A Christmas Story: The Musical – Theatre Review, National Touring Company, ASU Gammage, Tempe

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Until the popular 1983 Bob Clark film A Christmas Story came along, Hollywood didn’t really have a Christmas movie industry; at least, not in the way we think of it today.  The 40s and 50s classics were certainly there, and there was always the occasional warm-hearted weepie from Hallmark for the small screen, but for the big screen, Christmas was generally reserved for the grander, more prestige pictures, vying for voting season.  In fact, even A Christmas Story was originally released long before the holidays and gone from theatres once Christmas arrived.

Considering how well-known the story of young Ralphie Parker and his desire for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells the time has become, the idea of seeing it as a musical with songs shoehorned in – even for musical buffs – might have seemed odd.  Could the modest, home-spun story of Ralphie work with songs, grand productions numbers and even, gulp, tap-dancing?   The answer, thankfully, is a surprising, yes.  Those big numbers don’t exactly enhance the story – they’re show-stoppers in every sense of the word – but they’re colorful, spectacular, and a ton of fun.  Because of repeated viewings, seeing characters that have become so well-known is here akin to watching old friends who’ve suddenly taken singing and dancing lessons and they want to tell their story all over again.

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Presented with a giant, round-shaped, snow falling backdrop that makes everything look as though it’s happening within a seasonal snow globe, the strength of A Christmas Story: The Musical is that it changes almost nothing from what we already know.  The time is somewhere between the late thirties and early forties in the fictional Indiana town of Hohman.  Thanksgiving is gone, November is in the past, and the most important event in any kid’s year is just 24 days away: wonderful, glorious Christmas.

Adapted for the stage by Jospeh Robinette, the plot of nine year-old Ralphie (played on alternate nights by Dylan Boyd and Myles Moore) and his desire for that Red Ryder BB gun is the same, and so are the subplots.  Dad, always referred to as the Old Man (an energetic Christopher Swan), wins that familiar prize lamp in the guise of a shapely female leg in a fishnet stocking and heels; the two dogs belonging to the next door neighbors, the Bumpuses, continue to harass the Old Man each time he arrives home from work in the evening; Mother (a hugely likable Susannah Jones) goes to town with a bar of soap when Ralphie accidentally declares “Fudge!” only it wasn’t fudge that he said;  and everyone, including school teacher Miss Shields (broadly though effectively played by Avital Asuleen) and the department store Santa (a funny Daniel Smith), tells Ralphie, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”  There’s even the spectacular triple-dog dare when it comes to licking a frozen school-yard flag pole.

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Unlike most films where the overuse of a voice-over narration often gets in the way, the pleasure of hearing author and humorist Jean Shepherd’s anecdotal comments was essential and became a character in of itself.  The danger of a live presentation is, how do you include those priceless comments from the author without all of that talking getting in the way?  In the musical. the narration frames the story.  It’s New York City, and Jean Shephard (a gentlemanly and comforting Chris Carsten) is on the air, broadcasting live from WOR radio with his annual Christmas Eve show.  From behind the mic he recants his story of earlier days as he waxes nostalgically of his childhood in Indiana and the most important Christmas of his life.  Then we’re off to Indiana, to the home of the hardworking but content Parkers on Cleveland Street with Mother, the Old Man, Ralphie and his kid brother, Randy (Josh Turchin) as they prepare for that annual trip downtown to see what’s in the storefront Christmas display window at Higbees.

All the familiar quips of dialog are there.  The Old Man’s potty-mouthed obscenities are still hanging in space somewhere over Lake Michaigan, while his on-going battle with the home’s heating system continues to make him one of the fiercest furnace fighters in northern Indiana.  Plus there are new quotables.  When the family gets ready to choose the living room tree, the Old Man says, “We’ll pick the tree together and if I like it, we’ll get it.”

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The songs with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are likable and occasionally surprisingly spectacular.  The opening and arguably the best number, Counting Down To Christmas is pure Broadway as the family readies itself for the trip downtown.  The tap dancing sequence in the second half, born of Ralphie’s fevered imagination in the classroom, takes on almost surreal quality as the whole class, dressed as pint-sized, sharply dressed gangsters, dance in a prohibition-era Speakeasy.  It looks like a sequence that was cut from Bugsy Malone and boosted to a more colorful level for A Christmas Story, with Miss Shields way out front, leading the cast while wearing a leg revealing red, shimmering dress and pumps.

