"Exodus: Gods and Kings" (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)
Much like director Darren Aronofsky's trippy interpretation of the biblical hero "Noah" earlier this year, the Old Testament tale "Exodus: Gods and Kings" is unlike any film or TV story we've seen about Moses before. Presented as an action epic by director Ridley Scott, "Exodus" certainly won't please everybody, but will no doubt impress fans of the acclaimed filmmaker's work and moviegoers looking for an intense movie experience with visceral thrills.
"Exodus" begins with Moses (Christian Bale, in a ferocious performance) as an adult, an Egyptian prince who was raised like a brother with Prince Ramses (Joel Edgerton), and his back story of how he was born a Hebrew unfolds from there.
The story eventually leads to the pivotal moment when Ramses becomes a pharaoh, banishing Moses to the desert to die after he learns of his trusted advisor's Hebrew lineage. Moses finds his destiny instead, and eventually receives instructions from God to free and become the leader of 400,000 Israelites enslaved by the Egyptians – leading to their mass exodus and an epic chase by Ramses and his army to the Red Sea.
Under the helm of "Gladiator" director Scott, "Exodus" feels far more like, well, "Gladiator" than it ever does Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" – but that's not to say it isn't entertaining. "Exodus" is a visual spectacle in every way, from its sprawling vistas, large cast and stunning visual effects (although the 3D presentation is lackluster). "Exodus" has its fair share of carnage and gruesomeness, too – especially with the Egyptians' battle against the Hittites and the onset of the ten plagues – scenes that push the boundaries of the film's PG-13 rating.
There's no question that devout Christians and biblical scholars will take exception to Scott's big-screen interpretation of the Book of Exodus in several instances, all the way from the manifestation of God – who appears in the guise of an 11-year-old British boy (Isaac Andrews) – to God's parting of the Red Sea, which is nothing like the DeMille version starring Charlton Heston as the staff-wielding Moses.
The other obvious issue is Scott's ethnic casting – or lack thereof – which finds the capable but miscast Australian Edgerton, New Yorker John Turturro (as Pharaoh Seti) and Sigourney Weaver (wasted in a small role as Seti's wife, Tuya) as the Egyptian principals. As much thought and preparation that went into this film – whether you agree with Scott's interpretation or not – it's amazing in the year 2014 how Hollywood can in some ways still be so short-sighted.
"Top Five" (R) 3 stars (out of four)
Chris Rock lays it all on the line in his directorial debut in "Top Five," a comedy satire with a serious edge that's big on laughs and biting, albeit sometimes preachy, social commentary. Clearly influenced by his experiences in Hollywood, there's no doubt Rock – who also wrote and stars in the film – was driven by passion, even though it's sometimes passion to a fault.
Rock stars as Andre Allen, a former stand-up comedian-turned-star of the goofy "Hammy the Bear" movies (where he dresses up in a huge bear suit), who is trying to reinvent himself as a serious actor. Already having jitters about his first foray into drama as it makes its way into theaters, Andre is troubled by his pending marriage to a reality TV star, Erica Long (Gabrielle Union), who is having all the events leading to up to their nuptials filmed for a special on Bravo.
One step away from doing reality TV himself for a living, Andre's life takes an unexpected turn when he agrees to do an interview with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a sharp, New York Times journalist who isn't afraid to call out the comedian's faults. But as fresh and genuine as she is, even Chelsea isn't all that she seems, which leads Andre to question his faith in everything as he approaches making the biggest mistake of his life.
Fearlessly directing the movie like it's his first and last shot at the helm, Rock pulls out all the stops with "Top Five." On the comedy end, he's not afraid to depict gratuitous sex scenes, drug use and raunchy, curse-filled dialogue to elicit laughs. On the serious side, he confronts racial problems and other social issues, but because he does so with such broad strokes that infuse what are clearly his off-screen political views, it's sure to stir debate among audiences members and turn off others.
Rock also delves into the troubles of addiction, and in an ironic scene, Andre is placed in a chokehold by New York City police officers while he's being apprehended for trashing a liquor store in a drunken stupor.
While Rock's debut as a director is fairly impressive, he runs into a bit of trouble as a screenwriter since the plot involving Dawson's character, apart from one twist, is fairly predictable. Unevenness aside, the opportunities should be there if actor wants to tackle more projects as a filmmaker. It's pretty clear that this comedian's serious about telling funny stories with an edge.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews, “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.