Sunday, May 26, 2024

Talk to Me

Movie Name:
Talk to Me
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
Starring: Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Joe Bird, Miranda Otto, Marcus Johnson, Zoe Terakes, Otis Dhanji, Chris Alosio, Alexandria Steffensen, Sunny Johnson, Ari McCarthy
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Talk to Me" is the feature directorial debut of the Philippou brothers. It premiered firstly in Australia in late 2022, and made it to the US in early 2023 where it was part of the Sundance Film Festival of that year. It went on to get substantial critical accolades, and finally upon its wide commercial release, was a substantial hit.
The film takes place in Adelaide, Australia and focuses on the story of Mia, a 17 year old girl, who is having issues coping with the recent death of her mother, Rhea. Her relationship with her father is somewhat distant and cold, something he tries to repair. Mia spends a lot of her free time with her best friend Jade, and Jade's younger brother Riley. The three decide to attend a gathering at a nearby friend's house, and they realize that one of the main attractions of the evening is a severed and embalmed hand. They're explained that by holding the hand, and saying "talk to me", it enables someone to communicate with a dead person's spirit. If during that they also say "I let you in", they allow the spirit to possess them. In order to prevent the spirits of being attached to the person holding the hand, they have to sever the connection within 90 seconds. Mia volunteers to go first, and is possessed by a spirit that seems to focus quite intently on Riley. The connection is broken off with some difficulty, but Mia feels a rush after it. 
The following evening the group tries once again, and they all take turns, save for Riley who is deemed too young. Jade prohibits it as she does not want to get in trouble with her mother. However when she leaves the room, Mia lets him embark on the game, leaving the little boy possessed by what she thinks to be her late mother's spirit. However the time of the bonding goes over, and Riley's body is taken over, upon which he attempts to kill himself. As Riley is taken to the hospital, things just keep getting worse, as Mia also starts being haunted by visions of her late mother.
"Talk to Me" is a good lesson on how having a smart concept, and relying on the progressive buildout of an unsettling environment, can produce substantial dividends. The directors smartly build the ecosystem of relationships that exist between the main characters, slowly peeling away at the profound unhappiness the central character, Mia, feels towards what happened with her mother and how she feels at a loss in life. The grip that the hand symbolizes, it's a way for Mia to reach out to a mother who left with no explanation, but also a way for her to find a sense of comfort in what she thinks she's enabling the spirits to have once again. The rush she experiences also marries with the feeling of being accepted by the group of friends she's surrounded with. As the narrative progresses and takes a darker turn, it also becomes more unsettling, there is also an aspect of no easy solution for the predicament. And Mia's guilt becomes even more of a manifestation of a gateway to something sinister to come forth. It's a very taut and well conceived narrative, never falling into gratuitous horror clichés, all the while being stylistically inventive and well paced. The cast is uniformly solid, with highlights going to Sophie Wilde, Joe Bird, and Marcus Johnson. The production team is equally solid, with highlights going to the cinematography from Aaron McLisky, editing by Geoff Lamb, and production design by Bethany Ryan. A solid film worth watching.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Jack the Giant Slayer

Movie Name:
Jack The Giant Slayer
Year of Release: 2013
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Christopher Fairbank, Simon Lowe, Ralph Brown, Mingus Johnston, Joy McBrinn, Warwick Davis, Peter Bonner, Craig Salisbury, Lee Boardman
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Director Bryan Singer followed the underrated "Valkyrie" with this take on the legend of Jack and the Beanstalk, an English Fairy Tale that goes back more than five millennia (according to its information on Wikipedia). It also reunited him with his former collaborator, screenwriter (and director) Christopher McQuarrie with whom he previously worked on "Public Access", "The Usual Suspects", and the aforementioned "Valkyrie". The film focuses its attention on Jack, an orphan farm young man living with his uncle in a modest house, in the Kingdom of Cloister. Jack, who has long loved stories as were told by his father, is approached by a monk, who gives him magical beans, but warns him not to get them wet as that will surely bring misfortune. The Princess of the kingdom who is rebelling against an imposed marriage, escapes the castle and seeks refuge at Jack's home. One of the beans accidentally gets wet due to the rain, and a massive and gigantic beanstalk starts growing, taking Jack's home with it, with him and Princess Isabelle in its interior. While Jack falls to the ground, his house and the Princess keep going up. The King sends a team, including Isabelle's suitor Roderick and his best knight Elmont, to rescue her, and Jack also volunteers to join that team. When they reach the top of the beanstalk, they realize they've hit an unknown territory, though they all have heard of the legend of existing giants up above their kingdom. They split into groups, in order to track more territory and locate Isabelle faster, but soon realize the legends are true, and the giants are very much a dangerous foe. 
The success of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" was a catalyst to revisit classic tales and fables, some of which experienced far more success than others (just how many versions of "Pinocchio" are needed for that matter). "Jack the Giant Slayer" and specifically its script, tries to put a spin on the story by creating this magical crown which holds power over the villainous giants. However where this script falters, is in the treatment of all of its characters, which continues to be limited, and cliché ridden. Unlike Tommy O'Haver's "Ella Enchanted" for instance, there isn't much of a subversive aspect to this story, or for that matter, to the film itself. The concept literally reads like a mathematical formula: briefly defined characters + well recognized fable + big budget + questionable visual effects = money in the bank. However something wasn't entirely well calculated in this formula, as the film turned out to be underwhelming, for the reasons already mentioned. Bryan Singer illustrates this film without much conviction, and the film is in fact rendered quite generically, without much of a specific point of view. It's not really a hearty comedy, nor is it a very exciting action driven narrative (the film doesn't really commit to tone). While Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" for instance is indeed one of that director's lesser endeavors, he still commits to the whole over the top fantastical aspect of it, whereas Bryan Singer is not entirely sure what to do with the material (the grotesqueness of the giants is very evident, but never truly capitalized upon). The film has a great cast, which makes it watchable, including Ewan McGregor, Nicholas Hoult, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan and Stanley Tucci. The production team is also solid, with particular highlights going to Newton Thomas Sigel's cinematography, John Ottman's score, Gavin Bocquet's production design, and Joanna Jonhston's costumes, but the visual effects are a bit of a misfire. It's not a dreadful and inert viewing experience, but this cast and all the rest of this talented production team deserved better. 

