Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings


Director: Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, Alien, Black Hawk Down, Blade Runner, Prometheus)
Writers: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian
Producers: Peter Chernin, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Jenno Topping
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, María Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 150 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd.

 


Directing a movie is hard work. Building a film from the ground up, shooting and trimming it to bits in order to finally unveil a finished project takes blood, sweat and tears from the person daring enough to take on the helm and it’s a task that has broken plenty in the past. As a result, most directors make audiences wait several years between their pictures, making sure that they have the time necessary to get it as close to perfection as they can. For some, however, the process is a decidedly simpler endeavor and they’re able to bring out a film every year, sometimes even more than one. Woody Allen is famous for this, and possesses a consistency that is underappreciated aside from a string of misses at the turn of the century, but it’s easier for him given the smaller, more character-focused material he chooses to direct. For directors like Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg who tend to work on a massive scale with even larger budgets it takes more time and effort to turn in that final product, which makes it quite surprising that Ridley Scott has become as efficient at delivering a steady flow of features in the past few years.

Starting with Robin Hood in 2010, Scott has put out four films in five years with his next, The Martian, scheduled for release in less than twelve months. These aren’t small movies either. With the exception of last year’s crime thriller The Counselor, each of these films has been budgeted at well over $100 million and Scott’s penchant for as much physical sets as possible, as opposed to the more frequented tendency to rely on visual effects, makes each one a gargantuan task to take on. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that despite his methodical ability to bring these movies out in such rapid succession, the results have been less than desirable for those who take on the equally mighty task of actually sitting down to watch them. While I’m a fan of the divisive space epic Prometheus, there’s no denying that with critics and audiences alike Scott has been in quite a steep rough patch these past few years and so it’s with no shortage of competition that I say that his latest, Exodus: Gods and Kings, is easily the worst film of his 40-year career.
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DVD Review: Patema Inverted

Director: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Screenplay: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Starring: Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Shintarô Oohata
Producer: Michiru Ohshima, Mikio Ono
Country: Japan
Running Time: 100 min
Year: 2013
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve mentioned my love of anime once or twice in some earlier reviews, but regular readers may wonder why I’ve written so few anime reviews for the site. I think the main reason is that I don’t watch much anymore. These days anime comes in the form of series more often than stand alone films and I don’t find the time to get through several hours of episodes. When I do get the chance to review an anime feature I jump at the opportunity, so when I was asked if I wanted to review Patema Inverted, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

The titular Patema is a young princess who lives in a subterranean community. She’s coming to that age when she wants to break out and see more of the world, so she spends her evenings secretly exploring the outskirts of the area in which she lives. She can’t help but step into the forbidden ‘danger zone’ and it’s there where her life gets turned literally upside down.

After falling down a seemingly bottomless pit, she finds herself in the outside world, only she’s falling ‘up’ into the sky rather than down to the floor. She manages to keep from floating into oblivion through the help of a young boy Age, who is also dissatisfied with his lot in life. A student on the planet’s surface (a.k.a. Aiga), Age is troubled as his father died after trying to create a flying machine to explore beyond their world. Age wants to do the same, but the evil dictator who rules over Aiga restricts anyone from doing so or even thinking for themselves for that matter. He teaches those in Aiga to hate and fear the ‘inverts’ who live under the ground, calling them sinners who were cast into the sky when a failed experiment distorted the rules of gravity. When this dictator discovers Patema has infiltrated his world, he will stop at nothing to capture her and use her to keep his stranglehold over the people of Aiga. Age won’t let this happen though and, enlisting the help of Patema’s ‘invert’ friends, he sets out on a mission to save her and bring balance to the world.

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WFF 2014 Review: I Put A Hit on You

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Your romantic evening doesn’t go as you expected. Actually, it ends in an argument and you storming out of the restaurant. You go home, get blitzed and in a moment of alcohol induced anger, you put a hit on your ex only to wake up hours later, figure out what you’ve done, instantly regret it and then head over to his place to save his life.

It doesn’t sound like much of a plot but the crowd funding video for Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart’s I Put a Hit on You went viral, proof that perhaps this concept of doing stuff you regret while drunk is something a lot of people have experienced though I expect the Craigslist market for hitmen is rather limited.

The concept for Clark and Stewart’s movie is perfect for a single location shoot. Once the set-up is out of the way, it takes all of 10 minutes, I Put a Hit on You moves to Ray’s apartment and pretty much stays there as Ray (Aaron Ashmore) and Harper (Sara Canning) try to sort out the mess she has created. While trying to figure out how to survive the night, the pair also delve into their relationship problems in a dramedy that mostly works.

