Out on Friday 7 October
Emily Blunt stars in scenes from a carriage. Skarsgård and Peña are two bad cops. The greasiest film of the year. Louis Theroux goes after the Church of Scientology.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of The Girl on the Train, War on Everyone, The Greasy Strangler, My Scientology Movie, Blood Father, Driving With Selvi, Tiger Raid, and The Guv'nor.
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The Girl on the Train
Taken from the runaway bestseller by Paula Hawkins, Tate Taylor’s (The Help, Get On Up) film is a faithful take – perhaps /too/ faithful – on this marital mystery tale. For the uninitiated, like Christopher Nolan’s Memento before it, it centres on an unreliable memory-addled narrator – only here it’s booze not a blow to the head that’s left our lead in a foggy cloud of unknowing.
Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, an increasingly alcohol-dependant New York commuter who rides the train to work every day, glancing wistfully at two houses on her journey. One belongs to her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his former mistress/now wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their baby; the other to a couple she doesn’t know – Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (The Magnificent Seven’s Hayley Bennett).
Fantasising about this mystery pair, Rachel also can’t stop calling her ex – much to the chagrin of Anna. But everything changes the day Rachel glimpses Megan on her balcony kissing another man. Shortly afterwards, she disappears – the very same night Rachel is blind-drunk. When she wakes up the next day, bloody, bruised and unable to remember anything clearly, Rachel starts trying to piece together events.
Was she a witness to Megan’s demise? Is she a possible suspect? Scripted by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary), The Girl on the Train struggles to find an elegant structure. True, Hawkins’ book, written from the perspective of its three female characters and layered with flashbacks, is a difficult one to translate. The immediate casualty is Anna, leaving the dyed-blonde Ferguson a virtual bystander.
More impressive is Haley Bennett, who captures the restless spirit of the art gallery employee-turned-nanny Megan. While Justin Theroux is rather too mannequin-like as Tom, Luke Evans is credible as the frantic, temper-frayed Scott. The support – Édgar Ramírez as Megan’s shrink, Allison Janney as the lead cop – also offers some texture.
While transposing the action from London to New York’s outskirts doesn’t jar as much as some readers feared, what does distract is the Taylor’s direction. The biggest sticking point? A key scene set in a tunnel, where repeated use of slow motion feels like an amateurish attempt to replicate the workings of a befuddled mind.
Fortunately, Blunt keeps the film anchored. Playing drunk convincingly is no mean feat, but she cracks it, maintaining our sympathy for a character who has gradually slipped towards becoming a functioning alcoholic. Looking blotchy and unsteady on her feet, she never plays it for laughs but with an air of desperation, as if solving this mystery may be her last chance. But this year’s Gone Girl? Not a chance.
THE VERDICT: Guilty of being slavishly loyal, Taylor’s film never quite translates into the cinematic equivalent of Hawkins’ page-turner. Blunt, though, is excellent.
Director: Tate Taylor; Starring: Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson; Theatrical release: October 5, 2016
War on Everyone
Writer/director John Michael McDonagh gave us a memorably corrupt cop in feature debut The Guard (2011). But that titular character was a saint compared with Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña), two New Mexico police detectives with a motto, “Let’s go fuck some scumbags.”
Loosely pegged to a plot about a heist, WOE plays out like a black-comedy riff on buddy-cop movies, with Bob’s marital bliss contrasted with Terry’s free-wheeling relationship with ex-stripper Jackie (Tessa Thompson). There’s an attempt to give Terry a caring side, but we mainly get blatantly non-PC racist and sexist cracks leavened with show-off references (Yukio Mishima, Simone de Beauvoir and Descartes).
Despite strong performances and consistent laughs, it suffers the same problem as McDonagh’s brother Martin’s second feature Seven Psychopaths (2012), which came after his acclaimed debut In Bruges (2008). Both McDonaghs seem to operate best in a constricted space. Let loose in the wide-open vistas of the USA, the tightly woven work loses focus, the intimately observed characters turn brash. WOE is good, crude fun. But not much more than that.
THE VERDICT: Skarsgård and Peña relish their roles, but this pitch-black action-com feels like 100 gags in search of a storyline.
