Tag Archives: Joel Edgerton

“It Comes At Night”

MATT: 3.5 STARS


MATT SAYS:

Couple Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) have managed to protect themselves and their son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from the terrifying disease ravaging the country. Living simply in their remote cabin, the family has a simple but happy life. But with so many threats waiting just outside their door, things may not stay that way for long.

With “It Comes at Night,” director Trey Edward Shults has crafted a slow-burn, psychological thriller that has confounded audiences. Drawn by a trailer that has created expectations of a very different movie, most folks seeing this film have come expecting a very different type of movie. This is decidedly not your typical “cabin in the woods” horror movie — even though the preview would have you believe otherwise. What it is is an exploration of the nature of humanity living under the shadow of constant fear. When you and your family are threatened by the constant threat of both the known and the unknown, how long can you continue just surviving?

This is not a movie for those seeking a thrill or a cheap jump scare — in other words, it’s not a “horror” film in the traditional sense. But for what it is, it’s effective: both relevant and highly disturbing, this movie will stick with you long after the credits have rolled.

“Midnight Special”

LOUISA:  2.5 STARS  MATT: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I’m a fan of writer / director Jeff Nichols and his other work (including the truly original “Take Shelter” and the fully engrossing “Mud“), but his latest effort didn’t work for me. The tone is very similar to Nichols’ earlier films and he stays true to himself when it comes to his inventive storytelling style and engaging filmmaking techniques. I give serious credit for the audacious originality and grand intentions of “Midnight Special,” but this movie just isn’t very entertaining.

The mystery elements are especially critical in building a rich tension early on, and they are fantastic. These shrouds of mystery provided a compelling hook that kept me guessing, but the movie begins its downhill slide as more of the story is slowly revealed. This movie is pretty great for the first half then sadly peters out in yet another ambitious but unsatisfying conclusion that is reminiscent of “10 Cloverfield Lane” (“Midnight Special” reminded me a lot of that one, actually, especially how I thought the story was going in one direction but ended up doing a U-turn into another).

The film sets a very high bar then ends with a yawn. The muddled middle is messy too, jumping around with plot elements including everything from a kidnapping, religious cult, fugitive escape, sci-fi fantasy, bloody shootouts, car crashes and government spies, with a little bit of “The X-Files,” “Tomorrowland” and “Big Love” thrown in for good measure. The movie feels like an attempt to reinvent the genre that has gone awry. (I’m not sure if the heavy-handed Superman allusions were intended to be tongue-in-cheek funny or genuinely serious).

As usual, Nichols is able to elicit intense performances from his impressive roster of talented actors including Michael Shannon, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher, and Kirsten Dunst. Sadly, none of them truly made me care about the story or the characters. There’s no big payoff to the excellent set-up.

This movie is just plain weird — and not in a good way. It plays more like a bad episode of “The X-Files” than a feature length movie.

MATT SAYS:

“Midnight Special” is an ambitious and auspicious science fiction work by experienced director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter,” “Mud”). Supported by a strong cast featuring Nichols mainstay Michael Shannon along with Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, and Kirsten Dunst, “Midnight Special” at various times can be riveting, and at other times head-scratchingly bizarre.

Nichols’ experience as a director shows. As the movie opens, the viewer is immediately dropped into a kidnapping / standoff situation with Roy (Shannon) and Lucas (Edgerton) armed to the teeth with the young Alton (Jaeden Liberher) nearby. As we listen to the news report playing on the television, our perceptions of the situation and the type of men Roy and Lucas are quickly shaped – and our sympathies cast — only to have those views quickly challenged as we learn more and more about who these men are, and what Alton represents to them.

It is these opening scenes (the first 20 minutes or so) where Director Nichols is at his best – weaving together elements of the story, thread-by-thread, until we finally feel grounded and aware of exactly what is going on, and decide with who our sympathies lie. This is “show, don’t tell” storytelling at its finest. Those first 20 minutes are shockingly engrossing and an example of some of the best directorial and editing work I’ve seen in recent memory.

Unfortunately, the film can’t sustain its momentum. As story elements continue to unfold and the science-fiction aspects come into play, it loses a little bit of its effectiveness. We learn more about Alton, Roy, Lucas, Sevier (Driver) and Sarah (Dunst) and how they came to be in this situation. It is in these moments that the characters come into their own, but at the same time it is at these story points when the film loses ground. The look and feel of the picture has a gritty realism that, mashed together with some of the Warren Jeffs-inspired story elements feels ripped from the headlines. But then, we witness something fantastic and incredible that – while kinda cool – inevitably results in a disconnect between what’s come before and what we are watching now. These sci-fi elements all build together towards a big reveal that pushes the boundaries of credibility just a little too far.

Don’t get me wrong – the movie is worth seeing for fans of the director, these actors, story-driven indie films, and science-fiction that is anything but cookie-cutter. It’s a solid film. It disappoints me only because (particularly given the strength of the first act) it could have been great. It’s not.

 

“Jane Got A Gun”

LOUISA:     3.5 STARS     MATT:   3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I don’t respond well to westerns but I love a good ass-kicking heroine, and “Jane Got A Gun” delivers just that. Try to ignore the miscasting of Natalie Portman as the titular Jane and relish the perfect casting of Joel Edgerton as a rancher who helps her defend her home against a gang of ruthless outlaws. Ewan McGregor, playing an unintentionally campy sort of Black Bart villain complete with a giant black hat and horrendous fake teeth, is shamefully wasted here.

Director Gavin O’Connor seems ill equipped to handle a western and it shows: while the story fits the formula (outlaws are a’comin’ so let’s get some guns and hole up in our homestead and shoot ’em all when they come for us), it’s visually unappealing (washed out images make the film look drab, and confusing editing that jumps around makes the movie feel like there are big chunks of story missing). However, the script here is really good and I genuinely cared about the characters. Fans of the genre will find this worthy of a viewing.

The extra half star rating is for the charming (and misbehaving) white horse who steals the show in every scene he is in. Keep an eye on that equine, he is one to watch.

MATT SAYS:

Anchored by strong performances by Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton, “Jane Got a Gun” is a simple story, well-told. The movie is set in the bad old days of the American West where murder, thievery and white slavery are commonplace and the line between good and evil cannot be clearly drawn and the ability to kill, and kill well, is a highly-valued talent. In 1870s New Mexico, life is driven by the categorical imperative, and Jane is forced by circumstances to take lives to protect her own and those of her family.

The Western has all but fallen out of favor with the modern movie-going public, however movies like this one remind us that the setting can serve as a powerful backdrop for fresh new stories that can reinvigorate the genre. Like the “The Homesman” in 2014, “Jane Got a Gun” is a rare female-driven Western, one that features an expansive landscape but a story that is small and simple in scope. And like that movie, this one is worth watching.