Boy Erased

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe
Directed by: Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”)
Written by: Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”)

Australian actor-turned-director Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”) steps behind the camera for only the second time in his career with “Boy Erased,” a compassionate and, at times, upsetting account of a young man’s forced participation in a conversion-therapy program at the hands of his Baptist pastor father and devout mother. It’s a crucially important coming-of-age drama that will hopefully serve as a cautionary tale for those who believe that pseudoscientific treatment or spiritual intervention can actually “pray the gay away.”

Based on author Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name, the film stars Academy Award-nominated actor Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”) as Jared Eamons, a high-school teen from Arkansas who begins to question his sexuality. This is followed by a series of traumatic experiences — without the thoughtful and empathetic responses most would want from their family. When his conservative father Marshall (Russell Crowe) confronts Jared about a rumor, he denies it at first before admitting to having an attraction to men.

Turning to the counsel of “wiser” elders in his congregation, the consensus is that Jared should be sent to reparation therapy where he can be cured of his homosexuality, an idea he agrees to if only to placate his parents, including his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman), who sits quietly to the side as her son is urged to renounce what the church believes is an immoral lifestyle.

Once in therapy and surrounded by young men and women also struggling with their sexuality, Jared starts to recognize that nothing justifies the cruelty he and the others are suffering through. While he doesn’t receive much pity from his dad, “Boy Erased” takes a turn toward a more inspiring narrative when his mom realizes the program is causing more harm than good. Kidman is brilliant as she transforms from an initially complicit woman who defers to her husband and the men of the church to someone who chooses to accept her son for who he is, despite the consequences that come with that decision.

Taking on double duty as director and supporting actor is Edgerton, who portrays Victor Sykes, the resolved leader of the therapy sessions. Like “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” another gay-conversion drama that debuted earlier this year starring Chloë Grace Moretz (“Let Me In”), “Boy Erased” doesn’t simplify its characters into heroes and villains. It wants audiences to understand the complexities of the relationships, even though, occasionally, it feels like Edgerton keeps the viewer at arm’s length on an emotional level.

Nevertheless, “Boy Erased” is critical viewing, especially for those bigots out there who still think a person’s sexual orientation is a choice. It’s all worth it if “Boy Erased” is able to affect a few minds.

Joel & Nash Edgerton – Gringo

March 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his first feature film since 2008’s Australian thriller “The Square,” director Nash Edgerton goes south of the border for the dark comedy “Gringo” and takes his brother, actor/director Joel Edgerton, along for the ride.

In the film, Joel plays Richard Rusk, an immoral pharmaceutical executive who travels with his coworkers Elaine and Harold (Charlize Theron and David Oyelowo) to Mexico to do some business on a marijuana pill that could bring their company a lot of money. While there, Harold finds out his bosses are screwing him over in more ways than one, so decides to fake a kidnapping so he can cash in on the ransom.

During an interview with me last week, the Edgerton brothers talked about the unlikeable nature of the film’s characters, whether or not it pays to be a good person, and if Joel thinks audiences are going to get tired of him since he has two movies currently at theaters.

Nash, one of your screenwriters, Matthew Stone, wrote a comedy for the Coen brothers in the past (“Intolerable Cruelty”). Did you want “Gringo” to have that kind of Coen Brother-esque feel to it or would you rather it stand on its own?

Nash Edgerton: Essentially, you want to make a film that stands on its own. Obviously, I’m a fan of the Coen brothers’ films, especially “Fargo.” It’s one of my favorite films.

Joel, there’s no denying how much of a jerk your character is. What did you want to do with him as a character? What kind of conversations did you have with Nash about how to depict him?

Joel Edgerton: (Laughs) It was really interesting playing Richard because of how much of a supreme jerk he was. We talked a lot about just how far we could push it. We really wanted to lean into the unlikeable nature of the characters and their culturally naïve and stupid aspects. It feels like the kind of movie where you want to hate certain people and like other people more.

Nash, along with Joel’s character, Charlize’s character isn’t much better on a moral scale. Did you want to give these characters different shades in their personality or was it important for you for audiences to dislike them?

NE: I asked all the actors to play their characters truthfully. I feel like all the ignorant things they said were things we had heard people say at various times. It wasn’t like I wanted to make this character worse than another character. We just tried to figure out what certain characters would say in different scenarios. They are essentially ignorant, selfish people.

As a Latino film journalist, I was a bit worried that “Gringo” was going to be another movie that was featuring Latino characters as drug dealers and as the film’s main antagonists. Why do you think “Gringo” doesn’t really fall into that category?

NE: Personally, as an Australian – and seeing Australian characters in American films – I always get irked when they feel cliché. It was important to me that every character, wherever they’re from, felt authentic. For all the Mexican characters, I cast Mexican actors. When they’re speaking to each other, they’re speaking in Spanish. I asked everyone not to do the cliché version of these characters. As much as it is a comedy, it’s played very straight and real. I think the humor comes out of the situations rather than making jokes about one type of person.

So, was there ever any concern making Taco Bell jokes or Mexicans-have-too-many-kids-jokes or Mexicans-brush-their-teeth-with-tequila-jokes?

NE: Essentially you have a good-natured person at the center of all these despicable people. I wanted to show that kindness and goodness can win out over greed. There is a lot of bad and ignorant people in the movie. Again, I think there are things that people have been guilty of saying. I wanted them to play honestly and truthfully in the nature of those characters.

Joel, one of the questions that the film poses is whether or not it pays to be a good person. How do you think that relates to our world today? Did you think about that question going into this project?

JE: I think it definitely pays to be a good person. In an hour and a half [movie], justice is dealt out more neatly and triumphantly than in real life. In many ways, I think the film has an optimistic morale compass. I think there is so much weird and narrowminded opinions from Americans toward the Mexican culture in particular.

NE: I think there are plenty of examples in real life where people do good things and feel unrewarded. Then, other people do bad things and get away with it. At the end of the day, I think karma sometimes works instantly and sometimes it takes its time. But people who do bad things, have to go home and live with themselves.

Nash, the last time I interviewed Joel he said you’re too handsome to be behind the camera. Any chance you’d want to do some more acting?

NE: (Laughs) That’s very kind of him to say. Look, I enjoy acting. I’m slightly more focused on directing, but I’m not against the idea.

Joel, you have two movies opening in back-to-back weeks and another that was recently released on Netflix. Aren’t you worried audiences will feel a Joel Edgerton overload?

JE: I want them to feel the overload. I want them to feel burdened by my myriad of performances.

NE: (Laughs)

JE: I want them to hate me and send me off on a yearlong holiday. (Laughs) You know, it’s nice that in one I play a nice guy spy with a heart of gold (“Red Sparrow”) and in this one I’m just a douchebag.

Gringo

March 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron
Directed by: Nash Edgerton (“The Square”)
Written by: Anthony Tambakis (“Warrior”) and Matthew Stone (“Intolerable Cruelty”)

It’s been a decade since filmmaker Nash Edgerton, brother of actor/director Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”), released his first feature film, “The Square,” an exciting Australian crime drama that finds a unique way of telling a typical bag-of-money story without going through the same tired tropes (it’s comparable to 1998’s “A Simple Plan”).

With “Gringo,” Edgerton, even with an impressive cast, which includes his brother in a lead role, can’t recapture the same kind of thrills his debut movie provided. Leading the way is actor David Oyelowo (“Selma”) as Harold, a mid-level manager who fakes his own kidnapping in Mexico while helping his horrible bosses Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron) close a deal on a marijuana pill that could make their pharmaceutical company tons of cash. The biggest problem with “Gringo” is that there are far too many unnecessary subplots, which the weak narrative can’t support.

Plus, besides Harold, the majority of the characters are so unlikeable, it’s impossible to invest much into them. If the dark comical personality traits of Richard and Elaine worked better, it would be a different story, but none of what they do or say feels authentic or even satirical enough to keep the film’s tone from going off the rails. “Gringo” definitely has a nasty streak, but Edgerton and crew fail to make it cut deep enough.

Red Sparrow

March 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Charlotte Rampling
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”)
Written by: Justin Haythe (“A Cure for Wellness”)

While the French term “femme fatale” can be traced back to the early 20th century, the archetype — a dangerous woman who uses her beauty, charm and sexuality to tempt her lovers into deadly situations — has been around for centuries. From the Greek mythological references of the Sirens, who lured sailors to their watery graves, to Biblical figures like Delilah, whose betrayal led to Samson’s enucleation and ultimate death, the femme fatale has taken on many forms in literature, art and other mediums.

