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 Mummy

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman (“People Like Us”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) & Christopher McQuarrie (“Edge of Tomorrow”) & Dylan Kussman (debut)

I have fond memories of 1999’s “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser. As a goofy knock-off Indiana Jones for the CGI age, the film opened weeks before “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and people were already camped out to buy tickets for that when I left my first screening of “The Mummy.” One of the friends I saw “The Mummy” with ducked out to wait in that very line. Oh, and the movie was fun, too—junky and shallow, sure, but fun. There’s even a pretty fun roller coaster based on it at Universal Studios!

Anyway, here we are 18 years later, and now a reboot/remake/secret sequel(?) of “The Mummy” is here, set in modern times to kick off a Universal Monsters cinematic series—dubbed the Dark Universe—which will allegedly feature an Avengers/Justice League-style team-up featuring the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman. And Universal is bringing the big guns to the fight, casting Tom Cruise as the lead, but unfortunately the movie wrapped around him is a mess.

Cruise plays Nick Morton, who the script would have us believe is a criminal U.S. soldier in Iraq, a tomb-robbing looter, stealing artifacts from historical sites with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and selling them on the black market. When they deviate from a mission to check out a potential location to swipe antiquities from, Nick and Chris become pinned down by enemy gunfire. A last-second airstrike saves them, and opens up an ancient Egyptian tomb in the process—which clearly doesn’t belong in Iraq. Enter Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who along with Nick and Chris enter the tomb to explore it and, in the process, reactivate an ancient, too-evil-to-bury-in-Egypt mummy named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and she’s looking for a mate. Since he’s the one that released her, Nick becomes cursed, able to survive a plane crash and lots of brutal punishment at the hands of Ahmanet’s reanimated goons. He also becomes the target of Prodigium, a sort of magic-focus SHIELD led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), looking to rid the world of monsters.

First things first, this is a Tom Cruise movie, and he’s absolutely the wrong choice. The notion that we buy into Cruise playing a war criminal is ludicrous at first, and the script, credited to three writers and three more with “story by” credits, doesn’t ever seem to be comfortable committing to the notion of Cruise’s Nick being a real shitbag. There are flashes of humor, much of it on Jake Johnson’s capable shoulders, but the film stops dead when Dr. Jekyll (sigh) shows up to exposition the whole thing into a sarcophagus. At least the Brendan Fraser movies were fun. Universal would be wise to remember that.

Ep. 80 – Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The Nice Guys, casting announcements for Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming, the new Star Trek Beyond trailer, and where to hear us on the radio!

May 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod are as sharp as ever as they review “€œNeighbors 2: Sorority Rising”€ and “The Nice Guys.”€ They also expertly tackle new casting announcements for a pair of Marvel films, “Thor: Ragnarok”€ and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”€ Also, they tell where you can hear more of this aural mastery on the radio!

[00:00-10:16] Intro/”RiffTrax Live: Time Chasers”€ recap

[10:16-22:41] News: casting announcements for “Thor: Ragnarok” and “€œSpider-Man: Homecoming”

[22:41-30:39] Final “€œStar Trek Beyond”€ trailer reaction

[30:39-42:16] Reviews: “€œNeighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

[42:16-53:55] “The Nice Guys”

[53:55-1:02:56] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Broken City

January 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Directed by: Allen Hughes (“Menace II Society”)
Written by: Brian Tucker (debut)

It’s not too surprising how stagnant “Broken City” plays as a political thriller. As the year starts up, studios usually look to release some of their more toothless projects in the first couple of months – films that could easily go straight to DVD, but have just enough nerve to roll the dice and see if they can pull in a few million at the box office. There’s really no risk. What are purely mainstream moviegoers going to do now anyway? Watch “Beasts of the Southern Wild?”

Studios are banking that they’re probably not, which is why easily digestible, easily forgettable films like “Broken City” rear their ugly heads every year around this time. Sure, there are always surprises (“The Grey” came out last January, which was fascinating), but more times than not, January has a bad reputation for being a cinematic dumping ground. With that said, “Broken City” needs to call in its waste management services. Not everything about the film is landfill worthy, but there enough there to make it stink.

In the overly-written script by first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker, “Broken City” starts off well enough before laying the plot down in thick and predictable chunks. Mark Wahlberg (“Shooter”) stars as Billy Taggart, a former cop turned private investigator with a shady past, hired by NYC Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to get evidence that his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. Of course, if it was that easy, we wouldn’t have a 109-minute movie on our hands. Deception comes from all angles as Billy maneuvers between his high-profile friends and tries to figure out who’s stabbing who in the back.

It all makes for a very typical narrative of corruption, murder, and dirty little secrets, all of which leads up to a mayoral election that can make or break everyone involved. “Broken City” would at least be tolerable if it didn’t explain everything in such a heavy-handed and complicated way, but Tucker seems just fine jamming as much as he can into the screenplay. This includes a clunky storyline about a housing project scam, which loses its way through all the twist and turns.

Director Allen Hughes (“Book of Eli”), one half of the directing duo The Hughes Brothers, doesn’t help matters much by not rousing up some energy from his big-name stars. Wahlberg and Crowe honestly look unmotivated and bored. Don’t feel bad when you do, too.

Les Misérables

December 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Directed by: Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”)
Written by: William Nicholson (“Gladiator”)

Whether you jump on board for the most recent cinematic adaptation of “Les Misérables,” based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel, will all depend on two major decisions Oscar-winning filmmaker Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) made to separate it from other versions of the musical that have come before. Of those two choices, one will more than likely earn an actress her first Academy Award of her career. The other is a debauched experiment in the actual framework of the musical. It’s sure to have anyone sitting on the fence reconsider giving the genre another chance after what can only be described as a grandiloquent mistake.

In “Les Misérables,” Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, an ex-prisoner who finds a new meaning to his life when he agrees to take care of Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a child; Amanda Seyfried as a young woman). Cosette is the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a worker at one of Valjean’s factories who is forced into a life of prostitution to pay her debts. Oscar winning actor Russell Crowe, who is completely miscast in this production, plays Javert, a police inspector who has long searched for Valjean for breaking parole years before.

Hooper’s first decision, which is likely to send actress Anne Hathaway to the podium for an Oscar come February, is having all the musical performances sung live. While most musicals shoot actors lip syncing their parts and dubbing them in post-production, allowing Hathaway and others to break from the normal practices and sing from within was the right call by Hooper. It is especially evident in Hathaway’s moving performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” which captures the depth of the entire musical in a single powerful scene.

What else Hooper demands of his musical in a larger sense, however, is what ultimately takes ““Les Misérables” from an epic period drama into an indistinct collection of classic songs that would be better experienced listening to the film’s soundtrack. Instead of interspersing the musical numbers with dialogue, Hooper insists every word of the narrative be sung. By doing this, the intimacy, anger, or any number of other emotions the characters are supposed to share between each other is whittled down into awkward exchanges.

Despite the inevitable humming of the songs that will come after seeing the film, not much else will stick from “Les Misérables” aside from the beautiful technical aspects, including the costume design and art direction. For a narrative so swathed in raw emotion, however, Hathaway’s lone performance (and a memorable supporting role by theatrical actress Samantha Barks as Eponine) will make the only true connection.

Robin Hood

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Green Zone”)
 
While the comparisons are obvious, director Ridley Scott’s version of “Robin Hood” is nothing like his first collaboration with actor Russell Crowe in the good but slightly overrated 2000 film “Gladiator.” Amazing production value aside, “Robin Hood” is a high-end production with lofty ideas and a convoluted screenplay begging for some major editing.
 
In his fifth film with Scott, Crowe isn’t the same Robin Hood most would expect from the dozens of versions that have come before (the best is still Errol Flynn’s 1938 classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood”). Instead, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have jerry-built a chaotic prequel based on the legendary tale of an English outlaw from Sherwood Forest who robs from the rich to give to the poor.
 
To begin, Crowe is not actually Robin Hood, but Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) army, who sets off with his own band of followers (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle) after the king is killed by French forces. When Robin and his men get their hands on King Richard’s crown, they return it to London where John (Oscar Isaac) is ready to take over the throne from his slain brother and impose heavy taxes on his people. He appoints Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is secretly working for the French, as his tax collector, but is unaware of his ulterior motives.
 
Godfrey wants to help France invade England. Robin, who acquires a new identity from a dying knight with a last request, connects with the knight’s father (Max Von Sydow) and his widow Lady Marion of Loxley (Cate Blanchett) and helps them save their land by posing as the deceased son and husband. If that’s not complicated enough, 13th century politics play a major role in the ill-conceived script as Scott takes all the adventure out of the myth through longwinded speeches and conventional storytelling.

Sure, it might feel like we’re somewhere in Nottingham simply for the terrific art direction and costume design, but the technical aspects are skin deep. This “Robin Hood” is void of any real emotion or awe-inspiring heroics that the iconic literary character has built his name on for the past few centuries.

State of Play

April 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Kevin McDonald (“The Last King of Scotland”)
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan (“Lions for Lambs”), Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”), Billy Ray (“Breach”)

There will never be another newspaper film like “State of Play.”

While it might be a bit extreme to say Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams are on the same tier as Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford’s Woodward and Bernstein in the 1976 media epic “All the President’s Men,” no one has ever come as close to capturing the true meaning of investigative journalism in the print media. Even with some sensationalism thrown in for flavor, “State of Play” is smartly done.

For the generation who like their news in short blurbs written by bloggers who use Wikipedia as their main source, this definitely won’t resonate with you. For those who still value the art of in-depth reporting and the way an actual newspaper still feels between your fingertips, “State of Play” is as tightly written as a front-page story grinded out on an unapologetic deadline by a veteran reporter.

Based on a 2003 British TV miniseries of the same name, “State of Play” follows old-school Washington D.C. scribe Cal McAffrey (Crowe) in the middle of a political scandal that slowly reels him personally and professionally. The mistress of his old college friend, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), has died of an apparent suicide, but with some exceptional fact digging, Cal uncovers other circumstances that could prove to be damaging to some governmental bigwigs and to himself on an ethical level.

There to pick up the slack as their scowling editor (Helen Mirren) keeps a sharp eye on her staff is internet reporter Della Frye (McAdams), whose blogging abilities are just impressive enough to provoke Cal’s traditional stance on his lifelong career. “I’m just trying to help you get a few facts in the mix the next time you upchuck online.”

Still, a little new blood never hurt anyone especially with someone as hungry for a newsworthy story as Della. Crowe and McAdams’ chemistry blends well from the start and only strengthens as the political thriller dashes in and out of some sharp turns and detailed storytelling. It’s easily the best newspaper movie since 2003 “Shattered Glass” and the most intelligent film to be released in the first third of the year.

Body of Lies

October 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: William Monahan (“The Departed”)

The pieces seem to all be in the right place. Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott, a duo who win Oscars together, are set in motion while box office draw and talented actor Leonardo DiCaprio is sharpening his claws for his first film since garnering his own Oscar nod for “Blood Diamond.”

But not everything on paper works well as a final product as we see in “Body of Lies.” It’s a decent espionage thriller that should probably throw all the chips in on its leading men and not necessarily on the volatile and familiar story.

Based on the novel by David Ignatius, “Body of Lies” follows CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he keeps tabs on terrorists in the Middle East. Roger is in constant contact by phone with his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) who sends him on missions while living the easy life back in Washington D.C. out of harm’s way. (Think of Ed as the tubby man-boy living in his mother’s basement playing MMORPGs all day, covered in junk food and not having any sense of the real world outside his cocoon).

When Roger goes on another mission to hunt down a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem (Along Abutbul) in Jordan, he recruits the help of a local intelligence chief named Hani (Mark Strong, who reminds me too much of Andy Garcia) to infiltrate the hard-to-reach locales he must venture. To mislead the terrorists (and to prove he is always one step ahead of everyone) Roger forms his own faux terrorist cell so Al-Saleem, known as “the white whale,” can come out of the woodwork to find out who is trying to undercut his regime.

While this is the central idea of “Lies,” Oscar-winning screenwriter Monahan manages to scramble second-rate political jargon into the talky action film, which is not as intelligent as it leads us to believe.

With DiCaprio as his puppet, Monahan is also able to string us along through the deceptive war with some obscure plot twists and cliché storytelling. Recent films like “The Kingdom” and “Traitor” treaded on the same international concepts, and even with above-average performances by DiCaprio and Crowe, they all feel like they’ve spawned from the same societal need to cover global terrorism cinematically. While “Lies” is a worthy attempt, it is overwritten and very shifty.

Thirteen years after “The Quick and the Dead,” the reunion between DiCaprio and Crowe was actually more intriguing to me that the “Righteous Kill” one with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. It might not be nearly as silly as “Kill,” but one thing the two have in common is heavy-hitting headliners that can only do as much as the script allows.