Gods of Egypt


Choke like an Egyptian.

Choke like an Egyptian.

(2016) Swords and Sandals Fantasy (Summit) Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Koster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Courtney Eaton, Elodie Yung, Bryan Brown, Rachel Blake, Emma Booth, Chadwick Boseman, Rufus Sewell, Alexander England, Goran D. Kleut, Yaya Deng, Geoffrey Rush, Abbey Lee, Kenneth Ransom, Bruce Spence, Robyn Nevin. Directed by Alex Proyas

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What power, dare I say, is more absolute than that of a god? And if that’s the case, does that not make gods the most corrupt of all creatures?

Ancient Egypt had it’s share of Gods and at one time, they not only walked among men but they ruled as well. Osiris (Brown) who rules the Valley of the Nile is getting ready to pass the crown on to his son, Horus (Koster-Waldau). Attending the festivities are Bek (Thwaites), a thief and a bit of a con artist and his girlfriend Zaya (Eaton), a beautiful young lady with an eye for beautiful things.

Also attending is Set (Butler), the brother of Osiris who rules the desert. Having a kingdom of scorpions and sand to rule hasn’t exactly put him in the best of moods and being a treacherous sort, he takes the opportunity to seize power from his brother, murdering him in the process. He also fights Horus and defeats him, plucking out his eyes in the process.

This sets up a despotic rule in which Set enslaves most of the population of Egypt to build obelisks, towers and temples – to Set including one tower that rises higher than any in tribute to Ra (Rush), the sun god more powerful than any other and the father to Set and the late Osiris. Oh, and did I mention that the gods bleed molten gold? Not so much an important plot point as an interesting factoid, that.

In any case, with the architect Urshu (Sewell) designing these monuments to human misery and enslaving Zaya as his personal assistant, Zaya convinces Bek that the only way to alleviate the suffering is to get Horus back in the game and she happens to know where his eyes – well, one of them anyway – is being kept. Bek being the master thief that he is retrieves it but at a terrible cost.

Now with an emotional stake in the game, Bek delivers the eye to Horus in a temple way out in the middle of the desert. At first Horus is none to keen on involving himself in the affairs of humans but he does have a strong streak of vengeance. With the aid of Hathor (Yung), the goddess of love who happens to be Horus’ lover and Thoth (Boseman), the arrogant god of intelligence, Horus and Bek must divine a way to defeat the evil Set and set things right in Egypt but Set has some allies and monsters to throw against the small band of rebels.

This CGI-laden effects fest is directed by Proyas, who has in the past done some memorable work (The Crow, Dark City). He has shown himself to have an imaginative visual sense and that comes out in spades here. What he didn’t have was an adequate budget or a satisfactory script.

The CGI here is for the most part lame and there is nothing that can kill a movie more easily than bad CGI. It mostly looks shoddy and unrealistic, from the elephants hauling stone to the building sites that look like they came from a videogame twenty years ago, to vistas of cities that look like they came from websites ten years ago. I don’t know if the sheer amount of computer images overwhelmed the effects houses that the filmmakers contracted, or if they gave them unrealistic deadlines – or if they simply contracted cheaper effects houses that didn’t have the capabilities to pull off the work (most likely explanation). Whatever the cause, I was constantly pulled out of the movie because the effects were noticeably bad.

The script also has a lot of lapses of logic and is riddled with cliches. If you’re going to do an epic like this, the least you can do is at least try not to cobble together a story that steals elements from other movies, including some that aren’t very good. At times, it seemed like the story existed to show off the visual effects – and we all know how those turned out. And what’s the deal with making the gods slightly taller than the humans (by two to three feet)? It’s distracting and unnecessary. Horus looks like Plastic Man upon occasion; all he needed was the goggles.

At least Butler and Koster-Waldau acquit themselves as well as can be expected; both are dynamic actors who can at least command the attention of the audience. Rush provides some needed gravitas, although quite frankly one gets the sense that he also found the script ridiculous and made an effort to get this over with as quickly as possible. I imagine he won’t be including his work here on any audition tapes.

I will give credit where credit is due; as much bashing of the visuals as I’ve done, some of the visuals have some imagination to them which I can only assume come from Proyas as he has a history of such things. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of that to overcome the fact that this movie looks bad and tells its story badly. Only the charisma of the antagonists really saves this movie from being completely unwatchable which hopefully will translate to better movies for the both of them.

REASONS TO GO: Butler and Koster-Waldau make fine antagonists. Some imaginative visuals.
REASONS TO STAY: El Crappo CGI. Incoherent script lacks imagination.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of sexuality and plenty of fantasy violence and action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Proyas himself is Egyptian, born of Greek parents in the city of Alexandria.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/8/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% positive reviews. Metacritic: 23/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Immortals
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Boom Bust Boom

I, Robot


Ever feel alone in a crowd?

Ever feel alone in a crowd?

(2004) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood, Adrian L. Ricard, Chi McBride, Jerry Wasserman, Fiona Hogan, Peter Shinkoda, Terry Chen, David Haysom, Scott Heindl, Sharon Wilkins, Craig March, Shia LaBeouf, Simon R. Baker, Kyanna Cox, Emily Tennant, Tiffany Knight. Directed by Alex Proyas

Isaac Asimov was one of the giants of science fiction. Like many of the sci-fi writers of the golden age (and on into today), he had a scientific background. He also had an interest in robotics and wrote many stories on the subject.

Detective Del Spooner (Smith) of the Chicago PD lives in a world that’s a lot different than ours. For one thing, it’s 2035 and robots have become ubiquitous particularly in doing the kind of jobs humans don’t like doing – waste disposal, household work, drudgery. Spooner has a thing about robots – he doesn’t trust them. He’s a bit of a technophobe, preferring the world of the early 21st century which he considers to be the good ol’ days.

When kindly scientist Dr. Alfred Lanning (Cromwell) takes a header from the top of his company’s skyscraper, it looks like suicide at first but Spooner ain’t buying it. Lanning was responsible for most of the advances in robotics that have allowed robots to be so prevalent and his company was about to release their latest model. Their CEO (Greenwood) is keen that there is no hint of trouble on the eve of the release that will put one of their new models in every U.S. home.

Spooner doesn’t like that idea much, particularly since he has a nasty hunch that a robot had something to do with Dr. Lanning’s death. The robot, a twitchy sort named Sonny (Tudyk) may be the key to unlocking a nasty little conspiracy. Disbelieved by his superiors, on the run from homicidal robots and with only a comely robot psychologist (Moynahan) on his side, Spooner will have to save the day – or see humanity become slaves to robots.

It’s hard to believe it but this movie is ten years old now. Doesn’t seem that long since I saw it in the theater but thus is the passage of time. While the CGI  was groundbreaking in its time, these days it looks a little bit dated which is the big trouble with CGI – someone’s always inventing a better mouse trap in the field.

The filmmakers brought in Akiva Goldsman to make the film Will Smith-centric and this is definitely a Will Smith film. He’s onscreen nearly the entire time, and to be honest Spooner isn’t much of a deviation from the typical formula of Will Smith characters. Agent J and Spooner would get along fine.

The character of Sonny is largely shot in motion capture with Tudyk providing both the movement and the voice of the robot and it’s right on, a cross between HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Niles from Frazier. Sonny of all the robots has personality, showing more than the colorless emotionless mechanical voice that we normally get for robots. Sonny can get frustrated and angry but also expresses compassion born of his adherence to the three laws of robotics (an Asimov invention that plays an important role here). Sonny in many ways is more real a character than many flesh and blood characters in the movie.

What irritated me here is that the movie has the opportunity to talk about the relationship between humans and technology and how technology is affecting us as humans. The writers take stabs at it from time to time but almost in a half-hearted manner and without much consequence. There seems to be more of a reliance on car chases and fight scenes than on any real thought. On that aspect, Asimov would have been rolling in his grave had he seen what had become of his work although in all honesty there really isn’t enough of it in there to justify labeling this with Asimov’s name. This turns out to be sheer popcorn entertainment – not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that it could have been so much more. And should have been.

WHY RENT THIS: Sonny is as fully-realized a character as CGI will allow. Will Smith just being Will Smith.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Storyline weak and full of missed opportunities.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some fairly intense but stylized action sequences and brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the movie claims to be “inspired by Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot,” there is no story under that name written by Asimov. It is a collection of short stories thematically linked to the Three Laws of Robotics. The movie was originally written separately with no link to Asimov but when Fox optioned the Asimov stories it was decided to adapt the existing screenplay to include the Three Laws and add a character from Asimov’s stories.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: While the original DVD release had no additional features of consequence, the All-Access Collector’s Edition has a Director’s toolbox looking at the three main special effects houses that worked on the film and followed their specific assignments for the film. There are also interviews with Asimov’s daughter and editor discussing the late author’s views on how robots would impact the future. The toolbox feature is also available on the Blu-Ray edition in a truncated from.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $347.2M on a $120M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blade Runner

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Rid of Me

Knowing


Nicolas Cage is irate - not because the plane crashed but because he was forced to fly coach.

Nicolas Cage is irate - not because the plane crashed but because he was forced to fly coach.

(Summit) Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, D.G. Maloney, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend, Alethea McGrath, Danielle Carter, Adrienne Pickering, Alan Hopgood, Ben Mendelsohn, David Lennie. Directed by Alex Proyas

We are all of us curious to one degree or another about the future. It is the infinite unknown, and yet we are all touched by it. After all, we are all meant to live in it, although sooner or later our future comes to a halt, and then we die. While we are curious about our future, we are less curious about the nature of our own demise. After all, who wants to know how and when they are to meet their maker? Would knowing make any difference whatsoever?

It is 1959 and the William Dawes Elementary School has opened its doors for the very first time. Miss Taylor (Carter), a teacher there, is pleased and delighted that one of the students in her class was responsible for the idea that was selected to mark the occasion; a time capsule to which all the students would submit drawings of what they thought the future would look like. The winning student, Lucinda (Robinson), is an odd sort; quiet and distracted, she is tormented by the sound of whispering voices which only she can hear. While her classmates are drawing rocket ships and robot, she is furiously, almost mechanically, writing a sequence of seemingly random numbers. A little unnerved, Miss Taylor puts her sheet of numbers into an envelope, and along with all the other envelopes, into the time capsule where it will remain sealed in the ground.

It is 2009 and young Caleb Koestler (Canterbury), a student at Dawes, is preparing for the anniversary celebration the next day. His father John (Cage), an astrophysics professor at M.I.T., is grieving the loss of Caleb’s mother (Pickering) in a hotel fire the previous year. While he appears to be functioning, he’s numbing himself out with alcohol and musing on whether the universe is orderly, marching along to a plan, or is simply a random sequence of coincidences which ultimately has no meaning.

When the time capsule is unearthed and the contents removed, it is young Caleb who receives the sequence of numbers. He takes it as a possible math puzzle, but when his father sees it, he finds that it is something far more chilling. It is a list of every major disaster in sequential order for the past fifty years. Asian tsunamis, Mexican earthquakes, 9-11, they’re all there with the date of the disaster and the exact death toll. There are, however, three events that haven’t happened yet. The last of them indicates a disaster of global proportions.

Director Proyas has been responsible for some of the most innovative and interesting movies of the past ten years, including The Crow and Dark City. This is one of his more mainstream efforts. The premise is intriguing, to say the least, but the execution is a little bit disappointing. From a technical standpoint, this is a very well-made film. The effects are spectacular bordering on terrifying, but at times they seem to be the reason the film was made to begin with, never a good thing.

The problem here is a script ponderously heavy with coincidence and contrivance. For example, how does John Koestler deduce that the sequence of numbers is all about disasters? Believe me, it’s a pretty impressive string of numbers but to randomly pull a few numbers from the string and determine it refers to 9-11 stretches credibility past the breaking point. Throw in a group of eerie strangers who watch in unnerving silence and you’ve got Armageddon meets Dark City meets Close Encounters. It’s unnecessarily complex, and yet you feel like you’ve seen it all before. By the time you reach the film’s godawful ending, you’re convinced you’ve already seen it before.

I’d pay ten bucks to watch Cage gargle with Listerine, but he doesn’t have much support – okay, make that any. Rose Byrne is hideous as the grown daughter of Lucinda who doesn’t have much to do beyond getting hysterical and acting not so much as a mother fighting for the safety and well-being of her child, but basically like a panicked hysteric. She’s a mom, but without a maternal instinct. Da Queen found her thoroughly unbelievable, but that was more the fault of the script. However, she did chew the scenery ever so thoroughly. 

Much of the movie rests on the shoulders of the child actors playing Caleb, Lucinda and Abby (Lucinda’s granddaughter, played by the same juvenile actress who plays Lucinda), and for the most part the kids are alright, particularly Robinson as the tormented Lucinda. However, the screenwriters turn Caleb into one of those preternaturally mature children who don’t really exist in real life. It’s a Hollywood mistake and it takes you out of the movie early and often.

The movie is not without some merit – Proyas is an outstanding director with a great hand for science fiction. Unfortunately this movie is a bit of a mess, a concept that looked great on paper but became unwieldy in practice. It’s a great looking mess, and Nicolas Cage is in it so it’s at least a palatable mess, but a mess nonetheless.

WHY RENT THIS: The disaster sequences are riveting, and often terrifying. Nicolas Cage is one of those actors whose presence in a movie will motivate me to see the movie regardless of plot or anything else. The whole concept is rather intriguing.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is poorly written in places, relying too much on contrivance and coincidence. Once you get past Cage, the acting becomes a bit rocky. The ending strains credulity and there are too many unnecessary plot threads.

FAMILY VALUES: The disaster sequences may be too intense for those who are sensitive about mayhem. Children are placed in jeopardy, which is offensive to some. Otherwise, this is pretty much fine for all members of the family except for the very young and impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The equation on the blackboards during the classroom sequence are actually clever mathematic predictors of the events that take place at the end of the movie.

NOTABLE DVD  EXTRAS: An interesting feature on the apocalypse, exploring the origins of the concept and scientific thought on how it might actually occur.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Man on Wire