MOVIE REVIEW: SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015)

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts
Director: Billy Ray

Normally I will start my movie reviews with a witty leading paragraph, or I’ll give a basic summary of the movie before I share my opinions. This time I’ve decided to jump in head-first because I feel it’s my duty to save the American people. You would think that a movie with Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman, Academy Award winner Julia Roberts, and Academy Award nominee Chewitel Ejiofor would be a movie worth watching, but in this case you would be wrong. Secret in Their Eyes has a very engaging trailer but be warned: this movie is a bore. Good grief.

Secret inTheir Eyes movie poster

Look at the poster. Doesn’t it look cool? We have a nice skyline…not sure what city that is but I like it. Also the emphasis on the eyes of the main actors- pretty cool. And then watch this trailer, which has much better editing and suspense compared to the full length movie:

So the basic premise is that investigator Jessica Cobb (Roberts) arrives to a crime scene in year 2002 with one of her partners, Ray Kasten (Ejiofor). A young woman has been brutally raped and murdered, and her body was carelessly discarded in a dumpster near a mosque. The young woman is Cobb’s daughter, and for the remainder of the movie Cobbs has a dull, glassy-eyed, zombified look on her face. Fast forward to 2015 and we learn that Kasten has dedicated the past 13 years to looking at thousands of mugshots to find a match of a guy he hunted down in 2002. Nicole Kidman plays district attorney Claire Sloan, but she’s useless in the workplace because she only serves as Kasten’s love interest. So there you have it, my summary of the movie that was neatly wrapped into several minutes of various trailers that you can find on YouTube.

My biggest complaint is the constant time skipping between 2002 when the crime first happened, and then the scenes from 2015 when the case has been unofficially reopened by Kasten, Cobb, and Sloan. I spent so much time trying to figure out which year I was in and the only way to tell is that Kasten has graying sideburns in 2015. But sometimes it was hard to see his sideburns so I just sat in my seat and accepted the confusion in my life.

I was also disappointed to see Nicole Kidman only play a hapless love interest for Ejiofor. I believe Kidman is so much better than this. She gazes into Ejiofor’s eyes and then disappears until it’s time to gaze into his eyes again. And these lovey dovey scenes weren’t even believable because there wasn’t any emotional development between the characters. When they first met she was already engaged to another man, and between 2002 and 2015 they didn’t talk at all, yet when they reconnect in 2015 we’re supposed to believe they are soulmates.

Lastly, the biggest disappointment was the predictable formula of the storyline. There were a couple of standard foot chases, the standard argument between the investigator who wants to keep the case open and the district attorney who believes there isn’t enough evidence to justify the resources needed to keep going, and I yawned when Kasten tried to play the tough cop when it was time to question the suspect.

Overall I think Secret in Their Eyes is a straight to Redbox movie that only played in theaters because of the talented actors who, for some reason, agreed to star in this movie. If you realize that you’ve taken a nap while watching this movie just remember that I warned you!

Did you see Secret in Their Eyes? Am I being too harsh? Let me know in the comments!


Dallas International Film Festival reveals full 2016 schedule

Still from White Girl. Photo from Bank Street Films website.

Still from White Girl. Photo from Bank Street Films website.

Monday is already shaping up to be the best day of this week as The Dallas Film Society unveils the full schedule for the 10th edition of the Dallas International Film Festival. The schedule boasts 63 features and 50 shorts, with nine films making their world premieres at DIFF. Cinematographer Ed Lachman (2015’s Carol is one of his latest films) will receive the Dallas Star Award and director Monte Hellman (Road to Nowhere) will receive the inaugural L.M. “Kit” Carson Maverick Award.

I had a great time at the 2015 festival and I can’t wait to go back this year! There’s a couple of movies that I’m very excited to see, such as Elizabeth Wood’s White Girl, which is about a New York freshman who sells her boyfriend’s stash of drugs after he’s arrested for drug dealing, and Diego Luna’s Mr. Pig, a movie about fatherhood starring Danny Glover and Maya Rudolph.

You can click here to view the entire list of movies: 2016 DIFF films

The Dallas International Film Festival runs from April 14-24, and online ticket sales will begin Monday, March 21 for Dallas Film Society members, and tickets will open to the public on Thursday, March 24. You can find more information at the official website, http://diff2016.dallasfilm.org.

