Open Your Mind. Change Your Reality.

Scott Derrickson

Benedict Cumberbatch
Chiwetel Ejiofer
Tilda Swinton
Mads Mikkelsen
Benedict Wong
Rachel McAdams

Dr Stephen Strange [Cumberbatch] is at the very peak of his abilities as a remarkably skilled neurosurgeon. Like many prodigies, his prowess has bred an arrogance and intolerance for others that makes him frankly unbearable. The only person who can seemingly stomach his ego is ex-flame Christine Palmer [McAdams]. Following a devastating car crash, Stephen’s hands are ruined and, in his eyes, the various surgeries and pins placed in his hands are a work of butchery and while no one could have done better, he knows he could have. Facing the possibility that he will never work again, Strange spends his vast fortune undergoing countless experimental procedures before growing so desperate that he turns to mysticism – with extreme reluctance and cynicism. He spends his last remaining dollars traveling to Nepal to seek The Ancient One [Swinton] to heal him but is quickly exposed to a world of higher consciousness and magic that he never knew existed. With the assistance of fellow sorcerer, Mordo [Ejiofor], Strange hones his new abilities and is informed of a threat facing their world at the hands of a former disciple of the master, Kaecilius [Mikkelsen], who, in his grief, believes the world can be free of death by uniting with the dark realm.

Much like Guardians Of The Galaxy, Doctor Strange is a very fringe title. Even with the Thor series, magic is played off as higher science and never fully explored for fear of looking or sounding stupid (which is highly amusing considering how completely Harry Potter decimated book and box office sales). But following such a strong slew of Marvel’s vigilante/hero titles, this is the perfect opportunity to step outside the typical superhero fare – even if it essentially follows the same formula.

In truth, a lot of this film has an extremely different aesthetic from its fellow franchise releases and not just in the sense of robes and elaborate hand gestures; the cinematography, set design and direction don’t match up to previous Marvel releases, with the subtle contrasting, dark corners and clever shadow work – but for a director who has come from a horror background, this shouldn’t be surprising. Derrickson’s love of the comic is clearly apparent, really leaning in to the weird and whacky dimensional worlds of the source material unabashedly. One of the biggest sins this film thankfully avoids committing would be toning down the obscure in favour of a mainstream-friendly foray into mediocrity.

What’s most impressive is that the film’s grasp doesn’t exceed its reach.. for the most part. There’s far too much ropey CGI leaving muddy footprints over every major release these days but the majority of the digital effects presented here are genuinely impressive and spellbinding in their contorted madness. That’s not to say there isn’t a fair amount of plasticien uncanny-valley stuff but in light of everything going on, it plays out nicely, giving us a visually pleasing treat. And with the addition of Michael Giacchino’s trippy score generating a hybrid melody of Pink Floyd, waning sitars, gothic harpsichord notes and something akin to the horns of his rebooted Star Trek theme, we’re finally at a stage where the music accompanying a Marvel release has as much of a presence and personality as the on-screen visuals. I can only hope Giacchino will be a more prominent feature alongside Henry Jackman and we can address this glaring discrepancy once and for all.

It would be wrong to say that the performances ground the more bombastic elements, more that they warp and shift to an appropriate level to mirror the esoteric setting and substance while the calibre of acting talent on display adds a weight and relatable realism to the content. The three standouts are the central trinity of master and two lead students: Strange, Mordo and the Ancient One. I didn’t exactly support the idea of Cumberbatch portraying Strange, feeling like it was a very safe and obvious choice. But his embodiment of the arrogance and natural deftness pays off wonderfully. To my mind, the worst thing that could happen would be to create a completely likeable Strange – the Sorcerer Supreme really needed to be a bit of an arsehole with a sense of reckless fun – like a magical Tony Stark minus the libido – and that much comes across. Ejiofor’s Mordo is also a really good call, bringing on an incredibly talented individual who can not only bring an exceptional amount of depth and presence to a role but also a delightfully disturbing combination of calm calculation and underlying darkness stemming from a murky past. And then there’s Tilda Swinton who exudes strength, power and wisdom with a twist of comic relief.

**Spoiler for non-comic readers at the very end of this paragraph**
But for every positive, Doctor Strange falls into the pitfalls of every single Marvel cinematic release: an underwhelming and underdeveloped villain and love interest. We’ll start with Rachel McAdams solely because her character is the absolute worst thing about this movie. McAdams is a more than competent actress who has proven herself time and again yet her presence here is so insultingly pointless. I get the idea of a link to the past which serves as a simultaneous audience surrogate and anchor for the character but she’s so underutilised and criminally bland. Admittedly, thanks to the actress’ inherent skill, she manages to salvage something out of it but Christine is such a nothingy individual that she could have just as easily hit the cutting room floor and the film would have proceeded largely intact. Then we have Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius. No doubt there was a tie-in comic explaining his origins and motivations but really that should have been in the film. There’s plenty of expositionary dialogue detailing who he is and why he’s doing what he’s doing but we don’t experience it as an audience so we don’t make that emotional connection. Much like McAdams, it’s not that Mikkelsen does a bad job, just that the script doesn’t really give him much to do outside of the henchman role. Where Marvel has truly excelled with villains is with their Netflix shows. The complexity of these individuals and the fact one can almost sympathise or relate to them makes them much more interesting and engaging – it’s the reason Loki works so well. At the same time I have to admit that this movie makes the same mistake by giving us a disposable villain but also gives us a really engaging and properly motivated villain by the narrative’s close. Because as much as this is an origin story for our titular hero, it’s also an origin story for what will become his greatest adversary. So I have high hopes this has set up an incredibly strong and promising future for the character.

As a first step into a broader world, Doctor Strange opens a range of possibility for the wider Marvel universe. I’m immensely worried about the strength and implications of the Eye Of Agamotto and the core that powers it (in a narrative, writing yourself into a corner, sort of way) but I have faith there’s a larger plan at work here. As a standalone this is a very fun, very different release that has timed itself perfectly and nails one of the MCU’s major genre blindspots and I am extremely excited to see this newly introduced character mixing with the already established heroes.

Release Date:
28th October 2016

The Scene To Look Out For:
Marvel films are rife with cheeky humour and while this film felt like it had a significantly reduced amount of it, when it was utilised, it worked wonderfully. There’s so much one can do to accentuate humour when dealing with the mystical arts and the combination of Strange’s arrogant skepticism and learning curve served as brilliant fodder. Two minor incidents that come to mind is Strange very cinematically conjuring crackling shields only to have one fizzle into nothing. He looks on, disappointed and annoyed before shaking his hand, trying to get it to reignite. Then there’s the solo name joke that doesn’t work as well as the film would like but hits a huge high when Wong is sitting in the library listening to Beyonce while Strange opens portals and steals several tomes to peruse.

Notable Characters:
The two major changes from the comic are to the Ancient One and Wong. As a fan of the comic, these are extremely welcome alterations as the original incarnations were.. frankly.. racially insensitive products of their time. Updating the most powerful sorcerer, making her a woman was nice and Swinton delivers the oh-so-tired mentor role with a hint of freshness; even if she’s doing the exact same thing that every other cinematic mentor has ever done. Wong has been upgraded from faithful dogsbody to drill sergeant and while he can still have the same relationship with Strange, he doesn’t need to just be the Asian Alfred, doomed to simply answer the door, make tea and protect Strange’s body while he’s projecting in the astral realm. He also gets my second favourite line which is, “Knowledge is not forbidden at Karakesh, only certain practices.”

Highlighted Quote:
“We never defeat our demons, Mordo. We only learn to live above them”

In A Few Words:
“A fun, exhilarating, psychedelic romp thus far unseen in the shared Marvel universe with some exceptionally bold visuals, keen direction and charming performances”

Total Score:


Cinema City Film Quiz #177

[23 October 2016]

Winning Team:
Legends Of Curried Favour
Genre – Tim’s curry and rice attempt to gain popularity with a cookery show

Runners Up:
Stephen King’s Shit
Genre – Tim Curry’s scary clown presents a childish and unfair critique of the horror author’s works
We’re Frying Tonight
Genre – Kenneth Williams cooks up a chicken ‘Curry’
The Last Quiz Team On The Left
Genre – When all hope is lost, you’re like them

ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What was the name of the doctor who created the monster in Frankenstein?
2. Nosferatu is based on which novel?
3. Leatherface is the most recognised killer from which film?
4. Who directed The Shining?
5. How many Blair Witch films have been made to date?
6. Who directed the remake of George A Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead?
7. How many Saw films have been made to date?
SEVEN (with Saw Legacy [8] due next year)
8. Which film tells the story of Katie and Micah who set up cameras as they believe their house is haunted?
9. What is the Event Horizon in the science fiction horror film of the same name?
10. Which insect features on the poster for Candyman?

