Movie Review: Boy Erased

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Jared (Lucas Hedges) is attracted to boys in Joel Edgerton’s sophomore directorial feat, Boy Erased. (Source: Variety)

In 2015, Joel Edgerton made his directorial debut with The Gift. A movie, that sounded like a generic thriller, defied all expectations. It was an unnerving Hitchockian psychological thriller about a young couple’s world turning upside down when someone from the husband’s past comes into their life. Not only did Edgerton deliver a harrowing performance as the creepy stalker, but it also showcases a good future in filmmaking for the Aussie star. Now–he returns to the director’s chair for Boy Erased, a film that has a chance to generate award buzz.

Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, the movie is set in Arkansas in the early 2000s. Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the only child of Marshall (Russell Crowe) and Nancy (Nicole Kidman). He’s living a happy life. He goes to church every Sunday, works at his father’s car dealership, and dates one of the prettiest girls in his school.

One day, Jared tells his parents he is attracted to boys. Due to their dismay, they force him to attend Refuge (formerly Love in Action), a gay conversion therapy program run by chief therapist Victor Sykes (Edgerton). While Jared befriends some of the attendees, including Gary (Troye Sivan, the Aussie pop star who also contributes the film with his original song “Revelation”), he learns about the program’s secrets while on his journey to faith and redemption.

Boy Erased is one of those movies where it might go into soap-opera territory. What Edgerton does–thanks to his sublime direction and screenplay–is something raw, beguiling, and poignant. Like Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and the more recent Love, Simon, the movie never exploits its message about self-discovery. The audience is with Jared every step of the way begging for his parents to accept him for what he truly is. Although conversion therapy seems to be a great opportunity for him, at first, it doesn’t turn out what it seems. “The truth cannot be converted,” helms the tagline.

Fresh from starring in two award-winning films Manchester by the Sea and Lady Bird, Hedges gives his most mature performance. The audience sympathizes with him and his struggle of coming out, which is shown in subtle yet harrowing flashbacks where he hangs out with some boys while attending college. The supporting cast–mainly Crowe, Kidman, Edgerton, and Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame)–has their “big moment”, but Hedges is the one who makes this thoughtful and devastatingly powerful film shine bright. One of the year’s best!

4/4

2017 Summer Movie Review: It Comes at Night

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Paul (Joel Edgerton) tries to find answers about an intruder in It Comes at Night. (Source: Slash Film)

Director Trey Edward Shults made his directorial debut last year with Krisha. Made on an extremely low budget ($30,000, no less), he cast his family members in a movie about a woman (played by Shults’ real-life aunt, Krisha Fairchild) whose past begins to haunt her while at a Thanksgiving dinner. It unnerved audiences at the SXSW Film Festival.

He’s back to unnerve audiences again with It Comes at Night. It is unlike your average cabin-in-the-woods horror picture. Without any annoying characters doing dumb decisions or cheap scares, it features a claustrophobic atmosphere and humanity. A lot of people called it “a horror masterpiece” prior to its release. After going into this movie blind, I found it to be far from a masterpiece. Nevertheless, it is nothing short of a solid shocker.

Paul (Joel Edgerton) is a patriarch of a secluded house in the woods. He’s doing everything he can to protect his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from a nasty virus that wiped out the outside world. One day, a stranger named Will (Christopher Abbot) is seeking shelter. Paul reluctantly agrees to have him, his lover Kim (Riley Keough), and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) into their home. After breaking a few ground rules, the group must fight for survival.

Compared to last year’s The Witch, Shults has crafted a slow-burning psychological horror-thriller featuring a solid cast—with Edgerton doing what he does best—and some of the creepiest images in all of horror (I’m talking about the one where an old man is seen with black eyes and blood dribbling from his mouth). However, what falters is the limited character development and sluggish pacing. While a lot better than most horror movies today, It Comes at Night isn’t something I’ll revisit anytime soon.

3/4

Movie Review: Loving

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Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) embrace in Jeff Nichols’ account on Loving v. Virginia.

Midnight Special, which came out early this year, is an overlooked science-fiction gem. It might not win everybody over with its mystery, it’s nonetheless a beautiful tribute to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Believe me, it does require repeated viewing (I have yet to re-watch it). Director Jeff Nichols goes back to an important time in American history. A time where racial segregation has become more noticeable. One day, two people have to face the reality of defying the racial barrier of getting married.

Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) are an interracial couple living in a small town in Virginia. When Mildred announces that she is pregnant, Rich decides to build a house in the middle of a wide-open field and raise a family. They get married, but since this is Virginia, the state has some strict marriage laws. They get arrested, and once they are on bail, they are forced to live in Washington, D.C. The couple does everything they could to settle this case once and for all. They are presented in front of the Supreme Court for the ruling of Loving v. Virginia of 1967.

A movie about the famous racial case would have been corny. What Jeff Nichols does with Loving is anything but. The subtle yet tender chemistry between Edgerton and Negga is one of the biggest highlights. Their expressions say so much, while keeping their dialogue short and sweet (in one particular scene, where Mildred gets off the phone hearing about some good news). This is a couple who fought for their lives while never letting go of that bond, despite their different characteristics. Adam Stone’s exquisite cinematography and the vintage soundtrack crafts a marvelous portrait of a rough time in history.

Of course, it’s not a Jeff Nichols film without Michael Shannon. In his fifth collaboration with the great filmmaker, he has a small yet wonderful role as Grey Villet, the photographer LIFE Magazine hired to take photos of the happy couple in one of the film’s many heartwarming scenes. Loving is one of the year’s best films!

4/4

Movie Review: Black Mass

James "Whitey" Bulger (Johnny Depp) terrorizes Boston as the most infamous criminal in the U.S. in "Black Mass"

James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) terrorizes Boston as the most infamous criminal in the U.S. in “Black Mass”

Johnny Depp’s career has been quite iffy the past several years. Starring in two of the worst performances of his career (The Lone Ranger, Mortdecai), everyone was worried whether he would redeem himself. Until now.

Leading an extraordinary cast including Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, and Dakota Johnson, Black Mass features one of Depp’s absolute best performances of his career as James “Whitey” Bulger, the most violent criminal of South Boston who works as an informant for the FBI in the 1970s. With barely any hair, a sinister smile, and one vicious attitude, it leads to many unsettling scenes involving his work as a gangster. There are times, however, in which I lost interest and couldn’t care less about what is going on. Not to mention Benedict Cumberbatch’s godawful Boston accent. With that aside, Black Mass is a brutal and semi-engaging character study on one violent criminal.

3/4

2015 Summer Movie Review: The Gift

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are about to face their worst nightmare in Joel Edgerton's directorial debut "The Gift"

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are about to face their worst nightmare in Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut “The Gift”

There have been a few movies that surprised me this summer. Then, The Gift, one of the greatest movies Alfred Hitchcock never made, came along. And my expectations threw right out of the window.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn are a happy couple who moved into a nice house near Los Angeles. One day, they get an unexpected visitor. Gordo (Joel Edgerton), who used to go to high school with Simon, gives them a series of nice gifts such as wine and fish to put in their pond. However, they begin to face their worst nightmare as they learn more about Gordo.

For his directorial debut, Joel Edgerton gives one heluva thrill-ride. With a slow build-up, it leads to one shocking payoff. I hope he directs more movies because I love his style. It’s unnerving, unpredictable, and engaging in every way. He makes one creepy stalker. I’m surprised with Jason Bateman not playing himself for a change.

4/4

Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Moses and Ramses go head-to-head in Ridley Scott's "Exodus: Gods and Kings"

Moses and Ramses go head-to-head in Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings”

Exodus: God and Kings is another biblical epic that has gained a lot of controversy before its release. While people debated about the inaccuracies in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, they complained about the casting in Exodus: Gods and Kings. They pointed out that the white actors were cast as the Egyptians, and the black actors were cast as slaves. With that aside, Ridley Scott dedicated the movie to his late brother Tony by making a good-looking epic that follows the Bible more than Noah. However, it’s far from superior.

There’s a feeling of a satire occurring in the movie’s first scenes with John Turturro portraying the Pharaoh Seti prophesying Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) to be there for one another and become leader. Years later, Ramses becomes the new Pharaoh, and brings Moses into exile. Then, Moses begins to plague Egypt by freeing the slaves by crossing the Red Sea. I appreciate how Scott portrays the book of Exodus. He adds a lot of realism by making the ten plagues looks like natural disasters. Featuring miraculous sets, breathtaking action and visuals, and exceptional performances by Bale and Edgerton, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a solid attempt.

2.5/4