Ready Player One

Movie Name:
Ready Player One
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Philip Zhao, Hannah John-Kamen, Win Morisaki, Susan Lynch, Ralph Ineson, Clare Higgins, Laurence Spellman
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Following "The Post", director Steven Spielberg tackled the adaptation of the best seller by Ernest Cline, "Ready Player One", which the author adapted alongside Zak Penn (who was responsible for the story of the much maligned, and very underrated John McTiernan flop, "Last Action Hero"). The narrative takes place in 2045 and is focused on Wade Watts, a young man who spends much of his time inside this game experience by the name of OASIS, that is an immersive experience created by James Halliday and Ogden Morrow. Ogden has long abandoned his partnership with James, and with the latter's passing, a quest has been started within the game. Halliday has basically announced that whomever finds the Easter Egg contained in the game stands to become the owner of OASIS. In order to get that Easter Egg, the gamers have to find three keys. Those keys can be retrieved by overcoming three challenges. Anyone who plays the game can pursue it, which includes Wade, who goes by Parzival in the game, alongside his best friend Aech. Also on the trail of those keys and Easter Egg is the unscrupulous Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of IOI, who has hordes of his employees playing the game in order to get to the same goal. Wade has a deep knowledge of Pop Culture from the 1980s and James Halliday's life, and he eventually retrieves the first key, which gives him the access to clues to retrieve the second one. Sorrento tries to make a deal with him, but Wade is not interested and can see right through his approach. Sorrento manages to uncover Wade's true identity outside of the game, and tries to kill him using drones, but ends up killing his aunt and her deadbeat partner. Wade becomes even more focused on uncovering the remaining keys, all the while pursuing a crush for Art3mis, another player who has an agenda of her own.
Ernest Cline's book is delightful and imaginative, surfacing a variety of pop-culture and film references from the 1980s, that makes it all the more entertaining. Steven Spielberg, who ironically is responsible for many of those references, tackles this material with a mix of appreciation, delight, and not an overtly sentimental tone, as sometimes can happen with some of his features. "Ready Player One" maintains an emphasis on the adventure aspect of the narrative, in detriment to a certain extent, of giving its lead characters a bit more depth, both in terms of illustrating who they are, but also where their motivations lie, beyond playing and existing in the Oasis. And that's probably where the film feels a bit less accomplished, in the sense that the characters that exist within this narrative are somewhat under-developed, including the sinister and corporate villain Nolan Sorrento, who is illustrated solely in a particular light, with not much nuance to him (which is unlike most of Spielberg's darker characters, who even at their worst, display a sense of humanity or compassion). The director however truly embraces the journey within the game, bringing that excitement of uncovering clues and collaborating with a team of outcasts who are also the best of friends, something almost akin to Richard Donner's "The Goonies". The film feels very much like a suiting partner to many of the films Spielberg either directed or produced in the 1980s, albeit a more digital centric one. The narrative that occurs within the game may at times feel almost jarringly artificial, but it is indeed a game experience, and it is nicely rendered. It's a film that benefits from a diverse cast, with particular emphasis going to Ben Mendelsohn and Olivia Cooke, while the production team is, as always, impeccable, including Janusz Kaminski's cinematography, Adam Stockhausen's production design, and Kasia Walicka Maimone's costumes. A solid and entertaining film from a master storyteller. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Bloodshot

Movie Name:
Bloodshot
Year of Release: 2020
Director: Dave Wilson
Starring: Vin Diesel, Guy Pearce, Eiza Gonzalez, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, Talulah Riley, Lamorne Morris, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Alex Hernandez, Siddarth Dhananjay, Tamer Burjaq, Clyde Berning, David Dukas
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Bloodshot" is Dave Wilson's feature directorial debut, following an extensive career in visual effects (he worked on Joss Whedon's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and several video games). The film is based on a comic book and focuses its narrative on a US Marine by the name of Ray Garrison. Ray is a smart and resourceful team leader, and manages to salvage a potentially dicey situation with hostages in Mombasa, Kenya. After returning from that service, Ray takes a vacation with his wife in Italy, but they both end up kidnapped. The kidnapper demands to know how the US military learned about the hostages from Mombasa, and when Ray does not answer, the kidnapper kills his wife and then fatally shoots him as well. Ray reawakens in the labs of RST, a company that specializes in cybernetic enhancements for disabled US military personnel. He's informed by the head of the company and also its lead scientist, that he is the first of its kind, a prototype of sorts. His body has been embedded with nanite technology, which now pumps through his bloodstream, enabling him to quickly recover from possibly fatal wounds. Dr. Harting also lets him know those nanites need to be regularly replaced or he will perish once again. As his memories start flashing, Ray leaves the building much against Dr. Harting's wishes, as he is intent on seeking revenge against the man who killed his wife and then himself. Ray is successful, but as he reawakens once more from his "recharge", there's more to what is happening than he is aware, as his colleague KT has been hinting.
Vin Diesel has tried to craft an image for himself as a modern day slightly more intellectual Charles Bronson. In between running "The Fast and the Furious" franchise, he has sought to expand his portfolio to other vehicles, some with more success than others (some of the "Riddick" series being the most interesting, others like "The Last Witch Hunter" being less successful). "Bloodshot" tries to humanize a bit further the concept of the super hero persona, by making its central character someone who is motivated by revenge (akin to James O'Barr's "The Crow", only less gothic), and someone who is morally flawed and also very mortal. The film is written as a quasi B-movie, with very polished visual effects, but even for a taut genre film, the characters have little to no substance, starting with Ray, but then extending itself to both Ray's partners and foes. We never learn much about Dr. Harting, KT or the persistently disgruntled Jimmy Dalton (and just as a hint, maybe writers should consider that just because someone is a foe in a narrative, they don't have to constantly be making villainous or conspiratorial faces). There's something interesting to the twist that occurs in the narrative, but sadly the script doesn't probe its reaches any further (maybe next time hire someone as Tony Gilroy, who did wonders with "The Bourne" series). Dave Wilson tries and at times very successfully illustrates the meagerness of the script, but towards the end the final confrontation is too artificially rendered, bordering on "Matrix Revolutions" style (without substance). The cast tries their best to bring these inert characters to life, with the always underrated Guy Pearce bringing some nuance to his character, though Sam Heughan offers very little in his role, the same going for Vin Diesel who sadly can't be bothered with representing much angst or even the level of questioning that may arise from actually being brought back from the dead and losing everything (and everyone). The production team is solid, with highlights going for Jacques Jouffret's cinematography, Steve Jablonsky's score, and Kimberly A. Tillman's costume design, and a special mention to the sophisticated visual effects. It's a film undermined by its contrived script, and it is ultimately a forgettable endeavor. 