The thing that makes A Christmas Story work so well, both as a film and in this dazzling, colorful, live musical, is that warm, comforting feeling of a nostalgia for Christmas of the past.  Even if our childhood memories of the season weren’t quite like Ralphie’s, it’s how we like to remember them.  But the show goes one step further than the film, and even though it lasts just a couple of moments, it makes all the difference.  During the final minutes, as Mother and the Old Man sit quietly in their modest living room on Christmas night, bathing together in the warm glow of the reds, greens and blues of the Christmas tree lights, our narrator points out that back in those days you never asked yourself, do my parents love me?  “It never crossed your mind,” he states.  “Their job was to raise you, your job was to let them.” 

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At the time of writing this review, like the lyrics to the opening song, Thanksgiving will soon be over and November is almost done.  After the 29th, so too will A Christmas Story at ASU in Tempe.  Treat yourself and the family to an early Christmas gift before it closes and moves on.  As everyone grows older, you’ll have neither the memories of a 40’s childhood nor experience a trip to Higbees, but in later life you may reflect back and wax nostalgically about that time dad took you to Gammage.  After all, it’s dad’s job to take you, it’s your job to let him.

For more times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the official ASU Gammage website.

Posted in Theatre

The Good Dinosaur – Film Review

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Imagine a parallel universe where 65 million yeas ago, that asteroid that was supposed to hit the Earth and kill off all the dinosaurs went slightly off course and missed.  Now imagine what might have happened to those surviving dinosaurs had they lived in a world created by Disney; they might evolve.

In the new Disney/Pixar computer animated adventure The Good Dinosaur, that’s exactly what happens.  Like the title of that 1970 Hammer Horror When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, here the dinos do just that: they run their own farms, grow their own food, and even herd cattle, plus, of course, they talk.  

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It’s millions of years later after that asteroid went askew; an Apatosaurus family are tending the farm.  Poppa Henry (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) ploughs the ground with his snout and plants the seeds, Momma Ida (Frances McDormand) tends to the food and the farmhouse while the three kids, Buck (Marcus Scribner), Libby (Maleah Padilla) and the smallest of all, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa) generally help, or hinder, with farmyard chores.  “If we don’t get this harvest in before the first snow,” states momma, “We won’t have enough food for the winter.”  For the Apatosaurus family, it’s life as usual on the prairie.

Echoing all kinds of recognizable Disney moments while set to the caveman era, young Arlo is rescued by his father from the ever-flowing river and tossed to safety just at the moment when a torrent of water hits.  Like Mufasa who can’t survive the stampede of hyenas in the gorge, Poppa Henry can’t survive the crashing wall of water, and Arlo becomes a dinosaur without a dad.  Like Simba who finds his true worth and role in life by leaving the Pride then eventually returning, young, clumsy Arlo does the same, only with Arlo it’s hardly voluntary.  A knock on the head by a rock and another fall into the river causes the dino to float miles away from home, unconscious.

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When he wakes, he’s lost, hungry and lonely, except for the company of a pesky little human caveboy – something Arlo has presumably never seen before – who attaches himself to the young dinosaur in the way a stray canine might attach itself to its master.  Arlo even names him Spot.  In this parallel universe, roles are reversed.  But Arlo remembers his dad’s words; not the philosophical one about getting though your fear in order to see what’s on the other side, but the one that will point Arlo back in the right direction to safety: “As long as you can find the river, you can find your way home.”  And that’s what Arlo and his un-evolved but faithful companion Spot do; they follow the river.

What follows is a series of comical and often exciting episodes that evoke the spirit of a pre-historic Jungle Book; Arlo and the devoted Spot navigate their way through the terrain while encountering both friendly characters and dangerous creatures at every corner, but without the songs.  Particularly effective is the episode reflecting a western where Arlo and Spot help a Tyrannosaurus trio, led by Butch (Sam Elliot), to herd prehistoric longhorns and rescue them from the hillbilly Velociraptor rustlers.  When T.Rex Butch runs while rounding up the longhorns, the bottom half of his body gallops like a horse, while the top half appears to ape a cowboy holding the reins.  It looks like those Monty Python knights with the coconuts, except this T.Rex can really run.  The John Ford/Monument Valley vista background adds to the humor.

