Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver
Release date: April 21st, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 111 minutes
Release date: April 21st, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 111 minutes
Release date: September 18th, 2015
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 122 minutes
Release date: December 4th, 2014
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Countries: USA, UK, Spain
Running time: 150 minutes
A man named Christian plays Judaism’s greatest prophet – now that’s irony! Over the past few months, Ridley Scott’s latest behemoth, Exodus: Gods & Kings, has caused significant controversy. Its casting decisions sent internet comment sections into overdrive, with Caucasian thespians – including Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, and Aaron Paul – embodying ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and Hebrew slaves via spray tans, wigs, costumes, and eye-liner. Sure, there may have been some ‘Hollywood pretty’ people running around this period. However, the production’s checkered history and questionable choices severely damage the immersion effect.
In a press junket, Scott inappropriately claimed the casting of middle-eastern actors would fundamentally stall the project. Yes, this is how Hollywood works today. However, this, coming from one of Tinseltown’s most prestigious filmmakers, is unprofessional. So, forgetting about ethical quarrels for a moment, how does Exodus: Gods & Kings fare? Short answer: Exodus? More like Meh-xodus (too damn easy)! On paper, this project has several alluring qualities befitting of big-budget entertainment. Ambitiously, the movie hopes to draw people back to the big screen and the Book of Exodus. Indeed, the story of Moses leading 600, 000 Israelite slaves to the promised land from Egyptian rulers warrants significant discussion. The story, known by many as: “that ‘parting the Red Sea’ one”, deserves many adaptations. After all, religion and entertainment mean different things to different people. Scott’s version hurls us directly into the action, for better or worse. We meet Moses (Bale), in 1300 B.C., as a war-crushing, peace-welding general. Moses, fighting the Hittite army, saves his brother/Prince Rameses(Edgerton)’s life (as prophesied) whilst crafting a flawless battle strategy. Moses, favoured by King Seti I (John Turturro), is sent to Pithom to resolve issues between Hebrew slaves and their masters. Rubbing Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn) the wrong way, Moses is closely monitored. grizzly slave Joshua (Paul) and elder Nun (Ben Kingsley) inform Moses of his true origins. He, banished from Memphis by the royal family, marries Zipporah (Maria Valverde) and conceives Gershom. God – appearing as a boy (Isaac Andrews) – and the burning bush demand Moses’ cooperation.
Famed director Cecil B. DeMille adapted this tale in 1923 and 1956, calling both The Ten Commandments. Obviously, Charlton Heston is no less Anglo than Bale. However, that version was, literally and figuratively, bigger than Ben-Hur. The sweeping majesty of DeMille’s second shot overshadowed said troubling elements. Sadly, Scott’s slick yet shallow remake/adaptation pales in comparison. His gold-and-chrome-covered extravaganza delivers everything you’d expect from the master historical-epic filmmaker. However, Exodus: Gods & Kings has no idea what it’s doing, saying, or even thinking. It suffers similar issues as his polarising 2010 Robin Hood. Both historical-epics muddy the waters between reasonable explanation and divine intervention/deus ex machina. Invested in every detail, he wants us to dive headlong into the narrative. Convinced 110% of this gargantuan story’s worth, Scott constructs meticulous analyses of each chapter. Pulling his people through the mud, Moses is more reasonable, complicated man than well-meaning saviour. However, before you can say: “Let my people go!”, It lifelessly charges from Moses/Rameses’ brotherhood to the Red Sea parting to Mount Sinai/Commandment carving section. Dedicating it to recently deceased filmmaker/younger brother Tony Scott, he becomes wowed by every grain of sand, speck of dust, and rule in the book. Discussing the physical, psychological, ethical, and religious ramifications, it bites off more than it can chew. Scott, obsessed with the visual aspects of Ancient Egypt, becomes lost in a (Red) sea of bright colours, flashy compositions, glorious scenic vistas, and full-on set pieces. His version – flipping from gritty character-drama to kooky sword-and-sandal-epic to pompous parable – becomes more narratively, tonally, and thematically barren than a North-African desert.
“You say that you didn’t… cause all this. You say this is not your fault. So let’s just see who’s more effective at killing: You or me.” (Rameses (Joel Edgerton), Exodus: Gods & Kings).
