Monday, February 22, 2016

Gods of Egypt ★★

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    "Gods of Egypt" may be the most beautiful movie ever shot with a digital camera (technophiles would be pleased to know that the film puts the newest Panavision Primo lenses into practice without hesitancy), but who's to say that this is a good thing? Director Alex Proyas, who last worked on the science-fiction thriller entitled "Knowing," wanted a big budget and enough artistic freedom to make any filmmaker green with envy, but this flashy, clunky excuse for a picture certainly has more missteps than triumphs, and I could never get past its overreliance on special effects and dialogue that is overtly cheap and hollow. There's also a nagging issue with the actors' costumes, which are mostly in pristine conditionI guess all that icky desert sand would have made the film just too darn authentic.

    Wardrobes aside, it is a schizophrenic tone that helps "Gods of Egypt" become a choice example of bad scriptwriting (the movie is one part epic and three parts goof fest), and although the picture has that movieness quality that so many audiences long for, it is simply too lengthy and too predictable to be deemed an outright success. And I regret even mentioning this, but as much as the film enthralls with its lavish visuals and squeaky-clean appearance, there does seem to be a problem with the integration of the special effects. (Meaning, we're not supposed to be able to differentiate between the foreground and the backdrop, and "Gods" not only makes this all too easy, but there are several action scenes that deserve the designation of cringeworthy.)

    The lackluster story: Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), god of the sky and heir to the throne of Egypt, is just about to be crowned king, that is, of course, until Set (Gerard Butler), god of the desert and all things tinged with darkness, swoops in and proclaims himself to be the rightful successor. (Apparently, Set feels as if he has been neglected all these years considering his brother, Osiris, has ruled, and he has been confined to the arid, drab portion of Egypt.) Horus will have to reclaim his dignity and derail the dastardly plans of his uncle if peace and prosperity are to be returned to the land and its people. But wait, there's moreBek (Brenton Thwaites), a common thief and doubter of the Gods, must work with Horus to bring back his lost love in Zaya (Courtney Eaton), and if I divulge any more of the plot, then I risk spoiling the few surprises that the film haphazardly provides.

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    Apart from Butler, who gives life to a character that is less than deserving, there isn't much to praise in the acting department, yet I will say that the young actors on hand fail to impress in roles that are built to showcase their talents. Furthermore, Coster-Waldau is overly wooden in a part that surely required more enthusiasm, and most of the other performances were positively phoned in. This is not to mention the fact that every single actress that appears on screen dons some scantily clad outfit designed to enhance features that have little to do with actual aptitude; I haven't seen this much cleavage outside of a Russ Meyer picture.   

    I'd be lying if I said that "Gods of Egypt" didn't embody that big box-office flair, yet it really doesn't amount to much. (Depending on the film's performance, financially speaking, we might just have the first flop of the new year. Thank God for those Australian tax incentives.) Proyas did his job—the camerawork on display is sufficient enough, and there are a few exceptional uses of forced perspective and foreground framing—but this addition to the sword-and-sandal or neo-mythology genre would hardly qualify as memorable, and if this were a genuine depiction of ancient Egypt, then I would sincerely have no part of it. (Oversized flying scarabs and giant fire-breathing snakes make it into this unusual fantasy realm, and whether purposely or not, the film saps the romanticism out of this otherwise unforgettable era of history.) There are a number of themes at play (there's a statement on class and a conveyance of equality, as well as an anti-materialist message), but it is impossible to focus on such things when the movie's standout attribute is its appearance. For the record, I give "Gods of Egypt" a "C" for creativity.         

    As for the whitewashing issue that seems to pervade the production: One must know that this practice of casting mainly Caucasian actors in parts that warrant ethnical authenticity is entirely common. In fact, one could say that this exercise is as old as the industry itself. Now, I'm not going to sit here and crucify the picture for its shameless ethnical inaccuracies (the casting of Geoffrey Rush as the sun god Ra should raise some eyebrows); I'm sure that it wouldn't make a difference either way. Sad to say, revenue and eminence will always take the place of believability, and whitewashing will continue in Hollywood as long as moneymaking is the name of the game.      

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Zoolander 2 ★1/2

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    There should be a new golden rule in Hollywood: If a sequel cannot be generated within a reasonable time frame, let's say a decade after the original, then please, do us all a favor and leave the script in the wastebasket where it belongs. As a matter of fact, make it five years. This way, critics can avoid writing condemnatory pieces littered with sarcasm and phrases that are as scornful as much as they are sincere; perhaps audiences can protect themselves (and their wallets) from pictures that are just plain awful—"really, really ridiculously" awful. (I would like to apologize in advance for what will indisputably become a scathing and negative review. One must know that it doesn't give me pleasure.)

    Of course, timing is seldom used as a determiner of a movie's merit, but you know, sometimes it should be. It is universally accepted that sequels, no matter the sort, rarely give rise to good results, and if they linger in development limbo for too long, the end product will usually speak of this notion. And yet, that doesn't seem to be the case here. "Zoolander 2" practically followed the same production path as "Dumb and Dumber To," which means that it was created out of desperation as opposed to prolonged and poor decision making. (Both films give off this sense of enervation as if the comedic minds behind the scenes had exhausted every last feasible joke and bad pun.) Now, I'm not saying that Ben Stiller made this movie because he ran of material, but perhaps there was a paucity of projects ready for producing.

    So, just how lousy is "Zoolander 2?" Well, apart from the film's imbecilic plot and distasteful dialogue, there is a plenitude of jests that clearly fall short of comical, and the entire moviegoing experience can best be summarized as uninterestingly flat and astoundingly vexatious. (The term "dullsville" did come to mind on more than one occasion.) And the fact that it is predominantly nonsensical has nothing to do with itI mean, it surely has the same stupidity that powered the originaljust with less laughter. Mirthful moments are superseded by celebrity cameos, and much like the twosome of Harry and Lloyd, it is the characters' unceasing staticity that necessitates failure. (Derek Zoolander is about the dumbest on-screen persona I've ever encountered; his lack of intelligence deserves our sympathy, not our enjoyment.)

    I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Regardless of how you spin it, "Zoolander 2" is scarcely entertaining. I can hear the retorts now"But comedy is subjective." Although a factual statement, I am speaking on behalf of the individuals who have an intellectual endowment beyond that of a kindergartner. (The film's aim at satire is far more saddening than it is humorous; there are so many misfires and poorly executed punchlines that I almost felt bad for the actors who had to read such rubbish.) "The Cable Guy" was funny. "Tropic Thunder" was, may I say, borderline ingenious. "Zoolander 2" is simply shameful.

    It's rather hard for me to place all the blame on Ben Stiller (he is verily one of the last great comedy figures left in Hollywood), but as you can see, there is no other option. He wrote, directed and marketed this miserable excuse for a movie, and it is moments like these when I can't help but question as to what a filmmaker was thinking. But let's focus on the positives, shall we? "Zoolander 2" may be a shoddy addition to the comedy genre, yet it also serves as a first-class example of wasteful spending. Instead of committing to a project of this caliber, Stiller could have continued his journey as a director with pictures like "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," which was a story that needed to be told (or retold). This is one of those films that I'm sure was a riot to make but painful for us to watch.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Deadpool ★★★1/2

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     "Deadpool" is unreasonably vulgar, ill mannered, disturbed, salacious, and, at times, it can be downright depraved. I could run off countless adjectives of the like; however, I think you get the gist of it. And yet, it might just be the greatest superhero origin tale to ever grace the big screen. (While the character of Wade Wilson can ultimately be deemed an antihero, considering his inability to engage in selfless acts, for the sake of this discussion, I'm afraid that we must view this film solely as a constituent of the much-exhausted superhero genre.)

    Ryan Reynolds stars as the rude and crude central protagonist, and, you guessed it, Reynolds is a perfect cast. He is truly an uncanny representation of this maniacal, eccentric human being. In fact, he is so chipper in this rolewhich features an endless array of explicit and derogatory languagethat any future return to the romantic comedy variety for this leading actor may be in jeopardy. (Needless to say, I'm sure that most audiences will forgive any occupational collateral damage that results from this production.)

    When it comes to Reynolds' performance here, it's not so much about technique or method as much as it is about destiny. Clearly, Reynolds was born to personate this rather sardonic individual, and it would be relatively impossible not to notice a sense of relishing after every spoken line. (What performer wouldn't kill for a portrayal infused with this copious amount of range and freedom?) Throw in a bit part played by the always amusing T.J. Miller (a small-time actor who is made for comedic relief) and a supporting role filled nicely by Hollywood newcomer Morena Baccarin, and you pretty much have a cast that is built for box-office success.

    Now, I could discuss the picture's boorish dialogue and over-the-top graphic violence at some length (I dare not mention the specifics, yet this is obviously not a film intended for a younger viewing audience); however, much to my surprise, it is not this irrefutable display of indecency that defines "Deadpool" but its cinematic and technical uniqueness.

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    Director Tim Miller (in what is arguably the most scandalous directorial debut since Quentin Tarantino's sordid first effort entitled "Reservoir Dogs") instills the picture with such style that it almost becomes an ingenious work of art. There is an acceptable portion of tonal irony, several "breaking of the fourth wall" moments that never fail to rouse excitement, and in some stretches, the film simply becomes a pragmatic yet riveting digital camera display.

    Even the script, penned by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick ("Zombieland" and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation"), adheres to this somewhat intelligent and sophisticated air, structurally speaking. (A bulk of the dialogue seems to comment directly on the current state of affairs; this exercise in metafiction not only supplies the picture with this rich sense of refinement, but it essentially adds an extra layer of depth to what can already be considered a cinematically compelling piece.) As for the film's intellectually undemanding humor: I even found myself chuckling at a number of twenty-first-century witticisms that appear to be incredibly sincere, among other things.

    And what about that ever-important plotline? You know, the aspect of the story that really determines a film's direction. Mostly, "Deadpool" doesn't overly focus on its plot, and it basically becomes an engrossing, intimate character study that shocks as it delights. (The film's non-linear structure melds action with exposition to produce an entertaining and gripping experience, and, well, it succeeds invariably.)

    Which reminds me: I think my previous statement, which commented on this particular product's sorting, needs to be rescinded; for, "Deadpool" should never be aligned with the superhero class of filmmaking. If anything, this film builds on what is now becoming a highly profitable breed of its own in Hollywoodthat being, the anti-hero genre. Of course, one could make the argument that these types of movies have been around for years, but there is very little evidence to suggest that it ever evolved into a full-blown model. (I mean, even Oskar Schindler comes off as an antihero in some capacity, yet these spirited personalities have never been more prevalent.)

    Here is a movie that's certainly more engaging than "Guardians of the Galaxy," the latter of which being the kick starter of this recent industry trend, and I believe it sets the bar perfectly for this year's upcoming "Suicide Squad." Most importantly, however, "Deadpool" seems to be the kind of picture that gives us good reason not to take it seriously. (This is something that most superhero films direly lack.) Let's face it, our society has become all too politically correct, and this unfiltered, almost Trumpian disposition provides us with a much-needed dose of reality. Hollywood needs "Deadpool."