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The Girl on the Train

“When I saw her, with him, I felt nothing but rage.”

I’ve said it before. Super-twisty crime-thrillers are a real favourite of mine. To immerse myself in a film for a couple of hours wondering whether or not I’ve figured out the inevitable twist is one of my favourite things to do. Second only really to watching a good horror film.

I’d been looking forward to The Girl on the Train for quite some time. Not least of all because Emily Blunt is nothing short of amazing and the trailers made it look like this year’s Gone Girl – more on that later – but also because a good thriller can be quite hard to come by sometimes. This one looked to scratch the itch well.

Blunt plays Rachel Watson, a woman who spends her commute to the city in the same seat every day, staring out of the same window of her train. Most days, the train slows down at the exact same point on the tracks allowing Rachel a glimpse into the same few houses and the same few inhabitants, just for a couple of minutes. She concocts stories for the families she sees, connecting with these total strangers better than anyone she knows in real life. Watching married couple Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett) live what she thinks is the perfect life, she purposely fills herself with jealousy staring at the life she wants.

When Rachel sees Megan apparently cheating on her other half, this fires up a rage in her that she hasn’t experienced before. The near psychotic alcoholic makes the decision to get off the train a few stops early and confront the woman that’s ruined her fantasy for her. Chasing Megan under a railway bridge, drunk and hurling abuse, Watson sets in motion a series of events that (whilst she doesn’t remember it) ends in the disappearance of the unfaithful Megan and a police investigation that may, or may not, have The Girl on the Train as their main suspect. Rachel fights to prove her innocence and rescue her sanity as her world starts to crumble around her.

The Girl on the Train screams of a film rushed into production because a certain other film based on a book was received so very well. But the sad fact is, this flick is nowhere near as good as it’s advertised to be.

The film’s story is almost incomprehensible as its flashbacks try to set the scene while simultaneously telling her story in the present day. But with nothing discernibly separating the flashbacks from the current scenes, you’re left wondering for longer than you should be about what part of the timeline you are watching. It seems that The Help director Tate Taylor had a few ideas that he wanted in his film, but either didn’t take, or ignored, advice on whether or not these things should be in his movie. Smash cutting blurry flashbacks might be trying to convey the feeling of trying to remember what you done when you were drunk, for example, but all it did was leave me feeling like I need to go have a word with the projectionist for fuzzing up my film. It’s so grossly over directed that nothing really got to shine in the two hours I was watching it for. The same can be said for its editing; shredded to within an inch of its life, The Girl on the Train is just a mess of a film to watch.

Blunt is trying very hard, and she’s always good to watch, but even she can’t rescue the film. Her performance is easily the best thing about the flick, but to say that I’m damning her with faint praise would be understating it quite a bit. Her perfect couple are decent to watch: Luke Evans and Haley Bennett are passable as a happy-on-the-surface couple, but Evans doesn’t really convince me when things start to go tits up. Similarly, Justin Theroux and Rebecca Ferguson as Rachel’s ex-husband and new wife, caught up in the middle of our main character’s psychotic break, feel like an afterthought for a large portion rather than the quiet subplot that they are. It’s a shame to watch a few well-known actors, who all have a decent role or two on their IMDB page, do such a clunky job of telling this story.

For a film relentlessly marketed like the next Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train doesn’t even have the chops to sit on the same shelf as Fincher’s superb thriller. Every ad made us believe we were off so see another beautifully twisted thriller that would leave you pondering the-girl-on-the-trainafter it was done. Sadly, once you got through the dodgy direction and erratic editing, what we were left with was something so bland and formulaic that to call its twist a “twist” would be close to false advertising.

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High-Rise

high rise

“That’s right. You sit there and think about what you did.”

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I sat down for High-Rise. The trailers and marketing purposefully tell us nothing useful about the film or its story. Outside of “stars Tom Hiddleston and directed by Ben Wheatley”, I wasn’t entirely sure this would be something worth seeing. But, you know, sometimes playing a hunch pays off.

