Writer: Steven Zaillian, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine
Stars: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley
Release date: December 4th, 2014
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Countries: USA, UK, Spain
Running time: 150 minutes
Best part: Bale and Edgerton.
Worst part: The sluggish pace.
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.
Christian Bale as Moses.
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.
Joel Edgerton vs the Red Sea.
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.
Verdict: A visually impressive yet frustrating biblical-epic.
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem
Release date: October 25th, 2013
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 118 minutes
Best part: Scott’s direction.
Worst part: The harsh overtones.
Rejected and underpaid by tinsel-town’s famous faces and studios, screenwriters deserve infinitely more credit. In this century, writers are pushed away because they seemingly lack enviable commercial traits. However, writers build the roots of every artistic project. Without their words, labour, and guidance, directors and actors would have nothing to work with. Occasionally, some writers, jumping between screenwriting and novel writing, are credited for breaking the immense and crippling Hollywood-screenwriter stigma. Novelist Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road) launches into screenplay territory with his latest creation, fitting into his own disturbing and ground-breaking genre.
The Counselor is a writhing and monstrous beast unable to stay still for extended periods. The movie’s impatience and moodiness stand above its flaws. However, the flaws prevent this crime-drama from being as brilliant and transcendent as McCarthy thinks it is. McCarthy’s first screenplay mixes every drug trafficking drama cliche and McCarthy-writing convention into one sprawling tale. The intricate plot is difficult to explain, but still has been covered in similar Tex-Mex thrillers. The movie’s plot is a convoluted miasma of colourful characters and bizarre plot strands. Keeping up with The Counselor‘s convoluted narrative is like trying to out run a cheetah. Although, funnily enough, the previous sentence is startlingly relevant. The movie starts out with several intriguing sequences. First off, a lawyer known only as ‘Counselor’ (Michael Fassbender) and Laura (Penelope Cruz) are in the throws of love. Enjoying the physical and emotional benefits of their scintillating romance, Counselor wants to seal the deal with a gargantuan wedding ring. The ring’s impressive diamond, sold to him by an esteemed dealer (Bruno Ganz) in Amsterdam, shreds his financial status. Unwilling to admit to his faults, he enlists a Mexican drug smuggling operation’s services to obtain a slice of the high life. Thanks to elaborate businessman Reiner (Javier Bardem) and his promiscuous girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz), Counselor follows orders whilst tracking a cocaine-filled sewage truck across the US/Mexico border. With middleman Westray(Brad Pitt)’s help, Counselor can impress his fiancee and confidants. However, like with other McCarthy stories, nothing goes according to plan.
Cameron Diaz & Penelope Cruz.
Despite its ambitiousness and array of talent, The Counselor has received disastrously negative hype. With Salon.com calling it the “worst movie ever made”, the hyperbolic reviews call the state of pop-culture and movie-going into question. Here, McCarthy’s intentions are obvious. Aiming to uniquely tell this cliched story, McCarthy fans will lap up this material. His script, whilst not fitting standard screenwriting rules, is chock-a-block with idiosyncrasies and standout moments. The poetic and potent narrative becomes a puzzle complete with strange and purposeful pieces. Intricate concepts are wedged together to emphasise certain sections of this heart-breaking story. However, despite the alluring narrative, this ambiguous tale leaves out vital details. Strangely, its many impressive concepts don’t congeal to develop a cohesive vision. McCarthy, convinced viewers will figure everything out for themselves, creates an elaborate landscape fuelled by excessiveness and mean-spiritedness. McCarthy’s cynical and degrading outlook on humanity, economics, and justice is injected into every intriguing frame. Accustomed to novel writing, his screenplay links insignificant details to important strands. Featuring several controversial yet unnecessary scenes, The Counselor won’t be hailed as his best work. Considering No Country for Old Men and The Road‘s grandioseness and poeticism, McCarthy needs a middleman to separate him from his acclaimed works’ adaptations. Here, the sprawling narrative, introducing cartel members, MacGuffins, and red herrings at random, becomes steadily frustrating up until its heart-wrenching climax. This saucy and sickening thriller delivers a behind-the-scenes look at the USA/Mexico drug trade. Despite the trade’s violence and illegality, McCarthy’s Shakespearean prose delves into this dangerous business’ philosophical aspects. Despite the inconsistencies, the organic dialogue elevates each exhaustive scene. The turns-of-phrase and witticisms become as enthralling as the inevitable gunfights and car chases.
