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Posts Tagged ‘Joel Edgerton’

Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Viggo Mortensen

“THIRTEEN LIVES” My rating: A (Amazon Prime)

147 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Thirteen Lives” may be the most engrossing, satisfying film of Ron Howard’s career.

It’s a virtual masterclass in dramatic construction and emotional massaging; moreover it is one of the few films I can think of that contains not one misstep, one wrong performance, one phony moment.

Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of 12 Thai soccer players and their coach from a flooded cave (the screenplay is by William Nicholson and Don MacPherson) manages simultaneously to be a deeply emotional experience and a clear-eyed recreation of actual events. 

 It is modest to a fault, tempering overwhelmingly dramatic material through the lens of a measured docudrama style. Clearly, Howard’s recent forays into documentaries (“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week,” “Pavarotti,” “Rebuilding Paradise,” “We Feed People”) proved invaluable in finding just the right approach for this massive effort.

The payoff is nothing short of spectacular.

In many regards Howard’s 1995’s “Apollo 13” provided the model for this sort of fact-based historic recreation; “Thirteen Lives” is even more successful in capturing the tension between individual human drama and big, overwhelming events.

Though the film features Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton as cave rescue specialists from the UK, there’s no actorly showboating, no obvious star turns.  Everyone seems to be foregoing their moment in the spotlight in favor of a group dynamic.

In this the performances reflect Howard’s overall message that while there certainly were heroes at work (including two Thai Navy Seals who died in the rescue efforts), this is  a tale of literally thousands of individuals who came together to accomplish the impossible.

Howard has never been a director who flexed his stylistic muscles; his approach here is straightforward, even impersonal. This allows us to concentrate on the story itself, which has been presented with marvelous economy and insight.

In the film’s opening minutes we meet the kids and their coach on the practice field.  They decide to treat themselves to a visit to the nearby Tham Luang, a spectacular cave nearly four miles long.  We see them park their bikes at the entrance and eagerly race into the darkness.

We won’t see them again for another hour, or 10 days in real time.  They go missing, their bikes are discovered, and immediately the authorities launch a rescue effort.

Tham Luang completely floods during the monsoon season, and the boys have been unlucky enough to enter the cavern just as an early storm is pouring millions of tons of water into the subterranean system.  It is presumed that they have been trapped by rising waters and forced to retreat ever deeper into the darkness.

While Thai military divers search for them in a labyrinth of submerged stalactites and passages so narrow they must remove their oxygen tanks, an army of volunteers descend on the mountain above the cave with shovels, pumps, pipes and chutes fashioned from split bamboo in an effort to divert water off the hillside and away from the cave.

on Howard

Local officials meet with local farmers to explain the process.  Will their crops be ruined when their fields flood? a woman asks.  Yes they will.  The farmers exchange glances and nod. Those 13 lives come first.

The cave rescue specialists played by Farrell and Mortensen arrive on the scene virtually without portfolio and by virtue of their independent status (they’re not part of the Thai military or government) have the freedom to take extraordinary risks. 

But discovering the boys alive doesn’t end the crisis.  The rain that trapped them was only a preview; within two weeks the full-fledged monsoon will fill every air pocket in the cave with water for several months.  They cannot wait out the weather; they must find a way out.

Several experienced divers have almost panicked and drowned in the treacherous waters.  There is virtually no safe way to guide the boys through several kilometers of cloudy runoff; none of the children have used scuba equipment and several cannot swim.  

That’s where Edgerton’s character comes in.  In addition to being a cave rescue diver, he’s an anesthesiologist; maybe they can suit the children up in scuba gear, knock them out with drugs and pull them to safety? 

“They’re packages,” one of the rescuers explains. “We’re just delivery guys.”

The second hour of “Thirteen Lives” is a step-by-step look at how the rescuers pulled it off. This is an exquisitely timed, bite-your-nails adventure that will have viewers shaking their heads in disbelief.

By film’s end audiences will feel nearly as battered and worn out as the kids and their saviors.  But it’s a good ache.

| Robert W. Butler

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Dev Patel

“THE GREEN KNIGHT” My rating: B 

130 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Green Knight” is  writer/director David Lowery’s big-screen adaptation of the 500-year-old epic poem (we don’t know the author) “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”

As such you might expect a big dose of sword and sorcery and some major-league action/adventure violence.

Think again.  Lowery’s narrative approach has more in common with Robert Bresson’s austere “Lancelot du Lac” than with, say, the atavistic carnage of “Braveheart.”

Here he is attempting cinematically to approximate the experience of reading a long poem from a distant past. In doing so he embraces storytelling that eschews rational explanations and psychological realism. 

And yet “The Green Knight” is not a relic preserved in amber. The film is a visual tour de force thanks to the splendid cinematography of Andrew Droz Palermo (he shot Lowery’s “A Ghost Story,” as well as the KC-area lensed documentary “Rich Hill”), the costumes by Malgosia Turnsganza and the production design of Jade Healy.

Periodically Lowery inserts distinctively modern perspectives into this ancient tale. An example: We first meet knight-in-training Gawain (Dev Patel in a true star-making performance) awakening in a whorehouse on Christmas morning.  Actually, he gets a bucket of water in the face, courtesy of his playful  plebian lover (Alicia Vikander).

As he wanders through the bustling bordello in search of his boots, Gawain is teased by other guests and harlots, who kid him about spending more time partying than on his knightly training. The dialogue and camerawork bring a sense of naturalism and everyday immediacy.

Dev Patel

The movie’s distinctively modern moments coexist with a sort of formal pageantry. The result is a film that is overwhelmingly an intellectual/visual experience rather than an emotional one.

“The Green Knight” is probably going to divide audiences into lovers (it’s an overwhelmingly poetic/mystical experience) and haters (too long, too slow, not enough action).

A Yuletide celebration in the court of Gawain’s uncle King Arthur (Sean Harris) and his queen (Kate Dickie) is interrupted by the arrival of the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a towering figure who appears to be half tree (I was reminded of Groot from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise).  This ominous visitor proposes a contest.  He will receive a blow from any of Arthur’s knights; in a year’s time that knight must seek out the Green Knight and stand to receive the same blow.

Young Gawain, apparently smitten with visions of glory, accepts the challenge and with Arthur’s sword strikes off the visitor’s head.  The Green Knight is nonplussed…he picks up his severed noggin and rides off with a laugh and a reminder that they will meet again next Christmas.

The bulk of the film unfolds on Gawain’s trek north to meet his fate. Along the way he is befriended by a fox (Is it a real animal? A CG effect? Whatever, it’s really convincing).  He is waylaid by a talky peasant (Barry Keoghan) who pilfers the remains of slain soldiers.

He spends a chaste night with a young woman named Winnifred (Erin Kellyman), and shares several days with a Lord (Joel Edgarton) and his cooly seductive wife (Vikander again).

At one point on his wanderings he encounters a migration of fog-enshrouded giants, huge naked hairless figures who might have stepped out of one of the recent “Alien” movies.

“The Green Knight” is jammed with symbolism that will probably be lost on anyone not schooled in medievalism.  Some of the episodes seem arbitrary and pointless.

Much as he did with “A Ghost Story,” Lowery explores alternate realities.  In one instance the camera spins to show Gawain hogtied on the ground, then as a rotting skeleton, and then alive again as he struggles to free himself.

And the last 10 minutes is a sort of “Last Temptation of Christ” fantasy in which Gawain’s mind explores the life he might have had (a life in which he is a mighty king).

At its core this is a tale about a young man who acts impulsively and then must live with the consequences; will Gawain have the inner resolve to submit to the Green Knight’s blade? Or will he bring shame on himself and Arthur’s court?

What’s remarkable about Patel’s performance is that he talks about none of this, but the emotions bubbling beneath the surface are perfectly clear. Sometimes words aren’t necessary.

| Robert W. Butler

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midmaxresdefault“MIDNIGHT SPECIAL”  My rating: B

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There is almost no element of “Midnight Special” that hasn’t been already thoroughly mined by other science fiction/fantasy films over the last 40 or so years.

And yet through some sort of cinema alchemy writer/director Jeff Nichols makes it all fresh and compelling.

Nichols is the Arkansas auteur of oddball down-home dramas like “Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter” and “Mud.” Here he ventures into full-blown genre moviemaking, and for the most part sucks us in and leaves us wanting even more.

The film begins with three individuals on the run. Roy (Michael Shannon), his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, the scene-stealing kid from “St. Vincent”), and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are making their way across Texas and into Louisiana in a beat-up car that has more Bondo than paint.

Alton is a strange kid who sits in the back seat wearing sound-damping headphones and blue swimming goggles. Since they travel only at night he uses a flashlight to read a stack of comic books.

Turns out the trio are the object of a massive manhunt, not only by the feds (FBI, CIA, whatever else you got) but by the members of a Texas religious cult with whom Elton has lived for the last two years.

Apparently the kid has had visions which have now become as much a part of the sect as the shapeless sisterwife dresses worn by their womenfolk. Incensed that Elton’s dad has snatched him up, the cult leader (Sam Shepherd) dispatches a couple of heavily-armed members of the congregation (Bill Camp, Scott Haze) to recover the boy in the few days remaining before a prophesized day of judgment.

Nichols’ strength as a storyteller is that he doesn’t drop too much up front. His films are voyages of discovery in which audiences pick up the characters’ backgrounds and info about the plot in dribs and drabs.

(more…)

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Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as Rhamses and Moses

Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as Ramses and Moses

“EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS” My rating: C

150 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” runs for almost 2 1/2 hours — and that still isn’t enough time for it to figure out why it’s here or what it wants to say.

It’s based, of course, on the Old Testament story of the exodus of the captive Hebrews from Egypt, but the filmmakers are obviously ambivalent over matters of faith. Heck, they explain away the story’s supernatural elements as the result of a bump to Moses’ noggin.

This is the second monster-budget biblical epic of the year (it follows Darren Aronofsky’s over-produced and over-thought “Noah”). If Hollywood doesn’t believe, why does it bother?

In a word: spectacle. Scott and his visual wizards pull out the stops to create the thriving Egyptian capital of Memphis, the parting and unparting of the Red Sea, a slam-bang  battle with an invading army.

But on a spiritual and dramatic level “Exodus” is a creaky affair.

Most of us are familiar with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 “The Ten Commandments,” an alternately silly and awe-inspiring affair. DeMille may have had the dramatic instincts of a snake oil salesman, but he was a fierce believer in his own showmanship, and if you can ignore the absurd emoting, his epic remains ridiculously entertaining.

Scott, on the other hand, delivers a film that is, well, grumpy. For all the f/x wizardly, there’s not much joy or discovery to be had. “Exodus” feels like a paint-by-numbers job assembled by an indifferent committee

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead battles "The Thing"

“THE THING” My rating: C (Opening wide Oct. 14)

103 minutes | MPAA rating: R

We’ve already seen two very good versions of “The Thing” (based on the classic sci-fi/horror story “Who Goes There?”), so anyone making yet a third “Thing” had better bring some new ideas to the table.

In the case of the film opening today, first-time feature director Matthijs van Heijningen and writer Bill Lancaster attempt to stir things up by making our protagonist a woman.

That’s it?  That’s the big twist?

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“WARRIOR” My rating: B (Opening wide on Sept. 11)

139 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In outline there’s nothing terribly original about “Warrior,” which follows the well-tested dictates of your typical “fight” movie.

You’ve got your training montage. You’ve got your chatty TV sportscasters giving us the blow-by-blow even as we’re watching the bout unfold before our eyes. You’ve got your dramas outside the ring spilling over into the brawl inside the ring.

Happily this melodrama from writer/director Gavin O’Connor tosses in a few welcome changeups. And it’s been so well acted that even the familiar somehow seems fresh.

At heart “Warrior” is the story of a fractured family somehow coming together in the fury of a mixed martial arts tournament.

Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns to his blue-collar home town after an absence of nearly 15 years. He’s an angry young man (more…)

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