Exodus: Gods and Kings Ridley Scott Epic Moses (Review and Trailer)

Exodus: Gods and Kings Ridley Scott Epic Moses (Review and Trailer)

Out of the two religious themed films released this year, as in epic retelling of bible stories versus the feel good films also hitting theatres in 2014, Ridley Scott, with his epic tale of Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, is to be congratulated for having the moxie, or belief in his subject matter, to allow his biblical vision to actually mention the “big guy” or God. The film, which the English director dedicated to his late brother Tony, feels almost like a homage to David Lean, another English director, sort of a Lawrence of Arabia meets Moses of Canaan, if you will.

Avatar (2009): The Best Space Western Since 1977’s Star Wars

Cover of "Avatar (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Co...
Cover via Amazon

After a jokey morning with my daughter where she informed me that she and a mate had decided that I was battle-scarred enough to be Colonel Quaritch in Avatar, a viewpoint I laughingly agreed with, I started thinking about the film itself.

We went to see Avatar at the cinema. In all its 3D glory the film was stunning. The computer generated Na’vi looked real and the SFX looked brilliant. As the movie progressed I found myself becoming more protective of the native residents in the film. When the company destroys the symbol of their culture and a large number of Na’vi I suddenly realised that this was a western and the Na’vi were the cinematic representation of my Native American ancestors.

I was entranced.

I had not seen a science fiction film that so clearly showed its western roots since the original Star Wars. A film that also entranced  and excited me at the same time.

Luke Skywalker in his search for his father, his finding Obi-Wan Kenobe and learning the power and skills of a Jedi were just an updated fancy named scenario of a young man learning to be a gunfighter and leading the fight against a powerful enemy. It felt like a cross between The Magnificent Seven and Shane and any other western you could name.

Avatar was once described on Twitter by Kevin Sorbo as “Dances with Wolves in space.” I laughed and then immediately realised that he was right. The character of Jake Sully does study the Na’vi and becomes so enamoured of their way of life (not to mention the use of his legs again) that he actively defends them when Quaritch and his paid killers try to wipe them out.

James Cameron came up with the idea of the movie way back in 1994. He then sat back and waited for technology to catch up with his idea. I’m glad he did. The film in 3D was breath-taking if not a little headache inducing. The blu-ray was no less impressive and a lot easier on the eyes.

The plot is about a planetthat has vast supplies of a new element or mineral known as unobtanium (how’s that for a macguffin type name!) that humans are in desperate need of. A company (RDA) is trying to break down the resistance of the native people who call the planet home, the Na’vi. When all peaceful means fail the company sends their profession mercenary security force to annihilate the Na’vi.

On a side note, I wonder if anyone will ever invent a 3D system that doesn’t make you feel like a lifetime migraine suffer after watching it?

That Avatar is a western is beyond dispute. The planet with its rich deposits of unobtanium are just the Dakota’s and the black hills et al full of the gold that the white man so eagerly pursued. The resultant Indian wars that followed also mirror the Na’vi’s attempt to protect their home world.

Jake's avatar and Neytiri. One of the inspirat...
Jake’s avatar and Neytiri. One of the inspirations for the look of the Na’vi came from a dream that Cameron’s mother had told him about. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will openly admit that the cast (and crew) did such a good job in the making of this movie that I got swept away by the story. My brother actually got so swept away that when he watched the film in the cinema he got incredibly angry at the destruction of the tribe’s tree. He had to go into the lobby and cool down.

I was too busy being blown away by the performances and how the film looked. The 3D was so much better than any of the old-fashioned 3D that I almost felt  like I was in the film or at the very least surrounded by it. That combined with the incredibly talented cast made the movie an overwhelming experience.

*SPOILERS*

Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephan Lang, Zoe Saldana (who made me fall in love with the first ever blue graphically created woman in cinema) and of course  Michelle Rodriguez playing the usual hard-ass tough fighter she’s known for. High words of praise are also reserved to the cameo of Wes Studi, the one real link between Dances with Wolves and Avatar. He really sells the part of the clan chief and his death crushed me.

Cameron is working on a sequel that will be out in 2015. Assuming we all survive the end of the world in December, I’ll definitely be watching it. I want to see how the Na’vi have grown since their screen debut.

I can’t wait. Of course the question does have to be asked. When so few people can make a decent modern western why is that James Cameron can make one that is so spot on, but in space?

It will also be interesting to see what the plot is this time around. The original film did indeed parallel Dances with Wolves to a large degree. Let’s hope that the new adventures of the Na’vi don’t turn into a parallel version of F Troop.

Cover of "Dances with Wolves"
Cover of Dances with Wolves

Paul (2011): Glimpses of Greatness

I really wanted to love this film. I’ve been a fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost since Shaun of the Dead. I didn’t see them work together on the hysterically funny Spaced television show until after I’d seen their ZomRomCom.

I am also a huge fan of Seth Rogan. I also adore Sigourney Weaver. So what’s not to like about Paul?

Let me tell you.

I could really sum it up in one sentence. They tried too hard.

There you have it. The magical team of Pegg and Frost struck out. And since they co-wrote the film, it stands to reason that they have to take most of the blame. It could be that without Edgar Wright directing, they lose that spontaneity and effortless ease of their comic timing and delivery. Maybe Greg Mottola just didn’t get it.

Or it could be that the studios didn’t trust our lads to be able to deliver a hit vehicle on American shores. My daughter and I have our own theory, Pegg and Frost are a great comic duo. We think though, that they work best in English comedies.

Shaun of the Dead for example was brilliantly funny from frame one. Hot Fuzz wasn’t quite so fast out of the gate as Shaun, but still very funny. At first glance Paul film should have benefited from the lads presence in the film.

But it doesn’t

The beginning of the film showed a lot of promise. Two geeky guys from the UK come to the US to attend a Comic-Con. It’s a lifetime dream of the two friends, Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost respectively) are on the holiday of all holidays. Clive has written a science fiction book (graphic novel?) that Clive illustrated.

The two men attend the Comic-Con, meet their idol Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor) and afterwards they decide to take a ‘UFO” road trip by way of a RV and a map. While they are on route to another tourist UFO hot-spot, a car passes them and spectacularly crashes right in front of their RV.

Shaken, Clive and Graeme get out and go to the burning car to look for survivors. Just as Clive starts to call 911, a voice from the darkness tells him not to use the phone. Graeme and Clive freeze as an alien wearing a pair of brown shorts and scandals walks out of the shadows. Clive passes out and falls backwards onto the desert floor.

The alien introduces himself as Paul and asks the guys to help him out. It seems that his other alien buddies are going to be picking him up and he needs to get there fast. Graeme agrees since Clive is still out for the count and they both carry Clive back to the RV.

Jason Bateman plays a National Security Agent who is trying to track Paul down. Kristen Wiig plays visually challenged Ruth Buggs. Sigourney Weaver plays a ‘baddie’ and Blythe Danner plays the little girl all grown up whose dog was mashed flat by Paul’s spacecraft years ago.

So the cast was great, the story should have been a barrel of laughs. The first twenty minutes was well paced and very funny then it slowed down and turned into a slight chuckle and smile film. The sparse hilarious moments were very sparse . The CG for the alien Paul was breathtaking and just brilliant. But that was not enough to save the film from its wishy-washy comedy.

The film does have glimpses of greatness. But glimpses are all they and there not consistent enough to make this film a real rib tickler. Part of the problem was the overly obvious scenes in the film that were clearly signposting how important that particular scene would be later in the film.

**SPOILER ALERT**                                                                                       **SPOILER ALERT**

The scene with the dead bird is a perfect example. The RV that the boys are driving hits a bird and kills it. They stop the RV and Paul goes over to the bird and, clapping his hands together like a very small Mr Miyagi, brings the bird back to life. Paul holds the bird gently in his hands while Clive and Graeme look on in amazement. Paul then shoves the live bird into his mouth and eats it. Clive and Graeme look shocked. “Well, ya didn’t think I was gonna eat a dead bird did ya?” Paul says after wiping his mouth and spitting out a feather. (This was one of those glimpses that the film could have used more of)

All the comic turns in the film were also signposted. It was like watching a ‘Comedy Films for Idiots Guide.’ Every gag was so laid out that by the time it got to the punch line, I was bored.

I’m not kidding when I say that I really wanted to love this film. I even watched it twice. The second time was roughly a year after I’d originally watched it. I saw it on the flight to the United States last year. As I was a bit distracted about my first visit in over eleven years to see my family, I decided that was why I didn’t find Paul hysterically funny.

Unfortunately a year didn’t help. Even watching it with undivided attention didn’t make the film any better.

My final verdict on Paul is…It’s a one bagger. Period. The film is amusing, but not downright funny (except occasionally)and as you won’t be belly laughing while you watch it you might as well have a huge Coke with that popcorn. Worth watching but, friends and neighbours, Shaun of the Dead, it isn’t.

Shaun of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holes (2003): What We Have Here…

I was originally going to title this piece ‘Shawshank Redemption for Kids’ But it’s not really Shawshank Redemption for kids, even though it’s damn close. The theme of the two films are very similar and you get the same sense of satisfaction when you have finished watching the film.

But if I were to be really honest, the film is closer to a juvenile version of Cool Hand Luke without Strother Martin’s character drawling, ” What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Instead we have Sigourney Weaver‘s, “Excuse me??” Shia LaBeoff is of course the Paul Newman of this story and that is where any similarity to ‘Luke’ ends. Where Newman’s Luke was a good ole’ boy who didn’t mind breaking the law in order to have a good time, LaBeoff’s Stanley aka Caveman, is a true innocent.

Holes is great little entertainment piece that doesn’t stretch too far into character development territory, although it does try to give us a ‘back story’ and plot intertwining that only just about works.

It has a good pedigree as far as cast lists go. Henry Winkler, Jon Voight, Patricia Arquette are all part of the capable actors who populate this film. Eartha Kitt has a splendid cameo as Madame Zeroni the fortune teller who curses the Yelnats when an ancestor breaks a promise that he made to her.

The film starts with Stanley (LaBeoff) walking home and getting hit in the head with a pair of stolen baseball shoes. This occurance knocks Stanley out cold, the shoes were thrown off of an overpass. He is arrested for stealing the shoes and after being found guilty, is offered the choice of jail or Camp Green Lake (a juvenile chain gang operation run by Warden Walker).

Stanley and his whole family blame this recent turn of events on the Yelnats family curse.

Stanley goes through the usual drill when he arrives at Camp Green Lake, he manages to piss off everyone he meets and is, of course, bullied because he is the new boy. The only lad who doesn’t bully or ostracise Stanley is Zero (Khleo Thomas) who, we find out later in the film, was the person who stole the shoes that Stanley was arrested for stealing.

All the inmates at Camp Green Lake are made to dig holes in the dry lake bed that the camp has been named after. We learn of the story behind the lake drying up. We also learn more about the ‘kissing bandit’ (Arquette).

The back story helps to tie up the connection between the Yelnets family curse and the dry lake bed. Mister Sir (Jon Voight), Warden Walker’s (Weaver) ‘foreman’ is a bully of the finest order. His second in command is Dr Pedanski (Tim Blake Nelson) a ‘make-believe’ doctor who also likes bullying the boys.

After Pedanski insults Zero, Zero hits him in the face with a shovel and escapes. He heads across the barren lake bed out into an area that has no water or shade. Stanley takes out after him.

This film is notable because it is Labeoff’s first film (the opening credits say, ‘Introducing’ in front of his name) and it gives us a chance to see Shia in his pre-Transformers days.

Considering that this is a film that has been exclusively targeted for children, it is still entertaining. Yes the villains are all ‘cartoon’ type villains (you know, so stupid that it beggars belief that they are not all in prison) all that is missing is the twirling of the pencil thin moustache.

But the film works in spite of the two dimensional characterisation of all the characters and it’s paper thin plot as well as it’s comparison (or some would say homage?) to other films.

At the end of the film, you feel that justice has been served. You also feel a sense of relief that those ‘poisonous’ lizards don’t really exist in real life. You might also feel like checking out the book by Louis Sachar that the film is adapted from.

A final verdict of a one bagger film. One bag of popcorn should see you through this ‘feel good film.’

Red Lights (2012): Little Things That You Do

Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés (BuriedThe ContestantRed Lights is really a psychological  cum paranormal thriller. Rodrigo’s last film Buried did so well, that the studios obviously trusted him to work with the big money, aka star actors. You cannot really get much bigger than veteran actors Robert De NiroSigourney Weaver, and Joely Richardson.

Add into this already heady mix, the more ‘recent’ dependable actors in the guise of Cillian MurphyElizabeth Olsen and Toby Jones and you have a vehicle that just smacks of success. The “Readers Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

Sigourney Weaver

Dr Matheson (Weaver) is a psychologist who is also a veteran paranormal “debunker.” She works with her assistant  Dr Buckley (Murphy) who is a physicist. The beginning of the film sees the two “debunking” a typical haunting. That the two are fond of each other is apparent; these two are not just colleagues, they are friends.

After they finish, Matheson asks Buckley to drop her off at the hospital to see her comatose son, who is hooked up to a life support machine.

We next see the two presenting a class to university students. They are “teaching” them how to ‘fake’ a seance. We are introduced very briefly to Sally Owen (Olsen) who after the class approaches Dr Buckley to turn in an assignment. She clearly likes him and they go out  to a diner.  Buckley explains to Sally about  “red lights” which are the subtle tricks that fraudsters use to fool the gullible.

Robert De Niro at the premiere of Tennessee at...

Enter Simon Silver (De Niro) a blind older version of Uri Geller. He can bend spoons, practice telepathy and apparently can levitate. He is making his first public appearance in over thirty years. He ‘retired’ when one of his most fervent denouncers dramatically had a heart attack and died during Silver’s last public appearance.

Buckley wants to immediately investigate Silver and prove that he is a fraud. Dr Matheson urges Buckley to leave it alone. She had faced Silver thirty years ago and she maintains that he is too powerful to be touched. She also reveals that when she had gone up against Silver before, her young son suddenly toppled over and he has never regained conciousness.

Buckley ignores Matheson’s warning and starts investigating Silver anyway.

The build up of suspense in this film was brilliant. It played more like a mystery/thriller for three quarters of the film. The characters of Matheson and Buckley and Owen were drawn so well that we immediately felt a connection with them. In essence before the first twenty minutes of the film we found that we liked them and cared about what they were doing.

I was a little disappointed that Joely Richardson did not have more to do. She played Silver’s manager/agent and she came across as malevolent and not a little scary. De Niro did what he does best. He dominates the screen with his presence alone. He is still capable of catching our attention without saying a word.

IMG_13021.jpg

Elizabeth Olsen gave a very sturdy performance as Buckley’s love interest/partner in crime. Cillian Murphy was the stand-out performance in this film. He has come a long way since 28 Days Later and Inception.

English: Actor Cillian Murphy in 2010.

IMDb gives Red Lights a 6.6 out of  10. I would rate it higher just for the high quality of the acting and for the well woven plot. It is one of those films that you should see at least twice to catch every nuance the film has to offer. Just like the “red lights” mentioned by Buckley, the film will mislead you and trick you.

Despite the mediocre and misleading marketing of the film, it is worth the price of admission and splashing out for a bag of popcorn and a coke.