Review of “A Quiet Place”

Life on Earth is under attack from an alien creature that appears to have come here on board a meteor that crashed in Mexico. Covered in an apparently impenetrable exoskeleton, the creatures can’t see but have incredibly sensitive hearing. The slightest noise over and above the background gets their attention. They also can move very fast and have a mouth full of long sharp teeth. The aliens make life difficult for the survivors but the Abbott family is doing the best they can. Lee (John Krasinski), Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and their kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward) live a life of silence and slow methodical movements. Beau being a child of about five can’t grasp all the dangers of this new world and makes a fatal mistake. While walking back to their home from town to get an ailing Marcus some antibiotics, Beau pulls out a toy he picked up at the drug store operated by batteries and turns it on. The model of the space shuttle makes a siren-like sound and attracts the aliens. Despite Lee’s efforts to save Beau he dies. A year later the family is continuing to scrape by at the farm they live on. Lee works on Regan’s cochlear implant trying to get it working again. He has made numerous efforts to repair it and failed. Regan, who gave Beau the toy after her father had taken it away from him and removed the batteries, feels Lee blames her for Beau’s death. He doesn’t but the stress of their life and Regan becoming a teenager is leading to conflicts. Lee has a workshop and security center set up in the basement of their home. He has monitors showing security camera feeds along with a shortwave radio he uses to try and contact anyone in the outside world. Evelyn is pregnant and due to deliver in a few weeks adding another threat to their silent life. Color-coded lights, sound-dampening sand on their pathways and communicating through American Sign Language might not be enough to keep this family together and alive.

The first trailer for “A Quiet Place” had me intrigued. The next trailer had me excited and dreading seeing the film a bit. Films that build tension and have you constantly guessing where the next threat will come from can be exhausting exercises. Found footage horror movies have worn me out in this regard as they never end happily, just with the promise of more fear and dread coming in the sequel. “A Quiet Place” manages to pile on the dread while giving you a glimmer of hope. It also tells an emotional family story that is punctuated by ravenous unstoppable monsters. It’s the best of both worlds.

John Krasinski not only stars but co-wrote and directed “A Quiet Place.” He is truly a triple threat in this film. His script is of course short on words. Most of the time communication is done via America Sign Language along with body movements. This forces the story to be told in other imaginative ways. We get the backstory from newspaper headlines we see in Lee’s security center. There a white board with scribbled facts about the monster and a desperate looking phrase “What is the WEAKNESS?” We see the weary looks on both Lee and Evelyn’s faces knowing they constantly worry about their day-to-day survival along with the future of their children. They all have dirty fingernails from having to do hard labor just to provide the basic necessities of life and they can’t waste precious resources like water for bathing and electricity to heat the water. The children are at times tired, frustrated and angry at their lives. We know they are both approaching puberty and that is hard enough when you don’t have monsters trying to hunt you down. The beauty of this script is storylines spin off within the mind of the viewer from watching these people exist. It isn’t all about the monsters as they really play a very minor role in the film. It’s about the family and the work they have to do to survive plus the struggles of just getting along. Krasinski along with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck have put a great deal of thought and work into their script and story even if there aren’t many words.

The performances of real life married couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are powerful and amazing. The love and desire this couple feels in their lives is clearly used to make their characters more connected and believable. There’s a scene where she makes him dance with her and they share a pair of earbuds from a portable music player. Their slow swaying and embrace may bring a tear to your eye as they share a rare moment of quiet passion. Lee winds up dancing more with the baby bump than his wife by the end of the scene but it is still a sweet and touching moment.

As good and Krasinski and Blunt are they are overshadowed by the amazing performance of Millicent Simmonds. Ms. Simmonds is deaf in real life. Her performance is all through her face, her motions and the way she communicates with sign language. A scene between her and Krasinski where he is giving her a hearing aid he had been working on is a prime example of just how good an actress Simmonds is. Her movements and body language show her anger, her impatience and her pain. Regan believes her father blames her for Beau’s death. While he doesn’t, he hasn’t made the extra effort to show her he loves her. All this is seen in this brief interaction between a father and daughter and that is due mostly to Millicent Simmonds talent. I hope her hearing doesn’t keep her from getting more roles as she is very talented.

