Tag: emily blunt

Your Sister’s Sister

Your Sister’s Sister (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

As his closest friend, Iris (Emily Blunt) feels that Jack (Mark Duplass) could use some time for himself after the death of his brother so she invites him to stay at her family’s vacation home. He accepts but when he gets there, it turns out that Iris’ half-sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), is also using the place in order so sort things out. Half-mistaken as a peeping Tom, suffice to say that things between Jack and Hannah start awkwardly but the two soon find a connection over a bottle of tequila.

Based on the screenplay and directed by Lynn Shelton, “Your Sister’s Sister” has a great ear for dialogue partnered with winning performances but its weak third act keeps us at arm’s length unintentionally instead of drawing us in and feeling convinced that the ending is right for the specific story being told.

The three performers are able to function on a synergistic wavelength in order to make their respective characters and the emotions they go through believable. Duplass plays Jack with a schlubby vulnerability that is familiar but appropriately comforting, Blunt gives Iris the necessary energy as the mediator between two people she loves, and DeWitt injects Hannah with an edge messy enough to leave us wary of her intentions. We can predict that the relationships will be challenged but there is something about these characters that make us want to know more.

Because it is essentially a three-person show, we get to dive into the dynamics between Iris and Hannah as well as the special friendship between Irish and Jack. There are no big scenes of sweeping realizations. Most of the information they learn from one another are played either through laughs when a story is recalled or a joke is made or silence if a sensitive matter is introduced and using words does not feel right as a tool for comfort. They think and behave like real people making the best out of the cards that have been handed to them.

Three-quarters through, however, the picture drops the ball with a deafening thud. Once secrets are out in the open, the material goes through the usual motions of sad music playing in the background and montages of silence between characters that is so typical, it is comic more than dramatic. With such intelligence and heart that manage to guide the screenplay for more than half of the race, is leaning on clichés really the only way to conclude the story?

The final shot is a dare for critical evaluation. I did not find it annoying, but I found it tripe and too easy. It rings false because the writer-director has not found a way for the audience to get over the awkwardness we feel for them. It feels like a season finale of a sitcom still learning to stand on its feet instead of a film that is complete where we can believe that these characters can go on to live their lives after it fades to black.

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Director John Krasinski encourages viewers to imagine living in a world where one must learn to exist with making as minimal noise as possible. Because failing to adhere to a certain decibel level relative to the baseline sound of the environment almost certainly results in monstrous creatures running toward the source of detectable noise. What better way to entangle us into this universe than employing silence to give to us room to ponder and consider. It is so engrossing, eventually we are conditioned to look at a room and note every object that might create the slightest noise. It is a high-caliber survival story.

To call a movie “adrenaline-fueled” is a wilted cliché, but it is most appropriate here. During its well-written and consistently well-timed rising action, when a family of four (Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe), initially a family of five, is thrusted into one horrific situation after another, it felt as if I had run several laps around the theater. I could feel my heartbeat pulsating out of my chest in both anticipation and reaction; it is clear that the material understands the critical balance of suspense (anticipation) and thrill (reaction). It knows how to engage the viewer at the most primal level—and it is not just because a family we grow to care about is in mortal danger. We imagine ourselves in their shoes, how we might react given a set of extremely challenging circumstances.

Although a horror film, we are inspired not to look away—a trait that genre greats tend to have in common. The reason is because although we might be terrified of what is unfolding in front of our very eyes, our innate curiosity to learn or discover overpowers our fears. And so we look on. This is a horror project that invites rather than repels—which is so beautiful to come across because this approach is now a rarity in modern, certainly mainstream, horror filmmaking. Nowadays, it is more about parading guts and gore or shaking the camera relentlessly rather than building upon the threat until the inevitable boiling point.

The picture’s excellence lies in its willingness to take its time. Observe the key scene where the father decides to take his son by the river. While there, they must wade through water, open traps, and acquire fish. But the son, clearly traumatized by what tends to happen when they make noise, would not even get in the water. The father recognizes that forcing the boy isn’t the right way to go. And so they share a conversation, a quiet moment in a not-so-quiet place, in which it is implied that the timid youngest must learn to push through his apprehension in order to learn and survive. I argue that this sensitive moment is the heart of the picture. Although there is no action, and it is important there isn’t one so we get a chance to focus on both the images and what is being communicated, it wonderfully captures what the story is about. No, it is not about monsters killing people.

Time will tell whether “A Quiet Place” is a modern classic. In my eyes, it already is. Its premise is creative, its execution most entertaining, and it is highly efficient in communicating what it hopes to accomplish. In addition, it dares viewers to observe every scene as if it were a visual novel; it assumes that we are intelligent by avoiding to spell out every beat, pause, and implication. And it reminds us that sound need not be used so much in film given that every other element is elevated.


Sicario (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Only about a half a dozen movies come out a year, oftentimes fewer, that are written and executed with such surgical precision that one cannot help but hold one’s breath out of trepidation that it would somehow trip and lose momentum. Fear not: “Sicario,” written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a treasure that not once loses its shine. It is as clear as summer’s day that it is an all-rounder, one of the best movies of the year.

It tells the story of an idealistic FBI agent named Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) who is given the opportunity to join a team, temporarily, where she can make more of an impact in taking down a Mexican drug lord. She volunteers to work for an advisor for the Department of Defense, Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), but she quickly realizes that something is amiss—beginning with a top secret trip to Mexico and an illicit course of action where lives are put in danger and taken away. She gives an ultimatum: To be given the truth and some answers or she will walk away.

Blunt fits the role like a glove. She moves so naturally, elegantly and yet there is a brittle toughness to her, as if she has something to prove. This sense of purpose is critical in order to convince us that the FBI agent she plays believes in what she does so wholeheartedly that at times she becomes blind to the complexities of the politics—politics of laws and government agencies, politics of land and borders, politics of ethics and morality.

Also take note of the way Blunt’s eyes always appears to be moving, often in a confused panic, searching for something. When I looked into those eyes, I saw a person who is drowning, struggling to make sense of where she is and what she is doing. In a way, Kate is us, the audience, in that she is new to the chess game of what is really going on out there. The character arc that Kate undergoes is one of the more subtle and wonderfully executed I have had the pleasure to observe and dissect in quite some time.

Like many exemplary suspenseful crime-thrillers, the picture knows the art of holding back on the score. This allows us to focus on the images—beautifully shot particularly feminine portraits in profile and wide shots of men in gear and their silhouettes. We hear barking of a lively dog. The distant chirping of crickets. The roar of jet engines. The whirring blades of a helicopter. The rat-tat-tat of assault rifles. The thud of lifeless bodies hitting the ground.

There are instances when words are not required to communicate a feeling. Sometimes, for instance, a barking of a dog functions as a foreshadowing. We must be alert to these sounds—and what they might signify—in order to experience and appreciate the film fully. Once the score is utilized, however, it creeps in, takes ahold like rheumatic branch and amplifies our concerns and fears.

“Sicario” is the kind of feature film I look for: the story and characters are designed for intelligent audiences; it is teeming with unsaid words and unexpressed emotions and yet we comprehend what the filmmakers are attempting to accomplish; and it holds up a mirror to our current lives thereby showing us what is wrong with it without coming across like a lesson or a lecture. The work demands attention and afterthought.

Into the Woods

Into the Woods (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish to conceive a child but their previous attempts had been unsuccessful. A witch (Meryl Streep) who lives next door reveals that this is so because she had cast a curse on the baker’s family when he was an infant and it can only be reversed if she is provided the following by the third midnight: a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, a slipper as pure as gold, and a cow as white as milk. These items can be found by venturing bravely into the woods.

Based on James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s play of the same name, “Into the Woods” offers a neat concept of combining well-known fairy tales and attempting to mold an original story without the expected, well-ironed lessons and neatly tied ending. On several levels, the movie works. Once it starts, for those of us who have not seen the original musical, we wonder if and are excited as to how the screenplay will manage to weave in the various subplots together. However, let us not forget that the picture is, in its core, a musical. None of the songs are instantly memorable. Not one of them demands to be heard a second time. There is not one perfectly choreographed number powerful enough to make any sort of a cultural impact.

When the characters sing, I wanted to put my palms onto my ears and press hard. I found the songs to be so forced—many of them relying on sweeping crescendos to create a semblance of emotion. The melodies usually do not match the lyrics. The lyrics are either too wordy or there are too many syllables packed together in a meter to be considered pleasing to the eardrums. For a musical that is supposed to be very successful, I was at a loss how it had managed to reach such a status. Is it the costumes? Do key elements in the musical fail to translate on screen? In any case, evaluating the movie as is, it doesn’t work.

The material is at the top of its form when it is treated like a children’s book. Notice that in certain sections of the film, the narrator comes in, provides a bit of background or informs us what is about to transpire, and the characters are allowed to interact with one another. It may come across slightly robotic at times, but the pacing is fast and to the point. The experience is smooth—like reading one or two lines on the page, looking at the pictures, and turning onto the next page. There is a rhythm that is easy to follow and so we overlook or forgive the picture’s shortcomings.

But then the singing starts up again. Because the music is an experience to be endured, we notice little things like a handful of the performers’ voices perhaps not being too well-suited to musicals. An exception is Daniel Huttlestone who plays a dim-witted boy named Jack, assigned by his mother (Tracey Ullman) to sell their cow for no less than five pounds. Also during the musical numbers, observe that the woods looks like a set equipped with fake leaves, fake fog, fake shadows, fake emotions. We even grow watchful of the makeup on the actors’ faces. It shouldn’t be this way.

For what it’s worth, “Into the Woods,” directed by Rob Marshall, takes some risks that I appreciated. The interactions between Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and the Wolf (Johnny Depp) have a sexual undercurrent that is certain to go over kids’ heads. Cinderella and Rapunzel’s princes (Chris Pine and Billy Bagnussen, respectively) have their highly amusing moments. And Streep, as usual, elevates the material by playing a character that is over-the-top but not exactly cartoonish. Be forewarned, however, that while the film is tolerable, its failings are distractingly conspicuous.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Five years since the invasion of extraterrestrial beings called Mimics comes hope that these formidable creatures can be eradicated once and for all. To claim surefire victory, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) spearheads Operation Downfall which involves troops being airdropped on a beach in France, closing out the west side of Europe as the Chinese and Russians do the same from the east.

Brigham assigns Major Cage (Tom Cruise) to be with the troops, as a symbol of support and as additional hand in the defining battle, but Cage insists that he is not at all combat-ready. He urges that he remains only as a spokesman for the United Defense Forces. The next day, Cage wakes up at Heathrow Airport, stripped off his title, while final preparations for the crucial attack are made.

Confident in execution and proudly wearing its inspirations on its sleeve, “Edge of Tomorrow,” based on the screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, is a rousing, funny, entertaining sci-fi action with enough brains and visual spectacles to satisfy a spectrum of audiences. Note, however, that it is neither the most thoughtful movie about mortality nor an allegory of facing the so-called Other, but it impresses on multiple facets, mainly on the level of a summer blockbuster flick—and that is not a backhanded compliment.

Cruise shows that he is a seasoned actor not because he does his own stunts and capable of delivering lines in a very intense way when absolutely necessary—although these are impressive on their own—but because he is aware that in order for his character come across as a believable protagonist, he must act as he if he were in a dramatic picture even though the genre is clearly science fiction. Notice the subtle transition of cowardly Cage to someone who commands a fiery will to protect a woman he has fallen in love with (Emily Blunt) and win against the alien invaders. Subtlety in acting is uncommon when it comes to movies that, in Roger Ebert’s immortal words, blow stuff up real good.

The plot is a mixture of the opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s excellent “Saving Private Ryan” and Harold Ramis’ highly amusing “Groundhog Day.” Cage gains the ability to reset the dreaded day over and over as long as he dies—by accident, by being killed, or by his own hand. He is a smart character and able to learn quickly from his mistakes. The drawback is that he is stubborn and he tends to lose track of the bigger picture when his love interest is involved. I enjoyed that the screenplay is aware that believable heroes have both internal and external flaws. Imperfections keep the audience watching.

Admittedly, the conceit of resetting the day began to wear me down eventually. Although I knew it was necessary to the plot and the story, I wished that the writers had found a way to change the rules of the game halfway through instead of pushing it until the final quarter. Yes, the picture changes gears eventually.

I wanted to know details about the invaders. For example, what do the aliens want from Earth exactly? We never learn for sure. There is one line of speculation during the first ten minutes of the film and the rest is thrown out the window. Are there many others out there with Cage’s ability? There is talk of the person with the reset ability being psychically linked to the aliens, but given that there are other humans out there with the same or similar ability, can they connect with each other’s thoughts?

Perhaps these are not questions I should be asking. But my point is this: It would not have hurt the film if it had been more ambitious. It gets the look exactly right, from the so-called strength-amplifying jackets that soldiers must wear to fight against Mimics to the bare ruins of once beautiful cities that tourists from all over the world once relished, but the scope of its universe feels very limited. Great science fiction films are unafraid to take risks and go beyond what the audience expects.

Directed by Doug Liman, “Edge of Tomorrow” is nonetheless a movie worth seeing because it is fun, energetic, visually striking, and has a sense of humor. One word of warning: If one goes into this looking for plot holes (it must be terrible being a cynic), one would likely see them and inevitably be disappointed. But if one goes into it just hoping to be entertained, one would likely get exactly what he or she wants. Sometimes that is more than enough.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) works for a firm that represents a sheikh (Amr Waked) who wishes to introduce native Atlantic salmon and the sport of salmon fishing into the Yemen, so she contacts Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries specialist, to ask if this course of action is possible. The scientist responds and expresses that the idea is ridiculous, claiming that salmon live in cold waters and Yemen is anything but wet let alone cold. But Sheikh Muhammed is determined and willing to pay millions to get what he wants. Soon, plans are underway, the British government onboard, with the consultant and the scientist teaming up to make the unfeasible project feasible.