I’ll see you in April!


MOVIE REVIEW: ROOM (2015)

Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers
Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Room is a gut-wrenching story about Ma, a young mother (Brie Larson) in her mid-twenties who is being held captive in a shed with her five-year old son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Her abductor routinely shows up to bring her supplies and groceries, and eventually Ma and Jack devise an escape plan.

Room - 2015 poster

 

Picture it…

Ma and Jack live in a shed with no windows. Their only source of light is a skylight which doesn’t allow them to see what’s outside of their living space. No matter where you stand, everything is within a few feet of you. The yellowed kitchen sink is crammed against a moldy bathtub that sits next to the toilet. A bed and a wardrobe barely fit into the room. One thing that is rarely shown is the heavy door that locks the mother and son in the room. There’s a key pad but naturally Ma does not know the combination. Every few days Ma’s abductor stops by for a visit, which includes spending the night with Ma while Jack sleeps in the wardrobe.

Why in the world would I see this movie?

This movie would not go over well as a family viewing or as a first date dinner/movie combo. The premise is immediately depressing and I actually avoided this until Brie Larson won the 2016 Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. So after I saw this movie I came up with three quick reasons to check it out:

  1. This isn’t what you think it is. To keep this spoiler-free, I will tell you this is not a claustrophobic thriller that has you holding your breath until the very end. It is much gentler because:
  2. There’s a deep, intense bond between mother and son. The characters’ captivity often takes a backseat to the story of a mother and child. Ma finds clever ways to keep her son healthy and imaginative, and as a result he loves their room even though it’s a simmering nightmare for her. What really makes this a tearjerker is that:
  3. The story is largely told from Jack’s point of view. Something interesting happens here because Ma was a teenager when she was kidnapped, so she knows there is a life outside of the shed. Jack was born in the shed and it’s all he knows. He draws at the kitchen table, watches TV, plays on the floor with his imaginary friends and is a happy five-year old. In his mind, there is nothing outside of the four walls and he fights with his mother when she explains the escape plan to him.

About the actors

Brie Larson has received the bulk of praise as Ma, and she did a great job with blending helplessness, resentment, and maternal love in such a realistic way. Jacob Tremblay was a great choice to portray Jack, who unwittingly moves the plot along and also injects enough ‘Kids Say the Darnedest Things’ humor into the story to keep it from being too depressing.

You may have heard or noticed that Joan Allen and William H. Macy play Ma’s parents, and I would’ve liked to see Allen receive some nominations for her role as a distraught mother/grandmother who doesn’t know what to do, what to say, or how to react to some of the events in the movie.

Time spent.

I always discuss the length of the movie in each of my reviews. Look, I have stuff to do! I can’t spend all freaking day watching a never-ending movie, especially if the movie isn’t good enough to go the distance.

So, at almost two hours long there were a couple of times when I felt the plot was dragging a bit. I felt the second half felt aimless at times but then it straightened out and finished very well.

I don’t think this movie should win ‘Best Picture’ at the Oscars but I do think it’s worth a viewing at the movie theater.

 

Have you seen Room? Let me know what you think!


MOVIE REVIEW: NIGHTINGALE (2015)

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Cast: David Oyelowo
Director: Elliott Lester

It’s quiz time! HBO’s Nightingale is:

A. A film about a mentally and emotionally disturbed war veteran who feels oppressed by his mother and snubbed by a fellow soldier;
B. An unsettling experience of claustrophobia, obsession, and general creepiness;
C. A master-level acting class taught and performed by David Oyelowo;
D. All of the above

If you selected ‘D’, congratulations! Scroll past this artsy poster to read more about the answers to this quiz.

Nightingale_poster

The complex nature of Peter Snowden

This entire film focuses on what’s happening to Peter Snowden (Oyelowo) in present time. There are no flashbacks and no scene of enlightenment to explain Peter’s past and how it shaped him into his current state of mind. There’s a vague mention that Peter may have suffered a tragic event while serving in the Iraq War, and he repeatedly insinuates that his mother is overbearing and judgmental. You may wonder what the mom is judgmental about, and it brings us to a main focus of the film. Peter wants to bring a war buddy over for dinner, but Mom is not having it. Her house, her rules.

The film becomes very unsettling within the first 5 minutes. Peter works an hourly job and lives with his mom, but he immediately gets her out of the way. (See picture below.) And believe it or not, things go downhill from there.

1432927376-nightingale01

 

The viewer is trapped in a house with Peter and his thoughts, his paranoia, his rage, and his depression. It’s draining and terrifying with no relief. Peter never has a physical interaction with any character, and he only communicates by phone so occasionally we will hear another person’s voice but we never see their face. We do see Peter’s reactions as he becomes agitated with Mom’s friends who want to come over and make sure she’s okay. He is frustrated when he calls his war buddy’s phone – again and again – to arrange a dinner only to be intercepted by his buddy’s wife. Peter isn’t deterred though, and he spends an insane amount of money to spruce up the house before the Dinner That Will Never Happen.

If you learn one thing from this film, just remember to never upset a crazy person. Another thing to learn is David Oyelowo is a fantastic actor. This seems to be a gutsy role that most actors would love to take a chance with. Oyelowo showcases a wide range of emotions and body language and it’s all very impressive.

My only gripe is the length of the film. Even though 82 minutes is pretty short, I think an even 60 minutes would’ve been enough. Nightingale almost plays out as a Twilight Zone episode, except there’s no clear beginning or end and Rod Serling doesn’t serve as a narrator. The upside is you don’t have to block out an entire afternoon or evening to watch this film, so if you get a chance to watch it please let me know what you think!

 

 


MOVIE REVIEW: THUNDER BROKE THE HEAVENS (2015)

 

I had the pleasure of viewing this film during the 2015 Dallas Film Festival. This review does not contain any spoilers.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Cast: Alex Peters, Gavin Howe
Director: Tim Skousen

There’s a common saying that every family has “one”- that one person who gets a lukewarm invite to the family get-togethers and everyone secretly hopes that person doesn’t show up. 13-year-old Samantha (Alex Peters) and 6 year-old William-Paul (Gavin Howe) have a person like that in their family and it turns out to be their own father, who is divorced from their mother and estranged from the family. When he arrives uninvited to Thanksgiving dinner, the friction quickly escalates into a horrific scene that causes the siblings to flee their home and fend for themselves.

Thunder Broke the Heavens

 

 A modern fairy tale

Director Tim Skousen defines Thunder Broke the Heavens as a modern fairy tale akin to Hansel and Gretel, and we do see some parallels in the film. After the event at the beginning of the film the brother and sister arrive at a foster home, and their new family appears to be open and friendly…at first. Soon it becomes clear why the family agreed to take in the young siblings and then Samantha and William-Paul flee into the woods. When two kids with a limited number of supplies and no money decide to live on their own it’s assumed that things can only go downhill from there, and unfortunately it does.

Thunder Broke the Heavens

 

Bleak and heart-breaking, but hopeful

The entire film focuses on the grim reality that the two children find themselves in, and I heard a few sniffles from people in the audience as the story came to the end. I know some people may avoid dreary films like this, especially when it involves children, but it’s actually the two child actors that really elevate the story to keep you rooting for their well-being.

Alex Peters gives a strong performance as the older sibling Samantha, and she reminds of Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone – quietly plotting her next move, determined to survive, and genuinely hopeful that somehow, some day, life will get better. I believe Peters is well on her way to a break out role that will catapult her into the Hollywood A-list.

Gavin Howe as the six-year old William-Paul is equally amazing, although sometimes it’s heart-breaking to watch his character come to terms with the recent loss of his family and the abuse from his foster family. Howe never comes across as a youngster who is surprisingly wise for his age, and instead he appears to be a normal child who is trying to be strong for his sister but ultimately can’t understand what’s happened in the past and how it will impact his future. He lives in the moment: “I’m hungry”, “I’m sleepy”, “What should we do now?” and it’s an interesting contrast to his sister who is old enough to realize that a forward-thinking game plan is necessary for their survival.

Final thoughts

I believe a good film stays with you long after you finish watching it. This film is vibrant and emotional, and it’s a strong example of what the human spirit can endure. When you feel like you’ve reached the lowest point and there’s no relief in sight, you realize if you can dig a little bit deeper you’ll find the will to keep going.

Yes, I know that last sentence is so cliche! I guess that’s what happens when a film leaves you clutching a tissue and clapping as the ending credits start to roll.