ROUND II: Filming [Universal Horror Special]
1. Tim Curry played which role in Muppet Treasure Island? Jim Hawkins? Billy Bones? Long John Silver?
2. What is the name of the clown, played by Tim Curry, in Stephen King’s It? Bonzo? Jumbles? Pennywise?
3. Clue was released in cinemas with how many alternate endings? 2? 3? 4?
4. In The Hunt For Red October, Tim Curry plays Yevgeniy Petrov. What is Petrov’s job on the submarine? Doctor? Political Officer? Navigator?
5. In the 1993 version of The Three Musketeers, which actor plays the role of Aramis? Charlie Sheen? Emilio Estevez? Lou Diamond Phillips?
6. Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in which year? 1968? 1971? 1975?
7. Tim Curry featured in how many Rugrats films? 1? 2? 3?
THREE (The Rugrats Movie, Rugrats In Paris: The Movie, Rugrats Go Wild)
8. Which of the following didn’t feature a performance by Tim Curry? Congo? The Little Vampire? Annie?
9. Before James Woods was cast as Father McFeely in Scary Movie 2, which actor was cast and filmed one day before leaving the set for health reasons? Steve Buscemi? Donald Sutherland? Marlon Brando?
10. Tim Curry was Tim Burton’s second choice to play The Joker in Batman. True or False?

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. What are the individual names of the four gang members that kill Eric Draven in The Crow? (one point per correct answer)
2. What is the name of the town that Michael Myers returns to in Halloween?
3. What is the name of the goat in The Witch?
4. Who directed Vampire In Brooklyn?
5. Who is the first person to die in Scream?
STEVE ORTH (Casey’s boyfriend)
6. In The Cabin In The Woods there are five sacrificial archetypes. What are they? (one point per correct answer)
7. The following quote is from which film, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation. How would you know if it was really me”?
8. Ig Perrish is the lead character in which film?
9. Which year saw two Hellraiser releases, albeit straight-to-video after an extremely limited run?
2005 (Hellraiser: Deader / Hellraiser: Hellworld)
10. Jodelle Ferland plays the role of two girls in Silent Hill, name them both. (one point per correct answer)

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Dracula: Dead And Loving It was released in which year? 1987? 1991? 1995?
2. What is the name of Stevie Wayne’s radio station in The Fog? CQB Harbour Bay? TTP Carlotta Bay? KAB Antonio Bay?
3. In The Omen, before becoming the British ambassador to the United States, Robert Thorn is stationed in which country? France? Italy? Spain?
4. Eel Marsh House is the setting for which horror film? The House On Haunted Hill? The Woman In Black? Crimson Peak?
5. In Rosemary’s Baby, Rosemary Woodhouse screams about her child, asking “what have you done to” which body part? Eyes? Teeth? Hands?
6. How many of Sgt Wells’ squad survive until end the end of Dog Soldiers? 5? 3? 1?
7. How many years passed between the original The Crazies, directed by George A Romero and the remake, directed by Breck Eisner? 24? 37? 48?
THIRTY SEVEN (1973 / 2010)
8. Which instalment of Friday The 13th depicts Jason stalking New York? Sixth? Eighth? Tenth?
9. What nationality is Sarah Carter in The Descent? American? Irish? Scottish?
10. In his cameo at the start of The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock can be seen walking two dogs. These are in fact his own dogs. True or False?

Screenshots: A Nightmare On Elm Street / A Nightmare On Elm Street 7: New Nightmare / (8) Freddy Vs Jason
Poster: A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Actor: Robert Englund


His Greatest Challenge. Humanity’s Last Hope.