Despite its glowing positives, The Counselor is trashy, silly, misogynistic, and, at points, a bit of a mess. With each anecdote, one-liner, and metaphor filling many beguiling scenes, McCarthy’s tongue-twisting dialogue eventually becomes confusing and alienating. Forcing us to catch up with each meticulous line, this pulsating thriller continually relays its all-important messages. Throughout, symbols and sayings refer to such thought-provoking themes as greed, death, power, wealth, predatory instincts, submissiveness, and the soul’s darkest depths. Despite the commendable intentions and glorious words, McCarthy’s motifs and idiosyncrasies are glaringly discernible. The monologues about sex, femininity, sadism, decapitation, and religion, though well written, become steadily repetitive and repulsive. Surprisingly, The Counselor‘s joylessness doesn’t stem from McCarthy alone. Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Black Hawk Down) understandably mourns his brother Tony’s recent death. In fact, this atmospheric and pulsating drama borrows aesthetic and narrative traits from his late brother’s oeuvre. Scott, normally building expansive universes (Prometheus) and kinetic action set-pieces (Gladiator), applies an approachable and glorious touch to this harsh narrative. Resembling such Coen Brothers crime-dramas as Blood Simple and Fargo, Scott’s magnetic visual style lifts an otherwise dour experience. Scott’s crazier projects (Thelma and Louise, Matchstick Men) out live his more clinical efforts (Hannibal, Body of Lies). Thankfully, his gripping direction lodges The Counselor‘s heart-thumping set-pieces into the consciousness. The notorious ‘catfish’ sequence is bafflingly silly and miraculously entertaining. Like Scott’s previous efforts, The Counselor’s horrific violence is worth the admission cost. Presenting the US/Mexico border as a vicious wasteland, scenes like the razor-wire/motorbike sequence don’t disappoint.
“You are the world you have created. And when you cease to exist that world you have created will also cease to exist.” (Jefe (Ruben Blades), The Counselor).
Scott’s pulpy and bold direction will keep even the most irritable viewer engaged. Those uninterested in the abrupt tonal shifts or McCarthy’s discourse can admire the miasmic flourishes within each composition. Scott’s enjoyable visuals, colour-coding particular sequences, stress the characters’ social and economic status’. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski efficiently develops an alternate universe powered by deception, murder, and brashness. Illuminating each setting’s most compelling features, Wolski and Scott create a vibrant and distressing portal into the movie’s vile yet advantageous world. Wild parties, elaborate villas, and expansive cityscapes provide eye-candy for this gritty and blood-soaked drama. The Counselor‘s A-list cast also bolster its production values. These destructive characters, coming across like Bond villains, continually find avenues to manipulate one another. Counselor, trained to conquer every situation, is a brave and effervescent figure. Continually told to step away from threatening situations, Counselor’s desperation and curiosity reveal the terrifying layers hidden behind his charismatic personality. Despite the unconvincing Texan accent, Fassbender’s remarkable screen presence pushes him along. Bardem also impresses as a vital strand of the movie’s excessive and expansive web. Expertly delivering McCarthy’s pontifications, Bardem brings charm and menace to his peculiar role. Sporting yet another zany hairstyle, Bardem brings this sociopathic character to life. Reiner, despite convincing himself of being ‘on top’, is whipped by his disturbing gal-pal. With the characters going toe-to-toe with one another (in more ways than one), Diaz struggles to wrap her mouth around McCarthy’s throbbing prose. Uncomfortably adjusting to her captivating role, Diaz is wholly miscast. Pitt’s pithy turn establishes his phenomenal range and tenacity. Sadly, Cruz is given short shrift as the sweet and naive love interest. In only a handful of scenes, Cruz is overshadowed by such enthralling character actors as Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Reuben Blades, and Toby Kebbell.
