Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

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Director: Billy Ray

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Dean Norris, Michael Kelly, Joe Cole, Alfred Molina

Screenplay: Billy Ray

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references.

 

Secret in Their Eyes is an American remake of a 2009 Oscar-winning foreign language film. The original 2009 film is a celebrated masterpiece (honestly, this writer has not seen the original film, but hey, I just watched the remake), and the remake stars three big players in the acting world. What could go wrong?

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Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) and fellow investigator Jessica Cobb (Julia Roberts, Notting Hill, The Normal Heart) respond to a report of a body found near a mosque they are monitoring back in 2002, three months after 9/11. When the body found is Cobb’s daughter, their lives are forever strained and torn as Ray finds his allegiance to a counter-terrorism task force pulling him away from uncovering the truth about the murder. He is further tormented by the love he has for superior Claire Sloane (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge!, Before I Go to Sleep). Years later, Ray’s lust for answers brings him back to the case and a shocking realization he isn’t quite ready for.

Secret in Their Eyes starts out interestingly enough. I really wanted to uncover the truth after a fantastic scene where Julia Roberts becomes hysterical at the sight of her daughter’s body. After that powerful sequences, the film comes to a crashing halt as the film seemingly goes nowhere for the next ninety minutes. Damn, it got boring real fast.

Ejiofor and Kidman are barely awake in their roles, and Roberts bounds between incredible performance and out-of-tune dialogue that she cannot latch onto. It would seem that Secret in Their Eyes has everything going for it, and yet nothing here works. Writer-director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach) has a poor screenplay and cannot seem to handle his actors, even while maintaining moments of sheer beauty in the cinematography and the occasional gripping sequence.

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Overall, Secret in Their Eyes struggles to find a purpose, even after having tailored itself to a tragic period in recent American history. The film scours for reason and just cannot find it. Everything that it tries to accomplish is outdone by a similar film Prisoners, which came out back in 2013. The performances are bland and the story goes nowhere. A true disappointment.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Short Film Sunday] Frozen Fever (2015)

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Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad

Screenplay: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Marc Smith

8 mins. Rated G.

 

Frozen Fever is perhaps the best title for this week’s short film. It happens to embody the main plot of the piece and also the ongoing love for this small but mighty franchise. Everyone is apeshit for Frozen (and I mean that in the best possible way, I also really enjoyed the film).

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In this short film continuation of the original movie, released as an opener for last year’s Cinderella, we see that some major changes have to come to Arendelle since the finale of Frozen. Today is the 19th birthday for Anna (Kristen Bell, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Zootopia), and her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel, Enchanted, Rent) wants to throw a massive party to make up for the last several years of isolated birthdays. The problem: Elsa has a fever, and she can’t stop sneezing little snowmen into existence. As Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, TV’s Looking, The Normal Heart) and Olaf (Josh Gad, Love & Other Drugs, Pixels) struggles to maintain the little critters, Anna desperately tries to convince her sister to cancel the whole thing.

Frozen Fever is a cute little one-off slice of life. I liked the addition of the Snowgies, as they are termed, as they provide a little chorus for fan-favorite Olaf. I also really enjoyed the closer examination of Elsa’s powers, as it doesn’t detract from the magic of the original film. Sadly, the short doesn’t carry much weight and is, apart from the above wins, largely forgettable. “Making Today a Perfect Day,” the new song, isn’t all that entertaining or catchy upon first glance, and the short feels like more of an afterthought of unused ideas for a Frozen sequel.

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All in all, I like my franchise shorts to feel like something special for the fans, an addition to the larger mythos of the regular series that adds and progresses the story in some way. To that note, Frozen Fever both meets and misses the mark. I enjoyed it mildly and can see why any other fan would too (mostly the younglings), but it isn’t the near-perfect display that its predecessor is.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgard, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Joss Whedon

141 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive content.  

2012’s The Avengers was something of an anomaly. A film which combined several superhero franchises into one mega-franchise shared universe successfully…that doesn’t happen. But with writer/director Joss Whedon (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Much Ado About Nothing) at the helm, it did. And it was good. Billion-dollars good. It jumpstarted Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and continued a winning franchise for years to come. Now, we see if the official sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron, can continue that tradition.