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A problem Pixar must continually face with each new release is the constant comparison with its now considerable repertoire of features.  The incredible Ratatoiulle, the Toy Story franchise, and most recently, the spectacularly inventive and oh-so human Inside Out are in a league of their own.  The Good Dinosaur is not part of their world, and reviewers should be fair and note this – it’s not meant to.  In the way that Brave fell back on a more conventional animated adventure, Arlo and Spot do the same.  The path they take, the situations they encounter, and the lessons Arlo will finally learn are time-honored and traditional Disney fare with a ton of fun experienced along the way, but make no mistake, the animation is anything but; it’s astonishing.

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Looking occasionally photo-realistic, the details of the computer generated pre-historic landscape are dazzling to the point where the water, the lake and all the surrounding mountains are virtually tangible.  It’s as if the more stylized, animated appearance of the characters were incorporated onto a backdrop of real-life film, something that probably won’t register with children but older viewers might find themselves needing to adjust to the two slightly differing styles melding as one.  Arlo’s design isn’t exactly a copy of Fred Flinstone’s Dino, but the overall look is certainly there.

MPAA Rating:  PG    Length:  100 Minutes    Overall Rating:  8 (out of 10)


Posted in Film

Creed – Film Review

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You can look at the new sports drama from director Ryan Coogler two ways.  It’s either the seventh film in the Rocky series or it’s a spin-off.  Maybe both.  Overseas it’s actually called Rocky 7. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is still there in his hometown of Philadelphia, running his restaurant, and seemingly content to do so, but this time around he’s a secondary character in his own saga.

The real story is about Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan), a young boxer with great potential who wants his turn in the ring.  Creed is the illegitimate son of one-time world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, only he doesn’t know it.  He’s the end result of an affair the champion boxer once had before he died.  The man never knew he ever had a son.

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Because his mother also passed away, throughout Adonis’ childhood, the troubled boy went from one foster home to another with extra time spent in several juvenile detention centers.  In an introductory sequence, having discovered that her deceased husband had a child, Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad) arrives at one of those centers and offers the boy a permanent home.  She wants to raise him in the comfortable surroundings built by his father.

Jump to present day.  Adonis is now in his early twenties, still living comfortably with Mary Anne in palatial surroundings and working in an L.A. office, but that new departmental promotion means nothing.  He wants to box.  It’s all he can think about.  And mom is not happy.

Apollo didn’t get hurt,” she states in a moment of anger to her adopted son.  “He got killed!”  Within minutes, the young man’s mother gives every reason why becoming a boxer should be the last thing on his to-do list, telling him how often she had to carry her husband up the stairs because he couldn’t see or do it for himself.  “You want brain damage?” she cries in a desperate attempt for her son to see reason.  But the young man can’t be told.  He’s the son of Apollo Creed and he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.  He quits his office job, packs his bags and heads to Philadelphia with one thing in mind.

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When Adonis arrives in Pennsylvania, his first step is to convince an aging Rocky Balboa to train him.  “I got plans for my life and this ain’t part of it,” Rocky tells Adonis.  But, of course, Rocky caves and takes on the Burgess Meredith role of the first two Rocky movies; he trains the boy to fight.  It’s only when the current title holder, British boxer Ricky Conlan (real-life cruiserweight, Tony Bellow) learns that Apollo Creed’s son is in training that the Liverpudlian professional demands a match.  Now Adonis Johnson Creed has something to train for.

This is the first film for Rocky that wasn’t written by Stallone; the screenplay is by director Cooper with co-writer Aaron Covington, and while all the trappings of those early movies are here – the training montages, the emotional, behind-the scenes drama, echoes of the Rocky fanfare and the obligatory climactic big fight – there’s an overall different look and rhythm to the piece.  Those early Rocky features were shot with a standard frame, but here cinematographer Maryse Alberti shoots for a widescreen, opening up the look to something broader and giving the film a less intimate feel.

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The movie also feels too long, an issue with many recent features.  Creed tends to sag in the middle, particularly when the story centers on the love relationship with Bianca, the attractive singer-songwriter played by Tessa Thompson.  Thompson is fine, and when the character starts to warm to her Philly apartment neighbor, that annoying, antagonistic manner she initially possess dissolves to the point where you even begin to like her.  Interestingly, the character has progressive hearing loss, a plot point covered when Adonis first asks about the petite hearing aids he notices she wears, but what appears like something important is never mentioned again.  Depending on box-office, maybe it’s groundwork for a future conflict in a possible Creed sequel.  Whatever it is, something so seemingly of consequence has oddly nothing to do with this story.

Whether you’ll like young Adonis Creed is difficult to say; he’s moody, single-minded and doesn’t always listen to reason, as evidenced in those early moments when his mother’s impassioned request to think twice about boxing falls on deaf ears.  Knowing the direction the character is taking, and knowing what it did to his champion father, it’s difficult to sensibly cheer him on, though that’s exactly what the film expects us to do.  Unlike the recent Southpaw, Creed is more fantasy, a boxer’s wish-fulfillment fairytale – which Rocky always was – but the reality of the toll boxing can do to a person is still in evidence.

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The film’s saving grace, however, is Stallone.  There’s something both comforting and uplifting about meeting his signature, warm-hearted character again and it’s only when we’re sharing time with Balboa that the film entertains.  The moment Rocky meets young Creed for the first time and says “How y’doin’?” with that unmistakable, deep-throated Stallone delivery, you may smile, even laugh.  It’s like accidentally bumping into an ol’ buddy you never realized you missed and you’re perfectly happy to spend as much time talking to him as you can.

As for the big fight, it’s as expected – a crowd-pleasing, well choreographed battle as the underdog goes for broke and makes his stand against a towering champion from overseas.  The result of a will-he-or-won’t-he-win harkens back to the original Rocky where the result is decided by the judges, not by a knockout.  If the makers are hoping to spin-off completely without Rocky and head in a new future direction with young Creed at its center, then the character needs to be a lot more interesting, and certainly more likable, than presented here.

 MPAA Rating:  PG-13     Length:  133 Minutes    Overall Rating:  5 (out of 10)

Posted in Film

A Year with Frog and Toad – Theatre Review: Childsplay, Tempe Center for the Arts

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Based on a series of children stories by Arnold Lobel and adapted by Willie Reale, as the title suggests, Childplay’s production of A Year with Frog and Toad isn’t one adventure, it’s a collection of gentle, innocent stories written as seasonal events, starting with spring and ending shortly after Christmas once our two heroes have enjoyed Christmas Eve together and prepare for hibernation.

In 2003, the original off-Broadway production broke records by becoming the first professional children’s production to open on Broadway.  Despite some early packed houses, once it officially hit the Great White Way, the rise in ticket prices became cost-prohibitive for many families, and the show closed after just a couple of months.  But the popularity of the piece has endured, and A Year with Frog and Toad continued to charm not only with a national tour but with regional productions, as evidenced by the several Frog and Toad productions here in the valley.  In fact, for Childsplay, this is now the third outing.


The musical takes its cue from several of the short stories presented as one full year.  There’s a simple, uncomplicated joy to be had when watching Toad (Jon Gentry) attempt to play the tuba to his recently planted garden seeds who are not growing out of the ground fast enough, or when Frog (Dwayne Hartford) kick-starts Toad’s spring by tearing off a page from the calendar to get his amphibious friend out of bed.  Even funnier is Frog’s confidence that the letter he’s written to his best friend and given to Snail (David Jones) for delivery may one day actually arrive in Frog’s mail box.

The strength of Childsplay, as covered before in this column, is its ability to mix classy entertainment while inspiring discussion of its themes.  For Frog and Toad, it’s the theme of friendship.  These characters, as different as they are from each other – Toad can be a little cranky while Frog wants only the best for his friend – have an affection for each other’s company that due to the energy and that overall sense of comic timing and professional delivery of both Gentry and Hartford, the charm feels genuine, illustrated through the things they say and do, even if there’s the occasional conflict.

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Support from Yolanda London, David Jones and Christiann Thijm in a variety of roles is first class throughout.  As the migrating birds, the mischievous squirrels, or the mouse or the turtle, London and Thijm have such irresistibly winning personalities, you wonder how a possible future show with just these characters might develop.  With Jones, his loveable Snail nicely illustrates the secret that always makes a child’s production work as well as it should; it aims an element of humor at the adult.  After he mails his first letter, Snail performs I’m Coming Out of My Shell with all the glitter and pizzaz of a Las Vegas cabaret act.  As he exits, a booming voice announces, “Snail has left the building.”

Technical credits are of Childsplay’s continuous high standard.  Jeff Thompson’s scenic design where elements are either lowered from above or slide on from either side are consistently eye-catching, imaginative and effective; Karen Ann Ledger’s colorful costumes are full of delights and surprises, supported by D. Daniel Hollingshead’s makeup and often amusing hair designs, while Anthony Runfola’s projection adds a dazzling big screen effect of giant, twirling snowflakes as winter approaches.  Molly Lajoie’s choreography based on the original steps of Phoenix Theatre’s Michael Barnard has that same sense of simple but highly effective charm, while Alan Ruch’s musical guidance brings out the best of voices from all the cast, backed by the recorded score from Christopher Neumeyer’s crisp sound.

