The Girl on the Train Doesn’t Suck

I realize this blog title doesn’t indicate a glaringly positive review, but you shouldn’t be put off by other really misleadingly dumb reviews. For all of those film reviewers out there comparing this film to Gone Girl, I suggest you find another career. Just because this is a mystery thriller, doesn’t mean you just lump it in with the prior film. That’s ridiculous. This film did not have the same twist in common, as a matter of fact, I can’t say I found those things in common between both films that those reviewers said they saw. I suggest they are part of the squad of film reviewers I see at the premieres that leave 45 minutes into a film and then give their reviews on television and in the papers.

Let me tell you what I saw. I saw some really good performances in this film. Emily Blunt continues to amaze me. The emotional rollercoaster she was asked to step through in this film was incredible. She plays a character you might find you don’t particularly care for, an alcoholic ex-wife, which is hard to do because, well, she’s Emily Blunt. The story is complex, with timeline shifts and the number of suspects, and her character isn’t helping anyone. Including the film-goer.

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Haley Bennett is Megan

Other solid performances, though more suttle, were those of Hayley Bennett’s Megan and Allison Janney’s Detective Riley. Both were played with almost alarming, calm control. Hayley Bennett, as you might remember from my previous movie review of The Magnificent Seven, is on the scene, this time as a girl that goes missing. Allison plays the Detective who’s trying to put the pieces together without playing the over-the-top Hollywood detective cliche. Rebecca Ferguson was almost unrecognizable as the overwhelmed and tortured soul Anna.

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Allison Janney is Detective Riley

@GirlonTrainFilm is a complex thriller that confused me at first with timelines jumping and narration over the top of these timelines. Because of this, I was not fond of the direction of this film. Director Tate Taylor could learn a thing or two from M. Night Shyamalan’s string of failures. Stop holding your audience’s hand. If they can’t understand your film, they’re probably not the audience you want spreading word of mouth about your film anyhow. I did see many ways it could have been done better, HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. In fact, when the timelines and narration subsided, the film began to unfold for itself, allowing me to unwrap the mystery myself. The individual character’s storylines pulled me in and created that intensity that makes you want to know the answers to the questions who did it and why?

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Luke Evans, Justin Theroux, and Edgar Ramirez

In addition to the talented cast, the film has a lot to say. It touches on many issues in society today. Some of the scars revealed with these characters are shockingly sad and rebecca-ferguson-and-justin-therouxsome were extremely upsetting.

Tragedy after tragedy unfolds in the characters lives. I felt the shame, the guilt, and the emotional luggage being packed and wondered how it was all going to unravel.

The Girl on the Train doesn’t have all the answers, but she’s definitely looking for them from the passenger car window. See it for yourself through her eyes.

 

@Sundance_2016 @BlogWriter365 @SundanceFestUK @FirstLookTVFilm @SundanceFest @Variety @Slamdance @SundanceFestNow @IndieWire @GirlonTrainMovie

What I Learned From The Magnificent Seven

One of the first things I learned from seeing Director Antoine Fuqua’s modern take of The Magnificent Seven is that the audience I saw it with drew quite the crowd. An older crowd, obviously coming out to see how it would compare to the 1960 classic, which itself was a remake of an adaptation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

Another thing I learned is that some things never change. Even though the various characters in the film for employing the seven, the reason the crowd liked best was revenge. No matter how old you are, it’s always good to see a bad guy get his due.

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Denzel and Pratt Kickin’ It

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you’ve got two of the hottest actors in Hollywood leading the fight. The cast is definitely loaded. Films with this many stars typically are overcast with too may egos fighting for attention, but Fuqua knows his stuff. Antoine, responsible for bringing you films like Shooter and Training Day gets the most out of his actors.

I had a flashback to Denzel’s award winning scene from Training Day when he elevates his voice and makes his demands known. The spark is there. Chris Pratt shines in this film. It’s clear you’re not going to typecast him in any one particular kind of role. The trademark wit and sarcasm sneaks through here and there, but he proves he’s not to be taken lightly.

