THE DARK TOWER (2017) – An Inconsequential Blip on the Dark Tower Universe

1

darktower_poster

I’m guessing there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed Dark Tower fans after they watch THE DARK TOWER (2017), the new fantasy thriller based on the epic novels by Stephen King.

There are eight novels in the series, and while I haven’t read any of them, the idea that this very short movie— it clocks in at a meager 95 minutes— could do an eight book series justice is difficult to fathom. It’s just too quick and inconsequential.

Strangely, this movie version of THE DARK TOWER is supposedly a sequel of sorts to the series, as the events in the film take place after the book series ends, and I also hear there’s a possible TV series in the works. Now, a television series makes sense to me. That’s exactly the kind of canvas needed to do a book series proper justice.  The movie THE DARK TOWER as it stands would barely do a short story justice.

In a nutshell— and that’s what this movie felt like, really— THE DARK TOWER is about a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who’s struggling to cope with life after the death of his father.  He’s haunted by recurring bad dreams in which he sees a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) battling a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and it seems this Man in Black is trying to destroy a black tower, and the Gunslinger is trying to prevent this.

Jake’s mom Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) arranges for Jake to spend a weekend at an institution so he can receive help, since he’s getting into fights at school and generally having a difficult time with life, but Jake runs away and finds a portal which leads him into the world of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black.  There, he befriends the Gunslinger and helps him in his fight to stop the Man in Black from destroying the world, which will happen once the dark tower is destroyed.

Yawn.

The plot for THE DARK TOWER isn’t going to win any awards for the most compelling screenplay ever written.  The story is simple and isn’t fleshed out in the least.  And four writers worked on this thing:  Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel.  Not that it mattered.

The story as told in this movie left me with so many unanswered questions.  Who is the Man in Black?  Why is he hell-bent on destroying Earth?  Who is the Gunslinger?  Why is he the man in charge of killing the Man in Black?  The movie provides no back stories on these characters.  I also wanted to know more about young Jake.

Things happen too quickly and too easily.  Jake finds his way into the Gunslinger’s world with about as much effort as entering a neighbor’s front door.

Again, for a movie based on an eight book series by Stephen King, the story it tells is about as skeletal as you can get.

Nor is THE DARK TOWER all that visually impressive. Director Nikolaj Arcel’s vision of the Dark Tower and its surrounding world is meh. Not much too look at, and not much going on. The scenes which take place in New York City work better, and the whole film plays better when the characters interact in modern-day surroundings.  Every time they enter the world of the Dark Tower the film slows to a crawl.

I’m a big Idris Elba fan, but he continues to land film roles in which he just isn’t allowed to do much.  He’s terrific in the lead role on the TV series LUTHER (2010-2018) but he’s yet to land a movie role in which he’s allowed to show off his talents.  Still, I enjoyed him here as the Gunslinger.

Likewise, I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black as well.  He was sufficiently cold and nasty, a decent villain.  Although his power to make people do whatever he says has been done a lot lately, especially on TV,  from the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) in the Netflix Marvel series JESSICA JONES (2015), to Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) in the AMC series PREACHER (2016-).

In fact, my favorite part of THE DARK TOWER was watching Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They’re the best part of the movie, although neither one made me really like this movie all that much. But when they’re on-screen, and they’re actually engaging in dialogue rather than running around in bland action scenes, the film is much better. Unfortunately, they don’t get to do this all that much.

Tom Taylor is decent as Jake Chambers.  Seen better, seen worse.  The rest of the cast is okay but hardly memorable.  Speaking of the TV show PREACHER, Jackie Earle Haley who was so memorable in Season 1 of that show, barely causes a stir here in a thankless role as one of the Man in Black’s minions, Sayre.

I was fairly entertained by THE DARK TOWER, but for an adventure fantasy thriller based on an eight book series by Stephen King, it’s pretty sparse.  Sadly, it’s yet another example of an inferior adaptation of a Stephen King work.

But it’s not awful.  It’s just not that good.

At the end of the day, it’s just an inconsequential blip on the Dark Tower universe.

—-END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) – Routine Actioner Falls Short

1

AtomicBlonde

It’s 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War is about to get turned on its head.  Spies are running this way and that, and secrets are more closely guarded, as no one knows what will happen after the wall falls.

It’s in this world, the frenetic days leading up to the tearing down of the wall, in both East and West Berlin, that ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) takes place.

MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to East Berlin to help  fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) extract a man with the code name Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who has in his possession a list of spies which if it falls into the wrong hands would compromise the intelligence agencies of the west, namely Great Britain, the United States, and France.

As such, the CIA is involved, as their man Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) is working closely with MI6 operative and Lorraine’s superior, Eric Gray (Toby Jones).  Likewise, the French also have an agent on the ground in East Berlin, Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), and they’re all working together— or are they?— to successfully get Spyglass out of East Berlin before his secrets fall into the hands of the heavy-handed KGB agents.

Further complicating matters is the knowledge that Spyglass has lost the list, but he also has committed it to memory, so the mission becomes twofold- get Spyglass out of East Berlin alive, and also find the missing list.  And oh yeah.  Someone in the operation is a double agent.  It’s a messy job in a messy city in an even messier time.

