BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) – Ambitious Sequel Overlong and Lifeless

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blade-runner-2049-poster

I guess I’m just not a fan of the BLADE RUNNER movies.

I was never all that into the original BLADE RUNNER (1982) film starring Harrison Ford and directed by Ridley Scott, based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? —- now, the novel I do like— that has a huge loyal following among science fiction fans.  The 1982 film just never moved me.

Now, here comes BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017),  starring Ryan Gosling and again Harrison Ford, a bigger and badder sequel to the 1982 movie, receiving high praise from both critics and fans alike.

I’ve finally been swayed, right?  This film is so good I’ve finally overcome my apathy for BLADE RUNNER, right?

Wrong.

Which is why I said, I guess I just don’t like these movies.

“K” (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, the name given to officers who hunt down and “retire” (yes, that means “kill”) replicants, the artificial life forms that the powers that be fear because they are becoming too human.  His latest target is somewhat of an unusual one, and it leads him on a search for Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the blade runner and main character in the first BLADE RUNNER movie, who’s been missing for thirty years.

Denis Villeneuve directed BLADE RUNNER 2049, which is another reason I’m surprised I didn’t like this one more than I did.  Villeneuve directed ARRIVAL (2016) and SICARIO (2015), two movies I liked a lot, and PRISONERS (2013), which was also very good.

There’s no shortage of ambition here.  This is a massive movie, filled with eye-popping special effects and a futuristic landscape that rivals the one created by Ridley Scott in the original.  All the technical stuff is there and works.

The story also has a lot to say.  Hampton Fancher and Michael Green wrote the screenplay, and it covers a lot of ground.  The best part of the Philip K. Dick novel is the exploration of the line between human and replicant, and the idea that a thinking sentient being, albeit an artificially created one, would fight for its own survival and not take kindly to the idea that it had an expiration date.  This has always been my favorite part of the BLADE RUNNER universe, and it’s more applicable today as great strides have been made in the field of artificial intelligence, and I believe that soon this concept will leave the realm of science fiction and become science fact.

And yet the problem I had with the original BLADE RUNNER, I have again here with BLADE RUNNER 2049, and that is the film has no soul.  It’s cold and lifeless, and its story, in spite of the scientific and ethical ramifications, fails to resonate.  Nothing that happens in this movie moved me one iota.

Which is too bad because a lot happens in this movie.  So much that it takes a whopping 2 hours and 43 minutes to tell its story.  That’s a long time to sit through a movie that doesn’t resonate, which is another reason I really did not enjoy BLADE RUNNER 2049.

There were parts I did like.  Its opening scene, for example, where “K” hunts down a replicant, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) is a good one.  The fight sequence between the two is a rough and violent as they get.

Nearly all the scenes between “K” and his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) are not only watchable but for me were flat-out the best scenes in the movie, but their storyline is secondary to the main one in the film.  The scene in particular where technology enables Joi to enter the body of a prostitute Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) so she can physically love “K” is probably the best scene in the film

And the first encounter between “K” and Rick Deckard is memorable, but it’s an hour and 40 minutes into the movie before this meeting takes place.

So, for me, pacing was certainly an issue, but the larger problem was that the story never grabbed me, the characters never won me over, and so I sat there for nearly three hours being visually stimulated but that was about it.  The story and characters fell flat for me and pretty much bored me to tears.

I like Ryan Gosling a lot, and he’s certainly good here, but “K” is just such dull boring character I just never found myself all that excited about him.

In a strange way, I actually enjoyed Harrison Ford more in this movie than in the original BLADE RUNNER.  It’s too bad he doesn’t show up until 1 hour and 40 minutes into the film.  He’s got some good lines, though, and his character is integral to the main plot and main mystery of this one.

But hands down the two best performances in BLADE RUNNER 2049 belong to two of the women actresses in the film.

First, there’s Ana de Armas as Joi, who happened to be my favorite character in the movie.  Joi is a holographic creation, and yet through de Armas’ performance, she’s more lifelike and possesses more genuine emotion than any other character in the movie.  She previously starred in WAR DOGS (2016) and HANDS OF STONE (2016),  a film about boxer Roberto Duran that was panned by critics but was one of my favorite movies that year.  Ana de Armas was excellent in HANDS OF STONE, and she’s better here in BLADE RUNNER 2049.

Then there’s Sylvia Hoeks as Luv.  She’s the most effective villain in the movie.  It’s a dominating performance, one that I enjoyed more than Jared Leto’s.  He plays the main baddie in the film, Niander Wallace, and he just doesn’t resonate.  While I enjoyed Hoeks’s scenes, Leto’s scenes sadly put me to sleep.