SCANDAL SEASON 3, EPISODE 7 RECAP “WE DO NOT TOUCH THE FIRST LADIES”

 

The Andy and Mellie / Fitz and Olivia Situation

Liv and Fitz are having a huge argument and Jake is outside the door listening with Secret Service. They are arguing about Jake being compromised because he likes Liv, they are pretend dating, and it could cause Jake to go against Fitz. Liv says she has goals and ambitions but she can’t do anything if she’s known as Fitz’ whore.

14 years ago – flashback with Mellie and Fitz arguing while Andy is listening. Fitz doesn’t understand why Mellie won’t let him touch her, and why she avoids her father.

Carla Steele has a tip about Oxy pill abuse in Fitz’ administration during his time as California governor. Andy takes the blame. He says that he hurt his back and instead of going to a doctor he decided to find his own Oxy pills.

Olivia threatens to revoke Carla’s press pass and her access to the president but Carla insists that she has proof to back up the story.

Liv eliminates Leo as the source of Carla’s story. She calls Jake because she suspects her father is behind it. Jake is hesitant at first but he tells her he’ll find out what her father is up to.

Flashback: Mellie tried to overdoes on Oxy pills but Andy found her in time and forced her to throw up the pills. Now, Andy tells Mellie that he will take the fall because someone needs to protect her, not even her husband.

Liv meets Eli for dinner and tries to get him to confess to the Nichols drug story. He blows her off, and on her way out of the restaurant she sees Quinn spying on her. She tries to convince Quinn to come back to the office but Quinn points a gun at Liv and tells her to go away.

Jake goes to Liv’s apartment and tells her that she can’t ask him questions about classified information, she can’t keep asking him to run errands related to her father, and she needs to stock her fridge with beer and real food.

Harrison and Abby meet with the doctor who provided the drugs 14 years ago. The doctor lets it slip that a woman wanted the drugs, not a man.

Flashback: Andy asks Mellie why she tried to commit suicide and she tells him that she was raped by Fitz’ father and she doesn’t know if Jerry, Jr. is Fitz’ child or Big Jerry’s child.

At the last second Carla’s interview with the doctor gets canceled because it looks like someone paid him to tell this story about the drugs. Liv correctly guesses that Andy was planning to take the fall for Mellie. Liv tells Mellie, “Whatever is going on between you and Andy needs to stop. Trust me, I know how hard it is but we have an election to win.” Mellie says that nothing has ever happened between her and Andy, and she tells Liv, “You and I are NOT the same.”

After a fundraising dinner Mellie and Andy have a moment alone in a room full of the First Lady portraits. He makes a remark about Mellie not liking Olivia, although it appears Fitz likes her very much. Mellie and Andy share a passionate kiss and then she breaks away and leaves the room.

Fitz asks Liv if she has feelings for Jake. She says she doesn’t know. Jake overhears this because he’s watching a live feed of Fitz’ office.
Adnan makes her move

Harrison and Adnan are getting dressed and she has a briefcase full of money that she wants Harrison to take care of. He refuses and then Adnan asks if Liv knows about Clearwater, or does Liv only know about the insider trading?

Harrison calls the Grant campaign and says he would like to make a donation.
James is safe- for now

James freaks out during the entire episode because he’s afraid that Cyrus has learned he is Publius. David suggests sending the NSA tape to the journalist Vanessa Chandler and let her write about it. James sends her the video and now she wants to meet him so she can verify the source. James freaks out and David offers to go in his place.

Charlie was able to copy Vanessa’s SIM card and he shows Cyrus the text from Publius (to Vanessa) with a meeting place and time.

At the fundraising dinner Cyrus tells James that someone is meeting Vanessa to find out who her source is. James tries to call David and warn him, but he’s too late and someone has already found David and stuffed him in the truck of a car. It turns out Abby and Huck saved him!

Charlie is watching Vanessa and he sees that the source never showed up. Cyrus is frustrated.

Adnan introduces herself to Cyrus and tells him she can provide unlimited funds to help the Grant campaign. Then Adnan goes back to her hotel room and tells Mama Pope that everything is okay: “We’re in.”
Howdy, Hollis!

Hollis! He meets with Sally and Leo to discuss a pick for Energy Secretary. Hollis will cut Sally a check if she picks someone who will let Hollis drill in the North Pole. Meanwhile Sally is stricken by her memories of Daniel’s dead body.