ATOMIC BLONDE is an okay movie but falls short of expectations and never really captures the insanity of the waning days of East Berlin before the wall came down, nor does it possess enough style to overcome its story limitations.

Kurt Johnstad wrote the screenplay based on the graphic novel series “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart.  One of the bigger problems I had with ATOMIC BLONDE is for a movie based on a graphic novel, it doesn’t boast the best visuals.  First-time director David Leitch starts off fine with some colorful and energetic opening credits, but after that there isn’t a whole lot visually that captures the graphic novel feel. It seems as if Leitch couldn’t make up his mind whether he was making a colorful adaptation of a graphic novel or a hard-hitting cold war spy thriller.

The film also did not grab me right away and took a while to get going.  The second half is definitely stronger than the first, and there is a brutal and well-executed fight sequence between Lorraine and several KGB thugs towards the end that is by far the best action scene in the movie.  But for the most part the action in ATOMIC BLONDE is standard and by the numbers.

Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay is also nothing to be excited about.  The dialogue is all rather flat, and the story is nothing we haven’t seen before.

ATOMIC BLONDE does boast a strong cast but even the presence of solid veteran actors doesn’t help all that much.

Charlize Theron is a wonderful actress, yet I think she was miscast here as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, as I didn’t find her all that believable in the role.  When she’s kicking the stuffing out of the KGB thugs, these scenes just didn’t ring true for me. Granted, she’s as beautiful as ever, but as the unstoppable indefatigable Lorraine Broughton, I wasn’t buying it.

I enjoyed Theron much more in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015).  Her performance in that movie was rugged and convincing.  Her performance in ATOMIC BLONDE is more like a Tom Cruise performance than a Tom Hardy performance.  The toughness and grit Theron showed in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD isn’t really on display here.

James McAvoy delivers a decent performance as David Percival, but in all honesty, it’s nothing I haven’t seen him do before. Plus, he looks like he walked off the set of SPLIT (2016) and simply put on a coat to blend in on the streets of East Berlin.

Sofia Boutella is okay as French agent Delphine Lasalle, and I enjoyed her more here than in her recent turn as Ahmanet the Mummy in the dreadful THE MUMMY (2017). But she was most memorable as the alien Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016).

Veteran actors Toby Jones and John Goodman are on hand as the older agents in the proceedings, Jones representing MI6, and Goodman the CIA.  They are both solid in supporting roles.

In the key role of Spyglass, Eddie Marsen does a decent job.  I actually enjoyed him more in THEIR FINEST (2017), where he played a different kind of agent, one that represents actors, in that superior period piece comedy drama about making a propaganda film about Dunkirk.

Bill Skarsgard, the son of actor Stellan Skarsgard, is memorable as Merkel, one of Lorraine’s contacts in East Berlin. It’s a small role, but I thought he gave one of the better performances in the movie.  Skarsgard will be playing Pennywise in the upcoming remake of Stephen King’s IT (2017).

ATOMIC BLONDE is an okay actioner, but it never really gets into high gear, nor does it possess the pizzazz to sustain its two hour running time.  The script is meh, the dialogue standard, and the story is routine, and while the actors are all solid in their roles, none of them put this film on their backs and carry it to the finish line.  Also, director David Leitch does little to make this one visually exciting or cinematic, save for one extremely well-executed fight scene.

At the end of the day, I expected more from ATOMIC BLONDE.  As it stands, it’s not bad, and it does remain fairly entertaining, but it’s not the in-your-face graphic novel interpretation it should have been.

It’s more sub-atomic than atomic.

—END—

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SALEM’S LOT (1979)

1

salems-lot-movie-poster

I read Salem’s Lot by Stephen King shortly after it was first published when I was in the 6th grade, and it was the first novel that ever truly scared me.  More importantly, as someone who spent his childhood watching Hammer Films and the Universal monster movies, it was the first book that ever truly entertained me.  It was that book that got me hooked on reading.

As such, my expectations were high when four years later the film version of SALEM’S LOT (1979) arrived as a TV movie directed by Tobe Hooper and starring David Soul and James Mason.  And while it was well-received by critics and fans alike, I was somewhat disappointed by it.  I just couldn’t shake my feelings for the novel, which I felt was vastly superior.

The biggest disappointment for me at the time was the film’s interpretation of the story’s vampire, Mr. Barlow.  Barlow was creepy and terrifying in the novel, with lots of dialogue to back up his evil presence.  In the film, he was changed to a mute Nosferatu clone, and while he did indeed look frightening, the fact that the make-up resembled the classic 1922 Nosferatu make-up on Max Schreck was a let-down.

Salem'sLot_Barlow

Reggie Nalder as the vampire Barlow in SALEM’S LOT (1979).

Anyway, it had been years since I had seen the film version of SALEM’S LOT, and so I thought it was time to watch it again and place it IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.

In SALEM’S LOT, writer Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his childhood home of Salem’s Lot (Jerusalem’s Lot in the novel), drawn there by the Marsten House, a house that watches over the town like a demonic gargoyle.  In short, it’s the town’s haunted house. Ben has been obsessed with this house his entire life, an obsession that began when he ventured into the house as a boy on a dare and saw the hanging body of a man there, a man who while hanging opened his eyes and looked at him.