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Children will be entranced, but there’s something special about this musical for adults to consider.  A Year with Frog and Toad goes beyond simply watching a stage adaptation of a children’s book.  For the child it’s an engaging tale with a little touch of imaginative theatrical magic revolving around a couple of woodland creatures and their seasonal adventures together.  For the adult, it’s akin to reliving an upbringing as reflected in entertainment – you may never have read the books or met either Frog or Toad before, but somehow you feel as though you have; they’re everything you remember from the storytelling characters of your own childhood.


For more regarding times, dates and tickets CLICK HERE for the official Childsplay website.

Posted in Theatre

The Wizard of Oz – Theatre Review: Phoenix Theatre, Phoenix

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With Christmas trees in the foyer and twinkly decorations on the walls, no one needs wait for Macy’s Santa to herald the beginning of the 2015 holiday season; as far as Phoenix Theatre is concerned, it’s already here.

This weekend saw the opening of the theatre’s sparkling new holiday production of The Wizard of Oz, a version based not on the recent Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway update but the outstanding Royal Shakespeare Company production of ’87.  It’s an adaptation that sticks closely to the beloved 1939 film, differing only with the inclusion of song intros trimmed from the movie, plus the full addition of the frenzied dance sequence, Jitterbug, cut altogether from the MGM musical.

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As far as plot goes, this new production is practically the film we know, scene to scene.  However, unlike some theatrical adaptations that take a movie musical classic and reproduce it on stage with an end result that feels as though it’s doing nothing more than going through the motions – Singin’ In The Rain had that as well as Meet Me In St. Louis – this Wizard of Oz bursts on the Phoenix stage with an unstoppable energy, chockablock with creative ideas and theatrical inventions that engages even before that famous twister hits Kansas.

Like the film, this production has that introductory sepia toned look where the Gale family farm house and the barn intentionally lack color while the depression-era costumes of the perfectly appropriately looking Auntie Em (Christy Welty) and Uncle Henry (Geoffrey Goorin) appear mostly in shades of browns.  Once the scene changes to Munchkinland, those eye-popping colors we expect virtually explode before us as if detonated from a confined container that can’t wait to be released.  Even Dorothy’s blue checked farm girl pinafore dress looks bluer once she and Toto crash land on the Wicked Witch of the East.

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The tornado scene is handled well, presented with a mixture of models, Mike Eddy’s flashing lights and Dave Temby’s thunderous sound, plus the inclusion of billowing smoke. Characters seemingly float by Dorothy’s spinning bed while the wretched Miss Almira Gulch (a deliciously evil Sally Jo Bannow) defies gravity – couldn’t resist – by riding off into the clouds on her bicycle.  Once the house lands with an ear-shattering thomp and peace returns, you may feel every bit as exhausted as the cast.

The Munchkins that emerge from their homes to greet the farm girl from Kansas and her little dog are a delightful mixture of children and adults alike, all pointing Dorothy in the right direction along the unfolding yellow brick road to Oz.

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With an ensemble this large constantly engaged in a never ending series of intricate Cari Smith costume changes, events backstage, one imagines, can only be chaotic, but on stage, director Michael Barnard keeps things disciplined and inventively lively as crows dance with scarecrows, bug-eyed talking trees accompany a singing Tin Man, flying monkeys swoop from above and a faux wizard floats off in a balloon basket before Dorothy has a chance to climb aboard.  It’s like watching the most elaborate looking European holiday pantomime but without the audience participation.  For children, it will appear magical.

Much of the fun is in John Kane’s book adaptation which includes several humorous quips of its own, adding a little extra flavor to what we already know of the show through repeated viewings of the MGM movie.  After Tin Man (Ryan Kleinman) explains how he become what he’s become, Scarecrow (Toby Yatso) remarks as if in passing, “Just wasn’t your day, was it.”  And when the cowardly lion (Robert Kolby Harper having a grand ol’ time) is told to put his best foot forward, he looks down at his paws and exclaims, “Decisions, decisions.”  Rusty Ferracane’s man behind the curtain injects more life and energy in his all-too brief scenes than even the original wizard, Frank Morgan, and while some may consider Toto the cute scene-stealer, it’s Carly Nicole Grossman as Dorothy who truly excels.

