Latest Blog Posts
Wildwood Fire ReviewBy Ezekiel McAdams   &n

Get Connected

August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Dark Knight Moses

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday December 11, 05:16 pm
Scott’s bland Bible epic could’ve used a Xenomorph or two

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Cineplex

2/5

A few months ago, Quentin Tarantino ruffled some feathers by stating that he doesn’t plan to remain active as a filmmaker in his 60s. The man behind Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds argued that filmmaking is a young man’s game, pointing not too subtly at the mediocre output of a few, er, “veteran” directors whose best days are clearly behind them as proof.

I don’t necessarily agree with his point overall, but it’s hard to argue when you’re talking about Ridley Scott. The 77-year-old has definitely remained prolific, with a bunch of films this century — but he hasn’t made a relevant one since 2001’s Black Hawk Down. As for his last two, Prometheus squandered the public’s love for Alien, while The Counselor had a couple of good ideas lost in over-the-top nonsense.

Exodus: Gods and Kings should’ve been right in Scott’s wheelhouse, as a ridiculously expensive epic set in yesteryear. But unlike Darren Aronofsky’s approach with the unfairly maligned Noah, Scott plays it absolutely straight here, with no edge whatsoever.

The pharaoh Ramses’ brother from another mother, Moses (Christian Bale), is banished from the kingdom following the discovery of his Hebrew heritage. The rift grows exponentially when, uh, God gets involved and orders Moses to get his people from Egypt. Frogs, lice, locusts and other pests ensue.

The film often feels like going to church, and not in a good way (snooze), as Scott and the four writers involved in the script fail to find any relevant interpretation other than the obvious one. Earlier this year, Aronofsky turned the otherwise-preposterous tale of Noah into a meditation about fanaticism, while Exodus is literal to a fault. Except for where it should have been, of course: the utterly Caucasian leads are distracting, particularly against a more racially accurate background.

The vanilla stars are far from the only problem. Christian Bale uses the same overly intense, unsympathetic persona he’s employed in Terminator Salvation, Public Enemies and the Dark Knight movies, and each and every time it’s gotten a little more boring. Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby) as Ramses fares worse, as his motivations are just as muddled as his personality. Aaron Paul and Sigourney Weaver (Alien reunion!) also stumble in Exodus, but their roles are too small to register.

The break between Ramses and Moses is supposed to be harrowing, thereby shaping the rest of the movie, but their relationship is never developed far enough (or coherently enough) for us to care. A major faux pas is the character of, uh, God. Instead of the disembodied voice we’ve become used to, the film uses a kid to interact with Moses. But because we’re talking about the Old Testament, this is an angry, merciless and authoritative deity — so no matter how good the child actor is, he didn’t have a chance to be believable.

Not everything is a loss: Exodus springs to life during the depiction of the seven plagues, and Scott is clearly aware that this is the most cinematic aspect of the story, so he throws every nasty little detail onto the screen, to great effect. Unfortunately, that 15 minutes of engrossing mayhem is no match for the other two hours of handsomely shot tedium.

 

Dear White People

Broadway (opens Friday 19)

3/5

The events of the last few weeks in the U.S. have provided us with horrible evidence that racism is far from over. Whether you’re looking at interpretation of the law, police bigotry or social perception, equality clearly remains out of reach for black American communities.

Dear White People goes beyond the most obvious examples of racism and focuses instead on how discrimination exists in higher-learning institutions, and the challenges that educated black youth face in their quest for an identity.

The film has high ambitions, so much so that many of the provocative ideas included in the movie are underdeveloped. But despite that, Dear White People feels clever and fresh.

The movie follows four black Ivy League students as they navigate the tricky waters of college politics. Troy is a golden-boy type trying to turn his mildly progressive views into a political career. His positions are often challenged by Sam, a sophomore who’s less likely to compromise on matters such as the “randomization” of the one African-American house on campus. In the periphery, a smarter-than-she-lets-on girl named Coco tries to boost her social media profile in the hopes of joining the reality TV craze.

The audience surrogate is Lionel, a bespectacled geek without his own niche. He doesn’t find kinship with athletes or activists, and his sexual orientation and academic pursuits isolate him even further. He’s also the most sympathetic character of the lot.

First-time writer/director Justin Simien has a finer touch than Spike Lee, and manages complexities better than Tyler Perry. Simien doesn’t just depict conflict, he discusses the commodification of controversy. Fringe movements are not only introduced; we see them co-opted or quashed.

It’s fair to say there are three or four compelling movies inside the Dear White People hodgepodge. It’s hardly a perfect movie, but the potential on display is undeniable at every level.

 

The Homesman

Broadway (opens Saturday 20)

3.5/5

Tommy Lee Jones isn’t the most flexible of actors, but he’s definitely perfected his default role as the cranky, unexpectedly soulful loner. His output as director has also been limited but strong: the neo-western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is very much a Coen Brothers movie without the fussiness of, say, No Country for Old Men.

Jones reaches new heights with The Homesman, a western he wrote, produced, directed and stars in. The homesman of the title isn’t his character, but Mary Bee Cuddy (a terrific Hilary Swank), a smart and brave pioneer woman whose gender is her biggest handicap. Her would-be suitors say Mary is too plain and too bossy to be wife material, but it’s clear they feel threatened by her competency.

So it’s not surprising that Mary volunteers to take three women who’ve gone insane due to the harshness of their circumstances to a shelter that’s located across the country. For protection on the trip, Mary picks up a ne’er-do-well named Briggs (Jones), whom she finds hanging from a tree. The trek is treacherous, but for those in the stagecoach it’s an even darker journey into their souls.

In spite of her two Academy Awards, Hilary Swank remains criminally underrated. Sure, she’s had her fair share of failures, but when the material suits her Swank can be sublime — and this is one of those times. Her Mary Bee Cuddy is simultaneously steadfast and vulnerable, a woman ahead of her time but lost without a reference.

An openly feminist drama, The Homesman takes some interesting turns in the last quarter of the movie (one demoralizing, the other mystifying) that sets it apart from your dad’s westerns. Actually, take your dad to see it, and watch him watch the movie. That might even be double the fun.  

Back to TopShare/Bookmark