This moment is a perfect example of the difference between the movie and the book.  In the book, this scene, this image, although not even a major part of the plot, was one of its most frightening.  Indeed, for me, of all the scenes and images from the novel, this is the one that scared me the most back in 1975 and stayed with me the longest, the hanging man who opened his eyes.  In the movie, it’s mentioned briefly by Ben Mears in a conversation, and it’s nothing more than an afterthought. There you go.

So Ben returns home to write about the Marsten House and seek out old acquaintances, like Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia), who he starts to date. He’s writing about the Marsten House because he believes the house itself is evil, and as such it attracts evil.

And he’s right, because currently living in the house are two men, Mr. Straker (James Mason) and Mr. Barlow (Reggie Nalder).  Barlow is a vampire, and Straker is the man empowered with protecting him.  Together, they prey upon the townsfolk of Salem’s Lot, gradually changing nearly everyone in town into a vampire.  Unless that is, Ben Mears can stop them.

It’s a great story, but it plays better in the novel than in the movie, which is hindered by dated dialogue by screenwriter Paul Monash.

I was a huge fan of the TV show STARSKY AND HUTCH (1975-79) back in the day, and so at the time when I first saw SALEM’S LOT I gave David Soul who starred in the show a free pass. Watching it today was a different story.  Soul’s interpretation of Ben Mears has its problems, mostly because at times Soul seems to be sleepwalking through the role.  He also doesn’t do fear well.  When Ben Mears is supposed to be terrified, he comes off as more dazed than anything else.

By far, the best performance in the movie belongs to James Mason as Mr. Straker.  Of course, this comes as no surprise as Mason was a phenomenal actor who was no stranger to villainous roles.  His dark interpretation of Dr. Polidori in FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973) was one of the most memorable parts of that horror movie, and his villainous turn as attorney Ed Concannon in THE VERDICT (1982) was every bit as effective as Paul Newman’s lead performance as Frank Galvin.  Both men won Oscars for their performances that year, Newman for Best Actor, and Mason for Best Supporting Actor.  These roles are from the tail end of Mason’s career, which began in the 1930s and spanned five decades.

As Straker, Mason is frightening.  The scene where he taunts a priest is one of the best in the film.

salems-lot-soul-mason

David Soul and James Mason in SALEM’S LOT (1979).

The rest of the cast, which is chock-full of character actors, is so-so.  In the key role of young Mark Petrie, the boy who loves monsters and monster movies, and the character who I obviously identified with when I first read the novel in 1975, Lance Kerwin is just okay.  Like David Soul, his interpretation of fear comes off more like a “deer in the headlights” daze.

Likewise, Bonnie Bedelia is okay as Susan Norton, but Lew Ayres is effective as school teacher Jason Burke, and unlike Soul and Kerwin, Ayres does do fear well.  Ed Flanders is solid as Dr. Bill Norton, and Geoffrey Lewis enjoys some fine moments as Mike Ryerson, especially once Mike becomes a vampire.  Veteran actors Elisha Cook Jr. and Fred Willard are also in the cast.

And while Reggie Nalder does look horrifying as Barlow in his Nosferatu-style make-up, ultimately he doesn’t make much of an impact in the movie because his scenes are few and far between.  Even though I prefer the Barlow character from the novel to the one here in the movie, I still would have liked to have seen the vampire more in the film.

The story, which flows naturally in the novel, with its expansive cast of characters, doesn’t flow as well in the movie, as the townsfolk and their personal issues play like characters in a soap opera.

Director Tobe Hooper, fresh off his success with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), definitely puts his personal stamp on the movie and creates some scary scenes. Chief amongst them is the creepy and very memorable scene- it might be the most memorable of the entire movie— of young vampire Danny Glick floating outside Mark Petrie’s window, beckoning to be let inside.  It’s certainly one of my favorite parts of the movie.

Another frightening image features Geoffrey Lewis’ Mike Ryerson as a vampire, sitting in a rocking chair.

But the biggest parts of the story strangely fall flat.  The end, for instance, when Mark and Susan enter the Marston house in search of Barlow, lacks the necessary suspense.  In the book, these scenes were terrifying.  In the movie, not so much.

The pacing is a little off as well.  The film runs for 184 minutes and originally aired on television in two 2 hour segments.  The bulk of the first half is spent introducing all the characters, while Barlow doesn’t really show up until the second part, and then things move very quickly, often too quickly.

The film did very well and earned high ratings, and for a while there was talk of turning it into a television series, but the idea never materialized.

I like the film version of SALEM’S LOT, and even though it hasn’t aged all that well, and is a bit dated— in contrast, the classic TV vampire movie THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) still holds up remarkably well today— it’s still a fun movie to watch, with some genuine creepy scenes, especially for a TV movie, and we certainly have Tobe Hooper to thank for that.  While the vampire is OK, and the leads meh, you do have James Mason chewing up the scenery as the diabolically evil Mr. Straker.

The biggest drawback is that the source material, the novel by Stephen King, is so darned good, it makes this above average thriller seem much more ordinary than it really is.

SALEM’S LOT is kinda like its vampire, Mr. Barlow.  Scary, but nowhere near as powerful as depicted in the novel by Stephen King.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

Travel through time with TIME FRAME, my Debut Science Fiction Novel

0

time frame cover

If you like time travel stories and exciting science fiction adventures, you might enjoy my novel TIME FRAME.

It’s my debut science fiction novel and it’s still available both as an EBook from NeconEbooks at http://www.neconebooks.com., and as a print paperback edition at https://www.createspace.com/5487293, or at Amazon.com.

I wrote TIME FRAME with the spirit of time travel movies and TV shows in mind, films like THE TIME MACHINE (1960), TIME AFTER TIME (1979), and any number of STAR TREK episodes.  If you enjoy time travel adventures, chance are you’ll enjoy TIME FRAME.

Writing TIME FRAME was a challenge because it’s a story with multiple timelines and I had to make sure that by the story’s end that they all made sense.  I think they do.  I also wanted to take things as far as possible, to write a story where I took those traditional time travel tropes and blew them out of the water.  Not sure if I succeeded, but the story does include a large explosion on the high seas.

I also didn’t want my science fiction tale to be cold and stoic.  I wanted heated and emotional, which is why I wrote as my main characters a close family, with the thought in mind:  how far would you go to protect your family?  Would you break the rules of time travel to save your loved ones?

This one also started with a single idea. I had recently lost my own grandfather, who I was very close to, and I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I just wanted to see him one more time.  And so I came up with the single scene of a young man opening his front door and finding his grandfather standing there looking perfectly normal, which the man knew had to be impossible because his grandfather was dead.  This scene was the genesis for TIME FRAME, and I built the story around that, as I thought about possible scenarios that could make this scene true.  What could account for a man who had been dead for several years returning to his loved ones looking happy and healthy again?  The answer became the novel TIME FRAME.

TIME FRAME remains available as an Ebook and can be ordered for $2.99 at www.neconebooks.com.

You can also order a print paperback edition for $14.99 at https://www.createspace.com/5487293, or at Amazon.com, or you can order it directly through me by sending me an email at mjarruda33@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (2016) – Mediocre Sequel Lacks Energy & Punch

0

jack-reacher-never-go-back

JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK (2016) seems to be begging me to never go back to the theater to see any more JACK REACHER films.

And there will be more JACK REACHER movies, since Tom Cruise owns the film rights to the Jack Reacher novels by author Lee Child.  Now, while I didn’t particularly enjoy this second film in the Jack Reacher film series, I’m not at the stage yet where I’d never go back.

After all, I enjoyed the first movie, JACK REACHER (2012)  a lot.  It was a fun action movie, and Tom Cruise did a nice job in the lead role as Jack Reacher.

But now comes the sequel, JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK, which takes several steps backwards.  The story isn’t as good, nor is the cast, and most disappointing of all is it’s directed by a very talented director Edward Zwick, who over his long career has made several movies that I’ve really liked, including GLORY (1989), BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), and DEFIANCE (2008).

With Zwick at the helm, this movie has no business being as flat and mediocre as it is.

JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK opens with our hero, former military officer turned investigator and vigilante Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) taking care of a crooked sheriff whose been doing wrong by illegal immigrants.  Reacher credits the arrest to a  military officer named Turner (Cobie Smulders), who he has never met.  But they hit it off over the phone and agree to meet for a date.

When Reacher arrives at her office, he’s informed that she’s been arrested for treason. Of course, Reacher smells trouble, and he sets his sights on clearing her name.  He has to add his own name to the list of people to clear since as soon as he starts looking into this vast government conspiracy, he’s implicated as well, and so he has to conduct his investigation while also being a fugitive from justice.

Reacher breaks Turner out of her holding cell, and together they seek answers, but not before they add a third person to their group, a teenage girl named Samantha (Danika Yarosh) who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter.  When the bad guys threaten Samantha to get back at Reacher, he whisks his maybe-daughter away from her home so she’ll be safe, and of course she jumps right into helping them with their investigation.  Now, that’s realistic.

The first strike I had with JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK is its story is nowhere near as tight or as compelling as the plot in the first JACK REACHER movie.  The mystery here just isn’t all that interesting, and the subplot with Reacher’s “daughter” is as cliche as these things go.

It doesn’t help that the villains aren’t that memorable either.  The main baddie is a hitman type named The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), who is supposedly an unstoppable killer, but since this is a Jack Reacher movie, there’s little doubt which character will have the upper hand when the two meet for their deadly showdown.  The head bad guy, the man behind the scenes pulling all the strings to this vast conspiracy, remains largely in the shadows throughout, so much so he hardly matters at all.

And while Tom Cruise is back playing Jack Reacher, a role I really enjoyed him in back in the first movie, I wasn’t as impressed this time around.  There was something really cool about the Jack Reacher character and the way Cruise played him in JACK REACHER.  There was an edge to Cruise’s performance that really brought the character to life.  That edge seems to be gone here.

There just seemed to be far less energy behind Cruise’s performance in this sequel.  I didn’t get the same sense this time around that Reacher was a deadly force to be reckoned with, someone that could put a major hurt on a bunch of people with his bare hands.

Cobie Smulders, who plays Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA movies, as well as on Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, is fine here as Turner, the tough military officer who makes a nice partner for Reacher as they take on the crooked military villains.  But it’s not a role that jumps out at you or makes you remember the character long after you’ve seen the movie.

