The Greatest Showman: an original musical loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum and his “abnormals assemble” crew. You have two choices with this film: enjoy it as a (very) lightweight piece of entertainment, or thumb through the catalogue of issues with its presentation as an actual ‘movie’. My biggest gripe is the songs – they’re all too similar and formulaic; designed by committee – starting with a quiet talky bit, rapidly build into a punch-the-air, feelgood and uplifting sing-a-long major-key chorus, then ending with a more emotional talky bit. Granted, they’re perfect for a musical, but each one is about twice as long as necessary and the core numbers are continually repeated throughout the entire picture. While it makes the most of the cinematic medium through scale and visual effects, it’s unbelievably stagey and theatrical; essentially begging for a live action theatre run. The story is wafer thin; it is the most positive spin on Barnum’s life told through very broad brushstrokes, and whenever someone is about to do a bit of real acting (starting to get vaguely emotional) they spontaneously burst in to song! The critic character is a laughably knowing pre-emptive jibe at how the film itself would obviously land; engineered to be popular with the masses but sneered at by critics – and I can understand both sides. Every family member, friend, and colleague that’s seen this has gone to the cinema for multiple viewings and subsequent sing-a-long viewings, yet the critical response is lukewarm at best. The Greatest Showman is hammier than a hog roast and cheesier than a fondue: it’s unashamedly naff, but is clearly plugging a massive gap in the popular and musical markets.
The Girl on the Train: follows a homo sapien with two X chromosomes on a track-based transport vehicle. Seriously though, blackout drunk alcoholic becomes involved in a missing person case that keeps throwing up more questions than answers. Blunt is outstanding. One of the best performances I’ve seen anyone give in a long time; complaints about her being too glamorous (duh, she is Emily Blunt!!) don’t wash with me, as she’s looked like a trainwreck for the majority of the film. The remaining cast – championed by an equally impressive Haley Bennett – are firing on all cylinders, it’s impossible to pick out a bad performance. Like the best narratives, the film is continually revealing new information that changes how we view the relationships between the main characters, and constantly shifting the focus and blame. It’s also refreshing to see a film centered on three completely different women; providing various view on motherhood, being a wife, and their strange three-way relationship, which are intelligently pleated through one another. I think the off-kilter, dark, and borderline horror tone (screechy strings, close-ups, titled cameras) will have alienated a lot of casual viewers. Critics and book snobs couldn’t beat this film down enough but as someone going in completely cold, it really impressed me: the only part I could imagine tightening up would be the lengthy introduction, but even then, it’s not too flabby. Although it was sold as “if you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this” I’d sooner watch this again. The Girl on the Train is a gripping, dark, Hitchcockian thriller where nothing is spelled out, and it’s constantly swaying and misdirecting you, through to the revelatory ending.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The IMF gets shut down, leaving Ethan Hunt on the run from the CIA whilst trying to take down an organized crime group called ‘The Syndicate’. More than in the past few movies this feels like it’s completely merged into the Bourne/Bond universes – it’s particularly Skyfall-y. IMF is outdated and up for debate (like the 00 program), ‘The Syndicate’ are a collective that trigger world events (hello SPECTRE!), and the main villain is pretty much Raoul Silva (Bardem) from Skyfall, but with no development beyond ‘he’s villainously European and wears turtlenecks’. True to the franchise the big action set-pieces are fantastic (Plane opening, Motorbikes, Opera Fight) but it digresses into foot chases and pistol fights, which are ten-a-penny these days. The opening half is everything you’d expect from an M.I. film, but the second part loses momentum with twist after twist after twist, which leaves the story feeling bloated and stretched: it’s 2hrs 10 long! A big problem for this movie is that Ethan “the living manifestation of destiny” Hunt is never on the back foot and has an air of invisibility – worse still Tom Cruise is an action star that can act, but he’s wasted here, coasting as the cocksure and invincible agent. The main female (Ferguson) – an equally kick-ass, deadly, and capable agent in her own right – is presented as a strong heroine, yet made to prance about in leggy frocks, bikinis, and even topless (from the back) for no real reason. When you think of the best scenes in the Mission Impossible franchise and I bet they’re wringing out tension and suspense during the ‘impossible’ missions – hence the name – but Rogue Nation gets tangled up with simple thrills and a flabby, tortuous plot.
Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol