A Quiet Place

quiet1.png

* * *

First, the idea is a cracker: human society has been devastated by invading blind aliens who hunt us down with their acute sense of hearing. Then, add excellent, tight direction from John Krasinski and a lean, somber script from Krasinski, Bryan Woods and Scott Beck. Add some integrity with the addition of excellent deaf young actress Millicent Simmonds playing a deaf girl. You’re cooking now. But the ingredient that puts this very effective little horror gem over the top is Emily Blunt. Thousands of actresses have played women in peril in horror movies, but Blunt shows you the value of shelling out for one from the A-List. To sell the big premise, the small moments must all feel true, and so must the fear.

Much of the film, as befits its premise, is dialogue-free, so we’re talking about quiet, intimate, gestural acting, acting of the face, and Blunt has a very sincere face. There’s never a false moment with her. She and Krasinski play a couple desperately trying to maintain a family in the wake of annihilation (they are a couple, and parents, in real life, too) and part of the reason the film works is that you believe in the family.

For me, as a dad, the family meant stakes – the ultimate stakes. The film is all about this couple doing everything they can to protect their children, and I could relate, as, I hope, any parent could, end of the world or not. If you’re young, single and care-free, the stakes of the film may not resonate for you as strongly, but you’ll still be left with a very well crafted, nifty, A-Grade horror picture that comes in at a perfect ninety minutes. There are some disappointing choices – for a film about sound, it uses too much music, there are a couple of big plot holes, and the aliens are cobbled together from other movies’ aliens, which is very lame – but this is absolutely a better-than-average genre flick, with a terrific ensemble at, and providing, its significant heart.

The Girl On The Train

img_0059***1/2

The Girl On The Train is an effective, well-constructed and tightly wound adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ 2015 best-seller (which did not, contrary to the poster copy, “shock the world”, but which did give readers a juicy little post-Gone Girl misty mystery to read on, well, the train).

Emily Blunt stars as an alcoholic divorcee who has a very bad blackout, the forgotten details of which may hold the key to a crime. Everything else deserves to be withheld, as this is a mystery through and through, and the less you know, the better.

Pity the trailer doesn’t adhere to the same restraint.

With only nine speaking parts (by my count), lots of atmospheric Upstate New York fog and excellent performances from Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson, specificity and containment are the keys here. Director Tate Taylor (The Help) deftly juggles the book’s relatively complex structure.

Worth seeing – just avoid the trailer.

Into The Woods

Into-the-Woods-banner***1/2 (out of five)

For many, many musical theatre aficionados, Into The Woods is a master work, one of the best pieces by the best maestro, being Stephen Sondheim, the anti-populist, intellectual, “difficult” composer and lyricist. Into The Woods is one of his biggies, featuring excellent music and songs, strong characters, and a clever storyline that subverts a bunch of fairytales. Huge in scale – there’s a witch, a giant, a castle or two, a cow, magic beans, a wolf and an awful lot of woods – it’s long been ripe for cinematic treatment.

Rob Marshall’s adaptation is straightforward and respectful. Since the material itself is slyly subversive, there’s no need to subvert it in the transition from stage to screen; all that is necessary is to flesh it out, fill the screen with it, and Marshall’s done that. Thus The Witch (Meryl Streep) can get up to all manner of creepy manoeuvres, the beans can burst skyward as a thundering, towering beanstalk, the giant can look like a giant and her footsteps can cause the shattering of a castle tower.

There is one shrieking element of total theatricality: The Wolf (Johnny Depp) doesn’t look like a wolf, he looks like Johnny Depp with some whiskers. It’s an odd choice and clashes with Steep’s effective witchiness, the giant’s giantism, and the cow, which is mainly played by a real cow. Depp comes and goes early and is pretty much forgotten by the end, which is just as well; his episode is the film’s least compelling.

The best character is Cinderella, and Anna Kendrick is sublime. She’s got a terrific song on the castle steps that is full of humour and nuance. Kendrick is bagging all the great singing-on-screen roles, from her franchise (Pitch Perfect) to her upcoming two-hander The Last Five Years, Jason Robert Brown’s excellent musical. She deserves to. She sings beautifully and you believe her singing; even as she sings along to her own recordings (as they did on this one, as opposed to the “live” singing of Les Miserables) you can see her lower lip trembling in vibrato. She’s a perfect Cinderella.

Also terrific is Emily Blunt as The Baker’s Wife. She outshines The Baker, James Cordon, and fans will be bummed to see one of his big numbers cut. Mostly, though, the songs are all there, unlike the recent Annie, which bombed the Dresden out of its own source material. Meryl’s fine – in that Meryl Streep way of “fine” meaning typically excellent – but my Musical Theatre Expert, who accompanied me to the screening I saw, said that she didn’t own the role – and the singing – as it has been owned by Bernadette Peters on stage and in a famous PBS filmed stage recording. My Musical Theatre Expert did single out young Daniel Huttlestone, as Jack (as in, “…and the beanstalk”) and even applauded after one of his big numbers.

Everything is very competent and it’s all good fun. It doesn’t seem to have any raison d’être except that, perhaps, someone finally got the money together to make it. It doesn’t comment on our age, doesn’t offer a bold new perspective, and doesn’t feature any particular “star” performance. But if it only exists for Sondheim fans, it exists well for them. Supposedly the man himself is happy with it, and so he should be. It treats his work with complete reverence, respect, and love.