Likewise, Danika Yarosh is okay as teen Samantha, but the role is rather cliche.  The rest of the cast is serviceable but undistinguished.  Another strength of the first JACK REACHER movie was its cast, which was pretty darn good and featured Robert Duvall and Richard Jenkins in supporting roles.  No such star power this time around.

I wasn’t overly impressed by the screenplay by Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz, and director Edward Zwick.  Combined, these guys have some pretty impressive writing credits, but that didn’t seem to help them there.  Wenk has written some movies that I’ve really liked— THE MECHANIC (2011) starring Jason Statham, for example— but his previous credit, the recent remake of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) wasn’t one of them.

The story here was pretty standard, and the dialogue wasn’t really up to snuff either.

As I said, Edward Zwich has directed some solid films, but JACK REACHER:  NEVER GO BACK lacked intensity and visual flair.  None of the action or fight scenes remain etched in my mind.

The whole film was all rather flat.

I’m still willing to see future Jack Reacher movies, since I enjoyed the first film so much, but if any more play like this one, I’ll take the title to heart and vow then and there to never go back.

—END–

Emily Blunt Best Part of Brooding Thriller THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016)

0

girl_on_the_train

 

I wish the girl had been on a faster train.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016), the new thriller starring one of my favorite actresses, Emily Blunt, and based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins, is a decent enough flick, but it moves at such a deliberately plodding pace that it never reaches out and grabs you by the throat, never goes for the jugular, although truth be told there is a bloody stab-in-the-neck scene late in the film which is one of the more effective scenes in the movie.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a sad alcoholic who rides the train every day to and from a job she doesn’t have anymore, and from this train each day she observes a beautiful young woman Megan (Haley Bennett) with her husband Scott (Luke Evans) both outside and through curtain-free windows inside their home.  Rachel fantasizes about the happy life the couple share with each other.

Rachel used to live next door to Megan and Scott, in a house still occupied by Rachel’s ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their new baby.  Furthermore, Megan now works for Tom and Anna as their baby’s nanny.  Small world!

Rachel is a depressed young woman, and in her drunken stupors she becomes unhinged. At one point, she walks into Tom and Anna’s home and takes their baby, albeit only as far as their front lawn.

Anyway, one day Rachel observes Megan at her home with another man, which disturbs Rachel, since it ruins her fantasy of Megan’s and Scott’s happy life together.  One night, when she’s drunk, Rachel returns to the neighborhood, sees Megan jogging, pursues her, screams at her that she’s a whore, and then passes out.  When she awakes from her blackout, she is covered in blood.

And when it’s discovered the next day that Megan has disappeared, the mystery begins, and Rachel finds herself as an early person of interest by the police, since she was seen in the neighborhood, and since it’s on record that she’s been a threat to Tom and Anna, and that Anna and Megan bear a resemblance to each other.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN isn’t exactly the most compelling thriller you’ll ever see.  It has moments here and there, but for the most part it’s all rather sad and dull.

The best thing THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN has going for it is its three female leads.  I really liked the fact that the three main roles in this movie were women.  But that being said, none of these roles are all that exciting.

I’m a huge fan of Emily Blunt, and she doesn’t disappoint in this movie.  She’s very good as Rachel and captures the depressing sad life, the misery, in which Rachel exists.  In some ways, it’s a thankless role, because she spends most of the film in a drunken stupor. The biggest drawback, which can be said for the entire movie, is there’s never that one moment, that big payoff, where things are taken to the next level.  Blunt is very good here, but it’s not  a role, as written, where you’re thinking, Oscar material.  As such, I enjoyed Blunt more in SICARIO (2015) and in the Tom Cruise science fiction movie EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014).

Haley Bennett is okay as Megan, in yet another role that isn’t written as effectively as it could have been, and that holds true for the entire movie.

The screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson presents an elaborate mystery with lots of characters but none of these chararacters are developed as deeply as they should have been.  It seems to be a clear case of trying to cover all the events of a novel and getting them into one movie, which is difficult since novels and moves are so different.  That being said, it’s not a bad screenplay, it’s just a little too peripheral and superficial to  really work.  Wilson also wrote the screenplay to a similar thriller some years back that I liked a bit more than this movie, the film CHLOE (2009), starring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, and Amanda Seyfried.

Getting back to Haley Bennett, she enjoys a few good moments as Megan, but for the most part the role was underplayed.  I’ve seen Bennet a lot lately, as she was just in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) as Emma Cullen, the woman who hires the Seven.  She was also in HARDCORE HENRY (2015), THE EQUALIZER (2014), in which she also co-starred with Denzel Washington, and way back when she played Molly Hartley in the mediocre horror movie THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY (2008).  Bennett is good in all these movies, but I’m still waiting for her to have that break-out role where she’s better than “just good.”  The most memorable thing about her performance here in this movie is that at times the way she is photographed she resembles Jennifer Lawrence.

The third female lead is Anna, played by Rebecca Ferguson, with similar results.  Decent acting, superficial role.

Justin Theroux plays Rachel’s husband Tom and gives an okay performance in yet another role that struggles to be three-dimensional.

I thought Luke Evans was very good as Megan’s slimy husband Scott.  He looks like a hothead and he acts like one, but there are some scenes where he reveals that there’s more to him than just being a controlling husband.  Evans played Vlad/Dracula in the underwhelming DRACULA UNTOLD (2014), a film I really didn’t like all that much, but Evans was pretty good in it.

And one of my new favorite actors, Edgar Ramirez, shows up in a key role as psychiatrist Dr. Kamil Abdic.  I first noticed Ramirez in his supporting role as Jennifer Lawrence’s husband in JOY (2015), but he’s been in a bunch of other movies, most recently playing Roberto Durant in HANDS OF STONE (2016), a film that got swept under the rug this year but is one of my favorite films that I’ve seen in 2016.  Ramirez also starred as the demon-hunting priest in the lackluster horror movie DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014).  Here in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, other than Emily Blunt, Ramirez gives the best performance.

Allison Janney  is quite good in a small role as Detective Riley.  The film really doesn’t follow the police investigation very much, and as such the police play a very small part in the film, which focuses more on Rachel, Megan, and Anna.  But in her brief time, Janney is very good.  As is  Laura Prepon as Rachel’s sister, Cathy.

And Lisa Kudrow shows up in a very, very small role, yet one which plays an important part in the plot.

Another thing I didn’t like about THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN that I thought hurt its story is it tells its tale through different characters’ perspectives.  It’s funny, becasue this is the type of storytelling that I love in a novel, but it’s easier to do in a novel, where you can have entire chapters told from different characters’ perspectives, so that you learn one thing about the plot from one character’s point of view, and then later you see it differently through the eyes of another character.

This doesn’t translate as well in a movie, or at least it didn’t here in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.  It comes off as more of a cheat.  You see a certain character act in a certain way through the whole movie, and then later, you learn, nope, that character is not that way at all.  The person you thought was decent really isn’t.

The film definitely manipulates its audience, and I have to say I for one didn’t enjoy being manipulated in this way.  I felt cheated.  In a novel, you would know exactly which character was telling the story.  In this movie, it comes off as something that is held back from the audience to fool them, as opposed to watching the story unfold from different characters’ points of view.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN was directed by Tate Taylor to mixed results.  He captures the mood of the piece for sure.  It’s all very gray and gloomy, depressingly so.  The film looks like the embodiment of what is to be Rachel.

But in terms of being a thriller, Taylor’s direction doesn’t cut it.  The pacing just isn’t there, nor is the suspense.  It’s all very interesting in that you want to know who did what to whom, especially since the movie goes out of its way to confuse you with its changing points of view, but it never ever becomes edge-of-your seat material.  And although there are a couple of nicely shot brutal murder scenes that may make you turn your head from the screen, neither of these are so intense or shocking that they’re all that memorable.

I enjoyed similar thrillers GONE GIRL (2014) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO (2011) better than this movie.

That being said, if you’re an Emily Blunt fan, as I am, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is worth a look.  She’s the main reason to see this brooding thriller.

 

—END—

 

NECON 36 – The Most Electrifying NECON Yet!

1
Necon 36 photo by Tony Tremblay

Panel audience at NECON 36.  Photo by Tony Tremblay.

NECON 36- July 21-24, 2016

Every summer, a group of writers and readers descend upon Roger Williams Convention Center in Bristol, Rhode Island for a writer’s convention unlike any other, NECON.

What makes NECON so special is that in addition to the first-rate writers’ panels, there is also ample time for socializing, meaning that you’ll have access to authors that you just don’t get anywhere else.  It’s the most laid back and casual con going.

I’ve been going to NECON since 2001.  This year’s NECON 36, was the most electrifying yet— literally!

THURSDAY July 21, 2016

Registration opened at 2:00 at the Roger Williams Convention Center on Thursday, July 21, 2016.  Authors Dan Foley and Jason and Jil Salzarulo hosted the first event, the Necon Primer for Newbies, an informal information session on what Necon is all about, for those first-timers, and this year there were quite a few folks attending Necon for the first time.  That’s a big reason why this year’s Necon was sold out, as attendance reached the capped number of 200 Necon Campers.  I did not attend this event, since I’m not a newbie, but I heard it was very successful.

At 10:00 the famous Saugie roast was held, where the campers partake in that famous grilled hot dog found only in Rhode Island.  For me, this first night is always special, as I get to see familar faces I haven’t seen since last year.  In this case it was extra fun hanging out with both L.L. Soares and Pete Dudar, as they both missed last year’s Necon.  I also got to see old friends Paul McNally, Morven Westfield, and Daniel and Trista Robichaud, who I hadn’t seen in about seven years!

FRIDAY July 22, 2016

With fellow Cinema Knife Fighters L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Pete Dudar, and newcomer Catherine Scully, I took part in the 10:00 Kaffeeklatsch:  The World Died Streaming:  The Year in Film in Theaters and Online.  This was our annual movie panel, which is always well attended, where we discuss the movies we’ve seen this past year.  There were tons of recommendations, but the hot topic this year wasn’t a movie but a TV show, as everyone was talking about the new Netflix TV show, STRANGER THINGS.  And it wasn’t just on our movie panel.  I think I heard STRANGER THINGS mentioned on nearly every panel I attended this year!  It definitely was the highest recommended show of the weekend.

