Brief Consideration: Exodus Movies (1956-2014)

The Ten Commandments (1956)

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Aside from being an epic and loving adaptation of The Exodus story, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments is also an examination of the pride and follies of man. Yul Brynner’s performance as Rameses carries this theme as a constant throughout the picture. His arrogance and pride seep through every pore even at the expense of compassion, which comes far too late.

Even some of the film’s large scale sequences speak to this theme in a meaningful way. The last twenty minutes depict sheer fervour and debauchery in the face of a new God that the recently freed Hebrews have created. These scenes are intercut with God casting into stone the ten commandments. These moments are a fascinating study of the newly found pride that the recently freed Hebrews have acquired and the dire consequences that ensue.

However, one of the most interesting aspects of the film is the other sources it draws inspiration from, aside from the prominent Biblical texts. In the third act, Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) becomes a Lady Macbeth figure as she plies her husband’s ears full of poisonous words, which lead him on a destructive path.

Those brief scenes speak to the film’s examination of pride better than any other, as they suggest that pride is a natural state that must be kept at a constant in the service of meaningful goals. Nearly every character in the picture is after something more substantial than themselves whether its love, immortality or freedom. The film is fascinating in depicting the attempt of these goals by mere mortals.

 

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

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The Prince of Egypt remains the finest animated feature of the 1990s, a decade where the genre reached unprecedented artistic and critical heights. More amazingly it is the best adaptation of the Exodus story. This is due to its sharp focus on the relationship between Moses and Ramesses, which is the film’s central focus. Aside from that, the film contains many ambitious sequences that still engage and work. There’s a dream sequence that takes place within a space of an Egyptian wall painting. It’s an excellent illustration of Moses’s emotional turmoil while harkening back to a past animation style (stop motion) and finally, something of a piece with the period that the film is set in.

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

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Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is an interesting if at times frustrating reinterpretation of the Moses story. For all the spark of inspiration such as God appearing as a child, Moses’s pragmatic and reluctant attitude towards his plight, and a compelling retooling of one Biblical set piece; there remain huge problems. These include choppy editing that does not allow one to get absorbed in the story. Gaps in the screenplay that should have been filled. And finally, some of the performances feel like the actors are being interviewed and posing for a GQ cover as opposed to a Biblical Epic.

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Review: Us (2019)

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In 2017, Jordan Peele set the film world ablaze with his social thriller, Get Out. With a premise that insidiously plucked on the familiar notes of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner: the film impressed with its measured direction and blistering commentary, that presented African American racism with a frightening and ironic new dimension.

By comparison, Peele’s second feature, Us, is a sly, full-blooded horror movie that engages as a tight wire act between the high and low sensibilities of the genre. It demonstrates that Peele has perfected the alchemy of the a and b-grade horror picture, and is able to seamlessly harmonise them with firm confidence.

While on holiday with her parents at a Santa Cruz amusement park, a young girl named  Adelaide (Madison Curry) drifts into a funhouse. Within the hall of mirrors, she encounters an exact identical version of herself. Many years later, an adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) returns to the area with husband- Gabe (Winston Duke), elder daughter- Zora (Shahadi Wright Joesph) and youngest son- Jason (Evan Alex). As a series of seemingly innocuous coincidences start to mount up, Adelaide must come to terms with her past trauma, when an identical family appear on the front entrance of her summer home.

The experience of watching Us is akin to witnessing a Russian nesting doll set decrease before your very eyes. The first quarter engages as a tense Hitchcockian thriller, in which tiny surreal details are drip fed in a calculated manner to unnerve the audience. The film then transforms into a home invasion thriller that has echoes of The Hills Have Eyes in its sheer primordial tension of seeing the family surviving against their respective doppelgängers. From there, the picture morphs into a dizzyingly nasty black comedy, that expands its tone and concept into something wholly surprising and wild.

Peele matches the ambitious genre and narrative shifts with some intriguing and memorable imagery. This mostly comes in the form of some haunting and often quite vivid close-ups that engulf the frame. They subvert the usual genre convention of hiding the monsters and providing cursory glimpses of them for maximum shock factor. Instead, Peele employs the close-ups to juxtapose the doppelgängers with their respective family pairings to illustrate how little separates them.

But Peele’s most impressive direction comes in the final act. One prolonged chase sequence cross-cuts Adelaide’s memories of being a dancer with her desperate attempts to kill her doppelgänger (Red), whose elegant movements evoke her counterpart’s memories in frighteningly intense ways. The sequence is elevated by Micheal Ables’ stirring score. It manages to harmonise two contrasting genres of horror music. In his elegant and sudden use of strings, Ables evokes the sharpness of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho theme with the contemporary droning grunge music that defined much of Tyler Bate’s Halloween scores.

While there is a distinct pleasure in seeing Peele effortlessly juggle disparate tones and ascetic sensibilities, the real power of Us comes from its subtext about its central antagonists. Peele presents an American fable in which The Tethered is a vivid representation of Jung’s shadow archetype. Their disenchantment is fueled by a fervent religiosity that has been lost in contemporary American culture. There is a persistent reference to a Biblical verse (Jeremiah 11:11) by a silent harbinger. It speaks of an evil that is going to be unleashed and will be inescapable. When people try to cry out for God for this plague, he will not listen, suggesting a perception of divine righteousness and protection on the part of The Tethered.

Conceptually, The Tethered range in influence from the cannibal savages in The Hills Have Eyes to the dreary-eyed Body Snatchers that have permeated the history of genre movies. But Peele fundamentally makes them a fairy tale creation. When a young Adelaide gets lost in the hall of mirrors, she is surrounded by a pop art set of an ancient looking forest. In addressing her metropolitan double, Red frames her tragic story as a fairy tale, complete with the proverbial opening line- “Once Upon a Time.”

Lupita Nyong’o particularly impresses in a dual role. As Adelaide, Nyong’o conveys a palpable sense of emotional repression, with her various pauses and distant line readings. These early moments in the film make her later emotional outbursts all the more powerful and striking. Whereas the Keyan-Mexican actress injects Red with a precise and spindly physicality that echos some of Robert Englund’s great work as Freddy Kruger.

With images that will remain etched in your mind and a premise that keeps unravelling into something rich and interesting: Us is a serious call to arms film for cementing Jordan Peele’s talent as a horror auteur of the highest degree.

 

 

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Review: Captain Marvel (2019)

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From a purple-coloured mad titan to a perpetually scowly Jeff Bridges in a giant robot suit: Marvel has had plenty of challenges that would make any superhero worth their salt, quake in their boots. However, its toughest challenge to date does not come from a supervillain causing mayhem but instead creating a female-led superhero film that also serves as a prequel to its entire cinematic canon. Despite being marred by some awkward prequel manoeuvring and action sequences that are more tiring then exhilarating: Captain Marvel is an earnest, quietly subversive and often amusing movie.

Set in the 1990s and taking place over a decade before Iron Man, Captain Marvel is about Vers (Brie Larson), who is a member of an elite military organisation called Starforce. They are tasked with wiping out the Skrulls, (intergalactic creatures who can morph into any person or object). After escaping from the clutches of their leader- Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) on an ambushed undercover extraction mission, Vers crash lands on Earth. Once there, she must race against time to prevent a Skrull invasion and find out why the planet holds the key to her past. Along the way, she teams up with a humble pencil pushing Shield employee- Nick Fury (an astoundingly digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson).

Despite being a ’90s period piece that has the movies from the decade ingrained within its DNA, Captain Marvel surprisingly owes an enormous debt to Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop. Like Verhoeven’s human turned robotic protagonist- Alex Murphy, Vers’ journey to untangle the mystery of her past and identity reflects an internal struggle to find her humanity. While Robocop relegated this element to the periphery, Captain Marvel leads with this existential yearning. The result is an interesting origin story for the title character and the wholesome portrayal of superheroes that have graced the genre’s past.