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Madame Web

Movie Name:
Madame Web
Year of Release: 2024
Director: SJ Clarkson
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, Isabel Merced, Celeste O'Connor, Adam Scott, Tahar Rahim, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, Kerry Bishe, Zosia Mamet, José Maria Yazpik, Kathy-Ann Hart, Josh Drennen, Jill Hennessy
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Madame Web" is writer/director SJ Clarkson's feature directorial debut, though she has been directing episodes for well known tv shows (including "Succession", "Vinyl", "Orance is the New Black", and "Bates Motel", to name but a few) since the early 2000s. The narrative of the film focuses on Cassandra Webb, a paramedic whose mother died in childbirth. While rescuing people from a dire situation, Cassandra falls to her apparent death, only to be rescued by one of her work colleagues. Everything seems fine with her, but she starts noticing that she can in reality predict what's going to happen in the near future. She does not know what prompts that ability or how to control it, but the occurrences start happening more and more frequently. Things escalate even further when she's on the subway, and has a vision of a masked individual coming into the train car, and assaulting/killing three teenaged girls. She manages to get them off the train, but the masked individual keeps coming after them, until she successfully manages to evade him, though now the police thinks she's kidnapping the girls. Cassandra decides to investigate more, since the girls are now under her protection, since they all seem to be slighted by their families (even if for different reasons). In the meantime, the man on their trail, Ezekiel, has ties to Cassandra's past, and wants to kill the girls since he fears that in the near future they will kill him. It's up to Cassandra to uncover what ties them all together, and how they can survive these challenges.
"Madame Web" is another character within the "Spider-Man" universe, and much like the films that Sony has released within that premise, such as "Venom" and "Morbius", it also fails to bring anything new to the comic book genre, or even for that matter, it even fails at being a compelling and competent narrative. The script is blatantly formulaic, starting with the origin of Cassandra's existence, all the way to how she becomes aware of her "powers", and even her interactions with the young women she saves. This film bypasses much in terms of giving any character any distinctiveness, including the main antagonist, whose apparent main interests during the film are basically two: firstly getting the power of a mythical spider, and avoid his own death in the future. It's a film that is abysmally written, with not much distinctiveness given to all the lead characters, and one where apparently these characters all exist in a world where there's no consequences to wreaking havoc in highly populated areas. The film comes across as a bad pilot for a TV Show, one that plants a series of ideas for development in further "episodes", with the issue of course being, that in order to warrant more episodes, the first one has to be effectively well done and the story well told. The director also fails to infuse the film with anything remotely stylish, or a point of view that is distinctive. The cast is squandered, with both Dakota Johnson and Tahar Rahim in particular having very little to do (and they can be formidable, as they demonstrated in "A Bigger Splash" and "A Prophet" respectively), while the supporting cast also fails to register at all. The production team is also disappointing, with Mauro Fiore's cinematography making the film register as a "911" tv-show episode, whereas Ethan Tobman's production design feels excessively artificial and lacking polish. It is a bad feature, one that even Adam Scott, Emma Roberts, and the two leads can't salvage. 