Ron Howard

Tom Hanks
Felicity Jones
Ben Foster
Sidse Babett Knudsen
Irrfan Khan
Omar Sy

Side-stepping Dan Brown’s literary release following The Da Vinci Code (The Lost Symbol) Inferno was published in 2013 and immediately put into production for a film adaptation, reprising Tom Hanks in the role of symbologist, author, history buff, professor and shitty Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon. Since his exploits with the Catholic Church, Langdon awakes in a hospital with a gunshot wound to the head which has caused extreme hallucinations, memory loss and crippling headaches. He quickly ascertains he is no longer in America having been admitted to a hospital in Florence, Italy. The doctor looking after him is Sienna Brooks [Jones] who barely has time to discuss his case before an assassin posing as a policewoman starts shooting at the confused professor. From here on, Langdon tries to retrace his steps and figure out what’s happening with the assistance of a compliant Sienna – ticking the series requirement of having Langdon team up with another brunette European sidekick. He slowly learns that billionaire and bioscientist Bertrand Zobrist [Foster] has created a virus which will kill half of the world’s population but has thankfully left clues as to the virus’ location using the writings of Dante. Hot on their tails are the World Health Organisation, bursting into private residences with guns drawn and a shady company called The Consortium, who are partly responsible and feel kinda bad for it. But who will get to the virus first? What motivations are guiding the various components? Will Langdon get his memory back and remember the word for coffee? Only Ron Howard and this incredibly drab feature have the answers!

The first thing to address is that Inferno seems to be populated with two tiers of acting: charming and wooden. It should be noted that I said “acting” not “actors;” some of the worst performances are given by individuals who have proven themselves more than capable in other releases. Hanks, Foster and Khan are far and away the most endearing (if that’s the right word) individuals but everyone else seems to be largely ridiculous, delivering lines with minimal gusto, believability or commitment. And a film like this heavily relies on selling the nonsense-speak through charming performances which ensure you don’t question the glaring stupidity or convenience of, frankly, the entire plot and/or setting. To that end, I can see the appeal of these stories, there’s an element of schlocky escapist fun traveling around the world, dodging assassin’s bullets, trying to save the day but the poor execution (both in terms of the source material and the film itself) hinder any significant or lasting enjoyment.

**in order to discuss the differences between the novel and the film, there are heavy spoilers throughout this section**
As a bookseller, many years ago, I hated The Da Vinci Code with a passion. Laughably stupid, badly written yet somehow insanely popular. The film had to bring a loyal adaptation to the screen and inherited every awful flaw. The follow-up film, Angels & Demons, strangely worked for me mostly because it made deviations from the book and ended up a semi-pleasing thriller. Inferno also makes key alterations to plot and characters but – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – the book sort of handles it better. The big twist of the film is that Sienna is not all she seems, turning out to be Zobrist’s lover and accomplice. Turns out she’s just as much a loon as he is and the puzzle to the whereabouts of the virus was all for her. This also takes place in the book but the book twists again and effectively says “not really, she’s a good guy.” Thankfully, the film sticks to its guns and commits to Sienna being a villain through-and-through. Where the book trumps the film, however, is to do with the virus itself. In the film Sienna must find the virus (in a bag beneath the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul) and trigger explosives to detonate it and infect everyone in the vicinity. It’s dumb and ultimately thwarted. In the book, however, Sienna, Langdon and the WHO learn that the virus was in a soluble bag and dissolved a week prior; the date in Zobrist’s video is not that of when the virus would start spreading but when it will have reached the entire population. The idea that the chase was for nothing and the conversation about sterilising a third of the planet (the virus has different effects in the book and the film) is an extremely interesting talking point; one the book fluffs, granted but the film lazily side-steps it entirely, opting for a simple, very anticlimactic, neat ending.

