‘The Girls on the Train’ shows darker side of suburbia

girlontrainposterThe mystery genre is full of stories capitalizing on the words of unreliable witnesses to crimes. “The Girl on the the Train” puts a different spin on this concept by having the main character be an alcoholic who often wants to be a witness but can’t remember if she actually saw anything or not.

Rachel Watson (played be Emily Blunt) misses her idyllic life married to Tom Watson (played by Justin Theroux). But that’s gone. He’s remarried to Anna Watson (played by Rebecca Ferguson), and the two have a child together. Rachel spends her days riding the train into town from her suburban home while sipping vodka in order to keep the shakes and memories at bay.

On these train rides, going to an imaginary job to keep her roommate content about her ability to continue to pay rent, Rachel imagines what life could have been by staring out at the rows of houses along the train tracks. Her former home is there, along with her ex-husband and his new wife. A couple houses down is the home of the ideal couple. Rachel gives them names and imagines how their lives are progressing. She becomes close, even intimate, with them without ever meeting them for real.

That perfect couple in Rachel’s eyes is actually Scott and Megan Hipwell (played byLuke Evans and Haley Bennett), and Megan goes missing. Rachel is an obvious suspect because she is often seen in the neighborhood while being drunk because of her hobby harassing Tom and Anna. Rachel doesn’t think she could ever hurt someone she considers a friend, but, the night of Megan’s disappearance, Rachel was in rare form. She remembers nothing except she woke up bloodied and dirty.

This sets off a series of events in which Rachel attempts to remember. Along the way she lies her way into quasi-friendship with the prime suspect, attends therapy sessions for dubious reasons, alienates her roommate and makes a new ally, all culminating in surprise revelations about Megan and several others.

“Girl” proves to be a slowly opening flower. Each new development leads to the next until everything is exposed. The twists are turns are fun, and even when you think you might have it figured out, you can’t be sure until the end when everything starts to fall into place.

This movie isn’t a masterpiece by any means. It is just a good bit of entertainment based upon a wildly successful novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins. I had read the novel months prior, and I enjoyed it. It drug on in a few places, but it truly built up the suspenseful twist ending. The movie does an OK job of this. The format allows for the slower parts of the book to sped up, but the movie did seem to rush the suspense toward the end.

None of the characters are likable. However, as the story begins to progress, you do feel a bit of sympathy for a few of them. For me, this was particularly the case when it came to Rachel and Megan.

One glaring difference between the book and the movie was the setting. The book was set in England, but the book was set in New York. I don’t know why this change had to be made, but it worked well enough because the point isn’t the setting. The point is how nothing is at it seems.

The book came out in January 2015, following the success of the June 2012 bestseller by Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”. These two mystery stories are undoubtedly going to be compared, and it makes sense. Both have leading female characters, and both highlight how even if people seem perfect on the surface, the truth is usually vastly different. However, you can’t compare them directly.

“The Girl on the Train” focuses on Rachel’s life spiraling out of control and her inability to remember what happened, even though she knows deep down she was present at Megan’s disappearance. She doesn’t know if she was involved or not. In “Gone Girl,” the story centers on a marriage in trouble and only the victim truly knows what happened. Similar, but these are key differences that cast an entirely different light on the situation.

“The Girl on the Train” is rated R for its language, nudity and adult situations. It has a runtime of 1 hour, 45 minutes. It isn’t a family movie, but it would make a great date-night flick. This is one psychological thriller you should see. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

‘Secret Life of Pets’ takes viewers on fun jaunt

SecretLifeofPets02Have you ever wondered what your pets do all day while you are at work or otherwise away from the house?

The folks at Illumination Entertainment, which created “Despicable Me,” took a run at answering that question with “The Secret Life of Pets,” and what they came up with is fun for the whole family.

The story follows a terrier named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) who’s comfortable life with his adoring owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) is upended when she brings home a stray named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Max doesn’t like Katie’s attention being diverted from him, especially by a huge, hairy beast like Duke.

The two instantly become enemies and Max attempts to get Duke kicked out of the house, but all of this is short lived because when Duke retaliates while at the dog park with their walker, they end up being chased by bumbling animal control officers.

Hilarity ensues as they escape, but the differences they had with each other are fading and quickly go away all together as they encounter more peril, this time in the form of a cute little bunny with homicidal tendencies, in their attempt to get home.

That bunny is named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), and he is building an army of abandoned pets, a cult called “The Flushed Pets” to take revenge on humans. At first he takes Max and Duke into his folds, but when he finds out they aren’t  abandoned like they said they were. Snowball vows revenge on them as well, so the two new friends begin working together to escape Snowball and his motley crew, which includes a tattooed pig and other discarded animals.

Another encounter with animal control leads to Dukes capture, so Max sets out to rescue him.

Of course, unbeknownst to him, Max’s friends are also looking for him, led by Gidget, a white Pomeranian who has a crush on Max (voice by Jenny Slate). This rescue party includes overweight tabby cat Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), hyperactive pug Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan), laid-back dachshund Buddy (voiced by Hannibal Buress), and lone bird Sweet Pea (voiced by Tara Strong). Gidget even convinces red-tailed hawk Tiberius (voiced by Albert Brooks) to help.

There are touching moments between Max and Duke, including a raid on a sausage factory to get some food and Duke telling Max about his past, but the laughs rarely stop as the movie quickly reaches its end, which finds all the animals back with their owners, Max and Gidget being in love, Max and Duke being friends, and even Snowball finding the love of a small girl who finds him and decides she’s taking him home.

The storyline was rather predictable. Adults will go into it pretty much knowing how it will all turn out. However, this movie isn’t one you should go see for the inventive plot.