In mid-70’s London, Tom Hiddleston is Robert Laing, a doctor at a teaching hospital who has just moved into his new place in a luxury tower block. One of a handful of high-rise buildings developed by renowned architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), Laing has found what should be the perfect home on the 25th floor of this new community. Designed with isolation in mind, the high rise is a self-contained society with its own social hierarchy where those with the most money live at the top and the closer you get to the ground floor, the closer you get to the lower classes.

No sooner has Laing moved his stuff in than he finds himself in the middle of a very literal class war. Those on the top floors behaving like the aristocracy and ensuring that their fair share is much more than those below them. On the lower floors, documentary maker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans); a man intent of documenting the injustice of living literally at the bottom of the food chain and his pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) turn out to be the kind of people that Robert gravitates to more than those above him. At the same time, with his place cemented with the middle class, he strikes up a friendship with this upstairs neighbour Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and as the building’s occupants slowly lose their minds and the isolated society descends into anarchy, Laing must decide who his loyalties lie with and how to survive as his new found home has its very own little apocalypse.

I know what you’re thinking. At least, I hope I do, because I thought the same thing. “This sounds like Snowpiercer in a block of flats”. You’re right, it does; and that feeling doesn’t leave you once you’re done watching High-Rise. Kill List and Sightseers helmer Ben Wheatley has been handed a large budget and a big star or two and given free reign to create his own little world for us, and boy does he surpass all expectations. I’ve said in the past that Wheatley has shown flashes of Kubrick-esque brilliance in his films, and this is his A Clockwork Orange in so many ways. Most obviously is in the aesthetic the man has created inside the Tower Block. The 1970’s setting is full on Kubrick: when you see that the tower has been built around the 70’s idea of what the future will look like, with residents “living in a future that is already here”, we are told.

I admit that I wasn’t entirely convinced when I saw the cast list. I wasn’t Luke Evans’ biggest fan after that dumb Dracula film he did, and Sienna Miller has never really hit my radar as someone worth watching. But both are amazing in their roles as the filmmaker trying to climb the ladder a little and the wannabe socialite with her ear to every wall. Most surprising to me though was Elisabeth Moss. I loved her all those years ago in The West Wing but I’ve not really enjoyed anything I’ve seen her in since. She does manage to change my mind here though, in a dramatic way. She is easily one of my favourite characters in this film and she does such a great job as the wife just trying to scrape by in the lower levels. Adding those to the always stellar Hiddleston and the unable-to-disappoint Irons, we’ve a stew pot filled with talent and amazing performances.

Based on J. G. Ballard’s novel of the same name, slightly-unhinged director Ben Wheatley has brought us yet another darkly funny, twisted and completely surreal way to spend a couple of hours. As Hiddleston’s quiet doctor falls for the madness of the block’s twisted self delusions, his struggle to keep sane and keep the right people on his side is one that keeps us all on the edge of our seats. The creeping sense of horror that comes from the tension between the guys at the top and the wasters at the bottom has with it this tremendous sense of foreboding from the second the violence is hinted at. We all know the direction this is going, the opening minutes showed us; but to watch the anarchy play out over such a short space of time as the high rise’s residents go from perfectly fine to near feral is pretty terrifying.

High-Rise, like almost all of Wheatley’s films, is likely to divide audiences straight down the middle. But one thing is for sure, his little slice of dystopia, love it or hate it – and believe me, I loved it – will be talked about and analysed for years to come.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Not quite the triumphant fanfare that the epic fantasy adventure series deserved to bow out on, but still an impressive conclusion to an entertaining series.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

hobbitDuring the week, you may have read an article that I published on here expressing my excitement at the release of Peter Jackson’s final jaunt through Middle Earth. After I recently watched all three of the extended edition DVD’s of The Lord of the Rings and rewatched the two Hobbit films, the most unexpected thing happened. I found out that despite previously believing these fantasy adventure films to be little more than Hobbity-tosh, they were actually rather marvellous. Full of character, personality and thrills, I could not wait to complete the set by taking myself off to the cinema and spending 144 minutes with Bilbo & Friends one final time.

