GODS OF EGYPT (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Fantasy Violence and Action, and some Sexuality

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Directed by: Alex Proyas

Written by: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Chadwick Boseman, Elodie Yung, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell, Geoffrey Rush & Bryan Brown

Let’s ignore for a moment that GODS OF EGYPT is a colossal box office flop that only grossed a tenth of its budget back in its opening weekend. Let’s not even begin to get into the controversial white-washing of ancient Egyptian deities. Let’s just totally wipe aside that director Alex Proyas took to Facebook in order to scold movie critics and compare them to vultures pecking at a carcass. With these three major things put aside, let me just examine GODS OF EGYPT as a film, as pure entertainment. When taken as a big dumb Egyptian version of CLASH OF THE TITANS, GODS OF EGYPT is awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, and mind-blowing. Before you rush to crucify me or watch this movie, please hear me out.

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Before putting context to my earlier descriptions, let me lay out what I can of GODS OF EGYPT’s plot. The story takes place in ancient Egypt (duh!), but this isn’t your history teacher’s ancient Egypt. This ancient Egypt lies on a flat world and is populated by gods and mortals alike. The only differences between gods and mortals is that gods are tall, strong, bleed gold, and can occasionally transform into shiny animal forms. If that sounds stupid, just wait. Bek (Brenton Thwaites) is an Aladdin-type street rat and isn’t exactly a fan of gods, while his slave girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) has faith in air god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

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Bek’s prejudice seems justified when evil god of the desert Set (Gerard Butler) crashes Horus’s coronation, kills Osiris (Bryan Brown), and rips out Horus’s eyeballs in front of…well, everyone else’s eyes. He also induces a toll on death, so the poor will vanish into thin air and only the rich will gain access to the afterlife. Bek decides that he isn’t having any of Set’s bull and steals one of Horus’s missing eyeballs in a sequence that rips off RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. With his sight partially restored and screwy depth perception, Horus takes Bek and a variety of smaller gods on a seemingly never-ending quest to take down Set and restore Egypt to its former glory…but Set is already up to a bigger evil scheme of his own.

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To be fair, Horus and Bek’s quest feels never-ending because the story seems to be making itself up as it goes along. It’s truly awe-inspiring that two writers penned this screenplay together, got it funded to the tune of 140 million dollars, and that was completed by a director who has delivered quality genre entertainment in the past (ala THE CROW and I, ROBOT). The cold, hard truth is that GODS OF EGYPT’s script feels like it wouldn’t support a subpar video game. The 126-minute running time certainly doesn’t help matters, because the movie crawls along at a glacial pace. I know a lot of people hate the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake (I seem to be in the minority of those who actually enjoy that film), but at least that film had the decency to be thirty minutes shorter than GODS OF EGYPT.

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The performances are jaw-dropping in how utterly confused everyone seems. It’s as if the cast read the script, shrugged their shoulders, and said “Well, I’ll do my own thing and this movie will work itself out.” Every actor seems to be going in an entirely different direction with the material. Brenton Thwaites is playing Bek as Egyptian Aladdin. This means his dialogue is filled with lame quips passing for humor, e.g. asking aloud “Where do you even get that many scorpions?” while looking down at a scorpion-infested booby trap. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister from GAME OF THRONES), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther from CIVIL WAR), and Elodie Yung (Elektra from Netflix’s DAREDEVIL) all seem to be playing their roles as straight as possible. Meanwhile, Gerard Butler sounds like he’s trying to pull some sort of indescribable accent…or simply got drunk as a coping mechanism for starring in this pile of sphinx excrement.

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GODS OF EGYPT is downright mind-blowing when you consider that this film had a budget of 140 million and the computer effects look like they belong in a subpar PlayStation 2 game, complete with herky-jerky movements. This movie tries and utterly fails to bring cool moments to the screen. There’s a couple of fire-breathing monster snakes here, a riddle-spouting giant Sphinx there, and not to mention spiky death traps, a hazy afterlife, the creator’s realm, a giant cosmic leech and many other creatures. However, none of these visuals look good or completely rendered. All of this CGI looks half-assed, stupid beyond reason and laughably awful.

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If you want to sit through a bloated plot that makes up its own rules as it goes along and drags for over two hours, GODS OF EGYPT might be your movie. If you want to watch poorly rendered CGI take up every inch of your screen and a half-drunk Gerard Butler hatch out a senselessly clichéd evil scheme, then GODS OF EGYPT might be your movie. If you like scenes filled with spinning cameras to a nauseating degree and slow motion that’s clearly being used to somewhat obscure poorly choreographed fighting, then GODS OF EGYPT might be your movie. If you want a well-written story, cool stylized action or enjoyable big dumb entertainment, then pick another film…because GODS OF EGYPT is not your movie!

Grade: F

THE DEVIL’S HAND (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Disturbing and Violent Material, some partial Nudity and Thematic Content

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Directed by: Christian E. Christiansen

Written by: Karl Mueller

Starring: Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Carpenter, Colm Meaney, Alycia Debnam Carey, Adelaide Kane, Leah Pipes & Thomas McDonell

THE DEVIL’S HAND (previously known as THE DEVIL’S RAPTURE previously known as THE OCCULT previously known as WHERE THE DEVIL HIDES) was dumped onto VOD last weekend with no advertising at all. I actually found out about its release from a certain horror blog that was kind enough to inform me. Right out of the gate, did I expect THE DEVIL’S HAND to be particularly good? Not really. The title changes and release date shifts for the past two years didn’t exactly give me the highest hopes that this was a quality piece of horror cinema. I was more morbidly curious as to why the studio would uncaringly shove off a project they had poured money and time into. It’s a bit of a reverse-psychology effect with me and these kind of situations. If a film gets overly delayed, I get semi-excited to see if it was remotely decent to begin with. Watching THE DEVIL’S HAND, it quickly became apparent as to why the studio threw this Satanic Panic flick by the wayside so many times. It’s terrible, that’s why!

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It’s easier and more accurate to say that DEVIL’S HAND is a combination of MY SOUL TO TAKE (Wes Craven’s worst film) with THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY, than it is to intricately describe the plot. Getting the basic set-up out-of-the-way, six girls were all born on the same night in an Amish-like community. A prophecy was foretold that these six births would be a sign that the antichrist was coming in the form of one of these girls. Eighteen years later, the girls are on the verge of becoming women and a cloaked figure begins killing them off one-by-one to prevent the antichrist from reaping havoc on the Earth. It’s a silly and stupid premise that comes off as somehow more inept than the dialogue from MY SOUL TO TAKE and even more confusing than HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY. This film is sometimes laughably bad, but more like an endurance test.

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The first thing that becomes clear in THE DEVIL’S HAND is that the story has been cut to shreds. Dialogue from presumably a scene cut out of the original cut has been laced over the opening credits sequence so you’re already given the back story before the film even starts. It seems like a last-ditch effort to speed up the plot in a film that somehow feels longer than its 86-minute running time. Everything still remains dull and dreary through its entirety. The PG-13 rating also clearly wasn’t intended because there are quick moments of gore (a throat slashing, an impalement) and one bit of full-on nudity from a young actress that are briefly glimpsed in a matter of seconds before moving forward. It’s more than likely that the film was originally R and cut back to appeal to the wider demographic upon its VOD release. PG-13 rated horror films don’t all suck, not at all. 1408, DRAG ME TO HELL, and INSIDIOUS are all great examples of PG-13 horror done right. When content restrictions take away from the story being told, there’s a problem with said rating being placed on that film. DEVIL’S HAND tries to homage 70’s satanic panic flicks, hearken back to 80’s slashers, and still remain a modern teeny-bopper horror flick. As you can imagine, this combination doesn’t gel well together at all.

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The dialogue is atrocious and stupid clichés litter the script. My favorite was the magically transporting killer who can just show up in any corner when its convenient. The reveal of the cloaked figure’s identity is even more contrived, because there was nothing really building up towards this reveal being effective or making a lick of sense. The final minutes go full on into the same territory that MOLLY HARTLEY ended on. None of the cast members seem to like being associated with this film either and it shows in their performances. Colm Meaney is embarrassingly over-the-top and yells about doing God’s work in every scene he’s in. Rufus Sewell and Jennifer Carpenter both look bored, delivering their lines in monotone. None of the young actresses do a particularly good job either, but they aren’t given anything to work with in their defense.

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There are a lot of good reasons why DEVIL’S HAND was tampered with so many times, delayed through a couple of years, and unceremoniously dumped onto digital platforms to rent this Halloween season. The biggest reason of all is that this film is a failure in all areas. It’s a boring, stupid mess that won’t appeal to anyone outside of preteen girls who have never sat through a single horror movie in their lives. DEVIL’S HAND is godawful!

Grade: F

HERCULES (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Epic Battle Sequences, Violence, Suggestive Comments, brief Strong Language and partial Nudity

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Directed by: Brett Ratner

Written by: Ryan J. Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos

(based on the graphic novel HERCULES: THE THRACIAN WARS by Steve Moore & Admira Wijaya)

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Aksel Hennie, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes

2014 has brought us not one, but two crappy takes on a Greek Demigod. Of both films (the first being January’s LEGEND OF HERCULES), this summer release had the greater chance of actually being a solid film. Enter Brett Ratner. This is the man who ruined the third X-MEN film and pumped out the lame TOWER HEIST two-years back. This is a director who has truly earned infamy in Hollywood. He’s not entirely to blame for the colossal screw-up that is HERCULES. Though Ratner’s mixed production values already reeked of a possible stinker to begin with, the script is what tanks this entire film. The ads have lied and the story is essentially a KING ARTHUR version of the legend of Hercules. Thus meaning that a more realistic angle is taken and the legend itself is merely a story told around a campfire. The problem with this approach is that Hercules was never a real person. The mythology is what makes him so interesting to begin with. The removal of Gods and monsters is only the start of a laundry list of problems of what doesn’t work.

HERCULES, from left: Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Dwayne Johnson as Hercules, Reece Ritchie, Rufus Sewell,

Based on a graphic novel by Steve Moore, the film follows Hercules and his trusty band of warriors serving as mercenaries. Under the promise of their weight in gold, the group is hired by Lord Cotys to defend a kingdom from an evil warlord. The battle may be harder than originally anticipated as they face an enemy from all sides. Hercules must take up the reigns, train an army, and keep the enemy at bay long enough to save the kingdom from certain destruction. The plot is by-the-numbers simple and contains just about every cliché in the book.

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By every cliché in the book, I mean there is not a single frame or concept that you haven’t seen before executed in a far better way. Dwayne Johnson plays Hercules as a reluctant hero fighting for what he believes is right. It’s the same shtick seen in nearly every cop, army, or war movie featuring this kind of hero who just wants to live in peace. The idea of portraying a more realistic version of Hercules is shaky from the beginning, but the portrayal of how this legend really happened is insulting to anyone remotely familiar with the mythology. In short, the legend itself would have been far more interesting, cool, and entertaining to see on the big screen. It’s the kind of story that perfectly lends itself to big summer blockbuster fare. This only makes every failed attempt that much more depressing. Throw in dusty attempts at comedy relief and some rather poorly done flashbacks, then you’ve got yourself the recipe for the level of awful that HERCULES dwells at.

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Besides Dwayne Johnson cracking one-liners and playing the same role that he already played in THE SCORPION KING, Hercules’ groups is populated by other figures from Greek/Roman mythology. It should come as no surprise that their treatment is equally as heinous as the title son of Zeus’ humiliating role here. There’s the Amazonian woman proving herself stronger than all of the men she’s around, a reluctant Spartan who only cares about gold, and the scarred, mute warrior. Ian McShane is a drug-using psychic who gives Hercules cryptic bits of advice when needed. The worst character comes in the form of Iolaus. He’s Hercules’ nephew and the bumbling sidekick who wants to be a warrior, but just isn’t strong enough. See what I mean by clichés? Joseph Fiennes and John Hurt should be downright embarrassed of their performances. They both chew the scenery. The film also has one of the most annoying child actors I’ve seen in quite a while as well. Thank the Gods that he doesn’t get a whole lot of material.

HERCULES, Dwayne Johnson as Hercules, 2014. ph: David James/©Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett

One might think that the action scenes could possibly hold some saving grace, but you’d be mistaken. Though there is a bit of momentum near the beginning of a few battle sequences, everything quickly devolves into repetitive sword-waving and nothing of real interest. Part of this might be attributed to the playing-it-safe PG-13 rating, but I’d wager that there isn’t a whole lot of interesting things to do in a non-mythological take on one of the most famous Greek myths. Another thing that really bugged me was the modern lingo thrown in. There’s the one “fuck” that every PG-13 rated blockbuster seems to save for a certain moment and then “shit” appeared every now and then. These words didn’t exist at this time in Greece. If you’re going to make a movie set in this time period then have them speak in dialogue that somewhat reflects the era they’re living in. It’s the same problem I had with 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE and the underrated POMPEII nailed dialogue more than both of these films. The film also plays hilariously cheesy music in certain scenes and is book-ended by a voice-over that really sounds like Ian McShane was just in recording booth with his paycheck being waved in front of him as motivation to say such ridiculous lines.

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The production values look very cheap in moments and actually convey some palpable atmosphere in some notable scenes. That’s about the only nice thing I can say about HERCULES. The real question that is raised after sitting through this film is this: How did a Syfy Channel script make it to the big screen and why were so many big names attracted to it? There may be a bit of an unintentionally campy factor to this film, but that’s the last thing anyone wants to hear about a would-be epic. Sitting through HERCULES is a miserable and aggravating experience. It’s one of the worst movies of the summer and 2014 as a whole.

Grade: D-

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