Niagara Gazette

February 18, 2014

CALLERI: Be cautious about the film that isn't screened, and two new entries to consider

Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Most movies roll into theaters on a wave of pre-opening publicity and hype. More often than not, the films are shown in advance to critics nationwide, either at daytime press screenings, special evening showings, or on DVD press screeners, which are marked with secret codes to prevent piracy and often reveal the critic’s name, which pops up every now and then as you watch.

Some movies not shown to reviewers beforehand are considered critic-proof, and most of those are aimed at teenagers, entries such as the “Twilight” or “Hunger Games” series, or stylized horror pictures that cost little to make and are expected to reap a box office bonanza their first weekend.

Then there are major studio releases that arrive with a blitz of television advertising, but few, if any, opportunities for reviewers to see the film before opening day. Sometimes, “The New York Times,” “The Los Angeles Times,” the Associated Press, a handful of syndicated critics, perhaps a major magazine writer or two, and the main show business newspapers, “The Hollywood Reporter” and “Variety” will get to see a picture in advance, but few others will.

When these movies go unseen by most of the country’s reviewers, the message is clear: the studio has little faith in it. In essence, it’s probably not good. A mediocre film might receive a release date simply to satisfy its star with whom the studio has an ongoing relationship. The binge of TV advertising is, more often than not, the result of an agreement between the star and the studio that some publicity must be delivered.

Two big motion pictures are opening Friday, but you won’t see very many, if any, reviews. The action spectacular “Pompeii” and the thriller “3 Days To Kill” are riding into communities on a rush of televised promotion, but without the benefit of screenings. The former features Kiefer Sutherland, and the latter stars Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner, a mega-movie star to be sure, but not even he can rescue the film from an aura of impending failure. The seemingly limitless TV commercials for both movies are a vain attempt to try and recoup at least some measure of the cost to produce them. The studios hope you’ll see the films before word-of-mouth advises you that you might want to save your money.

I have always believed that every movie should be shown to critics. You never know what will surprise you.

One feature that was screened and is proving very strong at the box office is “The Lego Movie.” I took my nephews Jeremy and Lucas (ages 11 and 8 respectively) and their mother, Lisa Carver, my sister, to the preview screening. The boys and their mom loved it, but more importantly, in terms of this column, I also thought it was completely enjoyable. The clever and colorful film follows the adventures of Emmet, a little Lego construction worker, who finds himself caught up in adventures far beyond his wildest imagination. There’s a delightful cast of supporting Lego figures, including popular comic book characters, and a mean villain who wants to control the Lego world by gluing everything together.

The story was fresh and funny, with plenty of laughs for kids and a lot of inside jokes for adults. I saw it in 3D, but I don’t think that’s an ingredient vital to its success. I’ve never liked the way the glasses darken the image. That written, “The Lego Movie” should be on your list of movies to see. The scenes set on a Lego-created ocean are an animated wonderland.

On a more adult note, “In Secret” is based on Emile Zola’s tragic 1867 novel “Therese Raquin.” It was featured at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it was called “Therese.” The title change for the release to American audiences seems an unnecessary desire to give the tale more mystery than it has already. The story is a cauldron of adultery, betrayal, murderous impulses, and bitterness, none of which needed enhancing. The orphaned Therese (Elizabeth Olsen) is sent to live with a conniving aunt (Jessica Lange), who forces her to marry her sickly and melancholy cousin (Tom Felton). After this odd trio has moved to the lower depths of Paris, Therese, who loathes her husband, takes up with Laurent (Oscar Isaac), an amateur artist. Their passionate and dangerous affair leads to deadly consequences.

“In Secret” is a compendium of rampant unhappiness and visual gloom. What gives the movie its strength is the superb acting from the entire cast. You are engaged by the characters. In his first feature as director, Charles Stratton, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn’t quite finesse his debut, he’s too fond of low light and shadows, but his film unreels as an interesting interpretation of Zola’s bleak romance.



Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at