Gods of Egypt (2016)

Released: February 26, 2016. Directed by: Alex Proyas. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler. Runtime: 2hr 7 min.

Big-budget films as bland as Gods of Egypt should have no business over=passing a two-hour run time, but somehow, it feels the need to do so.

After the Egyptian God of air Horus (Nikolas Coster-Waldau of TV’s Game of Thrones fame) is about to be crowned the new king of Egypt, Gerard Butler’s Set, the god of Darkness, comes into play.

He breaks up the party in such a fashion that he kills his own brother Osiris (Bryan Brown) and then fights Horus, takes over the throne and removes his eyes – the source of his all-seeing power. Wicked.

Skip ahead to the slaves working for Set and him killing any God that does not bow to him, in an attempt to take over all colonies and reach ultimate power.

The film itself follows Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a mortal thief who steals one of Horus’ eyes back so that Horus can see and can take back the throne, and his free his wholly believing gal Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from slavery.

Bek and Horus, sporting an eye patch for the majority, venture through the landscape in an attempt to get the throne back. And Set wants to do whatever he can to stop him.

It’s a very traditional and a predictable storyline that’s not compelling. It’s quite boring, and the story is so tedious it becomes exhausting by the hour-mark. We basically know how it’s going to end and it’s not a thrilling ride to begin with.

The characters themselves are dull. There’s not enough depth for Bek to particularly root for him, and Thwaites just puts in a performance that never really goes anywhere in terms of emotion. Gerard Butler is unlikable here so that’s good for the character and he is convincing in that sense.

But he’s not great as a bad guy because he’s better as a bad-ass action hero; and just because he donned sandals and fought for Sparta in 300, doesn’t mean he should be cast in so many of these flicks.

He’s also a bit of a ridiculous caricature of an Egyptian ruler. He never really uses his army at least against Horus, and he flies around on huge beetles. It’s hard to take him seriously when he’s doing things like that.

Coster-Waldau doesn’t have enough presence to head the film well as a secondary hero. He really does need the presence since these Gods are supposed to be about nine feet tall and the camera angles and forced perspective sell the height, making humans look like Hobbits in this world.

Gods of Egypt

Gerard Butler as Set in Gods of Egypt. (Source)

They reach heights of about twelve feet when they turn into a “battle beast” form, so they feel like Power Rangers in that way, forming into something just to fight.

But Horus is basically a total jerk. When Bek brings him his eyes, he tries to kill him because he doesn’t want to bargain for his eyes. When he does get his eye, he starts to choke him. He comes off as unlikable and just ungrateful at times.

Courtney Eaton and Elodie Yung deliver okay performances in their respective roles, Yung as Hathor, the goddess of love.

Chadwick Boseman is okay as the god of wisdom Thoth. There are bizarrely multiple Thoth’s in a scene which gets a bit distracting. Also bizarre is how the film gives an R-rating a dodge because – even though a god tears out another’s eyes – it managed to show a lot of blood. But they made that work by having the gods spill golden blood, which is stupid in itself.

In terms of the films “whitewashing,” casting the majority of Egyptian characters as white people, the film should have learned from the criticisms Exodus: Gods and Kings faced. But Proyas didn’t learn a thing, and the joke’s on him because the film is going to have to make all of its money back in foreign markets.

The action set pieces are alright but hectic editing distracts, and there’s not imagination on display from director Alex Proyas. The dude is given a bad name for his shitty movies – but I liked I, Robot. But that one had an interesting tale to tell.

The visuals here are ugly, and something that belongs in a video game and not in  film with a huge budget. It’s filmed in a studio and the backgrounds rendered don’t have a lot detail and look even worse in 3-D. There’s a henchman of Set that looks like a mix between the villains from Predators and Jar Jar Binks. And their Anubis is downright hideously rendered.

There are also huge snakes that look awful. It’s just not a pretty film to look at – and if it has such a boring story, the visual effects need to redeem it. But they’re equally as bad – and I’m baffled as to where the $140 million dollar budget went.

Score: 3o/100

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The Giver (2014)

The GiverReleased: August 15, 2014. Directed by: Phillip Noyce. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep. Runtime: 97 min.

Note: Sorry for the font inconsistencies – I really couldn’t figure out how to fix it. 

The Giver starts out exactly like Divergent; with a basic review of what this futuristic community is like, followed by a ceremony where occupations are chosen for each citizen at their 18th birthday (where those in the premise of Divergent were put into different groups of basic personality traits). The second similarity is a love story – which is interesting to think this was a thing in Young Adult literature circa 1993, so not much has changed – but it’s essential to the narrative. These similarities are where they begin and end.

This is a unique young adult novel adaptation because it depicts a perfect world (a utopia, rather than a dreary dystopia in The Hunger Games), one with no violence, pain, suffering, differences or choice. A young man, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites in his first big starring role), is chosen as the Receiver, a position chosen every ten years or so – and it is a position in which he will become the future Giver – to assist the elders with making decisions for the community. You see, the Giver (a mesmerizing Jeff Bridges) has the most knowledge and experience in the whole community, because he holds all of the memories of the old world. The one with hideous violence, but also wondrous beauty.

