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.

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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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Race (2016)

Released: February 19, 2016. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree. Runtime: 2 hr 14 min.

Taking on a dual meaning title, Race follows the awe-inspiring story of Jesse Owens gearing up towards his stint at the 1936 Olympics in a Germany under the start of the Hitler regime.

Stephan James (Selma) stars as the pride and joy of Ohio State, Jesse Owens, bringing charm to a legendary figure who wasn’t given enough credit for his achievements at the Olympics because of the time it happened.

Heck, it took him long enough to get the first theatrical film about Owens – about 80 years. Owens did have his own film back in 1984, however, in the form of a made-for-television production called The Jesse Owens Story. But are TV productions real movies? That’s debatable.

Anyway, James captures emotion of the time for a person of colour not having the rights of any white people. He’s great depicting the athleticism and astounding agility of the character. I enjoyed seeing the chemistry between him and Shanice Banton’s Ruth Solomon, as well.

He can take a stand by going to the Olympics in Germany and making a stand for the African American folks, as well as the severely repressed Jewish people, during a time that was just the start of Hitler’s regime.

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Stephan James as Jesse Owens doing the long jump. (Source

With all of its other focuses, this is still very much a sports film, as we’re brought through Owens’ training by star Larry Snyder, portrayed with utmost kindness by Jason Sudeikis.

The feature is also at its best when we go with Owens to the Olympics. This isn’t a spoiler if you know of Owens’ prestige. It’s rousing and inspiring cheering him on.

But the line between sport and politics blur so much that it takes away from Owens’ story at times. It’s like Owens’ story is just used as a frame for a story that is largely about the United States Olympic Committee and how they were able to convince the Germans to allow African Americans and Jews to compete.

Jeremy Irons’ Avery Brundage represents the interest to have Americans compete at the Olympic Games. William Hurt’s Jeremiah Mahoney represented the opposing opinion of boycotting the Olympics for the year – because of the intense segregation.

Joseph Goebbels is portrayed by Barnaby Metschurat. The character is just rather mean, but that’s expected for Goebbels. He’s the political heart on the side of the Germans, as the Minister of Propaganda at the time.

While promoting the Aryan race, he also suppresses documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (portrayed by Carice van Houten). He wishes her to make a film which reflects the views of the German government – while she has to stick it to the man and wants to focus on the success of Owens.

It’s frustrating, but that’s what the filmmakers go for – to frustrate the audience. And later in the film show that, even through so much glory, there will always be discrimination.

The story is almost drowned completely by the politics, and is often in danger of being a political drama.

But the scenes at the Olympics and the inspiring road there make up for it and while the film isn’t as great as Owens’ achievements, it would still deserve a bronze medal. That’s still a winner, right?

Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warrior) directs the races with precision and it makes the film entertaining in that respect. The cinematography is stellar in these scenes, the director of photography is Peter Levy who often works with Hopkins, and is still interesting during the more chatty sequences.

The best part of the film is especially James’ performance. He’s inspiring how he captures optimism through a dark time. Hopefully this kick-starts James’ career the same way 42, a sports biography about fellow race pioneer Jackie Robinson, did for Chadwick Boseman.

James depicts the athlete’s dedication to his coach realistically. The chemistry there really works – and captures how lovely the relationship between a coach and a mentor can be.

Score: 65/100

 

Get on Up (2014)

Get on UpReleased: August 1, 2014. Directed by: Tate Taylor. Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd. Runtime: 139 min.

Timelines in biography films can be difficult to depict, especially when dealing with a 54-year timeline that the ambitious Tate Taylor tackles while depicting the life story of James Brown, the Godfather of soul.

Wow, though, Taylor and writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth make this unnecessarily difficult to follow. A big problem with the timeline here is that it sporadically offers one event, goes to other events, and revisits the first event in 30 minutes’ time. That’s just one frustrating and bizarre way that the film displays its narrative. There’s also very little indication of the actual point in time between 1939 and 1993, other than cues for music buffs, like when Brown’s song he’s performing was released; or important events in time, most notably the Vietnam War or when Brown performs at The Garden in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The meandering order of events finds no groove and it just feels lazily formed. Within the 149-minute run-time, it feels like it jumps around in time more than Doctor Who and Mr. Peabody combined.

This year’s Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s music biopic depicting the story of the Four Seasons, also suffers from awful timeline issues – as the make-up department did not do a good job of successfully aging the actors – which is a problem Get on Up doesn’t possess. The film is, of course, about James Brown. It depicts his rise to fame from extreme poverty, and his road to be among music’s most influential artists.