Hollis meets with Cyrus and says he’ll be at the donor dinner, and he also asks Cyrus about the Energy secretary position.

Fitz sees Hollis at the dinner and he tells Cyrus the Grant campaign will not take any money from Hollis, and Cyrus needs to send Hollis a refund for whatever he has paid so far.
Some loose ends:
Jake receives a briefcase full of highly classified documents. He has the highest security clearance of any officer. He has briefings on all B6-13 operations worldwide, plus he has a special agent within Secret Service: Tom!

Quinn and Jake have a meeting and he encourages her to go back to Olivia. Quinn shows him pictures of Leo and Eli talking, and she tells him to find her when he needs her again.

Huck keeps bringing Olivia a cup of coffee even though he knows she doesn’t drink coffee. He apologizes for what he did to Quinn and Liv says he went too far. He tells Liv that SHE went too far, because she knows what kind of person he is but she still gave Quinn to him and encouraged him to groom her.
THE END


THE FOLLOWING SEASON 2, EPISODE 7 RECAP “SACRIFICE”

The Following Season 2, Episode 7 Recap

Joe Carroll meets a new cult.

Joe, Emma, and Mandy drive up to a camp hidden in a wooded area. Joe wants to meet with Robert, who visited him a few times in prison and is involved with this new cult.

A woman named Julia arrives with armed men and they all force Joe, Emma, and Mandy to un-dress inside the camp. She treats them like they are new recruits. It turns out Julia is married to Micah, the leader of the camp.

Joe and Micah meet. Joe asks Micah for help, but Micah isn’t too thrilled about having him at the camp. He tells Joe that he won’t be in charge here because it’s the ‘Micah show’. Joe humbly asks for refuge.

Julia gives Joe a lie detector test to see if he’s being truthful about wanting to start a new life at the camp. He passes the test but something has left Julia feeling unnerved.

In the evening there is a huge gathering at the camp. Joe, Emma, and Mandy are dressed in all white while the other cult members wear black robes and white masks. Emma is brought on a stage and restrained, and Micah cuts her wrists. Her blood drains into a cup and Micah drinks it.

Afterwards Julia meets with Joe and she tells him that Emma is still alive. Joe believes Emma was targeted in an attempt to weaken him, and Julia admits that she doesn’t trust him.

Lily’s Retaliation

Agent Mendez finally believes Ryan’s assertion that Joe Carroll is alive. She also believes that someone in the FBI is tipping off Joe and that his DNA may have been swapped. Mendez tells Ryan that she doesn’t respect his reckless behavior and how it impacts the people he loves. She also tells him that he is still facing federal charges.

Mike tells Ryan that he is going home because he’s still having trouble dealing with the aftermath of Havenport and Deborah’s death. He says therapy hasn’t helped, and he almost killed Luke so it’s time for him to leave.

Max wants Ryan to stop hunting Joe Carroll, and he tells her that everything he has done so far (like not drinking alcohol and getting healthy) is to stop Joe.

Max is in a parking garage and she sees a father grabbing his young son. She runs over to help and the man dumps her in the trunk of his car with the help of his son. She was setup! Then Lily contacts Ryan to tell him that she has Max.

Ryan, Mike, and the FBI team check out surveillance footage and spot the car that abducted Max. Ryan goes to Luke to see if he knows who Lily would use to kidnap people. Luke says Lily has hired “The Huntsman”, a serial killer who chases prostitutes through the woods, kills them, and guts them. The FBI learn his name is Kurt and they find a location on him.

The FBI arrives at Kurt’s home to find his wife and his son. Ryan (correctly) guesses the son was at the parking garage when Max was abducted. Mike and Ryan restrain the little boy until he gives up information about Kurt’s whereabouts.

Max fights The Huntsman and escapes into the woods. He chases behind her as the FBI team shows up a few minutes later to find the small shed where she was being held.

Mike and Ryan run into the woods and Mike finds Max. Ryan finds The Huntsman and shoots and kills him.

The FBI crew returns to headquarters and Ryan sees a new video from Lily. This time she’s in a living room, and Mike recognizes it as his dad’s home. Mark is standing behind Mike’s dad, who is restrained in a chair. Then Mark slits the man’s throat. Mike cries as Ryan tries to console him, and Lily warns there are more surprises coming soon.
THE END