Gods of Egypt

March 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites
Directed by: Alex Proyas (“Knowing”)
Written by: Matt Sazama (“The Last Witch Hunter”) and Burk Sharpless (“The Last Witch Hunter”)

With the #OscarsSoWhite controversy still fresh on people’s minds and the lack of diversity in Hollywood at a fever pitch, there is probably no worse time for a film like “Gods of Egypt.” With a cast of white, European actors playing Egyptian gods, it isn’t exactly working hard to combat the so-called “white washing” of the film industry. But can the quality of the film be enough to overcome its diversity issues? Spoiler alert: no it can’t.

As Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is set to become the new King of Egypt, Set (Gerard Butler) usurps the crown, stripping Horus of his eyes, and taking reign. In an effort to try to save the one he loves, mortal Bek (Brenton Thwaites) teams up with Horus to try and take the crown back from the merciless Set.

It is difficult to find a good place to start with the issues that plague “Gods of Egypt,” but one may start with the atrocious CGI. Right off the bat, the size differential between the Gods and the mortals look ridiculous, as if actors are playing in dollhouses. Beyond that, a lot of green screen rendering looks awful, and much of the design of computer graphics generated characters looks unfinished, fake, and unpolished. Simply put, “Gods of Egypt” features some of the worst CGI for a big budget movie in recent memory.

The actors of the film cannot be blamed for its terribleness, though they certainly didn’t do anything to elevate the material. Coster-Waldau continues to search for a film role that matches the greatness achieved by his performance in “Game of Thrones” and Thwaites is merely fine. Much of the blame should be shouldered by a really mediocre script that can’t decide what it wants to be or where it wants to go. In some scenes, it feels like a comedy, while in others the theme of love is hammered home with zero subtlety. The tone of the film also suffers, with many scenes playing as goofy, immature comedy which not only seems anachronistic, but corny as well.

Even though the movie is terrible in virtually every facet, it all seems to come back down to the core issue of a diversity problem. Where something like Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” featured white actors wearing make up to look like Egyptians, “Gods of Egypt” doesn’t even try to make it seem like their Gods are anything other than white, mostly British men. It’s a decision that feels almost equally as offensive. In fact, even Chadwick Boseman, one of the few racially diverse cast members, has a phony British accent slapped on.

Opinions of diversity (or lack their of) aside, “Gods of Egypt” is just a bad movie. It’s lame, boring, pointless, and difficult to follow. It would be one thing if there was some engaging visuals to look at, but they couldn’t even get that right. All in all, there isn’t a single quality of the film that keeps “Gods of Egypt” from being God-awful.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

June 13, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler
Directed by: Dean DeBlois (“How to Train Your Dragon”)
Written by: Dean DeBlois (“How to Train Your Dragon”)

It’s refreshing when an animation studio knows it has something special besides an easy way to package Happy Meal toys and video games. Sure, all that’s probably going to come along with “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” but when a kid’s film can actually prove it has a reason, in addition to raking in boatloads of cash, to peddle things like action figures and lunchboxes, it’s for the better.

Merchandising aside, “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” the follow-up to the 2010 animated Oscar nominee, has a reason and it’s a good one. Besides being just as funny, creative and exhilarating as its predecessor, the sequel also takes on some darker and more adult themes that steer this franchise in a meaningful way. Yes, there are still plenty of dragons as cute as a bowlful of puppies, but as the lead character in the series begins to mature into the man everyone knew he could become (despite his voice still cracking like a high school freshman), the narrative kicks the emotion and adventure to another level.

Based on the books by author Cressida Cowell, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” has less “training” to do and more beloved characters to establish and expand. Vikings and dragons have learned to live in harmony, but their happy days are numbered when all the dragons of the land are seriously threatened.

In the film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a young Viking who befriends a rare dragon he names Toothless in the original movie, is still living in his village with his scaly companion, various Viking friends, girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera) and father Stoick (Gerard Butler), the latter of whom wants to start prepping Hiccup to take over for him as chief. The future of his village’s dragons, however, is in danger of being stolen by the villainous Drago (Djimon Hounsou), who wants to create his own dragon army. Along the way, Hiccup is reunited with someone from his past, all while attempting to talk some sense into Drago before he starts plucking more and more dragons from the sky.