Men

Movie Name:
Men
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Paapa Essiedu, Gayle Rankin, Sarah Twomey, Zak Rothera-Oxley
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Following the fantastic double punch of "Ex-Machina" and "Annihilation", "Men" is writer/director Alex Garland's third feature. It focuses its narrative on the character of Harper Marlowe, who following the apparent suicide of her husband James, decides to spend some time on her own, away from the frantic pacing of the big city, in a small village by the name of Cotson. Once she arrives in the country house she is renting, the owner of the property/house is there to greet her and give her a tour of the house. Harper decides to go for a walk in the nearby woods. As much as the walk is therapeutic, she reaches a disused tunnel, where she notices there's a human figure on the other side of it, that suddenly starts running towards her. She runs until she eventually finds herself in an open field. When she decides to take a photo of the landscape, she notices a naked man standing in the distance. The same man appears in the garden of the property where she's staying, with his face covered with bloody scratches. He seemingly tries to get in, and Harper calls the police. Once the police takes the man away, Harper visits the local church, where she has uncomfortable interactions with a young boy and the Vicar, both of whom look a bit like Geoffrey, the owner of the house where she's staying. Harper calls her friend Riley, who volunteers to come and stay with her, however before she can do so, things get even stranger for Harper. 
"Ex-Machina" and "Annihilation" were on the surface interesting reflections on topics such as artificial intelligence and alien presences (on Earth), which eventually paved the way for a deeper consideration on what it means to be human, particularly all that comes with it, be it insecurities, fears, but also the ability to love and establish deep emotional connections. "Men", which immediately positions the situation in which the lead character finds herself in, as a justifiably traumatic one, since her husband (possibly emotionally and physically abusive) has a particularly horrific death, is much heavier on symbolism than the previous films tackled by Alex Garland. And this symbolism, as intelligently represented as it may be, and the latitude of interpretations that it opens, it sadly feels almost a bit too cryptic to either come across as a disturbing view of male violence and oppression towards women, or even a tale of folklore horror. And while the atmosphere the director creates is indeed a disturbing one (it almost feels like eerily reminiscent of Chris Cunningham's music videos for Aphex Twin in the 1990s), the gimmick also limits the character dimension that is presented and empathy that we create with what's taking place. Harper, who is indeed our guiding presence in this narrative, mostly comes across as someone who was indeed a victim who tried to remove herself from a bad situation, but that's mostly what we get from that character. And maybe this enigma is deliberate, and plays to the overall conceptual aspect of the film, but doesn't necessarily make it that much more compelling or even, humane. The supporting characters, almost all of them played by Rory Kinnear, are also cardboard cutouts or simple archetypes, even when the polarizing ending starts to present itself. It's a film that feels a bit lost in itself, that is trying to make a lot of points, but whose language isn't necessarily one that everyone will comprehend. And while there's nothing wrong with that, Alex Garland, unlike say David Lynch whose surreal storytelling takes viewers on unexpected journeys, keeps his artistic point of view very close to his own chest, and fails to invite us all in. The atmosphere, the cast and the production team are all superb, but this is ultimately a film that does not feel as well resolved as the prior ones from this writer/director.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Sisters