In fact, I’ve actually been holding out voting on our end of year awards just yet in case The Battle of the Five Armies made my top 10, as both An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug had done in 2012 and 2013 respectively. (Yes, that is a plug for our Failed Critics Awards 2014! Finish reading this and then scroll back up the page and click this link to vote for your choices!)

So, where does this third and final Hobbit film begin? It picks up directly from where the previous film left off without pausing for breath or to stroke its long and lusciously thick beard. As we saw in the closing scenes of the second movie in the series, Smaug the dragon has taken flight and is on his way to burn Lake-town to cinders to inflict revenge on the company of dwarves out to steal back their home. Perhaps an even bigger threat to our heroes is the impending arrival of an army of orcs marching towards the Lonely Mountain ready for all out war.

Maybe I made a rod for my own back by over hyping the film to myself beforehand, but I genuinely was looking forward to this. However, as disappointing as it is for me to say, it was something of a let down. Whereas the previous two movies feel like lots of mini-adventures all taking place within one movie, the final part is.. well.. it’s just the third act to the second film. From the arrival of the dwarves at Bag End and Bilbo’s confrontation with Gollum in An Unexpected Journey, to the barrel riding escape plan and awakening of the dragon in The Desolation of Smaug, there’s always one more perilous quest awaiting Gandalf’s party of homeless dwarves and burglars. In that regard, this is lacking somewhat, which is no surprise when you consider the original plan was for JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit to be adapted into two movies rather than three. The main issue is that isn’t very well concealed. This may be the shortest movie of all six films, but that’s because it’s essentially just one long battle sequence with a bit of story at the beginning and a bit more at the end.

Don’t get me wrong, the battle is well shot. There’s the epic scale that is to be expected and director Peter Jackson doesn’t deny the viewer some absolutely fantastic and imaginative set pieces. It’s not like Jackson doesn’t have experience in how to shoot them by now. However, it just wasn’t satisfying like The Return of the King was. Calling it a battle sounds quite grand but it was more of a brawl with thousands of unidentifiable generic soldiers.

My biggest gripe lies with the lack of humour. It’s not completely without comedy; indeed, I chuckled and sniggered during some amusing scenes. However,  the dwarves simply weren’t fun characters to be around any more. A (100% CGI) Billy Connolly pops up to deliver one or two funny lines, but generally they are more concerned with the darkness enveloping their rightful king, Thorin Oakenshield, played brilliantly by Richard Armitage. In fact, the performances across the board were of a high standard again. Evangeline Lilly, Aidan Turner, Lee Pace and of course Sir Ian McKellen were all positive aspects, as was Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. The only problem with Martin Freeman is that he really should’ve had more screen time. All of the best lines and most interesting plot lines come from the little hobbit. Unless of course you count Legolas declaring that “these bats are bred for one purpose; for war” to be the best line in a so-bad-it’s-good way.

Finally, on the subject of characters and their respective actors, I really think Luke Evans as Bard is one of the best human characters from any of the Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit films so far. An honourable character whose sentiment is not over-egged, with a performance that does not seem to be discussed as much as it should. He carries the story on his own during some of the lesser moments and does so admirably.

Overall, it’s still an occasionally exciting and impressive film, but undeniably lacklustre. The first two films made me laugh and had their own identity as fun, fantasy adventure films. Oddly The Battle of the Fives Armies only managed to make me laugh on a handful of occasions and as such, regardless of the fact the run time flies by (unlike An Unexpected Journey), unfortunately it just feels like Lord of the Rings-lite as opposed to the conclusion to an original and new Hobbit trilogy.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is in cinemas right now and will be featured as the main review on our next episode of the Failed Critics Podcast, a Christmas special.