This month’s assortment of recent releases for the cinema and the home sees us cover Gods of Egypt, The Legend of Tarzan, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and Green Room. Four films enter. One film leaves. That makes three films still inside. That is the maximum occupancy of this Thunderdome. We’re on a budget.
On a personal level, the thing about Alex Proyas movies is that no matter how poor the general consensus of them is, I’m still going to watch them because at one point he made Dark City, and there’s always the chance that might happen again, even if what we actually get is I, Robot or this dumpster fire.
In the midst of a nice orderly transition of godly power between Osiris (Bryan Brown) and his still somewhat hedonistic, irresponsible son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), all-round bad apple Set (Gerard Butler) reappears from exile, seizing the Egyptian throne, killing Osiris, defeating Horus, stealing both his eyes and his girl, Hathor (Elodie Yung). Bad times.
Horus is exiled, and while Set and his cronies wage war against other gods refusing to kowtow to Set’s brutal regime, two mortal lovers Bek (Brenton Thwaites) and Zaya (Courtney Eaton) are separated in the chaos. Bek eventually tracks Zaya down, finding her enslaved to Egypt’s master builder (Rufus Sewell). After taking a swatch at the plans for the more devious traps in Set’s treasure vaults, Zaya asks Bek to steal back Horus’ eye and return it to him, in the hopes he will fight against Set.
Bek meets with some success, retrieving one of the eyes, but on returning to Zaya to break her out of enslavement she’s killed during their escape. Arriving at Horus’s distant temple, he bargains with Horus to return Zaya from the dead in exchange for returning Horus’ eye and helping to obtain the other. Horus promises he can do this, but only after defeating Set and reclaiming his position as rightful King of Egypt. The two team up against the overwhelming odds of Set’s forces, in what I’m sure in at least one draft seemed like an entertaining action adventure.
It’s difficult to know where to start with Gods of Egypt, really. Casting isn’t the main problem, and most of the people working here I like or, at worst, don’t really mind, but there’s an indication very early on that something’s badly wrong as soon as Bryan Brown opens his mouth. And I don’t really mind Bryan Brown, but the role clearly calls for a measured, stately, and, well, regal, tone, and that’s not the primary fire mode on Bryan Brown’s acting arsenal. He does his best, and it’s hardly embarrassing on its own merit let alone relative to the rest of the film, but there just seems to be no thought behind the casting decision.
Or most of the rest of the details. There’s a general overarching concept that, to be honest, isn’t too bad of an idea. It’s the same as fellow clunkers Clash and Wrath of the Titans_, doing something along the lines of Jason and the Argonauts, but with the CG horsepower available to us in space year 20XX. It ought to be a welcome change of pace from the tentpole comic book adaptations that dominate the landscape of late, but this is poorly executed on pretty much every level.
As mentioned there’s a lot of actors in here I like, but they are to a person terrible in here, and in particular the double act between Coster-Waldau and Thwaites is a charisma vacuum, and as that’s pretty much the lynch-pin of any human interest in the story that’s a problem. I’m reluctant to apportion any blame, as the dialogue they have to work with is sub-standard, to put it politely.
Likewise the supporting cast is given no help script-wise and understandably flounder, in particular the exceptionally poorly written God of Knowledge Thoth (poor Chadwick Boseman). There’s perhaps a few moments where the patented Butler brand bombast ties in well with the overblown dialogue, but not many of them, making Set a roundly average antagonist.
Clearly the bulk of the money handed over to director Alex Proyas has went into the CG, of which there is all of it, and of which nary a single frame looks convincing. A decision was made for Gods to be substantially taller than humans, which is again the sort of decision that seems reasonable in the abstract, but someone should have taken one look at the first composite scene with Little and Large and rethought the idea. I’ll give it this – throughout the two hours it never stops looking laughable, which is some small achievement, at least.
The politest thing I can say about the CG style is that it’s consistent – unfortunately it’s consistently ugly, brash and cheap-looking, but at least they’ve remained true to their aesthetic. To be fair some of the virtual sets and landscapes pass muster, but the action scenes certainly do not, particularly in the Godo-a-Godo fight between Set and Horus at the film’s conclusion, against a backdrop of the sandworm from Dune eating the Nile after Set backstabs his Grandfather Ra (Geoffrey Rush) for reasons I’m not sure were ever explained, apart from “Set’s a total dickhole”.
Now, I’m no longer the roundly negative bucket of anger and hatred that I was in my earlier years, and as such I’m not often prone to crucifying films any more. I’m very tempted to make any exception for this, but it veers too often into ‘boring’ rather than ‘horrible’ to truly lay into this. But even giving Gods of Egypt my rosiest possible write-up, it’s still challenging for the title of “Worst Film I’ve Seen This Year”.
Just leave it. He’s not worth it.
A quick search on IMDB on “Tarzan” brings up 200 results, so we’re not exactly starved for content in this vertical. Still, we’ve certainly not had one in recent times with this amount of wood behind the arrow. Directed by David Yates, who with the last four Harry Potter films under his belt is the 5th highest grossing director of all time, and the $180 million budget isn’t chump change.
Still, my interest in another Tarzan film was best approximated by zero, and only a distinct lack of other options saw me wandering into to a showing. Surprisingly, perhaps because of my total lack of expectation, I enjoyed The Legend of Tarzan much more than the general consensus would imply.
We’re introduced to Alexander Skarsgård’s Lord Greystoke, or John Clayton to his human friends, or Tarzan to his ape friends, as he’s being politely encouraged to accept a suspicious invitation to the Belgian Congo, for some years closed to visitors, to inspect the supposed good works the Belgian King has wrought for the natives. At best it’s a PR trip to curry the favour of the Congo’s most famed adopted son, what with Tarzan having grown up there amongst apes after the shipwreck of his parents, eventually coming to see the local tribes as friends rather than enemies and marrying visiting American Jane (Margot Robbie). We’re shown selected highlights of the traditional Tarzan origin story as flashbacks throughout the film, but I think wisely the film mainly concerns itself with an original story rather than reheat the old one.
The more sinister implication of this invitation is that it’s a trap of some sort, but American diplomat / spy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) urges Tarzan to walk into it anyway, taking him with him to gather evidence that Belgium has been enslaving the locals en masse to help him exploit the Congo’s natural resources, including its diamonds.
Turns out that’s not far off the mark, as the Belgian King’s fixer Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) has struck a deal with a tribal leader, Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who controls a particularly diamond heavy area who is intent on taking revenge on Tarzan for killing his son – all the diamonds you want for an opportunity to kill Clayton.
Clayton, Jane and Williams almost inadvertently give Rom the slip by leaving their boat early and trekking across country to visit their old home first, rather than go straight to the port where Rom was waiting to arrest them. Not dissuaded, Rom and a team of mercenaries head to the village intent on capturing Tarzan and enslaving or killing the others. They don’t quite expect the fierce resistance encountered, but manage to make off with Jane and a few other tribal members, with the idea that Tarzan and his friends will pursue them into Chief Mbonga’s grasp.
And so kicks off an action adventure across the Congo, swinging on vines, assaulting troop trains, and fighting the wildlife, while Rom goes through his urbane-creep act towards Jane in the way that Christoph Waltz does so well. Skarsgård makes for a compelling enough lead to carry the action, and while Sam Jackson’s not deviating much from the Sam Jackson playbook, that’s sort of why we love him, so I’ve no complaints on that score, particularly when he’s largely playing an exposition sounding board .
It’s yet another big-budget CG-based action outing for sure, but if nothing else at least this looks very different to the usual urban landscapes that our comic book adaptations are so intent on destroying. I’m sure time will eventually date the effects work, but for now it’s looking pretty good, and the jungle settings make for a more visually interesting film than most of its tentpole competition.
Perhaps the main advantage this has over its comic competition is that, despite the similarly fantastical origin of Tarzan’s abilities, the scale of the conflicts are more personal, believable, and much more nuanced than the laughable attempts at the same seen in Captain America: Civil War, for example, and Skarsgård, Waltz, Robbie and Hounsou do much better jobs of portraying that than any of the Marvel crowd.
So, as mentioned, much more enjoyable than expected. It’s not been a banner year for the summer tentpoles to be honest, so saying that this is up there with the best of them isn’t quite the praise that it ought to be, but it’s true nonetheless. Certainly not worth discounting from your viewing schedule, and given the current lack of better alternatives, certainly in the UK at the time of recording, well worth going to see, even if “competent” and “above-average” is as lavish praise as I feel I can justify. The way this year’s been going, though, that’s a good step up from its peers.
Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film, Blue Ruin, met with quite some acclaim, however I’ve not got round to watching it, apparently prioritising the likes of Gods of Egypt because I’m a moron. Still, with his latest, Green Room, if anything gathering even more acclaim, I felt I owed him the courtesy of watching this.
We’re introduced to a somewhat irritating young punk bank composed of Pat, Sam, Reece, and Tiger, respectively Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner who are pointed in the direction of a gig by a local radio DJ, which unbeknownst to them turns out to be a neo-Nazi hangout.
Now, if there’s one thing I hate more than colonial Belgians, it’s neo-Nazis, and the only thing I hate more than neo-Nazis are Illinois Nazis. Despite taunting them with a Dead Kennedy’s cover at the start of their set, a gig’s a gig, and they finish up and prepare to leave. However in what turns out to be a mistake for the ages, Sam realises she’s left her phone backstage in the green room
They barge in to retrieve it, only to find a dead girl and her shocked friend, and a couple of the club’s bouncers who then hold them at gunpoint. The club manager Gabe (Macon Blair) consults with the owner Darcy (Patrick Stewart) on how to unpick this mess, and decide that offing the band is the best course of action. In the interim, Reece has managed to overpower one of the bouncers and get the gun, briefly giving them a small amount of leverage, forcing Darcy to come up with alternative means of getting them out of the room and into the path of the attack dogs he intends on using to help cover up the real reason for their deaths, with the band doing their best to frustrate and escape them.
Now, for 45 minutes Green Room is a very effective thriller that to a point recalls the likes of Assault on Precinct 13, and I am very much on board this train. There then comes a point where it takes a very firm swing over to the slasher horror, and I am still on the train at that point, but if the train had left from that destination I probably would have sought a replacement bus service. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Look, if it was a horror all the way throughout I probably wouldn’t care much for the film, is probably what I’m trying to say.
But I have to admit, Green Room works. Certainly much better than the horror turn taken in the recently discussed Bone Tomahawk. A lot of that’s due to the cast, in particular the sadly deceased Anton Yelchin who has always had a knack for getting more out of underwritten roles than you’d have thought possible, and in this role where he’s actually given something to get his teeth into he’s very effective.
The other side of the intrigue coin has the head of Patrick Stewart on it, who does not need to prove his acting chops but does so anyway, with a great, restrained, underplayed turn that’s much more chilling that the perhaps more obvious frothing, screaming loon path that a role such as this would typically take. The cold, business-like nature make him an really effective villain, and it very much helps that his character is written as a character, and not a one dimensional scream-bot.
We should note in passing that there’s some really graphic violence on display, which is disgusting in the dictionary definition of the term and adds to the effectiveness of the horror – certainly leagues away from the fetishisation of brutality seen in the likes of Saw.
There is something that stops me unconditionally recommending Green Room, and I’m not completely sure what it is. It’s not the transition to horror, which is as well done as it could be. It’s well-written, well-paced, well-acted, and doesn’t pull any punches. It’s all the things I’d be looking for, so I’m going to put it down to watching it on the wrong day and give it a thumbs up.
The Lonely Island, composed of yer Andy Samberg, yer Jorma Taccone and yer Akiva Schaffer last gave us a movie entirely of their own creation in 2007 with Hot Rod, a curious beast that’s certainly much more enjoyable than its low profile would indicate. With the one-time SNL Digital Short crew having gone off in various different directions with some success, but nothing stellar, it’s good to see them return to the format that brought them to our attention in the first instance – their uncannily convincing music parodies.
In Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which I am warmed to on the title alone, Samberg takes the lead as megastar Connor4Real, the breakout solo success of previous group Style Boyz. While fellow Style Boy Taccone’s Owen “Kid Contact” Bouchard was a large part of Connor’s new success, working up the beats for him, he’s lately become sidelined as Connor works with hundreds of new producers for his upcoming, highly anticipated album.
The other Style Boy, Schaffer’s Lawrence “Kid Brain” Dunn, one time lyricist, acrimoniously split with Conner and has gone on to become a farmer and whittler of exceedingly poor wooden statuettes. The emotional arc of the film, not that that’s really the focus of it, comes from Conner’s new album flopping, leading to him eventually realising that his crew of paid sycophants aren’t really helping him and the eventual reunion with his previous friends in the Style Boyz, who much like The Lonely Island themselves grew up together.
It’s shot in a mockumentary style, albeit one that like the groups musical output is much more highly produced and slicker than the obvious touchstone of This is Spinal Tap. If anything, it manages to amaze by featuring a group of people, or at the very least Conner, who are substantially more stupid than the members of Spinal Tap, which ought not to be possible.
Narratively, Popstar is never less than predictable, but there’s certainly enough oddball moments to appreciate sprinkled throughout that keeps this firmly in the ‘quirky’ descriptor, and provide most of the non-song related laughs – concepts like Conner provoking outrage by preinstalling his album on washing machines, or the Daft Punk-esque helmet created for Taccone’s character that threatens air traffic by firing a beam of light not unlike Independence Day’s White House murdering laser.
However by far the bulk of the laughs come from the movie’s soundtrack, which is a bit of a double edged sword. While it’s every bit as good as anything they’ve ever done, the inescapable fact is that you can just listen to that on Spotify and get, arguably, more laughs out of that than in watching the film.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to recommend anyone in any doubt about how likely they are to enjoy this film take any sort of chance on it , because the obvious first step would be to recommend listening to the tracks on Spotify our the YouTube account, and by that point you’ve extracted much of the film’s value proposition for free.
If you’re already a fan of The Lonely Island, Popstar delivers enough solid, familiar laughs to make it worth your while. For everyone else, it’s one to catch up with at home rather than seek out a a cinema.
Right, that’s your lot. Find your hook and sling it.
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