Exodus: Gods and Kings

The first thing to notice when watching Ridley Scott’s movie (Before I go to Sleep, 2014) is that it is an interpretation for the Biblical tale, it is not a Sunday School lesson. Watching it I got the feeling that we are watching a modern telling of an old story. The first thing to note is that this film does not have the same sense of preaching that the year’s previous Biblical epic had. Indeed the not so subtle messages from Noah are missing. There is no vegetarian eating, organic good guys versus the leather wearing, meat-eating bad guys.

There is no real need to discuss the plot, it is what it is. Moses (Christian Bale, American Hustle, 2013) plays the part of a loyal general, standing next to his “brother” through adoption, Ramses (Joel Edgerton, The Great Gatsby, 2013) firstly as Prince then as Pharaoh . We see a man who was first content with his life and how it was. However as he progresses he begins to question certain acts and assumptions.

As he does this, the reigning Pharaoh, Seti, (John Tuturro, Somewhere Tonight, 2011) also sees characteristics in Moses which he values and indeed mentions to Moses at one stage that he wished Moses would inherit the Royal title rather than Ramses. John Tuturro, although an excellent actor would not have been my first choice for this role, but that said, seeing him in it; he’s perfect, giving an excellent, calm understated performance. The interaction between Ramses and Moses is one of the corner-stones of the production which we see develop from princes and generals to a self-righteous ruler who will not countenance disagreement.

It is on one such mission from the Pharaoh, to investigate conditions under Viceroy Heghep (Ben Mendelsohn, Starred-Up, 2013) in the city of Pitom that the true nature of the enslaved conditions of the Jews comes to his attention.   He meets with one of the Jewish leaders, Nun (Ben Kingsley, The Physician, 2013) who instructs him as to his past and introduces him to his actual brother, Joshua (Aaron Paul, a Long Way Down. 2014).

Through intrigues, Moses’ true birth-right in brought the the attention of Ramses, now Pharaoh. The effect of this news is to have Moses banished from Egypt. Following his banishment he eventually settles down and raises a family while receiving his message from God. The message drives him back to Egypt to release his people.

What follows is the movie act which probably had most people asking questions – the plagues of God to punish Egypt and set the Chosen people free. He we can see a difference from the Cecil B. DeMille production (1956) there is less of the Divine message than in the earlier work, more matter-of-fact. The plagues are well done and are even a vehicle for some subtle humour whether it is Ewen Bremner ( Snowpiercer, 2013) acting as the “Expert” trying to give the Pharaoh a very 21st century briefing on what is happening or through Indira Varma who play the High-Priestess who finally pays the price for not delivering answers and solutions.

The plagues were sent with the Power of God and in fairness to Scott were presented thus. Overall this was an entertaining production which did not feel quite as long as it might otherwise have. The acting was all as required, delivered with the sense of a block-buster adventure rather than preaching .   The setting and special effect were also more plausible (I cannot say if they are realistic) than with Noah.

The Film has been banned in Egypt, and that is a matter for Egyptian authorities, but it is understandable that issues of their past and the treatment of the Jewish People may be sensitive subjects. Also the appearance of God as a young boy in the form the Angel Malak (Isaac Andrews, Hercules, 2014) as the voice of God did not go unnoticed by people. The attitude portrayed also raised an eyebrow or two.

The special effects and costume departments deserve a special mention. Again I compare it to Noah with the costumes supporting the message, whereas here they were part of the production, as they should be.

From a religious aspect, some people will be unhappy but from a purely entertainment perspective, the movie works well, is engaging and gives us an excellent performance by Bale. Well worth watching, I would give it a solid ***

Dracula Untold

Dracula untold

Unlike most of the usual Dracula movies, this offering focuses on the events which led to his conversion to vaDracula-Untoldmpire. The usual version of history is to pain the original Vlad Tapes is to paint him as a sadistic murderer who spent much of his time hoisting is enemies and serfs on to pikes in order to teach any survivors a lesson.

