REVIEW: The Girl on the Train

5 10 2016

Arguably the most famous close-ups in cinema history take place in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” the 1928 silent classic that elevated the expressively tight framed shot of facial contortions to the position of high art. Dreyer later said of the close-up, “Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring.”

It’s a blessing Dreyer did not live to see Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on the Train,” a film that puts the close-up to shame through bludgeoning and excessive use. This specific shot is the movie’s only language to convey the internal agony of its three leading female characters. No need to waste time detailing the multitude of other techniques available at Taylor’s disposal, so let’s just leave it at the fact that the close-up is lazy shorthand for emotional intimacy.

The camera tries to substitute the reservoirs of feeling hidden by the icy women, each with their own secrets to bury and axes to grind. Their blank stares into the distance are meant to convey restraint or secrecy; instead, they convey nothing. One only needs to hold up the work of star Emily Blunt in “The Girl on the Train” alongside her performance in “Sicario” to see the difference. In the latter film, the most minuscule movement in Blunt’s face communicates a complex response to the ever-shifting environment around her character Kate Macer. Here, as the alcoholic voyeur Rachel Watson, Blunt is reduced to gasps and gazes that do little to illuminate her psychology.

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REVIEW: Zoolander 2

2 03 2016

Decades-delayed sequels from “Anchorman” to “Scream” and even “Monsters University” tend to fall into some trap of relying on nostalgia for or nodding towards the original film. To some extent, if the makers do not strike while the iron is hot, they have to remind people that the iron existed in the first place. And, not to overload the metaphor, but by employing a heavy hand with said iron, they can burn a hole through the cloth of the new creation.

Given the fashion origins of the “Zoolander” series, it would only make sense that the 15-years-in-the-making second installment would hew all too close to its predecessor. In many ways – and perhaps in the ones that count – it does. But multi-hyphenate Ben Stiller does have a few new tricks up the sleeves for his old character, and even more than just a new signature look to go alongside Blue Steel and Magnum.

In another delightfully absurd caper, the pretty, dumb Derek Zoolander once again gets caught up in a tale of international intrigue. This time, it involves a conspiracy to murder good-looking celebrities and bring the fashion elite of the world to the slaughter. And, once again, it sidetracks so Derek can resolve some familial issues as well as tension with fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson). Oh, and there’s a music montage

All in all, however, “Zoolander 2” breaks enough from the original to make the team’s efforts worthwhile. Much of the fun comes from the new characters like Kyle Mooney’s Don Atari, a pitch-perfect parody of über-trendy hipsters, and Kristen Wiig’s Alexanya Atoz, an en vogue fashion designer with enough Botox in her face to rejuvenate an entire school’s worth of soccer moms. (It’s best not to mention Penelope Cruz’s Interpol agent Valentina Valencia or Benedict Cumberbatch’s transphobic punchline All.) The whole affair is predictably stupid, though anyone who remembers the first “Zoolander” ought to expect just that. Nostalgia sometimes makes people remember things as better than they really are, and “Zoolander 2” is essentially a chip off the old block. B2stars





REVIEW: Wanderlust

29 02 2012

I think it’s crucial to apply a comparative approach to evaluating the merits of “Wanderlust.”  When you look at it in relation to “Role Models” and “Wet Hot American Summer,” director David Wain’s first two comedies, it’s a disappointment that settles for cliches and stereotypes rather than the unique brand of humor on display in his prior work.  But of course, compared to other mainstream comedies of the moment, its mild satisfactions are amplified probably more than they should.

Marveling at cult-like communes is nothing new, and the colorful cast of nudists, stoners, and washed-up hippies certainly play into just about every single one of our preconceived notions.  It’s amusing enough to watch their antics play out in front of two newly unemployed Manhattan refugees played by the ever hilarious Paul Rudd and the ever gorgeous Jennifer Aniston.  Both are a little creeped out at first, but she eventually warms up to the idea of living in a subculture of open doors and open marriages.

There are a few good laughs here and there, but the majority of the time, I just sat there wondering when it would reach “Role Models” heights.  Thankfully it does at one point due to Paul Rudd, who honestly might get my vote for the funniest person working in comedy at the moment.  His dry, caustic, and biting sarcasm hits home every time even when he’s not trying to be funny (and if someone made a movie of my life, I would want him to play me).  Rudd gets one scene, improvised I assume, where he gets to totally let loose with wild accents and wordplay trying to pump himself up for a sexual encounter that absolutely brings down the house.  I was easily laughing for a solid two minutes afterwards, totally missing the next scene.  And really, as long as I get one of those for my money, I go home happy no matter how derivative or childish the rest of the movie might have been.  B-