Recliner Reviews | ‘Unfriended,’ ‘McFarland, USA,’ ‘Every Secret Thing’

In this image released by Disney, Kevin Costner (foreground left) embraces Carlos Pratts in a scene from “McFarland, USA.”
In this image released by Disney, Kevin Costner (foreground left) embraces Carlos Pratts in a scene from “McFarland, USA.” AP


At some point, a conversation must’ve occurred between director Levan Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves that sounded sort of like this, “What if we make a movie where the whole thing takes place in real time, and we film it in one long take like all the characters are talking on Skype?”

Yes, it’s an experimental hybrid of filmmaking and social media. There are dangers in these types of films. The actors spend a great amount of time clicking on a computer screen and typing, and as an audience, we make an effort to watch these actors clicking and typing.

After awhile, it starts to feel like we should be doing something a bit more constructive than eavesdropping on five teenage bullies getting bullied by a teenage ghost in their machines. It’s well-intentioned and it tries real hard, but in the end, unfriend this one – pass.

“McFarland, USA”

Kevin Costner is back once again to his comfort zone – the sports movie. This time he’s taking on the true story of Jim White, the coach of a high school cross country team in one of the poorest cities in America – McFarland, Calif.

Disney is stamped all over this thing, from the plotting to the characterization, all obvious staples of Disney magic. Sure, the plight of poverty and immigrant fruit pickers in California is depicted, but the up-and-down motions of the script move like “The Mighty Ducks” circa 1992.

Add in some family drama, let Maria Bello sell it with those expressive eyes, and you’ve got yourself a Disney sports film. It’s not breathtaking. It’s far from groundbreaking, but it is Costner getting fired up about sports. That’s enough to make it worth a watch.

“Every Secret Thing”

Elizabeth Banks secretly slips in a decent movie or two when no one is looking. This time, she joins a female tour-de-force. The tone of this thriller is overtly dark and director Amy Berg (“West of Memphis”) has made a career dealing with dark content in her documentaries.

The choice of Nicole Holofcener (“Enough Said” and “Please Give”) as writer is unexpected, but overall, her attempt at suspense reaches for tense and emotional. The supporting cast brings in Diane Lane to take on a small but impactful role. Dakota Fanning continues to grow in experience with unconventional roles like this. But Australian actress Danielle Macdonald really gives a knockout performance, using all her screen time to shine.

There are some anti-climactic moments. Other times, momentum builds only to switch characters and lose steam. Sometimes actors push, but the plotting plods. That’s why this secret thing is barely worth a watch.

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