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New to Blu-Ray: Exodus: Gods and Kings, Annie, Top Five

by Andrew Hudak

Pharaohs with eye makeup, Black Annie and a Chris Rock standup routine disguised as a movie

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Given that this is based on an ancient and well-known story, I’ll spare the plot synopsis. We basically all know this is the one where Moses (Christian Bale) leads the Jews out of Egypt and into the promised land by freeing them from Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton).

Three reasons why the movie is good:

God is played by a child. It’s surprising no one thought of this before. Reading the Old Testament, it portrays God as jealous, quick to anger, vengeful, and a bit capricious. He plays games with people and creates rules that cannot be broken—not even accidentally, not even once. Mistakes are not tolerated and there is no reasoning with Him. There are no second chances. He takes the slightest move outside of His rules as a total betrayal and will force anyone who disobeys to pay dearly. These are not the behaviors of a mature, well-grounded adult. These are the behaviors of a child playing with toys and being “God” over them. That is exactly who God (Isaac Andrews) is in “Exodus.”

God is a child murderer. This has bothered me for a long time about the Passover story, and there are some scenes in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” that really drive the point home. Think about it another way: Let’s say a flesh and blood human being wasn’t getting his way, so after playing a series of pranks (i.e. the plagues) in order to get his way, he decided to turn things up a notch and kill the first born male child of every household of his enemies. Not kill his enemies, or their leader, but kill their innocent children while they sleep in their beds, or in some cases, cribs. Would we all be okay with this? Even if you benefited from it, was the slaughtering of hundreds of innocent boys the way to go about getting what you want? Heck no—it’s sick and depraved, and the community at large would be justified in hunting such a psychopath down and dispensing some vigilante justice on him. Why is the same psychotic behavior okay from an unseen entity, and what’s more, why worship and celebrate anyone or anything that commits such atrocities?



Director Ridley Scott does not try to be Cecil B. DeMille. You want Moses to stand on a rock with the wind blowing and waters raging while he spreads his arms and parts the Red Sea? Check out “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston. I appreciate that Scott had his own more subdued version of the Red Sea parting, and even though it is not as flashy as “The Ten Commandments,” the suspense with Ramses’ army closing in behind them is still there. And when it comes time for the Red Sea to come back together, it is a pretty spectacular sight to behold. Rent It.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

Annie

Right away we know that this “Annie” is going to be different. After a cute little white girl with curly hair and a red outfit named Annie wraps up a presentation on President William Henry Harrison, another girl named Annie is called to the front of the class. This girl is black and has puffy hair. She leads the class in a song and dance presentation about FDR, providing some incredibly erroneous and simplistic information about him (cuz yeah, everyone got rich from New Deal jobs…), then sits down. Once class is dismissed, we follow Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis)—the black one—out to the streets.

We also know that we are getting a more modern take on the classic “Annie” story in that Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) doesn’t run an orphanage. Instead she is a foster mom who receives money from the government for taking care of Annie and a handful of other girls. Also, during the classic “Hard Knock Life” song, one of the girls stops to explain that the meaning of the song is that life sucks. Charming. I understood what was meant by a “hard knock life” when I watched the 1982 version of “Annie” as a kid. So did my peers. Are kids today so unable to derive meaning from context that it has to be explained to them in base ways? Or are the producers of this “Annie” just trying to be edgy?



Instead of being edgy, they should have come up with a better third act. While the first two thirds get by on cuteness, high-energy song and dance routines, and the occasional funny moment, everything falls apart for the last forty minutes or so. Without spoiling too much for those who want to choose to sit through this dreck, I’ll just say that two characters meet, one of them comes up with an idiotic plan that anyone with more than one brain cell could see is awful and would never work, and the other one stupidly goes along with it. From this moment on, the writing totally betrays who these characters are and their actions are not based on who they are but rather the writers’ need to think of something to do to create drama. As an audience, we find ourselves sitting through it, waiting for “Annie” to go through all of the predictable motions and clichés. It’s not to be enjoyed so much as it is to be endured. The only thing to do is bear with it and wait for the pat ending to finally come. Or, save yourself the pain, Skip It, and watch the vastly superior 1982 version instead.

Annie (1982)

Annie (2014)

Top Five

“Top Five” isn’t a movie with a plot that propels the action forward, so much as it is a character study. In this case the character is Andre Allen (Chris Rock). He’s a comedian with a string of buddy cop comedy hits, but now he wants to be taken seriously as an actor. He is also a former chemical dependent and is now sober. His new movie “Uprize,” about a slave revolt, is hitting theatres and he is doing the usual rounds with the press to promote it. Lucky journalist Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) gets to tag along with him for the day so she can write a column about him.

Adding to his popularity is the fact that he is also set to be married to reality TV star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union). He’s not really into her, and she’s not really into him, but it will look good for the cameras and be a boost for both of their careers. In spite of the fact that Whoopi Goldberg (sitting at a table with Rock and two other very famous comedians, who I will let be a surprise) warns him to not go through with a marriage he is not into, Allen plans on doing it anyway.



Even though she only appears briefly in “Top Five,” I found Erica Long to be the most compelling character. At least, she’s the one who comes across as the most tragically human. There’s a scene toward the end where she has Allen on the phone and lays it all out for him in terms of what the marriage means to her, and I give much credit to Union for her performance because I really felt her concern and anxiety.

Allen’s story has its moments too. The highlight is a flashback to a crazy night in a hotel room with a man named Jazzy Dee (Cedric the Entertainer) and a couple of call girls. This is the moment, he tells Chelsea, where he was at his lowest. There’s also a little bit too long scene where Allen visits with a large group of friends and family. They all take turns talking amongst themselves, as well as one on one with Chelsea, about Allen. Some bits are funny, some aren’t.

That pretty much sums up “Top Five”—it’s hit or miss. Some of it is Chris Rock himself trying to be a serious actor, some of it is him riffing like when he does stand up. But to Rock’s credit, since he also wrote and directed the movie, the tones shift with ease and are never jarring. This is because Rock understands Andre Allen, most likely because Allen is a very close version of Rock himself.

There is a twist toward the end of “Top Five.” It’s a betrayal that is discovered by Allen, and one that he seems to forgive a bit too easily. It would have been dramatically more interesting to have the betrayal discovered earlier on, and force the betrayer to truly earn forgiveness. It also would have been more suspenseful in regard to the Erica Long wedding story line. That’s the story I really want to see anyway, but what “Top Five” has to offer is worthwhile. Rent It.

Top Five

More New Releases: “Penguins of Madagascar,” our fine flippered friends from the “Madagascar” movies get a movie of their own, in which they join a spy organization to help stop a villain from taking over the world; “Halo: Nightfall,” five episode series based on the popular video game from Microsoft Studios; and “The Humbling,” starring Al Pacino as an aging stage actor having an affair with the lesbian daughter (Greta Gerwig) of an old friend – read my full review here.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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