until-Just-The-Right-Time-When-My-Memory-Magically-Returns" isn't even used in an interesting or creative way. The film just allows our protagonist in Rachel to slowly piece together what seems to be obvious to everyone except the people up on screen.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN isn't interesting, it is degrading. And not just to women. It does a fine job of insulting your intelligence too.
In his My Year of Flops, Nathan Rabin coined the term "shitty miracle" as a twist on the "so bad it's good" movie mentality. For Rabin, though, this designation didn't just mean that the film was enjoyable just because it was bad. These were films that were truly special, a hail mary of perfect badness. Rabin writes:
"In a shitty miracle, everything goes awry. It's not a matter of one sorry element dragging the rest down; it's every terrible component amplifying the awfulness of everything else. These shitty miracles represent the perfect storm of bad ideas and miscalculation. Everything must line up perfectly for a shitty miracle to occur."
REMEMBER THE GOAL is exactly that. A film that should join the ranks of BIRDEMIC, THE ROOM, SHOWGIRLS, and GIGLI as movies so terribly unwatchable that they are fodder for audiences everywhere to watch and enjoy as an epic cinematic car crash. Add the Christian movie element to the film, and miraculous is certainly an ironic term to describe the absolute train wreck of this film.
Where does one start? Is it with the performance of Allee-Sutton Hethcoat as Courtney Smith-Donnelly and her monotone delivery of parables and inspirational anecdotes? Also, note that both actress and character have maintained hyphenated names. Hethcoat's delivery is so dry that it is well after a humorous line is delivered that you have to rewind in your head and realize it is written as a joke. Despite being the coach, she wears shorts to practice and yoga pants to class. As a science teacher at the local Chrisitan Academy, short skirts seem inappropriate attire for a chemistry lab, but director Dave Christiano's male gaze will not be denied. Beyond ogling the lead actress, the film has more than a few uncomfortable montages of teen girls running toward the camera. Feeling more like an 80s sexploitation film waiting to happen, Christiano's choice to shoot the teenage girls full body straight on--bounding and bouncing toward the camera is hilarious and uncomfortable all at once. But the misogyny doesn't end there. Coach Donnelly has a strategy to train her girls to run that the film promotes as some sort of secret and heretical idea (you know...like Jesus). However, even a layman to the sport understands the idea of pacing and training to run a stronger race...so the film sets up a twist ending that has no twist at all. But even Donnelly can't explain it to us. Another male coach from another school must first explain the strategy to the audience, leaving the female coach then to re-explain her master plan, which is no sort of master plan at all. Even here, men are smarter than the women. There is also an inexplicable symbol as the teammates and coach all put their fists together...and somehow that represents a team. Is it a cross? A "T"? Why does that represent team? So many questions.
Why would a coach choose not to reveal their strategy at the risk of getting fired?
I am certain Nashville has people of color in its population. Where are they?
Why would an Athletic Director of a private school fire a coach mid-season?
Why would that same AD hire a parent as a coach?
Why do white girls from Nashville not sweat when they have run 3 miles?
Why... ? (there are about 40 more of these)
The film is filled with problems that aren't really problems. A 15-year-old girl isn't allowed to date, and apparently, that includes just stepping onto a boy's front porch. Friends smoke weed and then immediately give it up for no reason at all except "the power of prayer." A girl has self-esteem issues until her coach lovingly tells her that she wouldn't sell her to anyone at any price which hilariously works as a cautionary tale against human trafficking. One parent exclaims to her daughter after running a race "YOU'RE AWFUL!" as the rest of the team and nearby parents gawk. It is hilariously bad. But that is only one of the gems from the script. There are more like:
"I CAN'T READ!!"
"Christianity doesn't make sense."
"Remember that thing I asked you to do after dinner?"
"If I know Jesus like I think I do, he slipped out the back door."
...and on and on and on. This movie isn't occasionally awful. It is consistent scene by scene and line by line. The parabolic platitudes of a female coach with her plastered smile and varied hair styles solve every issue, heal every wound, and also win championships. How does one then rank a movie like REMEMBER THE GOAL? As a film setting out to do what it is trying to do...it is awful. However, as an unintentional comedy, I laughed out loud more in this film than any other comedy I have seen this year. Choose how you see this movie and you will see either a stinker....or a shitty miracle.
