FlixChatter Review: EXODUS: Gods and Kings (2014)

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Sir Ridley Scott maybe the most inconsistent successful film director ever, he first burst into fame by directing Alien in 1979 but made two big budget misfires a few years later, Blade Runner and Legend. He came back into prominence again in 1991 with Thelma & Louise, but the rest of his work in the 90s were mostly forgotten. Not until 2000 when he finally became an A-list director by making Gladiator and many of his films in that decade were very successful. He’s now back with another big budget period epic adventure, but unfortunately I think it might be one of his worst films.

Before I go into the review, I would like to note that I’m not a religious person so I don’t know the story of Moses, heck I’ve never seen The Ten Commandments so I went into this movie with zero knowledge of the subject.

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In the Egyptian city of Memphis, the film introduced us to Moses (Christian Bale) and Rhamses (Joel Edgerton), they’re preparing to go into a battle and getting a blessing from King Seti (John Turturro) who also happens to be Rhamses’ father. Right away we get the feeling that there’s some kind of animosity between Moses and Rhamses and the King seems to have more love for Moses than his own son. During the battle, Moses saved Rhamses’ life and this somehow made him resent Moses even more. In the said scene, Rhamses was so offended he even considered killing Moses. After defeating their enemies, both Moses and Rhamses were heralded as heroes back in their hometown. Again King Seti seem to be more impressed with Moses than his own son, later on he told Rhamses to go and check up on a close by city because some of the slaves aren’t behaving. Not expecting to receive this kind of menial task from the king, Rhamses was not happy. So Moses volunteered to go instead. Upon arriving at the city, Moses met with the elders of the slaves including its leader Nun (Ben Kingsley). It’s here that Nun confronted Moses and told him that he’s a Hebrew and needs to lead his people to freedom. Of course Moses didn’t believe a word of what Nun said. I think anyone who’s familiar with the story probably already know what’s going to happen so I won’t go deeper into the plot of the movie.

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Scott is known for being a perfectionist when it comes to how his films should look and here again his film looks spectacular. Shot natively in 3D, the effects were very immersive, but unfortunately he only included some few WOW 3D effects. So save yourself some money and see it on 2D instead. I haven’t mentioned about the plagues and the Red Sea parting scene because even though the effects were great, I wasn’t so into the movie so I didn’t even care about them. Aside from the visual aesthetics, the movie itself was kind of mediocre. For the first hour or so I thought this was made by a amateur director. The story narrative was all over the place and the editing was even worse. I’m quite sure we’ll get the inevitable longer “Director’s Cut” version when it comes out on video. I’m not quite sure of what he’s trying to say about the main leads, especially Moses. He started out as some kind of a non-believer but then out of nowhere became this savior who only answers to God. Maybe because I’m not familiar with the story and also a non-believer, I just didn’t buy into his transformation. For those expecting to see a Gladiator or even Kingdom of Heaven action style, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The movie contained one big action sequence but the marketing folks did a good job of promoting the movie as this non-stop action/adventure.

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There’s been a lot of controversies when it comes to the cast, the filmmakers decided to cast mostly Caucasian actors in the lead roles. Truth be told, many of them look kind of ridiculous with heavy tanning and make up, especially Joel Edgerton. Personally I don’t have any issues with the casting, I mean this is a $140mil Hollywood produced movie and they need to cast some well-known actors to get their money back. Controversies aside, most of the actors were pretty good in their respective roles. This is a Christian Bale‘s movie since he appeared on the screen 90% of the time. Even though I thought the role was poorly written, Bale did what he could with the material. Edgerton was also good playing the “villain.” I don’t think I’ve seen him in any other movie except the atrocious Star Wars Episode 2. Here he played a pretty menacing character and he even outshone Bale in a couple of scenes they appeared together.

I’m pretty sure Sigourney Weaver must’ve been quite upset when she sees the final movie since she appeared on the screen for only about 5 minutes and spoke about 5 lines of dialogs. I’m guessing most of her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. Ben Kingsley did a fine job as this Yoda kind of role. The oddest person in the cast here is Aaron “Jesse” Paul, he played this sidekick to Moses and I just thought he’s way out of his elements here. Another bad casting is John Turturro, he looks ridiculous in the weird make up and spoke with a weird accent that I wanted to laugh when he appears on screen.

For all the bad casting, writing and directing, the worse crime this movie committed was that it’s so boring! I actually dosed off a couple of times during the screening. This was yet another misfire from a director whose career may need to come to an end. I can forgive the bad editing and writing if the movie was entertaining, unfortunately it’s just a bad movie that can’t be saved even though it looks so good.

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Have you seen Exodus? Well, what did you think?

Classic Flix Review: To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Greetings, all and sundry! I am going to take a step sideways and count some coup. Regarding a few recent minor victories involving films that come very close to or exceed ‘Required Viewing’ status. I’m thrilled that my recent labor of love entailing ‘The French Connection’ tempted Ruth and others to enjoy its gritty suspenseful wonders. So, I am going to push my luck and proffer a similar, later work by William Friedkin. Very strong in the ‘Partner film’ vein I’d touched on in ‘The French Connection‘. With a change of locales, crime and really, not a whole heck of a  lot more. Allow me to introduce::

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Our story begins with a Presidential visit to the City of Angels and a huge motorcade of long black limousines rolling up on a huge, palatial, opulent hotel. In and amongst the countless guys with suits, bulges on their hips and under their armpits is anonymous Secret Service Agent Richard Chance. Magnificently played by William Petersen in his first major role before Michael Mann’s Manhunter. Petersen’s Chance plays close to the edge and earns himself a transfer after he helps foil a terrorist plot to blow up an unseen President Reagan during a fundraising speech.

Cut to a deserted highway heading east to the sunny deserts of Las Vegas and about ten of the finest minutes devoted to the meticulous nuts and bolts dirty work of forging one twenty dollar bill into tens of thousands. From the cutting and substitution of the serial number. To the proper mixing of inks and pigments. Setting the rollers on a massive multiple press. Photographing the bill for the press and setting it as the plate. Then watching a young, hungry, pre-Platoon Willem Dafoe, finally throw the switch and make magic happen!

Dafoe portrays Eric Masters. Artist, con man, counterfeiter extraordinaire. With equal measures of socio and psychopath blended in to make him even more interesting. Masters fronts a few Art Houses and runs a sizable string of inner city and urban clients to spread his bills around. Bills that look so good that they are hard to trace and thus, have his fingerprints and handiwork all over them.

Bills that inevitably come under the scrutiny of the Secret Service Counterfeit Division. Agent Chance and his soon to be retired partner, Michael Greene. Who really wants to bust Masters before pulling the pin. Chance, who now faces his inner fears by Bungee Jumping bridges, wants Greene to be patient. Greene thinks otherwise. Finds Masters’ Vegas workshop and is ambushed by a 12 gauge shotgun for his efforts.

Of course, every cop and Fed from miles around converges on the site. Chance finds Greene’s body in a dumpster. Plus a handful of poker chips in one of several clothes dryers used to age newly printed bills. Now, Chance has a singular mission. One that takes precedence over such paltry things as rules and regulations. Worse yet, Chance is saddled with a relatively new, bright and shiny, by the book, untainted partner, John Vukovich. Given low key, yet impeccable life by John Pankow in very likely his best work in film.

To say that these two dislike each other would be understatement. Vukovich is career oriented. While Chance wants a steaming hot cup of Payback. Regardless of the cost. Warrants are sought on somewhat shaky ground for wiretaps and camera surveillance on Masters’  and others’ upscale digs. While Masters connects with his urban clients who want more of his product and are unwilling to pay for the last batch. Battle lines are being drawn as Chance and Vukovich get a lead on one of Masters’ mules and take him down after a brisk foot chase that ends in an LAX men’s room.

The mule, John Turturro. Rarely better. Knows to keep his mouth shut. To a point. He tells Chance a little of this and a little of that and is put in General Population for his efforts. Only to have to sit through a later tête-à-tête with Masters to assess what damage was done. Masters returns to his urban client and fronts half of a large chunk of money for the client to arrange to have the mule shanked while awaiting arraignment. That attempt fails and Masters returns and wants his money back. NOW! The client doesn’t have it. Masters kills the client and two lieutenants with a silenced pistol. Cleans up. Then gathers up his loot.

Cut to the house under surveillance. Where Masters bisexual girlfriend, Bianca. Smoderingly played by Debra Feuer, lies in wait. Not for Masters, but slimy, deal making L.A. distributor and money launderer, Max Waxman. Who tried to set Masters up and has welched on more than one deal. Masters find them in a compromising position. Takes whatever clean money Waxman has and dispatches him with the same silenced pistol. Then burns what’s left of the old funny money before starting anew.

In the interim, Chance hatches a plot, whose initial gossipy kernel is supplied by his parolee, informant girlfriend. Ruth. Flawlessly, scuzzily played by Darlanne Fleugel. Chance wants to make a buy from Masters, but the Federal coffers for such a deal are far short. Enter the gossip. A diamond buyer is coming to L.A. with a briefcase full of money for a handful of uncut rocks. The buy is to take place under an overpass of the Freeway. All Chance and Vukovich have to do is steal the briefcase. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything, evidently. The deal is real, but the buyer is an FBI agent going after the forerunners of Blood Diamonds. The buyer arrives. Chance and Vukovich jack him up and get the case. Just as an FBI sniper fires too late and takes out the undercover agent. A gun fight ensues that turns into a superb, spine chilling, seat jumping chase as Chance and Vukovich take their car against traffic. Over hill and through the market and truck farm district to the viaducts last seen and well utilized in the movie, Them!. Before eluding their pursuers and finding a no questions asked Auto Body shop for a new rear window and windshield.

Shaken, stirred, but not rattled, Chance and Vukovich set up their meet at the L.A. Athletic Club. Masters is leery of Chance and Vukovich’s lack of tans and their story of fronting for a Palm Springs bank, but he is intrigued. Buy in money, to the tune of a cool million is mentioned and agreed to by the Feds without batting an eyes as another meet is set up.

I will leave it right here due to the Prime Directive regarding spoilers

Now, what Makes This Film Good?

Friedkin again catching the lightning experienced in The French Connection. Again working with a young and relatively unknown cast eager to work with a proven director. Using some of the same tricks learned long ago and applying them to sections of  L.A. that few people know and even fewer see. Presenting a gritty, grimy facade that masks the sleazy world of unmentioned, greedy and bent lawyers and judges. Who supply the undertone and a lot of the motivation of those doing dirty deeds and the lawmen who pursue them.

Do NOT let the Wang Chung soundtrack upset or put you off. The music is exactly of its time. And works exceedingly well in keeping the suspense at just the right tone as Chance leads his wide eyed partner, Vukovich deep into the slimy underbelly of the beast. Where suspicion is second nature and paranoia is plane fare.

Cinematography by Robby Muller is first rate. Showing the pervasive smog of the cityscape in many scenes. Ornery, obstinate and rarely anxious to move. Setting the down pressured tone that things are very different on the West Coast. Then shifting to crystal clarity for indoor scenes. Not showing many shadows, but when they do show up. They are there for tension heightening reasons. Editing by M. Scott Smith is also superb. Especially in the chase scene that leaves very little on the Cutting Room Floor.

Kudos to Lilly Kilvert’s Production Design and getting abandoned buildings to look like Federal office spaces. Also Set Design and Decoration handled by Buddy Cone and Cricket Rowland. For making the outbacks of Vegas and beaches and businesses outside Venice look so formidable and forgotten!

What Makes This Film Great?

William Petersen just beginning to show off his chops in an extremely meaty role that has been visited many times before in countless films. While following William Petievich’s twisting, turning, never arrow straight novel and screenplay with William Friedkin’s help. Petersen’s Rick Chance is no angel. Though he may have been before the Presidential visit that put him in charge of tracking down one particular counterfeiter. Given personal Carte Blanche, Chance is willing to bend and sometimes break the rules. Even if it sends his partner screaming to find a lawyer to protect his career. Petersen’s Chance seems made for his regulation breaking jeans, T Shirt, boots and leather jacket. Opposite Vukovich’s buttoned down collar, tie and  two and three piece suits.

John Pankow owns his role as John Vukovich. A brand new FNG who is willing to follow his partner. Even after the wheels come off with the disastrous diamond deal. Letting his eyes and body language do the talking on his personal sojourn through the seven circles of Hell. To rise like the Phoenix on the other side. A truly great role very masterfully imagined and delivered!

The unnamed ladies and gentlemen in attendance. From Dean Stockwell’s superbly slimy lawyer, Bob Grimes. Who revels in playing both sides in the never ending game. While not being averse to taking a bribe as well as a retainer. To Steve James as Masters’ urban connection, Jeff Rice. All muscle and bad attitude. It’s a treat to watch him trying to get over and intimidate Masters. As well as Robert Downey Sr., who makes the absolute most of his brief time on screen as a judge who tolerates Chance. While wanting nothing more than to crush him.

The ladies deserve equal billing. Debra Feuer mystifies from the moment she appears on screen. Though not fully realized until well into the film. Her Bianca can read men as easily as others glance at coins and count change. She is made for Masters. Offering insights that to her are obvious and several moves into the future of the game. Darlanne Fluegel’s Ruth is perfect as a fidgety, scared, two time loser, parolee and Chance’s personal snitch. Too clever for her own good. While hoping her nightmare will end someday. Also turning in a silent, sensual performance is Jane Leeves. In her first credited role as Bianca’s girlfriend, Serena. Long before her role as Daphne in Frasier.

The Film’s Mystique:

Once Friedkin has bought the novel’s rights. The US Secret Service got involved far beyond the technical advice offered by retired agent Petievich. Invited to watch the rushes and first cuts, the Service nearly went ballistic. And not in a good way! While watching Dafoe go through the too detailed and not for general consumption steps in making large numbers of counterfeit bills. I’m still trying to figure out how much was left on the Editor’s floor and probably burned later.

That aside. The film rings remarkably true. The dialogue snaps without a large amount of profanity. Most everything the cast touches looks used and comfortable. Even Masters’ leather and chrome flat appears inviting without a shred of pretense. The film is also notable for the unexpected and often invited ‘Murphy’s Law’ that upsets even the most meticulous plan. Especially after Masters cleans up and takes out Max Waxman and even more so in the botched diamond buy, shakedown, rolling shoot out and car chase.

Not surprisingly, To Live and Die in L.A. won awards for Best Vehicular Stunt and Most Spectacular Sequence in 1986.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


What do you think of To Live and Die in L.A.? Do share ’em in the comments.