There were some surprises as well. Remember Haley Bennett who played Cora Corman in Music and Lyrics with Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant back in 2007? Yes, that was 9 years ago! She puts in a strong performance as the only person in town with the ‘balls’ to do something about it. Yeah, that’s her. This is her second film with Denzel and Director Antoine Fuqua. The previous one being The Equalizer. Yeah, that was her too.

Ethan Hawke puts in a fairly subdued performance, but it serves his character well. Vincent D’Onofrio fans won’t be disappointed. This guy can morph into so many different characters with so many different faces, it’s crazy. As the seven are coming together, he definitely steals the show for a bit. Peter Sarsgaard surprised me a bit. I wasn’t so sure I could actually hate him, even after the first act was complete, but he puts in a solid performance as a first class asshole.

The score is solid, but not memorable, like the spaghetti westerns of old. However there is an interesting story here. It was crafted by James Horner, who died in 2015. He worked on Southpay with Antoine Fuqua, becoming fast friends with him. Horner’s team visited Fuqua on the film’s set in Baton Rouge, one month after Horner’s accidental death, to deliver the completed score. Horner had been so inspired after reading the script that he composed the entire score during pre-production. It was to be James Horner’s final composition. Pretty amazing.

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington stars in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

Is there anything new you can say after seeing Denzel do his thing in so many films? I have some personal favorites, as I’m sure you do. Training Day and Deja Vu come to mind. But yeah, I’ve got something new to say. He pulls off some fancy horse riding and some great gun work as well. Everything about the 61 year old in this film is authentic. Denzel grew a moustache and sideburns, took horseriding lessons, and practice his gunwork endlessly. Everything you see him do with that nickel-plated Colt .45 and on that horse is all Denzel. And you thought you couldn’t love him anymore…

I can’t say this version was better than the earlier versions, but I can say that this one holds your attention and does have a large, cinematic, western look and feel to it. The characters are each driven by different reasons.

Denzel’s Sam Chisholm asks “So you seek revenge?”

Bennett’s Emma responds “I seek righteousness. But I’ll take revenge.”

The audience actually cheered briefly. With dialogue like that, it’s difficult to go wrong. Enjoy riding with the seven.

@Sundance_2016 @prattprattpratt @BlogWriter365 @SundanceFestUK @FirstLookTVFilm @SundanceFest @Variety @Slamdance @SundanceFestNow @IndieWire

Is BFG a BFD?

Somewhat. It’s Steven Spielberg’s long awaited return to doing what he does best. Telling a good story. A story with lovable, flawed characters searching for a home they can call their own.

The rights to the Roald Dahl story were obtained about 10 years ago and took a long time to get made for various reasons. BFG stands for Big Friendly Giant. It’s a sweet story of a young girl in an orphange who sees the BFG during the ‘witching hour’. Rather than risk a lot of attention, the BFG decides to snatch her from her bed and take her far away to his home.

 

BFG Girl in Bed

Sophie’s Big Imagination Runs Wild

Mark Rylance plays the BFG and his young co-star Ruby Barnhill plays Sophie. They have a special chemistry together that you can feel as their relationship grows and they begin to learn about their respective histories.

You may feel some resemblances throughout the film that return you to an earlier time when a young boy was trying to help his alien friend to phone home. That may be because the BFG story was adapted for the screen by Melissa Mathison who was responsible for E.T.. Sadly, Melissa passed away last year.

I enjoyed the crisp storytelling and the characters in the film. I especially enjoyed watching Spielberg do what he does best when he’s building his fantasy worlds. He fills them with fascinating objects and the set designs are creative and filled with purpose. You’ll never see things thrown in at random to fill a blank space. Everything has a reason for being in the frame.

And the lighting in his films are always spectacular. The use of golds and blues bring fascination and magic to the screen. Dark shadows and red hues tell us something ominous is coming.

BFG Giants

A reminder that there is always somebody bigger than yourself.

It’s not a fast paced film and if you’re looking for a lot of action, you won’t find it here. The focus is on the story. Some young ones will find it hard to sit still for this one, but it’s worth a try. My theater was filled mostly with adults who were looking for a little bit of that old Spielberg magic.