Luke Evans (Immortals, 2014) plays the eponymous role. We see him as a family man, trying the best for his people and his family. We quickly learn that Vlad’s adulthood has been shaped by the pains of his childhood. Like many Christian children in the lands of the Turkish Empire. He had been one of a 1000 child levee taken by the Turks as part of the devsirme system to be raised as a convert to Islam and a member of the Janissaries, the Empire’s elite guard. After a number of years he managed to return to his father (it is not clear whether he escaped or was allowed to return home). It is thought from the film that given his royal birth, his time of service was for a fixed period rather than for the other boys who were for life.

The film quickly opens with Turks in his principality (which is in the area controlled by the Turks) being killed mysteriously. He tracks the source of the killing to a “monster” living in a cave at the top of a particular mountain. When they first go there, they find aging skeletons of previous visitors not dead. Indeed his two companions are killed and he only survives because he manages to get to sunlight.

What quickly follows in the Turks arriving to find what happened to their lost battalion. He is the first major flaw in the system. How come there were so many Turks in his region and he never knew this. The second issue is how come there was a cave and mountain where people are being killed for generations and he never knew about. In the midst of this The Turks turn up with new cash payment demands, the gold is not the issue, the levee for more young is the issue. Indeed the Turks use the “blond” Janissaries to deliver the message and take delivery of the money/children. Vlad refuses, especially as his own son is to be one of those taken. (Vlad’s father, still alive has no issue with giving his grandson and feels it is safest for the country).

Vlad eventually refuses to send his son, goes to the Turks and offers himself only to be refused. The Turks eventually march on Vlad’s Castle, he is forced to move his people to a nearby monastery for protection. They are vastly outnumbered and have no hope of survival. Faced with this scenario Vlad has no choice but to revisit the cave and make a deal with the monster in question. The old vampire gives Vlad his blood on the understanding that the effects last for three days but if he drinks blood in this time his conversion will be permanent.

He never the less allows himself the temporary conversion and sets about to rescue his people. Needless to say he gets back just in time to save his people but only after his wife is defenestrated as per the legends. In his grief he destroys the Turkish army and the legend is born. Overall if the movie tried to style itself after Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula then he missed the mark, indeed it feels more like Stephen Sommers’ 2004 Van Helsing. This is Gary Shore’s first directorial offering and although adequately put together it does show that it is a first effort.

Overall I found the plot laboured, the script basic and really it felt like an a story tagged up to capture the Dracula legend. For those of you fans of Horror or the Dracula legend, don’t bother with this, it will not add to the mythology. If you want a hour or two of entertainment, then this might suffice. It will not go down in history. Dominic Cooper play a passable Mehmed, but he just had to play a warlord. Charles Dance plays the “Master Vampire”, he is his usual self there. I would have liked some extra back story around this point. Another failing in the film is at the start the vampire could not manage any sun as he came out of his cave, but at the end of the movie we see Vlad in London (as he bumps in to the modern Mirena As he does this we see the Master in the background, neatly dressed and looking a lot more human than he did previously – what happened to cure his aversion for sun –light?

Overall a poor affair getting at most 2/5, and that’s at a push.


The opening scene sets us up for an almost post-apocalyptic vista, we see a black shadow come out of the fug of battle, a German officer, riding on horseback with background music reminiscent of Carmina Burana, only to be jumped by Pitt’s character and killed.

I have to say that this is a good movie but not a great one. If I have to be honest I found it a little derivative and also a little lacking in budget.  If I had to describe it in terms of another movie, Memphis Belle (Michael Caton-Jones, 1990) springs to mind, in so far as it is about the crew on a tank (aircraft) trying to get to the end of the war, despite the challenges thrown at them. The cast is good, if slightly unbalanced. Pitt is a good lead, holding the team together, the star of the show however is Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 2012).  This is not a Spielberg movie, with wide camera shots and panoramic vistas, this is in your face close-up cinema. Directed by David Ayer (End of Watch,  2012).

The story starts in April 1945, in the dying days of the war, despite the closing chapter , the resistance is still strong, with crews dealing with fanatical hold-outs in the advance on Berlin. At the start we see typist Norman Ellison (Lerman) find his way to the new crew, where he is promptly treated as all newbies,  Driver, Garcia (Michael Peña – who worked with Ayer on End of Watch in 2012) immediately goes through Norman’s kitbag looking for “smokes” these are the important things not the books young Norman brought with him.

As the story develops we learn that the crew has been together for a number of years, indeed the opening scenes see us witnessing one of the crew being removed, headless. Norman is his replacement. As assistant driver, he is placed with Garcia, who quickly sets about making it clear what he needs to do and not do.  All of this is alongside the constant ribbing of Grady (Jon Bernthal, The Walking Dead, 2010-2012) the gunner’s mate. The large Hillbilly type character is constantly needling the young recruit and causes some tension along the way which Sgt. Collier has to contain.

Sgt. Collier’s call sign is “Wardaddy” and we quickly see why. The opening scene tells us, his crew is the only survivor or a raid. Later on when he is teamed up with a tank squad under the command of a young lieutenant, he quickly puts the young officer in his place while at the same time ensuring that the other sergeants carry out the orders. When the officer is Killed, he takes over command of the squad, all of the other sergeant in the squad already know him and respect his leadership. All this works to define the character as the movie proceeds.

The crew is rounded off by gunner Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless, 2012), who takes the shape of a Southern Preacher, often quoting Verse to apply to a situation and trying to offer a sort of moral compass to the crew.

The crew is tasked to support the taking of a town, with a small squad of Shermans. The captain leading the attack (Jason Isaacs, After the Fall, 2014) in the nearby village gives Collier his instructions, where the Tough Collier simply – politely – asks to lead his tanks a certain route, The captain simply replies that he knows him and his reputation, and he should do as he needs to .  In this moment we see what could make this a much better film, attention to detail, little lines that give us character.

Before this attack the team is resting up in the town they just entered, as they approach the town they see the bodies of Germans, young and old, strung up for not fighting the Allies. When the town is taken the Burgermeister  is leading out people under a white flag, among those coming out is an SS officer, Collier shouts down to the Burgermeister (in fluent German) if the officer is responsible for the hangings, yes. On Collier’s orders the officer is taken aside and shot.

This is a motive which carries through the movie. In this town scene. Collier spies a nervous woman by a window and goes to see what or who  she might be hiding, It is her cousin. The women are treated well, by Collier and young Norman, the crew eventually arrive and share a meal cooked from supplies Collier gave the Germans. The crew through Grady is controlled through their childish actions to the German. What we see is a politically correct view that the ordinary German people were as much victims as others. Indeed the hatred is saved of the Nazis, such as SS soldiers.

Collier can be cruel, as with the rest of the crew, we see this when he forces young Norman to shoot a German prisoner, one caught wearing a US officer’s coat. This is done for his own good.  It comes after a blood battle to clear the way for trapped troupes which has caused the deaths of a number of the other crews.

Unfortunately it is the battle scenes which although done well and I have to say violently, let the movie down a little. They reminded me of the cheap made for TV movies which show a sweeping panoramic shot of a great scene (usually poor CGI) and then show all of the fighting close up and clearly limited. I felt a bit like that watching a scene clearly limited by budget.

If we compare it to Lebanon, (Samuel Maoz, 2009), we get the same sense of claustrophobic struggle with which the crews must carry on.

The movie works towards the great climax where the crew holds off an advancing SS battalion, by which stage Norman’s transformation to a fighting soldier is complete, so much so that he gains his new warname of “Machine”.

The movie is stylised, not least of all with the various hair-styles worn by the crew, I suspect crafted to suit the personalities of each of the crew members.

This is a war movie but not an epic. The effects are close up without any big expensive sweeping shots that we have seen in movies like Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998) or even Bridge at Ramagen (John Guillermin 1969). If I had to liken this to a particular movie, it would be Ramagen, with Segal’s Lieutenant Hartman being an analogue  of Colliers’.  The danger with close action shots is that certain extras can pop-up more than necessary, there was one soldier who seemed to pop-up a few times here when they could have used another extra, scrappy.

A firm 3star movie, not bad but will not be a classic.