Friday, October 21, 2016

"The Girl on the Train" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Girl on the Train" as well as DVDs "Salesman" and "A Bigger Splash."  The Book of the Week is "I'm Your Biggest Fan."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."]

The Girl on the Train

A recently divorced woman drinks too much and rides a commuter train back and forth, fantasizing about the lives of the people she sees from the train until one day she sees something that rocks her out of her fantasy and pulls her into a real life murder case.

Rachel (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Justin Theroux) are divorced, but Rachel isn't handling the break-up very well. In fact, she is drunk most days and has black-outs.  She also compulsively rides a commuter train past where she used to live with Tom. Tom is now married to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson who you might recognize from "Florence Foster Jenkins") and they have a baby girl.  Rachel has been calling and texting Tom and even went to their house and scared Anna by entering the house and taking the baby outside while Anna was sleeping.  Rachel does this stuff when she is drunk and often doesn't remember what she has done. Rachel is a bit of a mess.

But Rachel is not only watching what is happening at her old house from the train.  She also watches a couple who live a few doors down.  They look so happy.  She fantasizes about their perfect life and even gives them names - Jess and Jason. Jess and Jason turn out to be Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) and things are not at all what Rachel fantasizes about them from the train. 

One day Rachel sees Megan kissing a man and it's not Scott.  And soon after that, Megan goes missing.  Rachel feels she must tell the police what she saw, but when she tries to give evidence, police detective Riley (Allison Janney) immediately figures out that Rachel has a bit of a drinking problem and deems her an unreliable witness at the very least and actually a possible suspect in the disappearance of Megan.

You see there was that one night when Rachel was going to go see Tom and thought she saw Anna down in the tunnel under the train tracks, but Rachel was so drunk she fell down in the tunnel.  When she woke up in the morning, she was covered in blood and didn't remember what happened.  There was this red-haired man, there was Anna.  And did she see Tom?  Who knocked her down?

Rachel tries to sort all of this out as she becomes more and more enmeshed in what turns out to be a murder case after Megan's body is found.

This film was highly anticipated and touted as the next "Gone Girl."  Based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins that I loved and reviewed a couple of weeks ago, it certainly had the potential.  However, I have never believed in comparing books and films.  I am not one to say "The book was better," because I consider a book and a film to be two different art forms.  One creates a story using the written word and literary devices, and the other uses visuals to tell the story.  One should not expect a film to exactly replicate a book nor can it.  The book and the film each create their own experience for us and we should weigh each experience separately.

That said, I can't believe I am saying this.  "I liked the book better." 

I think it's because I loved the book so much that my anticipation for the film was very high, so I was already setting myself up for disappointment.  But c'mon, people. The first mistake was setting the film in the U.S. When you read the book, you imagine Rachel taking the train into London every day.  And  Emily Blunt is a Brit, for gods sake. The second mistake was not giving enough backstory about Rachel and her relationship with Tom. The book had a unique way of unfolding the story by hearing from each woman's point of view.  It worked well for the book, but it didn't work that well for the film, making it choppy and incoherent at times.

However, I can't fault the acting, though I don't think Emily Blunt smiled once during this film.  Well, maybe once in a flashback. Emily Blunt is fine as are the other actors, but it's not enough to save the film.  Haley Bennett, though, she is a star on the rise. This role followed her starring role in "The Magnificent Seven," and she has three other films wrapped up for release in 2017, so keep your eye out for her. 

Directed by Tate Taylor with a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, the film was not able to capture the intensity of the book.  The script would have done better with a few more flashbacks showing how happy Tom and Rachel were once and a bit more clarity on what happened to their marriage which in turn would have helped explain why Rachel's life went to hell.  Likewise, Megan's history was unclear and her affair with Kamal wasn't even included. The characters were not fully fleshed out, making it difficult for us to care what happened to them. Add to that a timeline that was confusing and the film loses the impact of the book.

Rosy the Reviewer says...An engrossing potboiler, but another "Gone Girl" it is not.  Save your money.  Read the book. 


***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Salesman (1968)

A cinema verite experience that follows four traveling salesmen as they go door-to-door to sell expensive bibles, back when $40 for a bible was expensive.