No. You should go for the comedy and the animation.

The jokes and slapstick comedy didn’t stop. They might have slowed down a bit when Duke talked about his previous owner, but it was a momentary lapse in the laughs.

The animation was superb. The animals were talking and demonstrating human-like facial expressions, but the animators managed to do this without it becoming weird and the animals losing their animal traits.

“The Secret Life of Pets” is rated PG.  It has a run time of 90 minutes, and it is a fast-paced 90 minutes. The action and comedy speed the shallow storyline along. Children of all ages will love it, and so will the adults taking them.

‘Finding Dory’ struggles to find its way

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

Pixar/Disney’s latest underwater animated tale, “Finding Dory,” is the much-anticipated follow-up to the 2003 hit “Finding Nemo,” but audiences will leave the theater in disappointment.

The movie fails to match the wave of novelty it’s predecessor surfed as it broke ground in animation and enamoured audiences.

Instead, it recycles the same premise and story line of “Nemo” and struggles to be original. From the opening scene on, you feel like you have already seen this movie. You can easily guess what is going to happen next. It is familiar, but not in a comforting way.

The movie starts off with flashback of Dory, the memory-impaired blue tang (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), as a child. It sheds interesting light on the backstory of how she lost her parents due to her short-term memory issues, but it is so formulaic that you know what is coming next.

The storyline begins a year after “Nemo,” and through a series of flashbacks, Dory begins to remember her parents.

Predictably, Dory decides she has to find them.

With the help of her clownfish friends, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voiced Hayden Rolence), she sets off across the ocean to find parents.

Along the way she gets more help from a cadre of sea creatures, especially an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill) who might be short one tentacle but more than makes up for it in cunning and his ability to change color like a chameleon.

The bulk of the film takes place at the Monterey Bay-based Marine Life Institute, which is a rehabilitation center for injured animals and the birthplace of Dory.

This allows for characters such as Hank, who are handicapped, to easily become part of the story, and it allows for laughs as the damaged sea creatures try to function properly.

However, this was one point that made me cringe a bit. A lot of the humor was derived from the plight of the handicapped, and that didn’t sit well with me.

The movie seemed to reach several natural ending points, which was a bit tiresome, before it finally came to the anticipated conclusion with an added twist for all the characters.

It is this twist that redeems the movie a bit. With it being so predictable, I was pleasantly surprised with the ending.

I appreciated how Dory swam out of the realm of sidekick into main character, and I appreciated how the title contained a deeper meaning. It wasn’t just about Dory finding her parents. It was about Dory finding herself and finally becoming a self-sufficient fish.

“Finding Dory” is rate PG. It contains some scary moments, perceived danger, mild bullying and the grieving of lost loved ones. It has a run time of 1 hour and 37 minutes.

Adults and older children who are fans of “Nemo” won’t be blown away as the story meanders its way through an attempt to recreate the magic of 2003, but uninitiated viewers will enjoy it. In fact, in a theater full of children, the noise level was low as they were transported to Dory’s underwater world.

I just wish the creator’s would have ignored Dory’s mantra of “just keep swimming” and let the movie end . . . or even better, not tried to cash in on the success of “Nemo” and make this sequel.

‘The Peanuts Movie’ Gang Encourage Kids to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF

Encourage Kids to Trick-or-Treat

(Family Features) As kids set out with friends and neighbors on a quest for sweet treats and goodwill this Halloween, they can bring along a new gang – “The Peanuts Movie” gang, that is. This year, the iconic Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign will celebrate its 65th anniversary by joining forces with another American favorite, Peanuts, which is also turning 65 this year.

“The Peanuts Movie” characters will encourage children to support Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF this Halloween by going door-to-door to collect donations for UNICEF’s lifesaving programs while they celebrate the spooky season.

Since 1950, American kids who Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF have raised more than $175 million for UNICEF to provide children around the world with medicine, nutrition, clean water, emergency relief and education.

Tools for schools
In addition to children’s efforts to raise funds, teachers of grade K-12 students can participate in the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF School Challenge. This fall, teachers can enter a short essay (200-500 words) contest about encouraging global citizenship in the classroom and community. The top 15 entrants will receive $500 worth of Scholastic books. Entries must be submitted at trickortreatforunicef.org by Dec. 1, 2015 to be considered; teachers can also access lesson plans and other resources to engage their students on the website.

Other ways to participate
Families can participate in this year’s campaign through partners and supporters, including HSNi Cares, Key Club International, Claire’s and American Airlines.

HSNi Cares will raise funds to support UNICEF through all eight HSNi brands: Ballard Designs, Chasing Fireflies, Frontgate, Garnet Hill, Grandin Road, HSN, Improvements and TravelSmith. Throughout August and September, customers can make a donation online or over the phone at any HSNi brand. From Aug. 14 to Sept. 30, HSN will match all customer donations made on the HSN credit card up to $150,000. Exclusively on Chasing-Fireflies.com, customers can purchase one-of-a-kind “I Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” tote bags. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF will receive a 30 percent donation from the purchase price of each bag through Oct. 31.

Claire’s will support Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF through retail stores nationwide and on Claires.com. From Sept. 24 through Oct. 31, customers can pick up a Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF box in Claire’s stores nationwide, which they can use to decorate and collect funds to support UNICEF. In addition, Claire’s will sell a Halloween Tote, donating 50 percent of the purchase price to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. The brand will also host an Instagram sweepstake (#clairesunicefsweepstakes) and give prizes for the most creative boxes.

To learn more or participate in the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF campaign, visit trickortreatforunicef.org.

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