Film Review: “Angel of Mine”

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Yvonne Strahovski, Luke Evans, Richard Roxburgh
Directed by: Kim Farrant
Rated: R
Running Time: 98 minutes
Lionsgate

Angel of Mine, based on the French 2008 film, L’Empreinte de L’ange, sees Noomi Rapace as a woman convinced that her neighbor’s daughter is actually her own long-dead child. It’s a thriller that drew me in with its strong cast but passes too far over into melodrama before the credits roll to warrant much interest. 

Rapace stars as Lizzie who drums up a tenuous relationship with the parents of one of her son’s friends (played by Yvonne Strahovski and Richard Roxburgh) for her own ulterior motives. Turns out the friend’s little sister Lola looks so much like her dead baby daughter to Lizzie that she is desperate to spend as much time around the child as possible. Lizzie’s obsession extends so far as her ingratiating herself with Lola’s parents by pretending to be interested in buying their newly listed house. This connection is already awkward but the film does not help itself by withholding the circumstances around Lizzie’s grief for so long in the film. Revelations over the loss of Lizzie’s daughter earlier in the film to the couple may have won some understandable sympathy points for allowing Lizzie around but as it is, it strains credulity as to why these parents would allow this random woman to have so many one-on-one interactions with their young child. Lizzie’s obsession with Lola is intriguing at first due to Rapace’s haunted intensity but without knowing much about her past, I found myself spinning off many different possibilities for where this could go and the ultimate resolution had me bored. Perhaps that’s on me for wanting something more outlandish or exciting while the film so wants to be grounded. It felt as though since director Kim Farrant wanted so much for Lizzie to be our sympathetic protagonist that they could not inject her obsession with a child with any sort of genuine menace. 

Still more irritating is that so much of the film’s run time is spent with husbands choosing to downplay their wives’ legitimate concerns. This goes for both Luke Evan’s Mike as Lizzie’s ex, shunning her where she clearly needs mental help in her grief, and infuriatingly Richard Roxburgh’s Bernard who is for some reason A-OK with a woman wanting to spend time with his seven year old while his own wife sees red flags all over. Why would he take Lizzie’s word over hers? How their story lines end up in relation to Lizzie and Lola after all this drama rings hollow–and also doesn’t seem legally feasible. 

I had been drawn in by the big name cast Farrant had assembled, particularly Yvonne Strahovski fresh off of her fantastic “Handmaid’s Tale” work (is there such a thing as ‘maternity battle’ typecasting?) but they’re working in service of a basic script that doesn’t throw anything more exciting at them than a Lifetime TV movie. 

Angel of Mine opens in limited release on August 30th

Film Review: “Beauty and the Beast”

Starring: Dan Stevens, Emma Watson and Luke Evans
Directed By: Bill Condon
Rated: PG
Running Time: 129 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Disney has effortlessly remade one of its greatest films. That in itself should be commended because of the power that “Beauty and the Beast” still holds for old and young fans of the Disney brand. The 1991 animated classic still has some of the best theatrical music in their catalogue. It also has a story that managed to retell a fairy tale classic while thumbing its nose at formula, something that still feels fresh over a quarter of a century later. So how did Disney recapture the magic?

The sincerity by everyone involved is clear from the costume and set designers to the cast populating the screen. Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle is spot on, from her obvious attractiveness to Watson matching Belle’s powerfully independent demeanor with stoic glares and gentle warmth in her eyes. There is subtle personality changes that evolves Belle from the two-dimensional hand-drawn character of yesteryear into a three-dimensional character grounded in reality that dances off the screen.

As for Dan Stevens, he had a tougher time capturing the brutish nature of his character, since the Beast is CGI. While I’d be willing to place bets that his voice was digitally tinkered with, Stevens’ ruffs, gruffs, and even singing, makes him stronger than Robby Benson’s portrayal back in the early 90’s. It also helps that we get a lot more backstory behind the Beast’s character and an extra layer of geniality beneath the coarse fur and fangs.

Going in I had my doubts that Luke Evans could play such a vain, muscular villain like Gaston, but luckily I was proven wrong by his character’s roguish suaveness and cunning wickedness. Josh Gad pairs with him nicely as a much more good-natured LeFou in this update. The cutlery and castle furniture are just as charming as their voice actors, Ian McKellan, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, GuGu Mbatha-Raw, and Ewan McGregor, who’s leading the way as the talking candlestick, Lumière. McGregor doesn’t disappoint when he voices the show stopping “Be Our Guest.”

The story remains true to the original, scrambling up a few pivotal moments, adjusting pacing, sewing in ideas from the Broadway adaptation, and taking some creative liberties (which I’m sure you’ve read or heard about one in particular in the media by now). After 25 years, it makes sense that some nuts and bolts have to be shifted and modernized, but it never forsakes the heart and spirit of the movie. The story’s soulful mix of romance and music remains intact.

There are about 30 more minutes of content that gives the audience a deeper of understanding of the characters, and not just our two lovebirds. We relate and feel more for the talking furnishings and silverware more than we did previously. While purists might fold their arms and slouch in their theater chairs in disgust over these changes and the vision, others will be enchanted by this interpretation, finding something there that wasn’t there before.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a magical retelling that will make fans of young ones and make Disney loyalists fall in love with the story all over again. While the original is still the standard bearer for Disney storytelling and animation, this 2017 version isn’t without its own merits. The 21st century “Beauty and the Beast” is a lot more melodic and even more visually extravagant without ever being gaudy. Its familiarity makes it a must-see, but its newfound charm makes it an instant classic for newcomers.

Film Review: “The Girl on the Train”

Starring: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett
Directed By: Tate Taylor
Rated: R
Running Time: 112 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Something’s in the water in Westchester County, New York. Megan Hipwell (Bennett) refers to herself as the county whore to her psychologist (Edgar Ramirez), while flirting with him in over-the-top fashion. She’s cheating on her emotionally abusive husband, Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans), presumably with more men than just her psychologist. Her carefree and apathetic nature is used to mask her emotionally fragility. The Hipwell’s next door neighbors are dealing with turmoil of their own, but not within their own marriage. Anna Watson (Ferguson) and Tom Watson (Justin Theroux) are dealing with Tom’s ex-wife, Rachel (Blunt).

Rachel may just as be emotionally damaged as Megan. She takes the train to her non-existent job every day so she can glance at her ex-husband’s home for a brief second. Unknowingly, she also is glancing into the home life of Megan and Scott’s life. In her head, Rachel imagines a happier home than the one that actually exists. Everyone collides and connects in a disgruntled mess when Megan goes missing the same night Rachel goes on an epic bender involving a full fifth of vodka and hotel-sized bottles of other assorted liquors. Rachel begins to include herself in everyone’s lives even more while also being a prime suspect in the criminal investigation behind Megan’s disappearance.

“The Girl on the Train” will most likely be compared to 2014’s “Gone Girl” which is really unfair. “The Girl on the Train” isn’t as smart, witty, or amusingly dark as “Gone Girl”. “The Girl on the Train” is more like a contemporary reimagining of the late 80’s and early 90’s steamy murder skin flicks like “Fatal Attraction” or “Disclosure”. The comparison to “Gone Girl” may be because of the narrative for “The Girl on the Train,” which is very confusing at times. It jumps back and forth between the past and present so much that you begin to mistake who’s telling the story and which story has already happened and which one is still unfolding.

The time jumps are a method by the film to confuse the viewer about who’s responsible for Megan’s disappearance and, as anybody could easily guess, her death. The movie leaves a lot of red herrings, but the movie makes a fatal mistake by establishing from the get-go that when we see things through Rachel’s eyes, she’s an unreliable narrator, ultimately nixing any theories or ideas that come falling out of her brain or her blurred drunken visions.

“The Girl on the Train” is a two-hour version of “48 Hours” that intentionally jumbles up the “who-dun-it” portion of the story. But if you’re a keen observer, you’re going to ultimately guess what’s going on during Rachel’s alcohol fueled hallucinations, Megan’s flashbacks during her psychologist visits, Scott’s recollections and the unsettling calmness of Anna and Tom’s love life. By the time the big twist arrives, the movie isn’t quite sure how to proceed. It ends up over explaining how it all went down and tries to find some resemblance of meaning to end on.