Necon 36 MichaelArrudaandLLSoares photo by Nick Cato

Yours truly and L.L. Soares at NECON 36.  Photo by Nick Cato.

As usual, we also received plenty of recommendations from Craig Shaw Gardner and Barbara Gardner.

After lunch, I attended the 1:00 panel The World Died Screaming:  Apocalyptic SF, Horror, and Fantasy, moderated by Douglas Wynne, and featuring Joe Hill, James Moore, Craig DiLouie, Lynne Hansen, and Mark Morris.  This panel focused on writing about the end of the world, especially in terms of the zombie apocalypse.  The point was made that these types of stories are popular because they resonate with people’s own fear of dying.

I next attended the 2:00 panel Not Dead Yet:  The State of Publishing Today, moderated by Matt Schwartz, and featuring Gina Wachtel, John Douglas, Sandra Kasturi, Ginjer Buchanan, and Jaime Levine.  The talk here centered on the Ebook trend which, rather than obliterating the traditional book publishing industry as some had predicted, has settled in nicely as a balanced alternative.  Ebooks and traditional print books seem to be coexisting together agreeably.  One area of growth in recent years that was not predicted was the growth of the audio book, which continues to grow as a market.

There was also discussion on the use of social media by authors to promote themselves and how today’s authors are extremely media savvy.

The 4:00 panel, The Scream of a Distant Sun:  Mixing SF and Horror, moderated by Brett Savory, and featuring Don D’Ammassa, Patrick Freivald, Erin Underwood, Linda Addison, and Gordon Linzner was a fascinating and highly entertaining and informative look at the way horror and science fiction go hand in hand, or not.  There was a lot of talk on getting the science right in a science fiction story, as getting the science wrong is a major turn off, so the advice to writers was do your homework.

There was talk about how movies like ALIEN (1979) while considered both horror and science fiction, are mostly horror, since its story about a monster can take place anywhere, not just in space. In pure science fiction, you can’t take the science out of the story.

There was also discussion on Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, originally considered a horror novel but in ensuing years it has been also classified as science fiction.

Don D’Ammassa, who with his vast personal library is one of the most well read people on the planet, is always a joy to listen to.  As usual, his comments were on the money and pointedly informative.  I could listen to him all day.

After dinner, it was time for the Official Necon Toast by Toastmasters Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory.  Tradition dictates that this toast pokes fun at the Guests of Honor, and Kasturi and Savory did not disappoint in this regard.  My favorite line came from Kasturi, who when speaking of Joe Hill, remarked that “it would have been nice had your dad showed up- Benny Hill.”  Of course, Joe’s real-life famous dad goes by a different last name, King.  Yep.  That King.

This was followed by Necon Update with Mike Myers (no, not that Mike Myers!) at 7:30, and Myers was funny as always.

After the Update, it was time for the NECON HALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONY.  The recipients this year were authors Stephen Bissette and Linda Addison.

At 8:00 it was time for the Meet the Authors Party, that special time at the con when you can buy books from your favorite authors and have them signed up close and personal.  No surprise, the biggest line this year was for Joe Hill.

I set up shop next to fellow authors and friends Nick Cato, L.L. Soares, Peter Dudar, Dan Keohane, and William Carl.  Always fun to sell and sign a book or two.

After the party it was time to socialize, and I was fortunate enough to sit down and have a long chat  with author Morven Westfield who I hadn’t seen in a few years.  It was great to catch up.  Morven started coming to Necon right around the same time I did, back in 2001.

Remember I called this the most electrifying Necon ever?  I wasn’t just talking about the electricity generated by the authors.  I’m also referring to the wild thunderstorm which descended upon us around 10:00 pm and blew wind-swept rains and insane lightning at us for quite some time.  Perfectly atmospheric!

During this time, I caught up with author Sheri Sebastion-Gabriel, among others.  It was also time for the “Rick Hautala Cigar Tribute” in which a bunch of authors gather around to smoke cigars in honor of Rick, who sadly passed away in 2013.  Rick, a best-selling author, was a Necon fixture.  I always enjoyed talking to Rick and listening to him speak on the panels. Every time I heard him speak I learned something new.  Speaking at the informal but emotional tribute were Rick’s wife Holly Newstein, and Christopher Golden.

The relentless thunderstorm with its brilliant lightning flashes went on into the night, as did the social gatherings, where friends chatted long past midnight—.

 

SATURDAY, July 23, 2016

After breakfast, I caught the 10:00 panel Panel by Panel:  The Peculiar Power of Horror Comics. moderated by Angi Shearstone, and featuring Jason Ciaramella, Rebekah Isaacs, Stephen Bissette, Joe Hill, and James Chambers.  The panel discussed the happy marriage between horror and comics. It also covered some history, explaining that the modern reign of superhero comics owes itself to the ridiculous reports decades ago that erroneously linked horror comics to emotional problems in children.  This led to the outright banning of horror comics in the 1950s.  Superheroes then stepped in to fill the void, and they’ve been going strong ever since.