Despite its overwhelming flaws, The Counselor proves McCarthy and Scott can still deliver thought-provoking and engaging material. This intense and witty crime-thriller, bolstered by its mean streak, rests between Traffic and Savages. Unfortunately, all talk and no action makes The Counselor a polarising thriller. If anything, McCarthy and Scott both just need a hug.
Works: Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, Kingdom of Heaven, American Gangster, Robin Hood, Prometheus
“Are you not entertained!” shouts Russell Crowe as Maximus in the 2000 Academy Award winning historical epic Gladiator. This question may be frequently asked by its director Ridley Scott, as his direction strives for perfection with each film. Ridley and his brother Tony Scott are two of the most influential directors in modern cinema. Though it can be argued their recent work may not match their earlier groundbreaking achievements, they are sought-after genre directors who have created and augmented a fascinating array of unique trademarks. When people question the relevance of auteur theory, there is no doubt either one of them will come to mind.
Ridley Scott & Russell Crowe (Gladiator).
Scott and Damon Lindelof, co-creator/writer of Lost, have recently sparked many heated online debates about the ambiguity of their sci-fi blockbuster Prometheus. What some may consider plot holes, others see as a smart use of sci-fi elements; creating bold, philosophical questions without answers. Scott has used ambiguity in many of his films, developing a true sense of mystery. Many of his films use ambiguity to question the viewer’s involvement in the film viewing process. The ending of Blade Runner for example is one of the most discussed scenes in cinema history. Harrison Ford’s character Rick Deckard as far as we know may or may not be simply a tough persona used to shield himself from emotional torment. Scott creates these debates not to frustrate, but to create though provoking discussion. Ambiguity is not only a defining trait of his now acclaimed work but has led to some of the most influential films in pop culture. It has separated Scott’s films from mind numbing modern sci-fi desperate to answer every question with nonsensical answers for a target demographic.
Ridley Scott & Harrison Ford (Blade Runner).
With a number of Scott’s films critically derided upon release but considered groundbreaking decades later, will the same happen to his recent thought provoking, ambitious, violent, enigmatic and ambiguous sci-fi horror flick? History suggests that only time will tell. In the 30 year gap between Scott’s sci-fi adventures, he has approached different genres eagerly. Genre defining works of art and popcorn chomping blockbusters such as Thelma and Louise, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, Kingdom of Heaven and American Gangster have shown Scott’s directorial elements used outside his phenomenal realm of dark, disturbing sci-fi with Alien and Blade Runner. Film Noir and westerns are clearly important to Scott. With Matchstick Men boasting an energetic Nicholas Cage performance, a femme fatale, a bag of money an troubled criminal minds behind every operation; these noir elements prove the existence of film/neo-noir as relevant to modern film-making.
Scott loves a true message illustrating the merit behind his entertaining and subtle storytelling. His love for powerful yet sensitive female characters proves to be an alluring convention. His characters are important for the image of feminism in cinema, seeing them as regular people willing to break out of their chains and achieve their own sense of freedom. Continuing this idea in Prometheus with Noomi Rapace’s character Elizabeth Shaw as the leader of the ill fated expedition, his presumed attraction to Rapace’s ass-kicking and gothic computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, now defines Rapace as the heroin of modern cinema. Thelma and Louise, Ripley, and G. I. Jane are also part of Scott’s penchant for femininity. Thelma and Louise’s race to the end is another example of ambiguity in Scott’s filmography. Following the classic western convention of the ‘race to the border’, the ending of Thelma and Louise suggests an escape from men controlling the two main characters throughout a mediocre existence.
With Prometheus‘ ambiguous questions, based on important themes of philosophy, sexual reproduction, birth and death, and creationism, being handled with such depth, Scott’s film-making techniques and symbols have once again proven to be a major talking point. Scott’s smart, sensitive and ambiguous storytelling, despite mixed responses, has always inspired thought-provoking discussion about not only our connection to his characters, but his level of determination in consistently creating bold, violent and creative cinema.
