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.


MOVIE REVIEW: PHILOMENA (2013)

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
Director: Stephen Frears

Happy New Year everyone! Here is my first movie of 2014, Philomena, and it was a great way to kick off my year.

Philomena tells the true story of Philomena Lee, who gave birth to a son during her teenage years in 1950s Ireland. Her family was ashamed and sent the young mother and baby to a convent, and from there the nuns took the baby and sold him into adoption in America. 50 years later Philomena teams up with a journalist to locate her son.

Philomena 2013 poster

The movie poster accurately describes the two main characters as ‘unlikely companions’. Philomena (Dench) is a good-natured woman and she is still deeply religious even after the nuns sold her child during her stay at the convent. Martin Sixsmith (Coogan), a brash, straight-forward journalist, joins Philomena in the search for her son Anthony. It turns out Martin is a very vocal atheist, and he spends a lot of time bashing the Catholic Church. There’s even a couple of scenes where he travels to the convent where Philomena lived and makes some rude comments to the nuns about their religious beliefs regarding fornication, sin, and punishment.

After watching this movie I learned Steve Coogan co-wrote the adapted screenplay. To be fair, I haven’t read the book by the real Martin Sixsmith so I’m not sure how he personally feels about Catholicism, but I felt Coogan inserted his own personal beliefs in this movie and took some of the power away from Philomena’s story. Sometimes I felt this movie was shown in two different viewpoints: Martin’s view of how people should act and treat others, and Philomena’s more tolerant view that people should live in a way that brings them peace.

Despite my gripe with Martin, I enjoyed this movie as a whole. The closeness that developed between Philomena and Martin was very believable, especially after watching them travel from their hometown of London, and then to Ireland where the convent is located, and finally to the U.S. where Anthony was raised.

Judi Dench gives an admirable performance as a woman who is inspiring rather than pitiful and weepy or angry and bitter. She portrays Philomena with multiple layers and a wide variety of emotions, which you would expect from a woman who enjoyed her teenage sexual encounter even though it led to her being an unwed mother. She is still religious even though the convent sold her child. And she still hopes to hug a son that she hasn’t seen in 50 years. Make sure you bring a tissue to use in the second half of the movie.

Did you see Philomena? Let me know what you thought about it!


MOVIE REVIEW: AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

Running time: 2 hours, 18 minutes
Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
Director: David O. Russell

It’s easy to understand why American Hustle has received so much praise and Oscar buzz: The main cast shares great chemistry and they deliver strong individual performances. The whole movie is a mix of drama, comedy, madness, and horrific hair don’ts, and it’s fun to watch.

When I first heard about Hustle I assumed it would be a strict drama about ABSCAM, the FBI sting operation from the late 1970s and early 1980s that brought down several public officials. After the opening credits we saw this one title card that read:

“Some of this actually happened.”

I saw that as a warning to not take this movie too seriously, and I’m glad I didn’t. Yes, it’s hard to know what is real and what is fictional, but overall this movie is pretty solid and I enjoyed watching the actors ham it up for the camera.

American Hustle 2013 poster

Picture it.

1978. New York. Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams) are lovers and con artists, and they are eventually caught by an intense FBI agent named Richie DiMasio (Cooper). Richie enlists the duo to help him take down corrupt public officials, and the do-gooder mayor of Camden, NJ, Carmine Polito (Renner), gets caught up in the fray. And I must mention Irving’s young wife Rosalyn (Lawrence) who is drinker and a stay-at-home mom, and probably needs her own adult supervision.

Louis C.K. makes a hilarious appearance as Richie’s boss, and he’s bewildered at the nonsense that is approved to help the sting operation become a success. An uncredited Robert De Niro appears as a mob boss (what else?).

Lawrence or Cooper?

Together Bale and Adams share the most screen time, but there’s talk about Jennifer Lawrence stealing the movie. She is definitely electrifying in all of her scenes, and she does a great job of playing a young wife who is so sure of herself even when she’s dead wrong. Mixed in with the funny moments are some serious scenes where Rosalyn hurts because her husband keeps a mistress and shuts her out of all areas of his life.

Bradley Cooper in American Hustle

Ultimately I’d give the scene-stealer award to Bradley Cooper’s Richie DiMasio character. He’s lively, energetic, crazed, and a little bit wackier than Rosalyn. The funniest part is that Richie doesn’t realize he’s the dumbest person in the room. He’s working with con artists to take down corrupt officials, and it never occurs to him that a con artist or a corrupt official would lie to him or give him false information.

Some of his stand-out scenes are with his boss Stoddard, played perfectly by comedian Louis C.K. Stoddard knows very well that in the blink of an eye Richie can go from an semi-obedient FBI agent to a disgruntled employee swinging a heavy telephone.

Final thoughts

I can easily see Amy Adams scoring an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She is incredibly smart, seductive, and emotional, and Adams takes us on a wild ride as her Sydney adopts different personalities as needed to help protect herself during the sting. Also, her back, legs, and breasts are frequently on display so she’s nice to look at too.

I enjoyed watching these A-list actors completely transform into their characters and the 2 hour running time seemed to fly by. American Hustle will be a good addition to anyone’s movie collection and I also recommend seeing it at the movie theater before it’s run is over.

Let me know what you thought about American Hustle. Did it live up to the hype?