Movie Name:
Sisters
Year of Release: 2015
Director: Jason Moore
Starring: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan, Greta Lee, Madison Davenport, Rachel Dratch, Santino Fontana, Britt Lower, Samantha Bee, Matt Oberg, Kate McKinnon, Colleen Werthmann
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Sisters" is director Jason Moore's sophomore directorial endeavor, following his debut with the successful "Pitch Perfect". The film is also a reunion for habitual co-stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, alongside screenwriter Paula Pell, who also worked on SNL. The film follows the story of two sisters, Kate and Maura, who have to go to Orlando and remove their childhood belongings from their parents house, as they've decided to downsize, and move into a smaller space in an adult community space. Maura is a hardworking nurse, who is also recently divorced and has never had much of an opportunity to let loose, while Kate, who is a stylist/hairdresser, has always lived impulsively, making decisions based on whichever direction the wind blew, which also includes some of the attitudes she has had towards her daughter. The sisters know they have to clean up the house, as the new buyers are ready to take ownership, a rather uptight young couple from New York. They decide to throw one last party before parting ways with their house, but this time around decide to invert the roles, with Maura being allowed to let her hair down, and Kate being the sober one, in order to make sure things don't get out of control (she's also trying to prove to her daughter she can be responsible). The party starts somewhat timidly, with many of their high school friends showing up, and mostly acting their age. However, with some unexpected guests crashing the party, mixed with some recreational items and drinking, things really start getting out of control.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have great chemistry, which they of course developed during their years of partnership on SNL, which then also translated into films in which they've both acted, such as Michael McCullers' "Baby Mama", Amy Poehler's "Wine Country" and "Sisters". Their complicity and rapport is palpable, and this film lives from that relationship, and of the well peppered supporting players that come into the narrative and elevate whatever is happening, namely the always fantastic Maya Rudolph and the always funny John Cena. Whatever takes place in this film lives by the quality of its players, and their commitment in bringing this narrative to life. The script is rather generic and bland, giving the sisters just enough background for us to understand their relationship growing up, the same going for their friends, their romantic forays and their rivalries. Sadly the script doesn't allow much to be expanded upon for the supporting characters, including their parents, who are both the emotional and awkward part of the film. Where the film ends up lacking is precisely in the fear of offending, it simply doesn't go all in demonstrating that at times people aren't nice, that situations in life don't always have a happy ending, and that some attitudes can bruise and batter for long periods of time. That is to say: the script lacks a perfunctory bite, having a tone that is able to be funny, but at the same time ugly, which is something that not all comedies are willing to explore (which Paul Feig's "Bridesmaids" managed to illustrate to a certain extent, courtesy of Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo's script). The cast is superb, with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler having great support from Maya Rudolph, John Cena, Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, Bobby Moynihan, John Leguizamo, Greta Lee, Kate McKinnon. The production team is solid but unremarkable. It's an entertaining film, that could have gone even further, but that ends up being somewhat forgettable as a result. 