For my money, the 11:00 panel, Broken on the Outside & In:  Experts Discuss Writing about Physical & Mental Trauma (and Their Effects) may have been the best panel of the weekend.  Moderated by K.H. Vaughn, it featured Karen Deal, Rena Mason, Ellen Williams, Marianne Halbert, and Mercedes Yardley in a fascinating discussion of both physical and mental trauma.  On the physical side, it covered how much punishment a character can really take and survive, and it also discussed when you can get away with exaggerating these things.  For example, in the Marvel superhero films, Tony Stark would be dead from brain injuries from all those impacts in his Iron Man suit, but audiences are perfectly comfortable to let this slide.  We suspend disbelief because this is a superhero story, and we don’t hold the lack of accuracy here against the storytelling.

On the mental side, the bulk of the discussion covered how to write characters with mental illnesses in a realistic way.  Do your homework and research both the illnesses and the treatments, which change from year to year, was the major advice.

There also was a wince-inducing frank discussion of autopsies and all that goes on in an autopsy room.

Great stuff!

After lunch it was time for the Guests of Honor Interview in which Toastmasters Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory interviewed Guests of Honor Joe Hill, Mark Morris, and Laura Anne Gilman. These interviews are always informative and enlightening, and today’s was no exception.

I caught the 2:30 panel Edge of Your Seat:  Pacing and Plotting the Thriller, in which moderator Bracken MacLeod and panelists Megan Hart, Michael Koryta, Chris Irvin, Sephera Giron, and John McIlveen discussed, among other things, how to pace oneself while writing a novel, including the use of outlines.

I missed the next two panels as I got caught up in a discussion about movies with L.L. Soares and Nick Cato that covered a lot of ground, and a lot of time.

After dinner, it was time for the Artists Reception which featured fine art work by the various artists in attendance this year, and also plenty of goodies and coffee.  The art show had a new venue this year, and the set-up was perfect.  Very comfortable with easy viewing access to the paintings and prints.

At 8:00 it was time for the first ever Necon “Pub Quiz” Trivia game, which in reality was a variation of Necon’s infamous “Game Show.”  This time around, volunteers were assembled into teams.  I was on Rebekah Isaac’s team, and we led the competition throughout, due mostly to having the knowledgeable Darrell Schweitzer on our team.  Alas, we finished in second place as we were overtaken in the final round, done in by a bonus round on music.

This was followed by A Very Special Episode which is code for the Necon Roast.  This year’s victim- er, honoree, was author Rio Youers, and he was a really good sport about the whole thing.  Host Jeff Strand did an awesome job, and other speakers included Christopher Golden, James Moore, Joe Hill, Linda Addison, Richard Dansky, and Matt Bechtel, among others.  This year’s roast also featured a new “lightning round” in which 10 folks each delivered a 30 second bit, and I was fortunate enough to be among this new group of ten.

The roast is always a highlight of the weekend.

Afterwards followed late night parties in the quad which go on into the wee hours of the morning, where we gather for the last time as a social group until next year.  The other event tonight was April Hawks shaving her head for charity.

Speaking of charity, this weekend my roommate and New England Horror Writers leader Scott Goudsward had himself “yarn bombed” for charity, as Trisha Wooldridge stitched an insanely ludicrous covering over him over the course of the weekend.  The final product had Scott resembling a long lost crew member of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.

Necon 36 Cinema Knife Fight photo by Paul McNally

Cinema Knife Fighters Pete Dudar, Paul McMahon, Nick Cato, myself, L.L. Soares, and Bill Carl gather for a group photo by Paul McNally.  That’s NEHW head honcho Scott Goudsward lurking in the shadows in between Paul & Nick.

 

SUNDAY July 24, 2016

I attended the 10:00 panel Lessons Learned:  Moving from Tyro to Journeyman in which moderator P.D. Cacek and panelists Kristin Dearborn, Scott Goudsward, Dan Keohane, and Megan Arcuri-Moran discussed how they’ve moved on from being newbie writers and have gradually become established writers.  Their advice was on the money and invaluable.

At 11:00 it was the Necon Town Meeting in which awards were distributed to the winners  of this year’s Necon Olympic events, and the ensuing discussion involved all things Necon, thanking the volunteers, and looking ahead to next year by listening to suggestions and complaints.  Speaking of complaints, there weren’t any.  This is an awesome con any way you slice it.

As always, thanks go out to the Booth family who run Necon every year, especially to Sara, who’s done an awesome job leading the con, and also to Dan and Mary, and to Matt Bechtel.  And of course, we continue to remember Bob Booth, Sara and Dan’s dad, and Mary’s husband, “Papa Necon” himself, who passed away from lung cancer in 2013.  Bob and Mary founded Necon back in 1980, and his spirit continues to be felt at Necon.

Bob also founded Necon Ebooks, which published my first novel, first movie review collection, and first short story collection.

After lunch, it was time to say so long to everyone until next year, which is clearly my least favorite part of Necon.

I enjoyed a fun conversation with Carole Whitney, as she shared with me her love of Hammer Films and told me the story of how her love for horror began in 1958 when she saw HORROR OF DRACULA at the movies.  Great story!

And that’s what Necon is all about.  The people and their stories.

If you’re a writer and/or a reader, plan on one day making the pilgrimage to Necon, a one-of-a-kind con that is more than just a con; it’s family.  And it’s still going strong.

This year’s Necon was absolutely electrifying, and we had a thunderstorm to prove it.  Who knows what’s in store for next year?

Whatever it is, I’ll be there to find out.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael