John Patrick Shanley Turns Back on the Classic Romantic Charm in ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’

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Wild Mountain Thyme (Credit: Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

Starring: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken, Dearbhla Molloy, Danielle Ryan

Director: John Patrick Shanley

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Mild Adult-ness

Release Date: December 11, 2020 (Theaters and On Demand)

Do you despair at the lack of nakedly emotional romantic movies nowadays? Have you spent the past 33 years wondering when the next Moonstruck is going to finally come along? Do you believe it’s time to send Jon Hamm to Ireland? Well has John Patrick Shanley got just what you asked for! The screenwriter behind “Snap out of it!” and “Why do men chase women?” has taken his talents to the Emerald Isle for Wild Mountain Thyme, a windswept tale about two people who sure appear to be very much in love, though it takes them quite a while to fully consummate their passion. As with Moonstruck, the fun is less about wondering whether or not they end up together and more about how emotionally discombobulated they become by resisting where their passions obviously lie.

As the film begins, Christopher Walken intones, “Welcome to Ireland,” and I’m thinking, “I’m pretty sure Mr. More Cowbell is definitely not Irish, but I nevertheless feel as welcome as possible.” Walken plays Tony Reilly, father of Jamie Dornan’s Anthony (the “h” is silent and everyone hits that “t” as hard as they possibly can). The elder Tony is in a financial bind, so he’s set to sell the family farm to his American nephew Adam (Jon Hamm). That puts a damper on Anthony’s seemingly inevitable marriage to Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt), who had envisioned the two of them enjoying wedded bliss in the countryside. Anthony and Rosemary have basically been in love ever since they were kids, and everyone knows this. But for some reason Anthony cannot bring himself to pop the question, and honestly I’m not sure what his problem is. But I suspect that’s kind of the point. The best explanation the movie offers us is that he’s suffering from the vaguely defined familial strain of “Kelly madness” (Kelly being the surname of his grandfather).

Anthony’s dithering is so extreme that anyone watching is liable to wonder why Rosemary doesn’t just move on. And she’s not lacking for options, as there’s a scene that begins with her announcing “Today’s the day,” which leads to her making an impromptu trip to New York City (to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake score, no less) where she meets up with Adam and develops a quick natural repartee with her beloved’s cousin. And when she returns to Ireland, Anthony even attempts to push her in that direction. But somehow I am ultimately convinced by Shanley’s machinations and Blunt’s sheer force of will that Anthony and Rosemary really are going to make it work somehow. The way he digs in his heels should be disqualifying, but the situation only gets sillier and sillier, and thus more and more charming. Maybe we could all use a little bit of Kelly Madness in our lives.

Wild Mountain Thyme is Recommended If You Like: Moonstruck, Taking a while to snap out of it, Ireland, Jon Hamm-centric subplots

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Farms

This Is a Movie Review: Mary Poppins Returns

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CREDIT: Jay Maidment/Disney

Mary Poppins is fun and all, but before she showed up again, little Annabel, John, and Georgie could have already turned to their Aunt Jane to take care of all the practical matters that their dad is struggling with. Mary Poppins Returns has magic, or at least attempted magic, in its presentation. Whether or not that magic will hit you squarely in your heart and imagination depends a great deal on your mood, I think. Emily Blunt is acceptably grand in fulfilling her Poppins-y duties, but she’s not as singularly ineffable as Julie Andrews. That’s a tough comparison, sure, but even when considered in isolation, Returns is not much more than a perfectly pleasant passing diversion. And anyway, I’m more interested in Jane’s labor organizing. Not every villain is as sniveling as Colin Firth’s bank manager, which is one reason why unions are so important.

I give Mary Poppins Returns 5 Animated Detours out of 8 Misplaced Documents.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘A Quiet Place’ Reveals That John Krasinski is a Master of Relentless Horror

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CREDIT: Jonny Cournoyer/Paramount Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe

Director: John Krasinski

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Nightmare-Inducing Creature Design and Quickly Edited Disemboweling

Release Date: April 6, 2018

Effective horror movies are often built around a simple hook, and A Quiet Place has a doozy: a family must remain ever silent because they are being terrorized by something that strikes whenever it hears the merest peep. It is such a doozy, in fact, that a very similar setup was employed just a couple of years ago in Don’t Breathe (wherein a crew of burglars had to escape the detection of a blind man). Do we have a boomlet of the “silence is golden” horror subgenre on our hands? The results thus far are encouraging. There is plenty of variation possible in turning away from modern cinema’s default reliance on dialogue, with A Quiet Place exploring the effect it has on nuclear family dynamics.

It has been about a year since these sound-seekers have begun their attacks, and life on Earth has adjusted accordingly. It is unclear how much of the world’s population has been decimated, but even if it is a relatively small percentage, it might as well be just about everybody, as survival requires solitude. This particular family has lucked out in a way, as they have a deaf daughter (played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds) and are accordingly all fluent in sign language. It is another simple but effective flip: turning a disability into a strategic advantage.