Gods of Egypt

Movie Name:
Gods of Egypt
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Alex Proyas
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Geoffrey Rush, Chadwick Boseman, Courtney Eaton, Elodie Yung, Bryan Brown, Rachael Blake, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Robyn Nevin, Bruce Spence, Kenneth Ransom, Alexander England
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Gods of Egypt" got roasted upon its release in 2016, which caused some sore reactions from its director, the underrated Alex Proyas. In a career that has spanned quite a few decades, this is only his sixth feature, which started with the iconic "The Crow" in 1994 (Brandon Lee, may he rest in peace), followed by the excellent "Dark City", and some others that were a bit overlooked such as "Garage Days" and some bigger blockbuster fare, such as "I, Robot" and "Knowing". The film takes place in ancient Egypt, where the gods live among the mortals. King Osiris who has been a loving ruler, is passing his crown to his son Horus. However Osiris's bitter brother Set, interrupts the ceremony, kills Osiris and battles Horus violently, taking his eyes and subsequently entitling himself ruler of all kingdoms. A year later, most of Egypt is enslaved, and Set has his architect Urshu building pyramids on the shoulders of slave work. Zaya, one of Urshu's slaves, passes the plans of Set's pyramid to her lover, Bek, who in turn manages to steal one of Horus' eyes. He and Zaya are however caught by Urshu, and while they make their escape, the bitter Urshu shoots an arrow that kills Zaya. Bek takes her body to Horus, along with his eye, hoping the exiled god can help him. They forge an alliance, where Bek helps Horus find the other eye, in exchange for Horus bringing Zaya back to life. However Set has plans of his own, something that even Ra, Horus' grandfather fears. 
"Gods of Egypt" at some point reminded me of a modern take, more digitally centered, and possibly with some dubious taste, version of a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza. Similar to what Ridley Scott typically does with his films, such as "Exodus", but in this case, without taking the narrative quite as seriously. And that's what ultimately ends up saving this film from being a laughable exercise in excess. Alex Proyas knows quite well that this is an adventure film at its core, with two personalities who don't like each other, being forced to work together in order to vanquish a common foe. He is also keenly aware that films such as Mike Newell's "Prince of Persia" didn't really work with audiences, so for this film he ups the excess, in terms of visual opulence, and even in terms of certain character traits that define these archetypes that populate the narrative. The film at its core, is a slight B-movie of the 50s, that has been given much more money to indulge in putting all the action together. Sadly what Alex Proyas fails to do here, lies not just on giving some characters a bit more to do (and be), but also with restraint. Aside from Bek and Horus, most of the supporting characters are very much cardboard presences, in dire need of just a slight more attention to justify both their actions and give the film a jolt of uniqueness (Gerard Butler's Set goes quite a bit overboard). And while the production design of the film is impressive (courtesy of the very talented Owen Paterson), the visual effects are a bit all over the place, with some green screen shots more obvious than others. Ultimately the film hints at what has made the best Alex Proyas' films work so well, namely a central hero who is drawn to a situation he did not sought after, and who has to uncover within himself the ability to safeguard what he treasures the most, unearthing a force he did not know he had. However, that spirit gets somewhat lost in the bauble and excess that lies in the production. The cast sadly does not help much, with Brenton Thwaites making a very wooden central character, without much support from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whereas Gerard Butler is on scenery-chewing mode. The cinematography from Peter Menzies Jr. is impeccable as is Owen Paterson's production design and Liz Keogh's costumes. It is a lackluster experience, but this director has potential and has delivered solid films previously. 

Bodies Bodies Bodies

Movie Name:
Bodies Bodies Bodies
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Halina Reijn
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennott, Myha'la, Chase Sui Wonders, Pete Davidson, Lee Pace, Conner O'Malley
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Bodies Bodies Bodies" is Halina Reijn's sophomore feature, following her directorial debut "Instinct", which features the always excellent Carice Van Houten in the lead role. "Bodies Bodies Bodies" follows the story of Sophie and Bee, a young couple who are traveling to meet a group of Sophie's friends at a posh residence, owned by the family of Sophie's best friend, David. Upon their arrival, they notice the group includes, beyond David, his girlfriend Emma, Alice and her older boyfriend Greg, and Jordan. Another guest by the name of Max, left due to a fight with David. They're having a hurricane party, as an actual hurricane is about to happen. They engage in drugs and drinking, at at some point decide to play the game "Bodies Bodies Bodies", a murder in the dark style of game. The men of the group soon opt out of the game, and the storm is soon lashing out against the residence. The power goes out and as the group scurries to find out an alternative power source, they discover David's body outside, with his throat slashed. They panic, try calling the police but have poor cell phone reception and try to leave the scene in Sophie's car, but the battery is dead. As the group tries to uncover who is the culprit behind David's death, accusations and suspicions start arising with them.
There's something about "Bodies Bodies Bodies" that has a slight nod to Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians", where a group of friends comes together, invited by a host, someone dies, and the rest of the group spends their time figuring out who did it. However "Bodies Bodies Bodies" and director Halina Reijn take the narrative in a different direction, by both emphasizing the body count/bloodshed, and also by making the context in which these characters live a very specific one (or at least one mildly representative of the times we live in and of a specific demographic), namely one of opulence and ennui. For the most part, the director manages to capture both the relationships between the characters, including some of their dissatisfaction towards each other, even resentment, and also the privilege in which they live. However where the film falters is the lack of illustration on who these characters actually are. All of these characters, with the possible exception of Maria Bakalova's Bee, are extreme interpretations of what a cliché of a person actually is (case in point, Alice's shrill behavior, associated with the character that always has to be the alarmist and prejudiced). Bee is the sole character that is given some additional dimension, motivation and reasoning for her actions. Much of what happens throughout this narrative is indeed an extreme representation of questionable decision making from a group of self entitled characters, but it almost equates the demographic being represented as amoral individuals, which in itself is somewhat of a judgmental stance to have on a group being confronted with such an extreme situation. The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, with highlights going to Maria Bakalova, Lee Pace and Rachel Sennott. The production values are not particularly inspired. It is a watchable film and it does ask some pertinent questions, in the middle of all the insanity that occurs, but it could have benefited a bit more of both nuance and character development. 

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Seventh Son

Movie Name:
Seventh Son
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Starring: Ben Barnes, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Antje Traue, Olivia Williams, Kit Harington, Djimon Hounsou, Gerard Plunkett, Jason Scott Lee, Kandyse McClure, Luc Roderique, Timothy Webber, Lilah Fitzgerald
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Seventh Son" is based on Joseph Delaney's "Spook's" series, in particular the first tome of the series, "The Spook's Apprentice". The narrative takes place in the 16th century and focuses on the story of Tom Ward, who is an apprentice to Gregory, the last of the Falcons, an order created to defend mankind against supernatural threats. Gregory lost his prior apprentice at the hands of the powerful witch Malkin, who seeks revenge against Gregory. Initially Gregory and Tom don't seem like the best fit, as they don't get along, but as Tom becomes more aware of Gregory's reasonings and course of action, he learns to admire his patron. Tom also makes an acquaintance with a woman by the name of Alice, who is about to be burned as a witch. Tom saves her, but it turns out she is Malkin's niece and has been tracking them. In the interim Malkin is also assembling an army, since a full blood moon is arriving soon, which will restore her full powers. And when that happens, she wants to extend her dominance everywhere. As Tom and Gregory, with the latter's assistant in tow (Tusk is his name) continue onwards to locate Malkin, she and her gang go about spreading destruction and death, with one of those mortal victims being Tom's mother, herself a witch (unknown to Tom), who gifted him with a necklace that may change how the battle is going to unfurl. 
In many celebrated actors and actresses careers, there are titles that are puzzling as to what drove some of those very talented artist to tackle such material. "Seventh Son" is one of those cases, a film that contains a wide array of very talented actors and actresses, who were probably thinking this was going to be a case similar to what Peter Jackson achieved with "The Lord of the Rings" adaptation, but which ended up being more similar in tone and output to the dismal "Eragorn", directed by Stefen Fangmeier. The main issue with this film in particular lies with the fact that there isn't much to these characters that goes beyond a mere sketch: there isn't much nuance or distinctiveness to them. Peter Jackson's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" managed to not only capture the unique footprint of each character, it also captured the spirit and environment in which these characters existed. He managed to bring Middle Earth to life, by making it almost a character of its own. "Seventh Son" tries to tell its story very succinctly, but does so by sacrificing relationships between characters, and also never truly rendering the fantastical world in which they live in a truly meaningful way (the ogre's assistant is just taken at face value, though not much context to him is ever volunteered). The film comes across as something rushed, with questionable visual effects (some ostensibly cheap): something like a cheap magic trick, meant to momentarily blind you like  a shiny bauble, all the while the lack of quality to the trick is in plain sight for all to see. The cast tries their best with what they have, which at times means amping up the overacting, which is what Julianne Moore sadly does here. Jeff Bridges manages to keep his dignity intact, as does Alicia Vikander. But it's a film that is ultimately a disservice for everyone involved. The production team is top notch, including Newton Thomas Sigel's cinematography, the stunning production design from Dante Ferretti, and beautiful costumes from Jacqueline West. It's a missed opportunity, material that a director with more vision could have navigated to something more memorable.