In cinema, however, is when the typified seductress has really shined over the last century. Whether she is defined for audiences by Rita Hayworth as the hair-flipping title character in the 1946 noir “Gilda” or by Scarlett Johansson as an irresistible, ethereal being in the 2013 sci-fi drama “Under the Skin,” male film characters have had plenty to concern themselves over when a potential love interest starts batting her eyelashes or — as Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) does in her new spy thriller — bares all for the uncomfortable assignment at hand.

In “Red Sparrow,” which is adapted from the 2013 novel of the same name by former CIA operative Jason Matthews, Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a Russian prima ballerina who experiences a career-ending injury, which puts her sick mother at risk since no job equals no health insurance. In steps Dominika’s slimy, well-connected uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) who forces her to join an intelligence program known as “Sparrow School,” so she can train to become a spy and learn how to weaponize her body and sweet-talk secrets from unsuspecting men. Her main mission: to cozy up to CIA agent Nathaniel Nash (Joel Edgerton), who is caught up in some Trump administration-level Russian-American relations, and — ahem — persuade him to reveal the identity of a mole with whom he has been working.

Lawrence reteams with filmmaker Francis Lawrence, who directed her in three of the four “Hunger Games” movies, and depicts her provocative albeit exploited character with realism and sexual prowess. Although she’s had a chance to stretch her man-eating muscles in the past as Mystique in the “X-Men” franchise, her role as Dominika is the most audacious of her career and one that she puts some definite enthusiasm behind. Lawrence owns the role as a honey trap and takes it as far as she’s allowed.

The major problem with “Red Sparrow,” however, is the slow-burning script adapted by screenwriter Justin Haythe (“A Cure for Wellness”) that desperately wants to be a sexually charged version of a John le Carré story. But where recent films like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “A Most Wanted Man” are absorbing, smartly crafted espionage dramas, “Red Sparrow” only manages to bring the same amount of intrigue in short bursts and does so without making any significant statements about the current political landscape, despite how deeply ingrained the Russian narrative is in today’s 24-hour news cycle.

One of the segments that works is the time Dominika spends inside the Sparrow School, where she is humiliated by a ruthless schoolmarm (Charlotte Rampling) and told that her body now belongs to the state. To call it a nightmare scenario is an understatement, and director Lawrence captures the disturbing nature of the school with authenticity. Actually, his take on the full world Dominika inhabits is noteworthy, too. The film is set in present time, but the Cold War-era ambiance fills each scene with an unsympathetic and disconnected quality that’s as thick as the snow in a Moscow winter.

Still, the film’s deception and manipulation, even while between the thighs of J-Law, is somewhat of a dull affair and one that is running counter to the idea that using sex as an element of female empowerment only works when the character isn’t forced into the position to survive. Sure, the style and skin might be present, but without any sociopolitical thrills, “Red Sparrow” never really takes flight.

It Comes at Night

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”)
Written by: Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”)

Post-apocalyptic films have always been a source of intrigue, but recent years have shown a different take on them. While many films in the past have focused on the catastrophic event itself, contemporary films have experimented with deeply intimate and passionate narratives in the wake of these events, instead choosing to focus on the character influence and even ignoring the cause of the event itself. It’s a great way to tell a personal story, and has allowed independent filmmakers to tell a big story on a small scale. It’s perhaps fitting, that indie filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”) takes the idea of a post apocalyptic landscape and creates a moody, tense thriller with his sophomore effort “It Comes at Night.”

Keeping to just his wife and his teenage son, Paul (Joel Edgerton) fights to protect his family from an unknown threat outdoors that has made everyone sick and wiped out the population. When he finds a man Will (Christopher Abbott) in his home, he meets with his family who agrees to allow him to bring his wife and young son to live with them in exchange for food. As the family dynamics change, events begin to make both Paul and Will leery of each other as paranoia sets in and nobody can be trusted.

Though the title, trailers and marketing may suggest that the film is a horror, “It Comes at Night” feels far more like a psychological thriller than anything else. There are some moments of horror with disturbing imagery and a couple of cheap jump scares, but the film is truly effective in its ability to build tension.

The film is boosted by its performances, primarily that of Edgerton and to a slightly lesser extent, Abbott. Edgerton, in particular, plays his role with a sense of desperation that makes his character feel capable of doing anything for the sake of protecting his family. The tension doesn’t necessarily come from the looming threat outside, but rather what is going on inside closed doors and what truths will be unveiled.

