Posts Tagged ‘Christian Bale’

Exodus2014Poster

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, and Steven Zaillian

Country: UK / USA / Spain

Runtime: 150 mins

Cast: Christian Bale (Moses), Joel Edgerton (Ramses), John Turturro (Seti), Aaron Paul (Joshua), Ben Mendelsohn (Viceroy Hegep), Maria Valverde (Zipparah), Sigourney Weaver (Tuya), Ben Kingsley (Nun).

Not so much an epic, as an epic failure

If 2014 is anything to go by, filmmakers just can’t do historical epics like they used to. William Wyler (Ben Hur) and Stanley Kubrick (Spartacus) would appear to have nothing to worry about in the competition stakes. I thought Noah was pretty bad (reviewed here on 5th April), but in retrospect it did at least have a fairly bonkers quality that made it watchable. Ray Winstone fighting Russell Crowe, together with those living stone creatures, had some entertainment value. By contrast, the deadly earnestness of Exodus: Gods and Kings, together with the lack of any dramatic tension, makes for an excruciatingly dull 150 minutes.

The story begins in Egypt, 1300 BCE, where a bunch of white guys have somehow bucked the regional tendency towards dark skin and rule the roost, keeping a large number of Hebrews as slaves. Ramses (Joel Edgerton) and Moses (Christian Bale) are brothers, though Ramses appears to have senior military ranking despite having less understanding of military tactics. On a trip into town Moses is appalled at the terrible way the Hebrew population are treated, but then it turns out that he himself is actually a Hebrew and not Ramses’ brother at all, a fact that is revealed by a local elder called Nun (Ben Kingsley).

When Ramses discovers the truth he banishes Moses to the wilderness. Sunburnt and thirsty, Moses finds water and rest at a tiny outpost in the middle of nowhere. At the watering hole some local blokes are trying to muscle in before a group of thirsty girls, but Moses flashes his imperial sword (not a euphemism) and the men back off. One of these girls has maintained a good moisturising regime and has brightened herself up with some eyeliner and lipstick; guess which girl Moses falls in love with? So Moses marries Zipporah (Maria Valverde), who bears him a son, Gershom (Hal Hewetson).

When Gershom is nine, he tells Moses that climbing the nearby mountain is forbidden by God, because mum says so. So of course Moses tries to climb it. In the Old Testament such disobedience would normally be punished with a little mild genocide, but on this occasion Moses only suffers a falling rock to the head and thereafter receives visitations from God in the form of a young boy, Malak (Isaac Andrews). Malak tells Moses that he should journey back to Egypt to witness how bad the social conditions have become. Zipporah isn’t too keen on Moses disappearing on this quest, thinking – not unreasonably – that the whole visitation from God thing was just a delusion brought on by the blow to Moses’s noggin.

But back in Egypt, Moses discovers that Malak was right. The Hebrew slaves are suffering badly. Moses gets a group of followers together and trains them up as a fighting force. However, they can’t take on the army directly because they are so badly outnumbered. Therefore, Moses’ plan is to destroy provisions that are en route for the civilian population, thereby making them angry at the rulers and so fomenting instability. This is basically terrorism, of course, but maybe that’s OK when God’s on your side (because, obviously, God takes sides). As it happens, God (Malak) turns up and tells Moses that his methods will take far too long. “Watch this”, says God, “I’ll show you what real terrorism looks like”, and launches a series of attacks on the civilian population, not to mention the local animals. First of all, he wipes out all the fish in the sea. This is followed by plagues of frogs, lice, and flies. Moses visits Ramses and tells him that worse is to come unless he relents and frees the slaves. Ramses says that this is not economically viable, so then God starts to wipe out the livestock and visits plagues of boils and locusts upon the people, as well as hail, thunder, and darkness.

Even Moses starts to think that God is going a bit far when he reveals his plan to kill all newborn children, but God tells him that no punishment is harsh enough for those who have enslaved his chosen people for over 400 years. Nonetheless, Moses is able to mitigate the effects of the almighty’s genocidal rampage by advising the local Hebrews to smear lambs’ blood over their front doors as a protective agent. But God’s war crime works: when Ramses discovers that his young child is dead, he relents in the face of Biblical firepower and frees the slaves. Moses then entreats the Hebrews to follow him to the promised land and so they head off into the wilderness with him. By now, Ramses has got his act together again and sets off with his army in pursuit of Moses.

