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Friday, December 26, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings

There's no "Rock Angels" in sight here... but Exodus: Gods and Kings is all the worse for it.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

You know the story. Sent down the Nile river in a basket to avoid Pharoah's decree of the drowning of all baby boys new-born to their Jewish (or “Israelite”) slaves, Moses was saved by Pharaoh's daughter who raised him as her own in Pharaoh's court. As he grows older though, Moses is made aware of his alien lineage and through a particularly uncanny encounter with a burning bush, his destiny is revealed to him: to stand up and lead his nation out of their bondage in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan.

What we thought

As a practicing Jew, I am, shall we say, quite familiar with the story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. It's an event that is seen as perhaps the crucial moment in the formation of the Jewish people and is not only alluded to constantly in Jewish prayers, it is something we retell in its entirety on Seder night (or on two consecutive Seder nights for those of us living outside of Israel) every single year. But then, it's hardly only Jews that are intimately familiar with this particularly archetypal story: even die-hard atheists would no doubt have come across the story of Moses countless times in their lives. Whether it's catching the Ten Commandments on your generic Classic Movies channel or reading a Superman comic book, this story has permeated Western culture in a way that arguably nothing – save perhaps for the not too dissimilar tale of Jesus Christ – has before or since.

With this in mind then, any attempt to bring this very well-tread story to the big screen once again does need a certain amount of novelty – or, at the very least, visceral power – for it to have a chance of making any sort of impact at all. Sadly, while Ridley Scoot's Exodus: Gods and Kings offers beautiful visuals, strong performances and an epic scale, it really doesn't offer anything to stop this particular retelling from feeling very, very old hat.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Best and Worst Films of 2014

It's that time of the year again and, though I missed it last year (sorry about that), here's my take on the best and worst in film in 2014, which, as it turns out was really rather good. 

Just a few things to keep in mind:

1) I'm going purely by South African release date so there will be a bunch of films on here that came out last year in the US and the UK, especially, and, by the same token, there will be a few that came out overseas this year that haven't been released yet. I've actually seen a number of really good films due for release in 2015 so look out for those if I do this next year.

2) I'm not rating these films in any order other than in a loose chronology. Not just because I don't have the balls to do so but because comparing, say, Guardians of the Galaxy with Calvary seems like a stupid idea.

3) I didn't try and make a balanced list between mainstream Hollywood and "art" movies. It just came out this way.

4) Whittling the best of the best to a top 25 was surprisingly difficult this year so a special shout out to stuff like The Hunger Games 3.1, Don Jon, American Hustle and a bunch of other very good to great films I simply couldn't include.

5) I could have added to the bottom list too but the good news is that most of the weaker films this year were mediocre, rather than offensively bad. Progress! 

6) Finally, I was thinking of commenting on each title but, as I have reviewed most, if not all of them, just click on any given title and it will take you to my original review!

Anyway, on with the show...

Friday, December 19, 2014

John Wick

More "meh" than "woah"...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

John Wick is a retired assassin who, while dealing with the death of his wife, is thrown back into his former world as he seeks revenge against those who took the only thing he had left of her.

What we thought

John Wick has been met with a surprising amount of praise, not only for its success as a stripped down action-thriller but for Keanu Reeves' central performance in it. As near as I can tell, this probably has more to do with how hungry general audiences are for halfway decent action movies and just how much slack most of us are willing to cut Mr Reeves than with any real merit of the film itself.

Not that it's a bad movie or that Reeves is particularly bad in it, but it's ultimately more solidly efficient than it is anything truly special and Reeves' performance is more a reminder of why he's a star in the first place than any sort of real revelation about any undiscovered acting abilities. It does its job basically, but the only reason I can see for it being as relatively lauded as it has been is that so few action thrillers these days manage to do even that.


Voodoo Child... slight return?

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After nearly losing her life in a horrific car accident, Jessabelle returns to her childhood home where she has to confront not only her estranged father and bitter sweet memories of a mother who died before she ever got to knew her but also a malicious spirit that has long been awaiting her return.

What we thought

Jessabelle has fallen prey to some criticism that it is yet another horror movie about decent white folks being terrorised by evil black people and their mysterious ways but it's actually this dynamic that holds the entire film aloft. The film is less about race relations – though it certainly touches on it – than about modern, rational Westerners being haunted by ancient forces that they can't understand: Voodoo in this particular case.

Voodoo has been of major interest to Western storytellers for years and for good reason. Whether it forms the exotic background of a particularly mad James Bond film (Live and Let Die) or acts as the “monster of the week” on an episode of the X-Files, there's unquestionably something about this highly mystical, ancient religion that strikes a chord in modern audiences.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Super Snappy Roundup Time

Actually quite a bit to talk about this past month because, as it turns out, there was more going on in cinemas last month than the latest Hunger Games movie and Interstellar. There's so much though, that I'm going to try and keep each review as brief as possible.

Boxtrolls. This might be the worst of the three Laika stop-motion films released so far but it's still a ghoulish delight where the humans are more scary than the monsters and you'll never quite look at cheese the same way again. (8/10)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. A beautifully made monumental bore of a film. The idea to stretch this short book over three long films was clearly insane and result is a bloated, clunkily written case of style over substance, featuring a mix of awful dialogue and never-ending battle scenes. Worst of all, this final film absolutely fail to make proper use of the best thing in any of the Middle Earth films: Martin Freeman as the absurdly likeable Bilbo Baggins - ya know, the "Hobbit" of the title! (4/10)

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. More of the same but less of the same. About one in ten jokes actually land and it never makes full use of its daft but potentially cool premise. Strictly for young kids only. (4/10)