Cold Takes · Film · Review

Some Cold Takes October 14-20

The Girl on the Train

Maybe there’s some enjoyment to be found in other people’s misery. You know, if your life is happy and easy and blessed enough there’s something to be gotten from others’ struggles. And if laughing at real people’s too much for you here’s some suffering we just made up. Not once in The Girl on the Train’s almost two hour running time does anything close to a smile cross a character’s face.

The tone is so unrelentingly bleak it’s hard to sink into these characters despite some impressive performances. Emily Blunt does drunk very well, which is a boon given the material she’s working with here. Haley Bennett puts in compelling work as our corpse tying together a character who, in just about her own words, is defined by contradiction. The men fare less well here, all of them are ciphers. I guess there needs to exist the possibility for all three to be the killer, but they’re so flat and uninflected, that might work in a book wherein the women are able to find meaning in the mirrors. But in a film they just come across as three interchangeable cowls, one of whom will eventually find definition in blood.

The structure doesn’t help either, it’s fractured sharing three narrators and dipping into the past as loosely and freely as it pleases. This is all part of a larger sense of disorientation that’s being created, it leaves the film feeling so unstable that even the deceptions that do work (the twist is a pretty cool one) come abrupt and unguarded. The crucial failing of the film is that it’s never sure of where the drama is. The edit in several places is baffling, all shoe leather, neglecting too often the psychology of the characters. And for a psychological thriller…

Inferno

America’s Conservative Superhero comes to the rescue once again! The pale crime afoot is the release of a supervirus, capable of killing two thirds of the world’s population. I think Dan Brown may have taken the criticism that his stakes were a little low too hard. The problem arises, when unlike his previouses Save the Pope! and A Tour of the Museums and Churches of Britain and France, we’re forced to accept that the answer to this biologist’s riddle lies encrypted in Botticelli’s Map of Hell. Where’s the modus operandi?

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) fights valiantly for that most American of ideals. The right of self-determination. You would think, with the apocalypse on the horizon the WHO might seem a pretty benign organisation to align oneself with. Not in Langdon’s mind though, anyone who could possibly limit, restrict his personal freedoms is an enemy who must be avoided at all costs. Maybe he will release the virus. He seems to grapple with the philosophical conundrum far more than any of his associates. No wonder Middle America loves the twat.

As for the film, it’s not that good. The mystery doesn’t really work too well on the screen, the audience never get a handhold. I get that part of the charm is that Tom Hanks is way smarter than everyone else but the necessity of that leaves us cold. He’ll explain and explain and explain. I just want some love. The action is dismal, many of the attempts at cinema fail; Langdon’s apocalyptic visions are some of the most laughable images of hell committed to film. There’re a couple’a decent twists but even then the majority of those fall flat, prompting no re-evaluation of past events. There’s actually an interesting subplot off to the side starring Irfan Kahn, but even that vanishes halfway through. At least it’s not long, and Robbie survives to save the day once again, don’t expect him to do it for anyone else’s benefit.

Storks

I don’t really have much to say about Storks other than to regard it’s gleeful stupidity. As a film, it is functional (wish it were better), but it manages. It strolls its way leisurely through the expected beats without much structural variation. The notable departures here come within the specifics. There’s a nonsensicality to the structure of scenes, oftentimes the dialogue forms these perfect closed loops which just spin their wheels for a while. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but there’s something in that absurdity which, even though many sequences don’t especially shine, lifts individual scenes above the fray.

This is helped by the principle voice cast. Andy Samberg is a good fit for Junior, a Stork with grand ambition, slotting nicely into a role we’ve seen him do a few times before. He finds distinction in a character who is, most of the time, extremely competent, it a note we don’t get to see him play too much and he sells it here. He’s sorta upstaged here though by Katie Crown as (The Orphan) Tulip. She’s mostly been performing voice roles on television until now although she was on the writing team of the latest season of the amazing Nathan For You.) She’s killer here, seriously like one of the best voice roles of the year, bouncing around with a vibrancy that adds so to much to the material she’s working with.

Unfortunately for a film about a stork and an orphan the film pushes the characters a little uncomfortably into these traditional gender roles that really serve to undermine the message that the film ultimately tries to deliver. Even when they’re making these jokes they just feel staid, we’ve heard all that shit for like fifty years, putting an absurdist filter over it doesn’t meaningful change the core. It tries though, at times, and there’s an underlying theme of gentrification and the destruction of local communities which really works well.

It’s okay, maybe it was just a bad idea from the start, the inclusion of this subplot with a family waiting for a baby is evidence. It really goes nowhere, does nothing, could have been happily cut. Ah well, Warner’s got Lego Batman coming out soon so they’re onto a money-maker. At least this on hits some high points on the way through.

Trolls

Trolls is bad. This isn’t good because Kendal Cronkhite’s production design is some of my favourite this year. I mean, it looks beautiful, taking notes from 2014’s Boxtrolls it delights in constructing this warped world. It takes the Victoriana and with the power of computers covers everything with fluff. Everything alive is soft and felten, surfaces bristle with fuzz, the whole world feels tactile. It also wholeheartedly embraces the cuteness aesthetic, there was of course no other way, but there is no sense of wryness about how the leads look. No proper attempt to macho them up. A decision was made to make it look like sugar glitter and I commend all the designers for adhering to that.

It’s a shame everything else is so shit. It’s a jukebox musical apparently, sorta, and the music doesn’t really sound all that bad. I believe it’s produced by Justin Timberlake so it should. But the film has no idea how to construct a compelling musical sequence, the vast majority of them have no clear articulation or story running through. There’s something to be said for the cinematic abandon with which they are presented but these numbers feel totally tangential.

There’s also the plot in which a repressed guy needs to be shown the beauty of the world by a life loving girl and maybe he teaches her the value of occasional cynicism along the way and eeeeuuurrrrghhhhh. Like it’s bullshit and bullshit and bullshit and I thought we were past this. Nope, this bad, regressive, overtold story still has legs it seems, hopefully it won’t be too long before it dies. In the end everyone put in the about right amount of effort for a Trolls movie, at least that memo didn’t get passed along to the design department.

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