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!


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.