Everybody has a place in this world. And everybody deserves to live free of bullies, free of control; and there is always someone there to help. To lend an ear. To understand us. In their search to find their place in their world, they found each other, encouraged each other, and each only wanted what was best for the other. Now, wouldn’t that be nice?

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The Shallows – Scares Up Good Summer Fun

There’s no doubt from the trailers that Columbia Pictures is trying to draw comparisons to Universal Pictures’ classic shark thriller Jaws. My advice – don’t go in comparing the two and you won’t be disappointed.

The film doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Expect some good summer fun and you won’t leave feeling disappointed. It’s clear that Blake liked the script for the opportunity to show off her acting chops. She gets a chance to run the gamut of emotions in this film and handles it well.

It’s no secret the camera loves Blake’s post-baby body in this film and the director’s not shy with the number of angles from which he cares to show her to us.

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Blake waxes Lively in The Shallows

Director Jaume Collett-Serra (Non-Stop, Unknown, Orphan) does employ the eyes of Cinematographer Flavio Martinez-Labiano with whom he has worked before (Non-Stop, Unknown) and you’re in good hands because of it.

This film has some of the best underwater photography I’ve seen. Not only is it purposeful and effective, but it’s clear and beautiful. When you film at a secret beach referred to as Paradise, even gruesome can be eye candy as both director and cinematographer work together to prove.

Shark in Wave

The film has some predictable moments, but the soundtrack is ‘patient’ and builds the tension. There is a clear use of silence and sound here that will both provide periodic relief and give you some ‘oh shit!’ moments.

Blake Crying

There were a couple of moments in the film where I noticed some homage being paid to other film classics, but without sacrificing it’s own identity.

I’ve been a fan of shark movies, but I’ve been disappointed for decades. The Shallows trailer drew me to it – to give it a shot – the bright colors, Blake’s willingness to leave the safety zone with the film choice, go with no makeup, and play the vulnerable heroine.

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Blake Lively afloat with rage in The Shallows

The rest of the cast  are very likable. You may remember Óscar Jaenada from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Here, he brings real warmth and char to his character. The dialogue is real, the humor honest, and I never felt like I was being condescended to.

The Shallows is timely, just in time for summer – sun, surf, skin,scares, and some stomach turning scenes. Try not to look away. It will make it difficult for some to return to the water.

@shallowsmovie @blakelively @vancityreynolds #theshallows #theshallowsmovie

 

Where to Watch Sundance Films

Before I started regularly attending the Sundance Film Festival about 5 years ago, I wanted to find a way to see those films that may never be projected onto many large screens at a theater near you. It wasn’t easy. Some films get purchased, but still never make it as a wide release. Some go straight to video, but with no marketing campaign whatsoever.

What to do?

I’ve seen a lot of films that were far better than some of the crap that gets shown at 2300 theaters in the U.S., not to mention whatever agreements were made for international distribution rights. Some of these films gripped me from beginning to end at midnight showings. And believe me, that’s not easy when I’m on my sixth straight day of no sleep!

The Lure

The Lure –  1980’s musical from Poland about two Sirens trying to hold on to their dream of swimming to America despite one of them being very bloodthirsty

At Sundance, no matter how long you stay awake, you can’t see them all.

Grant it, there’s a good chance you’ll see some really experimental shit (witness a shorts program this year – 90 minutes of twisted, sexually connotative, and gory non-stories), but without risk, sometimes you won’t find the reward.

So, here, without further ado, is  list of @SundanceFest films over the last few years and where you can see them now:

NETFLIX @netflix

Before I Disappear – Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Emmy Rossum, Paul Wesley
At the lowest point of his life, Richie gets a call from his estranged sister, asking him to look after his eleven-year old niece, Sophia, for a few hours.

Fruitvale Station – Michael B Jordan, Octavia Spencer
The story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.

Alive Inside – Michael Rossato-Bennett, Dan Cohen (founder)
Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.

At the end of this documentary film, the maximum capacity theater of about 650 viewers were ALL sobbing with empathy and joy as the Director/Writer Michael Rossato-Bennett and Founder of Music & Memory Dan Cohen came on stage to a standing ovation. VERY powerful.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster
The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.

