The Films of Alex Proyas
Garage Days (July 18/03)
Though Alex Proyas does deserve some kudos for breaking away from the dark and sinister worlds of his first two films, The Crow and Dark City, Garage Days ultimately takes things too far in the opposite direction. The film - which follows the members of a fledgling rock band (Kick Gurry's Freddy, Brett Stiller's Joe, Pia Miranda's Tanya, and Chris Sadrinna's Lucy) as they attempt to make it big - has been infused with generous bursts of style, as Proyas inserts kooky camera tricks in the least expected places. It's that over-the-top modus operandi that consistently elevates the proceedings, with Proyas' gleefully over-the-top visual sensibilities resulting in a number of thoroughly compelling sequences (eg Tanya's LCD trip causes her to hallucinate her parents singing Rick James' Superfreak while attached to snake bodies). And though Proyas' directorial hijinks were better served in his earlier movies, they're unquestionably the highlight of Garage Days. The real problem here, then, is that none of the central characters are terribly compelling, primarily because they've been drawn in incredibly broad strokes (eg there's the eager-to-please one, the sardonic one, the wild one, etc). Proyas, along with screenwriters Dave Warner and Michael Udesky, doesn't really take these people anywhere new or exciting; instead, the script puts the characters through the motions of a soap opera-esque storyline. The film's primary focus, aside from the band's attempts to get signed, is a love story concerning Freddy's attempts at wooing Maya Stange's Kate, even though he's currently dating Tanya, while Kate (who's pregnant) tries to decide whether or not to stick with Joe, who's sleeping with a goth groupie, etc, etc. It's kind of interesting in a Melrose Place sort of way, but there's nothing here we haven't seen before in countless Aaron Spelling shows. But the film always remains a cut above, mostly due to Proyas' direction and a killer soundtrack (featuring everyone from The Cure to Tom Jones to Travis), while the unfamiliar cast brings a suitable amount of enthusiasm to the material. Gurry, who spends most of the flick gazing upon his surroundings with wide-eyed wonder, comes off like an Australian Jimmy Fallon and proves to be an exceedingly charismatic leading man. Stange essentially acts as the emotional core of the film and does a nice job of portraying Kate's confusion and indecision. Interestingly enough, Garage Days spends very little time actually dealing with the central characters' music; then again, the whole point of the film seems to be that following your dream is more important than whether or not you're actually any good at your dream.
I, Robot (July 13/04)
As the trailers have generally indicated, there's not much in I, Robot linking it with Isaac Asimov's celebrated novel. Though an above average summer endeavor, the film's emphasis on action and Will Smith will undoubtedly disappoint fans of Asimov's book. Yes, Asimov's famed three laws are intact and referenced throughout the movie - however, that's about the only thing the two properties have in common. Directed by Alex Proyas, I, Robot stars Smith as Chicago detective Del Spooner - a cop with a deep hatred of robots (the film takes place in the year 2035). After the apparent suicide of a noted scientist (played by James Cromwell), Spooner begins to suspect that perhaps foul play was involved. As he delves deeper into his investigation, he comes across a robot who seems to have been imbued with emotions and the ability to dream. Named Sonny, the robot insists he didn't have anything to do with his master's death - though Spooner, not surprisingly, isn't convinced. While I, Robot is tremendously entertaining essentially from start to finish, it could've been so much more. The film's screenplay, written by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman, takes the emphasis off the science and puts it onto Smith's character. As a result, I, Robot's midsection is devoted almost entirely to Spooner's investigation - with the occasional action sequence thrown in for good measure. Though the movie is always compelling - the case involves robots, for crying out loud! - it's hard not to wish that more time had been spent exploring the day-to-day existence of these machines. The inclusion of wisecracks into the script - all of which emerge from Smith - is baffling, given the fairly dark nature of the story. Smith himself gives one of his better performances, occasionally embracing the bleak trajectory of the film's events though often falling back on his comedic persona. Then there's the thrilling conclusion, which features Smith and company battling a robot uprising. Despite the similarities to movies like The Matrix and the recent Star Wars installments, there's no denying that Proyas has done a marvelous job of integrating the myriad of special effects into the real-world antics of the various characters. Though the robots have clearly been rendered using computer graphics, they blend in seamlessly with their surroundings (unlike some of Lucas' recent creations, ie Jar Jar Binks). So, what we basically have here is a summer movie disguised as a sci-fi epic. On that level, it works.
Knowing casts Nicolas Cage as John Koestler, a science professor who comes to believe that the end of the world was predicted by a little girl exactly 50 years earlier - with the film detailing John's efforts to convince others of the apparent prophecy. It becomes clear early on that, at a running time of just over two hours, Knowing is a good half hour longer than it has any right to be, as large swaths of the narrative are devoted to scenes and sequences of a decidedly less-than-engrossing nature - with the ongoing emphasis on the aforementioned little girl's background and family history certainly ranking high on the movie's list of uninteresting elements. The erratic pace ensures that many of the film's action sequences don't fare quite as well as one might've hoped, although it's admittedly difficult to deny the effectiveness and impact of a few key interludes (eg John figures out the code indicating the world's end, John witnesses a fairly epic plane crash, etc). (This is despite Proyas' overuse of aggressively shoddy computer-generated special effects.) There's little doubt, too, that Knowing benefits heavily from the efforts of its star, as Cage delivers a typically engaging performance that effectively anchors the progressively ludicrous storyline (as much as such a storyline can be anchored, of course). The impressively grim finale ensures that Knowing ultimately ends on a decidedly memorable note, and yet it's clear that the film doesn't entirely deliver on its exceedingly promising setup - which is a shame, really, given the potential afforded by the seemingly foolproof premise.
Gods of Egypt
The downward trajectory of Alex Proyas' output reaches a new low with Gods of Egypt, as the movie, for the most part, comes off as an excessively broad would-be blockbuster that outstays its welcome to an almost astonishing degree. Gerard Butler and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau star as Greek gods Set and Horus, with the narrative detailing the larger-than-life battle that ensues after their father (Bryan Brown's Osiris) chooses the latter to rule Egypt instead of the former. (The movie's ostensible protagonist is Brenton Thwaites' mortal Bek, as he proves instrumental in effectively triggering Set and Horus' struggle for power.) It's worth noting that Gods of Egypt is, at the outset, a far more entertaining blockbuster than one might've anticipated, with Proyas' gleefully over-the-top approach to the material going a long way towards initially capturing the viewer's interest. (There's little doubt, as well, that Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless' go-for-broke, impressively unpredictable screenplay plays a key role in confirming the movie's early success.) The watchable atmosphere persists right up until Gods of Egypt marches into its lethargically-paced, episodic midsection, as the film increasingly revolves around Bek and Horus' journey across Egypt and their encounters with various characters - which, perhaps unsurprisingly, results in a hit-and-miss vibe that's increasingly more miss than hit. And while Proyas' refusal to take any of this seriously is certainly refreshing - how seriously, for example, can one take a film in which a sword doubles as a flamethrower? - Gods of Egypt's been saddled with a needlessly epic running time that ultimately, unfortunately renders its positive attributes moot.