See This/Skip That: From 3 Days to Kill to In Secret
As a CIA agent, Kevin Costner aims for a box-office bull’s-eye in 3 Days to Kill. But is the espionage thriller right on target?
Plus: Animation visionary Hayao Miyazaki unveils his supposed swan song, The Wind Rises, and Elizabeth Olsen goes for literate, period prestige in In Secret.
Here’s what to see and what to skip in theaters this weekend.
3 Days to Kill
It wouldn’t be so egregious that 3 Days to Kill is six different movies in one, if any of them were actually decent. As it is, the spy/action/terminal-illness/coming-of-age/cultural-exchange/family dramedy is such a misguided mess that not only does it fail to get where it’s going, I can’t even tell you where it’s coming from.
CIA agent Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is a capable clean-up man, until he’s diagnosed with terminal brain cancer shortly after a mission goes south. He packs it in for Paris, where his estranged wife, Christine (Connie Nielsen), lives with their daughter, Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). Since there’s a family of squatters living in his apartment, Renner bunks with his own clan, taking care of his daughter while Christine is on a business trip.
The wrinkle arrives in the slinky form of fellow agent Vivi (Amber Heard). The preposterously overbearing femme fatale has a proposition for Renner: She’ll provide him with a super-secret miracle cure for his cancer – if he’ll take care of a bad guy known as the Wolf (Richard Sammel). Don’t bother asking why the CIA suddenly thinks that now Renner is worth saving, since the answer doesn’t begin to make sense. The key here is that the cure has a nasty side effect, causing Renner to hallucinate then collapse whenever his heart rate rises. This proves most inconvenient for him at times that are all too convenient for the movie.
It doesn’t help Renner or the audience that while he’s on a convoluted hunt for the Wolf, the increasingly annoying Zoey runs wild, shrieking over nonsense, sneaking out to clubs and lying as a matter of course. Renner tries to cram in daddy-daughter growth moments between kills, at one point taking his kid for a sweet afternoon outing, while a man he’s tortured lies stashed in the trunk. The scene is meant to be funny, but it’s merely absurd.
Even ignoring the most egregious material, there isn’t much redeeming value in 3 Days to Kill, with action sequences we’ve all seen before, jokes that almost never land and even Costner looking like he’s had better days on a film set. He’s certainly had better moments onscreen.
Flip a Coin on This
Orphaned Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen) is trapped in a dismal marriage to her sickly cousin Camille ( Harry Potter‘s Tom Felton) when she meets his libidinous childhood friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac). Naturally, an affair develops. What happens next, though, is most unnatural, with the lovers plotting a monstrous crime.
In Secret, based on the Emile Zola novel Thérèse Raquin, promises heat and spice, but delivers a bland brew of period melodrama. Jessica Lange is engaging as Madame Raquin, Camille’s mother, but even she isn’t quite grasping and spiteful enough to give the film needed oomph. Still, the performances are solid, with Olsen and Isaac exploring both sides of passion as Thérèse and Laurent face their true selves. The film may not be the most moving literary adaptation of late, but it hits its marks.
But See These
The Wind Rises
Animation master Hayao Miyazaki ( Spirited Away, Ponyo) delivers a loving portrait of real-life aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the English-language version of the Oscar-nominated film. Too near-sighted to become a pilot, Jiro grows up to design fighter planes during World War II while falling in love with the frail Nahoko (Emily Blunt). American audiences will find more humor in this version, with jokes tweaked a bit for our ears, while Miyazaki’s visual style remains as stunning as ever. Kids will likely find the subject matter too dry, but adults should absolutely check out The Wind Rises. The 73-year-old Miyazaki says the film will be his last.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
Whether you know her as one of the grande dames of Broadway, as Jack Donaghy’s mother on 30 Rock, or even not at all, Elaine Stritch is hilarious, heartbreaking and wildly inspirational as she sets off to do a stage show on the eve of her 87th birthday in this remarkable documentary. (She’s 89 now.) Director Chiemi Karasawa follows Stritch as she struggles to remember the lyrics for a one-woman retrospective of Steven Sondheim songs while battling diabetes and facing the reality of aging.
A slew of celebrities from Tina Fey to James Gandolfini (to whom the film is dedicated) talk about their love of the ballsy broad, and even at their most affectionate they don’t pull punches, with Fey all but admitting that Stritch can be difficult. Their respect, though, is unwavering. If there’s a quibble, it’s that Karasawa never gets a sit-down with Sondheim, a hugely important presence in Stritch’s work. Still, Shoot Me is precisely as dishy, vulnerable and moving as a biographical doc ought to be.
Oh, and Buy This:
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Criterion Collection’s reissue of Wes Anderson’s phenomenal animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book is a fan’s dream. The film is digitally remastered with plenty of extras, including animatics, video of the actors voicing the characters, and audio of Dahl himself reading his book. Go get it!