Posts Tagged ‘Tate Taylor’

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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Chadwick Boseman as James Brown

Chadwick Boseman as James Brown

“GET ON UP”  My rating: C+ (Opening wide on August 1)

138 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Actor Chadwick Boseman doesn’t look much like James Brown.

They’re both African Americans, yeah, but that’s about as far as the resemblance goes.

But Boseman, who a couple of years back wowed us with his performance as baseball great Jackie Robinson in “42,” pulls off an impressive transformation in “Get On Up.”

He gets some help from a closet full of wigs and funky period clothing, but mostly he acts his way into Brown’s shoes, capturing the movements, the physical attitude, the facial expressions of the late great Godfather of Soul. Viewed from the right angle, illuminated with dramatic stage lighting, Boseman convinces us that he’s the real deal.

Too bad the film of which he is the centerpiece can’t decide what deal it’s talking about.

James Brown was a musical genius, an exacting boss, a wandering and frequently violent husband. He was a bundle of contradictions — compelling and caustic, inspiring and irritating — and the makers of “Get On Up” clearly don’t know what to make of him.

Should they idolize him? Should they knock him off his pedestal?

Perhaps screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth were limited by the dictates of Brown’s estate and heirs.  Or perhaps they simply were unable to find a coherent take on a guy whose rags-to-riches life is the stuff of American legend and whose personal failings were damn near Sophoclean.

They try to mask their wishywashy approach by employing a time-bending narrative that is forever zigging and zagging between Brown’s impoverished (emotionally and financially) childhood and his adult triumphs and misadventures. But without a clear point of view running throughout the picture, “Get On Up” runs out of dramatic steam long before the final credits.

Thank heavens for that superb James Brown songbook, which allows Boseman to perform such killer hits as “It’s a Man’s World,” “Please Please Please,” “Cold Sweat” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”  I can’t tell if Boseman is doing his own singing here or lip-syncing to original Brown tracks, but the results are mesmerizing. At the very least you’ll come away from the film marveling at Brown’s musical contributions and continuing influence.


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Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help"

“THE HELP”  My rating: B+  (Now playing wide)

137 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

You can’t throw a rock at “The Help” without hitting an Oscar-worthy performance, making this adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller one of the best-acted films since, well, “The King’s Speech.”

All that thespian power comes in handy in diverting our attention from some of the story’s more Hollywood-ish plotting and an unimaginative visual style.

OK, maybe I’m being too much of a critic here. There may be a few pedestrian elements in this sure-fire box office smash, but there’s no ignoring the pure emotional power of this story set in the Jim Crow South.

This is a movie that will set audiences to laughing, then bawling, then laughing and bawling all over again.


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