Robin Wright has a couple of compelling moments as the stone cold police Lieutenant Joshi, and there are some other veteran actors on hand who add to the mix as well. There’s Barkhad Abdi, the Oscar-nominated actor for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) who we just saw in GOOD TIME (2017), and there’s Lennie James, who plays Morgan on TV’s THE WALKING DEAD.

And both Edward James Olmos and Sean Young reprise their roles from the original BLADE RUNNER, but their presence is reduced to nothing more than brief cameos.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 is ambitious, cinematic, and loud, but it’s also cold, lifeless, and terribly long and dull, which is a shame because its main premise, the examination of the line between replicants and humans, and its exploration of the idea that artificially created replicants are so close to life that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between them and humans, which ultimately leads to the discussion of just what it is that constitutes life, is a thought-provoking idea that is worthy of an epic movie.

Unfortunately, BLADE RUNNER 2049 isn’t that movie.

And that’s because while technologically it scores points on all fronts, emotionally, it’s as barren as its futuristic landscape, filled with eye-popping visuals and ear-shattering noises, but without any life whatsoever.

The replicants deserve better.

—END—

 

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ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) – Straightforward Thrill Ride

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alien covenant

As a sequel to PROMETHEUS (2012), ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) works rather well.  But as part of the ALIEN universe, not so much.

ALIEN: COVENANT takes place ten years after the events of PROMETHEUS.  In an opening that is all too reminiscent of the recent— and inferior— science fiction movie PASSENGERS (2016), the spaceship Covenant is on its way to colonize a new planet, filled to the brim with sleeping human beings and embryos traveling to their new home.  But catastrophe strikes, the ship is damaged, and the crew awakes to save the day.

But the captain is killed, leaving the second in command Oram (Billy Crudup) to secure the ship and have it ready to continue the voyage.  But before he can do so, the crew receives a garbled message which they recognize as human, and when they trace the source to a habitable planet that is much closer than their original destination, they decide to investigate.

Of course, awaiting them there are both mystery and danger, courtesy of the events of the previous film in the series, PROMETHEUS.  Director Ridley Scott, the director of the original ALIEN (1979) has planned a prequel trilogy to his original science fiction shocker.  ALIEN: COVENANT is the second film in this trilogy, and so we are crawling closer to the events of ALIEN, and the Alien creatures themselves are evolving towards those familiar monsters we know so well.

I enjoyed ALIEN: COVENANT well enough, mostly because it was a well-paced thriller that kept me interested throughout, at least until the end, as at that point it had become rather predictable.  But I liked it better than PROMETHEUS, which attempted to be high brow science fiction but didn’t quite achieve its goal.  I liked the ideas which PROMETHEUS put forth, but not the way they were executed.

ALIEN: COVENANT is a far less ambitious movie than PROMETHEUS, but it works because it doesn’t try to be something it’s not.  It seems satisfied to be a straightforward science fiction thriller.

Still, director Ridley Scott and his team of writers, John Logan and Dante Harper, continue to flirt with the deeper theme of the origins of life.  As android David (Michael Fassbender) says to his human creator at the beginning of the movie, “If you created me, who created you?”  That’s the million dollar question being put forth in both PROMETHEUS and ALIEN: COVENANT.  It’s a thought-provoking question, but a part of me has to laugh when I think that somewhere down the line the vicious alien creatures from these movies are going to be somehow tied into the origins of humanity.

This is Harper’s first screenplay, but John Logan has a list of very impressive writing credits, having worked on the screenplays to such films as GLADIATOR (2000), STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002), and SKYFALL (2012).

But again, ALIEN: COVENANT works best as a thriller, and director Ridley Scott does a nice job at the helm and creates some decent suspenseful scenes.  The sequence where two crew members first become infected, and then are raced back to the ship for medical attention where it proves far too late to save them is one of the more riveting sequences in the film.  And what would an ALIEN movie be without an alien bursting from someone’s chest?  Yup, there’s one of those scenes here as well.

Michael Fassbender plays the dual lead role of “brother” androids,  David, who we met in PROMETHEUS and as we find out in this movie was the only survivor, and Walter, a member of the crew of the Covenant.  Fassbender is very good, as always.

Billy Crudup plays the ineffective Oram, a man forced into the captain’s seat obviously before he was ready.  Katherine Waterston plays the Sigourney Weaver-type role, Daniels, the woman who pretty much becomes the leader of the group.  Danny McBride plays Tennessee, and I guess the ALIEN films like southern geographical character names, since Tom Skerritt’s character’s name in ALIEN was Dallas.  Here we have Tennessee.

None of the other characters are really developed all that well, and no one else in the cast really stood out.   They were all pretty much cardboard characters.