It’s also a very well made film from a technical standpoint. It features beautiful cinematography from Drew Daniels that really helps set the tone and mood for the film. It’s well edited, well performed, and for the direction from Trey Edward Shults successfully creates a fully believable post-apocalyptic landscape.

When digging deeper, however, “It Comes at Night” fails to find much below surface level. Thematically, there’s nothing overtly present that makes the film stand out in any significant way. It’s technically sound and is certainly intense at times, but other than creating mood and atmosphere, very little about the film resonates.

Shults is a name to watch out for and has created a thriller full of mystery, intrigue and slow-burning intensity. It feels, however, like a missed opportunity to create something deeper and more meaningful. Instead, “It Comes at Night” plays as an above average thriller about how desperation and protection can push a man to the brink and awaken hidden horrors.

Black Mass

September 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Scott Cooper (“Out of the Furnace”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“Get on Up”) and Mark Mallouk (debut)

As fascinating as the true life story is of one James “Whitey” Bulger, a South Boston criminal-turned-FBI informant (see a better albeit still flawed retelling of it in Joe Berlinger’s documentary “Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger”), one might imagine the intense nature of the narrative pouring out of every scene in “Black Mass.” Alas, what audiences receive is a worthy attempt at a gangster movie that sort of dissolves from memory once you leave the theater. It’s a couple of steps up from Johnny Depp’s last crime biopic “Public Enemies,” where he plays pretty-boy John Dillinger, but still far from anything in the realm of greatness.

With that said, “Black Mass” isn’t a failure by any means. While it doesn’t entirely succeed in transforming Depp’s Bulger into evil incarnate, it is Depp’s vigor and commitment to the more terrifying traits Bulger possesses that keep the film from flat-lining halfway in. Let’s face it. As an A-list actor, Depp makes more bad choices in roles than most. Fault his ambition to try something totally different from anything he’s done before or fault a slew of underwritten scripts he’s been given, but Depp is the kind of actor that seems to be intrigued only by a character’s surface qualities. With a character as complex as Bulger, however, there is a lot more to explore even when the screenplay meanders into territory that never factors into who he is as a person.

Along with Depp, there are some other noteworthy performances, specifically from an underutilized Peter Sarsgaard and Julianne Nicholson. Basically, everyone not named Depp or Joel Edgerton is shortchanged, which is why any emotional connection between Bolger and other characters feels incomplete. It’s especially true with actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays William Bolger, Whitey’s brother and the President of the Massachusetts State Senate. Why screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk treat this relationship like a mere blip on the radar doesn’t make much sense.

Still, this is Depp’s movie and he has just enough material to do some interesting things with the character. It’s just unfortunate that no one else was given the same attention. If they had, “Black Mass” might’ve cut deeper.

The Gift

August 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Joel Edgerton (debut)
Written by: Joel Edgerton (“The Rover”)

On the surface, “The Gift” appears to be nothing more than a run-of-the-mill thriller about a creepy guy who inserts himself too aggressively into the lives of our heroes. Dogs go missing, expensive fish are poisoned, and nightmares are had featuring Gordo the Weirdo (Joel Edgerton, in his directorial debut) executing classic jump scares. But then the film evolves into something different, twisting the relationships sideways and transforming “The Gift” from a too-familiar domestic thriller into…well, a domestic thriller with some motivational ambiguity.

When young professional couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move back near Simon’s home town for a fresh start, a chance encounter at a home store with Simon’s former classmate Gordo—who Simon barely remembers—throws a wrench in their plans. After tracking down the couple’s address, Gordo begins dropping by unexpectedly and leaving gifts on the front porch, starting with a bottle of wine. In an effort to remain polite, Robyn keeps inviting Gordo inside as Simon’s frustration grows. When an aborted dinner party at Gordo’s house goes wrong, catching him in an elaborate lie, Simon and Robyn break off ties with Gordo, but slowly the secrets about how he and Simon know one another begin to unravel, leaving Robyn wondering just who her husband really is.

Lots of praise has been heaped on actor-turned-director Edgerton for his first time behind the camera, and it’s a promising if somewhat safe and predictable debut. After threatening to turn the adult thriller genre on its head with ambiguous protagonists and antagonists, Edgerton instead goes for the low-hanging fruit of a nigh-implausible revenge fantasy resolution. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the character of Robyn, to whom the movie really belongs…until a last minute twist turns her into nothing more than a tool for vengeance in the film’s off-putting climax involving what may or may not be a horrible crime. Hall’s drug-dependent Robyn slowly comes to realize Bateman’s Simon may be hiding something from her, pushing their relationship to the breaking point, only to have Edgerton pivot and hand the movie back to Simon. Edgerton has some talent as a director and a storyteller, and with some more time to polish his resume, he could afford to avoid taking roles in junk like “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and become the Australian Ben Affleck.

Joel Edgerton – The Gift

August 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his filmmaking debut, actor Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”) directs, writes and stars in “The Gift,” a thriller that tells the story of a married couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) whose life is thrown into a frenzy when a man from the husband’s past comes back into his life 20 years later to reveal shocking secrets from when they were kids. During an interview with me this week, Edgerton, 41, talked about the privileged position he feels he’s in as a director who is also an actor, and explains why he thinks the thriller genre is one that has to constantly evolve.

You probably don’t have a lot of say when it comes to the marketing of a film, but when “The Gift” is referred to as a modern day “Fatal Attraction,” how do you feel about that? Would you rather the film stands on its own than be compared to something from the past?

You know, it’s like when you move to a new city and try to compare it to the old city you used to live in. Movies are the same. People will say things like it’s like “Fatal Attraction” meets “Forrest Gump.” It’s an easy comparison and I’m fine with it.

You’ve worked with some very talented directors in your career like Ridley Scott (“Exodus: Gods and Kings”) and Baz Luhrmann (“The Great Gatsby”). How much influence do directors like that have on your own voice as a filmmaker?

Look, I’m in a very privileged position as an actor. I’ve spent so much time on set with these directors. I’d be crazy not to open my eyes and ears to what’s going on around me. Ridley and Gavin O’Connor, who made “Warrior,” and Jeff Nichols (the upcoming “Midnight Special” andLoving”) and Scott Cooper, who’s got “Black Mass” coming up, these guys have taught me a lot just by being in the presence of them. I get a privilege that a lot of other directors don’t get.

We’ve seen you in some great thrillers like “Animal Kingdom” and “The Square.” What do you think it takes to make something work in this genre? What makes a great thriller?

It’s in the spirit that everything is not what it seems and you’re trying to keep an audience guessing and on their toes. It seems to me that the thriller genre really just has to stay ahead of the audience. Maybe that means the genre has to keep evolving. Anything that has been done successfully before, you can’t just do that again because the audience is waiting for that. They’re expecting it. We wanted to take the audience down that “Fatal Attraction” road and at some point start to mess with their perception of what was going to happen next. I think it’s the director and the writer’s job to keep messing with the minds of the audience.

As an actor, what does it take to get into the head of someone as creepy as your character? What kind of mindset do you have to be in?

That all comes in the writing. I was very determined to write a character for myself who was overbearing and socially awkward. He’s a person we’ve all encountered who wants a friendship with us more than we want with them. (Laughs) I was constantly reminding myself as I made the movie that the movie had to be more than just entertainment. Each character had to be real and resonate in some way, particularly in a film like this where the subject matter is about bullying and the way we can be cruel to each other as people. That danger element of my character is part of that subject matter. He’s a victim of bullying 25 years later asking for some kind of resolution.

Were there any specific challenges in having to direct yourself?

Yeah, I’m a very naughty actor, so trying to control me is unbearable. (Laughs) You know it was tough. Directing is very much about planning and using a lot of brainwork and acting is often about gut instinct, at least for me. Trying to bring those two worlds together on the same day in the same person is tricky. But I had a lot of help. I had a great team. My brother (Nash) was there as an outside eye. The challenges were there early on, but I worked out how to make it work. I was very happy with it.

What did your brother think when you told him you were going to direct your first film? Was he like, “Directing is my thing. Stick to acting!”

Nah, there’s none of that. My brother had an incredible amount of enthusiasm for me to direct. Someone once joked that my brother is a film bully. If someone is thinking about making a movie, he will bully you into doing it. He helped me so much. It was never like, “Hey, stick to your acting, man. I’m the director.” He wanted me to do it. It’s the same reason I’m really excited to see him get in front of the camera more. He’s a little too handsome, but it’s great. We love each other and we love encouraging each other.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

December 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Prometheus”)
Written by:  Adam Cooper (“Accepted”), Bill Collage (“Accepted”), Jeffrey Caine (“GoldenEye”), Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”)

After the breakout success of “Gladiator” in 2000, director Ridley Scott seems determined to recapture the epic, action-packed period storytelling he and Russell Crowe delivered in the sword-and-sandals blockbuster, but with diminishing returns and emotionless digital matte paintings. From “Kingdom of Heaven” to “Robin Hood” to “Prometheus,” Scott has turned in some competent work buried in cold CGI to the indifference – or as with “Prometheus,” seething fanboy anger – of the movie-going public. “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” a big-budget retelling of the biblical story of Moses and his freeing the Jews from the control of Ramses, is ultimately another indifferent shrug.

Raised as brothers by the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro, first in a long list of WTF casting) the orphan Moses (Christian Bale) and heir to the crown Ramses (Joel Edgerton) fight battles for Egypt side by side. Before an upcoming battle, Seti tells the two men of a prophecy wherein one will save the other and become a leader. During the battle, Moses saves Ramses’ life, and is then sent to meet Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn) of Pithom, who oversees the Hebrew slaves. Moses is appalled by the treatment the Hebrews receive and, during his visit, is informed by Nun (Ben Kingsley) of his true heritage: that he is a Hebrew sent to be raised as a child of Phararoh. Two Jews overhear this information and report it back to Hegep. As Moses returns to Memphis, Seti dies and Ramses becomes Pharaoh. Hegep arrives and reveals Moses’ true heritage and, rather than see his sister tortured, Moses admits to his lineage and leaves the kingdom. Years later, Moses is injured in a rock slide, after which a burning bush and a boy named Malak (Isaac Andrews) command Moses to free the Hebrews from Ramses.

If you’ve seen “The Ten Commandments” or even “The Prince of Egypt,” the spectacle of the story of Exodus will be nothing you haven’t seen on a movie screen before. While the plagues that decimate Egypt – from locusts to frogs to rivers of blood rendered in photo-realistic CGI – are thrilling and frightening, they can’t smooth over the lumpy storytelling and warmed-over battle scenes. The screenplay, credited to a quartet of writers, attempts to humanize Ramses and give a moderately convincing scientific explanation to the plagues. Some elements work better than others, such as Moses’ conversations with Malek being made ambiguous enough to paint Moses as either a conduit to God or a brain-injured mad man. But by the climax, featuring chariots charging at one another in a mysteriously parted Red Sea as ocean-borne tornadoes loom in the background, you’ll be exhausted after meandering through a snazzed-up version of a story you’ve seen before. Let my people go…to see a better movie.

The Great Gatsby

May 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann (“Australia”)
Written by: Baz Luhrmann (“Australia”) and Craig Pearce (“Moulin Rouge!”)

For having a reputation of delivering gaudy visual feasts even when his scripts aren’t always spot on, filmmaker Baz Luhrmann has surprisingly become a party pooper with his adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” the classic tale by F. Scott Fitzgerald set in the early 1920s. In the past, Luhrmann has been able to take a celebrated writer like William Shakespeare and turn a story like “Romeo and Juliet” into his own fantastical creation. His work might feel overblown to some (“Moulin Rouge!,” especially, may cause a few epileptic seizures), but his more-is-more approach without apology is what makes the Australian director spectacular despite his flaws. Still, in “The Great Gatsby,” Luhrmann promises a grand circus and shows up with some really expensive silly string.

The year is 1922 in New York City. Business is booming, liquor is cheap, and the roaring jazz music is turning everyone into wild animals. For a good time on the weekends, most find their way to the mansion of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a mysterious millionaire whose shindigs are the bee’s knees. When Jay meets his new neighbor Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), he seizes the opportunity to become his friend in hopes of reuniting with Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Daisy is a girl from Jay’s past who is now married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), a hulking polo player and philanderer who beings to question Jay’s new-money success.

Considered one of the great American novels, Luhrmann somehow squeezes all the romance and emotional value from “The Great Gatsby” and diminishes it to a series of soap opera-like encounters. Where other renditions capture at least some of Fitzgerald’s social commentary (the most famous being the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, which isn’t groundbreaking either), Luhrmann hides his under era garb and confetti just long enough for indiscriminate viewers to get sidetracked by the fireworks (and the Jay-Z hip-hop).

That’s not to say a more contemporary soundtrack brimming with anachronistic hits is never welcomed. Director Sofia Coppola did a fantastic job spinning Bow Wow Wow songs inside the walls of Versailles in 2006’s “Marie Antoinette,” but Luhrmann seems to use the music in a much broader way rather than have it support the narrative. Sure, a song like “$100 Bill” drops Gatsby’s name, but it all feels very overproduced and forced.

As Carraway, Maguire is a boy in men’s clothing. Never do we get a sense of the person he is or why he is enthralled with Jay’s lifestyle. He becomes a fly-on-the-wall kind of character and an afterthought long before the credits roll. While DiCaprio is sufficient as the leading man, he, too, is unable to assemble the emotion needed to make Jay’s longing for Daisy soar. It’s not until his two hot-blooded scenes with the well-cast Edgerton that DiCaprio lifts the vale from his enigmatic character. By then, however, all the Cristal has finished, everybody’s gone home, and not even Luhrmann’s decision to scroll Fitzgerald’s poetic words on screen can give another cinematic “Gatsby” reason to exist.

Zero Dark Thirty

January 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton
Written by: Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”)
Directed by: Katheryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”)

In a year where all the buzz seems to be about “Lincoln,” a film chronicling one of the most important events in U.S., and frankly, human history, another film depicting the events of recent history finally makes its way to theaters nationwide. Oscar-winning director of “The Hurt Locker,” Katheryn Bigelow steps behind the camera for “Zero Dark Thirty,” a compelling look into the events leading up to and the actual mission to kill Osama Bin Laden.

The film is driven quite impressively by Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain (“The Help”), as she brings a stoic intensity to the role. In a part that requires a strong female presence, Chastain is most impressive when she must go toe-to-toe with her male counterparts and assert her dominance. Behind Chastain, there is a cavalcade of well-acted supporting performances from great veteran actors. Though most of these supporting cast members don’t get more than a few scenes, the best of the performances belong to Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Mark Strong.

From a technical standpoint, “Zero Dark Thirty” has very few flaws. There are so many ways in which the construction of the film excels, but none is more front and center than the pacing. Simply stated, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a clinic in pacing. The film is compartmentalized into chapters, a smart decision when telling a story that takes place over a long period of time. The constant flow and a fantastic editing job keeps scenes from running long and the film from becoming boring at any point. One of things “Zero Dark Thirty” is particularly good at is delivering the narrative and information in a meat-and-potatoes kind of way during the terrorist pursuit. Many names, locations and faces are given throughout the movie and to the films credit, never is there a moment of confusion about what is being talked about.

While the actual mission and raid that killed Bin Laden is an integral part of the film, “Zero Dark Thirty” is mostly about a woman’s endless pursuit to find him. With that being the case, a large majority of the film is spent on the research and tactics it took to lead this team to Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Though the scene of the raid is impressive in its own right, it is the moments that build up to it that are truly stellar. The behind-the-scene meetings and the intelligence missions are just a few of the truly captivating moments of the film. know the outcome of. Bigelow is also able to find tension in events that the audience might already know the outcome of. She constructs scenes that allow not only factual information based on real events to be told, but to bring personalities and build complex characters around them. Her absence from the list of Best Director Oscar nominees is a snub in every sense of the word.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is marred with controversy about the depiction of torture and its meaning in the film. For whatever it’s worth, I never got the feeling of a political agenda one way or another while watching the film. In fact, I thought that the events in the film were largely depoliticized. Thanks to expert pacing and narrative structure, “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t feel anywhere close to its two and a half-hour run time. Outstandingly acted, thoroughly cohesive and profoundly intriguing, “Zero Dark Thirty” stands firmly as the best film of 2012.

Peter Hedges & Joel Edgerton – The Odd Life of Timothy Green

August 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the new fantasy family film “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” married couple Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner), who are unable to have kids, are surprised when a little boy magically appears in their backyard after a rainy night. “Odd Life” is written and directed by Peter Hedges (“Dan in Real Life”). During an interview with me last week, he and actor Joel Edgerton spoke to me about how the film developed and how Hedges was able to keep all the fantasy elements of the film from becoming too silly.

Peter, how is a story like “Timothy Green” pitched to you and why did you decide your next film to write and direct would be one with fantasy elements?

Peter Hedges: Well, I woke up in the middle of the night and told my wife, “I want to make a classic.” I was dreaming I was making a film. And she was like, “What do you mean classic?” And I said, “You know, ‘E.T.,’ ‘Wizard of Oz,’ ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’” Then I said, “There’s a problem. I don’t come up with those ideas.” True story, a couple of days later, I was having lunch with producer Scott Sanders and Ahmet [Zappa] (credited for the story of “Odd Life”), who I had never met. Scott said, “Ahmet has an idea he’d like to share with you.” He started to tell me the story and I realized this could be the jumping off point for the film I was hoping to make. The story is about family, about parents. Those two things mean a great deal to me, but I never had a magical component in my writing. It was something I could never have come up with, but wish I had.

Joel, do you think “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” will become a classic?

Joel Edgerton: First and foremost, I think you make the best version of the story you want to make.

PH: What I should’ve said is I’d like to make one of those movies you watch again and again and again. Classics are decided 20 or 30 years from now. I wanted to make a movie that you just had to keep going back to.

JE: Well, wouldn’t that be a classic?

PH: I guess it could be called a classic, but that’s for someone else to determine.

JE: You know, kids today have so much more choices in movies that we ever had. But there were movies that came along for us when we were kids that were like signposts of the history of my life and the history of my imaginary world. There were characters that I dressed up as and fantasized about playing. I’m talking about “E.T.” and “The Goonies,” movies that spoke to me. It only really dawned on me recently that if I was about 9, [“The Odd Life of Timothy Green”] would be a movie  like that. It would be a movie that would make me run around in the garden.

Was that the reason you wanted to be a part of the film?

JE: Yes, that and because the film spoke on another level. It spoke about the parents and adults of the world who I think this film is more for. You learn so much about what it is to be a parent and what it is to look up to a parent and expect so much out of them and realize they are not perfect and don’t have all the answers.

Joel, in the last few years you’ve starred in some films with very heavy themes like those in “Animal Kingdom” and “Warrior.” Was another reason you chose “Timothy Green” because it was a bit lighter?

JE: I mean, I usually just respond to something on a project-to-project basis. I hear a story or I read a script. For “Timothy Green” I was interested enough to chase Peter around town to see if I could get my hat in the ring. It wasn’t necessarily an easy process for me to say I wanted to do this movie.  Peter really fought for me, actually, and I really fought to be a part of it. I really wasn’t looking to react to something I had done in the past. I do choose jobs to get different experiences, but ultimately I look at a project and it’s relative merits and how much it excites me.

Peter, while you’re writing a script that has fantastical elements like this, how do you stop from crossing the line and making things too silly?

PH: One thing you have to do is make sure you start your story deep in the ground. We framed this story around a couple who really wanted to adopt a child. The first time we see them, they are being told they will not be able to have children. That gives the film depth. The one thing to do to keep the movie from becoming too silly is to make sure it’s emotionally true. My goal is to try and find as much humor as humanly possible, especially if it’s a story that’s going to try and break your heart. For me, the magic gave me permission to go further and go more places.  It’s about emotional truth, not about whether something can actually happen in real life. I’m not really interested in watching real life on film. I’m interested when the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Peter, do you have kids?

PH: Yeah, I have a 17 year old and 15 year old. It’s very much why on a personal level this film meant so much to me. When I started writing it, my kids were 14 and 12. I felt my time running out as a parent. I felt maybe I would learn some things and that I could take some of my bigger mistakes as a parent and exploit them and have fun with them. I’ve been that parent who gets over invested in my kids’ activities and I’ve made a fool of myself. It was really therapeutic to take that and put it up on screen in a way that is like putting up a mirror to myself and to a lot of parents I know. Often time in kids’ movies, the parents are bad or one-dimensional. But in this film, there is nothing one-dimensional about Jim and Cindy.

Joel, in the future, if you do decide to have kids, would you like to be able to pick their personality traits like the parents do in this film with Timothy?

JE: No way. I’d be terrible at something like that. If you gave me a list of things to build my child with, I’d surely mess it up. But, yeah, I would love to have children. I would love to be a part of something like that. I’d like to think I would be a good dad, but I reckon I would be a big pushover.

Which of your characteristics would you like to pass along to your son or daughter?

JE: It’s an interesting thing because I am so good about analyzing the people around me, but I would have a terrible time throwing out a character description of myself. I think if I had a child I would want one who was very sociable and good with people and had a real warmth and sense of humor.

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