Sunday, January 25, 2015

No Salvation In Sight

Exodus Gods & Kings makes two lost hours feel like wandering the desert for 40 years.


ARTH VADER (AV): I guess to be completely forthcoming, the epic biblical tale of Moses, the Egyptian prince who learns of (and eventually embraces) his hebrew heritage to herald God’s word to lead the Jewish slaves out of captivity and on a path to the promised land is the framework of this film. While the Christian Bible can be (in some circles) grounds for controversy and interpretation, the story follows the book of Exodus rather loosely. As is the case with all film adaptations, this movie takes some ‘creative liberties’ with the screenplay. But this, as the saying goes, is just the beginning. How did this movie hold up for you, old friend? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Well Vader, as far as continuity goes, anyone that has really read the scriptures knows that there is little by way of continuity with this film beyond the fact we have a man named Moses and the story takes place in Egypt. It is rare when we have a film so far from the source material that it should just be presented as something totally new with no connection to it’s given title.


AV: Christian “Batman” Bale plays the leading role of Moses, Prince of Egypt (and not very well I might say). The casting is in short, a hot mess. John “Is there another Transformers movie coming?” Turturro is cast as the Pharaoh Seti and Aaron “Jesie” Paul is cast as Joshua. If those sound like baffling casting calls (and they ALL are) try Sigourney “Ripley” Weaver who shifts in for a hot minute as Tuya. Director Ridley “Please stick to Aliens” Scott does share a stunning vision of ancient Egypt that is curiously not offensive and is a cinematic spectacle. That is to say it looks incredible. As for the acting… in a word; “meh”. What’d you think, Pontificator? 

TP: The casting of this film has been something of a controversy from the beginning Vader. Yes I acknowledge the talent of Christian (how ironic is his name given the material) Bale, Joel Edgerton, and John Turturro, but it should also be noted that all the Egyptian royalty in the film were cast with people of European descent while the underclass and places were cast with people of African descent. Not only was this historically inaccurate, but just plain ridiculous.


AV: Though I did leave the theater with my socks on, the visual effects were quite impressive. From the CGI armies in the opening conflict to the parting of the Red Sea in the film’s finale, the VFX are a spectacle to behold and gives the viewer a grand sense of scope and impressive vision. Most notable were the seven plagues that are unleashed upon the Nile and Egypt; one does a get a sense that these plagues and natural disasters are indeed overwhelming. 

TP: The special effects were done well, but I think by leaving the source material (the Bible) so far behind, it was a missed opportunity to really do some wonderful things onscreen. I really enjoyed the costuming and while no new ground was broken with the effects, there was certainly an opportunity to do much better than was done.


AV: Soapbox time here kiddies! Honestly, how many more movies must we wade through of prominent Black roles being portrayed by White actors? Christian Bale as Moses? C’mon Hollywood! Does it strike anyone as whacko that there are no prominent actors of color in movie that takes place in Africa? Whats next, redoing the Godfather with all Asian actors speaking in an Italian-American brogue? It’s getting ridiculous. And that is the word I would use to describe this whole film. Even deeper–because this is the deeper part of the review–the film seems to go out of its way to portray Moses as a crazy person and not a biblical character of historical importance. In short, the film seems to take a very neutral stance on the subjects of God, Miracles and the character of Moses himself. Spirituality aside, it’s hard to enjoy a film that has no sense of self conviction. Thoughts, P-Man? 

TP: Look... the fact that Moses and Ramses II were separated historically by 200 years is just the tip-off the iceberg for me Vader. This presentation of Moses being some schizophrenic that apparently sees children that aren’t really there was absolutely idiotic. The presentation of the plagues as some kind of explainable natural occurrences that happened by happenstance was equally idiotic. I absolutely lost it when they showed Moses chiseling the ten commandments… I mean what??? The Bible says God wrote them with his finger, but the message here is a crazy old guy that sees imaginary people somehow came up with the moral backbone of civilized society. Ridley Scott took out the very thing that makes this story so alluring and exciting… God. I honestly would have gotten more enjoyment out of watching a remastered presentation of “The Ten Commandments!


AV: Biblical spectaculars are an emerging genre in Hollywood but I don’t know if they should. This film was like a warm cup of tap water. Bland, hard to swallow, does the job but with no flavor or flair of any kind, and as you’re taking it in, you just know it could be so much better. With any luck, this will be Ridley Scott’s only biblical endeavor, seeing as how it was dedicated to his deceased brother. I will respectfully not offer any more negative feedback. 

TP: I pray (literally) that Scott stay far away from any other biblical material and they let this travesty of a film fade away in the annals of crappy interpretation and missed opportunities. 


ARTH VADER rates Exodus: Gods & Kings: So if you like biblical spectaculars (plus or minus the spectacular) than you give this flick a go. A forgettable experience to be sure but not without some merit. Also, if you like watching movies that depict horrific scenes of horse violence, then you have a winner here. I swear, Ponty more horses are killed in this film than a little bit. Still, if you’re in the mood to watch a batch of A-Listers dial-in some mediocre performances, then Exodus:God & Kings is waiting. Afterward, you’ll see why I parted with only three (3) busted blocks and was all too happy to find the promised land—namely the theater exit.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Exodus: Gods and Kings: Knowing the source material well, there was very little I enjoyed about this film aside from the costuming. It was inaccurate both biblically and historically and omitted the one element that would have made it something special…God. With that, this film only freed two (2) busted blocks and drowned the others in the Red Sea 

Exodus: Gods And Kings  2.5 / 10 Busted Blocks

Friday, January 9, 2015

One Hobbit To End Them All

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies Is A Surprisingly Exciting Finale 


ARTH VADER (AV): In what has likely been described as a horrific re-interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel that chronicles gentle Bilbo’s discovery of Sauron’s ring of power, The hobbit films have been a mish–mash of too much CGI, over-inflated plot and drawn-out story telling. Tolkien’s grand prequel to the great ‘war of the ring’ has been studied in middle-schools and high schools all over the world for nearly 40 years. The continuity of this film with it’s two predecessors is in alignment, though they have scant little to do with the original content but lets face it, these days that just doesn’t matter anymore, does it Pontificator? 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There is little to discuss here with regards to continuity Vader, since the films left the books a long time ago. Legolas is not even in the Hobbit, nor is Tauriel…but it was still entertaining to see them in this film. If it’s about accuracy to the book…we’ll have to read the book. This film was not made for accuracy, but to deliver entertainment and rake in dollars, and it does a modicum both.


AV: Nothing really new on the casting front for this film, old friend. The acting was solid, as each character reprises their roles from the previous films with some interesting introspection from Richard (Thorin Oakenshield) Armitage and Benedict (Dr. Strange) Cumberbach; as both the dragon Smaug and the frightening Necromancer. In his portrayal of the Dwarf lord struggling with his own inner turmoil, Armitage puts on a somewhat cardboard but nonetheless convincing tortured soul, adding to the old adage ‘heavy is the head that wears the crown.’ 

One thing that must be reiterated is how much of a master Peter Jackson is at depicting epic battles where massive armies collide, pan in, bring us into the battle up close and personal and then back out, is breathtaking. 

TP: There is really nothing to say concerning the casting and acting in this film–both were superb. I was especially pleased with Thorin (Richard Armitage) and Bard (Luke Evans). The directing could have been better though as I had some issues with the way the battle unfolded but I’ll get into that later.


AV: Here is where every Lord of The Rings film excels, P-Man. The opening engagement with Smaug The Terrible is CGI at its finest. While not breaking any new ground in the digital visual effects arena, the entire film is as impressive as ever. Say what you want about Jackson’s film making but these films are a wonder to behold. From the fantastic beasts to the grotesque monsters, movie-goers will be astounded at how good these films look. 

TP: We all should be very familiar with what to expect for effects in these Middle-Earth films…and this film delivers, although because of the subject of the the film, I had higher expectations than normal. The CGI was superb and the costuming was second to none, however, with that said… there is so much more that could have been done given we had an army of Elves that should have been doing all the things we have come to expect from watching Legolas (although Legolas is exceptional, regular Elves are also extremely impressive).


AV: I must confess, that after the last film (The Desolation of Smaug) I was very much expecting another visually compelling flop. What we got was a pretty good action flick, but one devoid of story, dialogue, and ultimately merit. What this says to me is we got exactly what many thought we were going to get—a long, drawn-out over-indulgent, over-blown and over-the-top series of films that told in nearly eight hours what should have taken about half that time. The Hollywood self-inflicted formula of three-film trilogy franchises makes great sense to investors, producers and the studios, Not so much for film integrity. Fantasy film giants like George Lucas (prequel trilogy) or Peter Jackson (LOTR) seem to take truly landmark works and destroy their own legacies. It’s very literally snatching defeat form the jaws of victory. And Pontificator, it is so demoralizing. How say you? 

TP: Battle of the Five Armies had me expecting to see the most epic fight scenes… ever. I mean, both300” films and “Troy” stand out for the fights and battles. Now I’m not suggesting that there be more blood and gore, that would have detracted from the film, but I am suggesting that Jackson should have taken FULL advantage of presenting an ARMY of Elves. Why didn’t we see wave upon wave of Orcs being obliterated by the more agile and skilled Elves? Look at all the Elves armed with bows and realize there is not a single arrow shot from them during the entire forty-five minutes of battle. Although there was a great showing for the Dwarven King, there should have been incredible showings for any Elf on screen. I just didn’t get the sense that the Elves were the absolute elite and most feared combatants on Middle-Earth, and that’s exactly what anyone watching the film should have gotten…from the battle, not the formation displays before the battle.

Also, where was the resolution at the end? Did the Elves get what they came to mountain for? Did the men get what was promised? Why did the battle end when the good guys were so clearly outnumbered…even with the introduction if the Eagles? There were just too many open questions the battle created instead of resolutions to the problems at hand. Am I also the only one that noticed the premier Orcs were played by indigenous New Zealanders’ Manu Bennet and John Tui (message?)?


AV: While I have (mostly) enjoyed each LOTR film installment, I don’t need anymore. 


Thank you for the wonderful experiences Mr. Jackson, I'm happy we went there and back again with you. Now lets just move on shall we? I’m sure Mr. Jackson has more tales to spin and this Tolkien world / franchise has been tapped out. That said, I vote ‘no’ to further Hobbit-flavored sequels. P-Man? 

TP: I second that vote Vader! It seems the Tolkien family has the rights to the Silmarillion so we won’t be seeing any film adaption to that any time soon. Given the way the Elves were treated in this film, that’s probably a good thing. I’m against any notion to start making up Middle-Earth stories just for films (although that works fine for video games). 


ARTH VADER rates The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies: The best thing I can (probably) say about this film – and hopefully the franchise – is that its over. This last film was a fun watch from a visual effects standpoint but it was a hot mess, no story and even less reason for being. I'm happy to have seen them all and I’m done. Still, the movie could have been worse (hardly a selling point) so for that, I give Battle of the Five Armies a fitting five (5) Busted Blocks.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies: A good film with superb acting and great effects. Out of all the Hobbit films, this should have been the one to blow the doors off the hinges. Instead I came away with a sense of unfulfilled opportunity and thoughts how it could have been better. That alone has this film cleaving only seven (7) busted blocks as the rest escape in battle. 

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies 6 /10 Busted Blocks