Greetings all! It is time for a catch up of the films I have seen since the start of the New Year. In order to make it more reader friendly (and tidier on my old blog) I thought I’d split them in to two, starting with this collection of three small reviews. The three films in question; Exodus: Gods and Kings, Into the Woods, and Big Eyes. All three of these features were not particularly ones I was itching to see (most of those are in part 2), but none the less, they made it on to my radar and proved to be interesting, if not entirely successful, cinematic endeavours. 

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Exodus: Gods and Kings (Dir: Ridley Scott)

Much has been discussed about Exodus, particularly in the build-up to its release. Much of this discourse regarded the white-washing of the cast in a film which concerns Ancient Egypt, an issue which was somewhat exacerbated by Sir Ridley’s rather ignorant and flippant response. The film itself was very quickly dismissed, failing to make a great impression at the box-office (currently it has made slightly under $250 million on a budget of $140). This is somewhat of a shame, as the film, while certainly problematic, is an ambitious epic, with a scope and confidence that only a Ridley Scott motion picture can muster and project. Scott’s re-telling of the story of Moses is rather bold in the tone it strikes. Despite the 12A certificate, Scott ensures that the violent and sinister moments of the Biblical tale are all there to witness in their entire wrath of God glory. What is also an intriguing aspect of this re-telling is the interest taken in rationalising the acts of God, providing some logic to the origins of the plagues, Moses’ visions, and even the parting of the Red Sea. It follows in a similar fashion to Aronofsky’s Noah, if in a more traditional fashion, and arguably more successfully. The film succeeds as a visual spectacle, with utterly stunning production design by Scott’s regular collaborator Arthur Max, and exceptional visual effects, aided by a refreshingly smart application of 3-D, which truly aids the scope and detail of the Ancient world on display. It is never dull to look at, but what proves detrimental to the technical brilliance on display is, indeed, the actors chosen and the performances delivered. Christian Bale is terribly mis-cast, and seemingly lacking in any direction, as he shouts and barks his way through with a fluctuating London accent that leaves his Moses rather colour-less and lacking in charisma. Joel Edgerton fairs better as Ramesses II, but is not given a great deal of screen-time in what is predominantly Bale’s tale. Much of the supporting cast range from either offering very little or to be being down-right ridiculous, namely a criminally under-used Sigourney Weaver and an out-of-place Aaron Paul. This film is a pure visual treat, with the acting either getting lost in the vast landscapes or doing too much to be heard within them. A pleasure on an aesthetic level, just lacking in a truly compelling drama, with characters that were drawn out far better in The Prince of Egypt. 3/5 

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Into the Woods (Dir: Rob Marshall)

Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods is not a property that I am that familiar with; I am more aware of the concept than I am the musical numbers. Taking well known fairy-tales and extending them beyond their happy endings, Into the Woods promises a farcical take on the fairy-tale genre and its generic happy endings. For the most part, that is very much the case, as we join the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) on a quest to break a Witches’ curse (said Witch played by Meryl Streep). As they head into the woods (so that’s why it’s called that), they run in to a number of fairy-tale characters on their own adventures, including Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford). The first half of the film is a more traditional fairy-tale musical with a farcical bent to the lyrics and the way in which certain characters are portrayed and performed. It feels energetic and driven, moving between characters smoothly, with most of the songs achieving great levels of satire. The highlight would have to be the ballad between the two handsome Princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen), entitled ‘Agony’. The two actors strike a perfect chord in terms of tonality and deliver utterly hilarious performances. It is a shame that they aren’t in it more (particularly Pine) as nobody else quite manages to strike the right balance between playing it straight and being satirical. The closest to them has to be Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife, turning in a giddy and spirited performance. Elsewhere, Streep hams it up all the way to an inexplicable Oscar nomination, Kendrick sings beautifully but struggles to make that great an impression, and Corden seems a little lost in the mix, often playing a bit too seriously. The film suffers in its second half when the tales take a turn for the macabre. It does not follow all too smoothly from what we’ve seen before, and while this is kind of the point, it makes the film feel disjointed, poorly paced, and far too long. The musical numbers become fairly routine, bland and lacking in distinction, while the cast appear to be making it up as they go along in-between each song leading to the ending coming off as a rather bum note. It was rather a relief for the film to end in all honesty, despite a few colourful performances and a spirited opening, it quickly descends into a cheap-looking, somewhat forced adaptation. Still, it is quite refreshing to see Disney once again support a subversive take on the genre which has made its fortune, yet Enchanted remains the more successful endeavour. 3/5 

big-eyes-posterBig Eyes (Dir: Tim Burton)

While not one that has proven to be an Awards contender, Tim Burton’s Big Eyes still had a lot of promise. For one, it reunites Burton with the screenwriters of Ed Wood, my personal favourite of the oddball auteur’s rather mixed back catalogue. This, along with the energetic trailer, promised a more reserved Burton, both dramatically and visually, relying more on bright pastel lighting than the over-use of CG characters and environments. And no Johnny Depp. Extra plus. The story itself is also a curious one, telling the true tale of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) an artist whose portraits of big-eyed children became popular in America during the 50’s and 60’s. Yet, no one knew it was her who painted them, as her husband and con man, Walter (Christoph Waltz) took all the credit for her work. With a secure home and vast income, Margaret feels trapped, desiring to let her talent be known, but aware that telling the truth would see the collapse of her stable home. This story may not be one that you would think to assign to Burton, as it requires a great attention to character and inner emotion, something which Burton has never been too astute at (he’s always been more interested in exteriors than interiors, arguably). And while he does seem to do his best to convey Margaret’s pain, there is still a niggling sense that his heart is simply not in this tale. Much of the execution is fairly routine and restrained to the point where what he has presented is somewhat un-engaging. Bruno Delbonnel’s high key lighting makes the environment look inviting, and harkens back to the pastel-hued suburbia of Edward Scissorhands, but the script and the pacing itself lacks drive and purpose, meaning that by the end of the ordeal there is not a great surging sense of accomplishment that one should feel. The most successful component of the film is most definitely Amy Adams, who turns in a delicate and sympathetic performance, conveying Margaret’s desires to be both the best mother and artist she can be at torturous odds with each other. Waltz, however, is in a completely different film, often dissipating any drama from a scene by acting like a pantomime villain playing for an audience who isn’t there. It is a rare turn from Waltz, one that is so irritating and uncontrolled that it’s a joy whenever he is off screen. A bizarre and bewildering turn from an actor who is usually such a charismatic presence worthy of holding the screen. Quite a disappointment for a film that seemingly had a great deal for potential, meaning that all we are left with is an interesting story told in an un-inspired fashion, containing a worthwhile Amy Adams performance. 2/5 

Come back later today for Part Two, in which I shall review four Oscar contenders!

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