NINE LIVES is a new family comedy film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and stars Kevin Spacey, Robbie Amell, Jennifer Garner, and Christopher Walken in a movie that can only be described as a pure paycheck movie by all involved. As of the writing of this review, the budget for this film was listed as N/A, which seems accurate. The movie begins with a minute or so montage of familiar goofy viral videos of cats. After that, the movie goes downhill quickly. As it opens, we meet Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey), who is a Donald Trump-like billionaire (cause who needs millionaires), who has distanced himself from his 11 year old daughter Rebecca (Malina Weissman) and his wife Lara (Jennifer Garner) because...billionaires. He skydives against green screen, drives his Lexus in green screen, and walks by terrible photoshop versions of himself in his office. In the major plot point of the film, Brand is in a race to build the tallest building in North America. Yes, the entire movie hinges on this goofy idea. His 28 year old son works along side him (Amell) in similar Trump like fashion. Brand is an egotistical blowhard who damages anyone in his wake. (Sound familiar) Under pressure to get a last-minute gift for his daughter's 11th birthday, he ends up in a mysterious pet shop run by Christopher Walken... and buys his daughter a cat. On the way home however, he ends up on the roof of his building with an evil executive (SURPRISE) who wants to take his company from him. In a silly accident Tom finds himself trapped inside the cat's body, Freaky Friday style. However, instead of the cat being in the human body, which would have actually made this movie better, Spacey's human shell is stuck in a coma in a hospital, which, ironically, is where his career is also headed if he keeps choosing films like this. Oh, to have had the human Spacey walking around *meowing* to people the whole time and buying catnip by the pallet. That would have been glorious. Meanwhile, the cat version of Spacey is later told by the pet shop owner (who is a cat whisperer and can understand what they are saying) that he must reconcile with his family within one week, or be stuck as a cat forever.
The next hour of the film is a series of lame attempts to recreate YouTube-like cat videos starring Kevin Spacey and made with digital effects from 1994. Drunk cat, chased by dogs cat, gross cat food eating cat, and on and on. There are times when you see an *actual* cat, but since no less than 7 "stunt cats" were listed, the audience can clearly tell the difference between these cats. They aren't even the same color or size. It is like the film wasn't even trying hard.
And that is the message throughout. A movie about a man that trades bodies with a cat was never going to be good. But this movie doesn't even approach being funny. There were moments watching the film where I actually anticipated something that might have been funny to happen, but those things never surfaced. Instead, the film just skates through with (and I can't emphasize this enough) awful special effects and a plot that feels like a really cheap TV cable movie that Disney might have made in 1994--again... fitting with the level of cheap effects. When the audience can come up with ideas in their head that are more funny than what you produce on screen, again...it is as if they weren't even trying hard.
Spending money on this for a family outing would be an absolute waste. Falling short of wanting to run screaming from the theater, this movie feels more like a film that you might channel surf to...sit on for two minutes...wonder what the HELL...and move on.
My advice is just move on.
PS. Trump followers, I have an idea that might save the election for your candidate. PM for details on where to find a certain pet shop.
When I reviewed DIVERGENT last year, it received a mildly positive review--mostly for its ability to create action and YA romance in an otherwise confusing and nonsensical dystopian world. On a re-watch, I admit my initial review was kind, likely a few ticks higher than what it might score today. Now the sequel INSURGENT has arrived, and after watching it I regret spending any time at all on the series altogether. And based on what some readers of the book series have said about what is to come in the upcoming ALLEGIANT films (yes 2 more), I will make my exit now. No wonder Miles Teller was in the press trying to distance himself from this series.
The movie is chock full of current young talent: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Mekhi Phifer, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller; and they are all fine with what they have, with the exception of Theo James who is still terrible. I previously described his performance as wooden. Now after two films, I can honestly say that remark is an affront to furniture. Maybe it is closer to a synthetic wood, like decking on your porch or a fake tree in your office. Though James is playing a hunky action star and romantic lead, his tattoo offers more to the performance than he does. Teller and Courtney are great as Peter and Eric--one the turncoat smarmy bully and the other an evil meathead baddie. The film actually moves the needle when either of these actors are on screen. Shailene Woodley works hard to carry the film as "Tris" the "divergent" teen who doesn't fit into any of the pre-made factions that were set out precariously in the first film. She cuts her hair in the opening scenes of the film--no doubt in a throwaway explanation of the actress who was playing a cancer victim in *another* movie. Tris sort of whines and pouts her way through the action, but is never believable as the tough as nails action heroine she plays. It is just simply a case of great actress/bad casting. Sadly, Woodley is having to navigate through some of the worst sequences of the film that include terrible green screen effects and dialogue. Worst of all, she has to do battle in the virtual world with what I can only describe as "NEGA-Tris" (by way of SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD). It is such a tired device--for one to fight yourself in order to "forgive" yourself.
It is laughably awful, and almost as funny as Miles Teller's outfit late in the film that looks like he might have shown up on some sort of futuristic summer camp for backwards shirt day.
Naomi Watts is added to the cast as as Evelyn--leader of the faction-less outsiders, but is a wasted character that brings nothing to the film, as is Octavia Spencer as Johanna the leader of the Amity faction. Together these women couldn't have had combined lines of dialogue that moved far into double digits. Kate Winslet continues to sleepwalk her way through the series as the cold-hearted villain Jeanine who wants to control all the factions and rule the dystopian city of Chicago.