Breathe In – Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan
When a foreign exchange student arrives in a small upstate New York town, she challenges the dynamics of her host family’s relationships and alters their lives forever.

Results – Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Giovanni Ribisi
Two mismatched personal trainers’ lives are upended by the actions of a new, wealthy client.

Strangerland – Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving
A family finds their dull life in a rural outback town rocked after their two teenage children disappear into the desert, sparking disturbing rumors of their past.

HBO @hbo @hbonow

Wish I Was Here – Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin
A struggling actor, father and husband finds himself at a major crossroad, which forces him to examine his life, his family and his career.

STARZ @starz_channel

Whiplash – J K Simmons, Miles Teller
A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.

SHOWTIME @showtime

Cold in July – Michael C Hall, Sam Shepherd, Don Johnson
When a protective father meets a murderous ex-con, both need to deviate from the path they are on as they soon find themselves entangled in a downwards spiral of lies and violence while having to confront their own inner psyche.

This was a World Premiere at a midnight showing and so worth the wait! Film Noir at its best with stunning performances by Michael C Hall (of Dexter fame), Sam Shepherd, and Don Johnson in one of the best roles I’ve ever seen him perform. Twists coming out of nowhere will keep your attention.

Cold in July Michael C Hall

Cold in July – Michael C Hall gets gritty in this noir where not everything is as it seems

Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen Brothers 2013) – Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timerlake
A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

Begin Again – (by Once Again Director John Carney), Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levin, James Corden, Catherine Keener, CeeLo Green
A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.

This film had so many name cast members, I wasn’t quite sure about it. Most ensemble movies turn out to be shit because there are just too many egos on the screen and it takes a very talented director to maintain control and achieve their vision. The film renewed my respect for Keira Knightly who shows a very different side of herself. The chemistry is palpable and characters very likable. A very enjoyable film.

Boyhood – Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette
The life of Mason, from early childhood to his arrival at college.

Meru – Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, Grace Chin
Three elite climbers struggle to find their way through obsession and loss as they attempt to climb Mount Meru, one of the most coveted prizes in the high stakes game of Himalayan big wall climbing.

Z for Zachariah (Rent/Buy) – Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor
In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors.

Cooties (Rent/Buy) – Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Nasim Pedrad, Jorge Garcia, Kate Flannery
A mysterious virus hits an isolated elementary school, transforming the kids into a feral swarm of mass savages. An unlikely hero must lead a motley band of teachers in the fight of their lives.

Well, I have to be honest here. I went into this one expecting to leave wishing I could get back 120 minutes of my life back. It’s loaded with comedic talent and was getting so much good feedback, I had to catch the last showing of it at the festival. Glad I made it! A mix of comedy and horrific gore, I thought the film would lose itself, but instead, it created its’ own genre and owned it. Fans of @WalkingDead_AMC will love this film.

Cooties Kid

Not your everyday ‘cooties’

Mistress America (Buy Only) – Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke, Michael Chernus
A lonely college freshman’s life is turned upside-down by her impetuous, adventurous stepsister-to-be.

AMAZON PRIME @amazonprimenow @amazon @amazonvideo

Slow West – Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender
A young Scottish man travels across America in pursuit of the woman he loves, attracting the attention of an outlaw who is willing to serve as a guide.

It’s no secret I love going to the midnight World Premieres. They have a special feel and only real film enthusiasts show up to these. They’re always sold out and Slow West was no exception. This western not only had the most beautiful cinematography (it was filmed in the northwest), but the sound was crisp, dialogue witty, and full of surprises and hilarious visual riffs.

Sleeping With Other People – Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie
A good-natured womanizer and a serial cheater form a platonic relationship that helps reform them in ways, while a mutual attraction sets in.

Sound City – Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor
A documentary on the fabled recording studio that was located in Van Nuys, California.

The Truth About Emanuel – Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel
A troubled girl becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother.