You would think taking the time to work through the book, streamlining the story and altering characters would resolve any potential narrative issues, instead, it seems to have created more plot holes than usual. To keep up the pace and tension, the film amalgamates characters and drops the charade angle, meaning the supposed threat to Langdon’s life becomes real. But from an audience perspective, it simply appears that the Consortium has a very real problem with rogue agents constantly betraying their bosses to vaguely “sell the virus to the highest bidder”. Then there’s Langdon’s priest friend, Ignazio Busoni who helps Langdon steal Dante’s death mask from a museum but dies? I think? I don’t remember it being addressed but he doesn’t turn up outside of hallucinatory visions and security footage. And that’s before we address the standard problem of these films which grants Langdon unhindered access to every museum and holy place and that all these clues are put in place to justify having clues. The logic of why one would go to the lengths they do for a glorified treasure hunt is baffling and simply sets yourself up to fail. At least in Angels & Demons the chase was intentionally misdirectional, manipulating those involved and the audience, diverting attention away from the real intention. Here it seems an exercise in futility.

But the film isn’t all bad – despite valiant efforts to the contrary. Hans Zimmer’s established themes still work well, Salvatore Totino’s camera work is decent enough (as it has been with all of his previous Ron Howard collaborations) but the execution of the visions of hell is a point of contention. In truth, it’s not badly made, it’s just boring. A thriller jet-setting across the Mediterranean with a time limit to save the world should be compelling and thrilling, hooking the audience and creating an emotional investment. Instead we end up with a flat foray through key tourist destinations accompanied by a smattering of historical tidbits. A complete waste of time and talent that will hopefully prove the final nail in the coffin for this franchise.

Release Date:
14th October 2016

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers at the end**
Thinking back on the film, almost nothing sticks out in my mind. For better or worse, the first two instalments in this series made a lasting impression but Inferno is such a bland release that even with the star budget, exotic locations and competent crew, the final product is so horribly forgettable. If I had to talk about one scene, it’d be the moment Sienna reveals she’s working in league with Zobrist. To date I’ve not been especially impressed with Felicity Jones but at a time when she narratively had the opportunity to really turn her acting style on its head, nothing stood out. I could see she was going for a manic, wide-eyed moment of revelation as she turns and slams the subterranean grate shut but quickly reverted back to her normal self. Shame.

Notable Characters:
Khan is probably the only individual who comes out of this film unscathed, somehow managing to give an interesting and entertaining performance. Playing the role of Harry Sims, head of the nefarious organisation Consortium, Khan is mysterious, in-charge but sufficiently deft with a blade making him a fairly interesting individual. More than that, his performance is given with the same level of charm that Hanks naturally exudes, elevating tiresome dialogue to an almost witty rapport.

Highlighted Quote:
“Yes. Anagram.”

In A Few Words:
“Much like its predecessors, Inferno is tied to incredibly weak source material that drags it down but there’s no visible fight to produce something of note, as if hobbling along, accepting its mediocre fate”

Total Score:


Cinema City Film Quiz #176

[09 October 2016]

Winning Team:
Genre – There’s good cocks, bad cocks and then there’s Pullett

Runners Up:
The Shotgun Joneses
Genre – The b-movie bashers
True Grits
Genre – Hired by a vengeful Nadia G, Rooster Cock-burn travels to (chicken) Maryland in search of catfish and shrimp
Children Of Hen
Genre – Dystopian thriller where Clive Owen has to impregnate a chicken to ensure the survival of the human race

ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. Analyse That is the sequel to which film?
2. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock appeared in which 2013 science fiction film?
3. Pierce Brosnan appeared in how many James Bond films?
4. Which actors wrote the screenplay for Good Will Hunting (one point per correct answer)
5. Who directed 2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?
6. What breed of dog do Jenny and John adopt in Marley & Me?
7. Which film starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan?
8. Which X-Men film featured the first appearance of Nightcrawler?
9. Which iconic 1973 horror film was disastrously remade in 2006?
10. The NSEA Protector is the name of the ship in which science fiction parody?

