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Posts Tagged ‘Rebecca Ferguson’

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his band of oddities

“THE GREATEST SHOWMAN” My rating: B-

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The most memorable utterance attributed to P.T. Barnum — “There’s a sucker born every minute”  — appears nowhere in the original film musical “The Great Showman.”

This is understandable. The quote is thick with contempt/condescension for the everyday idiot.  Michael Gracey’s film, on the other hand, is all about openness and a childlike sense of wonder.

Ostensibly a biography of the 19th-century con man and entertainment entrepreneur, “The Greatest Showman” is a passion project from Aussie actor Hugh Jackman, who has long wanted to tackle the role. (Aside from subject matter, the film is in no way related to the fine 1980 Broadway musical “Barnum.”)

The real Barnum was a wart of a fellow and a self-proclaimed “humbugger,'” certainly not the dashing charmer we get in this production. But then “The Greatest Showman” has been conceived and executed not as history or actual biography but as a colorful commentary on dreaming big and embracing diversity.

The characters are paper thin and the historic details iffy (there appear to be electric lights in a house in the 1850s, the women’s costumes are all over the place).

But it is undeniably entertaining, especially in several of the musical numbers and in a garish presentational approach that reminds of Baz Luhrmann’s work on “Moulin Rouge,” with maybe a touch of Bob Fosse-inspired choreography thrown in for good measure.

Zendaya

We follow the rise of Jackman’s Barnum from struggling shipping company clerk to national prominence. He woos and wins a wealthy young woman (Michelle Williams), in the process alienating her family, who find his work very low class.

He buys a run-down museum in NYC and goes on a world-wide hunt to stock it with human and animal oddities. Before long Barnum can claim among his attractions the world’s smallest man, Tom Thumb, a bearded lady (Keala Settle), Siamese twins, the Dog Boy, the Tattooed Man and  a fellow with three legs.

Far from presenting Barnum as an exploiter of these unfortunates, the film depicts him as a father figure who creates an outcast clan whose members band together for mutual support in defiance of a cruel world.

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Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt

“THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN”  My rating: C 

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Girl on the Train” is something of an anomaly — an otherwise mediocre film containing an Oscar-caliber performance.

That the award-worthy performance comes from Emily Blunt should surprise no one. This English actress has an uncanny ability to meld with diverse screen incarnations (she’s played Queen Victoria, a modern dancer, a futuristic kidkass Marine, an ethically compromised FBI agent). As Rachel — the alcoholic, anguished, out-of-control heroine of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel — Blunt is by turns painfully compelling and utterly alienating.

Too bad that the rest of Tate Taylor’s film is indifferent.

One could argue with some of the Hollywoodization at work here . The novel is set in Great Britain and its heroine is a slightly zaftig  sad sack who comes off like a tormented Bridget Jones. The film, on the other hand,  takes place in a bucolic suburb of New York City and Blunt can hardly be called overweight.

But that’s not the real problem. No, the film’s downfall is the screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, a hodgepodge of narrative feints that makes it almost impossible to relate to any of the characters and which leaves the cast members to emote to no good end while director Taylor (who had a vastly better film with “The Help”) must try to pave over the narrative hiccups and improbabilities with a slick visual style.

You can almost feel the desperation.

We first encounter Blunt’s Rachel on the commuter train that takes her to the city every day.  As the train passes the neighborhood where she used to live with her now-ex husband, Rachel is always on the lookout for the beautiful  young blonde woman who lives just a few doors down from her old home.

That would be Megan (Haley Bennett), who likes to lounge on her balcony (facing the train tracks) in her skimpy undies. Megan has a husband, Scott (Luke Evans, late of the “Hobbit” franchise), and frequently Rachel can see the couple passionately spooning through the windows or around a fire pit in the back yard.

In voiceover narration Rachel tells us that she has built a huge romantic fantasy around the couple. She doesn’t know them, but between slugs of vodka (she keeps the booze in one of those plastic sports-drink bottles), Rachel imagines herself part of their loving scenario.

Uh, have I mentioned that since her divorce Rachel has become a pathetic basket case?

Turns out that Megan is currently the nanny for Rachel’s ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Poor needy Rachel is making life impossible for the couple, phoning at all hours of the day and night, and on one occasion sneaking into the house and walking out into the yard with their new baby. (Rachel and Tom couldn’t conceive, and this failure haunts her.)

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