Despite the cast and crew’s best efforts, Exodus: Gods & Kings is more shiny than seminal. This Old testament walk-through delivers several gripping set-pieces and glorious compositions. It, attempting to please multiple audiences, valiantly re-creates the story’s most significant events. The banishment sequence reaffirms Scott and classic Hollywood’s ever-lingering glow. This sequence, drawing emotional weight from this lifeless slog, depicts a painstaking journey from emptiness to salvation. Scott and co. put a unique spin on this age-old tale of masculinity, heroism, and brotherhood. The ten plagues sequence delivers gripping moments bolstered by sumptuous visuals and intriguing concepts. The kingdom’s science expert (Ewen Bremner) breaks everything down logically, citing the link between a blood-red Nile, frogs, flies, and locusts. In addition, the visual effects and production design crews construct this 40-minute sequence vigorously. Fusing violence, stakes, and visual flourishes, this middle-third-spanning event is worth the admission cost. Scott’s scintillating world-building techniques help crack the whip. The first action sequence, though derivative of Gladiator‘s opening set-piece, establishes the movie’s scope and style. Developing Moses and Rameses as fearless warriors, this sequence separates the men – and kings – from the boys. Scott, unlike most action filmmakers, draws brilliant performances out of ensemble casts. Bale and Edgerton, matching one another in consistency and enthusiasm, excel despite the controversy. Paul, Kingsley, and Sigourney Weaver – overcoming wholly underdeveloped characters – add to the grit-and-blood-stained aura.
Like preceding bible-sized flop Noah, Exodus: Gods & Kings is a bizarre, laughable, yet ambitious re-telling. Modernising one of religion’s most prescient and intriguing stories, Bale and Edgerton save this sword-and-sandal adventure. Despite its valiant attempts, this adaptation appeals to everyone and no one simultaneously. Extending an already expansive tale, Scott walks a shaky line between hyper-realism and full-blown fantasy. Like Moses himself, Scott shuffles from determination to obsession to degradation. It’s his best effort since American Gangster, but – given Robin Hood, Prometheus, The Counselor, Body of Lies, and A Good Year – that’s a low, jewel-encrusted hurdle.
Release date: August 15th, 2014
Distributors: A24, Roadshow Films
Running time: 102 minutes
For the past decade, Australian cinema has hidden in the darkest depths of Hollywood’s monstrous shadow. Despite several attempts to increase the Australian Film Industry’s popularity, our cinema continually fails to make valiant strides toward critical and commercial success. However, some home-grown dramas, avoiding labels like “boring” or “depressing”, garner significant acclaim the world over. In fact, 2014’s ambitious, dirt-covered crime-thriller The Rover might just fuel our industry for another few years.
The Rover, despite the minor flaws, makes several effecting and applause-worthy leaps toward critical and commercial success. Hitting harder than most of 2014’s celluloid offerings, this crime-western places itself on the right pedestal. With much more guile and heart than the average ‘Summer’ tentpole, it’s a shame this is being passed up in favour of conventional Superhero extravaganzas and nostalgia-driven actioners. Elevating the overt sparseness and attention to detail, its worth resides in its desire to be different. Without looking down upon its competition, the movie depicts one of 2014’s most confronting and alluring narratives. This crime-western follows vicious loner Eric (Guy Pearce), as he pushes himself through Australia’s outback wastelands. Close to giving up on his aimless existence, he and his car hurtle down dirt roads in search of salvation. However, his plans change during a routine petrol stop. After a robbery gone wrong, Henry (Scoot McNairy), Archie (David Field), and Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo) dump their damaged getaway vehicle and steal Eric’s. On a mission to track down his car, Eric comes across Henry’s injured brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). Holding Rey as collateral, Eric hunts down the robbers across dangerous heartlands. Along the way, run-ins with military personnel and anarchic citizens pull our two lead scumbags together.
Back in 2010, crime-drama Animal Kingdom boosted the AFI’s box-office stature and its immaculate cast members’ careers. Its writer/director, David Michod, hit the ground running with a grand vision and noble intentions. Here, Michod ventures into a vastly different genre. Mining the same ground as George Miller and John Hillcoat, Michod’s latest effort comes off as a wondrous ode to classic crime-westerns from the past 50 years. As a spiritual continuation of the Mad Max series, The Rover crafts similar tire tracks and bullet wounds. However, with a stripped-back aura in tow, Michod’s writing and direction separates it from true-blue exploitation. Of course, based around an unholy economic collapse, Michod’s story hurriedly veers into darkness. Becoming the next Andrew Dominik, Michod’s rough-and-tumble storytelling highlights valuable moments within dour surroundings. In fact, The Rover‘s twists and turns are bolstered by unique flourishes and profound dialogue. Igniting intensifying shootouts and car chases throughout, this crime-western takes opportunities at pitch-perfect intervals. Uninterested in genre clichés, Michod’s screenplay – aided by Joel Edgerton’s Story credentials – is more modest and meaningful than most of its type. If a threat arises, the screenplay lingers on it like a sniper eyeing down a stationary target. Thanks to a near-wordless first five minutes, the lead character’s actions are worth jotting down for later reference.
“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. It’s the price you pay for taking it…” (Eric (Guy Pearce), The Rover).
Despite Michod’s mesmerising stranglehold, all crime-westerns of this magnitude suffer similar flaws. Bordering on pretentiousness, the second and last thirds’ wordless sections threaten to drain depth out of the intricate narrative. In addition, with cynical dialogue spattered across vital sequences, the movie’s blisteringly misanthropic outlook almost stalls this otherwise poignant and visceral crime-western. In some instances, Pearce’s lines come off like brutal concoctions of Cormac McCarthy writings and Jim Beam. However, Michod’s direction is worth the admission cost. From the opening sequence onward, his style bolsters this discomforting drama-thriller. Holding his camera steady throughout, his earthy tones throw his follow-up feature into a whole other realm of ingenuity. In certain sections, it’s clear Australia’s latest cinema icon is infatuated by our big, brown land. Switching from bright, desert-laden vistas to blackened mining strips, his ticks heighten the movie’s sensory impact. The score also bolsters Michod’s near-flawless execution. Juxtaposing between the past and present, the indigenous-industrial notes add depth to the meandering plot. However, the lead performers turn Michod’s vision into reality. Pearce, on a career turnaround with a string of Hollywood hits, reels in every emotion and mannerism for this heartbreaking performance. In addition, utilising specific physical and psychological traits, Pattinson’s scintillating turn establishes an immense hunger for worthwhile roles.
In the vein of The Proposition and The Road, The Rover is a crime-western with the right amount of sass, class, and vigour. Continually breaking new ground, Michod’s latest pushes wider audiences toward Australian genre cinema. Here, his atmospheric direction cements a ground floor for like-minded filmmakers to use. Elevated by powerhouse performances, volatile outback vistas, and prescient storytelling, this crime-western, despite rubbing against the pop-cultural grain, is worth the time, energy, and money.
Release date: May 10th, 2013
Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment
Countries: Australia, USA
Running time: 142 minutes
Australian director Baz Luhrmann is certainly not one for subtlety. Luhrmann, whose credits include Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, and Australia, is one of the most polarising directors working today. His handling of well-known material has caused controversy in the past, and his latest effort, The Great Gatsby, continues this trend. This cloying and shallow romantic-drama is yet another one of his films that relies entirely on both a glorious aesthetic and marketing power.
This Great Gatsby adaptation has many positive elements. However, there are many directors who could’ve done a much better job with source material of this magnitude. The story, from the mind of legendary author F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells a story about the 1920s in its heyday. Ambitious and optimistic writer/stockbroker Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is enjoying his busy life. Situated in a small cottage (hidden away by the giant mansions surrounding it), Nick is curious about those who live in the surrounding estates, and how they achieved their vast riches. He is then invited to the home of his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and her rich husband Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Their pampered existences are then rocked by the mansion across the bay. The mansion’s inhabitants hold elaborate parties that shake the foundations of their upper-class neighbourhood. After being invited to one of these parties, Nick discovers that he has been chosen to help mysterious and handsome aristocrat, and the mansion’s owner, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). However, Nick soon finds out that Gatsby is much more than meets the eye.