I love documentaries and watch them regularly.  I even listed my "15 Must See Documentaries" back in 2014.  So it's no wonder that I love the IFC's "Documentary Now!," Fred Armison's and Bill Hader's satirical TV show that spoofs well-known documentaries.  They have brilliantly done their versions of "Grey Gardens," "Nanook of the North" and most recently the 1984 Talking Heads' film "Stop Making Sense."  Their satires are spot on, capturing the essence of the originals, many of them written by another SNL alum, Seth Meyers.  But despite my documentary watching resume, when I saw that an upcoming episode was called "Globesmen" and was a satire on "Salesman," a Maysles brothers film, I was surprised that I was unfamiliar with it.  So I decided to see it before I saw Fred and Bill's version.  And I am glad I did. 

NOTE:  Satires are much funnier and you can nod your head knowingly when you have seen the original.  Highly recommended.  The one thing about satire is that it often doesn't make sense if you haven't seen or you don't know about what is being satirized. That is the case here. I would not have gotten "Globesman" at all if I hadn't seen this one first.  That is not to say that "Globesman" doesn't stand on its own as a piece that satirizes door-to-door salesmen as a group, but seeing "Salesman" first really added to my enjoyment of what Fred and Bill did with it, so I could laugh at the recognition of the touches from the original and nod my head knowingly.

Anyway, on to the film.

Four salesmen who have given themselves the nicknames of The Badger, The Rabbit (he's the young, inexperienced guy), The Gipper (the unemotional straight man who knows how to take advantage of every situation) and The Bull (he's the closer) face rain, snow and sleet, just like our postal workers, as they go door-to-door to sell bibles to low-income Catholic families.  They hit the local Catholic church and get names from the local priest and then hit the road.  The camera follows them silently as they meet with the families and try to make their sales.

The Badger is Paul Brennan, our main guy.  He is shown driving in a snow storm headed to his next customer singing "If I Were a Rich Man" from "Fiddler on the Roof," an irony (or wishful thinking?) since we learn that Paul is in a bit of a sales slump.

This film captures the lonely life of the traveling salesman back in the 60's.  Remember the "Fuller Brush Man" who would go door-to-door?  My mother would always buy something from him because she "felt sorry for him." He probably gave her a hard luck story because what we learn here is that salesmen figure out their schtick and do what they have to do and say what they have to say to get the sale.

We not only follow the men as they make their rounds, but we are with them in their seedy hotel rooms, talking about their customers, playing cards, and smoking.  I forgot that we used to be able to smoke in hotel rooms. Some of the guys lament their lack of sales while another counts out his money. The film also captures the customers in their homes, seemingly unaware of the camera, hair in curlers, men wearing those unfortunately named "wife beaters."

One of the early popularizations of "Cinema Verite" was the PBS TV show "An American Family."  MTV's "The Real World" followed and now what we call "reality TV" is everywhere.  But is it really reality?  Can people really forget that the camera is there?  Maybe not all of the time, but what makes cinema verite exciting are those few moments when they do forget the camera is there and the reality comes through.  In "An American Family" viewers were shocked when Mrs. Loud asked her husband for a divorce.  This was before "scripted reality TV," where situations are set up in advance.  But even then, moments of reality do come through. We humans just can't help ourselves. 

Editing is everything in these kinds of films and this one is artful in showing the rah-rah salesman mentality these guys have to manifest in order to keep doing this kind of work (making cold calls on strangers) versus the lonely reality of their lives.  They sit in sales meetings listening to their bosses giving them inspirational speeches to get out there and sell and then we see them driving all alone in a snow storm to make the next call, being away from home 10 weeks at a time, trying to make a living and get sales from people who are not sure they want what they are selling.

My husband is a salesman and was transfixed by this film.  This film may have been made almost 50 years ago but the same principles remain.  When you are a salesperson, it's just you and the customer.  You need to do what you need to do to get that customer to want and need what you are selling and what you earn is up to you and how  well you can close that deal.

Directors Albert and David Maysles, who later gave us "Gimme Shelter," the aforementioned "Grey Gardens" and other wonderful classic documentaries, created the gritty, black and white world of the lonely traveling salesman, real life Willy Lomans all.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a must see documentary from some of our best documentary filmmakers.  See this one and then watch Fred's and Bill's take on it which I have provided below.  You are very welcome!

A Bigger Splash (2015)

A peak into the world of a rich and famous rock star and her entourage.

An early frame of this film sets the tone: we see a man and a woman sunbathing in the nude by a pool and then having sex in said pool.  Nudity and sex are the centerpieces here along with a strange, decadent ambience.  And then there is Tilda Swinton.  When she is in a movie, you can expect it to be strange and for her to take her clothes off.  But what am I talking about?  They ALL take their clothes off!

First of all, Tilda Swinton as a rock star is a stretch, but OK.  Tilda is Marianne Lane, an aging rock star who has had an operation on her vocal chords similar to the one Julie Andrews had that ruined her voice.  So for practically the first half of the film, Marianne doesn't speak so that her voice will recover and she won't end up like Julie, which adds a strange element to Marianne's characterization. I mean, she doesn't even make a sound when she has an orgasm! Marianne is on vacation on an island off of Sicily (Pantelleria) with her filmmaker boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) when they are unexpectedly joined by old friend and producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson), and later another couple.

These people are all rich decadents who like to go to strange foodie places (eating out on a cliff), take their clothes off, lie about, hang out in the pool and have sex.  It's obvious that Marianne and Harry once had a thing but other than that, in most of the film not much happens. 

However, the first hour of this film zipped along as I tried to figure out if these people were ever going to get out of the pool to do anything, but in the second half I got my answer.  No.  However, there was a moment when I thought something was going to happen because about 85 minutes in some dramatic music came out of nowhere and woke me up.  It was operatic music so that usually signals that something REALLY big is going to happen.  And actually something sort of does.

There is lots and lots of nudity in this film, almost to the point of gratuitousness.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Ralph Fiennes ever since "The English Patient."  No one does brooding like he does, but then he also showed he could do comedy when he starred in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," and that endeared him to me even more.  He can do it all.  However, though I love you, Ralph, that doesn't mean I want to see your junk.  Nor do I want to see you dance.  I was embarrassed for you when you were dancing and singing along to the Stones' "Emotional Rescue".  Please don't do it again.  And was your character here supposed to be annoying?  Because he certainly was.

As I mentioned earlier, if Tilda Swinton is in the film, hang onto your armrest.  You are in for a strange ride. I find her to be infinitely odd but also infinitely fascinating.  She defines what acting is all about.  To be a good actor, you have to go for it and not worry about being vulnerable and possibly looking the fool.  And if you have ever seen some of the crazy personas she has created, not to mention the haircuts and make-up jobs she has donned, you know what I mean. 

Then there is Matthias. I am just going to call him by his first name because I not only can't pronounce his last name, I can't spell it either (he's Belgian). But despite his difficult name, his acting star has been rising ever since "The Drop" and the remake of "Far from the Madding Crowd." He is a versatile actor in the Tom Hardy kind of versatile, meaning he can play the sensitive leading man as well as the blood thirsty killer. Dakota Johnson is once again surprising and also shows her versatility.  In "Fifty Shades of Grey" she was a shy compliant sex toy; in "How to be Single," she was the serious, practical girl of the group and here she is a young seductress trying to steal Marianne's man.  Don and Melanie should be very proud of their daughter.

I have no idea what the title of this film means, but I think the pool was a metaphor for inertia and decadence and a big splash is a term for becoming famous.  With fame and wealth comes privilege so that when a bigger splash or event occurs, your fame and privilege even allows you to get away with murder. Or something like that.

This is another one of those films that came and went in the theatres.  It's aimed at an adult audience and those films just don't seem to cut it these days.  The same thing happened to "The Dressmaker," which I reviewed last week.  By the time I reviewed it, it was out of the theatres.  With our main moviegoers being between the ages of 18 and 30 and plunking down their money for mostly superheroes and horror films, these kinds of smaller films aimed at an older demographic aren't around for long, if they even get a big release at all.  And that's a shame. I may have some issues with this film, but I am in total support of films aimed at an older demographic that try to make us think.

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, with whom Swinton also did "I Am Love," this film had great potential.  The acting was first rate, we had big names and gorgeous scenery, but, alas, it just didn't add up to anything.  When I see something like this, I can't help but wonder what it was that made Tilda, Ralph, Matthias and Dakota sign on for this film. Despite my attempt at giving it some gravitas with my stab at a metaphor, it didn't really seem to have a point.

When Paul calls Harry "Obscene," Harry replies:  "We're all obscene.  Everyone is obscene.  That's the whole point.  We see it and love each other anyway."

So, I guess that was the point?

Rosy the Reviewer says...kind of a mess but a beautiful, sophisticated one.  If you like being a fly on the walls of the rich and famous (and decadent), and you also like gorgeous European scenery, nudity and liberal use of the "F" word, you might enjoy this.


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

230 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

What it was like to go to high school in Southern California in the 80's.

Travel back with me now to a time long ago and far away when Sean Penn was actually funny and seemed to have a sense of humor about himself.  Most of you have probably already seen this film and Penn's iconic character Jeff Spicoli.  But somehow this one fell through the cracks for me, so this was my first experience with the film despite having seen snippets of it over the years, most notably Penn as Spicoli.  Other than "Taps," a film Penn did right before this one, this was one of Penn's first starring roles and paved the way for his later success.  But who knew Jeff Spicoli would lead to Matthew Poncelet in "Dead Man Walking," an Academy Award and a Sean Penn who doesn't seem to find much funny these days?  Such are the strange ways of Hollywood.

Anyway, in addition to Penn as surfer/stoner Jeff Spicoli, the film also follows Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold), a high school senior who works at the All-American Burger, until he is fired for losing his temper with a demanding customer and then throughout the film we see him go through a series of similar jobs, wearing silly fast food uniforms, until he becomes a hero when he thwarts a robbery at a mini mart. Brad's sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a 15-year-old virgin who can't wait to not be one, and she and her more worldly friend, Linda (Phoebe Cates), talk endlessly about sex.  The film also follows Mike Damone (Robert Romanus), who is a hustler making money scalping tickets and fancies himself a ladies man, imparting his wisdom to his nerdy friend, Mark (Brian Backer), who is smitten with Stacy.  When Mark finally gets a date with Stacy, he freezes up when she tries to seduce him.  Mike moves in and gets Stacy pregnant and Stacy gets an abortion.  Just your typical teen-aged stuff.
At the end of the film as the credits roll, we get to find out what happened to all of the characters after high school, a device that I enjoy and that works really well in this film.
What I enjoyed most about this film was seeing all of the young actors who grew up to be stars:  In addition to Penn, there was Jennifer Jason Leigh (so young and innocent.  Who knew she was destined for the shocking "Last Exit to Brooklyn?" - if you see it, you will know what I mean), Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold (whatever happened to him?), a very young Forest Whitaker and if you pay close attention you will spot Nicolas Coppola, who grew up to be Nicolas Cage.  Ironically, despite the many young actors in this film who went on to fame and fortune, two of the actors who had the largest roles did not.  Who today has heard of Robert Romanus or Brian Backer?  Though both actors look to have had successful acting careers since "Ridgemont High," somehow they avoided the fame part.
This was director Amy Heckerling's first feature (she went on to direct "National Lampoon's European Vacation, "Look Who's Talking" and "Clueless") and Cameron Crowe's first produced screenplay (based on his book) and we know what happened to him: "Say Anything," "Jerry Maguire," "Almost Famous," "Vanilla Sky..." 

So this film definitely has classic movie cred and made a lot of successful careers for those involved.  And best of all, it was sharp and funny and captured what we all thought going to high school in Southern California was like.  The soundtrack featured some of our fave 80's groups:  The Go-Go's, Tom Petty, Debbie Harry, Pat Benetar to name just a few.
Why it's a Must See: "[This film] brilliantly melded the teen comedy with the coming-of-age tale in this surprisingly sensitive take on suburban high school life.  Featuring a bevy of young actors [it] holds up extraordinarily well under repeat viewings."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"
And that's a very good point. 