“The Girl on the Train” is carried mainly behind some terrific performances, including Blunt who portrays a struggling alcoholic coping with horrific memories and a failed marriage. If the movie was more memorable, Blunt would surely be an early runner for a best actress Oscar. Bennett’s character, despite not being too relatable or sympathetic, is given meaning and passion through Bennett who once again, may have been in an early running for an Oscar if this movie was better. “The Girl on the Train” isn’t this year’s “Gone Girl” and won’t be a movie you’ll be talking about long after you leave the theater, but is interesting enough to sustain its near two-hour runtime. Folks who regularly watch Investigation Discovery will find plenty to enjoy here and others, like me, may find it’s brooding steaminess oddly charming, but ultimately flawed.

 

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TFF Film Review: “High-Rise”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
Directed By: Ben Wheatley
Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes
Magnet

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Late in the chaos that engulfs Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise, Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) welcomes a woman into his paint splattered flat exclaiming “I think I finally found the right tone!” Against all odds, he may as well be describing the film itself. An adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel that was long thought unfilmable (producer Jeremy Thomas tried 30 years ago), Wheatley and Co. have managed to create a wonderfully anarchic microcosm of a society breaking down as it builds upwards. If the social commentary–the hazards of worshiping material wealth, the “1%” literally living it up on the top floors–is simplistic, Wheatley’s production team offers it up in the most absurdly beautiful ways. From the brutalist production design to a stunning score by Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream), High-Rise is a darkly humorous, sexy, and oftentimes grotesque cinematic experience.

The film opens with a bearded, bedraggled Laing foraging for supplies in the corpse-strewn detritus of his high-rise apartment building. “For all its inconveniences,” a civilized sounding Hiddleston narrates, “Laing was satisfied with life in the high-rise.” Laing then rotisserie roasts a dog for supper. As one does. From here we go back to simpler times three months ago, when Laing was just moving into the shiny new development. At floor 25 out of 40, the good doctor quickly learns the strict class divide of the upper and lower residents between which he sits–or, nude sunbathes actually–nearly smack in the middle. Laing is welcomed into the upper echelons by Charlotte Melville (Miller) as she dallies with lower-leveled married man Richard Wilder (Evans). Laing’s even invited to the penthouse occupied by mysterious architect Royal (Jeremy Irons, regal in all white). Royal views what he has wrought, one tower in a series of five, as a “crucible for change” while brain surgeon Laing pleases Royal when he describes it more as a “diagram of an unconscious psychic event.” Royal is so impressed with Laing he attempts to invite him to a decadent fancy dress party thrown by his wife. Laing is roundly rejected by Royal’s peers and experiences the first of many power outages from within an elevator he’s been unceremoniously shoved into. The honeymoon is over.

These early sequences of life in the High-Rise had me enthralled. Laing’s exploration of the tower is paired perfectly with Clint Mansell’s driving orchestra music, which manages to capture the entrepreneurial spirit of the shiny all inclusive tower while suggesting the underlying tensions of the residents pulsing through the structure. One tiny inconvenience is enough to upset this flow and set everyone off into rage. To top it off, everyone is impeccably tailored. Meanwhile, from his place in the middle, Laing is able to interact with all levels of residents who can’t seem to grasp which ‘slot’ he is meant to fill.

Hiddleston’s Laing is a hard one to pin down and makes for a fascinating entry into the film’s madness. He initially tells Charlotte he doesn’t think he can change (he’s speaking of getting into a swimsuit but the line, like so many in Amy Jump’s script, is delivered with more weight than that) and for a while that’s true. Laing seems a neutral character, claiming he desires a blank slate in the wake of his sister’s death. When confronted with quarreling residents, he seeks to pacify the tensions between lower floor residents, the maintenance man and the architect who has accepted him. But the longer he’s in the building the more Laing’s crueler tendencies come to light. Mouthing off at a child, casually implying a deathly prognosis to a social rival–Laing’s mean streak is comparatively subtle in the shadow of Evans’s aptly named Wilder but Hiddleston is quietly menacing throughout. And his desperate need to keep his dress shirt and tie on is a nice touch.

As the tower devolves into darkness, murder and crammed garbage shoots, your enjoyment of the latter half of the film may depend upon whether you buy into the notion that the residents do not run screaming to the authorities. After all there is an outside world to this tower, this isn’t Snowpiercer. However Wheatley crams enough absurdist humor into these late stages that I, like the looney residents drolly contemplating lobotomizing their rivals, surrendered to a logic more powerful than reason. Or just damn stylish film making.

This film received its New York premiere at last week’s Tribeca Film Fest and is available to rent now onDemand, Amazon and iTunes–though for the best experience, hold out for its theatrical release May 13th!