The Girl on the Train (2016) – Review

thegirlonthetrainposterThe Girl on the Train surprised me. Without any prior knowledge, save for a few poorly edited trailers, I expected to sit through a mediocre thriller and what I actually got was a deeply tragic character-driven story. The Girl on the Train is full of broken people, each with their own damaged past and mistakes and problems and emotions, and it knows how to show you. It does sometimes push too hard, putting too much effort into making you feel a certain way or showing you unnecessary backstory that, while heavily emotional and beautifully shot, doesn’t add much except more emotional weight to a story that weighed a ton already.

The main cast in this film deliver good performances for the most part, and Emily Blunt is fantastic in the role of Rachel, the titular girl on the train. A truly broken person, wallowing in her own self-destruction and sorrow, Emily Blunt makes Rachel pitiful a times, despicable at others and there are moments when I genuinely felt uncomfortable watching her. The focus on developing Rachel’s character, however, leaves very little time for the rest of the cast and some of the other characters have a tendency to be a bit two-dimensional.

Aside from the music, Emily Blunt is the strongest aspect of The Girl on the Train.
Aside from the music, Emily Blunt is the strongest aspect of The Girl on the Train.

The Girl on the Train leaps about with its story, jumping back and forth through time and between characters, for the most part fluidly. You rarely feel lost but the pacing does get a little chaotic from time to time even though this is likely done to mirror the rickety state of Rachel’s mind as she stumbles toward a conclusion about what’s really going on. And that is the crux of this film, as it is a film with a twist and, while it does make clear efforts to lead you toward a conclusion alongside Rachel in the second half of the film, you may find yourself putting the pieces together well before the finale. I was left feeling as though it could have gotten there a little smoother, and without some of the unnecessary melodrama and poetic moments, but it does get there in the end.

I enjoyed The Girl on the Train and, while it has a strong tendency to get caught up in itself, becoming pretentious or distracted with unnecessary flashbacks and plot development, it does a good job of showing how bleak and tragic life can be, and I walked out of the cinema emotionally affected.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) – Review

jackreacherposterTom Cruise is in his element in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. A well-paced action film that knows exactly what it is, Never Go Back is thoroughly enjoyable but doesn’t quite live up to the relentless forward momentum of the previous film. Based on a long running book series known for being formulaic, this film surprised me by not just resting on the laurels of the first. While it doesn’t do anything spectacular or new, it manages to switch things up enough to keep fans of the first film more than interested, and ticks all the right boxes for any lover of the action genre.

This is not a character-driven film, but the acting is solid throughout and there is enough plot and character development to keep you more or less invested in the lead characters and their relationships, though a bland villain does little to help this along. One of the main villains barely makes an appearance throughout and the other could be a cardboard cutout with a gun for all it would help, he doesn’t even have a name!

Cobie Smulders delivers a strong performance alongside Cruise
Cobie Smulders delivers a strong performance alongside Cruise.

Tom Cruise maintains his characteristic intensity but the stoicism of the character allows for little else. If anything, he is less intense and less brutal than in the previous instalment, which is somewhat of a disappointment but may be down the addition of new protagonists for this outing. Cobie Smulders (of Avengers fame) and Danika Yarosh (who you may know from Heroes: Reborn) join Tom Cruise in a departure from the lone wolf aspect of the first film. This works fairly well, with some easy exposition and nice character development moments helping to flesh out the film somewhat, but unfortunately seems to cause the film to lose the unrelenting brutality that made me love the original, as it pushes too hard to emotionally affect the audience at times.

Director Edward Zwick is possibly the biggest letdown of the film. For someone whose previous work includes Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai, a generic action flick is the least of what we should be expecting. This is far from a bad film, it’s a solid action film that many people will enjoy but, with a strong cast and a director capable of beautiful action sequences blended with real character-driven stories, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ultimately falls short of what I was hoping for.

