On the way to the car after our screening of "The Girl on the Train," I peppered my wife, a fan of the novel, with questions. Not about differences between the book and the film, but about how the book had made her feel. What was the its tone? Its most shocking moments? Was it page turner or a slow simmer? I asked because, leaving the theater without the benefit of my own read-through, I had no idea what kind of movie "The Girl on the Train" was supposed to be. Whatever the marketing positioned it as - a "Gone Girl"-like edge-of-your-seat thriller, a twisty-turny whodunit - it isn't. "The Girl on the Train" meanders, weightless, never able to conjure the atmosphere or tension that engrossed readers.

It's not the source's fault. From what I gleaned while interrogating my poor wife, Paula Hawkins' novel is suspenseful and compelling, a missing-person mystery that unfolds through the competing perspectives of the three women tangled together at its center. Rachel, lost in a self-destructive spiral brought on by her now ex-husband's affairs. She relives her old life in pantomime, faithfully taking the train to and from the job she lost a year ago, when the drinking got too bad. She sucks down vodka until the day ends in blackout.

As the days tick by on her aimless commute, Rachel becomes fixated on a young woman, scenes from whose seemingly perfect love life voyeuristic-ally play out from windows and balconies. Broken and obsessed, Rachel invents entire lives for these strangers, naming them and telling herself stories about their perfect happiness together. In a cruel twist of fate, just a few doors down lives Anna, the woman who replaced Rachel in the home she once called hers, married to the man she never got over.

Rachel's dysfunction passes for normal until, to her horror, she spies her mystery woman making love to another man. Her fantasies shattered, wounded by the sting of her own rejection, and thoroughly intoxicated, Rachel decides to confront her but blacks out. She awakens the next morning, bloodied, to find that the woman - Megan - is missing. It's a great set up for a better film than is delivered here. The problem is all in the execution.

Like the book, the film jumps around in time and between the three woman to slowly reveal each piece of the lie-ridden puzzle connecting these characters. Independently, each scene is (more or less) competently constructed but the whole is directionless, structured with no sense of dramatic tension. What are presumably meant as big revelations seem barely shrug worthy. It's a thriller! You should not be asking yourself if you're supposed to be surprised!

Perhaps part of the problem is a lack of rising stakes. Emily Blunt's performance as the deeply disturbed and pitiable Rachel is fantastic (she's rightly been praised in even the most negative reviews), but the character almost never feels threatened. For example, detectives pop up a few times to accuse Rachel of murder and then vanish until the end of the film. The noose never feels like it's tightening; she's never really in danger of prison. Contrast that with Ben Affleck's character in "Gone Girl." Suspicion had consequences. Here it doesn't.

Without the atmosphere or tension of a solid thriller, "The Girl on the Train" is left with drama between its characters. It's hit or miss. Depictions of Rachel's interactions with her ex-husband or his new wife border on stalking and are the strongest, while a side plot involving Rachel and Megan's husband stretches belief. Most of the characters are one-note; their scenes focus on their singular traits on repeat. Anna doesn't trust Rachel. Megan is a troubled sex-fiend. 

"The Girl on the Train" does eventually find its legs near the end, but it's too little too late, managing to be surprising but not very satisfying by the time the credits start to roll. Ironically, the credits are where I got my first and only real shock - that Danny Elfman had composed the film's excellent and very un-Elfman-like score. 

I wanted to like "The Girl on the Train" more than I did. Maybe it fell victim to its own marketing. Maybe my expectations were off. In the end, "The Girl on the Train" may be a good example for those who believe in reading books before seeing their adaptations. The film is not a successful edge-of-your-seat thriller, but fans of the book may not care. Unlike me, they'll know what the twists are and when they're coming and hey, there's something to be said for anticipation. 

Score: 2.5/5

Welcome to the trailer round-up, where we do a quick run-down of each nationwide release hitting theaters and jump to ill-founded conclusions based entirely on their trailers, production news, and cast/crew! Always remember that trailers lie and are rarely indicative of a film's quality, so don't let anything said here stop you from seeing a movie - I certainly won't!

It's the start of Oscar season so you bet your ninny we've got novel adaptations and biopics! This month we have twelve films to preview.


In Theaters October 7

The Girl on the Train

At a Glance: Rachel Watson, life shattered by a messy divorce, finds comfort in alcohol and fantasies about a couple she sees from the train. After a night of heavy drinking, Rachel awakens to learn that the mystery woman has gone missing and that she is the prime suspect.



Why I'm Excited: This is basically "Gone Girl, Gone Harder" right? I liked that movie back in 2014, maybe I'll still like it in 2016! But seriously, reviews have started to come in and this movie is splitting critics with audiences reacting a little more favorably. I've avoided most of the new trailers and all reviews so I can give this a fair shake.


Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

At a Glance: Another adaptation! Rafe is the new kid in school, and quickly finds that his imagination and personality clash with the rigid, rules-oriented principal. After his cherished sketch book is destroyed, Rafe and friends plan an operation to break every school rule and get back at the overbearing faculty.


Why I'm (Not) Excited: Maybe it's the way the trailer is cut, but this seems like a C-tier Disney Channel Original movie. I freely admit that as a former middle school teacher I may be biased.


The Birth of a Nation

At a Glance: "The Birth of a Nation" is based on the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher who became the leader of an armed slave rebellion in 1831.



Why I'm (Conflicted-ly) Excited: I've had this on my radar since it wowed the Sundance Film Festival in January. "The Birth of a Nation" grapples with a dark and powerful chapter of America's history, but at this point is impossible to see without consideration of director and star Nate Parker's own past. His recent inartful response to questions about a resurfaced 1999 rape charge (of which he was acquitted) has sparked backlash and put a cloud over the film's portrayal of a violent sexual assault. Co-star Gabrielle Union, herself a victim of sexual assault, wrote a thoughtful column in which she discusses the allegations but describes the film and the conversation around it as important. In that spirit, I'd like to see it, but it will be harder than usual to separate art from artist.


In Theaters October 14

The Accountant

At a Glance: There's not much plot to be gleaned from the trailer, so here's what IMDB says: "As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise."


Why I'm Excited: The cast, mostly. The trailer avoids spelling the story out, so let's turn to IMDB to make some educated guesses. The director has made some great movies, but the writer has two previous writing credits, both duds, one of which was described by a critic as "obvious Oscar bait" (maybe not his fault; a terrible movie could have a great script). Still, it is the start of Oscar fishing season. I'm holding out hope that this is more.


Max Steel

At a Glance: The first in a coming flood of post-"Lego Movie" toy-to-film adaptations, "Max Steel" follows the adventures of ordinary teen Max as he learns to use his amazing powers with the help of his robot friend Steel.


Why I'm (Not) Excited: You watched the trailer, right? This is a phase one Marvel movie if those were dull, colorless, and lacked a beloved franchise anchor. Uninspired. Generic. Boring. Were the people really clamoring for this?


Desierto

At a Glance: A group of migrants illegally crossing the United States border are hunted by a murderous vigilante.



Por Eso Que Estoy Excitado: This is nakedly political horror and I love it. The trailer is really well cut, though the movie itself has gotten mixed reviews over its international run. Please note, this is a Mexican film and may only be available in limited release.


In Theaters October 21

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

At a Glance: Jack Reacher returns to unravel a conspiracy inside the government after this former unit leader is charged with treason.



Why I'm Excited:  Reacher is the clear second stringer to Tom Cruise's other, bigger, better franchise, "Mission: Impossible," but still could deliver enough to be worth the price of admission. Cruise may be bat-shit crazy but he's also America's Action Star, undeniably talented and a blast to watch on screen.


Keeping  Up With the Joneses

At a Glance: Jeff and Karen Gaffney are an average suburban couple thrown into the middle of a battle of spies when their new neighbors, the Joneses, turn out to be more than they seem.


Why I'm (Not) Excited:  The trailer covers a lot of ground, none of which feels particularly new or inspired; I've seen it called a cross between "Date Night" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." The cast is good and director Greg Motolla's previous work has been solid ("Superbad," "Adventureland"). Still, comedies are very hit-or-miss and keeping expectations low has historically served me well.


Ouija: Origin of Evil

At a Glance: ::holding a flashlight to face:: A long time ago, in 2014, a film called "Ouija" terrified audiences everywhere with it's shocking twist ending: the realization that they had spent real money to see bad garbage. Two years and $100 million dollars later, it returns to again steal cash from unsuspecting movie-goers who should really know better! OooooOOOOOoooOOOoooohhh!!!


Why I'm (Twist Incoming) Excited: Okay I'm not actually excited, but "Ouija: Origin of Evil" has had a much more stable production history than it's predecessor. The original suffered from problems with its financing, production studios backing out and then rejoining, and the original cut of the film screened so poorly that according to star Olivia Cooke more than half the film was completely re-written and re-shot. There's zero chance this is nearly as bad as that mess.


Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween

At a Glance: Tyler Perry's Madea 9: Ninety Minutes of References to Other, Better Movies


Why I'm (Spookily Not) Excited: Trailers are often guilty of showing a movie's funniest moments. Is this the best of "Boo?" What a depressing thought. They show the same joke twice (punching the clown) and I groaned aloud at the "Saw" reference. But hey, these movies are cheap to make and easily make at least $50 million a pop, so what do I know?


In Theaters October 28

Inferno

At a Glance: The third film adaptation of Dan Brown's Langdon series, "Inferno" stars Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon, who awakens in a hospital with no memories of a heist he appears to have carried out. As Langdon hunts for clues to unlock the truth, he finds himself on the heels of a global threat.


Why I'm Ambivalent: These movies are popular but I haven't seen any of them. Trailer looks silly in a goofy fun, "National Treasure" sort of way.


American Pastoral

At a Glance: A middle class family is torn apart as their daughter embraces violent political radicalism in the 1960s. This is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Philip Roth and is star Ewan McGregor's directorial debut.



Why I'm Excited: Of all the trailers in this month's round-up, this is probably my favorite. It's very well put together. I hadn't heard of this before and now I'm definitely intrigued. That said, early reviews have not been great; the film has a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes with 8 reviews. But as always, we end our round-up with optimism! Only 8 reviews means there's room for that score to go up, up, UP!


Thanks for checking out this month's movie preview! What are you most looking forward to seeing this October? Sound off in the comments!

There is a character in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" who can bring toys to life and reanimate the dead. The effect is temporary and a crude imitation of life, magical puppetry by which a shell can serve a purpose before disappearing without consequence. I enjoyed my time with Miss Peregrine and her students, but I can't shake the feeling that they (and because so the film itself) are similarly superficial - fantastical and weird but singularly defined by peculiarity to the point of having no meaningful character at all. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Jake, a perfectly ordinary (or is he?) teen who once dreamt of exploring the world but now stocks shelves in a bland Floridian suburb is thrown into emotional crisis after the sudden, violent death of his grandfather, whose stories about a Miss Peregrine's home for incredible children and the monsters that hunted them seem to be wrecking havoc on his psyche. His psychiatrist suggests that a trip to the children's home may help Jack separate fact from fiction and give him closure, so it's off to Wales with Jake and his distant dad, who sees in Jake's journey an opportunity for a vacation of his own.

There Jake is disappointed to find Miss Peregrine's children's home destroyed, the victim of Nazi bombs dropped long ago. But as he explores the ruins, he finds himself being watched by none other than the supposedly long-dead children from his grandfather's stories. These are the peculiars, children with gifts that range from the amazing (starting fire with a touch) and the bizarre (a boy with bees living inside him) to the useless (one boy can project his dreams through his eye for others to see). Think of them as an assortment of the X-Men's C-team backbenchers. They haven't aged a day - and can't - because they live in a time loop courtesy of Miss Peregrine, the pipe-smoking, no-nonsense matron whose powers of time manipulation have safely sealed them away in a single, endlessly repeating day in 1943, a necessary precaution to protect them from the monstrous hollows, grotesque science experiments gone wrong who prey on the eyes of peculiars.

You might wonder at how these children would handle such isolating conditions or the prospect of an unchanging, futureless eternity. I certainly did; it's a necessary but steep sacrifice for basic safety. But aside from one or two lines, "Miss Peregrine's" backs away from this entirely. This may seem a nit-picky complaint about a children's movie, but the film consistently puts interesting or difficult issues on the table and then ignores them completely. Take as another example the strained relationship between Jake and his father (perhaps mirroring that shared by his father and grandfather), highlighted throughout the first half of the film and then abruptly discarded when his father simply disappears from the movie. No growth. No lessons learned. Just gone. The film is ripe for some (any) emotional development, and especially as a PG-13 it's fair to expect exploration of some (or any) of the issues it puts on the table.

But as I said, I did enjoy the movie. At least on its surface, "Miss Peregrine's" is a colorful and fun adventure. I smiled more than a few times and found myself chuckling each time Bronwyn, the diminutive strong-girl of the group, pushed the bigger boys out of the way to get a job done right. It won't matter to kids that most of these characters are paper thin, or that relationships develop not organically on-screen but because the script demands it. But it could have meant more, and that's frustrating.

I'd be remiss not to mention a few stand-out performances. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is a delight; the character's brilliantly realized, from her costume and wild blue-streaked hair to the quiet fury in any one of Green's glares; this is not a lady to mess with. Asa Butterfield's resolutely boring Jake is clearly batting above his average next to Elle Purnell, who ironically imbues light-as-air Emma Bloom with the most weighty performance of any character. And of course, the always wonderful Samuel L. Jackson, whose villainous Dr. Barron has a blast as he chews through scenery, although there is something a icky about the only black character playing the role of threatening menace to a group of innocent white children, especially in light of director Tim Burton's incredibly tone deaf comments on the subject.

All in all, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" is a perfectly entertaining family adventure well-timed for the Halloween season. Younger viewers will love the fantastic world as imagined by Burton (he's very much in his wheelhouse) and there are enough thrills to keep older viewers engaged. It isn't deep or moving, but sometimes all you need is fun.

Score: 3.5/5

October is hands down my favorite month. Everything is better once it arrives. It's nicer outside; here in South Carolina, the blistering heat of the south-eastern summer fades into comfortable, crisp cool. Trees blaze with color as they go dormant. The grass crunches under your step; it's a good sound. There's better entertainment, too. On television, your favorite shows are back for new seasons and football is in full swing. In theaters, the forgettable grey smear of the summer dump months gives way to fun, big-budget blockbusters and Oscar contenders. October owns, plain and simple.

Such an excellent month, especially one that ends with a holiday as excellent as Halloween, deserves celebration. I'm sure many of you have pre-Halloween traditions. This year, I'd like to invite you to join our family in ours: Shocktober! Shocktober is a 31-day marathon of spooky (and not so spooky but thematically appropriate) movies, carefully curated to offer a selection that spans decades and cuts across genres to deliver something for everyone. This is our third Shocktober. Even if we don't quite make it to 31 movies, we always have a blast doing this.

Below you'll find our 2016 schedule, complete with notes on where you can stream most of the titles. Details on where you can find digital rentals of each title are available on my super OCD Shocktober spreadsheet, linked here. If you want to participate but are looking to avoid spending any dollars, you can always use sites like Just Watch to find streaming substitutes. Have fun and make this your own!



The Super Spooky 2016 Shocktober Schedule

1 - The Exorcist, 1973 (Netflix)
2 - Tucker and Dale vs Evil, 2010 (Netflix, Hulu)
3 - The Cabin in the Woods, 2012 (Digital Rental)
4 - Carrie, 1976 (Hulu, Amazon Prime)
5 - An American Werewolf in London, 1981 (Amazon Prime)
6 - Plan 9 From Outer Space, 1959 (Hulu)
7 - 28 Days Later, 2002 (HBO Streaming) 
8 - Spring, 2015 (Amazon Prime)
9 - The Monster Squad, 1987 (Digital Rental)
10 - Poltergeist, 1982 (Digital Rental)
11 - Jaws, 1975 (Netflix)
12 - Fido, 2006 (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
13 - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2007 (Netflix)
14 - Rosemary's Baby, 1968 (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
15 - Let the Right One In, 2008 (Amazon Prime)
16 - Housebound, 2014 (Netflix)
17 - The Birds, 1963 (Digital Rental)
18 - Shaun of the Dead, 2004 (Digital Rental)
19 - The Omen, 1976 (Netflix)
20 - Goosebumps, 2015 (Netflix)
21 - Honeymoon, 2014 (Netflix)
22 - It Follows, 2015 (Digital Rental or Amazon with Showtime 7-Day Trial)
23 - The Amityville Horror, 1979 (Hulu)
24 - The Thing, 1982 (Digital Rental)
25 - The Babadook, 2015 (Netflix)
26 - Silence of the Lambs, 1991 (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
27 - Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975 (Digital Rental)
28 - Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981 (Digital Rental)
29 - The Witch, 2016 (Amazon Prime)
30 - Halloween, 1978 (Digital Rental)
31 - Hocus Pocus, 1993 (9p on Freeform, or HBO Streaming) 



Will you be doing your own Shocktober? Do you have any fun Halloween movie traditions? Share in the comments below!
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