Moses gets a bit lost in the mountains and calls upon God for assistance. But guess what? Despite all the help that Moses gave God, God’s nowhere to be seen when Moses needs a bit of help with the old map-reading business. Maybe God tired himself out with all that genocide stuff and was having a rest. Still, somehow Moses gets his people to the Red Sea which – as we all know – conveniently parts in order that they can cross to the Holy land. Moses is reunited with his son and his wife who, when he rocks up at their home, is still wearing full make-up. No sooner has Moses returned when God gets him busy chiselling the ten commandments into lumps of stone. “I quite like that you don’t always agree with me” God tells Moses, thus revealing a bit of a soft spot that the Old Testament God doesn’t normally extend to dissenters.

And that’s about it story-wise. I’m not qualified to say how closely Exodus follows the Old Testament story of Moses. However, the tale presented here is seriously lacking in dramatic tension. Moreover, I found it difficult to care about Moses and his battle with Ramses. Christian Bale does a perfectly fine job as Moses, though the story doesn’t really allow him to shine. In fact, all of the actors are somewhat overwhelmed by the combination of CGI and 3D (perhaps the 2D version works better). It is as if Ridley Scott was so concerned about conveying visual epic-ness that the basics of storytelling got left behind. In some films 3D works really well. Gravity is probably the best example. But in Exodus the screen just seems too busy, which is a distraction.

Rating: 3/10

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Mainstream movies about sex always raise questions as to whether they are titillating, pornographic, exploitative, or misogynistic, and with increasingly explicit scenes in recent movies those questions are even more salient. So, given Lars von Trier’s reputation as a provocateur it was with some trepidation that I approached Nymphomaniac. In the event, the story of Joe’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sex addiction started out pretty grim and then proceeded to get worse. I wouldn’t dare to predict other viewers’ responses, but there was nothing here that struck me as particularly titillating.

Volume 1 begins when Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) discovers Joe, beaten up and lying in an alley. She won’t let him call an ambulance or the police, so he takes her home. There, she tells Seligman her life story. This begins with a teenage Joe (Stacy Martin) asking a young man, Jerôme (Shia La Beouf), if he would be willing to take her virginity, which he does. Not long afterwards, Joe and her friend B (Sophie Kennedy Clark) take a train journey, the sole purpose of which is to see who can have sex with the most male passengers before they reach their destination. Back in their home town, the two of them determine to have meaningless sex with as many men as possible, but never more than once with the same man. The joint venture eventually ends when B commits the sin of falling in love, but by now Joe is in the early grip of her sex addiction.

Seligman proves to be a surprisingly non-judgmental listener, as Joe’s unfolding story starts to include examples of the hurt she has caused to others. Indeed the cultured Seligman chips in at intervals, comparing the episodes from Joe’s life to examples from science, art, and literature.

There is no real ending to Volume 1, except to provide us with a kind of cliffhanger that leaves us wanting to see Volume 2. In the second film Joe continues to tell her story in flashback, whereby she pursues even more extreme erotic interactions to satisfy her sex addiction, with disturbing consequences.

I had somewhat mixed reactions to Nymphomaniac. At various points I did wonder if matters were getting just a little bit silly, but nonetheless I still found it quite compelling. Partly this was out of a desire to find out just where the story was going to go, especially as Volume 1 begins with Joe’s rescue. But also the film grabbed my attention because of the compelling performances by Gainsbourg and Skarsgård, as well as by Hollywood stars such as Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, and Uma Thurman. The latter in particular has a wonderful cameo as a wronged woman dragging her children round to Joe’s flat, where she insists on showing them “the whoring bed”.

I also was a little mystified about the criticism that Shia LaBeouf’s performance has received. To be sure, he wasn’t the standout performer here, but his much-derided accent was not as bad as I had been led to expect. Various reviewers have described his accent as the worst cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke. Maybe I just have a tin ear (though I am a Londoner and can “do” cockney), but LaBeouf’s accent struck me as rather impossible to place – if anything, it seemed a gentle combination of Irish and London. It certainly didn’t disrupt the film for me in any way.

As to where it all leads, there is a twist in the tale (of sorts), but to some extent it does seem to turn Nymphomaniac into a bit of a shaggy dog story. However, we are provided with some dark entertainment along the way.

Rating: 8/10