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The Avengers have been looking for an end to the villains before they start. When billionaire genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., The Judge, Chef) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, Shutter Island, The Normal Heart) create Ultron (James Spader, TV’s Boston Legal, Lincoln), an artificially intelligent being created to be Earth’s mightiest defense system, but Ultron quickly realizes that the biggest threats to the world are humans and decides to do away with them. Now, the Avengers must assemble to defeat Ultron, who has allied himself with two very special twins: Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass, Godzilla) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, Martha May Marcy Marlene, Oldboy).

Avengers: Age of Ultron had a bunch of set-ups. The biggest flaw comes from realizing that it has very little payoff. The entire film felt like its function was to tie up the loose ends of Phase 2 and start unpacking the storylines to Phase 3. Was it entertaining? Mostly, yes. But was it good? I really don’t know. I liked a lot of this film but I was scratching my head at times wondering why certain events were kept in the film while so many other moments were kept out. The film has Whedon’s classic dialogue, and its characters are further fleshed out, but the film felt like too many puzzles pieces from too many different puzzles that just won’t fit together.

As far as performances go, the films newcomers are pretty great additions to the shared universe, specifically James Spader’s menacing Ultron and the Vision, played by Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Mortdecai) in a new role. The film also features a plethora of previously introduced characters back in the fray, like James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, TV’s House of Lies, Crash) and Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, Million Dollar Baby, Black or White). The returning Avengers cast have all grown closer and you can feel the comradery when needed. The Hulk and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, Lucy) in particular have grown much closer since we last saw them together.

There are some particularly great sequences here, such as the moment when we are introduced to mind control due to Wanda’s abilities. We get a chance to dive into these characters’ psyches a bit further Joss Whedon even plays with our expectations that this film is going to be exactly like the previous film, opting to give more important screen time to Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker, Kill the Messenger). We also get our first look at Hulkbuster (named Project Veronica, as a play on Betty & Veronica, the Betty being Bruce’s previous love interest from The Incredible Hulk).

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Avengers: Age of Utron is the first Marvel film that absolutely cries out for an extended cut. There is just too much missing here, and its noticeable. There are numerous plot threads that don’t get the resolution they need. The film is explosively entertaining, but perhaps the most noticeably flawed Marvel film yet.  

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe  

So what did you think of Avengers: Age of Ultron? Did it assemble a perfect viewing experience or leave you wanting a different Vision of the superhero team? Let me know!  

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

Foxcatcher (2014)

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Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller

Screenplay: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

134 mins. Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Steve Carell)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Ruffalo)
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

 

I knew nothing about the actual events of Foxcatcher until Foxcatcher.

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Foxcatcher tells the story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street, Jupiter Ascending) and his relationship with millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell, TV’s The Office, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). The true story of these two men, as well as Mark’s brother David (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, The Normal Heart), is a powerhouse tale of manipulation, love, and neglect at the infamous Foxcatcher Farms as du Pont plays the brothers for what they can give him as he furthers himself in the world of professional wrestling in the latest film from director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote).

I’m going to bring up my big beef with this movie right now, because there are so few. I don’t like that we spend so little time in du Pont’s head. Carell’s performance is unbelievably incredible, but we don’t get to delve into the man’s psychosis. I also have some trouble with the runtime, which has some definite places to cut.

That being said, these performances are at a level so incredibly powerful that you forget you are watching a film. I already mentioned Carell, but Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo turn in near-perfect work as well, not to mention their amazing chemistry as brothers. Don’t let me forget Sienna Miller (Stardust, Unfinished Business) as Nancy Schultz, David’s wife.

Bennett creates a world in this film, and he has the ability to really get the best work out of his actors. His vision always gives something completely fresh.

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The editing and screenplay could have used a little more development, but Foxcatcher is an intense film that shows a shocking set of events that I didn’t know all that much about. The impact will not wear off soon, that much I can promise.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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