THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
What I got from the preview: Equal parts Rear Window and Gone Girl, this story concerns a divorcee whose daily train rides into the city allow her to supposedly witness the murder of a woman she had been envying and spying on. The subsequent investigation unearths details about her life, her ex-husband’s, and the people she has been admiring from afar. Expect lots of twists and red herrings, illicit sex, shocking violence, and all the necessary ingredients of a true Hollywood thriller.
Most notable for: They wasted no time with this one! The book, published less than two years ago, was a quick success, winning the Goodreads Choice Award in the Mystery & Thriller category in 2015.
Unqualified critical observation: I love a good thriller. It’s one of my favorite genres. Unfortunately, so many promising stories get eclipsed by muddled narratives, unbelievable character decisions, unclear motivations, and a twist that makes no sense. Not so with this one. I haven’t read the book, but if its pervasive presence in pop culture and the cast of this movie is any indication, this will truly be an edge-of-your-seat experience. And thank goodness, because the summer movie season was a rough one.
BIRTH OF A NATION
What I got from the preview: After slave masters recruit a black pastor to help calm their rebellious field-workers, the preacher instead decides to lead an uprising against the unjust treatment of African-Americans in the 1800s South. Uplifting choir music plays behind images of triumph and failure as these people who had nothing fought for their freedom against their masters who used religion as a mechanism of subjugation.
Most notable for: First premiered at Sundance, Birth of a Nation was praised for balancing hard-to-watch necessary cinema with a story of hope and redemption. It’s been called one of the best films of the year.
Unqualified critical observation: I found 12 Years A Slave as heartbreaking and brilliant as anyone, and this movie definitely takes a few notes from that Best Picture winner. I’m sure this film will be well-executed and heart-wrenching, but it leads me to wonder, will we ever see an important black drama that doesn’t involve slavery? I hope so.
What I got from the preview: A troubled but talented young boy grows up to be an accountant; “one of the best in the world,” according to the trailer. I’m not sure what that means, but Affleck’s character is apparently especially adept at uncooking the books for his illicit clientèle. I’m also not sure what “uncooking the books” means, but the confusing plot was quickly replaced by footage of spies, angry yelling, and Anna Kendrick, so I guess I’m on board.
Most notable for: Is this a totally original property not based on a book, a historic event, or an existing franchise? I think so!
Unqualified critical observation: We are firmly in the early fall movie season, which is my personal favorite. Just look at this month’s bevy of dramatic, thrilling, crowd-pleasing cinema that doesn’t take itself too seriously like the year’s later Oscar contenders. The Accountant looks like the perfect thinker of a popcorn movie: fanciful but not to a fault, well acted but not self consciously so, and with enough big ideas to keep you discussing the events for days after.
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK
What I got from the preview: The first minute of this otherwise fast-paced trailer shows our omniscient protagonist negotiating with local police following a single-handed effort to incapacitate several baddies. The rest of the preview shows Reacher doing various clandestine and brave things, none of which really matters. The stunts are impressive, the action is well-choreographed and everything looks contained within a fairly tight and serviceable action movie.
Most notable for: I haven’t seen the first one, but supposedly this is based on a series of books that are very Bourne in nature. The first did not do exceedingly well at the box office, but apparently had enough of a fan base to warrant a follow-up.
Unqualified critical observation: There’s something cathartic about watching Tom Cruise essentially play himself in a competent action movie. You know what you’re in for, and Cruise gives it to you in a reassuring, all-American sort of way. It won’t change any lives or alter the course of cinema, but it’ll help you forget your problems for two hours. If that’s not the purpose of the movies, what is?
What I got from the preview: You know the story. Some attractive teenager dumbly watches a forward from grandma labeled “WATCH ME!!!!!” and has seven days to pass it along before dying. This story seems essentially the same as the first movie, which was wonderful for its countdown format, Naomi Watts’ wonderfully realized scream queen persona, and the actual video, which still creeps me out to this day.
Most notable for: Is Paramount brave to continue a recognizable and highly bankable series that died a decade ago? No, but they’re doing it anyway…this time in 3D!
Unqualified critical observation: The weeks leading up to Halloween have been the real estate of cheap remakes and franchise continuation. See last month’s Blair Witch and this month’s…whatever this is. You want good horror? That is now relegated to the first three months of the year (It Follows, The Witch, The Babadook).