Film Review: BOY ERASED (USA 2018) ***1/2

Boy Erased Poster
Trailer

The son of a Baptist preacher is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program after being forcibly outed to his parents.

Director:

Joel Edgerton

Writers:

Garrard Conley (based on the memoir Boy Erased by), Joel Edgerton (written for the screen by)

This year sees two films based on Christian gay conversion therapy camps.  The recent Desiree Akhavan’s THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST follows a female survivor while BOY ERASED written and directed by Joel  Edgerton sees a male counterpart.  Both are excellent films.  It is worthwhile to watch both films as the two films treat the material quite differently.  But the aim of discrediting these camps is identical.  And both films are based on true stories written into acclaimed novels.  BOY ERASED is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir.  Conley, who was present during the promo screening I attended mentioned the one incident that was changed in the film that Edgerton inserted for artistic purpose.  Which I agree works.

BOY ERASED has as its subject the teenaged son of a Baptist pastor.  Jared gets good grades, plays basketball, and is in a steady — but chaste — relationship with a girl from school. Everything in his life is going according to plan, until a college friend outs Jared as gay.

Jared (Lucas Hedges) is forced into a gay-conversion program by his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) – shown in the film as a very scary cloistered world of brainwashing.

Overseen by Victor Sykes (Edgerton, in a superbly cagey performance), the program’s bullying and bigotry fosters an environment that is anything but a refuge. Though Jared begins the program desperate to be healed, he begins to wonder about the validity of the program after witnessing a few terrible incidents.

Being based on real live events, what transpires on screen is realistically scary.  One incident includes a suicide that occurs as a result of extreme psychological distress of the patients. What is moving about the story is the sincere love of Jared’s parents.  Pastor Marshall loves his son but cannot accept that his son his gay.  In the film’s most dramatic confrontational scene between father and son, Jared tells his father:”I am gay, deal with it!”   Mother Nancy does what a wife should do but not what a mother should.  She sides with her husband till she finally sees the light and switches to her son’s side.  Kidman delivers an extraordinary performance as the mother.  The parents are not the villains in this piece.  (This issue is sidestepped in THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST as Cameron is an orphan.)  Sykes is the villain, brainwashing the patients while preventing them from letting outsiders know what really goes on in the place.  Sykes has no real qualifications either.  The irony of all this is at present (according to the closing credits), Sykes is living with his new husband somewhere else in the U.S.

It is not doubt that BOY ERAESD is a dramatic film with a clear message about the survivors of these Christian therapy schools.  In the words of the author Conley present at the promo screening, it is extremely disturbing to learn that many of these centres are still existing, even in New York City.  Many states have already banned these centres.

BOY ERASED is a courageous film that demands to be seen.  Writer/director Edgerton is straight but knows the urgency of the film’s message.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-B71eyB_Onw

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Film Review: RED SPARROW (USA 2018) ***

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Red Sparrow Poster
Trailer

Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited to ‘Sparrow School’ a Russian intelligence service where she is forced to use her body as a weapon. But her first mission, targeting a CIA agent, threatens to unravel the security of both nations.

Director:

Francis Lawrence

Writers:

Justin Haythe (screenplay), Jason Matthews (novel)

 

RED SPARROW re-unites Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence with her HUNGER GAMES director Francis Lawrence.  The film is an espionage spy film written by Justin Haythe, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews.  The novel won many literary awards including the Best First Novel prize for its author, Matthews.  The film?  If you remember the HUNGER GAMES franchise, then you would know what to expect for RED SPARROW, the movie.

The film begins impressively enough with the intercutting of a Bolshoi ballet performance by star Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) and an incident in Gorky Park where Nate (Joel Edgerton), a CIA internal-ops officer who recruits and handles intelligence assets for the agency is arrested.   Dominika is injured during her performance (shot in an extremely gruesome ‘accident’ scene).  In order to support her ailing mother (Joely Richardson) and maintain her apartment,  she is forced by her uncle Ivan Dimitrevich (Matthias Schoenaerts) to undergo training at the Sparrow School, where she and other men and women were trained in how to seduce the enemy.  In the words of the film’s best line, uttered by the uncle: “There are no accidents.  We create our own fates.”

 Matthews’ novel was praised for its insight into the mundane aspects of the intelligence field, various techniques and its “high drama”.  The same cannot be said for Lawrence’s film.  At best, it glamourizes the violence and techniques used by both the Russian and American sides.  The best instance can be observed in the almost unwatchable torture scene when Nate has the outer skin of his back  pealed off by a skin grafting device.  Lawrence need not show the actual action  but the audience gets the message from the Nate’s screaming and the scene’s set-up.  Another more graphic torture scene is Dominika’s torture with her constantly hit with a melt rod..

The sex scene between Lawrence and Edgerton could have been shot with more credibility.  It is laughable to see a riding scene in which the lovers perform their act fully clothed.

Unlike spy films such as TORN CURTAIN and TOPAZ directed by Alfred Hitchcock, RED SPARROW is noticeable devoid of suspense.  Plot twists replace suspense in this spy thriller.  Critics attending the promo screening were requested not to real any plot points in their reviews.  But running at 2 hours and 20 minutes (Lawrence’s HUNGER GAMES films were also unnecessarily lengthy),  plot twists can also turn ordinary unlike suspense set-ups.

The best thing about RED SPARROW is Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts.  With make up to look like Vladimir Putin, he is the most fun to watch.  The second prized performance comes from Charlotte Rampling playing the school headmistress with totally cool lesbian charm.

RED SPARROW the film is more outrageously camp in its violence and portrayal of real world espionage.  If one can take and believe Jennifer Lawrence playing a Russian ballerina and emotionless spy, then  this film is for you.  RED SPARROW is entertaining camp, but for those who expect a serious spy experience it would be wiser to read the book.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmUL6wMpMWw

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Film Review: IT COMES AT NIGHT (USA 2017)

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it comes at night.jpgSecure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son, but this will soon be put to test when a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer: Trey Edward Shults (screenplay)
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo

Review by Gilbert Seah
 
IT COMES AT NIGHT begins with a taut medical examination of an older man later revealed to be Bud (David Pendleton) lying on a made-shift stretcher infested with lesions and boils. “Can you hear me?” is the question asked. After the examination, the patient is carted off, to the woods outside a boarded up shack where he is crudely wrapped up and burnt with gasoline.

It has all been done before. Despite writer/director Shults’s genuine effort of differentiating his film from the end of the world plaque infested survival horror flick, one cannot help but feel a certain similarity of events from start to end. Never mind the carefully planned shocks, the effective use of enclosed space (cinematography by Drew Daniels) and darkness and never mind the effective use of sound to scare the audience. It does not help that the script has no plot twists or has the addition of more human interaction.

The story first appears to be told from the point of view of the first family’s 17-year old teen son, Travis (Kevin Harrison Jr.) But the view shifts later on the film as Travis has less screen presence. The only survives on display appear to be his family. Order is kept in the home by his father, Paul (Joel Edgerton who also co-produced the film). His mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) is present and also an assortment of farm animals and dog, who are allowed in the house, apparently to prevent them from catching some deadly virus. When they venture outside, they wear gas masks. It is a test of survival. When they hear a noise from outside, Tom carefully opens the door to find another man, (Christopher Abbott) looking to find his family, in this case his wife, Kim (Riley Keough) and baby some food.

Shults does not make any effort or even need to explain his film. After the first scene (described above), the audience can correctly deduce that the apocalyptic film is in the near future. A plaque has deserted most of civilization. The family on display is surviving at all costs. As expected there are intruders from the outside. The two families ave something to share or trade. But mistrust exists and survival takes place with sacrifice of their human souls.

It is easier to make a faultless minimalist horror film like this one that a complex film with flaws. IT COMES BY NIGHT falls into the first category.
It does not help that the film does not have a happy Hollywood ending or a closed one at that. Despite all the film’s plusses, IT COMES AT NIGHT does not succeed at all as an original or absorbing drama or horror film.

Schultz, whose first feature KRISHA secured Shults some fame, which resulted in a two-picture deal with A24 films, IT COMES AT NIGHT being the first one. The film had its premiere in April this year at the The Overlook Film Festival. The film has so far, garnered favourable reviews.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YOYHCBQn9g

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Happy Birthday: Joel Edgerton

joeledgerton.jpgHappy Birthday actor Joel Edgerton

Born: June 23, 1974 in Blacktown, New South Wales, Australia

 

 

 

 

 

THE THING
dir. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Stars:
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Joel Edgerton
MOVIE POSTERWARRIOR
dir. Gavin O’Connor
Stars:
Tom Hardy
Nick Nolte
Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones
2002
dir. Lucas
Starring
Natalie Portman
REVENGE OF THE SITHStar Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
2005
dir. Lucas
SMOKIN ACESSmokin Aces
2006
dir. Carnahan
starring
Ryan Reynolds
Liotta
MOVIE POSTERTHE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN
dir. Peter Hedges
Stars:
Jennifer Garner
Joel Edgerton
MOVIE POSTERZERO DARK 30
2012
dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Stars:
Chris Pratt
Jessica Chastain
MOVIE POSTERTHE GREAT GATSBY
dir. Baz Luhrmann

 

Midnight Special, Movie Review

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:http://www.wildsound.ca

midnightspecial.jpgMIDNIGHT SPECIAL (USA 2015) **
Directed by Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

Review by Gilbert Seah

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL reunites director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon once again in a film dealing with an apocalyptic world. There is much to like and dislike about MIDNIGHT SPECIAL compared to TAKE SHELTER, but unfortunately, the former throws logic and reality to the wind. The plot and ending of MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is important to the enjoyment of the film and should not be revealed in my or any review, but it is sufficient to say that the ending should at least be a bit believable and not be totally absurd as in this case in terms of logic and possibility and also in terms of special effects. The ending is as if the special effects department was given an unlimited budge and the department spent the entire budget and more.

The film starts with a suspenseful abduction in which a man is wanted for the kidnapping of a child. It is all over the radio and the state in terms of an amber alert. Roy (Shannon) has fled a religious cult in rural Texas with his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who possesses otherworldly powers. Roy’s accomplice and childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton sporting a very convincing Texan accent), a state trooper, helps to bring the boy to an undisclosed location on a specific date, during which a celestial and possibly world-changing event may occur.

There are a lot of points in the script (written by Nichols) that do not make sense. But of course, one can argue that a good thriller need not require good explanations as the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock has proven many times in his Masterpieces. For example Richard Thornhill (Cary Grant) was hunted down by the organization in NORTH BY NORTHWEST though no reason was ever given. But MIDNIGHT SPECIAL thunders towards a needed explanation that when revealed, makes no sense whatsoever. The supporting character of Lucas could also be done way with, though character development-wise, it does bring a good perspective to the character of the lead, Roy.

But for me whose first profession is engineering, I can really annoyed when a story leaves too many unexplained loose ends. Among these are: “Why does the kid and absolutely no one else land on this planet with the same situation? How does the kid comes to obtain all the information and for what purpose? Why the purpose of ‘the rapture’ at the film’s climax as it really serves no purpose? And why does the cult get so involved with the boy?

Shannon has always been an excellent brooding actor, accomplishing a range of widely ranging characters. Here Shannon is able to conniving the audience of a troubled yet caring father. He is willing to kill anyone to save his son.

The first half of the film works better than the second half. When more is left to the audience’s imagination, the more mysterious and suspenseful the film becomes.

The performances of the actors almost save the movie. Two of supporting cast deserve mention. One is Sam Shepard playing the cult leader, Calvin Meyer and the other Adam Driver as the FBI agent Paul Sevier who ends up helping Roy and Alton. One suspects that Nichols demanded solid no-nonsense performances from his actors.

But love it or hate MIDNIGHT SPECIAL will definitely affect audiences on way or other, in an extreme just as the film is (extreme).

Also, Free logline submissions. The Writing Festival network averages over 95,000 unique visitors a day.
Great way to get your story out: http://www.wildsound.ca/logline.html

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:http://www.wildsound.ca

Watch recent Writing Festival Videos. At least 15 winning videos a month:http://www.wildsoundfestival.com