‘The Rhythm Section’ Abandons All Clarity in the Name of Single-Minded Revenge

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Raza Jaffrey, Max Casella

Director: Reed Morano

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: R for Guns Mainly, Plus a Few Needles, and By-the-Book Sex Appeal

Release Date: January 31, 2020

In The Rhythm Section, Blake Lively goes by the name Stephanie Patrick, but while she is on her revenge mission, she assumes the identity of a woman named Petra, an assassin who recently disappeared and presumably died. Also, heading back to early in the film, she’s making ends meet as a prostitute who goes by whatever name her clients want her to have. That lack of identity is telling. We know what motivates her (avenging the death of her family in a plane crash), but we never really learn who she is on a more fundamental level. That elemental minimalism can work in an action flick, but I get the sense that The Rhythm Section wants us to understand the context surrounding Stephanie’s mission, but explanation thereof never fully arrives.

That identity crisis extends into just about every facet. For example, the title is a supremely non-obvious one for a movie that doesn’t have anything to do with music. Its meaning is provided when an even bigger question mark of a person, as played by Jude Law, tells Stephanie in the course of training her to become a killer that she must keep her internal rhythm section steady. Her heart is the drums, and her breathing is the bass. This fairly fascinating idea is never referenced again at any other point. I suppose that Stephanie certainly breathes hard and her heart pounds when she gets into some deadly situations, but that is not emphasized in a way that it is calling out to be.

So much of The Rhythm Section is an enigma. Stephanie looks like a pretty well-off young adult before her family dies, so why she must turn to prostitution is anyone’s guess. (Maybe, maybe, it’s her path into the underworld of assassin-ry.) And her entire physicality is plainly bizarre. During the main training montage, she seems completely incapable of running like a normal human being, with her arms flailing and torso bent at a nearly ninety degree angle. It’s certainly a bold acting choice on Lively’s part. Maybe it’s a physical manifestation of the agony of trauma. Anyway, this all leads into a cat-and-mouse game between Lively and Sterling K. Brown, which should be dynamite, but it’s built upon the barest bones of a structure.

The Rhythm Section is Recommended If You Like: Vaguely high-profile cinematic oddities

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Reluctant Kills

This Is a Movie Review: ‘A Simple Favor’ Might Just Be the Most Delightful Missing Girl Movie Ever

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CREDIT: Peter Iovino/Lionsgate

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2018.

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells, Aparna Nancherla, Kelly McCormack

Director: Paul Feig

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Aggressive Nude Paintings, Plenty of Oopsie Words, a Few Gunshots, and a Little Bit of Skinny Dipping

Release Date: September 14, 2018

What if the most super-prepared overachieving mom started hanging out with the scariest, most workaholic mom who never shows up to any classroom activities? As Andrew Rannells, the ringleader of A Simple Favor‘s Greek chorus of catty parents puts it, she’s going to eat her alive. But in fact prudish mommy blogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) and altogether aggressive fashion P.R. exec Emily Nelson (Blake Lively) become fast friends. They may be the oddest of odd couples, but their chemistry is sparkling and intense. Emily carelessly swears (quite hilariously) in front of her young son and swills afternoon martinis, which is miles beyond any life Stephanie has ever lived. But her unapologetic nature is intoxicating, and Stephanie is happy to latch onto the rare opportunity of discovering true friendship in adulthood.

Stephanie and Emily drinking away the afternoons could be an excellent formula for a twisted sitcom. But Emily, naturally enough, has her secrets, and this story is about her disappearance, and Stephanie grappling with how there is so much she doesn’t know about her friend and how she was always profoundly mysterious for as long as she’s known her. The black comedy of the first half gradually fades away, with Stephanie’s amateur sleuthing signaling a turn into high camp as she starts uncovering some key information.

It all culminates in Stephanie, Emily, and Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) overdramatically play-acting the roles in the ridiculously over-the-top tale of intrigue that they are actually living. The switch between tones is such a hard swerve and a little disorienting. But I am willing to forgive that and call A Simple Favor a rousing success because Kendrick, Lively, and director Paul Feig are so adept at handling both tones, and because there are some genuine lessons about how to be a good, attentive parent in there. That level of grounding is what makes a domestic fantasy like this endure.

A Simple Favor is Recommended If You Like: Gone Girl, Mommy blogs and vlogs, Making fun of mommy blogs and vlogs, Yé-yé music

Grade: 4 out of 5 Real Martinis

This Is a Movie Review: ‘All I See is You’ is a Sensuous Feast Hobbled by an Inconsequential Narrative

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CREDIT: Roland Neveu/Open Road Films

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Danny Huston, Ahna O’Reilly, Wes Chatham, Miquel Fernández

Director: Marc Forster

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: R for Sex Ranging From Passionate to Frustrated to Illicit to Voyeuristic

Release Date: October 27, 2017 (Moderate)

A couple is in the throes of passion, nearing climax. The woman is blind, but that does not mean she lacks vision entirely. For her, this moment is like a kaleidoscope of rapture, the embrace between her and her husband replicated throughout her entire field of perception. It is a euphoric start for All I See is You, whose aesthetic ambitions far outstrip its narrative ones.

Gina (Blake Lively, rarely better) is the victim of an accident that stripped her of her eyesight. Her husband James (Jason Clarke) has remained a steady presence during her time of darkness. The part of her brain meant to interpret the work of her eyes is still working, so instead of pitch black, she is treated to a constant laser light show. For about the first half hour, director Marc Forster and his design team revel in the opportunities to render the subjective experience of blindness in cinematic terms. But then, her doctor (Huston) promises a procedure to restore her sight, which proves to be a liability for both the film’s creativity and Gina and James’ relationship. Despite how trustworthy as his character is meant to be, it goes to show you that anyone played by Danny Huston cannot help but be ominous.

With Gina on the road to a full recovery, the film takes a swerve into a dour drama about love on the rocks, and not a very interesting one. James proves to be too prudish and unadventurous for Gina, but the real problem is his controlling nature. It was easier when he could be the steady hand when she was blind, but now he is practically useless. It does not help that they are struggling to have a baby, with James likely lashing out due to his own impotence. There is perhaps a story worth exploring here about how this relationship was kept afloat by a disability, but any conclusions drawn therein are rather vague. Besides, it feels pointless to even bother what themes the film is trying to touch on here (something about voyeurism?) when it abandons its best feature way too quickly.

All I See is You is Recommended If You Like: Terrence Malick-ian visuals, Leaving 30 minutes after the movie starts

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Lasers