Gods of Egypt

For F*** Magazine

GODS OF EGYPT

Director : Alex Proyas
Cast : Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Elodie Yung, Chadwick Boseman, Courtney Eaton, Bryan Brown, Rufus Sewell, Geoffrey Rush
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 126 mins
Opens : 25 February 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

If there’s one constant throughout most ancient deistic mythologies, it’s that the gods have always got to drag poor mortals into their epic struggles. The god Osiris (Brown) is about to pass the crown to his son Horus (Coster-Waldau), the god of the sky. Osiris’ jealous brother Set (Butler), the god of the desert, crashes the coronation and snatches the crown for himself, gouging out Horus’ eyes and stealing away Horus’ companion Hathor (Yung), the goddess of love. Bek (Thwaites), a streetwise mortal, is hopelessly in love with Zaya (Eaton), who is forced to be a servant to chief architect Urshu (Sewell). Zaya gives Bek the plans to Set’s secret vault, and Bek sets about breaking in to steal Horus’ eye and return it to the god. Weakened and in exile, Horus reluctantly teams up with Bek, travelling to the domain of his grandfather Ra (Rush) the sun god to request that Horus’ powers be restored. Horus and Bek must call upon the expertise of Thoth (Boseman), the god of wisdom, to answer the riddle of the Sphinx and defeat the power-mad Set.

            If you saw the trailers for Gods of Egypt and thought “gee, this looks ridiculous”, you aren’t alone and you aren’t wrong. This fantasy flick overflows with gratuitous and consistently-unconvincing computer-generated imagery. The best thing that can be said about it is, well, it’s colourful. The plot point of gods falling from grace is faintly echoed by the way director Alex Proyas’ own career has tumbled. The once-promising helmer of The Crow and Dark City eventually went from that to I, Robot, to Knowing, to now this. Clash of the Titans but with ancient Egyptian deities is a fun premise on paper, but Gods of Egypt entirely lacks the resources to pull this off, even with a $140 million budget. Screenwriting duo Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless, whose less-than-inspiring credits comprise Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, spin a story that comes off as derivative. Despite referencing specific elements of ancient Egyptian mythology, the characters lack any defining identity of their own.

            Gods of Egypt has come under fire for its whitewashed casting – this is a film drawing on African mythology that features a predominantly white cast. Both director Proyas and studio Lionsgate have issued apologies for not considering a diverse cast, while also trucking out the expected “but it’s a fantasy film” defence. Yes, this is a silly, ultimately inconsequential movie, but what it sadly demonstrates is that even in 2016, white actors who are B-listers at best are preferred over actors of other ethnicities. Boseman has said he is thankful that as someone of African descent, he gets to portray the god of wisdom Thoth, but also conceded in the same interview that “people don’t make $140 million movies starring black and brown people.” Thoth is assisted by an army of duplicates of himself, so there’s a sad joke about how that evens the scales somewhere in there.

            Coster-Waldau, best-known as Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones, is a passable brooding hero. Thwaites, playing a character who’s essentially Disney’s version of Aladdin, is almost insufferably bland and frequently annoying. The stabs at buddy movie banter between Horus and Bek generally fall flat. Model/actress Eaton, who played Cheedo the Fragile in Mad Max: Fury Road, matches Thwaites in her woodenness. The relationship between Bek and Zaya is meant to be one worth charging the gates of the underworld for, but it really couldn’t be any less compelling. As the other main female character in the story, Yung fares only slightly better, Hathor serving primarily as further motivation for Horus to seek vengeance against Set.

Butler chomping the scenery as a snarling villain consumed with absolute domination is, at least, slightly more interesting than Butler playing a generic action hero, or trying his hand at romantic comedy. Rush’s appearance as Ra feels like a cut-rate version of Anthony Hopkins as Odin in the Thor movies, like a doctor-ordered dosage of prestige. It is somewhat amusing to see the Oscar-winner battle what can only be described as, forgive our crassness, a gargantuan cosmic toothed anus.

            Gods of Egypt is quite the misguided enterprise, at once extravagant and hollow. Any inventiveness its visuals might possess is undercut by the phoniness of it all. For example, while it certainly sounds cool to have all the gods stand nine feet tall, this “reverse-Hobbit” effect makes it seem like they’re never actually occupying the same space as the mortals they’re interacting with. You’re tired of reading this comparison, we’re tired of writing it and it’s a disservice to video games, but this movie looks like a video game. While Gods of Egypt feels like it’s going to be so bad it’s good and there is a fair amount of unintentional hilarity to take in, everything eventually blurs together and it’s more effort to endure than it’s worth.

Summary:Between the CGI mucilage, flat acting, uninspired story and a once-promising director just giving up, Gods of Egyptis an ungodly mess.

RATING: 1.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Maleficent

For F*** Magazine

MALEFICENT 

Director : Robert Stromberg
Cast : Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville
Genre : Fantasy, Adventure
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes)

So much happened before Aurora dropped in. In Maleficent, we learn the untold story of the title character, hitherto thought of as just the dastardly villain from Sleeping Beauty. In her youth, Maleficent (Jolie) befriended and later fell in love with Stefan (Copley). But the gulf between Maleficent’s home, the enchanted forest kingdom of the Moors, and Stefan’s, the human kingdom, proves to be too wide. Stefan eventually becomes the king and betrays Maleficent. When King Stefan’s daughter Aurora (Fanning) is born, a scorned and heartbroken Maleficent casts a spell on her: if Aurora pricks her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel before her 16thbirthday, she will fall into a deep sleep and only true love’s kiss can wake her. As three fairies (Staunton, Temple, Manville) watch over Aurora, so does Maleficent – from a distance, and with the aid of her loyal raven Diaval (Riley). Slowly, Maleficent’s hate towards the child softens, just as King Stefan declares war.

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            After one John Carter/Lone Ranger too many, one hopes that Disney will realise that this is the direction in which their live-action blockbusters should proceed. In telling a villain’s back-story, there’s always the danger of the mystique and menace of said villain being stripped away – just look at Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. It’s handled far better here and Maleficent makes the ideal candidate for a “perspective flip” retelling because Aurora is just about the most boring Disney princess of them all, and it was always Maleficent who was more fascinating. The screenplay by Linda Woolverton and an uncredited Paul Dini has an appealing fairy-tale logic to it; imps, fairies and enchanted forests existing in the same story as a protagonist who cannot be squarely categorised as either “hero” or “villain”. We live in a post-Loki world, and as a sympathetic character whose path towards the dark side makes sense, Maleficent is very much like Loki – right down to the trickster streak and those horns.

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            Robert Stromberg, production designer on Avatar, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Oz: The Great and Powerful makes his feature directorial debut with Maleficent. Many design touches from those three films are evident here and while the aesthetic may not be unique, it is undeniably beautiful. Yes, the film is heavily reliant on computer-generated imagery, but there’s still life and soul to the CGI (especially the character animation on Diaval the shape-shifting raven) and the backdrops do not dissolve into generic digital mucilage. Anna B. Sheppard’s costume design work is impeccable; the translation of Maleficent’s animated look into a live-action context particularly effective. It’s at once immediately recognisable and also inventive; how she has different coverings for her horns depending on the seasons is a nice touch. And of course, Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker’s work completes Angelina Jolie’s transformation into the character, horns, severe cheekbones and all.

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            We don’t throw the word “perfect” around here too often, so believe us when we say Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast. She’s proven that she’s great at vamping it up, that she has the dramatic chops and that she can command the screen, all skills she calls upon for Maleficent. From the way she intones lines such as “a grand celebration, for a baby. How wonderful” to her calm, steely gaze to the way she tilts her head back at just the right angle, it proves to be quite the casting coup. The way the character is made sympathetic might not sit well with those who love Maleficent for being “the Mistress of All Evil” but this reviewer likes the layers Jolie brings to the part, in addition to how much she is enjoying herself as Maleficent. Elle Fanning doesn’t have to do much as Aurora because this really isn’t her story, but her wide-eyed naïveté is believable. Angelina Jolie’s real-life daughter Vivienne plays Young Aurora; the scene in which Maleficent interacts with her disdainfully is even cuter once you realise that’s just a toddler playing with her mother.

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            South African actor Sharlto Copley is deservedly climbing the A-list, and he’s good here as well, playing a king who gradually descends into madness and who is consumed by an obsession with the menacing winged creature he once loved. Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville provide the comic relief as the three bickering guardian fairies – they’re amusing if not slightly grating and the CGI versions of them do teeter over the uncanny valley. Brenton Thwaite’s Prince Phillip is pretty much an afterthought but hey, he’s handsome. Sam Riley handily steals the show as mighty morphin’ bird Diaval (known as Diablo in the 1959 film). He may not look it, but Diaval is easily the most adorable an “evil minion” can get without being a yellow, overalls-clad, goggles-wearing capsule.

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            Hardcore Disney animation fans will be pleased to know that the late Marc Davis, one of the revered “nine old men” and the supervising animator for Maleficent, Aurora, Diablo and other characters in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, is thanked in the credits. Darker, “Grimmified” takes on fairy tales have become something of an eye roll-inducing Hollywood trend, but Maleficent manages to soar above the pack thanks to a compelling turn from its wonderfully-cast lead. Sweeping classical imagery that includes Maleficent breaking through the clouds to bask in the sun’s glow and Diaval in horse mode rearing up on his hind legs as the sun sets behind the castle enriches the experience too. In many ways, the film is much like Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Once Upon a Dream” that plays over the end credits: an effective reinvention of something familiar but one that lovers of the old-fashioned approach might not necessarily enjoy completely.

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Summary: Those tired of blockbuster re-imaginings of time-worn fairy tales might not be won over by Maleficent, but Angelina Jolie’s stunning performance, in addition to some lush, awe-inspiring visuals, make this one worthwhile.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong