Tag Archives: Gladiator

This Weekend, See ‘Birdman,’ Skip ‘Exodus’

This weekend, a tsunami of holiday films will crash down upon us, threatening to submerge us in cinematic overindulgence.

(The deluge actually began Wednesday with the release of the final chapter of “The Hobbit.”)

With dozens of movies vying for your attention and Christmas fast approaching, it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself with much free time.

However, if you should happen to be in the mood for an alternative to the obvious yuletide fare — like “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” or “Into the Woods — there is one choice that rises above the rest, along with one over-hyped epic that deserves to be passed over.

Here’s why you should see “Birdman” and skip “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

Birdman
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (language, sexual content, brief violence)
119 minutes

There are few cinematic experiences that truly astonish, but “Birdman” is one of those rare discoveries.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s darkly funny, painful, unexpectedly deep rumination on showbiz, ego and the human condition is a movie that has to be seen to be believed. Nominated for seven Golden Globe awards, the film has a serious shot at carting off the best picture Oscar in February.

“Birdman” is exciting on several levels, beginning with the way Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki create the illusion the film was shot in one long, exhilarating take, winding its way through backstage corridors, out into New York’s Time Square and back again.

The movie is fun to watch even as Inarritu heaps his signature humiliations upon his characters, chiefly Michael Keaton’s has-been actor, who briefly tasted fame in a before-its-time superhero flick and seeks redemption by writing and starring in a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway.

The role feels more than a little autobiographical for former Batman Keaton, who basically lays all his wrinkles and a receding hairline at our feet in a vanity-free performance that is a breathtaking revelation. The entire cast of “Birdman” is amazing, including an adorably messy, big-eyed Emma Stone and Edward Norton, so vital and commanding here, you’d think he somehow resurrected his younger self from his “Fight Club” or “American History X” days.

Playfully meta with a feverish intensity that recalls “Black Swan” and “All That Jazz,” “Birdman” has smart, clever, pop culturally literate things to say about our celebrity obsessed society. It’s the anti-“Avengers,” but like a good comic book movie, it’s a total rush.

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings

Exodus
Two stars (out of four)
PG-13 (violence, battle sequences, intense images)
150 minutes

With “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” director Ridley Scott intends to give one of the most famous Old Testament legends the blockbuster origin story treatment, but instead he ends up remaking his 2000 hit, “Gladiator.”

The filmmaker takes more than a few liberties with the Biblical account of Moses, but sadly none of them are very compelling. In this version of the scriptural saga, the revered leader of the Israelites is played by Christian Bale as a wise and brave general in Pharaoh’s army, raised alongside heir-to-the-throne Ramses (Joel Edgerton, bald and resplendent in eye liner).

Sibling rivalry and daddy issues breed resentment between the siblings, just as they did between Russell Crowe’s general and Joaquin Phoenix’s prince in “Gladiator.” When Pharaoh (portrayed in an odd bit of casting by John Turturro) kicks the bucket, Ramses becomes Egypt’s ruler, even though Moses is the better man. Ramses discovers Moses’ true roots as a Hebrew slave and is terribly, terribly vexed, while his adopted bro reluctantly begins his journey as revolutionary savior of his people.

With its opulent Egyptian sets and costumes and impressive rendering of the plagues and other divine judgments in CGI, “Exodus” aims for the pomp and melodrama of great Biblical epics like “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben-Hur” and “King of Kings.” But with a running time of two-and-a-half hours, it plods along so slowly, it begins to feel as if the audience has been wandering the desert for 40 years.

When it comes to Moses’ identity, Scott and the “Exodus” screenwriters can’t commit. Bale talks to God — the form the deity takes is bound to miff some viewers of faith — but only after suffering a blow to the head, so it’s possible his hero enjoys a direct line to heaven. Then again, he might just be insane.

In the end what “Exodus” lacks is a well defined vision and the courage to examine religious conviction in all its complexity.

Photos: moviesmxdwn.com, http://www.digitaltrends.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Stick Your Neck Out for ‘Dracula Untold’

Dracula Untold
Two stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images, some sensuality)
92 minutes

Blame it on “Twilight” backlash.

