Les Girls: Movie Reviews of The Girl on the Train, Sand Storm, American Honey and Under the Shadow by Howard CasnerPosted: October 22, 2016 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Allison Janney, Andrea Arnold, Avon Manshadi, Babak Anvari, Edgar Ramirez, Elite Zexer, Emily Blunt, Erin Cressida Wilson, Fish Tank, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Lamas Amar, Laura Prepon, Lisa Kudrow, Luke Evans, Narjes Rashid, Paula Hawkins, Reba Blal, Rebecca Ferguson, Red Road, Riley Keough, Sand Storm, Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Tate Taylor, The Girl On the Train, Under the Shadow | Leave a comment »
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A few films have opened of late with the deadlier of the species front and center.
The one with the most hullabaloo (that’s 1960’s speak for buzz) is The Girl on the Train, based on a best seller by Paula Hawkins that falls into the subgenre of girl novels (as in Gone…, …in the Dark, and …with the Dragon Tattoo).
In this story, an alcoholic takes the same train to and from New York every day. She is especially obsessed with two houses she passes each time, one where her ex-husband lives with his new wife and child (and the alcoholic used to live), and one with a couple she’s created a fantasy world about in which they live a fairy tale existence. When the one from the fairy tale home turns up missing (which is sort of oxymoronic), she tries to figure out what happened, even though there’s a possibility she is the cause of it since she often has drinking black outs and can’t remember everything she did.
Though the story revolves around a group of women and their attempt to take control of their lives, with sisterhood coming firmly in first place, the attitude of the film towards women feels a bit retro with the same old tired tropes: woman are emotionally fragile beings who can easily be manipulated by men because, well, that’s just the way women are, poor creatures, as well as their lives being defined by motherhood (who can’t get pregnant, who can, and who is).
We’ve come a long way baby from I am woman, hear me roar. Read the rest of this entry »
Movie Review of THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP, EDDIE: THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL by Howard CasnerPosted: April 11, 2013 | Author: Donald | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Alex Epstein, Ben Coccio, Boris Rodriguez, Bradley Cooper, Dane DeHaan, Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance, Eddie: the Sleepwalking Cannibal, Emory Cohen, Jonathan Rannells, Lem Dobbs, Robert Redford, Ryan Gosling, Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, The Company You Keep, The Place Beyond the Pines, Thure Lindhardt | Leave a comment »
The Place Beyond the Pines is a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts. And there are three of them; parts, I mean. And that’s probably the first thing you should know. The writers Derek Cianfrance (who also directed), Ben Coccio and Darius Marder don’t really do that strong a job in preparing you for that so when the first part ends, you don’t really realize it’s just the first of three separate, but strongly connected stories and it can be a bit confusing for awhile until you figure it out (or unless you read reviews of the movie beforehand, which I didn’t).
The first part of the film concerns Ryan Gosling as a carnival motorcycle daredevil. When he finds out he has a kid he never knew about, he does what anyone in his position would naturally do: he quits to become a bank robber. Yes, it has about that much logic. In fact, when the idea of robbing banks is presented to him, all you can think is, what could possibly go wrong with this plan; I mean, it’s genius, man, genius. Actually, it is kind of. The MO Gosling and his partner use is quite clever and they could have gotten away with it for a long time, until something happens that shouldn’t have. But at the same time, this section is a bit too much been there, done that. It’s a fairly typical story of a petty criminal that works out the way stories about petty criminals generally work out in movies like this.
In the second story, Bradley Cooper takes over as an ambitious police officer who brings Gosling down and Gosling is out of the picture (no, I’m not spoiling anything—I think you really, really need to know that Gosling is only in the movie for a short period; and my revealing it isn’t remotely the same thing as telling people that Janet Leigh gets killed off in the first part of Psycho—okay, maybe I shouldn’t have revealed that about Janet Leigh, but you get what I’m trying to say). Anyway, this section is a bit more interesting, especially due to a cameo by Ray Liotto doing his psychotic bit as a dirty cop. At the same time, I also think this section is a little off because it doesn’t focus on Cooper’s relationship with his son, which is basically what the movie as a whole is supposed to be about, fathers and sons.
Then there’s the third story in which the two sons of Gosling and Cooper (doe eyed, pouty Emory Cohen and sharp featured Dane DeHaan) meet and this section is deeply moving and powerful and almost makes the first two parts seem better than they are. When the movie comes together here, it fills you with a sense of wonder and excitement as these two teenagers try to work out their fate without the benefit of knowing any of their true history, without the benefit of knowing they even have a fate. We know so much that they don’t which gives their actions even more meaning than the characters realize they have. And as the story works itself out in unexpected ways, there are times when the emotions are at times nearly overwhelming.
Early on in the movie The Company You Keep, Susan Sarandon, as a former domestic terrorist now in custody, tells ambitious reporter Shia LaBeouf that he is younger than she expected. When he thanks her, she says it wasn’t a compliment. In the same way, The Company You Keep is the Argo of this year. Before Ben Affleck says thank you, it’s not a compliment. There’s nothing that wrong with The Company You Keep except that the best thing you can say about it is that there’s nothing that wrong with it. It’s entertaining enough and rarely boring. But like Argo, it’s a movie that never really rises above what it is.
The story itself never exactly makes a lot of sense. Thirty years before, a bunch of radicals, including Robert Redford, went into hiding after robbing a bank in which one of them shoots and kills a bank guard. It’s all in protest of the Viet Nam War, but thirty years from 2013 is 1983 and the whole thing seems a bit out of whack with the space time continuum. And the logic of the whole story never really gets much better (by the time the movie is over, it’s a bit muddled just why Redford’s character went into hiding since he was never guilty, he wasn’t even at the bank—it’s sort of like the actor in him wanted to have his cake and eat it too—play a bad guy without ever playing a bad guy).