John Krasinski, directing and playing the father, trains us to become fully absorbed in every frame, thus allowing A Quiet Place to pull off killer set piece after killer set piece. From 30 minutes in all the way to the conclusion, this is a non-stop nailbiter. Father and son (Noah Jupe) head off to gather up some food, while daughter revisits a scene of tragedy, leaving pregnant mom (Emily Blunt, Krasinski’s real life wife) home alone to deliver the most silent natural birth ever. There is a lot of resourcefulness on display in keeping the attackers at bay. It is almost a sort of Home Alone-style boobytrapping ingenuity, but the kind that minimizes pratfalls and nut shots.

While A Quiet Place consistently pulls off the visceral thrills, it is not quite as satisfying when it attempts to examine the why and the how. That is not because the answers it offers are unsatisfying per se, but rather because they end up working out a little too perfectly. These creatures are the type that are mostly indestructible but have that one little weakness. In many ways, A Quiet Place resembles Signs, particularly the method for defeating the creatures. It is not quite as ridiculous Shyamalan’s “you gotta have faith” randomness. A Quiet Place’s resolution that is fairly set up and is actually reasonably clever. But it leaves me weirdly disappointed that the terror has been deflated seemingly so thoroughly. I am left in a paradoxical state, as it gives me the rousing resolution I wanted while depriving me of a continued pounding heartbeat as I walk out the theater. Perhaps if the ending had swerved into a Mars Attacks!-style comedic turnaround (with which it shares some DNA), I would have forgiven the excess perfectness. But I can settle for the steady relentlessness that the majority of A Quiet Place delivers.

A Quiet Place is Recommended If You Like: Don’t Breathe, Alien, Signs

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Shushes

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ Keeps Equestria Buoyant and Simple

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CREDIT: Lionsgate/Hasbro

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

Starring: Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, Cathy Weseluck, Emily Blunt, Michael Peña, Liev Schreiber, Taye Diggs, Zoe Saldana, Kristen Chenoweth, Uzo Aduba, Sia

Director: Jayson Thiessen

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: PG for the Stone Hearts and Warped Magic of Cartoon Villains

Release Date: October 6, 2017

There’s a contingent of young adult (mostly) male fans of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic TV series who go by the moniker “bronies.” Some might suspect irony in this demographic’s devotion to a cartoon about unicorn ponies, but everything I know about them indicates that they are completely genuine. As I am curious enough to check out any show meant to appeal to demos completely different than mine, I once upon a time wondered if I too might become a brony. So I watched an episode of Friendship is Magic several years ago, and … I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. But with a movie adaptation on the horizon, and with me as someone who is professionally bound to sample every wide release, the ponies stood another chance of hooking me into their fold.

Alas, after catching My Little Pony: The Movie, I must report that I still remain unconverted. But I suspect the fandom will be pleased. Normally when reviewing something, I keep every possible audience in mind, but MLP should not be faulted too hard for catering to one crowd in particular. It has no desire to expand its appeal with the self-awareness of DreamWorks, or the adult themes snuck into Pixar’s childlike wonder, or the anarchy of Despicable Me. Furthermore, the plot is simple, straightforward, and archetypal: the heroes make a bunch of new friends on a Campbell-esque hero’s journey, and the villain is not evil so much as misunderstood. While I would be more impressed with My Little Pony if it were more ambitious, there is something to be said for easy-to-understand positivity.

For those looking for some distinct personalities and imaginative flourishes, there are some  pleasures to be had. Emily Blunt is positively purring as Tempest Shadow, a heavy metal-influenced purple unicorn who threatens to ruin the good vibes of the ponies’ homeland of Equestria. Then there is Taye Diggs familiziairing everyone with the message of the beatniks in his voicing of hepcat humanoid feline Capper. The color palette is relentlessly bright, which certainly earns my favor, but for those who like it a little darker or at least subdued, it is still impressive how fastidiously each shade of the rainbow is woven together. In total, MLP: The Movie does what it sets out to do.

My Little Pony: The Movie is Recommended If You Like: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Unikitty from The Lego Movie, Parent-child bonding time

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hippogriffs

SNL Review October 15, 2016: Emily Blunt/Bruno Mars

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2016.

Love It

Ann Arbor Short Film Festival – This is the sort of satire that really nails a particular piece of culture. This is not the first time amateur filmmaking has been lampooned, but it feels like it is, because it is so incisive, and so cleanly produced. It effectively uses exaggeration and reversal to make its points. Dozens of people work on a one-minute film featuring only one actor, and that feels oddly plausible. And unlike many screenings, in which the wave of questioners overwhelms the panelist, everyone on stage dwarfs the lone audience member. The Holocaust/makeup/“at the end of the day, it’s also a comedy” explanation is one for the ages.

The Hummer party limo’s visit to the Burger King Drive-Thru could have been random for the sake of randomness, but instead, each outré character is sharply defined.

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This Is a Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

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girl-on-the-train-looking-out-the-window

We’re not going to hold The Girl on the Train to the same standard as Gone Girl, are we? No, because individual films are their own things, but still, comparisons can be illuminating. And these two female-led/female-titled page-to-screen sensations go together more than just superficially. Both films have plenty to say about being pegged into gender roles, and how unreliable narrators can obscure the truth of those messages, but on the Train gives itself much less room to explore those ideas than Gone does. It either thinks they will stand clearly enough on their own or does not realize how much they are there in the first place. So what we are left with is an excellent lead performance in an adequately pulpy, but mostly disposable thriller.

I give The Girl on the Train 70 Vodka Swills out of 100 Truth Revelations.