It’s time for “Stan Thinks Too Much” corner. This alien invasion appears to have decimated the population and caused the collapse of infrastructure but the survivors still manage to have electricity. We never see a generator and of course that would cause lots of noise. It might be solar but we never see any panels. It seems unlikely the power grid would still be functioning so I wonder how they keep the lights on and the water flowing? Also during a scene in the film Evelyn manages to escape from one of the creatures by leaving a kitchen timer in the back of the room so the alien would chase that noise. Why didn’t they keep other noisemaking devices on them so they could set them off and throw them in the opposite direction for the monsters to chase? The ending of the film also made me wonder why it hadn’t been thought of before. I don’t want to give anything away but the method to kill these creatures seems perfectly clear from the first time you see them as they listen for the slightest noise out of the ordinary. And that concludes “Stan Thinks Too Much” corner.

“A Quiet Place” is rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images. There are several times when members of the family are stalked by the creatures. We see a raccoon get smashed by a monster with an accompanying splash of blood. We see a body in the forest that has been attack with a gaping wound in its side. There’s some blood associated with the birth of a baby. The monster’s anatomy is a bit disgusting to look at. There is no foul language as there is very little language of any kind.

John Krasinski has created a rare and wonderful thing: A horror movie that is both smart and scary. It also manages to be warm, emotional and mostly about a family just trying to survive. It works on just about every level. While I do have some questions and “I wonder why’s” about a few things they don’t take away from what is a fantastically tense movie. See it friends or in a full theater for a complete experience.

“A Quiet Place” gets five stars.

Next week I’ll be reviewing “Borg vs. McEnroe” for WIMZ.com.

I’ll also review one of the follow for this webpage:

Rampage—

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero—

Truth or Dare—

Listen for the latest news for movies, streaming and TV on The Fractured Frame available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “The Girl on the Train”

Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a broken woman. Her marriage to Tom (Justin Theroux) ended badly after they were unable to conceive a baby and Rachel began treating the depression with alcohol. She would black out and Tom would tell her all the violent things she did. He began an affair with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) who he eventually married after divorcing Rachel. He and Anna have a six-month old named Evie. Rachel rides the commuter train into the city every day and is able to see her old house through the window. She also sees the house next door and makes up stories about the young couple living there. That is Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans). Rachel has seen them having sex through the big window of their house that faces the tracks and believes they are a perfect couple; but that isn’t the case as Megan is restless and doesn’t want to have a baby despite Scott’s wishes. Megan sees psychiatrist Dr. Kamal Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) and tells him all her secrets and desires and how Scott is an emotional bully. On her daily commute, Rachel sees Megan on the porch in the arms of another man. Distraught, Rachel gets very drunk and plans on confronting Megan about the apparent infidelity. The next day, Rachel wakes up after blacking out, covered in blood and discovers Megan has gone missing. Is she responsible? What happened in the hours she can’t remember?

Based on a book by the same name, “The Girl on the Train” is a twisty, slow-burn thriller that had the potential of being a very good movie. It has lots of sex, infidelity, lies, misdirection and substance abuse and could have really kept the audience guessing about whodunit. Sadly, all the mystery of the mystery is exposed far too early and the story is strangely uninvolving despite being made very complicated and with a fairly large cast of characters.

The cast isn’t to blame for the shortcomings of “The Girl on the Train.” Emily Blunt’s Rachel is about as sad and pathetic as any character in any film I’ve ever seen. Her investment in the lives of Megan and Scott, two people she’s never met, is about the only thing holding her anywhere close to together. When she sees what she perceives as Megan’s betrayal of Scott it turns her into a member of the drunken morality police and marks her rock bottom. It is a performance that must have been taxing for Blunt as it required so much raw emotion, so much crying and at times so much naked honesty from the character. Blunt manages to make Rachel both annoyingly pathetic and someone you want to wrap up in a tight hug.

Rebecca Ferguson plays Anna, the “other woman,” like a creepy Stepford wife. She is all about raising her child and maintaining her home and anything that interferes with that is met with a look that implies she is plotting your death. Ferguson is kind of the heavy of the story for a while and is fairly easy to dislike. Her jealousy of Rachel doesn’t make her any more pleasant. For this character it is an effective performance.

Haley Bennett plays Megan like a bit of a spoiled child. Megan admits to being restless and she’s always comparing her life now to what it was like when she was 17 and living in a hunting cabin with her boyfriend. It is a pivotal part of the story that eventually leads to the tragic events that play out. Bennett, who bears a striking resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence, has a smoldering sexuality that is a good match for the character. She looks both innocent and seductive at the same time. It’s a delicate balance that Bennett uses to her full advantage.

The rest of the cast is impressive as well. What doesn’t work in “The Girl on the Train” is the arm’s length way the story is told. I never felt invested in these characters. The story meanders, jumping back and forth in time, filling in backstory leading the audience up to the events of Megan’s disappearance and juxtaposing that with what’s going on in Rachel’s life as she’s trying to pull herself back together while also befriending Scott. The story becomes a tornado of information that is mixed together in a haphazard way. Perhaps the disjointed narrative made emotionally investing in these characters impossible or maybe the script didn’t stick closely enough to the book to give us the depth of feeling for the people we learn so much about. Whatever the reason, “The Girl on the Train” feels like a static display in a museum: All the information about the subject is in front of you but it lacks any life.

“The Girl on the Train” is rated R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity. There are several brief sex scenes. The most graphic nudity is mostly backsides. All other body parts are imaginatively hidden. Violence is scattered but bloody. Foul language is also scattered.

“The Girl on the Train” is somewhat intriguing until a revelation from Rachel’s past mostly exposes who is responsible for Megan’s disappearance with about a half hour left in the film. After that, you’re just waiting on that character’s inevitable comeuppance. Watching the film from that point on makes it a bit annoying. Thrillers shouldn’t give you the real villain until much later. After all the information we are given about these five main characters, knowing who is responsible so early makes all that comes before it seems wasted. “The Girl on the Train” has the potential to be a mind-bendingly complicated and involving thriller but it seems to take the road most travelled from the train to the conclusion.

“The Girl on the Train” gets three disappointed stars out of five.

Number crunchers, joke slingers and reluctant power wielders are invading your local multiplex. I’ll see at least one of the following:

The Accountant—

Kevin Hart: What Now?—

Max Steel—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Into the Woods”

The fairytale characters of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), her handsome Prince (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), his mother (Tracey Ullman), their cow and a beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp), Rapunzel (MacKensie Mauzy) and her Prince (Billy Magnussen) are all connected to the childless couple of the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) and the witch (Meryl Streep). Each is looking for their “happily ever after” but does that end the story?

Based on the Broadway play of the same name, “Into the Woods” is a star studded film made with the cooperation of writer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. His witty use of language is on full display in the songs that fill the movie, informing the audience far better than standard dialog could. While the movie musical is a fairly rare event, “Into the Woods” is a worthy addition to the list.

Meryl Streep is perhaps the main reason to see “Into the Woods” in a theater instead of waiting for it to arrive On Demand. Her performance is big, wild and thoroughly entertaining. The film really comes to life when she pops on the screen. Her wild hair tinged with blue and grey is similar to the whirlwind in which she disappears. While comical, the witch is the heavy of the story, setting it in motion years before when she put a curse on the Baker’s father. Now, she gives the Baker and his wife an opportunity to lift the curse and allow them to become parents by gathering items from each of the fairytale characters mentioned above. Her plan is devious because it will also restore her youthful beauty once the curse is lifted. Her urgency as the time ticks down for the Baker and his wife to find all the items belies this fact. Streep, who showed off her singing ability in “Mamma Mia,” easily handles the big, theatrical musical numbers. Her talents truly seem to know no bounds as she also wrings her part for all the emotional strength it has as she deals with Rapunzel who believes the witch is her mother. If it was up to me, Streep would be nominated for yet another Oscar.

James Corden and Emily Blunt are both terrific as the Baker and his wife. The little spats they have as they run into problems gathering all the items sound almost real as each gets on the other’s nerves. Corden and Blunt have a very comfortable chemistry together, like they’ve been in each other’s lives a long time. They are also able to convey to the audience that these two people really love each other. It’s a sweet relationship that takes a bit of a dark turn late in the film. This change in tone was unexpected (as I was unfamiliar with the source material) and really caused me to sit up and pay attention. I don’t want to give away too much but it sets one of them back on their heels and causes that character to question how they will continue in his/her life. It’s a turn that kept the story interesting for me at a point when it could have started to become dull and predictable.

If the film has any issues it’s with the Rapunzel section of the story. It doesn’t feel fully realized like in adapting the musical for the screen part of the story was left out that would have made it make more sense. According to the movie’s Wiki page, there was a major plot point that was changed because studio executives didn’t think it would go over well with audiences. Perhaps this revision was so vast it lessened the impact and value of her story. I’d have to see the stage version to know for sure but her story feels unfinished.

This is a minor quibble when looking at the film as a whole. All the cast from the primary leads right down to the actress who plays a giant that we barely see is excellent in their roles. Anna Kendrick plays the conflicted Cinderella who isn’t sure a life in the castle with the terminally confident Prince, played by Chris Pine, is what she really wants. While all the characters she encounters question why she doubts her life with the Prince would be amazing, she is steadfast in her reservations. Chris Pine’s performance as the supremely self-assured Prince reminded me at times of a certain actor as he strutted and preened on screen. I couldn’t help but think Pine reminded me of William Shatner, the first actor to play James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek. Pine has taken over the role in the rebooted film franchise and the two couldn’t be more different in look and style; however, Pine seems to be mimicking, consciously or subconsciously, the speech patterns and acting style of Shatner. While this took me out of the story for a few seconds, I just accepted it as his interpretation of the Prince. Little Red Riding Hood is a precocious child played by Lilla Crawford who is both confident and inexperienced which puts her in danger when she encounters Johnny Depp’s Wolf. The dynamic between Red and the Wolf strays uncomfortably close to a creepy pedophilia vibe. Again, according to the movie’s Wiki page, that aspect of the characters interaction was actually toned down from the staged version. I can’t imagine it getting much creepier and still being something an audience would accept. Perhaps the distance between the audience watching the stage play and the intimacy of a camera up close to those same characters in a movie lessens how uncomfortable those viewing the scene would feel. While I understood the Wolf was referring to consuming Red and her grandmother, it still made my skin crawl a little. Despite this, Depp is entertaining as the Wolf as he both sweet-talks and threatens Red. Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch and Tammy Blanchard all make the most of their limited screen time and make the supporting characters as entertaining as any other.

“Into the Woods” is rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material and fantasy action and peril. The concept of a childless couple, the abandonment of a father, the stealing of a child and the death of parents might confuse or upset the very youngest viewers. The suggestive material is just a couple kissing in the woods. The fantasy action and peril is very mild. Even the deaths of characters are handled off screen.

While many find the movie musical to be somewhat off-putting, “Into the Woods” actually benefits from having the characters burst into song at the drop of a hat. The fantastical setting, characters and situations are best handled and explained in a song. The talented cast and often witty wordplay of the lyrics makes this an experience even anti-musical people should enjoy unless they’ve had a curse placed on their heart by an evil witch.

“Into the Woods” gets five stars.

I also watched the troublemaking satire “The Interview” starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. While I understand the North Koreans are a prickly bunch, I can’t see why they would put up a stink over such a silly film. While Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg have stuffed the movie with a huge number of jokes and humorous situations, the film is eventually overcome by its own lightness. The concept is pretty ridiculous as well with the CIA giving the job of killing Kim Jung-un to a talk show host and his producer. Exhibiting their incompetence from the outset, there’s no way the plan would have continued past the preliminary stages. Of course, one must ignore common sense when dealing with a film like “The Interview.” It doesn’t waste any time or energy on logical thinking in either the story or the acting.

“The Interview” gets two and a half stars out of five.

January usually is a dumping ground for movies the studio has no faith in being either a commercial or critical success. That makes the first month of the year a perfect time to catch up with the movies that are making awards season waves. Several have just opened in Knoxville, TN and I’ll see about reviewing as many as I can before the trophies are handed out.

Big Eyes—

Foxcatcher—

Wild—

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death—

Send questions or comments to stanthemovieman@comcast.net and follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.