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Having watched the Ironwood High School senior develop over the last few years, principally at Spotlight Youth Theatre then with small but significant appearances on both the Phoenix Theatre stage and Arizona Broadway Theatre, playing Dorothy gives Carly a chance to fully display all the promises and potential previously seen but never fully embraced.  Earlier this March, as Eponine in ABT’s Les Miserables, Carly grabbed her opportunity to shine, but here as Dorothy you can safely say that it’s no longer a case of holding her own when performing alongside talented seasoned professionals such as Yatso, Ferracane and Kolby Harper; she surpasses.  Carly holds this epic musical production together; she has never been better, and for an eighteen year-old who many may be seeing on stage for the first time, that’s quite astonishing.

For more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the Phoenix Theatre website.

Posted in Theatre

Secret in Their Eyes – Film Review

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The emotional wallop you may feel by the conclusion of the new thriller Secret in Their Eyes will depend on how familiar you are with the Argentinian original.  Based on a novel called The Question in Their Eyes by Eduardo Sachen, then a 2009 film that changed the title to The Secret in Their Eyes, this new American remake, which has curiously dropped the ‘The’ from the title, works better if you have little or no knowledge of it origins.

If you haven’t seen the original, you should, but the fact is, the majority of English language movie-goers don’t enjoy reading subtitles or watching foreign language films.   But they will watch Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts.  That’s why there’s an American remake, and Secret in Their Eyes, without a viewers’ knowledge of what came before, can only benefit.

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Told in two separate time zones, the film begins in 2002 when FBI agent Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and deputy DA Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) first meet.  They’re in Los Angeles working on a counterterrorism case with FBI investigator Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts).  A tip informing the team that a body has been discovered in a dumpster next to an LA mosque sends Ray and Jess racing to the scene.  They’re working on a developing case regarding a suspected terrorist sleeper cell with a possible connection to that same mosque.  What they discover will tear their working relationship apart.  The body in the dumpster is Jess’ daughter, brutally beaten, then murdered and left hidden away with the trash.  Ejiofor’s reaction upon discovering the body is emotional enough, but it’s Julia Roberts in arguably her best performance ever that will tear your heart apart.

It’s now 2015, and Claire Sloan is the district attorney.  Jess is a haunted shell of a woman, and Ray, we discover, has left both the FBI and the area.  But now he’s returned to LA and he has a hunch regarding that unsolved crime of the young girl’s murder.  “We’ll just be re-opening a case,” he tells the DA.  “A review.  Under the radar.”  With reluctance, Claire gives approval, and the investigation into the death of an FBI agent’s teenage daughter continues, thirteen years after the horrendous act was committed.

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By updating the 2009 original, altering character relationships and changing its locale, the end result of the remake changes the substance of the story. Where there was an almost palpable sense of an unfulfilled romance in the Argentinian version, here there’s merely a hint.  It’s obvious that Ray feels something for Claire – you can see it in his body language when he’s near her and the way he’ll occasionally look directly into her eyes as if constantly in search for something he simply can’t find – but when he offers to walk her to her car down in the underground parking lot after work, you may see this as nothing more than protective politeness.  Unlike the original, in this remake you’re never entirely sure whether there’s anything really there.

There’s also the case of that famous, lengthy tracking shot that began with an aerial view over a football stadium which then took audiences down among the crowds followed by a dazzling chase through the stadium aisles.  In the remake we get that aerial shot over the LA stadium where a Dodgers’ game is in progress, but there’s no continuous tracking.  Once the location is established, we cut directly to the aisles.  The pursuing chase is exciting enough, but knowing how effective the original was framed and presented, the remake pales considerably by comparison.Secrets 3

Plus, there’s a tendency for director Billy Ray, who also wrote the script, to unnecessarily underline certain points during those final revelatory moments when Ejiofor’s character pieces things together.  Quick flashbacks of things already seen and heard are presented as if passing quickly through his mind.  The film doesn’t trust us to get it.

Nevertheless, there remains power in director Ray’s American version.  The story grips, the revelations are shocking, and the ending can’t fail to stun, though the level of its emotional impact will, as already mentioned, depend on prior knowledge.

MPAA Rating:  PG-13    Length:  111 Minutes   Overall Rating:  8 (out of 10)

Posted in Film