The original title “Emanuel and The Truth About Fishes” drew me into the mystery surrounding the troubled girl played by Kaya Scodelario. It was my introduction to this actress who turns out a wonderfully difficult performance. Jessica Biel may have put out her best here (though she did kick ass in Blade 3). This story won’t be for everybody. It is a bit difficult to follow, but if you’re in for a good drama, dark overtones, and some very stylistic visuals, this one is for you.  

Sundance 2016 Deals (So Far)

With streaming giants Netflix and Amazon Prime coming into play this year at the @SundanceFest, studios had to come to play if they meant business. And as you know, you have to pay to play.

Films that don’t get purchased with large distribution deals often will never see the light of day at the local movieplex. However, premium cable networks like @HBO have declared war on streaming sensations @Netflix and @Amazon.

However, with worldwide distribution on the net, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a great deal for filmmakers who really love their craft and just want to get their films in front of as many viewers as possible.

Here is a short list of many of the deals made @Sundance2016 this year:

Birth of a Nation – Fox Searchlight $17.5M

Equity – Sony Pictures (pre-festival deal)

Manchester by The Sea – Amazon $10M

The Fundamentals of Caring – Netflix $7M

Tallulah – Netflix $5M (pre-festival deal)

Indignation – Summit Entertainment $2.5M

The Intervention – Paramount Pictures $2.5M

Complete Unknown – Amazon $2M

Hunt for the Wilderpeople – The Orchard $2M + theatrical release

Wiener-Dog – Amazon (low 7 figure deal)

Author: The JT Leroy Story – Amazon $1M

Love and Friendship – Amazon (streaming rights) + deal with Roadside Attractions deal to provide theatrical release

Eat That Question – Sony Pictures Classics (undisclosed)

Morris From America – A24 (undisclosed)

Under the Shadow – Netflix (undisclosed)

Audrey and Daisy – Netflix (undisclosed)

Resilience – Brainstorm Media (pre-festival deal + undisclosed)

Sandstorm – Beta Cinema (pre-festival deal + undisclosed)

The Fits – Oscilloscope Laboratories (pre-festival deal + undisclosed)

Even though Amazon and Netflix came to the table with hoards of cash, some filmmakers wanted to have it their way. Manchester by the Sea was reportedly offered $20M by Netflix, but the offer was declined because the filmmakers didn’t want the film released to theaters and streaming at the same time.

#SundanceFest #SundanceFestNow #Sundance2016 @IFC @ETNOW @IFCFilms @sundancefestuk @filmindependent @variety @cooperdance

 

 

 

Morris From America Rapped It

Morris From America is a pleasant enough story about a young man with rap inspirations newly relocated to Germany; his father’s job brought them there. Morris (Markees Christmas) and his father Curtis (Craig Robinson) navigate a new school, Morris’ relationship with his counselor Inka (Carla Juri), and his relationship with Lina Keller, a young German girl that goes to Morris’ school.

Curtis is a level headed father who can be stern with his son, but also fair by tapping into his own personal experiences from his past. Not once did Craig Robinson fall back on his comedy smarts from his stint on the television show The Office. Having a chance to show off some real acting chops he needs at this point in his career. I like Craig Robinson, just not in Hot Tub Time Machine mode.

The characters were the best thing about the film. I became vested in each, wanting to see how they all played out. The story was interesting enough, enough to get my butt in that seat!

The film deals with topics of being an outcast, humiliation, coming of age, and falling in love for the first time. They’re dealt with in different and sensitive ways, humorously at times.

The soundtrack was terrific taking from 80’s hip hop and prompting Curtis to tell his son ‘this is real rap son’.

After the film, Director/Screenwriter Chad Hartigan and some of the other cast and crew came on stage for some Q&A. I raised my hand and was taken as the first question. “How do I get the soundtrack?!”

The sound guy, who happened to be onstage reached into his pocket and threw a cassette tape with a hand drawn cover on it. “There you go!”

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And that summed up how I felt about Morris From America. It asked questions and provided answers. Nothing too flashy, but they throw you a soundtrack.

#SundanceFest #SundanceFestNow #Sundance2016 @IFC @ETNOW @IFCFilms @sundancefestuk @filmindependent @variety @cooperdance