Just in time for Halloween, Legendary Pictures brings us the manliest of vampire movies, an armor-clad, battle-worn, muscle-flexing hybrid of Bram Stoker, “300” and “Gladiator.”

Was “Dracula Untold” conceived as a reaction to sparkly, sensitive vampires with cheekbones to die for? Pining Edward wouldn’t last long in this unforgiving gothic landscape of blood and steel, not to mention blood-drenched abs of steel.

Irish commercial director Gary Shore and scribes Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (what a name for a writer of vampire lore) thoughtfully throw a credit Stoker’s way, but their reboot, or re-imagining, or whatever you’d call it, doesn’t much resemble that classic literary work.

The film actually borrows the formula of a comic-book origin story with an emphasis on Dracula’s rocky childhood (like many superheroes, he’s got daddy issues), his acquisition of awesome superpowers and the tragic consequences of those unholy abilities, which threaten those he holds most dear.

Welsh actor Luke Evans — best known as the villain in “Fast & Furious 6” and Bard the Bowman in “The Hobbit” trilogy — stars as Vlad, a Transylvanian prince spirited away as a boy by ruthless Turks, who train him to serve in their marauding army of merciless young killers.

Sazama and Sharpless are vague about the details, but the grown Vlad has a change of heart, repents of his impaling ways and returns to Transylvania, where he settles down, starts a family and rules his people in peace.

His domestic reverie is interrupted by an old friend, the Turkish sultan Mehmed (a charcoal-eyed Dominic Coooper), who demands a tribute of a thousand boy soldiers, as well as the prince’s own son (Art Parkinson).

Vlad refuses Mehmed’s command with a heavy heart because he’s wildly outnumbered by the Turks. Desperate to save his family and his people, he journeys to the lair of a legendary monster (played by Charles Dance — if you thought Tywin Lannister couldn’t get any more evil, think again), seeking the power the creature might grant him.

Once Vlad is “turned,” he becomes the superest of superheroes, all the Avengers rolled into one with some Justice League thrown in for good measure. He’s got Spidey sense, the speed of The Flash, control of the weather a la Storm, the strength of Superman (and a Kryptonite-like Achilles heel) and an affinity for bats, like a certain Caped Crusader.

Vlad’s bat-whispering is clearly Shore’s favorite of these impressive superpowers. He really pulls out the visual-effects stops when it comes to showing the vampire vanish in a cloud of night-flying critters or directing a swarm of the little black beasts to do his bidding in battle.

“Dracula Untold” is rated PG-13, so it’s strangely light on blood for a movie about someone who drinks the stuff — or rather tries to resist drinking the stuff, which is difficult when Vlad’s wife (Sarah Gadon) swans about with her neck and bosom exposed, like a walking buffet.

Shore compensates for the bloodlessness with a tableaux of stylized landscapes and some fancy cinematography during the film’s copious war scenes — at one point, we glimpse Vlad crushing his enemies in the reflection of a sword — but the result is more disorienting than visually arresting.

Evans is certainly virile, but he’s more convincing as a devoted father and husband than a reluctant fanged fiend wrestling with demon impulses. Sazama and Sharpless can’t seem to decide what sort of animal their Dracula truly is — cuddly family man or bloodthirsty monster.

Adopting the pomp and seriousness of a historical epic, “Dracula Untold” trots out the usual imagery — stakes, crosses, silver, torch-lit castles, jittery monks — and proves disappointingly toothless when it comes to toying with Hollywood’s bloodsucking tropes.

The movie is reportedly the first in a planned franchise and it does make a weirdly playful leap in its final scene that hints of more interesting, even goofy, things to come. If it’s going to succeed, however, the series needs to evolve into something darker, sexier and more twisted.

It’s difficult to recommend “Dracula Untold” when other directors are conducting much more original and intriguing genre experiments in the form of films like “Byzantium” and “Only Lovers Left Alive.”

Those are movies that make you want to stick your neck out.

Image: http://www.comicbookmovie.com