Cineast previews the new movies Tammy, The Girl on the Train and Life Itself.
The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train is a modern day film noir, with the deep shadows and claustrophobic settings typical of the style. The film’s setup echoes, to a certain extent, the setup of the Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train—the fateful meeting on a train, a not-so-innocent man finding himself involved in a lot more evil then he anticipated. There are also shades of the noir archetype Double Indemnity as well, with a somewhat arrogant guy getting taken in and taken for a ride by a beautiful woman who he meets just by chance. But to say the film contains echoes of famous plots is to say that it’s a film noir and subject to the stylistic demands of that genre. Anyway, it’s nice to see a modern thriller confining itself to the classic Hitchcockian constraints on duration, a discipline that demands efficient storytelling to be effective. The Girl on the Train clocks in at only 80 minutes, which was standard for Hitch but almost unheard of today.
Comic actress Melissa McCarthy works her way up to top billing in the Thelma and Louise-spoofing, on-the-lam comedy Tammy. Replaying the comic persona that has worked so successfully for her, McCarthy is cast as a pathetic mess who is somehow unaware of or unbothered by the depths to which she has sunk. Thus unfettered by any cognizance of the depravity of her situation, she is free to commit whatever absurdities spring to mind to get her through—but she’s also in constant danger of being stopped. In some respects, this familiar McCarthy persona goes all the way back to the very earliest days of film comedy, with some echoes of Chaplin’s Tramp character (a character who turned 100 years old this year), and with a pluck and resolve reminiscent of that anarchic duo Laurel and Hardy. Of course, in Tammy, a lot of the humor seems to be derived from making light of McCarthy’s plus-size stature, which seems unfortunate but probably inevitable. Also stars Susan Sarandon and Kathy Bates.
Life Itself is a documentary about Roger Ebert, who was perhaps the best-known film critic of all time. Those of a certain generation became aware of Ebert when he co-hosted the film review program Sneak Preview on PBS with fellow critic Gene Siskel—the show was later retitled At The Movies. Together, Siskel and Ebert popularized the thumbs-up, thumbs-down style of movie review and brought semi-serious discussion of film into the mainstream. But Ebert, unlike some critics, had actually come from the world of film production, and wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. His was a deep knowledge and love of film, and he communicated it as well as anyone has.