Themes of extreme prejudice in 1950s Georgia are displayed by James getting five to 13 years in prison simply for stealing a man’s suit. This does put him on a course where he meets future band-mate Bobby Byrd (a grounded and memorable Nelsan Ellis). Byrd is a reasonable man, which seems to be a reason bandmates can tolerate Brown for so long, because even though he has a vibrant energy on-stage, his personality is quite arrogant. He could be soured by fame, which seems to be the case with a lot of big stars. Brown shows a preference to his black audience, and I think that’s well-highlighted by how well James seems to react to a “Let’s not make music for the white devil” spiel by a young singer named Little Richard (Brandon Smith). One jarring scene depicts his preference to black people, where he performs in front of a white crowd, and then breaks the fourth wall and is then performing in front of a black crowd. The imagined sequence just doesn’t have a strong transition.

There are scenes that do conduct their job marvelously. A scene in James’s childhood depicts him finding a hanged black man in the woods. James steals the dead man’s shoes. This told me his poverty is so extreme, in order to get a new pair of shoes he had to steal them from a dead man. This was the film’s most powerful scene.

The acting is fine all around. Octavia Spencer performs well in her brief screen time, and Viola Davis is great as James’ mother, Susie Brown. Up-and-coming star Chadwick Boseman gives it his all as the iconic James Brown with an energetic performance. He embodies Brown perfectly, down to the persona and vocal patterns. At least we can all take pleasure that both Tate Taylor and Boseman capture the essence of Brown in their film. However, Boseman gets so involved in the role that he might not realize he mumbles constantly. It’s difficult to hear him clearly and often enough, only every few words per sentence are caught. That’s the way Brown talks, but it makes for a truly frustrating experience if what is being said will make ask “What did he say?” every so often. Due to that irritating aspect, wait for the DVD and just watch this with subtitles.

Score: 55/100

 

42 (2013)

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Release Date: April 12, 2013

Director: Brian Helgeland

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie

Runtime: 128 min

Jackie Robinson (portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) is a prominent figure in the civil rights for black athletes, as he is the first African-American athlete to play in the major leagues and break the colour barrier. 42 is the second biopic for Robinson, after 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story. This follows Robinson’s life between 1945 and 1947, focusing on the hardships faces, after being integrated into a white-dominated sport by Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford).

It highlights these hardships he faces so precisely, that we really start to care for Robinson and what he goes through to play a game that he loves, and advance equality among races in the process. It is a true testament to the heart and soul of Jackie Robinson, a man for segregation, and a true American hero. That’s what helps this become such a successful film when it’s both on the field, and off.

When it’s on the field, it’s very rousing and often times, you’ll have the urge to stand up and cheer. It really feels like one is watching the actual game on TV for the first time, and that’s what helps it feel genuine. The more competitive viewers might even feel the urge to yell at the screen when the umpire makes a bad call; and you’ll definitely feel infuriated by some of characters’ actions against Robinson. You’ll either want to clap or weep for him at times because of the opposite race’s contempt he must face.

A lot of the racism is expressed through manipulative characterization. Some are just right, like when some of his own team mates still don’t feel comfortable playing with him or even showering with him, for that matter. Or when a child at a Cincinnati game falls under the societal pressures of the day and begins shouting racial slurs at Robinson like the rest of the crowd. Other times, they’re way over-the-top. Take Alan Tudyk’s character of Ben Chapman, for example. What he does is infuriating and manipulative because its cause is to get the watcher’s blood boiling, but it does work effectively, and it will definitely rouse a certain reaction. When Jackie breaks down and cannot take the discrimination any more, it is truly powerful and one of the film’s strongest scenes, on the field or not. That’s what really admirable about a sports feature like such: It finds a unique balance between scenes on-and-off the green grass.

It’s always exciting and never a dull moment, even if the dialogue gets more corny than your grandmother’s best corn dish at Thanksgiving. It’s helped by the stellar performances from the cast. Almost everyone in the supporting cast is fine, but Andre Holland as journalist and companion of Robinson, Wendell Smith, is very good. Lucas Black as Pee Wee Johnson is excellent, and the scene he shares with Boseman is significant and heart-warming  Chadwick Boseman (best known prior to this for small-screen roles in Persons Unknown and Lincoln Heights) shines as Jackie Robinson in a star-making role, and since Robinson can’t play himself (dead men can’t act!), you’ll be glad it’s Boseman. The chemistry between him and Harrison Ford (appearing as Branch Rickey) is excellent, and the scenes they share together are very memorable. Since Ford will most likely receive an Oscar nomination for his outstanding performance, he once again proves he has the ability to be wildly successful without a fedora on his head or a lightsaber in his hands.

It’s also impressive that such a powerful film gets to have a little fun with itself, as it beams with charm. There’s some laugh-out-loud humour here, as well, especially when John C. McGinley (portraying Red Barber) commentates; one of his funniest lines about being, about Robinson, “He’s definitely a brunette.” What would we do without that keen sense of observation?

Do not miss the opportunity to see 42 in theatres, because it is a fantastic true story that has to be known; it’s a rousing, charming grand slam and a new American classic. It’s a two-hour-plus film that feels like 90 minutes, and it’s one of the best sports movies of the past few years.

90/100