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.

The Beguiled

June 30, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Dunst
Directed by: Sofia Coppola (“Lost in Translation”)
Written by: Sofia Coppola (“Marie Antoinette”)

I’ve never seen Don Siegel’s 1971 adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel, “The Beguiled,” and I imagine that there are plenty of fascinating and inevitable nuggets to be discovered in comparing it with Sofia Coppola’s new adaptation. You won’t find such critical comparisons here, which is for the best since everything should be judged on its own merit. The “is this movie really necessary” argument is already being thrown around, and to those simpletons I retort: is any?

Coppola’s film boasts an epic cast featuring the likes of Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice and many more. The story is simple enough. After finding a wounded Union soldier in the woods, a Confederate all-girl boarding school finds its repetitive, undisturbed routine upended by the presence of a man in the house. True to the title, Farrell plays his character with the perfect mix of charm and rot. Coppola slowly peels back the layers of all her characters, revealing the darkness that resides in some of her characters while shattering the innocence of others. It’s compelling storytelling, though if you’re not a fan of Coppola’s steady pacing you may not find much to enjoy here.

This is a very tense and suspenseful movie, but it is also laugh-out-loud darkly comedic. “The Beguiled” throws us into a world where order, restraint, reverence, and etiquette are just as if not more oppressive than the war that rages on just outside the house’s gate. The opening shot of the film follows a young girl through woods flooded with cannonball smoke as the sounds of war echo. It’s the perfect way to open a film about creeping evil, and Philippe Le Sourd peppers the film with similar images to amplify that mood. The costumes from Stacey Battat, Coppola’s regular collaborator, tell so much about each character, marking this film as a perfect fusion of elements behind and in front of the camera.

That subdued style of storytelling works great as buildup, and while the payoff in the final act is explosive and dark, it could have gone darker. This is an R-rated movie, but the only given reason is sexuality (there’s thrusting; shame!). Coppola doesn’t seem to have any interest in embracing her R-rating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it may have done “The Beguiled” some good if she had pushed the envelope a bit further.

Still, what remains is incredibly powerful and unforgettable. Part of what makes “The Beguiled” so entertaining is that it constantly changes what character you feel compelled to root for. I don’t really think there’s anything empowering about this movie. It’s a horrifying look into the complex intricacies of human nature. No matter how much of a front one tries to put on, there’s always insidious malevolency lurking beneath.

Lion

December 23, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Sunny Pawar
Directed by: Garth Davis (debut)
Written by: Luke Davies (“Candy”)

The most emotionally-satisfying film this year comes in the way of the true story of Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a five-year-old boy from a remote village in India who becomes lost after he boards a train that takes him across the country for two days. Adopted and now an adult living Australia, Saroo (Dev Patel) makes it his mission to find his biological family 20 years later. Far from manipulative or melodramatic as some cynics may say, the heart-wrenching film is tender, sincere and will definitely be a hard watch for anyone who has ever lost a child or parent. Don’t let the likely tears keep you away though. Everyone needs a good cry every once in a while.

Stoker

March 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Chan-wook Park (“Oldboy”)
Written by: Wentworth Miller (debut) and Erin Cressida Wilson (“Chloe”)

Whether you can handle the bloodletting of filmmaker Chan-wook Park’s past work like “Thirst,” “Oldboy,” and “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” one thing is undeniable certain after seeing the South Korean director’s first American-made film “Stoker”: the man can sure set a chilling scene even better than most who consider the horror genre their forte.

Before we confuse viewers out there, “Stoker” is not a horror film. Despite Park’s last project centering on a vampire priest and the fact that Stoker is the surname of the novelist who wrote “Dracula,” the film “Stoker” has not one mythological fang working in its favor. That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t have a piercing bite. With Park at the helm, “Stoker,” despite its narrative drawbacks in the first half, is a master class in tone, setting, and overall ambiance that everyone should experience with the lights off.

After the mysterious death of her husband Richard (Dermot Mulroney), Evelyn Stoker (Nicole Kidman) opens her home to her estranged brother-in-law Charles (Matthew Goode), a handsome and creepily charming man who is easy to recognize in the cinematic world as someone with skeletons in his closet. While the unstable Evelyn is more than receptive to Charles moving into her home, her introverted teenage daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) is none too happy that no one ever told her she had an uncle.

The family secret might’ve been for her own good as we watch Charles snake around the property making everyone he comes into contact with uncomfortable. The sexual tension between he and both Evelyn and India is extremely palpable with each glint in his eye and perfect smile. In one scene, Charles sits down at a piano to play a duet with India, who almost practically orgasms as her uncle moves his arms around her back to hit the higher register on the keys. It’s not so much the idea Charles desires both women that is unnerving. It’s the vagueness of Charles’ backstory that will keep you wondering which way he will slither.

With the exception of the 2009 drama “A Single Man,” Goode has never been better. His subtle handling of his character feels genuine and never exaggerated. Both Wasikowska and Kidman’s performances are anchored by the self-confidence he brings to his own role.

Still, it is Park’s attention to detail that keeps “Stoker” truly fascinating. His use of light and sound, which are creatively edited into scenes throughout the film, are only some of the small gems that will stand out to those who notice finer points in the filmmaking process. It may be his first foray into the American film industry, but with “Stoker” he’s made an impression.

Just Go With It

February 16, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker
Directed by: Dennis Dugan (“Grown Ups”)
Written by: Allan Loeb (“The Dilemma”) and Timothy Dowling (“Role Models”)

Although it isn’t as unpleasant to watch as other Dennis Dugan-directed Adam Sandler comedies of the last few years (“Grown Ups,” “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”), there’s not much in “Just Go with It” to make you believe Sandler has any intention to give audiences anything more than the bare minimum. A remake of the 1969 comedy “Cactus Flower,” which landed Goldie Hawn an Academy Award,” “JGWI” goes for the cheap jokes and comes up with punch lines to match. Model/actress Brooklyn Decker might be the rom com’s selling point, but there aren’t enough slow-motion walks on the beach that can remedy the Sandler mediocrity.

Rabbit Hole

January 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”)
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire (“Inkheart”)

Delivering her best performance since her Oscar-winning role as renowned author Virginia Woolf in 2002’s “The Hours,” Nicole Kidman doesn’t take her part as a grieving mother and turn it into a typical heartrending exercise.

As Becca, Kidman captures a mother’s anguish after she loses her 4-year-old son in a car accident, but she also fleshes out sensitivity, bitterness and humor in a role that could have easily come off as tedious as the mourning parents Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg play in “Lovely Bones.”

The difference here is that director John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) is working from a script written by David Lindsay-Abaire based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. A “rabbit hole,” most notably from the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” is exactly where Becca and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are trying to crawl out from. After their son dies, nothing makes sense. It’s like they’re trapped in a world they no longer recognize.

Eight months after the tragic accident, Becca is ready to move on. She no longer wants to attend support group meetings and starts to get rid of anything in the house that may remind her of her son. Howie is more comfortable about expressing his feelings about his loss. He watches home movies and keeps pictures around. He also tries desperately to save his marriage from caving in. In one compelling scene, Howie attempts to seduce Becca into having sex with him. The innocent foreplay quickly turns into an argument as Becca makes it clear that life will never been the same again.

“Rabbit Hole” takes the more-is-less approach in storytelling, but unloads the emotional tension through well-written dialogue and some surprising twists in the narrative that keep it distressingly genuine. It’s impossible to even fathom what Becca and Howie are going through unless you have experienced the same pain, but “Rabbit Hole” will have you sympathize with this broken couple. You can feel them slipping away from each other with every straining moment.

Australia

November 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”)
Written by: Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”), Stuart Beattie (“30 Days of Night”), Ronald Harwood (“The Pianist”), Richard Flanagan (“The Sound of One Hand Clapping”)

To say “Australia” is structurally fragile is an understatement. The film is like the Sydney Opera House made of Styrofoam. Stand back far enough and you’ll swear it’s flawless. But cross the harbor for a closer look and the darned thing might topple over.

While director Baz Luhrmann has capture original beauty and character well before in 1996’s “Romeo and Juliet“ and 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!,” there’s nothing holding up his newest feature other than it’s extravagant production value and big-name leads.

Even then, ruggedly-handsome actor Hugh Jackman (“X-Men”) and Oscar-winning starlet Nicole Kidman (“The Hours”) seemed camouflaged in the Outback. There’s not much for them to do as two strangers, Lady Sarah Ashley, a British socialite, and Drover, a brute cattle driver, are thrust into the country’s Northern Territory pre-WWII to herd some 2,000 head of cattle from a ranch left to Lady Ashley after her husband’s murder. With King Carney (Bryan Brown), a ruthless businessman who wants to monopolize the beef industry, on their backs, Sarah and Drover must lead the livestock across sweeping landscapes all while protecting the life of an aboriginal child named Nullah (Brandon Walters).

Since Nullah’s mother has died and trackers are capturing aboriginal children and turn them over to the church so they can re-educate them and control the population (if you really want to see a great movie about this subject rent “Rabbit-Proof Fence”), Sarah and Dover take him along for the dusty cross-country adventure. From the very start, Luhrmann seems to profess a larger-than-life promise to the audience. It’s broken when his attempt at making a classic romance turns out to be more inelegant than it should be.

“Australia” does scream epic for its almost three-hour runtime, but mostly whimpers in inconsistently between fits of fusty emotion and gorgeous cinematography. Built on ambition alone, Luhrmann’s ode to Down Under isn’t guided to the level of films like “Gone with the Wind,” “Giant,” or in sentimentality’s case “The Wizard of Oz,” although it tries wholeheartedly. With some disorganized scripting by four talented screenwriters, “Australia” might well be the most disappointing film of the year.