Skip to main content

You were hit on the head.

Exodus: Gods and Kings
(2014)

(SPOILERS) The immediate question that springs to mind with Exodus: Gods and Kings is “Who is this for?” The core audience for a Biblical epic is surely the hallowed Christian ticket, one that promises potential rewards on a vast scale (The Passion of the Christ). So why make a movie where the Old Testament protagonist’s communication with God is implied to be all in his own head, and where God’s interventions – at least in part – are serviced with “feasible” scientific explanations? Noah also went off message, and had a God who was profoundly silent (not surprising from atheist Aronofsky), but it was stuffed full of enough weirdness to at make it something different. Exodus appears tailored to fall between a myriad of stools and so is thoroughly anaemic (in its casting too), its ultimate undoing.


Watched in an unintentional double bill with The Voices, it’s more than evident that Ridley Scott (with writers Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian) was intent on presenting Moses as a functional schizophrenic (certainly, this was Christian Bale’s take). His first experience of God comes after a bump on the head, a pretty clear indication of how the makers are seeing this.


Effectively, they’re just hedging their bets, mistakenly assuming that if they water down the religious-miraculous they’ll appear to a wider audience, when they end up appealing to no one. Yet the climactic killing of the first-born doesn’t fit into the “explicable” lens Scott is looking at the Biblical account through, so it begs the question of why bother going that route in the first place? Where the director doesn’t get to part the Red Sea and Moses doesn’t even carry his crucial staff around. As for suggesting a host of crocodiles is responsible for turning the Nile red, surely its no more “grounded” than a plague sent by God?


Moses is rendered a strangely passive, on-looking figure in all this. Joshua, played by Aaron Paul as a Monty Python “It’s…” in search of his next crack pipe hit, continually observes Moses’ chats with God from afar. In which Moses is talking to… no one! The nutter! Moses doesn’t interact or announce the successive plagues (compacted into a series of successive connected incidents here), and there’s no progression of confidence as he takes the speaking role first given to Aaron (who hardly figures).


This mad Moses is seen throughout; his voices are even personified as a dramatically inert kid delivering the God part (such a conceit can work in horror, but for gravitas it sucks). When we get to the Ten Commandments, it’s Moses chipping away at them up Mount Sinai, rather than receiving them from Him signed and sealed. As on old man he’s still seeing his young scamp version of Yahweh. Yeah, this version will go down a storm in Sunday school.


It would have been more interesting to see a stark depiction of the Old Testament God, the one who hardens the Pharaoh’s heart, presented in a warts and all fashion. It might have given some substance to Ramses’ outraged line “Is your God a killer of children?” (which might elicit a “I know you are but what am I?” response, to an Egyptian religion that is uninterrogated aside from auguries, entrails and the odd bit of deduction to stress it’s all perfectly explicable during the plagues). Scott handled distinctions between religions much better a decade ago in the (patchy) Kingdom of Heaven.


Which leads one to wonder how Ridley developed this rep for being good with such swords and sandals fare, or period pieces generally. He’s only ever been as good as his script since the mid-80s (when he started out he built worlds, now they’re more like Lego kits), and his successes (The Duellists, and qualified appreciations of 1492 and Gladiator) need to be set against the increasing cluelessness in the likes of Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood and Exodus. However you look at it (and most these pictures have done proportionally better internationally than in the US) the price tag hasn’t justified the enormous expense. Then you take into account the critical drubbings and you have to think he’d be best to steer well clear.


He’s particularly off with driving the plot of Moses, spending a lot of time establishing his relationship with Ramasses II (Joel Edgerton) but seeming to have no sense of how to (presumably) navigate a man who finds his way back to his heritage. Exodus is long enough (two and a half hours) that it should be able to cover its bases, but aside from Bale’s uncompelling Moses and Edgerton’s petulant Ramasses barely anyone gets a chance to stand out. Neither of these two is well cast. Edgerton looks plain silly with his bronzed skin and make up and, even leaving aside the whitewashing of the roles, neither seems entirely comfortable. Bale has a very modern sensibility and delivery, in a way say Russell Crowe can overcome by dint of charisma. Bale’s moody authority is bland and unconvincing here, probably the most unpersuasive he’s been in a role since Terminator Salvation.


On the side-lines, Ben Kingsley hardly registers, the same with Sigourney Weaver (as Ramasses’ mum!) John Turturro and Ben Mendelshon make something of limited screen time, the latter as the weasely fellow who gets Moses in trouble in the first place, and the former as Sethi I and Moses’ surrogate father. Indira Varma and Maria Valverde make an impression as a high priestess and Moses’ wife respectively, the former sharing a fate with Ewen Bremner’s “expert” in one of the picture’s few amusing moments (Ramses gets tired of his inaccurate advisors).


The special effects are as accomplished as you’d expect, but all for nought. Exodus is an inert, pointless picture (the irrelevant double think of its subtitle may have been a result of Exodus already being taken, but I’d be surprised if they hadn’t gone with it anyway; it illustrates splendidly that they don’t know who their appealing to or why). Increasingly with Scott, since his Gladiator emergence as a financial (semi-) reliable, it’s hard to pinpoint what he sees in his choices, other than a fleeting whim. He’s a guy who pronounces story is king, to the extent he believed his agnosticism benefited his approach (“because I’ve got to convince myself the story works”), which is like having conversations with NASA before taking on Legend.


Look at the mess that was the storyline progression for Robin Hood, or the permutations Prometheus went through. From the start of Exodus: Gods and Kings, the story allows itself that prediction and the supernatural exist. Moses is told, “I know you don’t believe in omens and prophecies, but I do believe”, something validated when the prophecy of Moses becoming a leader comes to pass. To go from there to vacillating between delusional visions and lucky natural phenomena and actual divine intervention indicates a lack of clarity of theme and purpose. Scott has nothing to say with Exodus, other than that he thinks its still fine to cast white to the point of absurdity and recognises some fairly banal points about the terrible things done in the name of faith. Just keep churning them out, Ridders.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He's going to emasculate our nuclear deterrent and bring the whole damn country to its knees… because of his dreams.

Dreamscape (1984)
(SPOILERS) I wasn’t really au fait with movies’ box office performance until the end of the ‘80s, so I think I had an idea that Dennis Quaid (along with Jeff Bridges) was a much bigger star than he was, just on the basis of the procession of cool movies he showed up in (The Right Stuff, Enemy Mine, Innerspace, D.O.A.) The truth was, the public resisted all attempts to make him The Next Big Thing, not that his sly-grinned, cocky persona throughout the decade would lead you to believe his dogged lack of success had any adverse effect on his mood. Dreamscape was one of his early leading-man roles, and if it’s been largely forgotten, it also inherits a welcome cult status, not only through being pulpy and inventive on a fairly meagre budget, but by being pretty good to boot. It holds up.

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…