But I didn’t mind that all that much here, since I enjoyed the mystery and the thrills.  The alien scenes here are quite good, although they pale in comparison to the original and its sequel, ALIENS (1986).  I was intrigued for a while, as I was happy to go along for the ride with these folks as they searched for answers about the planet they had landed on and were hoping to call home.  Likewise, I enjoyed the alien scenes.

But about two-thirds of the way in things began to grow predictable and I pretty much knew exactly where this film was going.  I hoped that I would be wrong, and that I would be surprised instead, but that wasn’t the case.    In terms of plot, especially if you’ve seen other ALIEN movies, you can figure out the ending long before it occurs.

Even so, ALIEN: COVENANT was an enjoyable thrill ride for me, and in spite of not absolutely loving this one, I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of this reborn ALIEN franchise.

—END—

 

THE HORROR JAR: The ALIEN Movies

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alien-movie-posterTHE HORROR JAR: The ALIEN Movies
By Michael Arruda

We finish off the 2014 year with THE HORROR JAR, the column that lists odds and ends about horror movies. Up today in the midst of frigid winter we look at the terrors of cold space, as seen in the ALIEN franchise.

The original ALIEN took moviegoers by storm in the summer of 1979, and I remember when I first saw this one at the movies upon its initial release being disappointed it wasn’t scarier. Of course, I was just fifteen years old back then. ALIEN is one of those movies that I have enjoyed more with each successive viewing, and for me, it’s the best of the series.

Here’s a look at that series:

ALIEN (1979)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Dallas: Tom Skerritt
Lambert: Veronica Cartwright
Brett: Harry Dean Stanton
Kane: John Hurt
Ash: Ian Holm
Parker: Yaphet Kotto
Running Time: 117 minutes

Iconic horror movie with famous tagline “In space no one can hear you scream” is one of the best shockers ever made. Deftly directed by Ridley Scott, this one is not a gross-out shocker— although there are some very graphic scenes— but a cleverly composed thriller with creative touches throughout. The intensely frightening Alien creature is hardly shown at all yet director Scott uses this to his advantage as the beast is there one moment, gone the next. My favorite scene when Dallas searches for the creature in the dark ducts with a blow torch simply uses a blip on a video screen to generate suspense.

Features a fantastic cast led by Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, a role she’d reprise three more times. Infamous scene where the baby alien bursts from John Hurt’s chest is now the stuff of horror film lore. Won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. A classic of the genre, it was followed by five sequels and as of this writing one prequel.

ALIENS (1986)
Directed by James Cameron
Screenplay by James Cameron
Music by James Horner
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
“Newt”: Carrie Henn
Hicks: Michael Biehn
Burke: Paul Reiser
Bishop: Lance Henriksen
Hudson: Bill Paxton
Running Time: 137 minutes

James Cameron’s big budget blockbuster is for many the best film of the series. It’s certainly the most ambitious and the most fun, as it features an army of the Alien monsters rather than just one, and in true James Cameron style it’s flawlessly made. That being said, I prefer the cold chilling style of the original over this high flying sequel ever so slightly.

The cast while still very good isn’t as impressive as the one in the original, although Sigourney Weaver is back and is arguably even better here in this sequel than she was in the original- heck, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. Lance Henriksen impresses as Bishop, Bill Paxton chews up the scenery as the big mouthed emotional Hudson, and young Carrie Henn is memorable as “Newt” the little girl who Ripley rescues. The film won two Oscars, one for Sound Effects Editing and the other for Visual Effects.

ALIEN 3 (1992)
Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Dillon: Charles S. Dutton
Clemens: Charles Dance
Bishop: Lance Henriksen
Running Time: 114 minutes

OK third film in the ALIEN series pales in comparison to the first two, and after the rousing spectacle of ALIENS, this one really falls flat. It’s sufficient to say that director David Fincher’s best work lay ahead of him, as he’s gone on to make some terrific movies since, including 2014’s GONE GIRL.

The setting of a space prison planet where Ripley lands after the events of ALIENS is a good one, and this film tries to return to the cold scary style of the original, but it ultimately falls short as none of the scares are noteworthy, nor is the story anything to brag about. Suffers from the “been there done that” phenomenon throughout.

ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenplay by Joss Whedon
Music by John Frizzell
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Annalee: Winona Ryder
Johner: Ron Perlman
Running Time: 109 minutes

More of the same, and none of it as good as what has been done before. ALIEN: RESURRECTION is probably my least favorite of the ALIEN movies starring Sigourney Weaver. It’s certainly the least memorable of the series. Screenwriter Joss Whedon, who would go on to write CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012), and write and direct Marvel’s THE AVENGERS (2012) must have had an off day when he wrote this.

AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson
Music by Harald Kloser
Alexa Woods: Sanaa Latham
Sebastian de Rosa: Raoul Bova
Charles Bishop Weyland: Lance Henriksen
Running Time: 101 minutes

First ALIEN movie without Sigourney Weaver is certainly the goofiest and the most contrived. It’s saved only by its crossover gimmick with the PREDATOR series. Absolutely ridiculous story makes little sense. Still, the Alien vs. Predator battles are a lot of fun and provide a guilty pleasure in this otherwise lame-brained movie. By far the weakest of the series.

ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007)
Directed by The Brothers Strause
Screenplay by Shane Salerno
Music by Brian Tyler
Dallas: Steven Pasquale
Kelly: Reiko Aylesworth
Morales: John Ortiz
Running Time: 94 minutes

This second “Alien vs. Predator” flick takes place in a small town and ditches the ridiculous storyline of the previous installment. Keeping things simpler this time around makes this film slightly better than the last as small town folks find themselves in the middle of a war between the Predators and the Aliens. I actually enjoyed this one, and the fact that it has some frightening moments helps.

PROMETHEUS (2012)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Music by Marc Streitenfeld
Elizabeth Shaw: Noomi Rapace
David: Michael Fassbender
Meredith Vickers: Charlize Theron
Janek: Idris Elba
Running Time: 124 minutes

Ambitious science fiction film by original ALIEN director Ridley Scott takes place in the same universe as the ALIEN movies, and so serves as a sort of ALIEN prequel, but the film is much more than just an ALIEN tie-in. I wanted to like this one so much more than I ultimately did, as it is full of big ideas and some very interesting science fiction concepts; however, it doesn’t quite make good on its promises and falls short of its lofty goals. It does have a fantastic cast and it’s certainly very well made, but the story doesn’t always hold water. Based on the premise and set-up for this one, I wanted and expected more.

In terms of the ALIEN tie-in, it is a prequel to the first film, but only on the most peripheral level, as it’s more a case of both films taking place within the same setting, with the events of PROMETHEUS having little to do with the events in ALIEN other than taking place on the same planet.

Back in 1979, when I first saw ALIEN at the movies, I was disappointed, and then over the years with each successive viewing I liked the film more and more. Perhaps the same will happen with PROMETHEUS, that over time, I’ll like it better. We’ll see. I’m about due to watch it again.

So, there you have it, the ALIEN movies. In a nutshell, the franchise begins with two classics of the genre, ALIEN and ALIENS, both outstanding movies, moves on through two mediocre redundant entries ALIEN 3 and ALIEN: RESURRECTION, bottoms out with the lowly ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies, although the last one ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM was actually rather enjoyable in a B monster movie sort of way, before being reborn in a prequel of sorts, the highly imaginative science fiction movie PROMETHEUS which takes place years before the events of the first film on the same planet where the crew of the Nostromo first discovered the Alien creature.

And that wraps things up for today and for the year

I hope you enjoyed reading my posts here at This Is My Creation: The Blog of Michael Arruda throughout 2014, and I look forward to your joining me in 2015 for more articles about movies, the horror genre, science fiction, and more as we move on to another exciting year.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014)

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exodus gods and kings posterHere’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review from last week on EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS (2014), the new Biblical epic by director Ridley Scott starring Christian Bale as Moses:

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS (2014)

Movie Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: In the middle of a great sea which has receded to make a walkable path, MICHAEL ARRUDA casually strolls along the rocky ground.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to this week’s CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT column.  Today I’m walking in the middle of the Red Sea, which as you can see has been conveniently parted by God so that Moses can lead the Hebrews to safety.  Of course, a horde of angry Egyptians are in hot pursuit, and—well, you know the story.

Anyway, they tell me that the sea will remain parted long enough for me to get through today’s review.  (Looks at the thick dark storm clouds and violent lightning strikes in the distance).  I hope so.

Today I’m reviewing EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS, the new Biblical epic by director Ridley Scott, which tells the story of Moses and his Pharaoh brother Ramses as they fight over the future of the Hebrew people.  I’m doing this review solo as my “brother” L.L. Soares is off on another assignment, but truth be told, I think he wasn’t too keen on doing a review in the middle of a parted ocean.  In fact, now that I think of it, he did seem awfully eager to send me here.  Hmm.  Oh well.  I have no intention of drowning today, so let’s get on with the review.

Unlike Cecile B. DeMille’s classic THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956) starring Charlton Heston, which began with the birth of Moses, EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS opens with Moses (Christian Bale) already as an adult.

(Charlton Heston as MOSES scurries past MA)

HESTON:  Where the hell are my people going?  They’re supposed to wait for me!

MA: Er, they’re following another Moses, this one played by Christian Bale.

HESTON:  Another Moses?  Like hell!  (Lifts his staff high in the air.) I’m not giving up this staff until they rip it from my cold dead hands!!! (Runs away in pursuit of the Hebrews.)

MA: So the movie begins with Moses, his brother Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and their father, the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturo) discussing their plan to attack their enemy.  Moses scoffs at the Pharaoh’s reliance on mystical omens to determine the outcome of the battle, as he doesn’t believe in all that religious stuff, only in a man’s ability to do the job himself.  Can someone say irony?

Of course, there is a prophecy that on the battlefield whoever saves a leader will himself become a leader, and it’s Moses who saves Ramses, which doesn’t sit well with the Egyptian prince, although truth be told, he’s not too broken up about it, since he and Moses share a strong friendship- they’re “brothers” after all.

However, when Moses is sent to visit the Hebrew slaves to gather information about their reported uprising, he meets with one of the Hebrew elders Nun (Ben Kingsley) who tells Moses the true story of his upbringing, how in response to a prophecy Pharaoh had ordered all the first-born Hebrew boys killed, and so Moses’ mother secretly sent him away, and he was raised by the Egyptians.  In short, Moses is Hebrew.  Moses nearly kills Nun over this story, and says he doesn’t believe it, but as he goes along it gnaws at him.

Furthermore, Moses had given the Viceroy (Ben Mendelsohn) a hard time for living too lavish a lifestyle and thinking he was a king, an admonishment that didn’t sit well with the Egyptian official, and so when he too learns the story of Moses’ secret, he quickly informs Ramses.

Ramses loves Moses, but he can’t afford to keep a possible leader of the Hebrews in his court, and so he banishes Moses to the desert.  There, Moses is taken in by some desert dwellers, where he marries and has a son.  Years later, alone on a mountainside, he gets caught in an avalanche, hits his head on a rock, and when he awakes sees the burning bush and experiences his vision of God, in this case, in the form of a young boy.

From this moment on, Moses believes in this God known as “I am,” and he leaves his family in order to lead the Hebrews out of slavery and out of Egypt.  Of course, Ramses won’t have any of this, and so it takes help from God, in the form of vicious deadly plagues, to help loosen Ramses’ grip on His chosen people.

EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS is a likable enough movie.  Like NOAH (2014) which came out earlier this year, it deemphasizes the religious elements and focuses more on the human elements of the story.

(Russell Crowe as Noah runs by leading a multitude of animals making their way through the parted sea two by two.)

MA:  I think we’re confusing our Bible stories here.  Noah, aren’t you supposed to have an ark?

NOAH:  Not in this crossover movie.

MA:  Crossover movie?

NOAH:  In the new movie NOAH MEETS MOSES, I discover a wormhole which leads me thousands of years into the future where I arrive with my animals just in time to help Moses with his Egyptian problem.  We’re on our way now to strike at the Egyptians from behind.  It’s all part of the new push to turn Biblical characters into action heroes.  Eventually we’re going to have our own AVENGERS-style movie.

MA:  Why not?  Everybody else is!  You’d better hurry.  This sea isn’t going to remain parted forever.

(NOAH and the animals race off in pursuit of the Egyptians.)

MA:  God is still present in EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS, and the relationship between Moses and God is still an integral part of the story, but it’s not the main part.  The driving relationship in EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS is the one between Moses and Ramses, and that’s the story which works best here.  They love each other like brothers, and yet they are thrown into this conflict which not only pits them against each other, but puts them on the opposite ends of brutal bloody events which make it impossible for them not to want to hurt the other.

Yet through most of the conflict you get the sense that Ramses still loves Moses and doesn’t want to harm him.  In fact, even after his own son is killed, even as Ramses asks Moses how he could worship a God that kills children, his anger is not aimed at Moses, but at God, and he even offers his sympathy to Moses and his child.  It’s not until Moses informs Ramses that no Hebrew children were killed that Ramses finally loses it and becomes an instrument of pure vengeance.  For Moses’ part, his answer to Ramses is that it’s not him that is doing these things, it’s God, and that regardless of what they do, God’s will is inevitable.

EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS also deemphasizes the epic feeling of this story, and this is not a bad thing.  The screenplay by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, and Steven Zallian makes a point of emphasizing the human elements rather than the supernatural.  Moses is not at all interested in gods and religion- he’s a man of common sense and action, and so when we witness his transformation later, it’s all the more interesting because we know that he was not someone who was looking for omens and religion- he wasn’t interested in the least.

Ramses may be the most clearly developed character in the movie.  You really come to understand his plight, that he in no way wants to harm Moses.  Joel Edgerton as Ramses does a nice job showing how this incredibly confident leader is increasingly overwhelmed by a force he doesn’t recognize or believe in; yet, it’s a relentless force that won’t leave his people alone.

The four writers here all have extensive credits, with Caine and Zallian with the more impressive ones.  So, it’s no surprise that the screenplay is a good one.  That being said, it doesn’t all work.  I thought some of the key moments were glossed over.  The conversation between Nun and Moses where Nun tells Moses the true story of his birth lacks drama and just sort of happens matter-of- factly.  “Your name is Moses?  By the way, even though I’ve just met you and have known you for all of two seconds, I know the true story of your birth.”  Yeah, right.  Get away from me you senile old man!

 

Likewise, as much as I believed in Moses’ conversion, it sort of just happens as well.  On the one hand, the lack of melodrama makes things more believable, but on the other, sometimes things come off just a little too low key.  I banged my head, had a vision, and now without question, I’m jumping into my new role as a religious liberator of an entire people.  Really?

And really, other than Moses and Ramses, no other character is developed to any degree of satisfaction.

But in this movie that’s okay because the two leads do an excellent job.  Christian Bale makes for a likable and heroic Moses.  Sure, it’s not as ambitious a performance as last year’s turn in AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013) nor is it as satisfying as his work in OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013), but he’s still very good here and I never grew tired of watching him.

Just as good as Bale is Joel Edgerton as Ramses.  Of course, Edgerton is helped by the script which does its best job defining the Ramses character, but even so, Edgerton is excellent.  I liked him as Tom Buchanan in THE GREAT GATSBY (2013) but he’s even better here as Ramses, where he rises above the cliché.  Edgerton makes Ramses a very human leader who is not interested in killing his brother or his people.  He just knows who he is- the Pharaoh- and as such he cannot allow a slave race or their “god” to dictate terms to him.

(Gatsby and Daisy, and Tom, Nick and Jordan Baker race by in two 1920s vehicles, nearly running MA over in the process.)

GATSBY:  Sorry about that, old sport!

MA: Hey, you need to watch where you’re going.  You’re going to run someone over if you keep driving like that.  Actually, you are going to run someone over, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Okay, back to EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS.

 

Both John Turturo as Seti, and Ben Kingsley as the Hebrew elder Nun make their mark in relatively brief roles, and Ben Mendelsohn makes for a very memorable Viceroy.  We’ve seen Mendelsohn in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) and KILLER ELITE (2011) but this is probably his best performance that I’ve seen.  He makes for a deliciously sly weasel.

The women don’t fare as well.  Maria Valverde is okay as Moses’ wife Zipporah, but she’s hardly memorable.  Then there’s Sigourney Weaver as Tuya who is in this one for all of a minute- blink and you’ll miss her.

(A bunch of the Aliens from ALIEN creep by.)

MA (to the Aliens):  If you’re looking for Sigourney Weaver, she’s playing an Egyptian in this movie, which means she’s back there in Egypt.  You need to turn around.

(The Aliens ignore him and keep going.)

MA:  Oka-ay.  I don’t know why I was talking to them anyway.  It’s not like they understand English.

(SIGOURNEY WEAVER suddenly appears in a low flying spaceship firing lasers at the Aliens.)

WEAVER (to the Aliens):  For the last time, I can’t get you cameos in the AVATAR movies!

(She fires more lasers at them and continues her pursuit.)

MA:  And lastly, there’s poor Aaron Paul from TV’s BREAKING BAD as Joshua.  Is he bad?  Not at all.  He’s just given absolutely nothing to do.  I kept thinking, after his work as Jesse on BREAKING BAD, this is all they’re giving him?  For the most part he gets to stand next to Christian Bale, and when he’s not staring off into space with an awe-struck expression he’s uttering one or two monosyllabic lines.  Seriously, the expression on his face made me think Bryan Cranston’s Walter White was standing next to him saying, “Jesse, what part of playing an Egyptian do you not understand?”

 

I’m not usually a fan of CGI effects, but I have to admit I was into them here.  I liked the look of this movie and thought ancient Egypt looked rather spectacular.  Visually, director Ridley Scott did a phenomenal job.  The plague scenes in particular were very well done, but the centerpiece of this movie and my favorite scene was the parting of the Red Sea.  Visually, it’s a tremendous scene and by far the most exciting sequence in the entire film.

I also liked how it was shown to resemble a Tsunami, which lent credibility to the idea that a sea would recede and then return with a vengeance.

This movie is available in a 3D version and probably looks great in 3D, but I chose not to pay the extra admission price, and so I saw it in 2D and liked it just fine.