Though propelled by a bizarre idea, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” based on the novel by Paul Torday, is rendered beautifully, from its rapturous landscapes to the human relationships involved in taking fish out of their natural habitat onto somewhere new which, in theory, will serve as a symbol of East and West having a closer, stronger link.

The film is anchored by a professional relationship between Harriet and Dr. Jones, the screenplay playing upon the idea that opposites tend to attract. Blunt plays Harriet with a commanding joie de vivre, intelligent but unafraid to be silly, open to new experiences without losing track of what she considers to be her roots. McGregor, on the other hand, portrays Dr. Jones as a cerebral person but far from blind to the poetries and ironies of words and situations, one who is hungry for something exciting while keeping the majority of the yearning repressed, and having a very droll British humor. There is a joke about him acting like someone with Aspergers syndrome and the material gets away with it.

Their eventual romance is underplayed which is the right decision in a movie like this. If there had been more relationship viscera about Dr. Jones’ marriage and Harriet’s boyfriend (Tom Mison), focus would have been on the melodrama instead of the attempt of making the impossible possible. Despite minimization of the central character’s original relationships prior to them falling for one another, it is nice that we are allowed to understand and sympathize with the scientist and the consultant’s struggles. For a while, there seems to be an equal number of reasons why they should not be together as opposed to the alternative.

The direction allows the landscapes to breathe. Though it does not barrage us with overhead shots of the water, the desert, and the grassy mountains, we get a specific feel for each of them in the backdrop of characters walking from one place to another or simply by standing still. The simplicity in the way it is shot looks sharp, clean, and effortless. My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more fish.

“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” directed by Lasse Hallström, is slightly inadequate only in the political maneuverings executed by Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), the press secretary to the British prime minister, who hopes to use the eccentric project–and a bit of spinning–to establish better international relations. It is supposed to be a satire, I guess, but it looks and feels more like a farce. Such scenes manage to take away some of the poetry and rhythmic groove that make us want to believe and participate in the mystic veins of having faith, the exhumation of the land, and the conflicting matters of the heart.


Looper (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) does not mean for him, his future self, to get away, a momentary hesitation that allows Old Joe (Bruce Willis), sent from year 2074 by a criminal organization using a time machine to be executed and disposed of in 2044, to escape which prompts the boss (Jeff Daniels) to initiate a hunt to kill the two. It is the only way to minimize further changes in the future. The problem is Joe wishes to live a full life even though he already knows that being a looper, an assassin of the present assigned to murder people sent from the future, comes with an expiration date of age thirty. Meanwhile, Old Joe hopes to alter the past by killing a person called The Rainmaker in order to undo the death of his wife.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, “Looper” explores a handful of interesting and intertwining ideas about the people affected by time travel, outlawed by the government upon its discovery, and avoids many details and technicalities of the concept itself. There is a difference and it is an important one because by focusing on the former, the writer-director constructs a story that we can, first and foremost, invest in or care about and, secondly, appreciate a fictionalized world of flying motorcycles and people with the ability to move objects using their minds due to a genetic mutation that affects ten percent of the population.

I enjoyed that the interactions between current and future Joe are kept to a minimum. Their one conversation set in a diner is imbued with an electric dialogue that is ironic and funny but serious and intelligent, too. This scene is not only a stand out because of the script. It is the point when we can observe how alike–or different–the actors are with respect to them playing, essentially, the same person. One is able to match the other not simply in terms of quirks but, for example, how one delivers a calculating gaze to a threatening or curious figure. The way in which they place stresses on particular words are also fun to pick up on.

Though it was easy for me to divorce between actor and makeup, I would have preferred that Gordon-Levitt was not given prosthetics so that he would look more like Willis. Since the picture functions on a relatively high level of imagination, it would have made sense for the filmmakers to assume that we had the initiative and the capacity to imagine the two actors, given that their performances complement each other well, playing a variation of one character.

What works less effectively is that the script does not give enough details about the organization led by Abe (Daniels). Is its goal more related to business like running a drug cartel and strip joints or is its objective more concerned about the bodies that come from the future? Furthermore, while Abe is nicely played by Daniels because he tends to choose quiet over hyperbolic menace, we do not see the character do much other than give orders. For someone who is supposed to be the leader, he does an awful lot of waiting for everyone else to do their jobs right. Ultimately, watching him does not feel like we are being engaged with a character who has much purpose underneath the archetype of a mob boss of some sort.

“Looper” may be and is faulted for its irregular pacing particularly when the story takes a detour on a farm. I respected this change of pace because it ties in to the idea that the picture is not just a sci-fi action film padded by chases and bullets flying. It takes a risk worth noting. It gives itself a chance to turn its attention toward one or two moral questions by setting aside almost half of its entertainment value. This approach is not common but it sure is admirable.