Beautifully rendered dragon characters and flight sequences make up the most exciting parts of this second trip with Hiccup and Toothless. As in the first, DreamWorks Animation really takes advantage of the 3-D imagery, something most animated films use to suck a couple more dollars out of patrons’ pockets. Here, the 3-D works miracles, especially when the dragons are the high-flying attraction. Director Dean DeBlois, who co-directed the first film with Chris Sanders but is going solo on this one, captures the wonderment of these fictional winged creatures and does so without surrendering any of its personality. Everyone knows sequels, especially animated ones, are basically made if the first one hit box-office gold. It’s nice to see another example of one that challenges itself to build on its clever storyline and actually come out with its head above the clouds.

Olympus Has Fallen

March 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”)
Written by: Creighton Rothenberger (debut) and Katrin Benedikt (debut)

Yes! Yes, Gerard Butler, “Olympus Has Fallen” is exactly the kind of film you should be making nonstop! Enough with the horrible romantic comedies. They absolutely do not work with you in the lead, and society is general is worse off for having to experience them. Stick to action and we’ll all be golden, okay? Even if the screenplay is utter crap. We can deal with that as long as there are some cool explosions and fistfights and such.

In “Olympus Has Fallen,” Butler stars as Mike Banning, a dedicated Secret Service agent tasked with protecting President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), First Lady Margaret Asher (Ashley Judd), and their young son Connor (Finley Jacobsen). After a terrible accident leaves Banning disgraced, he is moved from the President’s detail and reassigned to a desk job at the U.S. Treasury. Eighteen months later, when a rogue C-130 gunship soars over Washington, DC, mowing down citizens and law enforcement alike in a hail of bullets, Banning springs into action. The target is the White House (code named Olympus). When the building is taken by foreign terrorists, Banning slips inside and becomes the last hope for saving President Asher–and the nation itself.

If you aren’t the kind of moviegoer who can sit back and let the testosterone and jingoism of a political action film just wash over you, then “Olympus Has Fallen” makes an easy target for scorn. The script from first-timers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt is overflowing with action movie cliches and is unashamedly aping “Die Hard.” Butler delivers another meathead performance, complete with an American accent as shoddy as the special effects on display. And Morgan Freeman (as the Speaker of the House pushed into action when both the President and Vice-President are held captive) is clearly phoning it in after having played roles like this seemingly dozens of times. Throw in unstoppable super-weapons, genius computer hackers, and a sneering foreign villain along with everything else and you’ve got the recipe for Generic Action Movie #876, right?

Well, yeah. But in spite of it all, it still works. The “what if?” scenario of the White House succumbing to a terrorist assault is juicy stuff, and it’s hard to get tired of Butler tossing out curse-laden one liners while stabbing bad guys in the brain. And as the Secretary of Defense, Melissa Leo is having a blast as she gets to spit foul-mouthed venom in the face of her captors. When she’s dragged down a hallway screaming the Pledge of Allegiance (as corny as it may be), it’s hard to not be on the edge of your seat waiting for Butler to come to her rescue and put a bullet in someone’s face.

Playing for Keeps

December 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Dennis Quaid
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Seven Pounds”)
Written by: Robbie Fox (“So I Married an Axe Murderer”)

When all of the tepid romantic comedy crap bobbing along aimlessly on the surface of “Playing For Keeps” finally boils away, the movie is left asking one question: are you, the viewer, okay with an innocent man being screwed over and heartbroken for the sake of the film’s hero? Are you fine with a decent guy having his entire life upended for no reason other than the fact he happened to fall in love and enter into a mutually committed relationship with a woman (and her young child he appears to love and care for) who happens to have an ex that the rom-com gods have determined is worthy of inexplicably winning her back? Is awful human behavior like this actually romantic to you?

“Playing For Keeps” stars Gerard Butler as George Dryer, a retired international soccer star who has fallen on hard times both personally and financially. George moves to Virginia in order to be closer to his young son Lewis (Noah Lomax) and his ex-wife Stacie (Jessica Biel), hoping to be a better father and rekindle the relationship he ruined years ago by actions unclear.

As luck would have it, Lewis is on a pee-wee soccer team in need of a real coach, a job George is perfectly suited for. Along the way George attracts the attention of a bevy of eager soccer moms (including Judy Greer, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Uma Thurman) who want to get into his Scottish knickers and a lecherous loudmouth soccer dad (Dennis Quaid, amazingly both hamming it up and phoning it in at the same time) who wants…well, someone to loan his Ferrari to, I guess? That relationship is hard to figure out. And all the while Stacie and her fiancé (James Tupper) express disappointment in George’s parenting at every opportunity.

Director Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) turns in a real hack-job, filled with choppy editing, abandoned plot points, and cringe-worthy performances. While Butler and Biel end up acquitting themselves with passably inert takes on boring characters, the supporting players fare much, much worse. Greer, Zeta-Jones, and Thurman all play horrible cartoons instead of real women, throwing themselves sexually at a puzzlingly chaste Butler during scenes where the music is working overtime to tell us all of it is supposed to be funny. None of them come close to the awfulness of Quaid, though, who seriously looks to be reading cue cards over Butler’s shoulder in some scenes.

And that brings us back to where this review started: in order for the film to end as telegraphed from the first frame, with Butler and Biel reuniting, an unsuspecting man (Tupper’s Matt, weeks out from his wedding!) will have to have his life shattered. Sure, stories of true love being rekindled after time apart have been around for centuries, but littering the story with characters subject to collateral damage caused by our heroes with absolutely no consequence is irresponsible bullshit masquerading as romance.

Coriolanus

April 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes (debut)
Written by: John Logan (“The Aviator”)

Social and economic inequality set the cinematic stage in “Coriolanus,” a highly-inspired adaptation of William Shakespeare’s early 17th century play, which, in many ways, parallels the protest movement against governmental power tripping that began in New York City late last year and has since spread across the U.S. While some literary pundits would call the original text one of the more minor tragedies written by Shakespeare (or whomever, for all you Anti-Stratfordians), first-time director and two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes (“Schindler’s List”) builds a fascinating modern-day narrative on familiar themes including political corruption and blood-lusting revenge and drills it straight into a belief system that rebellion is the only way to save a threatened democracy. It’s a stark depiction of war and societal oppression complemented by a frighteningly intense performance by Fiennes as the title tragic character who gives Coriolanus its impressive scowl.

When scarred and stern-faced Caius Martius Coriolanus (Fiennes) steps out from behind a line of shielded soldiers and toward a riotous mob that is demanding the government provide them food, the seething look he gives them only hints at the depth of the the Roman general’s loathing (though he’ll soon be seeking support from those same detractors during his transition from despised war hero to demeaning political figure). His hatred, however, is mostly concentrated toward the Volscian army and his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), who he later joins forces with to get revenge on Rome when its citizens banish him from the impoverished city.

As Coriolanus’ prideful mother Volumnia, Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave (“Julia”) is a standout, as is Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (“The Help”) in a smaller yet significant role as his concerned wife Virgilia, and Brian Cox (“Red”) as Senator Menenius, an ally who keeps the pendulum swinging steadily in Rome before Coriolanus shoves it over violently. It’s Fiennes, however, as both the visionary debuting filmmaker and lead that deserves the most credit for taking Shakespeare’s distinct language and allowing it to flourish in a contemporary setting and from the tongues of proven actors. While the decision to stay committed to the original text might turn away some viewers who would’ve rather seen “Coriolanus” set in a high school starring Zac Efron, perhaps, purists can take solace in the fact that Fiennes’ ambitious interpretation of Shakespeare’s work is well executed and unsettlingly relevant even after four centuries.

Machine Gun Preacher

October 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
Directed by:  Marc Forster (“Stranger Than Fiction”)
Written by:  Jason Keller (“Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie”)

When you hear the title “Machine Gun Preacher” paired with the phrase “starring Gerard Butler,” you probably imagine some pulpy, mindless B-movie wherein Scottish beefcake Butler plays a squared-jawed man of God, automatic weapon in hand, turning to righteous violence as a last resort in an effort to protect, I don’t know, some poor villagers or something. And you’d be right, except instead of “pulpy, mindless B-movie” it’s actually “drama based on a true story” that also features numerous people leaping away dramatically from RPG explosions.

Butler stars as Sam Childers, a low-life biker/drug dealer/all-around criminal just released from prison for charges unknown. Despite giving him some brief post-slammer car sex, Sam’s wife Lynn (Michelle Monaghan) immediately becomes the target of his rage after he learns she’s stopped stripping and found God. Sam storms out of the trailer and hooks up with old friend/partner in crime Donnie (Michael Shannon). They use a little heroin, rob a crack house at gun point, and speed around town while simultaneously shooting up. It’s during this drug-fueled joyride that they decide to pick up a hitchhiker. Not surprisingly, he turns out to be a stabbin’ hobo and his knife is soon at Donnie’s throat. Sam distracts the bum and ends up turning the blade on him, leaving the drifter for dead on the side of the road.

Nearly killing a man ends up being the last straw for Sam. He begins attending church with Lynn and their young daughter, and a baptism sends him down a path toward redemption. Sam sets about making an honest living, starting his own construction business, building his own modest church and rescuing Donnie from the clutches of drugs and alcohol. When a visiting pastor speaks to the congregation about the struggles of orphans in Sudan, Sam takes a new mission and jets off to Africa, finding more than he bargained for and transforming from missionary to mercenary in the process.

Despite being based on a true story, director Marc Forster (“Quantam of Solace”) never elevates the material to the realm of believability, what with Butler and his good looks and ripped physique looking nothing like a drugged up biker, or a scene featuring Butler’s character blowing a hole in the floor of his trailer with a shotgun and using his body as a shield to save his family from a tornado. And any mildly affecting drama the movie stumbles upon is always undone by Butler blasting away bad guys in the next scene Rambo-style, complete with headband. “Machine Gun Preacher” strives to be an action movie with a message. Too bad that message gets mowed down in a hail of gunfire.

How to Train Your Dragon

March 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler
Directed by: Dean DeBlois (“Lilo & Stich”) and Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”)
Written by: Dean DeBlois (“Lilo & Stich”) and Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”)

While most animation studios will probably be restless until June when Pixar unleashes the goliath that is “Toy Story 3,” that doesn’t mean any of them should raise their white flag just yet.

Sure, Pixar might still be considered the leader in its field (it’s picked up the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature the last three years in a row), but over the last few years other animation studios are getting the hint: no matter how spellbinding the computer-generated characters are, the narrative also has to be first-rate.

While DreamWorks Animation has had its ups and downs since branching off as its own entity in 2004,  the studio proved to have the talent necessary to deliver something as invigorating as 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda.” Of course, the “Shrek” franchise is still the studio’s moneymaker, so when something comes along like “How to Train Your Dragon,” a series of British children’s books that could possibly spawn a new string of movies, it’s not surprising that DreamWorks heads wanted to make sure they got the first one just right.

And to be quite honest, these fire-breathers definitely have some bite.

In “Dragon,” one of the books in a series written by Cressida Cowell, geek-for-hire Jay Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League”) lends his voice to the lead character, Hiccup, a scrawny little Viking who doesn’t look like his burly father Stoic (Gerard Butler) or any of the other savage warriors that make up his colony.

Hiccup might dream to one day slay a dragon (they’re apparently as rampant as roaches and destroy everything) but without the upper body strength to lift a sledgehammer or do anything else that makes a Viking a conquering force in medieval times, Hiccup is better left to tinker with his brainy inventions and teenage self-consciousness. He is, however, able to prove that enthusiasm is just as important as talent when he does the impossible and captures his own dragon.

Despite doing it in an unconventional way (and without anyone noticing his feat), Hiccup has done more that just bring down the beast; he has netted the most feared and mysterious dragons in all of the land: the Night Fury. This is one of the treats in “Dragon.” Not all of the dragons are designed in the same mold. Adapting Cowell’s story, directors/writers Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders give each breed of dragon their own distinct traits and personalities.

As Hiccup bonds with his new friend, who he names Toothless, he realizes dragon are not the horrible creatures Vikings thought they were. When the colony decides they should allow Hiccup his chance to demonstrate his warrior spirit by going through dragon training, which will later lead to making his first kill, he finds himself at a crossroad.

Now, with a deeper understanding of the species, Hiccup must find a way to make his father proud without bringing harm to the misunderstood dragons. With a team of misfit Viking peers training beside him, including love interest Astrid (America Ferrera), it’s only a matter of time before Hiccup’s secret becomes far too massive for him to keep silent.

While many of the elements are familiar, “Dragon” is a lively family action-comedy that shines especially when both Vikings and dragons share the screen. Whether it’s Hiccup and Toothless creating a friendship or the “Gladiator”-like sequences of fire-breathing dragons and risk-taking teenage Vikings fight it out on the battleground, “Dragon” is a neat adventure.

The 3-D animation also works in “Dragon” especially for those exhilarating scenes where Hiccup and his pet dragon sail across the infinite sky like the protagonists in “Avatar.” It’s a sight to behold for children and adults alike who are tired of unoriginal animation that barely flutters off the ground.

Law Abiding Citizen

October 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Bruce McGill
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”)
Written by: Kurt Wimmer (“Street Kings”)

It’s evident in the opening scene of “Law Abiding Citizen” that director F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool”) wants to move the film along at a fairly quick pace. It would have been beneficial, however, if he and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (“Street Kings”) actually looked before they leaped into a story buried in illogical scenarios and faux moral empathy. Instead, the two lunge forward without haste and end up turning an interesting idea into an absurd revenge flick mismatched with psychological mayhem.

Ten years after the brutal murders of his wife and daughter, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) resurfaces to avenge their deaths by bringing down not only the two men who committed the crimes, but also the judicial system that failed to bring any closure to his personal tragedy.

When one of the killers agrees to testify against his accomplice, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal that sends one man to death row and the other to prison for a short stay because of his testimony.

“Some justice is better than no justice at all,” Nick explains.

The loophole in the system doesn’t sit well with Clyde who, after a decade, comes out of mourning just in time to violently punish his family’s murderers. But that’s not nearly enough payback for Nick. He is also seeking vengeance against everyone involved in the case including the defending lawyer, the presiding judge, and the entire District Attorney’s Office. If that’s not daring enough, Clyde has chosen to pull all this off in the confines of a prison cell.

As he mysteriously carries out vengeful death after vengeful death behind bars, Clyde continues to be an enigma for Nick who can’t figure out how he is methodically picking off his colleagues and friends. More important than the kills themselves is whether or not Clyde’s tactical marathon of death will makes much sense once his means are revealed.

Sadly, when that moment comes, the twist in the story is rather lame. While the build-up is sometimes entertaining in short spurts, there’s nothing remotely believable in the payoff. Even when an explanation for Clyde’s talents is exposed, it’s washed over as if screenwriter Wimmer was embarrassed of his own plot choices.

And well he should be. “Law Abiding Citizen” isn’t ashamed to profess its desire to be as intelligent of a crime thriller as “Seven” or “Silence of the Lambs,” but with a loosey-goosey script and a laughable take on social issues the movie ends up stuck in wannabe status without any chance of parole.

Gamer

September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Gerard Butler, Amber Valletta, Michael C. Hall
Directed by: Mark Neveldine (“Crank: High Voltage”) and Brian Taylor (“Crank: High Voltage”)
Written by: Mark Neveldine (“Crank: High Voltage”) and Brian Taylor (“Crank: High Voltage”)

If you thought “Crank” and “Crank: High Voltage” were overly-stylized, director/writer duo Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have got a headache-inducing film for you. The futuristic flick “Gamer” says nothing that hasn’t been said before about the media or the economy or any other social issue it thinks it’s intelligent enough to examine. It might have been more feasible than it turned out to be if Neveldine and Taylor weren’t so worried about the “cool” factor and actually focus on something more than editing room choices.

The Ugly Truth

July 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Katherine Heigl, Gerard Butler, Bree Turner
Directed by: Robert Luketic (“21”)
Written by: Nicole Eastman (debut), Karen McCullah Lutz (“The House Bunny”), Kirsten Smith (“She’s the Man”)

A woman who can’t drag her man to any romantic comedies even if her life depended on it shouldn’t feel he’s ignoring her cinematic needs if that rom-com is anything like “The Ugly Truth.” Truth be told, the movie is down-right deplorable and diluted with cheap jokes and dialogue. Although it attempts to disguise itself as something with a conscious perspective on the chemistry between the opposite sex, the only thing “The Ugly Truth” succeeds in doing is demonstrating why men and women – when looking for love – are as equally annoying.

The three-headed screenwriting monster consisting of Nicole Eastman, Karen McCullah Lutz, and Kirsten Smith might like to believe they’ve written something unique and groundbreaking in terms of the relationship dynamic they’ve set up here. They’re sadly mistaken. “The Ugly Truth” stars Katherine Heigl (“Knocked Up”) as Abby Richter, a overbearing television show producer in Sacramento whose personal and professional life is nudged quite significantly off track when the station’s director hires a controversial color commentator to join the on-air talent.

Mike Chadwick (Gerard Butler), is plucked from his makeshift studio where he hosts a cable access television show, and handed a much grander platform to spout off his aggressive relationship advice to women who can’t seem to get their love lives in order. Don’t have a boyfriend, ladies? Mike’s advice is to shed a few pounds before you become a lonely spinster. Can’t get a second date? You might want to put out during the first.

It’s all unenlightening gibberish passed off as words of wisdom by the screenwriters and “Legally Blonde” director Robert Luketic. At least in “Blonde,” Reese Witherspoon is a heartbroken ditz who learns she can be independent and happy. In “The Ugly Truth,” Heigl is a desperate airhead who starts taking advices from the one guy she should be trying to avoid.

It all becomes very formulaic and predictable as Abby and Mike start spending more time with each other so he can educate her in the ways of seduction. Most of this is done by borrowing from other romantic comedies, some good, some just as pathetic. Nevertheless, Luketic and crew allow “The Ugly Truth” to become unnecessarily vulgar (a scene where Heigl repeats an expletive is merely for shock value and hardly funny) and misogynistic. If this is the route rom-coms are going to start taking, there’s really no reason for date nights anymore.