Brie Larson commendably walks a fine line between the determined, difficult nature of Vers’ Kree character and the heroic qualities of her costumed persona. It’s a performance that’s unique for its moody edginess as much as it is for its earnestness and warmth. Ben Mendelsohn impresses in a role that finally allows his of kilter and casual persona to shine in a way that subverts our initial impression of Talos’ motivation and purpose.

Aside from a plethora of ’90s callbacks, (a particular favourite is Carol Danvers and co impatiently waiting for a video file to download via dial-up internet) Samuel L Jackson serves as the primary comedic foil. His performance cleverly uses Fury’s eventual no-nonsense attitude as a jumping off point for much of the younger incarnation’s charm and lightness.

Aesthetically, the film has a few moments in which the imagery startles the senses. Vers’ initial meeting with the Supreme Intelligence (in the guise of Annette Benning) draws the eye with its cosmic sights. There is one moment where many halos of bright white light are reflecting upon a grey surface as the exposition of the Skrulls is being conveyed with whizzing holograms of planets. The scene visually feels reminiscent of Superman’s first encounter with Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude, in Superman the Movie (1978), particularly with its stark use of white and grey.

But Captain Marvel excels most in its memory scenes that paint the character’s origin story as a traumatic puzzle to be solved. In one scene, Talos probs her memories in an artful and impressionist manner to get at some truth of something from her past. In this and many ways, the film is made in the same spirit as many of those ’90s puzzle thriller movies that would slowly unravel and subvert the premise that it sets up. At its core, it’s a movie that seems less concerned with its central hero being conveyed in flashy terms, but rather in her humanity being front and centre. It has introspection, the time to show its characters realising hard truths and a wonderfully dogged spirit.

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Review: If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

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Director Barry Jenkins creates social fables that resonate and speak to a particular time and place with vivid authenticity. His breakout feature, Moonlight, depicted coming of age in 1980s Miami with such sincerity that one could feel the emotions pouring out of the screen. Despite being fueled by a generous gift of lingering on all of its characters: Moonlight never reconciles its sobering social implications with its central character’s plight. An implied horrific cycle involving Chiron’s primary father figure- Juan (Mahershala Ali) being responsible for the drug addiction of the young boy’s mother- Paula (Naomie Harris), which results in Chiron’s unstable upbringing is seemingly dropped and never explored.

This problematic aspect is entirely solved in If Beale Street Could Talk. The film is a tragically poetic portrait of youthful innocence being slowly eroded, due to the crushing and sobering realities of society’s civil institutions. Adapted from James Baldwin’s critically acclaimed 1974 novel of the same name, the film is about a young African-American woman- Clementine “Tish” Rivers (Kiki Layne), who attempts to free her boyfriend, Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephen James) from prison, before she gives birth to their child. Fonny has been imprisoned because of an accusation of rape, provided by a presumed strong testimony by a disgruntled cop- Officer Bell (Ed Skrein) and the victim- Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios) who identifies the young man out of a police lineup.

If Moonlight was about the small moments that shaped a man’s life from childhood to adulthood, then If Beale Street Could Talk is about the struggles of the mundane. Jenkins’ camera is almost wielded like a documentarian as it showcases many characters in real-time going about their lives with a considerable amount of normality. One montage that has Tish describe and subsequently feels the effects of her baby’s persistent kicking, impresses in showcasing how this new change greatly impacts the standard elements of her daily life.

Jenkins contrasts these sequences with scenes that have Tish reflecting on how her relationship with Fonny has changed over the years. These scenes are engulfed in a pure blissful nostalgic haze- particularly one moment that has Tish and Fonny walking through a seemingly empty street in the rain. With minimal use of yellow and red within the confines of a widescreen shot, the moment has the romanticism of a vintage Hollywood musical, combined with a foreboding sense that the couple’s time together is short lived as its torn asunder by the inciting incident.

As Tish, Kiki Layne impresses in portraying a believable sense of innocence that grows into an acceptance of the sobering maturity that comes from her changing situation. In an Oscar-winning supporting turn, Regina King brings warmth and world-weariness, as Tish’s persistently supportive and loving mother. Stephen James strikes the biggest chord as Fonny. He balances a smooth and generous demeanour in the dreamlike appearances that permeate Tish’s memories with heartbreaking desperation, as a result of his incarceration.

If Beale Street Could Talk is about how injustice haunts every day living. It can cause us to become cynical, question long presumed truths and even want to emotionally outburst against the entire world. Barry Jenkins commendably allows the audience to see the long term effects of Fonny’s imprisonment on the characters. They scream, cry, and even look at themselves in the mirror with existential dread. Most movies would excise these incidental moments in the margins, but they fundamentally make If Beale Steet Could Talk feel real and raw.

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Brief Consideration: Venom (2018)

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Venom is a shoo-in for one of the most bizarre comic book movies ever made. It’s a feature-length Saturday morning cartoon, trapped inside a reluctant midnight movie that slumps through its banally conceived plot with the enthusiasm of a tired and drunken sailor. For the remaining people who are curious about the plot: Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an amiable television reporter who bonds with an alien parasite. The gooey entity in question keeps its host alive by providing superhuman strength, agility, and endurance. Although, depending on the scene, the parasite referred to as Venom, serves as an empowering life coach or a satanic Jiminy Cricket in serious need of a throat lozenge.

Venom is the worst kind of schlock- dull, dreary and boring Though in reality, the film feels like it has been through the studio grinder. The proverbial third act confrontation and conflict is an afterthought that is suddenly remembered as opposed to set up. This is compounded by a tone that seems to be game for a Cronenbergian body horror picture but lacks the courage of its convictions. Instead, it settles for black comedy that frankly feels stale in a post-Deadpool world.

Hardy’s fascinating mixture of Harold Lloyd inspired slapstick and Peter Sellers’ buffoonery is reminiscent of the go for broke performances that graced Tim Burton’s Batman films. But it always comes across as calculated as opposed to natural. His performance wakes up the film, but it never makes you forget about its mediocre nature.

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Personal Post: Updates on Cameron Cloutier’s Queen of Hearts

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Cameron Cloutier’s long-gestating Twin Peaks fan film (Queen of Hearts) hits its most crucial week. Worse then Bob, Dark Coop or even Dick Tremayne, the picture faces the potential of being cancelled. Having fought through a series of challenges last year, including persistent trolling from long presumed supporters and a personal emergency: the film has looked like it might be back on track. However, the double-edged sword of independent filmmaking may result in its death.

While the notion of following a filmmaker on the pure whims of passion carries a sense of romanticism, the harsh realities have unfortunately struck Queen of Hearts. While some parts have been cast, many of the promises made to Cameron by others wanting to work on the project have turned up empty. This coupled with a severe lack of proper assistance, and the film is limping on. But if there is anything that Twin Peaks has taught us, it’s the fellowship that exists within the confines of a tight-knight community.

Despite its luck, Queen of Hearts still has a slim possibility of surviving. Let’s hope the Log Lady takes kindly upon its continued existence and that one day we see it in its full glory.

Here’s the full announcement from Cameron, which comes from the Queen of Hearts Facebook page.

“This is the week…

In a few days, I will take inventory of who and what I have so far in regards to this production and determine whether or not to move forward.

Casting is waddling along* and some days are more productive than others when it comes to finding locations, costumes, props, etc.

(*However, I could not be more thrilled with the casting choices so far.)

Since this project was crowdfunded, I have met and reconnected with a lot of people over the course of pre-production.

Some have been absolutely amazing in helping with what they can. Unfortunately, far too many have been no-shows or flakes (even with the promise of pay) so it’s been difficult to make arrangements when I don’t know what (if anything) is going on—all the while knowing time is a tickin’.

I really want to make this film but as I’ve said in the past, there’s a reason why you see a billion names during the end credits of a movie. One person can only do so much.

Maybe if the film was fully cast and rehearsals were in full swing I’d feel a bit more confident but I’m still in search of actors—which has been like the equivalent of pulling teeth around here.

(Also, finding a few more assistants would be great too.)

Last year I had a window to make “Queen of Hearts” and trolls and others (and finally a family emergency) forced me to postpone it for a bit.

However, if I miss the current window I’m shooting for now, I feel it’s only appropriate to call it a day and refund everyone’s money before too much has been spent to turn back.

This is not a decision that weighs lightly with me. I’ve been on this project for nearly a year and a half already so it would be absolutely devastating to be so close and then not go ahead with it.

But I am willing to pull the plug if I feel the project will be rushed, turn out badly or will bring even more unnecessary chaos to my already busy life.

I know by {canceling} the project the trolls and naysayers will see it as a victory and that truly pains me—so let’s all send good thoughts and positive vibes out into the universe this week for more to fall in line.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out to the woods to throw some rocks at a bottle.

Anyone interested in acting or helping can contact: queenofheartstp@hotmail.com

Thank you!”

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Review: Glass (2019)

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M. Night Shyamalan has made a career of weaving cinematic tapestries that are supported by sentiment and emotion as opposed to logic and sense. His films have always felt like they have existed on the fringe of genre fare as opposed to slot within them comfortably.

In the comic book movie engulfed landscape, Unbreakable now stands as a sobering and deconstructing superhero drama that wields the origin story as a form of therapy for soothing middle-age malaise, and existential dread about one’s place in the world.

Split was an effective Hitchcockian inspired chamber piece about a captor and victim dealing with their abuse-filled past. One chooses to use it as a fuel for survival and the other chooses ascend to the most horrific version of himself to prevent it from ever happening again.

Unfortunately, Glass shatters under the weight of being a sequel to both of these films, making for an uneven and at times frustrating experience. Touted as the final film in The Eastrail 177 Trilogy: the 2019 film is about the coming together of David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Kevin Wendell Crumb and friends (James McAvoy) as well as Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). After Dunn thwarts Crumb’s recent abduction of four cheerleaders, they are both captured and placed in a mental institution alongside a comatose Price. They are all under the supervision of Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who attempts to convince them that their superpowers are a result of delusion as opposed to a miraculously bestowed gift.

Initially, Glass starts out with promise, boasting a premise that owes a great debt to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest as much as the deliberate pacing of Unbreakable. Crucially, the first half engages as a metatextual exercise in untangling the pop mythologising of the previous instalments.

This is accentuated by Shyamalan creating an intriguing status quo for his characters, in the near two decades that have elapsed since the first film. The picture is at its best in these small moments where we see how time has affected the characters.

In some regards, Shyamalan matches the intriguing aesthetics that permeated his earlier work. One standout sequence is a psychotherapy session in a pink room where the colour greatly juxtaposes with Staple’s authoritative scepticism about the group’s bold claim of being superheroes.

The performances also lend the film with some occasional weight. In particular, McAvoy’s Brechtian juggling of personas is particularly impressive when the character is conveying a palpable sense of torment and pain.

Sadly, disappointment abounds in Glass. Shyamalan trades in existential weight for comic book mythologising that never feels as particularly resonate or sharply drawn. This is a far cry from the deft balancing of both elements in the previous films. Now, the mythologising is like a needless indulgence that does not advance or take its characters in, particularly interesting directions. In this regard, it feels as though Shyamalan has nothing else to say with the medium, other using it as a prop for the supporting cast to look mildly excited by.

Worse yet, the twists feel wrapped around so tightly that it strangles the creativity out of the film. The film indulges in the worst instincts of universe building to tie films that thematically felt interesting together, but in reality, never coalesced into a cohesive film trilogy. This would be understandable if Shyamalan’s conclusions elicited some sense of pathos. However, in its final moments, Glass can’t help but feel hollow and empty.

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