ROUND II: Filming [Universal Horror Special]
1. Who voiced the role of Rocky the rooster in Chicken Run? Danny Glover? Mel Gibson? Joe Pesci?
2. Little Nicky takes place in which US city? Chicago? Los Angeles? New York?
3. Chicken Little starring Zach Braff was released in which year? 2001? 2005? 2011?
4. In Back To The Future Part III Marty avoids getting into a car accident with which make of car? Bentley? Aston Martin? Rolls Royce?
5. Which of the following comedies features a chicken on the poster? The Hangover? Hot Shots Part Deux? Old School?
6. In Withnail & I, Withnail and Marwood go on holiday in which part of the UK? Lake District? Peak District? Cornwall?
7. Babel was nominated for 7 Oscars. How many did it win? One? Three? Six?
8. Who directed Space Jam? Richard Martin? Bill Bannerman? Joe Pytka?
9. In 1970’s Five Easy Pieces, Bobby (Jack Nicholson) is having trouble ordering an omelette and toast, so he orders a toasted chicken salad sandwich without the salad or chicken. The waitress asks “You want me to hold the chicken, huh?” How does Bobby respond? Only have to hold it to throw it against a wall? Sure, hold it under water for all I care? I want you to hold it between your knees?
10. There is a quote in Watchmen saying “I’m so glad I ordered the four legged chicken” as a nod to a panel in the comic in which a four legged chicken is served in a restaurant. True or False?

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. The following quote is from which film, “Progress peaked with the frozen pizza”?
2. What is the name of Sarah Conor’s pet iguana in The Terminator?
3. The following songs are from which Disney animated film: Higitus Figitus, That’s What Makes The World Go Round and Mad Madam Mim?
4. Who starred in The Truth About Cats & Dogs, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and Pulp Fiction?
5. Who provided the voice of Prince Charming in Shrek II?
6. Spike Lee’s Inside Man was released in which year?
7. What is the name of the Nova Corps prison in Guardians Of The Galaxy?
8. What did Edgar Wright direct in 2007?
9. What was the full title of Sin City 2?
10. Which four actors make up the title group in The Untouchables? (one point per correct answer)

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Which of the following did not appear in The Fifth Element? Lee Evans? Simon Russell Beale? Luke Perry?
2. What is the name of the weapon of the gods, central to the plot of Tarsem Singh’s Immortals? The Aeschylus Trident? The Sword Of Achilles? The Epirus Bow?
3. What is the alias of Roy, the de-facto leader of the core trio in Mystery Men? The Blue Raja? The Shoveler? Mr Furious?
4. Boyhood was filmed over how many years? 9? 11? 13?
ELEVEN (2002-2013)
5. The following quote is from which film, “What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad but that you’re that pissed that so many others had it good”? As Good As It Gets? About Schmidt? Anger Management?
6. Rian Johnson’s film Brick, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt technically belongs to which genre? Noir? Western? Horror?
7. Escape From New York was released in which year? 1981? 1983? 1986?
8. Which of the following actors has not played the title role in an adaptation of The Island Of Dr Moreau? John Lithgow? Marlon Brando? Burt Lancaster?
9. Which of the following composers worked on The Silence Of The Lambs, Gangs Of New York and Twilight: Eclipse? James Newton Howard? Howard Shore? Tom Holkenborg?
10. Damien’s smile at the end of The Omen was not intentional. Richard Donner told Harvey Spencer Stephens not to mess around and he smirked before turning around. True or False?

Screenshots: V For Vendetta / Thor: The Dark World / Black Swan
Poster: Leon
Actor: Natalie Portman


What Did She See?

Tate Taylor

Emily Blunt
Haley Bennett
Rebecca Ferguson
Justin Theroux
Luke Evans

Split between three female leads, the story of The Girl On The Train is a fractured tale of hazy recollection and deception. Rachel [Blunt] is a divorcee who commutes past her old residence every day via train. Each day she looks out the window and dreams up idyllic stories for those living in her old neighbourhood. One of the points of her fascination is Megan [Bennett] a young attractive woman with a seemingly perfect life. Megan is also the second of the narrative leads and we quickly learn that her life is far from perfect. She’s married but miserable, working as a nanny despite being an artist with work hanging in galleries and receiving regular therapy. Megan’s babysitting leads us neatly to the final narrative, which follows Anna [Ferguson], who lives in Rachel’s old house, having supplanted her due to an affair and is now married and has a daughter with Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom Watson [Theroux]. Events continually unfold and we learn that Rachel is in fact an alcoholic and believes she witnessed the events which led to Megan’s disappearance but can’t piece together anything solid. The narrative bounces back and forth, unveiling more and more details about these people’s respective pasts and how they are all linked.