The Shallows (2016) – Review

theshallowsposterA veritable PSA on the dangers of wanderlust, The Shallows (2016) is most disappointing because what it promises is a shark movie to surpass Jaws, but what it delivers is yet another run of the mill thriller, with very little going for it other than a compelling-enough performance from Blake Lively, and a more compelling performance from her co-star, a seagull.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra reportedly ensured roughly 10% of the film was comprised of real footage, with the remainder in a water tank with bluescreens for effects, in order to trick the viewer into believing the setting is real. Unfortunately, weak CGI and repetitiveness brings this illusion to a crashing halt, and while I was immersed in the setting one minute, poor effects would drag me right back out the next.

Surprisingly, the worst CGI in the film is that of the shark. For a director who has done great work with practical effects in the past, this is especially maddening, and it’s hard to be terrified of a shark that would look more appropriate in The Shallows: The Video Game. Not only that, but as the film progresses, the shark becomes less threatening predator and more vindictive enemy à la Deep Blue Sea.

theshallowsseagull
More dramatic shots of a seagull than you would expect.

However, The Shallows is not all bad. Clever underwater shots and a solid soundtrack build suspense well, especially throughout the first half of the film. Blake Lively doesn’t deliver a stellar performance, but she does well enough to keep the audience invested in her plight. Still, dialogue is minimal as Lively spends most of the film alone, and there’s only so often she can talk to herself, the seagull (amusingly, not CGI) or the shark before it gets ridiculous. Thankfully, the focus is more on her character development and family motivations rather than her looks, though the character development that we get is fairly standard for the genre.

The Shallows does a good job of building suspense throughout the first half the film, and keeps the audience rooting for the main character. Unfortunately, some time into the second half there is a notable shift from suspenseful to corny, and Blake Lively transitions jarringly from clever and determined survivor into stereotypical heroine. The film is let down overall by poor effects and lack of variation, but this shift is its final downfall, pulling The Shallows down from the lofty heights of Jaws and landing it much closer to Sharknado.

Susannah Stumbled

tunnel


This was a piece of fiction written for the site Burrst.com in its infancy. Though the site didn’t achieve the popularity it deserved, my post took the top spot and remains there three years later.
Link for those interested: http://burrst.com/bursts/36/?offset=0

Susannah stumbled over a particularly large piece of broken stone and would have fallen flat on her face if she hadn’t collided into the nearest wall. She span away from the curved wall of the tunnel and continued running, doing her best to ignore the grating sound from her shoulder and the jolting pain in her arm.
She cranked the pace up, remembering the blood on her boyfriend’s face as he staggered out of the darkness, what had to have been only minutes ago. Then the endless running and falling: these dank tunnels seemed to continue on infinitely into the darkness. If she hadn’t been scared out of her mind, and bleeding in several places, Susannah would have likely translated the situation into some pretentious metaphor about life and death.
Judging from her frequent collisions with walls and rocky outcrops, the tunnel was curving and turning occasionally. Susannah thought she was going in the same direction as when she started, but she’d heard that when you were lost and thought you were going in a straight line, you could often find yourself travelling in circles. She wasn’t sure if that applied to tunnels as well as woods and mountains. Either way, Susannah would give anything to be lost in the woods rather than this damp and dangerous tunnel: one unfortunately placed outcrop of rock combined with some equally unfortunate timing and she would be a goner.
Connor had gotten ahead of her any number of minutes ago but she hadn’t heard or seen him in a while. He had to be up here somewhere, and all she had to do was catch up with him and they could figure a way out together. She assumed he would be close: with a head injury and twelve years of smoking under his belt, he couldn’t be that quick.
Susannah was experiencing hope for the first time during this endless run when her bad shoulder connected with a sharp corner in the tunnel and, wheeling around to regain her balance, her foot slipped into a crack in the floor. She heard the snap her ankle made but barely registered the pain, too busy cursing as she collided with the floor and slid over an edge into darkness.
It took about two and a half seconds for Susannah to hit the bottom of the hole and for her neck to break and her body to contort into a shattered mess. She wasn’t counting down, she only had time for two things in the couple of seconds before her death.
The first was to scream and the second was to recognise one other sound amid her screaming. Something far above her, in the tunnel at the edge of the pit, was laughing.