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WFF 2014 Review: After the Ball

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We all have kryptonite. I have more kryptonite than most. If the movie involves dancing, cheerleading, drumlines, high school drama, Shakespeare, modern interpretations of Shakespeare, or re-telling fairy tales, I’ve probably seen it or want to see it. I simply can’t help myself. This is my candy and I love to bite into a new bar. Rarely is that new bar completely fulfilling. Even rarer, like, white elephant rare, is when that piece of candy happens to be Canadian. I’m pretty sure the last one was How She Move (review) and that was a long, long time ago.

What first caught my attention about After the Ball is director Sean Garrity. A few years ago Garrity really impressed with a great little thriller titled Blood Pressure so when I saw his name attached, I didn’t look any further. I knew I had to see this. Imagine my surprise when I read the description to find that After the Ball is basically Cinderella meets “Twelfth Night” set in the fashion industry.

Portia Doubleday stars as Kate, a talented fashion grad who is trying to get a job in the world of haute couture. She’s talented but her family name is problematic. Her father owns a consumer friendly fashion line that, in the past, has been known to steal couture designs and re-package them for the mall crowd. Defeated, Kate returns home and decides, against her initial floundering, to take on a job at the family business. She squares off against her terrible step mother and two despicable (and dumb) step sisters, gets fired, returns in disguise and falls in love with the in house shoe designer – played by, no less, Marc-André Grondin.

Jackpot.

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WFF 2014 Review: A Most Violent Year

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Truth be told: if you haven’t seen a J.C. Chandor movie, you’re missing out. Like, seriously missing out. That doesn’t however, mean that you should skip A Most Violent Year. Actually, that means that you should see A Most Violent Year as soon as possible and then head back and check out the director’s previous work.

Also written by Chandor, A Most Violent Year sounds like the most boring movie ever about the most dry industry ever. Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, the owner of a heating oil company in the early 80s when people, instead of having deals with the electric or gas company for their heating, they negotiated heating oil prices with the providers directly. Life has been good for Morales. He’s risen through the ranks from driver to owner, married a beautiful, smart woman, and he’s just about to close the biggest deal of his life.

But all is not well at Standard Oil: the company is under investigation for fraud, the bank has pulled out of their real estate deal, trucks of oil are being stolen right from Morales’ nose and to make matters worse, now Morales’ seemingly perfect home life is starting to show cracks. It’s definitely a violent year for Morales but not in sense you might imagine.

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Blu-Ray Review: Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages

Director: D.W. Griffith
Screenplay: D.W. Griffith, Anita Loos, Hettie Grey Baker, Tod Browning, Mary H. O’Connor, Frank E. Woods
Starring: Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, Constance Talmadge, Alfred Paget, Miriam Cooper, Margery Wilson
Producer: D.W. Griffith
Country: USA
Running Time: 168 min
Year: 1916
BBFC Certificate: PG


My initial introduction to the work of D.W. Griffith didn’t go down too well. In the middle of last year I sat down to watch his controversial classic The Birth of a Nation and I did not enjoy the experience. Not only was the film uncomfortably offensive (which I was expecting), but I found the first half incredibly tedious. It was clearly a work of great importance, but I found it a real chore to watch. So when I was offered the chance to review his epic follow up, Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, I almost turned it down. However, my desire to work my way through the classics crept in and after enjoying a run of excellent silent films over the last couple of months I decided to take the plunge.

Through groundbreaking intercutting techniques, Intolerance tells four stories of love struggling through intolerance of various forms in different eras and locations. The earliest is set in ancient Babylon, where a free-spirited mountain girl fights for her prince amongst a time of religious rivalry. The next shows a few scenes from the later life of Jesus Christ when the Pharisees condemned him. Another shorter section is set in 1572, following a doomed relationship during the build up to St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris. The final and most extensive section (alongside the one in Babylon) is set in the present day (1916), where social reformers make the lives of a young couple increasingly more difficult.

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Review: Whiplash


Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Producers: Jason Blum, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 107 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found HERE

 


Being that film is an industry populated by artists in all areas of the field, it’s no surprise that a prevalent theme throughout its history has been the drive to achieve greatness. We’ve seen it unfold on screen in many varieties, whether it’s characters in the field of sport, music, film or many others, but they all share that single, universal center of someone who is desperate to reach a level of skill so prominent that their name is remembered as one of the best there ever was. This is what motivates Andrew Neyman (played by Miles Teller), the talented young drummer at the head of Damien Chazelle’s sophomore feature, Whiplash. Enrolled at the Shaffer Conservatory, the best music school in the country, Neyman is recruited by the infamous conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) to join his band there and so begins Chazelle’s tale of two men who want nothing more than to achieve that higher place of artistry that few are able of accomplishing, something which sends both on a violent, aggressive and unrelenting journey in the hopes of reaching it.

What begins as a moment of naive optimism for Neyman, the approval of someone he greatly admires, quickly morphs into something terrifying as on his first day Fletcher gives him a promising little pep talk only to then berate him in class and hurl a chair at his head when he can’t meet the tempo the conductor requires. Neyman realizes that tutelage from this legend isn’t about to come easy, but easy is never something that Whiplash wants to allow in its approach. In only his second feature, Chazelle exhibits a control over the material that is comparable to directors twice his age, as he turns what could have been a relatively typical story of mentor and student into one of the most exhilarating, intense and captivating experiences I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in years. It took the 29-year-old filmmaker some time to get this project to the screen, having to first develop it as a short film in order to secure funding for the desired feature-length project, but we’re all lucky he pursued it to fruition as Whiplash is a marvelously involving exploration of the perils of obsession and the virtues of perseverance, played out through one of the finest-acted two-handers in years.
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Blu-Ray Review: Spione

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Based on a Novel by: Thea von Harbou
Starring: Willy Fritsch, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Fritz Rasp, Louis Ralph, Lupu Pick
Producer: Erich Pommer
Country: Germany
Running Time: 150 min
Year: 1928
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve had an excellent track record with Fritz Lang films (you can read my glowing review of Des Testament des Dr. Mabuse here). Admittedly, I’ve only seen a few, but each one has impressed me greatly. Metropolis introduced me to the wonders of silent cinema back when I was a teenager, M showed me that serial killer films were already in fine form back in the 30’s and, more recently, Des Testament des Dr. Mabuse proved that blockbuster sequels could be masterpieces. Eureka released Lang’s follow up to Metropolis, Spione (a.k.a. Spies), on DVD as part of their Masters of Cinema series back in 2005. I’d been very close to buying it in the past as it sounded like something I’d very much enjoy, but I’m glad I never took the plunge as now Eureka have upgraded the release as a dual format Blu-Ray and DVD set. I requested a review copy to see if it could match up to the other Lang films I’d seen and I’m pleased to report that it certainly did.

Spione is a spy thriller (if the English title didn’t make that obvious) with a labyrinthine plot. I won’t go into too much detail so as not to spoil things, but basically a spy ring headed by the evil Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is causing chaos at the government’s secret service. Important documents have been stolen, dignitaries have been assassinated and double agents are springing up all over the place. Next on Haghi’s list of crimes is to get his hands on a peace treaty to be signed between Japan and the UK, in the hope that he can use it to trigger another world war. The only man that can stop him is agent 326 (Willy Fritsch). Haghi is always one step ahead though and sends the cunning Russian spy Sonya (Gerda Maurus) to seduce him and lead him down a dark path. A spanner is put in the works however when Sonya and 326 fall in love.

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DVD Review: Ida

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik
Producers: Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska
Country: Poland/Denmark/France/UK
Running Time: 81 min
Year: 2013
BBFC Certificate: 12


Although born in Poland, Pawel Pawlikowski began his career making documentaries for British television, then made a name for himself directing a couple of highly regarded British films, Last Resort in 2000 and My Summer of Love in 2004. For his fifth feature, Ida, he chose to head back home to co-write and direct a film in Poland which delves into the country’s dark and turbulent past.

Ida is a drama set in the 1960’s which follows 18-year old Anna on a journey of self-discovery. An orphan who has lived in a convent for as long as she can remember, she is preparing to take her vows to become a nun and is advised to speak to her one known relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), before making this huge decision. Wanda opens Anna’s eyes to the truth of her past, revealing that she is in fact called Ida and her Jewish parents were killed during the Nazi occupation. Following this discovery, Anna/Ida travels with Wanda to try to find her parents’ bodies and finally lay them to rest. Along the way, Wanda, a bitter yet modern woman, tries to break out Anna’s repressed desires. Wanda herself is filled with pain though and the journey they take may cleanse her soul too.

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