Worst of all is the actual narrative and the direction that the film takes. In one scene Tris sneaks away from her friends--with no guards or characters spotting her. Moments later, when "Four" runs after her, there are guards standing everywhere. Did they all take a smoke break at 2 am when she sneaked out? The director doesn't even attempt to fix this--showing her leave in a very wide shot, with nary a person to be found, but later "Four" is in a medium shot in the *same* setting with three guards standing around. It is a movie that has problems like this that can take a viewer out of the film altogether. This is one example of several others the movie has. Sequences that feel undone, out of place, or just nonsensical. Characters make ridiculous decisions that aren't even keeping with *who* that character has been built, stamped, and branded to be, even based on the "faction" system. In other words, why would an "Erudite" character be so stupid? Or a "Dauntless" go out alone just to get themselves captured? Finally, the entire crux of the movie turns on one character making a decision that absolutely no one could have predicted, and yet salvages the entire plot. It is the very definition of a Deus Ex Machina storytelling device--a contrivance that used when a story has been painted into a corner with no other way out. Finishing off the film is a final reveal that feels more like a cosmic episode of MTV's PUNK'D. I was waiting (hoping) for a holographic image of Ashton Kutcher to appear during the credit roll.
There is suspension of disbelief, and then there is a complete rejection of human moves and intelligent reason. No doubt that most of these young actors will come out of this series mostly unscathed with careers intact (save Theo James; I see daytime soaps in your future). However, INSURGENT has a derivative plot, terrible effects, and awful dialogue that had my chuckling under my breath, and laughing out loud once or twice. Fans of the book might be able to fill in enough blanks in the storytelling to forgive some of the film, but this is easily one of the worst films in the YA sub-genre of the last several years. AVOID.
For those who are curious, the term "inherent vice" is a description or phrase refers to a hidden defect (or the very nature) of an object that causes it to deteriorate because of the fundamental instability of its components.
In an ironic twist, director Paul Thomas Anderson has now become a cinematic version of "inherent vice." An arthouse cinema darling, Anderson has directed films I have appreciated in the past like BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. In 2012, I described THE MASTER as a beautiful mess; a mis-step of a film that had some strong performances.
INHERENT VICE is just a mess.
The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, and Martin Short. Phoenix plays Larry "Doc" Sportello, a sort of shaggy dog private eye living in 1970's L.A. who spends most of his mornings, afternoons, and evenings smoking pot and living as a hippie. One evening, Doc's ex girlfriend Shasta asks for his help to find her ex-boyfriend Mickey Wolfmann-- a powerful real estate mogul who has gone missing. Doc obliges and begins to scour the city and the few leads he has to find Wolfmann. The film is shot with several close-ups, my guess is so that we can see the white ash of Doc's rolled doobie, lest we forget that drugs are a part of the essence of the film. Although, since the character is smoking weed in nearly every single scene and the rest of the movie itself is a sort of cinematic acid trip, drugs are most certainly a prevailing theme moving ahead. Anderson takes a kidnapping, a couple of prison inmates, drug-addled dentists, neo-Nazis, an insane asylum, a TV star wannabe cop, an underground organization called "The Golden Fang" and seven or eight more ancillary characters and wraps them all up in his own cinematic Zig-Zag paper. But when it lights, the audience doesn't take a drag.
It just *is* a drag. At nearly 2 1/2 hours, the film is a rambling disarray. INHERENT VICE nearly seems to want to promote the type of paranoia and hallucinatory experience of the cannabis that Doc is smoking. However, once the stoner comedy gets tired after the first act, the remainder of the film has more than enough pointless characters, MacGuffins and red herrings to confuse the viewer and choke the narrative. It is a litany of bad choices and sequences that just are not successful. The central plot resurfaces from time to time, but has to pull the weight of so much other meaningless sequences that has come before it. By then end, it feels like trying to pull an elephant out of the mud with a tricycle. What little payoff the movie has is so clouded by the haze of smoke and mirrors that the movie has created that the end of the film is neither clear or satisfying. As a result, the manic energy of Anderson feels more like an aimless creation. It is inarticulate. It is indulgent. It is incohesive.
What is there to like? A grand tour of Los Angeles circa 1970 is certainly there to be had. Brolin and Phoenix offer some committed performances to the film and to their craft. However, with reports from several actors of chaos on set, it certainly seems to come through on screen. Fans of the source material from Pynchon might appreciate what happens in the film. To be clear, disciples of Paul Thomas Anderson might bend over backwards, turn themselves inside out, and twist into a pretzel to find something to appreciate here that warrants a positive review. He remains a critic's darling. What is worse is that it seems apparent that Anderson is now only making films for them. INHERENT VICE is a risk that insurers don't take. Moviegoers shouldn't either.