Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)Released: November 20, 2015. Directed by: Billy Ray. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman. Runtime: 1hr., 51 min.

I haven’t seen the original Argentinian film “The Secret in Their Eyes (“El Secreto de sus Ojos”), but the American remake “Secret in Their Eyes” likely doesn’t do it an ounce of justice.

The film concerns Jess, portrayed with raw force by Julia Roberts, a police officer whose daughter is brutally murdered in the height of L.A. counter-terrorism following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

She seeks justice for her daughter and also wants vengeance from a suspect who was able to walk because of political mumbo jumbo that bogs down the plot to a point of frustration.

13 years later, a close friend Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has tirelessly looked at pictures of convicted criminals all this time. Since he has gone to work for the New York Mets – I assume it’s as the director of security – he is unable to scan the photo into the computer or access face recognition technology. Though, it might have been easier to ask a cop buddy help him out.

The film is told in a needlessly confusing, non-linear flow where one can only tell the difference of the characters between 2002 and 2015 is that Dean Norris is bald in 2015, Chiwetel Ejiofor just has grey in her hair, and Julia Roberts’ Jess looks like a 50-year-old trapped in a 90-year-old’s body.

Seriously: If the point was to convey that this weight of emotional distress or focusing on something you can’t change, brings aggressive aging, they did it well. Kudos, make-up department.

As for Nicole Kidman’s Claire, you have to look at her on-screen partner to see if it’s 2002 and 2015. Nicole Kidman doesn’t seem to age… Ever.

Also bogging down the plot is melodrama between Ray and Claire’s characters – with the “will they end up together or won’t they” plot line. It seems that this is a main attribute taken from the original.

But this melodrama felt out-of-place in something that looked billed as a revenge thriller. It borrows themes from successful revenge stories – notably Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” – but no success is emulated in this only sporadically exciting thriller.

Sure, there’s a good set piece at a Dodgers game. And the scene where Jess finds her daughter is heartbreaking. Though: I question if her taking off her gloves and holding her daughter in the dumpster tainted the crime scene. There are good performances here, but they’re just as hatefully written and poorly-crafted characters.

While I fully understand Jess’ grief, she is unlikable. She never shows any gratitude to the one man – Ray – who has been trying to find Caroline’s killer and give Jess peace for 13 long years.

Seriously, she seems angry with him. When a central character bashes on the only person not purely fighting for themselves – it truly makes it hard to root for justice.

Score: 38/100

 

P.s., My apologies for the long hiatus there. I’ve been swamped with J-school and other writing so I will try to be more active on here as the month goes along. 

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Enemy (2014)

EnemyReleased: March 14, 2014. Directed by: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Mélanie Laurent. Runtime: 90 min.

You should really see Enemy with a friend. At least do yourself a favour and have a designated discussion partner to talk about the film. If you think too hard and try to figure out this puzzle of a film by yourself, you might find it to be a bigger challenge. The film follows Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a bored and highly disinterested history professor at a university in Toronto. He can’t even get himself intensely interested in his beautiful girlfriend Mary (Laurent). One day he rents a film based on the recommendation of a colleague. In the background of one scene, he spots a person that looks exactly like him; an actor named Anthony Clair, also portrayed by Gyllenhaal. Bell decides to seek out his “double,” which put of their lives on a collision course. 

In some of Bell’s lectures, he talks of dictatorships and how some use a lack of education to limit individuality – and, to a further extent, power over our actions. He also speaks of repetition. The first time something happens, it’s a tragedy; the second time it happens, it’s a farce. It’s a thought-provoking idea to ponder. It’s one of the many ideas the film proposes. The thematic duality is also enjoyable. I think the idea of a doppelganger is a fascinating one. It’s a concept delved into by many cultures. Spanish writer Javier Gullón adapts José Saramago’s 2002 novel called “The Double.” I’m not sure how faithful this film is to the novel, but Denis Villeneuve (director of the phenomenal Prisoners) tells the story with surrealist imagery, which he utilizes to great effect. This film is a dream come true for any fan of surrealism. 

Not one image of Villeneuve’s style is not arbitrary, even though it might seem it at the time. It contributes to the story in some way, even if you forget the image by the end of it all – and have to watch this again. Granted, at the time, some images might strike viewers as empty and meaningless. Villeneuve realistically captures the urges and tendencies of men, as well. Some paths he takes are dark and ominous, which sets the tone and atmosphere for the film. It’s a movie that proves the unexpected is so damn satisfying. If I were the filmmaker here, I’d probably just take the route of finding my doppelganger so I could play jokes on my friends. That would be a much shorter film than the engaging, intricately written 90 minutes at hand, that actually goes by fairly quickly. At times the film is sexy, unsettling, violating, haunting and all too memorable. 

Denis Villeneuve truly knows how to absorb his audience’s attention. With blending imagery of something like a Darren Aronofsky film (at times I was reminded of Black Swan), and a scope and atmospheres that remind me of some of David Fincher’s films, he is able to create a unique visual style and an enthralling mystery. His fascination with creepy crawlies makes an appearance in symbolism. The film all-around fascinates. Sometimes viewers may not be able to make heads or tails of things that occur on-screen – at least in first viewing – but I willingly went along for the ride. Even if surrealism isn’t your favourite thing in the world, you’ll probably be able to appreciate what Villeneuve sets out achieve. Some symbolism could have a stronger focus, granted, but ambiguity is intentional at times. The intention is to provoke thoughts and discussion – and it’s done so in spades. 

I cannot end this review without mentioning the phenomenal work from the cast. At times the women take a back seat to the Toronto landscapes and imagery. That is mostly Laurent as Mary, who is largely unbeknownst to Adam’s mission to find his double. She does great for what she is asked to do. Sarah Gadon’s character of Helen is in the thick of the plot and I think she has an interesting role. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a tour de force performance. He is up to the challenge of portraying these two very different characters. One is a timid, often distant character; the other a confident, intense and tempted character trying to figure out this whole mindf!#k of a situation. Join the club, Gyllenhaal number two. The character is driven by these two, and the one strong actor, who play with individuality and duality.

Warning: Try not to focus on just one, sole concept. Viewers with an attention to detail will benefit from that greatly. Villeneuve creates an intelligent and spellbinding experience with Enemy. He compels viewers from the beginning, to the final, absolutely haunting image. Good luck trying to forget that image. It’s what helps this become so memorable – and what is helping Villeneuve become one of Canada’s most exciting filmmakers. 

Score: 88/100

Top 20 Films of 2013

This list is a lot late, but I still wanted to see a few more films before making my list. I still have a lot to go, but I’m pleased with the current Top 20 I have at the moment. I might do an article later in the year with an unofficial updated list, just to show how what films might have made the cut if I’d seen them before making the list. Without further ado, here’s my Top 20… I was going to have the whole list displayed in pictures, but the formatting was off for the first half so only the Top 10 are displayed with pictures.

20. Pain & Gain
19. The Kings of Summer
18. Spring Breakers
17. Dallas Buyers Club
16. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
15. The Place Beyond the Pines
14. Captain Phillips
13. Evil Dead
12. The Conjuring
11. The World’s End

7. Mud

7. Mud

4. Her

4. Her

 

Honourable mentions: Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, 42, Saving Mr. Banks and The Great Gatsby


 

Now this is my bottom 5 of 2013…

The Lords of Salem

The fifth worst film of 2013: The Lords of Salem

The fourth worst film: The Hangover Part III

The fourth worst film: The Hangover Part III

Third worst: Movie 43

Third worst: Movie 43

Second worst: Grown Ups 2

Second worst: Grown Ups 2

The worst film of 2013 is... Scary Movie 5

The worst film of 2013 is… Scary Movie 5


 

Any thoughts on my thoughts? Sound off in the comments if you still want to do a bit of reminiscing of what 2013 had to offer! 🙂

 

Prisoners (2013)

PrisonersReleased: September 20, 2013. Directed by: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard. Runtime: 153 min.

Thought-provoking and engaging, “Prisoners” represents a type of film that I I love. It asks the question: What would you do if your child was kidnapped? What lengths would you go to get them back?

Thanksgiving for the Dover and Birch families start out like any other, but takes a horrifying turn after dinner. When a young daughter is taken from each family (Anna from the Dover clan, Eliza from the Birches), it is hell on earth. They call the police and, later, the RV their children were playing by is found. After a suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), is released by police because he has the IQ of a ten year-old, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) must take matters into his own hands. He is convinced this man has kidnapped his daughter and her friend.

Meanwhile, the lead detective, Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is following leads and attempting to find the girls before time runs out. Dover is doing the same, but with a different form of vigilante justice.

As an ethical exploration, “Prisoners” is fascinating. As a kidnapper-revenge crime story, it’s dark and complex; if predictable at times. There are plot twists upon plot twists, but many are “Ooooh, I shoulda known.” It is an enthralling ride, either way.

The ethical questions raised throughout are how far would you go to get your kids back? It’s a story about parental instincts, but the mothers take backseat roles in the film. Viola Davis portays Nancy Birch, who learns of the drastic plan Keller has hatched later on. Maria Bello, who plays Grace Dover, has the smallest amount of screen time out of the primary cast, as she is popping insomnia pills like they are M&M’s throughout the movie.

So, to many, it might seem as if the film is predominantly about fatherly instincts. Hugh Jackman’s character (Keller Dover) represents the desperation of fathers who will be the backbone behind a drastic plan, and wish to see it through to the end as to see his baby girl again. Terrence Howard (Franklin Birch) is the father who is a bit more reluctant to going to these illegal heights at seeing his child again. Most fathers will go through this plan, but he just represents the fathers who will be a bit more heartbroken about it… But won’t stop it. Personally, my fatherly instincts might be a bit more akin towards Howard’s.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Loki is the only main male character who doesn’t have a child. He represents the rational law-man, who’s fighting for what’s right. His heart goes into this case, as well. This situation is intense for him, but it’d be much scarier if he had children. His contribution to the story is leading the case; but Keller thinks he could be doing his job a helluva lot better.

Those of us in the audience without children, can understand the lengths Keller and Franklin would go through to get their children back. It’s unsettling and heartbreakingly shocking. What is a heartbreaking aspect to it is that, even though we might not be the one doing the beating, all humans with a heart will go to these lengths to see their child again. This is what makes these characters so real. The only unrealistic part of the film is the recurring cop cliché of who the hell needs back-up or partners?

The Controversial Oscar Nominee Squad Beating On A Villain (that’s what I like to call them) aspect of the film makes us sympathize with a potential villain. Paul Dano plays the softly-spoken Alex Jones, a suspect in the case – and a character who will keep you guessing on how much he knows about the girls’ disappearance. Another memorable performance is from Alex Jones’ aunt, Holly Jones, portrayed by Melissa Leo in a nearly unrecognisable role.

Writer Aaron Guzikowski knows what solid storytelling is all about, and director Denis Villeneuve knows how to create a intricate and dark atmosphere, coupled with great imagery. It seems as if he’s been taking a tip or two from David Fincher; as this feels as intense as “Zodiac” in more than a few scenes; making me think of this as one of the more suspenseful films of recent memory. Villeneuve also knows how to get incredible performances out of his talented cast.

No matter how small the performances of those involved, they are emotionally involving and, most importantly, believable. Gyllenhaal is great as Detective Loki, relentless and powerful in his pursuit of the girls. He continues to play a believable detective. Jackman’s emotions are believable because many fathers will react the way he does. His mind is focused on seeing his daughter again, and the way he remains strong under this extraordinary pressure, and how he breaks down under his desperation is heartbreaking. He is one of the only people staying strong when others are crumbling. Jackman is phenomenal because he pours his heart and soul into this film. There might just be another Oscar nomination for Jackman on the way.

What is impressive about the movie is its truly emotional impactful story. It’s engaging in so many ways. There’s a lot of power when a movie can be simultaneously terrifying and heartbreaking. It’s phenomenal at 153 minutes, but I wonder how much better it would be if it were about ten minutes shorter. It’s a really fascinating puzzle to piece together, that’s certain. Unforgettable and hard to watch; the ethical debates people will have about this film is what cinema is all about.

Score95/100

Box Office Predictions: Sept. 20-22

Battle of the YearI don’t know what “Battle of the Year” is doing in theatres at this point in time, after dance films are so past their prime. And this looks way generic and familiar. Movies similar to this open at $11.06 million. “Magic Mike” is the highest-grossing dance film with a $113.7 million domestic run (and its opening was $39.127 million). For generic dance flicks, “Step Up” is the highest-grossing with $65.3 million in its domestic run. “Step Up 4” made $11 million in its opening with no big stars, but it had the benefit of being part of a franchise. But this one isn’t part of a franchise. Chris Brown is in it, and so is Josh Peck, but Peck hasn’t really broken out in the film industry quite yet. Nor is he a bankable actor. A few cons of this movie is that it had hardly any marketing campaign; it only has a bit over 104,000 likes (as of Sept. 17) on its Facebook page, and it has only registered 1138 tweets, with a 3:1 positive to negative ratio (as of Sept. 17). I think this will be seen by some over the weekend, because apparently some teens like to watch the same generic (3D) dance flick over and over and over again. It’s a ‘Wait for Cable’ type-of movie for me, if anything. My prediction for this is $7.3 million.

Prisoners“Prisoners” looks freaking awesome. Generally, crime movies are hit-and-miss at the box office, but I think this one will be a modest hit. Similar films to this open at $16.05 million. This is star-packed and has a great-sounding story. One of the main reasons I think it’ll do really well because it is one of the runner-ups of the Blackberry People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. That means it’s good, and it is one of September’s only releases that has Oscar potential. The long-term legs for this one should be great. My prediction for it is $21.8 million.

 

Here’s how I see the Top 10:
1. “Prisoners”: $21.8m
2. “Insidious Chapter 2”: $18.06m
3. “Battle of the Year”: $7.3m
4. “The Family”: $6.875m
5. “Riddick”: $4.1m
6. “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”: $3.94m
7. “We’re the Millers”: $3.85
8. “Instructions Not Included”: $2.98m
9. “Planes”: $2.5m
10. “The Wizard of Oz 3D”: $2.28m