As I make my way through the "1001 Movies," one thing I judge it on is whether or not the film passes the test of time, i.e. does it hold up under modern day standards and mores?  Or do I laugh at the outdated language, clothes and views?  This film holds up remarkably well, telling a story of teenage angst and coming of age that defies time and place.  There was also nudity.  I forgot we had nudity in films in the 1980's. We've all been there. Well, maybe not the nudity party. I am talking about the teenage part. Some things just don't change. 
Rosy the Reviewer says...yep, you gotta see this one.  Let me know if you spot Nick Cage!

***Book of the Week***

I'm Your Biggest Fan by Kate Coyne (2016)

Author Coyne is an Executive Editor for "People Magazine" and a self-described "fan."  She clues us into the celebrities she has met and interviewed.

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of pop culture.  I unashamedly love movies, TV and celebrities.  And I have found my soul mate in Coyne. 

And for you snobs out there who look down your nose at anyone who watches The Kardashians on TV, just know that Coyne's education included elitist schools and culminated in studying at Oxford where she spent her days translating Anglo-Saxon religious poetry into English... while simultaneously watching episodes of "Friends."  Now that is one smart cookie...just like me!

This is the story of a fan girl who, when growing up, could not only name all of the actors in the TV shows of the 1980's, she knew every character's name as well.  She grew up to be a reporter for the New York Post's infamous gossip column Page Six, the entertainment editor for "Good Housekeeping," and eventually an Executive Editor of "People Magazine," the consummate magazine that follows the rich and famous.  What more could a fan girl ask?

Coyne grew up an only child and both of her parents worked full-time so the TV became a sort of de facto babysitter. She was a pop culture and TV addict who, growing up in NYC, dreamed of being a member of the Keaton or Seaver families. 

In a series of essays, Coyne shares with us other pop culture mavens her encounters with celebrities.  What did she discover?

  • Kate Gosselin is not a bitch (well, not according to her anyway)
  • Tom Hanks is really, really nice (we never doubted that but her encounter just cemented it 100% - I even love him more now)!
  • She was almost besties with Mariska Hargitay (and, of course, you knew that Mariska Hargitay was Jayne Mansfield's daughter, right)?
  • Yes, people, Tom Cruise is one charming guy (I knew that already)!
  • Wynonna is a good old girl and let's it all hang out

And Coyne is no slouch.  She is very funny and self-deprecating.  She tells us "Six Things Never to Order When Dining with a Celebrity," "The Five Dumbest Things" she said on National TV, how she embarrassed herself in front of Neil Patrick Harris and why Michael Douglas made her cry.

However, despite Coyne's unfailing devotion to celebrity, she has this to say at the end of the book:

"Yes, celebrities have amazing lives...At the end of the day, I still think I'm the lucky one.  Fame is not for the faint of heart.  I don't need to have a perfect size 0 figure, or even a perfect size 4 one.  When I do something wildly embarrassing, I don't need to call a publicist to come and handle the crisis.  I usually just need to eat some real food.

No, when it comes to stars, I don't live in their world -- I merely delight in visiting the outer fringes.  The day that the thrill of standing on a red carpet or meeting George Clooney or getting a thank-you note from Melissa McCarthy...ever wears off is the day I should retire.  Luckily, I don't see that day coming anytime soon.  I am older, wiser, heavier, and more humbled than I was when I asked for my first autograph.  I no longer ask for autographs, in fact, or even believe that every star is the greatest person alive who would love me if only they knew me...But I am now, and always will be, a fan.  A super-fan.  The biggest one of all."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a funny and smart memoir for celebrity watchers and those of us who are not ashamed to be fans, to wear our love of TV, movies and all things celebrity on our sleeves. If you love celebrity watching, you will love this book!  And now I am Coyne's biggest fan!

By the way, Kate, if you are out there, I DID know who Tom Courtenay was (inside joke)!

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!


(yes, I feel a Tuesday rant coming on!)


"From Finicky to Foodie to Finicky:
Confessions of a Baby Boomer and What She Ate" 

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Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Once there, click on the link that says "Explore More" on the right side of the screen.  Scroll down to External Reviews and when you get to that page, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.

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