The components involved in creating this film are a curiously assembled bunch. We have Tate Taylor in the director’s chair, whose most notable works are the much (some would say over) lauded The Help and the impressively performed James Brown biopic Get On Up. Behind the camera is the very talented Charlotte Bruus Christensen whose work on The Hunt alone merits her involvement in any prominent release. And scoring the whole thing is Danny Elfman, who has been drifting from project to project creating music of tempered subtlety, void of his usual characteristically bombastic themes; I have no idea if this is down to use of placeholder temp music or he’s simply trying to escape his trait trappings. Yet they harmonise together rather well, producing something that one wouldn’t necessarily attribute to any of them individually without first being aware of their presence. For the most part.

The overall premise is a decent one (after all the source material sold millions) but not one new to cinema. The concept that a series of supposedly unconnected characters’ lives can intertwine so powerfully is something explored regularly on film but I will admit this type of suburban drama has usually been relegated to hammy, over-acted TV movies; which is a shame because this subgenre has a lot to offer. The key factor dividing quality cinematic titles and 3am made-for-TV shite is the quality of the acting involved. Taking this into account, The Girl On The Train both excels and falters. The one thing I think every reviewer and audience member can agree on is that Emily Blunt’s performance was phenomenally good. Playing an alcoholic or someone in a state of inebriation is not easy; if anything it’s one of the hardest things for an actor to do. Somehow Blunt carries it wonderfully, giving us this really tender, broken performance which, coupled with the reveals in the story, make for a very complex and beautifully performed character. Unfortunately, that’s the only stable performance from start-to-finish, everyone else has a touch of absurdity which takes away from the overall performance. Many of the characters involved feel either underdeveloped or simply two dimensional. The clearest victim of this is the role of Anna, who seems to have a lot going on in her head that’s never really explored or explained. She’s out of work but needs a nanny to raise her child, she doesn’t trust her husband but won’t leave him, it’s almost as if there’s something terrible in her past (as with the other two leads) that is simply neglected, so we end up with this woman who behaves unconventionally without cause or reason.

And it’s not just the characters, a lot of the narrative threads feel horribly under-developed. One could argue this is fairly typical of any adaptation but without motivational justifications for actions or sufficient seeds planted throughout the story, certain developments, encounters and monologues feel like erratic pivots. Admittedly, this could be fallout from an element of the story that’s actually extremely praiseworthy: the unreliable narrator. Due to Rachel’s inability to remember key events and everyone else lying to one another, the story deliberately convolutes a very simplistic series of events, which both elevates and hinders the film.

The various subject matters of the plot – alcoholism, abuse, gas-lighting, marital affairs, pregnancy pressures – are all very important and arguably handled with reasonable care but in the end should have been vastly superior. Which really is one of this movie’s overarching flaws. The relentless thought encroaching on every frame of this film is the idea that everyone involved has achieved better results in the past. This isn’t to say that their best work is behind them, merely that by comparison what ended up on screen was far from their respective best. Leaving us with an entertaining but ultimately flat feature that starts a good conversation about presumptions and unhealthy domestic relations (which will, regrettably, instil a surprising amount of relatability) but doesn’t do much with it.

Release Date:
7th October 2016

The Scene To Look Out For:
Growing fearful of her own actions during the blackouts, Rachel attends an alcoholics anonymous meeting and confesses how terrified she is that she can’t piece together what took place during her lost time. The scene is pretty much a single camera pointed at Blunt with a few cutaways but it’s brilliantly acted and serves to highlight the strength of her performance.

Notable Characters:
The lead detective heading the investigation is Det. Sgt Riley played by the extremely talented Allison Janney.. who is completely underused in this film. On top of that, she seemingly exists above and beyond the story, disconnected from events. In fact, Riley doesn’t really react like a cop at all, more like a narrative device intentionally put in to coax the story – like a hallucinatory construct in Inception or Vanilla Sky – relying on leading questions, expositional reveals and massive breaches of police procedure. For a while I thought she might have been a figment of Rachel’s imagination but then I realised she just wasn’t very well written.

Highlighted Quote:
“You did nothing wrong. Nothing.”

In A Few Words:
“An acceptable thriller with some standout moments, developments and performances but overall extremely wanting”

Total Score: