Movie Review ~ In Secret (Thérèse)

in_secret
The Facts
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Synopsis: Set in the lower echelons of 1860s Paris, a sexually repressed young woman is trapped into a loveless marriage to her sickly cousin by her domineering aunt. After meeting her husband’s alluring friend she embarks on an illicit affair that leads to tragic consequences.

Stars: Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange, Oscar Isaac, Shirley Henderson, John Kavanagh, Mackenzie Crook, Matt Lucas

Director: Charlie Stratton

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

ReviewIn Secret is one of the small films that would be quite easy to miss at a better time of year.  These being the waning winter months before the Oscars are announced and the push for the summer blockbusters begins, however, the field is a bit more open with much less to recommend than movie studios would wish.  That’s why In Secret is such an interesting find, a dark drama chock full of shadows and struggles which grew on me more than I thought it ever would.

Based on Émile Zola’s 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin that no doubt inspired countless modern films about unhappy wives that get rid of their husbands with the help of a well-coiffed lover, In Secret boasts superior production values and performances from the top down.  Writer/director Charlie Stratton labored for years to get his vision on screen and the wait was worth it.

Having starred in the similarly themed steamy erotic thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jessica Lange (Cape Fear) graduates from femme fatale to grand dame as a smother mother who takes in her young niece and raises her alongside (and in servitude to) her only son, the sickly Camille (Tom Felton, The Apparition).  From early on we can see that Therese (a stilted but better than usual Elizabeth Olsen, Oldboy) longs for something better and is pretty sure she deserves it too.  She’s not your typical schemer but seizes opportunities when they are presented to her…an opportunist.

Moving with her aunt and cousin turned husband from the slow pace countryside to a dingy street in Paris where Lange opens a shop, Therese sees her chance for freedom in Camille’s friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis).  A temperature rising seduction begins between the two, leading to a day on the lake for Therese, Camille, and Laurent that turns tragic.

What happens next could have been the same fodder as any number of tangled thrillers, but Stratton wisely keeps the event off screen, leaving the audience to be as in the dark to what actually happened as certain central characters are.  That gives him room to explore the aftermath it has on everyone and how the lust that turned to love quickly morphs into something darker and more frightening.

What helps In Secret along are not only the strong performances of Lange (especially after she’s rendered mute) and Isaac but in Stratton’s fleshing out of a small group of Parisians that Lange and family called friends.  An oddball mix of rude mechanical-like figures, they inject a dose of wry humor (not comedy) into the latter half of the movie that saves it from trolling the bottom of the Seine.

Playing in limited release, more people will (unfortunately) probably see Pompeii on its first day than will see this in its entire run…but it’s worth considering over any number of films that are landing in the Top 10 the next few weekends.

Movie Review ~ Pompeii

pompeii
The Facts
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Synopsis: A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him.

Stars: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Kiefer Sutherland

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  I remember reading reviews of Titanic back in 1997 when it was first released and thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, but what about when the boat sinks?’  James Cameron’s Oscar winning film benefited from the introduction of characters, plot, effects, and ideas that culminated in the famous sinking of the titular ocean liner which made it more than just a soggy retread of the popular disaster pictures of the 70’s.  As a high school student still finding my critical legs, all I cared about was how the boat looked when it was sinking.

I mention Titanic because the makers of Pompeii clearly hatched their notion to retell the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius during a screening of Titanic when it was re-released in 3D a few years back.  So instead of this being an all out disaster epic, it’s less about the lava and more about the love…and more’s the pity because even a trio of screenwriters can’t muster up a decent bit of dialogue that would help the audience pick someone, anyone, to root for.  Yeah, you say, but what about the volcano?

I’ll get to it…trust me.

Opening with a factual quote from Pliny the Younger who had a firsthand account of the volcanic event, it’s pretty much fiction for the remainder of the film.  A young boy is orphaned at the hand of a cruel Roman soldier (Kiefer Sutherland, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Flatliners) and raised in slavery, becoming a gladiator along the way.  So good at his craft that he’s brought to Pompeii to fight top gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Thor: The Dark World) he has the misfortune to arrive not only at the very moment Vesuvius cracks open but also to fall in love with a member of Pompeii’s upper crust (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch).  Ok, you say, good to know…but what about that volcano?

Getting there…

For the next hour there’s a lot of speechifying by braggadocios, both political and civilian, none of which has the least to do with the fate that awaits nearly everyone within Pompeii’s walls and harbor villages.  The love story is paper thin and too much time is spent introducing secondary characters that are merely there to push our leads out of the way of falling rocks before meeting their ends shortly thereafter.  Ah, you say, I understand…but what about the acting?

Wait, what?  The acting?  Well…I was just getting to that…

Browning comes off the best of the bunch…though here is another movie set in an Italian speaking country where everyone has (or attempts to have) a British accent.  Harington impresses solely on his first entrance, exiting the shadows and preceded by his eight pack abs which is probably why the film is being released in 3D.  Jared Harris (Lincoln) and Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) are wet noodles as Browning’s parents and poor Jessica Lucas (That Awkward Moment, Evil Dead) is barely an afterthought.  Sutherland makes zero effort to do anything special here…which is too bad because he’s a more than capable of playing a nasty bad guy.  Between his non period Jack Bauer haircut and UK accent by way of Billings, Montana (when he bothers to use one at all), he’s incredibly miscast here.

So the volcano…

It erupts pretty spectacularly and provides several opportunities for actors to outrun fireballs, tidal waves, and clouds of ash…but not the inevitable.   The volcano blowing its top is kinda worth the wait and kinda not because so much filler has weighed the film down before its arrival.  It’s the best visual effect in the film, with other moments coming off with badly rendered CGI.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson has four Resident Evil films under his belt as well as a host of other bombastic films with a sci-fi slant (Event Horizon is a guilty pleasure of mine) so he’d seem a natural choice to helm a disaster epic…but he merely moves the pieces around without ever bringing them together in a memorable way.  Pompeii isn’t a total wash of a film but, like the city of its title, it’s gone in an instant.