I think Brenton Thwaites’ (OculusMaleficent) performance is actually memorable because he is different from his peers and not absolutely robotic. He brings some humour to his character, and hope to his peers. Jeff Bridges as The Giver is great because of his love of life and his need to get beauty back to the community. He also brought a welcome amount of humour to his character, though I am almost convinced he’s still stuck in the voice he used for Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. A charming young Israeli actress Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) portrays Fiona, and is also notable for how well she captures her character’s fear and natural curiosity for change. Taylor Swift portrays one of those characters who play a crucial role in a character’s development but only show up for five minutes. A scene she shares with Bridges and a piano is just lovely.

I think these performers set themselves apart from the rest because everyone else just feels so plain. Especially Cameron Monaghan and Katie Holmes who are both quite boring. Alexander Skarsgård is still boring, but less so than the others. These characters, and every other cookie-cutter citizen, are all about never lying and using the precision of language – so for example, if you want to ask someone if they love you, you must ask instead if they “enjoy” you. At times I wondered if this is what the modern grammar Nazi sounds like.

One enjoyable technical aspect is the utilization of black and white film – which is about half of the runtime, but the other half is in colour. You might notice as the film progresses that B&W and colour are used more and more as a storytelling device to set the film’s tone. Black and white scenes are more robotic and plain, while scenes in colour are usually captivating and intriguing. The more it got into the heart of the film, the more I found myself enjoying it – after a very boring first twenty minutes (though the final minutes left me dissatisfied). One more comment on the technical aspect – the cinematography is absolutely stunning, in both B&W and colour. The Giver is filmed in South Africa, where the settings and nature complement the film’s quality and beauty.

It’s an ugly truth in this premise that in order to have no violence, one also has to surrender race, religion, uniqueness, decision-making, and emotions, among other things. This community is created by characters who focus on the hideousness of the old world, and want to shelter the citizens from it. This character – mostly the Chief Elder – is portrayed by an adequate Meryl Streep. However, the citizens are also being sheltered from the beauty of the world – namely colours, sunsets, and double rainbows. Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society said, “…The human race is filled with passion… Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” That quote does not describe The Giver‘s community, even though it is considered a “perfect” community. Even though our world has violence, one can escape in the beauty of everything around you. It has poetry, romance, love, beauty – but most of all – creativity, and that sounds like the true perfection to me.

Score67/100

Oculus (2014)

OculusReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Mike Flanagan. Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackoff. Runtime: 105 min.

Oculus is a film directed by Mike Flanagan, partly based on his own 2006 short movie called Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, an idea that sprouted into something more complex seven years later. Just plain Oculus seems to be the better choice for a title. It’s an impressively original horror film dealing with a young woman, Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan), who tries to exonerate her brother, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) who was convicted of murder ten years ago. She plans to do so by proving the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon responsible for the death of 45 persons over the span of four centuries. The phenomenon harbours inside an antique mirror.

The premise is what’s largely intriguing about the film. It’s one of the aspects that lends to its originality. What is also original of the film is that mirroring embodies another meaning in this film, which is engaging to me. I won’t get into it, but it’s something that contributes to some food for thought discussion of the film. The narrative is original, because what happened in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood is told basically at the same time as when they are trying to catch the mirror’s crazy activity on camera in the present day. It might sound a bit haphazard – but I assure you, writer/director Mike Flanagan (co-writing with Jeff Howard) maintain control and focus throughout. The intelligent narrative is quite a success.

The narrative is even cooler because actors of the young versions of Tim and Kaylie (Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, respectively) get a significant amount of screen time, because it goes back and forth between old actors and the young actors. Karen Gillan is good as the controlling and motivated Kaylie. Basso acts with the same maturity as Gillan. Thwaites is good, as far as horror films go. Katee Sackoff is effective and creepy as the maternal Marie Russell, and Rory Cochrane is compelling as the paternal Alan Russell. 

It’s great when a horror film actually has a good, engaging story to tell. The characters in the film are good. Kaylie’s motivation to prove his brother’s innocence is because she is tired of being ridiculed, and people calling her brother a murderer and her father crazy. The brother did his time in a mental asylum, so this film isn’t like that movie Conviction where Hilary Swank’s character tries to prove his innocence while he’s doing his time. 

Kaylie needed her brother’s help, because this evil mirror is very testy, and going against the mirror alone would be an impossible battle to win. This makes the film a psychological horror film that is left open to interpretation, as well as a supernatural horror flick. Stupid decisions by characters should be excused because the mirror makes them think they’ve stuck together, but they really aren’t. It’s a tricky villain in this way. The meaning of the word oculus intrigues me further into the mythology of the film. The mirror screws up the character’s perception, and they see what the mirror wants them to see. Perception is a big thing in this mildly scary and very creepy feature.

These aspects make this an effective mystery. It taps into fears first explored in The Shining, and haunted artifacts. It’s atmospheric and cool, and makes viewers question throughout what is reality and what is a conjuring of the mirror’s tricky mind games. It’s a creepy film that sticks with you, especially some bloody imagery, and a good, if repetitive, score. It’s an entertaining horror film that is scary enough to give me another excuse not to eat apples and to not let an antique mirror in my house for a little while. 

Score80/100