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba
Release date: June 8th, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 124 minutes
Best part: Michael Fassbender.
Worst part: The unanswered questions.
Whether Prometheus is seen as a prequel or brand new adventure in the Alien universe, one thing is certain; no one does sci-fi quite like Ridley Scott. Scott, the director of memorable, smart blockbusters such as Blade Runner and Gladiator, not only excels in different genres but creates fascinating cinematic moments that will live with you forever. As the director of the 1979 classic sci-fi horror flick Alien, Scott’s highly-anticipated return to this universe is a philosophical and shocking account of the search for our beginnings.
We follow many characters, each with their own views of humanity and the mission itself. In 2089, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find a star map etched into different archaeological remnants from vastly different civilisations. This constellation, highlighted by the appearance of a large figure pointing to the sky, may in fact symbolise the dawn of man. Landing on the distant moon LV- 223 three years later, the accuracy of this theory is what everyone on the spaceship ’Prometheus’ is searching for. Shaw and Holloway must encounter hostile sceptics including inquisitive human-like android David (Michael Fassbender) and hardened Weylan Corporation executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). There discoveries will however change the course of human history (for greater and worse) while creating scarily affecting problems for the ship’s largely scientist based crew.
Ridley Scott knows how to deliver truly smart sci-fi. While not as groundbreaking as Blade Runner or Alien, Prometheus carefully and uniquely asks the big questions no one has found the answers to. The screenplay by Damon Lindelof (co-creator/writer of Lost) and Jon Spaihts, based sparingly on Stephen Hawking’s recent theories on the discovery of hostile beings in the universe, uses important questions, suggesting different yet believable theories based on our evolution and of creationism, as the basis for its many character arcs. A believable relationship between this story of our beginnings and murky horror flick reminiscent of the Alien universe is executed in Prometheus, creating a truly dangerous sci-fi adventure, subtly using both references from the Alien films and the seeds to create its own universe. Many of the supporting characters feel two dimensional, developing largely predictable problems for the main characters. The performances, however, as usual with Scott, are all top notch. Rapace once again creates a strong female protagonist; this time noticeably similar to Ripley in the original Alien films. Theron and Idris Elba as the ship’s captain are charismatic in their smaller roles. While the stand out is Fassbender as the peaceful looking android with creepily ulterior motives. Fassbender creates the most fascinating character in modern sci-fi, depicting a strange, multi-functioning automaton with a curiosity for the existential questions his human ‘superiors’ ask. Several small touches, including his accurate impersonation of Peter O. Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, display a fascinating and in-depth depiction of a soulless being in search of a human connection.
“Big things have small beginnings.” (David (Michael Fassbender), Prometheus).
Charlize Theron & Idris Elba.
Despite this search for answers leading to a frustratingly ambiguous final third, each character’s motivations and theories delicately and assuredly create the themes of the film, culminating in a search for the reality of existence through hostile and tension filled terms. The film, for the most part, is emotionally powerful. You feel excited when Prometheus lands, while ultimately feeling a strange void in the pit of your stomach with knowing what comes next. Not really surprising to one who knows the brutal story behind the name ‘Prometheus’. Scott isn’t afraid to push the MA15+ rating. The beautiful yet bloody practical effects and creature designs match the violent intensity of the Alien series. The shockingly realistic and blood curdling penetrative deaths are part of the emotional core that will be longingly set in your mind. One scene in particular will have you questioning the practicality of Caesarean sections. The film’s visual appeal is also stunning. The holographic and touch screen applications of their operations and discoveries create several dimensions, using different pix-elated and CG creations to develop an appealing contrast with H. R. Giger’s influential and practical alien spaceship designs.
Does Prometheus live up to expectations? Yes and no. Yes, Scott’s streamlined direction delivers several wondrous set-pieces and visual flourishes. No, the big questions it so-eagerly asks in the first third aren’t given answers. Overall, we might have to show up next time for one ‘final’ adventure.
Verdict: An ambitious and glorious sci-fi actioner.