The basic cast is made up of the old guard versus the new. The ex-radicals are played by such luminaries as the aforesaid Sarandon and Redford, as well as Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Nick Nolte, Sam Elliot and the ubiquitous Stephen Root. Jesus, it’s like an episode of Murder, She Wrote, but filled with A list actors who are still working rather than B-list actors desperate for a job. Only Susan Sarandon really comes off well, with a mesmerizing scene with LaBeouf where she defends her role in the protests of the, well, I was going to say 1960’s, but with that space time continuum thingy, I’m not sure, but at any rate, she’s hypnotic and really delivers.
The young guard is made up of LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick and Terence Howard, and all I can say is that Kendrick and Howard need to get a new agent. Both are well respected actors with Oscar nominations, but if the best their managers can do is get them work playing second fiddle to LaBeouf, then drastic measures need to be taken. At the same time, LeBeouf, himself, acquits himself well. I don’t know what it is about him, but lately whenever I review him, I always seem to start with, he acquits himself well. I think it’s because I’m never really convinced he is cast right; but he’s a solid actor, and he carries the movie on his unbroad shoulders rather well here.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there’s also the inbetween guard with Chris Cooper in a nice quiet performance as Redford’s brother and Stanley Tucci as a rather odd newspaper editor who doesn’t think that the FBI somehow obtaining a warrant to search a reporter’s apartment isn’t remotely a news story. I didn’t know how to react to that.
The screenplay is by Lem Dobbs and is often quite witty with a lot of clever dialog. It’s directed by Redford in his usual bland style.
Eddie: the Sleepwalking Cannibal (no, I’m not making that up, that is the title) is a horror movie about a painter who is blocked but gets inspiration after a ten year dry spell when his housemate, Eddie, a mentally slow man he has taken in, starts sleepwalking at night and eating people. The artist is so inspired by this muse (the violence brings out the creativity in him), that he starts manipulating Eddie to repeat his nocturnal activities. It’s Roger Corman material, but with more style, wit and marginally better production values. It’s a lot of fun and the story works itself out in a very satisfying manner. It’s ridiculous and silly, but that’s the point (at least I hope it is). The clever screenplay is by Boris Rodriguez (who also directed), Jonathan Rannells and Alex Epstein. The painter is played by Danish transplant Thure Lindhardt who, to his credit, manages to take the whole thing quite seriously.
There is an absolutely lovely and thrilling moment in Lawless, the new based on a true story film written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat about a trio of bootlegging brothers deep in the hills of Virginia. When Jack, the youngest of the clan, decides to court the preacher’s daughter by swigging a full mason jar of white lightning and attending Sunday service, he enters a white clapboard building where long-bearded men in dark coats and women in crisp bonnets and starched dresses sing a hymn by shape noting, an almost feral and mesmerizing way of making music.
When the congregation ends the hymn, they proceed to the tradition of washing one another’s feet. When the preacher’s daughter takes Jack’s foot in her hand, it is way too much for him and he runs outside, leaving a shoe behind ala Cinderella, getting sick along the way. This look at a religious service, an offshoot of Quakers and Mennonites, felt like entering new and unexplored territory, the sort of breathtaking scene one goes to movies to experience. And Hillcoat gives it its due. Unfortunately, once it’s over, we’re back to the more than familiar standard tale of bootlegging and moonshining. But it was nice while it lasted.
Lawless is lovely to look at with ravishing and picturesque frames of the hills of Virginia in full, fall foliage and stark ones of lonely bridges in wintertime. The costuming and sets give the story an intense period feel. But in the end, Lawless feels like a movie in search of a story.
The plot is a bit general. Some corrupt lawmen from Chicago come to town to take over. But the Bondruant brothers, being the alpha male Ayn Randians that they are, refuse to buckle. The story sort of lumbers along after this, making its way through a series of episodes that don’t feel like they’re really leading anywhere and with no satisfactory explanation as to why the Chicago gangsters take so long to try to wipe out the Boudrants. And it all ends with one of those shoot outs that made me ask the friend I was with, “Just how close do you actually have to be to someone in this movie before you can hit them?”
Because of this lack of a clear and strong through line, the screenplay tries to hang the story around Jack’s neck and make his coming of age character arc the linchpin that holds it all together, to mix a metaphor or two. But since Jack’s character is so annoying; because he’s such an idiot that you want to hit him up alongside his head; and since his journey isn’t all that intriguing or interesting, this probably wasn’t the best idea. He does have a journey and he does get somewhere. He reaches manhood the moment he can get himself to finally kill someone. Of course, a lot of people had to die first so he could learn this, but as they say, you got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. But still, the lesson got learned and I guess that’s all that matters.
The cast does the best they can. Jason Clarke, as Howard the middle brother, who has a very expressive face and eyes, and Mia Wasikowska, as the mature for her age preacher’s daughter, probably give the best performances. Tom Hardy mumbles through his lines, an approach that worked for Marlon Brando, but doesn’t quite have the same effect here. Shia LaBeouf plays Jack and whether you think he’s any good or not will probably depend on how much you like his awkward, semi-nerdy, insecure becoming a child-man schtick. For my money, I think he acquits himself quite admirably, and it’s not really his fault that his character isn’t that interesting. But a special note must be made of Guy Pearce who plays Charlie Rakes, the Chicago germaphobe and sociopath with a messianic complex. A preposterous performance in a preposterous role, it almost has to be seen to be believed. One can’t tell if he’s terrible or he’s playing it exactly the way it was written, or both.