Director: John Michael McDonagh; Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Peña, Theo James; Theatrical release: October 7, 2016
The Greasy Strangler
Many will find Jim Hosking’s bad-taste comedy unerringly tedious, unwaveringly pointless and unremittingly infantile in its determination to shock: if you’re appalled by characters scoffing grease-drenched food, getting out their (fake) penises at every opportunity and bellowing the same lines of inane dialogue over and over again (“YOU’RE A BULLSHIT ARTIST!”), then knock three stars off this review. Those with more outré tastes, however, might just find this to be the funniest, grossest and, yes, greasiest film of the year.
The ‘plot’ is paper-thin: middle-aged Big Brayden (Sky Elobar) and his dad Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) fight over the same woman, Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo); adding to the tensions, Brayden begins to suspect the grease-drenched strangler who’s on the loose is, you guessed it, Ronnie.
Mind-numbingly repetitive, with deliberately amateur, OTT gore, The Greasy Strangler plays something like early John Waters but with zero political intent: its only objectives are to irk, bore and shock. And yet… somehow it’s impossible to shake off, its images and idioms branding your brain to make you shudder and guffaw for weeks after. Try it. If you hate it, scream “BULLSHIT ARTIST!” at the screen.
THE VERDICT: Outrageous and infectious. Like Ronnie’s crotchless disco suit, it has holes, but you won’t forget it in a hurry.
Director: Jim Hosking; Starring: Sky Elobar, Michael St. Michaels, Elizabeth De Razzo; Theatrical release: October 7, 2016
My Scientology Movie
After his earlier encounters with Max Clifford and Jimmy Savile, you’d think the Church of Scientology would be an easy target for Louis Theroux’s strain of faux-sincere mockery. In the wake of Alex Gibney’s definitive Going Clear, alas, this attempt to expose Scientology’s secrets – primarily through the recreation of some of its alleged infractions – comes across as flippant.
Theroux’s big mistake is to rely heavily on former grandee ‘Marty’ Rathbun, a whistle-blower whose readiness to dish the dirt on CoS leader David Miscavige doesn’t save him being tainted by prior association.
Director: John Dower; Starring: Louis Theroux; Theatrical release: October 7, 2016
Ex-con John Link (Mel Gibson) reunites with his teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty) after she gets mixed up with the (very) wrong crowd. Before you say can ‘parental redemption’, Link is going all out to save his mouthy offspring from Diego Luna’s gangbanger. Jean-François Richet (Mesrine) elevates the predictable action with swagger, while a grizzled Gibson gives us glimpses of his glory days
Director: Jean-Francois Richet; Starring: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna; Theatrical release: October 7, 2016
Driving With Selvi
Elisa Paloschi’s compelling doc tells the story of Selvi, South India’s first female taxi driver. At 14 she was a child bride, forcibly married to an abusive husband. Luckily she escaped and found her way to the nurturing Odanadi organisation who housed her and supported her ambition to drive. Following Selvi over a 10-year period, Paloschi’s film unsettles and inspires
Director: Elisa Paloschi; Theatrical release: October 7, 2016
After Irish mercenaries carry out a kidnapping in Iraq, roles are reversed, secrets are uncovered and plot twists proliferate in this flawed but intriguing thriller starring Brian Gleeson. Betraying its stage origins, it’s immensely talky, with a climax that doesn’t quite justify the slow-burn build-up. But some superbly stylish flourishes make this a promising calling card for debut director Simon Dixon.
Director: Simon Dixon; Starring: Sofia Boutella, Rory Fleck Byrne, Brian Gleeson; Theatrical release: October 7, 2016
The late Lenny McLean may be best known to filmgoers as Lock, Stock’s Barry the Baptist. But to bare-knuckle boxing fans he’ll always be respectfully known by the titular nickname. In this surprisingly poignant doc, his son Jamie goes in search of his dad’s past, uncovering a complex, charismatic character, marinated in violence, but also a product of his environment, from an all-but- vanished East End.
Director: Paul Van Carter; Starring: Lenny McLean, Jamie McLean, Martin Askew, Guy Ritchie, Jason Flemyng, Roy Shaw