I enjoyed EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS more than Ridley Scott’s previous film THE COUNSELOR (2013), and I even liked it better than his film before that, the overly ambitious science fiction ALIEN-prequel PROMETHEUS (2012).

Not everything works, but enough does so that its 150 minutes goes by rather quickly.  It helps to have Christian Bale in the lead role, and he does a nice job carrying this movie, with help from Joel Edgerton as Ramses.

While I liked the idea of having God appear to Moses as a child, I’m not sure it worked all that well.  Not that I wanted an over-dramatic Hollywood interpretation of God, but the young actor they chose to play God looked like he belonged in a re-imagining of THE BAD NEWS BEARS.

There are some battle scenes in this one, especially early on, and not that I have anything against battle scenes, but I see so many that they’re really not anything special anymore.  I mean, the scenes of battle in this movie were interchangeable with battle scenes I’ve seen in DRACULA UNTOLD (2014), HERCULES (2014) and any number of historical battlefield movies I’ve seen on the big screen in recent years.  The best thing I can say about the battle scenes in this one is that they don’t go on too long.

And since this one’s not called THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, those ten rules of God’s law are hardly in this one at all.

For what it was, a visual tale of one of the Old Testament’s more exciting stories, the tale of Moses leading his people out of Egypt, EXODUS:  GODS AND KINGS is an enjoyable movie that held my interest and kept me entertained for its long 150 minutes running time.

I give it three knives.

Okay, I made it, and the waters remained receded.  (Things suddenly grow dark, and MA turns around to see a massive tidal wave closing in on him.)  Uh-oh.  (Opens an umbrella.)

(The gigantic wave thunders down upon him and covers everything in its path with a massive flood of water.  Cut to a beach where we see MA walking out of the water still holding his umbrella.)

MA (examines his umbrella):  Hmm.  Waterproof.

(Exits onto beach past a group of sunbathers, and a volleyball game with Ramses’ Egyptians on one side of the net playing Moses’ Hebrews on the other.)

—END—

Print edition of IN THE SPOOKLIGHT now available!

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InTheSpooklight_NewTextI’m happy to announce that my horror movie review collection IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, previously available only as an EBook, is now available in a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

So, for those of you who don’t do EBooks and prefer the printed page, or if you simply haven’t purchased an e-reader yet, now you too can own a copy of IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a good old-fashioned book you can hold in your hands (not that there’s anything wrong with electronic books, mind you.)

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT is a collection of 115 “In The Spooklight” columns, all originally published within the pages of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.  It’s been a staple of the HWA NEWSLETTER since 2000, where it’s still published each month.

In this book, you’ll read about horror movies from the silent era up until today.  You’ll find articles on Lon Chaney’s silent classics, the Universal monster movies, Hammer Films (of course!), the horror films of the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and into the 21st century.  You’ll read about the greats, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Lon Chaney Sr., Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price.  You’ll read about the supporting players, people like Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye, and Lionel Atwill from the Universal movies, and from the Hammer years, Michael Ripper, Thorley Walters, Francis Matthews, and Andrew Keir.

You’ll read about the leading ladies, Fay Wray, Helen Chandler, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Shelley, Ingrid Pitt, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Sigourney Weaver.

You’ll read about the directors, James Whale, Tod Browning, Terence Fisher, John Carpenter, John Landis, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, and even Ingmar Bergman.

You’ll read about Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, George Pal, Willis O’Brien, Roddy McDowall, Claude Rains, John Carradine, Peter Lorre, Fredric March, Robert Armstrong, Steve McQueen, Harrison Ford, Gregory Peck, Simon Pegg, and Donald Pleasence.

You’ll meet your favorite monsters, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Phibes, King Kong, Godzilla, the Ymir, the Blob, Michael Myers, the Alien, and Baron Frankenstein.

In addition to these columns, you’ll also be treated to introductions by both Judi Rohrig and the Gila Queen herself, Kathy Ptacek.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT puts your favorite horror movies in the spotlight and treats them the way they’re supposed to be treated, with reverence and respect.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t share a laugh or two, because we certainly do.

I think you’ll enjoy IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.  Thirteen years of satisfied HWA readers says you will.

—Michael

BODY OF LIES decent thriller from Ridley Scott – Blu-ray Review

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Body of LIes poster

Blu-ray/DVD Review:  BODY OF LIES (2008)

by

Michael Arruda

 

I caught up with BODY OF LIES (2008) on Blu-Ray the other day, Ridley Scott’s thriller from 2008 about terrorism in the Middle East.  It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, and while both actors do a fine job, DiCaprio in particular, it’s Mark Strong who steals the show as the head of Jordanian intelligence.

 Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a young CIA operative working in the Middle East trying to locate the mastermind behind a series of terrorist bombings.  His superior officer, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) works behind the scenes back in the States and the two are in constant contact via cell phone. 

 Hoffman hooks Ferris up with the head of Jordanian security, Hani (Mark Strong) in their efforts to track down the terrorist.  Hani tells Ferris he’s happy to work with him, but under one condition:  “don’t ever lie to me.”  You know right off the bat that this is going to be a problem.

 At Hoffman’s urging, Ferris does lie to Hani, and once Hani finds out, he tells Ferris he no longer will work with him, nor will he be responsible for his safety.  As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, Ferris finds time to befriend a young nurse Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), and the two become romantically involved, giving Ferris’ enemies a card they can play against him.

Ferris and Hoffman devise a new plan to catch the elusive terrorist, but things don’t go as expected, and Ferris suddenly finds himself in a predicament in which there seems to be no escape. 

 BODY OF LIES is a decent thriller, but don’t expect anything as intense as the Kathryn Bigelow films THE HURT LOCKER (2008) or ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012).   It’s based on the novel by David Ignatius, and it plays more like a fictional tale than a true to life espionage account.  This isn’t necessarily the fault of the screenplay by William Monahan, which includes realistic and captivating dialogue, and likable characters, but of the story itself, a tale of elaborate plots that seem more at home in a movie than in real life.  Monahan also wrote the screenplay for THE DEPARTED (2006), a film that was actually darker than this movie.

 Although Ridley Scott does a fine job at the helm, for a thriller, the film isn’t all that suspenseful.  The most suspense the film generates comes at the end, when DiCaprio’s Ferris finds himself in the hands of the enemy, and when they start the video cameras rolling, you know exactly what they have in mind for the young CIA agent.  It’s nail biting time, and then some.  But before this, the film, while generally engrossing and entertaining, is not exactly all that intense.

 That being said, you can’t blame Leonardo DiCaprio, because he brings his usual intensity to the role of CIA agent Roger Ferris, and it’s a very similar performance though not as good as his work in THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), two of my favorite DiCaprio roles. 

DiCaprio also shows off his softer side here, as his scenes with nurse Aisha are warm and enjoyable.  He and Golshifteh Farahani share a nice chemistry together.

And then there’s Russell Crowe. 

 It’s funny about Russell Crowe’s performance here.  He portrays Ed Hoffman as a veteran operative whose best days are behind him.  He works behind the scenes, from the safety of his own home most of the time, communicating to his agent Ferris by constantly talking into his headset while performing mundane duties, like taking his children to soccer practice and grocery shopping.

 He’s supposed to be a man who has let himself go, and the funny thing is, in recent films, that’s how Crowe has appeared.  No longer the beast of a man who was Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000), Crowe has been a rather overweight assassin in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) and a rather ineffective Javert in LES MISERABLES (2012).  Life imitating art?

 But the two best performances in BODY OF LIES both come from supporting players.  First, in my favorite performance of the movie, it’s Mark Strong as Hani, the head of Jordanian intelligence.  Strong is one of those actors who looks different in nearly every movie he’s in, and who manages to deliver compelling performances in these films, and his work here in BODY OF LIES is no exception. 

 Strong originates from Britain, but in BODY OF LIES he seems at ease and natural portraying a Jordanian.  If you didn’t know his background, you’d never guess that he wasn’t from Jordan.  Likewise, in his performance as the villainous Frank D’Amico in KICK-ASS (2010), probably my favorite Strong performance, you’d never know he wasn’t from New York City.  Strong has appeared in SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), GREEN LANTERN (2011), JOHN CARTER (2012) and most recently in ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012).

 As Hani, Strong is suave, confident, and ruthless.  It’s a great performance.

 The other memorable performance in BODY OF LIES belongs to Golshifteh Farahani as Aisha, Ferris’ love interest.  Farahani comes off as genuine and sincere, and she’s a breath of fresh air compared to the deceit which permeates the rest of the characters in this story.  She also projects a heartfelt sensuality not often found in female movie characters.  I absolutely bought the notion that she had feelings for Ferris and that she didn’t have ulterior motives or felt for him because she was turned on by a sense of adventure or daring.  She just genuinely seemed attracted to the guy.  Refreshing.

 BODY OF LIES didn’t blow me away, either with its story or its acting performances, didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, with the exception of the sequence where Ferris is captured by the terrorists, and this comes late in the game, but for its 128 minute running time, it held my interest and succeeded in making its point that our actions the past decade in the Middle East, for right or wrong, are a body of lies.

 —END—