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Exodus

Exodus film posterSynopsis

Based on the biblical story of Moses leaving Pharoah Rameses’ court and learning of his Hebrew identity.  He meets God’s messenger at the burning bush.  Moses wants to free the Hebrew slaves but Rameses doesn’t agree and so is visited by the plagues.  The slaves are released then pursued by Pharoah, whose army is drowned in the Red Sea which parted for the Hebrews.

Ridley Scott’s movie is always aware of the Ten Commandments (1956) starring Charlton Heston at the height of the cheesy biblical epic.  That film catered for bible-belt sensibilities of the time.  Heston was a granite monument to stolid acting, the scenes could have come out of a Jehovah’s witnesses prayerbook.  Scott seems uneasy with the religious aspects of the story since he’s determinedly low key, wanting to avoid the embarrassments of cornball sentiment which Scott can’t resolve.  His vision of God’s messenger is a middle class British schoolboy aiming for understatement but undoing it by attacks of childish petulance, presumably substituting for God-like authority.  It’s that same trick of demurral which apologizes for numinous impart.  This is the educated liberal approach to religious mysticism for the Harry Potter generation.  This same syndrome stalked Willem Defoe in Last Temptation.  If Scott is uneasy with religion why make this film at all?  It’s analogous to doing a ‘realistic’ Robin Hood.  When the whole point is that Robin Hood should be a preposterous fantasy.  It doesn’t offend and neither does it steer between these temptations.

The sets are sumptuous and the plagues have good special effects.  The acting is pretty good, dominated by Australians.  Rameses the Pharoah becomes ever more reptilian under his face paint.  His tyranny subtly probes for advantage.  The tone of voice now overawes, and now deceives to 0kill.  Bale looks reliably tortured as he gazes nobly into any reminder of his conscience.  Rameses and Pharoah are the brothers who learn they are not so:  loss and finding of self, about keeping faith with one’s identity.  It’s a message that’s become urgently pertinent to our world.

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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Noah

Noah film posterSynopsis

Aronofsky’s film about the biblical hero of the flood.  It’s a post industrial ravaged world and the Creator has sent a warning to Noah. about a flood to destroy wicked humanity.  He receives this message through Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Noah is helped in his ark building by angels trapped in rock.  Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone) and his people want to get on board the ark and so there is conflict.  The ark sails. Noah’s daughter (Emma Watson) is giving birth but Noah thinks he must sacrifice the babies because he’s entrusted by the Creator to rebuild nature and end the human race…

Review

A short paragraph in Genesis becomes the blueprint for an epic science film.  Noah presents us with Crowe playing the eco warrior determined to save nature and cleanse the world of human wickedness by ensuring there’s no one left to be wicked.  Tubal Cain as played by Ray Winstone, is involved in a macho face off with Crowe.  I couldn’t get over the absurdity of the angels of light trapped in rock, they look like something out of a cereal commercial.  Noah and family look like backpackers in a post industrial world and I’m not sure this will go down well with those who revere the bible.  Indeed, the film has to steer fairly cleverly through the offence-sensitive strictures of contemporary monotheistic religions (but it is still banned in some Muslim countries).  Noah as eco-warrior is a pragmatic solution to this.  Aronofsky shows Noah as self destructive obsessive (just like the ballerina in his film Black Swan) and Crowe is good on carrying the portentous weight of the Creator’s designs.  His family drama ensures the stark simplicity of a parable considering the gloomy menagerie they’re sailing on (Adam and Eve look like two aliens wandering around in a pretentious commercial).  Noah invites us to spot other biblical stories it contains.  The most obvious is the recreation of life after the flood, the ark as a Garden of Eden.  There is also an allusion to Abraham being prepared to sacrifice Isaac as Noah holds the knife over Emma Watson’s infant.  The ark itself is a tar splattered wooden box containing masses of anaesthetised fauna, and is also a floating forest.  I couldn’t help comparing it with John Huston’s version of this story in The Bible made in 1967.  That film didn’t have the benefit of CGI but was a faithfully sentimental rendering of the bible story.  Its inoffensive jollity papering over the scientific implausibilities of the events.  Crowe’s Noah is a darker even malignant force in a world beyond Hobbesion nightmare.  Patchy but usually good to look at.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips film posterSynopsis

About the real life incident in 2009 in which Somali pirates attack an American cargo ship that is carrying water and food for Africa.  Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips who evade the pirates once but cannot for the second attack. The Somalis are led by Barkhad Abdi.  They take over the bridge and look for the rest of the crew.  Barkhad Ali is overpowered by the crew and in an exchange the Somalis leave the ship but with Captain Phillips as their prisoner.  US Navy SEALS come to the rescue and try to release Captain Phillips…

Review

Paul Greengrass is a master of action, he made the Bourne films.  Tom Hanks plays Phillips as a decent solid American of Irish ancestry, Barkhad Abdi calls him “Irish” as if to give a quirkily human touch to the violence. Phillips can be relied upon to sympathise to a degree with the Somalis’ plight and initially he does this even at pistol point.  Their leader Barkhad Abdi tells Phillips the seas around the Horn of Africa have been overfished and the resulting poverty drives Somalis to drastic actions but he undermines this point morally by saying that the raid is big business.  As such it lacks the demonic element that membership of Al Quaeda would give the piracy, especially for the US and the west.  There is a lot of shouting and macho posturing which continues to the point of wearisome melodrama.  In the kidnap boat, Phillips misses an opportunity to gain further insight into the Somalis’ dire predicament, all we get is an acknowledgement at the start that they are persecuted by warlords and big money.  The juxtaposition of Phillips’ affluent American life and that of the pirates is amazingly stark.  The Somali landscape looks bleak, like a vast macquette for images that can verge perilously close to ‘noble savage’ condescension.  Phillips is kidnapped by the Somalis, there is no ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ of real emotional support for his kidnappers, there is too much adrenalin pumped action for that.  Hanks plays Phillips as we all would be in this situation: plain stupefied with fright.  The film really goes down the pipes when the American naval forces come into play.  I appreciate that this really happened, but inevitably it makes the film look like yet another triumphalist advertisement for good old Captain America.  I wanted to know more about the Somalis.  One amazing innovation over previous wars is the detailed knowledge the US Navy has on the Somali pirates, each of the enemy has a human face and background.  It’s a mostly absorbing film, but in the end I felt like I’d had a fight with a drunk in a rolling metal box.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Grey

The Grey posterSynopsis

Set in Alaska in the snow and pine forests where wolf packs live.  Liam Neeson plays a rifleman who is hired by a petroleum company to hunt wolves that attack people.  He is a loner who longs for his wife and nearly kills himself.  He is on a plane with rough frontier people.  The plane crashes in icy wilderness and as Neeson uses his skills to become the leader facing down macho competition from the surviving group.  They all face death,,,

Criticism

The film starts out with the stereotypically rugged loner with an emotionally difficult past, and he’s on a plane with familiarly rugged attitudes and faces you find in many westerns.  The plane crashes and I wondered if we were in for Lost with ice and snow.  Instead a very watchable film survived the early crash.  We have also seen lots of survival films in which the best and strongest guy prevails over the inevitable challenge to his natural authority.  When his leadership is contested we expect his rivals to be motivated by weakness and cynical self disappointment and The Grey has quite a bit of that  Then we get a creepy family man telling the group about his relationship with his family, this is the survival equivalent of the war film in which a soldier shows an enemy soldier his family photograph in order to establish his credentials as a human being under the uniform.  The Grey does all this but it works, after all what would people in extreme situations talk to one another about?  The simplified confrontations are used for the benefit of the film because of the limitations of time.  We wouldn’t pay to watch a film where someone just mumbles inanely in the snow for a couple of hours, would we? Come to think of it, that’s what we get in a lot of mainstream films anyway.

The Grey does a creditable job of steering us through and beyond the usual confrontational reliabilities:  winning over the sneering cynic, the sensitive guy dying, the bloody minded maverick who finally realizes he can’t make it without the others, the ritualized recognition of our animality (they eat a wolf’s carcass and one of the characters hacks off the wolf’s head in a sort of blood rite).  Throughout all this, Liam Neeson emerges as a monument of stern self reliance, his features like a bony mask of patience and suffering.  A sort of nature mysticism welds their solidarity in the face of icy wilderness and predatory wolves who stalk them.  When people face unwanted ordeals  of pain and endurance (like surviving in wildernesses and enduring childbirth) it shows the pathetically childish nonsense of machismo in stark relief, and people will suffer what they can the more reluctantly, the more heroically.  The Grey is at its best when it shows all this.  They have to get off a mountain by crossing over to the forest below and one of them falls and crashes into the trees hallucinating his daughter as he dies.  Their acceptance of probable death is what endows these otherwise unremarkable people with tragic heroism.  There is dark humour and then acceptance of death.  This reminded me of Jack London stories also set in the Alaskan forests.  Watching this film is a bit like studying a manuel for survival after a plane crash.  We learn that wolves have to be faced down in a confrontation, that the alpha wolf will send in a low status wolf to test the opposition.  Mercifully in The Grey we don’t hear about cannibalism or get any cannibal jokes, the main thing is to build a fire and eat the wolves.

A spectacular adventure.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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