Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Some movies are made to make viewers miserable. It’s what they set out to do, and if done well, cinema geeks such as myself will tip our hats to them.

The Devil All the Time is one of those movies. It’s an ugly film—and it’s supposed to be. I understand that a lot of people do not need this sort of movie in their lives right now. I, for one, found it a mildly rewarding viewing experience, even though I had to take two showers afterward.

The film starts in World War II, where soldier Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) makes a discovery that will pretty much fuck him up for the rest of his life. Upon returning stateside, he tries to live the American life: He gets married to Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and has a boy named Arvin (Tom Holland, when the character grows up). Try as Willard might to live a good, pious life, tragedy strikes multiple times.

Arvin grows up with a decent-enough head on his shoulders despite the trauma, and has a strong bond with his stepsister, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). When a creepy preacher (Robert Pattinson) moves to town, things—rather predictably—go bad again.

Meanwhile, in another subplot, a sadistic couple (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) drives around picking up hitchhikers and asking them to do some strange things. There’s also a corrupt sheriff (Sebastian Stan), the brother to the woman doing the strange hitchhiking things. There are a lot of other characters in the mix as well.

Bottom line: The film has way too much going on. It needed to be a miniseries rather than a single 138-minute film. That said, Holland and Pattinson are especially good, and the film is worth seeing for them. Skarsgard, Keough, Clarke and Scanlen all do just fine, but the movie is way too crowded.

To reiterate: If you are looking for a good time, this movie won’t provide it. It’s bound to go down as one of the film year’s biggest bummers—intentionally, of course.

The Devil All the Time is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Despite good performances from a cast including Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux and Allison Janney, The Girl on the Train winds up being a little too ridiculous for a movie that wishes to be taken seriously.

Blunt spends much of the movie blotto-drunk as Rachel Watson, a slurring alcoholic who aimlessly rides a train to New York City everyday, spying on the people living in her former house, as well as the neighbors. Rachel is divorced from Tom (Theroux), who couldn’t take Rachel’s drinking ways; he was also upset about their inability to have a child. Tom is remarried to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson); they have a child—and they would really like Rachel to stay away.

Tom and Nancy’s nanny, Megan (Haley Bennett), lives nearby with her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). Rachel spies on them during their most intimate moments as she races by on the train, envying what she sees as a perfect young romance. Then she sees Megan with another man, setting off an odd, drunken tailspin that results in her getting involved in the drama when Megan goes missing.

For starters, I’m not down with this premise: A deliriously drunk woman is able to decipher the goings-on inside homes—as she races by in a train? Yes, sometimes the train slows down, and she does know the inhabitants somewhat, but this is a highly unlikely plot gimmick that’s stretched out to unrealistic proportions. Then she gets involved with the missing woman’s husband, and eventually finds herself a target in the investigation.

Rachel is the most unreliable of characters, constantly blurred by the hard alcohol she’s slurping from a sippee cup. The script calls for many of her observations and actions to be unreliable due to her constant intoxication. She blacks out, loses time and even has other characters telling her lies to convince her she’s behaving abnormally. However, she’s able to put together key elements of a woman’s disappearance while racing past on a train with a blood alcohol count in the stratosphere.

Sorry, sometimes scripts ask me to go places where I can’t go, and I couldn’t go along for the ride on this one. Too much of this movie calls for the viewer to accept unrealistic circumstances and situations.

Did I still enjoy the movie on some levels? Yes, somewhat. I like how Emily Blunt plays inebriated in this movie. She’s a total mess, but Rachel keeps herself sympathetic. Theroux is great as the confused, protective ex who pleads with his current wife to cut Rachel a break—up until the point where he can no longer defend her. Janney is awesome as the grinning investigator who doesn’t buy Rachel’s story. I want another movie with her as the main character.

There’s a big mystery at play here, and the answer to that mystery becomes obvious perhaps earlier than director Tate Taylor suspects it does. Still, I liked how the mystery played out, and the performance opportunities it offered to some of the performers. Some members of the cast gets to go to truly dark places, and they do it well.

This is also a very good-looking movie, creepily shot by Charlotte Bruus Christensen, with a terrific score by Danny Elfman. Even though his movie goes to some goofy extremes, Taylor clearly knows how to get strong performances from his cast, and he’s assembled a nice one.

The Girl on the Train has its problems, but it isn’t a complete waste of time. See it if you are a Blunt fan, and if you are a fan of the book. If you haven’t read the book, or could care less about Blunt and like your thrillers a little more plausible, this one might not be for you.

The Girl on the Train is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven (which itself was a remake of Seven Samurai) has enough in common with the Yul Brynner/Steve McQueen original to make it feel like a re-telling of the classic story. It also contains enough departures from the original to make it feel like a fresh take.

The Mexican bandits led by Eli Wallach in the original are replaced by an evil, land-stealing company led by a man named Bartholomew Bogue. As played by Peter Sarsgaard, Bogue is a memorable villain who makes skin crawl. He rolls into a mining town; kills a bunch of good, hard working people; and winds up getting the grouping in the movie’s title opposing his ass. Let the spectacular gunfights commence!

Fuqua pal Denzel Washington (they also worked together on The Equalizer and Training Day) is first-rate as Chisolm, basically Brynner’s role from the 1960 classic. When the wife of one of the deceased (Haley Bennett) comes looking for help and mentions Bogue’s name, Chisolm flies into calm, collected and valiant action. He enlists six other men to visit the town and prepare the townspeople for the fight of their lives.

The Magnificent Seven include Chisolm, scheming alcoholic gunslinger Faraday (Chris Pratt), the knife-wielding Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), mountain man Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Vasquez the “Texican” (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).

Each member of the cast does a nice job of building a character in the 133-minute film. Hawke (who also frequents many Fuqua films) is especially good as the once-heartless sharpshooter who now has a case of the Jon Voight-in-Deliverance shakes when he tries to kill a living thing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here again: Hawke is the most improved actor I’ve witnessed in my years of reviewing movies. This guy used to be the worst thing on a movie screen, and now he is one of the best.

Pratt scores laughs as the slightly racist, Archie Bunker-with-a-pistol member of the crew. D’Onofrio is equally funny, sometimes employing a high-pitched voice, as a man of honorable means who will crush your face with his boot if you steal from him.

Fuqua most certainly knows how to stage an action scene, and the action scenes in this one are absolutely thrilling. Every gunfight is expertly staged and beautifully tense, especially the final standoff. I was reminded watching this movie that if it weren’t for that final battle in the original The Magnificent Seven, we wouldn’t have had those final battles in Blazing Saddles and The Three Amigos.

While the film somehow scored a PG-13 rating, it’s worth noting that it is still very violent. There are not only a lot of gun deaths in this movie; there is some serious stabbing and slashing with knives and forks and things. I was actually surprised by how brutal the film was. I guess the MPAA has some sort of blood-volume criterion, and a movie can stab and shoot as much as it wants as long as no more than two quarts or so of fake blood is spilled. By my eye, this sucker is an R-rated movie.

If anything takes the film down a notch, it’s the all-too-clean production values. The sets often look like something out of Disney’s Frontierland, and the costuming is a little too clean and spiffy. I prefer Westerns that are a little grittier (Eastwood’s Unforgiven being the high watermark).

The Magnificent Seven gets the fall movie season off to a good start. It’s actually the sort of well-cast, thrilling blockbuster we often would see in the summer, and it gives the old time Western genre a decent addition.

The Magnificent Seven is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews