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The Girl on the Train (2016) starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, and Haley Bennett is a disappointing film, especially after reading Paula Hawkins' source material. It was always going to be difficult to adapt The Girl on the Train to film due to the first person perspective of the novel (as told from the point of view of the characters played by Blunt, Ferguson, and Bennett in the film). Why the producers/studio/writer then furthered complicated the task by changing the setting from London to New York is bizarre, to say the least. Anyone familiar with trains in England and the United States understands there is a kind of intimacy between the trains and houses/buildings along the tracks in London, which tends not to exist in America. This flaw comes to the forefront during the pivotal scene of the story when Rachel's eyesight suddenly develops an incredible zoom capability because otherwise, the houses are so far back from the tracks that very little is discernible from the train (especially since the train rarely stops in the film though the regular stop at this location due to the signal is a key component of the story in the novel). This New York setting leads to a series of questionable casting choices. I was very happy to see Haley Bennett again though I don't think she was right for the role of Megan. Emily Blunt should be perfect for the role of Rachel but she also seems discombobulated by the setting change. While she continues to speak in an English accent, other non-American actors such as Luke Evans and Rebecca Ferguson adopt an American acent. It is almost like Blunt realized the magnitude the producers' error but she could not do anything about it. However, it affects her performance, which seems unnecessarily melodramatic. The Girl on the Train is a film where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Mark's Grade: C
Take one teaspoon of Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), add two tablespoons of Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity (2013), and overcook the recipe, then you will have the formula for Life (2017); directed by Daniel Espinosa and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds. Life is not a waste of time. However, everything about it will not only seem familiar to most audiences but also done much better elsewhere. Life does not match the 'you-are-in-space' grandeur of Cuarón's Gravity nor the claustrophobic horror of Scott's Alien while still relying too heavily on many horror film cliches (e.g. people making stupid decisions, people going where they should not go, and so forth). Importantly, the Planet of the Apes-like twist at the end of the film (probably to leave open the possibility of a franchise) is completely unearned, representing poor writing, and likely to infuriate most audience members.
Reynolds is OK briefly playing his Deadpool character in space as the patented 'celebrity cast member' killed off early for shock effect (see Drew Barrymore in Scream or Samuel L. Jackson in the Deep Blue Sea). Gyllenhaal plays an astronaut who is probably too mentally unstable to be in space in the first place whereas the beautiful and compelling Ferguson is simply wasted. The story is not helped by Espinosa's commitment to a 10-minute continuous tracking, opening shot that looks CGI-ed because the camera tends to focus on the back of actors' heads. It serves as a poor means to introduce the audience to these characters. Eventually, the audience will not really care if any particular character survives or dies. Life is a case study in Hollywood running out of ideas and having nothing original to offer. At one point, I even found myself saying Private Hudson's immortal words from Aliens (1986) on behalf of the film, "Game Over Man, GAME OVER!" Life could have used a Bill Paxton-like character, if only for comedic relief. Life is inoffensive and instantly forgettable. Mark's Grade: C+
We need to consider both the recent and long-term history of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) to put Wonder Woman (2017) into its proper context. The recent half-decade run of mediocre DC films - shepherded in one fashion or another by Zach Snyder such as Man of Steel (2013) and Suicide Squad (2016) - has established a very low standard for audiences. We are only too eager to embrace the first, halfway decent DCEU film to come our way. Is Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman a great film? No, but it is a pretty good one, which easily surpasses the recent standard of mediocrity. In doing so, we can only hope it cements Snyder departure from DC and strengthens Jenkins' role in future films. The long-term history of the DCEU actually constitutes 16 films over the last 40 years. It is true all but two of these films feature Batman and Superman with the former proving far more successful than the latter, especially the first two films by Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton, respectively. Over this 40-year history, Jenkins' Wonder Woman comfortably sits atop the middle tier of films such as The Dark Knight Rises (2012) or Batman Forever (1995). It does not have the greatness of Nolan's The Dark Knight, Burton's Batman Returns, or even Richard Donner's Superman.
DC Extended Universe Best-to-Worst
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
2. Batman Begins (2005)
3. Batman (1989)
4, Batman Returns (1992)
5. Superman II (1980)
6. Superman (1978)
7. Wonder Woman (2017)
8. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
9. Batman Forever (1995)
10. Superman Returns (2006)
11. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
12. Suicide Squad (2016)
13. Man of Steel (2013)
14. Batman and Robin (1997)
15. Superman III (1983)
16. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
However, there is the promise of greatness to come in Wonder Woman, especially in Gal Gadot's wonderfully rich portrayal of the title character. Wonder Woman confirms Gadot is a star for those who might have been unaware of her supporting role in the Fast and Furious films. Chris Pine as the male lead (Steve Trevor) provides a sturdy supportive presence for Gadot's Diana 'fish-out-of-water' Prince to play off in the film. It is unfortunate the other supporting characters were not as richly drawn as Diana or Steve (for example, by comparison to Captain America's crew in The First Avenger). I still don't know the names of Wonder Woman's crew. Yes, the marketing of Wonder Woman suffers the same problem as Man of Steel and Suicide Squad with all of the best parts and lines already used in the trailers. Fortunately, there is a firmer foundation (namely, the script and a sense of humor) for Wonder Woman than those other films. Still, it would have been nicer for audiences if something was left for surprise. Yes, the closing CGI action scene of Wonder Woman goes on for far too long just like Man of Steel and BvS: Dawn of Justice (DoJ). Wonder Woman could have been edited down by 15 minutes and it probably would have been a better film. Oddly, the musical score does not build anything out of the catchy Wonder Woman theme song introduced in BvS:DoJ. For some odd reason, the Amazons have a weird accent for no other reason it seems than Gadot - who is Israeli - has an unusual accent, which is the sort of thinking that gave us the 'emotional climax' of BvS:DoJ (i.e. both of their moms were named Martha). Wonder Woman is not a perfect film. It is a pretty good film in which the casting of Gadot is perfect. That is good enough for now. Mark's Grade: B
It has been 25 years since I saw the original, animated version of Beauty and the Beast (1991). Honestly, I don't remember much about it except Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts and a vague sense that I enjoyed the film and music at the time. Disney's new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast (2017) is certainly a worthy successor on many levels. It features a strong cast (for the most part). Emma Watson is the perfect Belle. Her voice is surprisingly pleasant though this film hardly tests her range as a singer. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere is the standout supporting actor and Emma Thompson (sporting a heavy Cockney accent, for some reason) is a worthy successor to Lansbury's Mrs. Potts. Luke Evans and (especially) Josh Gad are also good as Gaston and Le Fou. The only minor weakness in the cast is Dan Stevens as the Beast/Prince. He is adequate, no more; hardly memorable in the role. Everyone including Disney knows this musical's 'money songs', e.g. Be Our Guest and the title track. Disney certainly delivers the goods for those songs, especially "Be Our Guest", which is the undeniable highlight of the film. It is very easy to understand why this new version of Beauty and the Beast is the highest grossing PG film in US history (NOT most ticketed; Gone with the Wind and Star Wars are still #1 and #2 in that regard). Mark's Grade: 4 1/2 stars
More than anything, Logan (2017) serves as a well-meaning denouement for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart to conclude their fifteen-year+ run as the X-Men characters Wolverine and Professor X, respectively. In doing so, director James Mangold goes for a gritty, thoughtful cinematic style that commands your attention while distracting the audience from the HUGE plotholes of the narrative. For example, how and why is there a 'safe haven' for mutants if there hadn't been any new mutants born for 29 years? If such a place exists, how it is remotely possible that the Alpha Males of 'Mutantness' don't know about it? Professor X and Wolverine wonder the same thing to dismiss the possibility but then, both sacrifice a great deal to get Dafne Keen's Laura to said safe haven. Finally, Mangold's over filling the frame with mutants (including a clone) undercuts the entire premise of the story itself, i.e. there seem to be plenty of mutants around. However, for the most part, Mangold's distraction techniques work so most everyone will enjoy this film. In the end, there are too many inconsistencies for Logan to approach the greatness of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008), which remains the standard for superhero films. Mark's Grade: 4 Stars.