Angels in Stardust
Vallie Sue (AJ Michalka), a teenager, lives with her mother, Tammy (Alicia Silverstone), and younger brother, Pleasant (Adam Taylor) in a small trailer park community situated on the border of Texas and Oklahoma. Her mother isn't quite there for her emotionally or physically for that matter, so Vallie Sue often finds herself making use of her vivid imagination by sitting at a dilapidated drive-in movie theater while envisioning a movie cowboy (Billy Burke) conversing with her. He becomes her parental figure and serves as the catalyst for her dreams of escaping her community. Who becomes a parental figure for Pleasant, you ask? None other than an Indian who goes by the name of Tenkill (Michael Spears).
Genuinely heartfelt coming-of-age stories that don't appeal to the lowest common denominator can be hard to find these days, so it's quite refreshing that Angels in the Stardust comes along and wears its heart on its sleeve. Writer/director William Robert Carey does somewhat oversimplify the kernels of advice/wisdom that the cowboy gives to Vallie Sue, and character arc might not feel entirely organic, but those are forgivable issues. What's more important is that Carey has written a film with a protagonist who's A) a female and B) searching for something other than a romantic counterpart: she longs to attain freedom and happiness above all else---and she has every right to want and have that. Carey's decision to incorporate magical realism via the cowboy that she imagines does takes time to get used to initially, but eventually it eventually becomes less and less awkward/distracting. The plot does have a twist or two along the way; it's Vallie Sue's spiritual journey as a maturing teenager, though, that remains the most captivating, gives the story some meat on its bones and grounds it with much-needed emotional depth.
Chaplin of the Mountains
Elizabeth Olsen stars as Thérèse, a young woman whose domineering aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange), forces her
to marry her cousin, Camille Raquin (Tom Felton), despite that she's not in love with him. Her heart belongs to her true love, Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac), with whom she has a romantic, sexually-charged affair behind her husband's back. She and Lauren hatch a scheme to kill Camille, but little do they expect the emotional consequences in the aftermath of their murderous plan.
Based on the novel "Therese Racquin" by Émile Zola, In Secret seamlessly combines the elements of steamy romance, suspense and emotionally-charged drama. Writer/director Charlie Stratton takes his time to introduce you to the characters and to the dynamics of their relationships so that by the time that Thérèse has an affair with Laurent, you not only feel their chemistry palpably, but you understand why she chooses to engage in that affair. Madame Raquin may not seem likable at first, but part of what makes this film so extraordinary is the complexity of its characters; in no way does she, Thérèse or Laurent seem bad in a cartoonish way. In other words, they're fallible human beings with anger, regrets, remorse and, above all, a moral conscience. Once that conscience comes into play, In Secret grows increasingly interesting and riveting.
The casting directors deserve kudos because everyone nails their part perfectly; no one feels miscast. Elizabeth Olsen sizzles in her role of Thérèse and tackles the nuances moments of fragility with conviction. Her eyes reflect many deep human emotions concurrently which enriches the film. Jessica Lange, one of the greatest actresses of our time, delivers a mesmerizing, magnificent performance and sinks her teeth into her role quite smoothly. She's very effective at conveying a lot of thoughts and feelings with nuances sans words even when the film gets into dark territory. How she managed to shake off this role emotionally is a whole other matter, but what's certain is that, like any great actress, she has dug deep enough to find her character's core--her truth--successfully. You won't soon forget Lange and Olsen's haunting scenes together later in the second act. To top it all off, In Secret also offers exquisite cinematography, costume and production design that further adds to the authenticity onscreen. At a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes, In Secret is spellbinding, intelligent and suspenseful.
One Candle, Two Candles
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