Luhrmann has clearly had a significant amount of exposure to the enviable bourgeoisie lifestyle. The flamboyant director is obsessed with his own eye for both film-making and culture. His style has been the most troubling aspect of all of his big-budget productions. I see him as a cynical film-maker too afraid to trust his audience. Audiences always turn out in droves to embrace the latest Luhrmann production, and I have no idea why. His obvious, excessive, and melodramatic style always overshadows the culturally-important stories he has chosen to tell. His latest film has these same problems, but they aren’t as irritating here as they were in the nigh unwatchable Australia. His interpretation of the ‘Great American Novel’ casts a giant shadow over the original text’s seminal themes and poetic narrative. The story’s most valuable elements are there, but they are either underdeveloped or brought up and cast aside immediately. It is difficult to detect Luhrmann’s intent with his adaptation. The text’s condescending yet intelligent view of the American dream is nowhere near as important to Luhrmann as the material things that he can bring into this story. He is obviously in love with some of Hollywood’s most inspired creations. Here, elements of Sabrina and Sunset Boulevard are alluded to. However, this adaptation only proves that Hollywood doesn’t make movies the way it used to.
The visuals, though fun, quickly suck this story dry and turn it into a husk of its former self. Luhrmann seeks to give every shot its own personality, and then put them sequentially next to similarly elaborate shots. The first half hour contains a colourful miasma of Luhrmann’s many zany ideas. Shots transition suddenly from beautifully clear to nostalgically grainy, the camera sweeps around characters and through settings, and contrasting colours and elaborate costumes (created primarily by Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin) are bashed together to create many wacky compositions. His in-your-face style is confusing at points. It is difficult to tell whether Luhrmann is using his style to embrace the original novel’s satirical edge, or whether he is simply making everything pretty for no significant reason. Thankfully, his style isn’t as jarring and excessive as it has been in the past (good luck trying to sit through Moulin Rouge!) After Gatsby’s impressive introduction, the pacing and flair is drastically toned down. Despite the film’s refreshing focus on character in the following two thirds, the pacing wavers throughout the film’s exhaustive running time. Luhrmann’s love of anachronisms explains one of the film’s best elements. The Jay-Z-produced soundtrack brings life to this otherwise emotionless movie. The magnificent parties and gentlemen’s club scenes contain a pulse that was desperately needed throughout the rest of the film.
“I knew it was a great mistake for a man like me to fall in love…” (Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), The Great Gatsby).
The movie’s female characters metaphorically represent the film itself; pretty to look at, but as shallow as a decorative fountain! The characters come alive in the heated dialogue sequences. Luhrmann loves his actors’ stunning faces. Wacky facial expressions, plastered across the screen at every turn, add to the film’s already exuberant style. I will say there are some inspired choices peppered throughout. It is rare to see verbal sparring sessions as lengthy and tense as the ones in this otherwise dull character study. The exciting performances save this film from being a costly disaster. DiCaprio commands the screen with poise and charisma. His commitment to the awe-inspiring titular role lends depth to an already fascinating character. Gatsby is part smooth-talking hero, part desperate fool, and part dangerous capitalist. Maguire is surprisingly charming as the ‘third wheel’ in this ever-twisting story. We first meet Carraway in a sanitarium, recovering from both alcoholism and the events of this story (a useless narrative device that was not in the original text). Carraway’s words are scrawled across the screen in some scenes, while his narration discusses his damaging experiences in others (yet more excessive stylistic choices). Edgerton is enthralling as the old-money, moustache-twirling aristocrat whom refuses to let Daisy go. Edgerton creates a slimy and vindictive portrayal without ever becoming a caricature. Other Aussie actors, including Jason Clarke, Isla Fisher, Jack Thompson, and Elizabeth Debicki, are effective in underdeveloped roles.
Luhrmann has a keen eye for pretty things, but still hasn’t learned the basics of convincing storytelling. The eye-popping visuals and pumping soundtrack are able to lift scenes that could easily have been dull. Without the movie’s stellar performances, The Great Gatsby would’ve fallen, and become another one of Luhrmann’s impressive failures, faster than you can say “Old sport”.
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