THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

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The Girl on the Train is a sexy intriguing enough thriller of the sort that predominantly was made 20 years ago. Based on the bestseller by Paula Hawkins, it has interesting references to gender politics abound and there’s enough mystery to keep you involved but the real strong point of the film is an effective performance from Emily Blunt.

Part of the appeal of any mystery thriller is not knowing too much about the plot and letting twists unfold. So keeping it short, the premise of the opening moments is Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a recent divorcee and high functioning alcoholic trying to move on with her life. Catching the train to work every day she notices a woman Megan Hipwell (Hayley Bennett) outside the train window in a house that can be viewed from the commute. It’s a nice house, she’s pretty and her husband Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans) seen in evenings on the way home is handsome. Ideals for her own happiness are projected onto the seemingly perfect life these two seem to have. However it is all a matter of perspective and the young woman goes missing.

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The film works strongest when dealing with perspective and prejudice, why do the other women stare at Megan in yoga class. Are they threatened by her beauty or do they know something about her character? Is she highly sexual or do others like to imagine so? Is she a victim, a manipulator or something more sinister? Image result for the girl on the train haley bennett The answer is of course the same it has always been, the same it has been for most men and women since time immemorial. She is not one thing or the other. That goes the same for Rachel Watson and the third major female character in the film Anna Boyd played by Rebecca Ferguson. Most people are many things and then there are some who are not. Some who are different from us, the kind who would harm someone, maybe murder them.

The Girl on the Train has a lot of fun making us wonder who out of the main characters have done something like that and why. Motivations appear for everyone and our central protagonist realises through the fog of alcoholism she can’t trust what she has seen or knows with any certainty which is a neat place to put our lead character and audience. The narrative is not told in a linear fashion but split and told from the point of view of Rachel, Megan and Anna providing new insight into previous scenes. Like a lot of mysteries it may hold less interest once you know the outcome.

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The cast may pull you back though, Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband Tom trying to look out for her but also trying to protect his new family Anna and their child, Rebecca Ferguson (making less impact here than she did in the last Mission Impossible) as Anna once the other woman now a new mother more fearful and tired than she was before the baby,  Luke Evans as Megan’s handsome but imposing husband who is the most obvious suspect but also most obvious patsy, Edgar Ramirez as Dr. Kamal Abdic as Megan’s thoughtful psychiatrist who may helping himself more than Megan, Allison Janney as the cynical Detective Sergeant Riley cop who trusts the evidence far more than troubled eye witnesses and Darren Goldstein who stares at Blunt in bars near where the girl went missing. Who of them is guilty of something? Who of them is innocent? Who amongst us could say we’re both. Some characters get more time to tell their story; some actors make a bigger impact with their performance than others.

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None more so than Blunt who is the main reason to see the film. With bleary eye make-up applied and she still looks like Emily Blunt, one of the most beautiful actresses in the world. Whether she looks dowdy is irrelevant to the story, she is hurting and she is a wreck. Beauty can’t do much about that in the end. We see her full of pain and regret and anger but also fear and doubt. Most importantly though we see she is trying to do the right thing even if she is imperfect and broken and we’re right there with her. Blunt acts so well, whether crying on cue in a one take close up shot on her face during a confession or when screaming manically at mirrors as anger comes to the forefront. She sells the character being capable of several mental states and therefore capable of vastly difference actions perhaps. It is after all a matter of perspective.

The film directed by Tate Taylor is effectively moody, the fogginess of American East Coast winter supporting the feeling of fogginess one gets from intoxication. This is a bleak place with not much colour or warmth, a perfect place to commit murder where people hide in their houses and defer from walking streets too much and woods stretch out on the horizon capable of hiding too many secrets where people wouldn’t dare to tread. Fincher made a better looking film that shocked with where it took its leads in Gone Girl a couple of years ago but you can’t have a Gone Girl every year. This will do nicely for that market and maybe some will enjoy it more. After all it is all a matter of perspective.

-Lloyd Marken

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STEVE JOBS GETS THE SORKIN TREATMENT

Steve Jobs is a good movie; let’s get out of the way right now. Written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Danny Boyle and starring-wait for it-Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg and Sarah Snook. A biopic about a high profile personality that changed the way we live, it followed a familiar path for awards season hopefuls. Launched first at Telluride Film Festival, and then given a limited release where it scored the highest per screen average gross of 2015 before opening wide to have it on everybody’s mind when award nominations were considered. Sadly the film did not open with big numbers in America and was pulled from wide release after only two weeks before limping through foreign territories. Kate Winslet and Aaron Sorkin did pick up Golden Globes for their efforts and the film did receive two Oscar nominations but compared to the similar The Social Network, Steve Jobs was seen as a failure. This is a shame because it boasts the same kind of quality we’ve come to expect from all involved.

Steve Jobs is not really supposed to be about the man we all know; sure it takes facets of that myth that we know all and sprinkles them throughout. It’s widely reported that he may not have been a very nice man, at least not in the beginning of his career and the film asks an age old question. Can only great things be done by people who are so driven they cannot sustain any sincere and worthy relationships. The film is structured around three acts like a play with each act taking place behind the scenes leading up to a presentation to launch a new product. I could tell you what they are but it doesn’t really matter. The film is about a father and a daughter, there’s a lot of noise about, various work colleagues and what their relationship was to Jobs, how they changed him and were changed by him, whether they pushed him into failures or better decisions. None of it is as important as the relationship between parents and children.

Mackenzie Moss plays Lisa in 1984 when Jobs wants to put a personal computer in every home and change the world. He’s young, ambitious and furious that ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) is claiming her child is his. Seth Rogen is Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who is trusted and cared for by Jobs seen as someone very tech-minded but not necessarily as strong willed as Jobs. Apple CEO John Sculley appears at the launch to offer advice and show his support, they have a warm relationship. Backstage Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) is being pressured to fix glitches or face consequences as an original Mac team member. Some people are treated well by the icon, others stand up to him, and others seem to know how to deal with him. Only one is truly able to communicate with him and that is marketing executive Joanna Hoffman played by Kate Winslet.

In every subsequent act the relationships Jobs has with these people changes, arguably one for the better, but the relationship with Hoffman never changes. She is his confidant, his moral compass and while her patience wears thin as the years pass by she never leaves his side or stops being close to him. If half of what this film says is true Joanna Hoffman would be a fascinating person to meet and talk to. Jobs remains an enigma played as a real man by Michael Fassbender with volatile emotions but always able to keep something to himself. We see him angry, his pride hurt, his mind frantic for a way to win, smug in victory. The intelligence and energy of the man are on display but tellingly there may only be one genuine significant smile throughout the film. Talk about driven but for true thoughts and feelings maybe only Joanna knows. Kate Winslet plays her as firm when she needs to be but gentle as well, she appeals to his good side in a way most people wouldn’t dare.

Ripley Sobo as Lisa in 1988 and Perla Haney-Jardine as Lisa in 1998 effectively convey a child struggling to be acknowledged by their parent in some way and the anger and confusion that will result from that. Their story is the one building to a climax, not Jobs triumphant return to Apple. Rogen has an opportunity here to sprout Sorkin dialogue and be in a different type of movie and acquits himself well. Possibly now as celebrated and recognised for his contributions as Steve Jobs, you don’t ever hear too many stories about Steve Wozniak being an unpleasant person to work with and there is something in that given quiet dignity in Rogen’s performance. Jeff Daniels who got to play leading man on Sorkin’s The News Room here is an unwilling antagonist as John Sculley. The Sorkin scripted showdown between Sculley and Jobs are riveting but far more important are there scenes in 1998.

I still can’t shake that for all the talking that goes on in a Sorkin screenplay, Fassbender’s main achievement is to convey so much of Job’s growth in subtleties. One of the greatest actors working today, Fassbender is so consistent we may start taking for granted how good he is. Sorkin writes clever dialogue for smart characters but always with an emotional through line, this is another tour de force by him.

After David Fincher’s collaboration with Sorkin yielded The Social Network, Danny Boyle being attached to this movie sounded like an exciting prospect and Boyle doesn’t disappoint. Lacking most of his more energetic flourishes from other films there has still been distinctive technical chances that make the film look and sound interesting and reflect the growth of the technology and the characters in the story. Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler shoots in 16mm for the 1984 scenes, 35mm for 1988 and digital in 1998. At the same time score composer Daniel Pemberton used analogue synthesizers for the 1984 scenes, a more orchestral score for 1988 and digitally produced music for 1998. These are all great touches that you stop noticing after a while but help create mood and reflect the changing of time and characters. Similar choices were made in terms of production design and where each launch would be set. This is high end filmmaking that can’t be faulted, not only does it look great but it serves a purpose. For example notice where late important conversations occur in and with whom in each act. Act I a walk around outside from one building to the other. Act II down in the bowels of a theatre in a dark hallway. Act III in a high up in a rooftop carpark out in the open again.

There were better films that came out during Oscar season like Spotlight. Something is off here, maybe Jobs himself remains too aloof or maybe we can’t care too much about rich business people being mean to each other. Maybe the people involved have delivered for us too much that we now expect more. If you haven’t seen it, give it a chance the film effectively and movingly tells a story about a father and daughter reconciling and maybe a man who finally figured out what was truly important.

-Lloyd Marken