“Nothing is true, Everything is Permitted” – Assassin’s Creed (Film Review)

Oh gosh. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Warcraft, despite getting a kicking from most critics, was a film I enjoyed, so much so that I purchased it on Blu-ray upon its release. Hell even Angry Birds a decent, if not spectacular, animated comedy got a pass in my book, so much so that I got a free copy of the film to review when it came out, mostly from sheer indifference to its mediocrity (Not so much a vote of defiance with my hard earned cash, as one of indifference to getting it for free). However I watched it again, courtesy of my free DVD, and found it to be charming enough to scrape by. With these stepping stones aside it was time for Assassin’s Creed, a breathtakingly cinematic videogame series, to take to the limelight and cast aside the fallacy that it’s impossible to make a good videogame adaptation. However, as I imagine you gathered from the “Oh Gosh” that began this paragraph, things have not gone according to plan.

Michael Fassbender produces and stars as both Callum Lynch, a boring guy you couldn’t really care less about, and Aguilar, a Spanish Assassin who you also couldn’t really care less about, but can do backflips. Forced to relive the days of his ancestor inside a machine called the Animus so that scientists, whose names I never committed to my long term memory played by Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons, can find a mysterious artefact known as the Apple of Eden.

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As a fan of the games since their inception I should be the ideal target audience for the series to appeal too. But there is no target audience for this movie. Kneecapped to begin with by a poor script that has far too much expository dialogue, it doesn’t exactly burst out the gate. With the amount of exposition been force-fed to us the plot should make some sense but the storytelling is still muddled and confusing. Poor Marion Cotillard, an undoubtedly wonderful actress, is left high and dry explaining the narrative in what seems like the videogame cut-scene from hell. Whilst Fassbender, one of the most engaging, creative and gifted actors of his generation, is lethargically dull as both Connor, and Aguilar the Spanish free-runner. There are three main flashback sequences in the film and of the three only the second really showcases the best of what the film can do. A madcap chase across the rooftops that brings the games to life in a thrilling, fast paced, pursuit. But it’s only five minutes, and aside from that there isn’t anything here of interest. The gritty, barren, Spain that we are taken back through feels sickly, grey and lifeless leaving us with a dumb action film that looks like it was shot by a coal mining enthusiast. When Jeremy Irons makes an appearance, you pray that he’s going to deliver a scenery chewing feast of his acting qualities, but he too is just as quiet, low-key, and seemingly bored as everyone else. Justin Kurzel is a promising filmmaker, this doesn’t change that, but this is a misfire. Fassbender appears to be delivering a sub-par display, but he produced this damn thing so I know he is trying his hardest and it just isn’t showing.

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Assassin’s Creed is a slog to wade through and a disappointing waste of potential that may add to the misconception that videogames cannot be adapted to film.  Despite an A-list cast, promising director, and at least three screenwriters, there isn’t enough there to allow Assassin’s Creed to fly by. This Leap of faith missed the pile of hay and has firmly splatted on the concrete.

2/5

Dir: Justin Kurzel

Scr: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael Kenneth Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed

Prd: Jean-Julien Baronnet, Gerard Guillermot, Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Michael Fassbender, Conor McCaughan, Arnon Milchan

DOP: Adam Arkapaw

Music: Jed Kurzel

Country: USA, France

Year: 2017

Runtime: 116 Minutes

Assassin’s Creed is out now in UK cinemas.

 

“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?” – Arrival (Film Review)

Based on some novella, the title of which I can’t be bothered googling right now, Arrival is a sci-fi film that is less inclined with the blowing up of highly recognisable landmarks (Looking at you Independence Day: Resurgence) and is more concerned with blowing… your mind (Pause for effect). The latest film from acclaimed director Denis Villenueve (Famous for Sicario, Prisoners and for having a difficult to pronounce French-Canadian surname) is less about aliens and more about communication through language, images and time.

When twelve U.F.O’s land on Earth scattered across the globe the U.S army turns to Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist, to help them communicate with the visitors in an attempt to ascertain whether the aliens are here as allies or as a threat. Assisting her are astrophysicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker).

Perhaps it’s a little superficial of me to start off by discussing the film’s looks, but I suppose I’m just a shallow bastard. Arrival is a gorgeous looking movie, combining long atmospheric shots of the landscape with intimate conversational scenes in which Villenueve utilises the claustrophobic location in a mesmeric manner. Villenueve can make a scene in which Amy Adams attempts to explain to extra-terrestrials what walking is far more exciting and interesting than, say, watching Liam Hemsworth fly Jeff Goldblum around over a never-ending cascade of CG explosions. Not that I am one to sit on his high horse and despise anything vaguely mainstream for hipster-ish reasons (honest) but it’s a refreshing movie that approaches its subject matter from a unique perspective. Cinematographer Bradford Young fills the screen with evocative shades of grey that swirl over the countryside propelling a sense of wonder and mystery. The design of the aliens is highly original, whilst not being overly stylistic or batshit crazy, and Eric Heisserer’s storytelling keeps the audience invested despite the admittedly slow pace of the film.

That pacing issue may test the patience of some audience members. There is perhaps a little too much time to let the images breath between scenes of action, perhaps there is an awareness that the film’s subject matter is not as easy to comprehend as your regular big budget alien encounter film. It’s also not the most thought melting movie of Villenueve’s career with Enemy and the conflicted character piece Prisoners being more difficult to process, for differing reasons. Arrival’s an intelligent study of language and the complexities of communication and manages to make these not so interesting seeming themes damn interesting, but it’s also not as difficult to follow as it may seem to think it is. Whether this was a producer issue, or a directorial/screenwriter worry that the material might alienate the audience we can only speculate.

Arrival is a conceptual wonder, of both visual splendidness and damn fine storytelling, and despite some cosmetic issues surrounding its presentation of an admittedly complex narrative it remains a technical marvel with a game cast, led by the fantastic Amy Adams, and one of the most exciting directors working today at the helm. I’d recommend you adjust your expectations accordingly, get to a nearby cinema and check this one out.

4/5

Dir: Denis Villenueve

Scr: Eric Heisserer

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma

Prd: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde

DOP: Bradford Young

Music: Johann Johannsson

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run time: 116 mins

Arrival is out now in UK cinemas

“To the Enterprise… and to Absent Friends.” – Star Trek: Beyond (Film Review)

I’ve never been the biggest Star Trek fan; my knowledge of the old movies and TV shows is severely limited. That being said when J.J Abrams rebooted the series in 2009 I was surprised by how enjoyable the film turned out to be. A great cast, some slick direction and a light, jocular tone endeared the film to me somewhat. The sequel Star Trek: Into Darkness had a somewhat opposite effect, with me going in expectant of great things and instead getting a mediocre Wrath of Khan remake. Because of this my initial expectations going into Star Trek: Beyond were quite low. Abrams has stepped back into a producer role, Justin Lin (of The Fast and Furious series) has taken over the reins and the trailers marketing of the film were highly underwhelming to say the least.

So imagine how pleased I am to report that Star Trek Beyond is one of the best movies of the summer. Seriously this one wasn’t really on anyone’s radar a couple of months ago and it’s the blockbuster I’ve been waiting for all summer. With a killer script courtesy of Simon Pegg and Doug Jung that focuses much more on the ensemble than the two previous Trek films, and frenetic, highly entertaining action set-pieces from the impressive Justin Lin, Star Trek: Beyond is just the good time you want from a summer movie.

So the setup is this, the Enterprise is half way through a five year deep space mission and Kirk is having mid expedition life crisis questioning his role within Starfleet. During a rescue mission the Enterprise is blown a new one by an unidentified group of aliens and the crew is split off and stranded across an unknown planet. Kirk and Chekov in one spot, Uhura and Sulu captured, Bones and an injured Spock elsewhere and Scotty meets up with the alien humanoid Jaylah whose been stranded on the planet for years. By breaking the crew apart this allows the actors the space to shine in their roles. Chris Pine continues his fine work as Kirk, and Sofia Boutella makes a lasting impression as Jaylah showcasing a comic range and a welcome charismatic screen presence. However the standouts are Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto as Bones and Spock respectively. Quinto’s always done a great job in his performance as Spock managing to pay respect to the characters past while simultaneously developing his own unique take on the role. Urban on the other hand has always been underutilised in the previous Trek films. One of the most underrated actors working in cinema Urban revealed recently that he almost dropped out of the film after feeling underused in Into Darkness and it took assurances from Justin Lin that the character would be given the opportunity to shine in Beyond to get him back on board, and shine he does. Pairing the ultra-rational Spock with the world weary pragmatism of Bones creates one of the year’s finest comic partnerships and Urban owns the part delivering laughs at a regular pace courtesy in part to Pegg and Jung’s fabulous dialogue. It would be remiss of me not to mention the great work Anton Yelchin does in this film as Chekov, imbuing the film with a mixture of urgency and humour that was gratefully received. He was one of the finest actors of his generation and that his life should be ended in such a freakish accident at such a young age is a truly devastating loss for both his family and friends, and fans of cinema worldwide. On the other side of that coin Star Trek Beyond also pays tribute to the late great Leonard Nimoy another cinematic icon, sorely missed.

Star Trek: Beyond is one of the best films of the summer, if you’re off to the cinema this weekend and you haven’t seen it then I recommend you check it out. It’s fun, vibrant, well directed, brilliantly written and wonderfully acted.

5/5

Dir: Justin Lin

Scr: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Karl Urban, Deep Roy

Prd: J.J Abrams, Roberto Orci, Lindsey Weber, Justin Lin

DOP: Stephen F. Windon

Music: Michael Giacchino

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run time: 122 mins

 

Star Trek: Beyond is out now in UK cinemas.

 

Independence Day: Resurgence

Just last week I wrote an article/think piece about the production of Alice Through the Looking Glass questioning the decision to churn out a sequel six years after the success of the first film and how, with any fanfare for the first Alice film long since vanquished, it’s delayed production may be one of the reasons it imploded at the box office like a building made of wet Weetabix. Now we have the long awaited sequel to Independence Day, one of the most successful blockbusters of the 1990s, released twenty years after the original. Talk about taking your damn sweet time.

Its twenty years on since the aliens assault on earth and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) continues to research the wreckage of the ships they left behind. In Africa he comes across a crashed vessel that has sent out a distress beacon calling for help. Meanwhile former President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is plagued by visions of the extra-terrestrials and believes they are coming back. When this turns out to be the case a new team of young fighter pilots made up of Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), the one who doesn’t follow the rules, Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), daughter of former President Thomas and Jake’s fiancé, Charlie Miller (Travis Tope), the nerdy one, Rain Lao (Angelababy), the woman the nerdy one has a crush on and Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher), the one with the unenviable task of having to try and replace Will Smith. Teaming up with a frankly ridiculous number of characters, some new and some returning, they attempt to stop the Alien queen from conquering Earth.

From the off Independence Day: Resurgence is bombastically ridiculous, which isn’t necessarily a negative, it happily positions itself in an anti-logical realm where worrying about plot contrivances is pointless and as long as things are going boom and everyone times there one-liners correctly we’ll get through this without too much pain. It’s not as good as its predecessor, with twice as many characters diluting the screen time of the ensemble it’s difficult to grow particularly attached to most of the newbies that are introduced. Goldblum’s manic weirdness continues to be fun to watch but what the film really lacks is Will Smith’s charismatic presence. You would happily swap all of the new characters the film introduces for Smith’s character to put in a reappearance. Hemsworth gets the most screen time out of the newbies and as much as I wanted to appreciate his performance the macho I don’t follow the rules attitude and stoic delivery left a lot to be desired. The first film balanced its tone more effectively and there’s a criminally lacking amount of fun to be had with this feature. I get it’s the end of the world but a lighter tone would have been more effective, especially in a film as bombastically ridiculous as Independence Day: Resurgence. On a more pleasing note it was a welcome return from Bill Pullman, and Maika Monroe continues to enhance her reputation as a fine young actress with a compelling display as his daughter. However the scene stealer of the movie is Brent Spiner returning as Dr Brakish Okun, the eccentric doctor from the first film, his zesty display imbued the film with the kind of comic tone that the rest of the feature lacked and strangely his characters journey is undoubtedly the most fascinating of all the characters, which is bonkers considering the absurdly large size of the ensemble.

With a screenplay that doesn’t quite pack the punch of the original Independence Day this sequel isn’t quite what we would have hoped for, but as a light entertainment destruction-a-thon it contains enough raw energy and appeal to just about tip the scales as a fun summer blockbuster. They clearly wish to turn this into a franchise because, well obviously they do, which I can’t say I would mind as long as Roland Emmerich and company learn to lighten up a little.

3/5

Review wrought down by Alexander Halsall

10 Cloverfield Lane

10 cloverfield lane

In terms of marketing the Cloverfield franchise, as it is now, has been one of the most innovative of the 21st Century. When 2008’s Cloverfield trailer first dropped it was one of the cleverest and most impressive pieces of viral marketing ever produced. Using the growing success of Youtube as a launchpad and with social networking starting to consume the cyber sphere of the internet, getting people sharing the trailer through Facebook and Twitter prompted everyone to ask what is Cloverfield? Despite what you thought of the finished product the film made serious financial ‘bacon’ and in January 2016, two months before release, 10 Cloverfield Lane’s trailer dropped, the first mention of a supposed sequel and history repeated itself as people liked, shared and wondered what this new entity was.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has left her husband and is driving across the country when she is involved in a traffic accident. She awakes restrained in an underground bunker and is greeted by Howard (John Goodman) who tells her there has been an apocalyptic event and he brought her to the bunker, saving her life in the process. There is another man in the shelter, Emmet (John Gallagher Jr.), but Howard says everyone else is now dead, and she cannot leave the shelter.

10 Cloverfield Lane is not connected to its predecessor, and according to J.J Abrams he hopes to turn Cloverfield into an anthology franchise telling separate stories that are linked by theme/genre but take place within separate universes. An interesting premise that takes the recognisable ‘brand’ of the Cloverfield name and applies it to original ideas to give them a wider audience appeal.

With a first time director at the helm (Dan Trachtenburg) I was surprised by the impressive use of control the film has. It utilises the cramped conditions to create tension between the characters using the claustrophobic setting to trap Michelle in a paranoia inducing space. The lack of privacy, coupled with the unknown motivations of the characters makes an intriguingly taut thriller. What really makes the film so fiercely watchable are the performances of the triumvirate of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr. and John Goodman. Winstead and Gallagher are both terrific; especially in the scenes their characters spend together. Their chemistry is fantastic, and the writing by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle (of Whiplash fame) allows the actors to take already great material and build upon it with a pair of hard working performances that amplifies the films unsettling atmosphere. Then there is John Goodman. Simply put, he nails it. As brilliant as the other performers are Goodman is a revelation, a pleasure to watch. A terrific actor, he manages to turn in a performance that is at times menacing, pitiable, hilarious and terrifying. Also I give a tip of the hat to Bear Mccreary for his tense and interesting musical score, after his rather uninspired work on The Boy, a welcome return to form.

The films climax may divide people with the direction it takes, however I found its final resolution highly fulfilling. 10 Cloverfield Lane takes a rather simple premise and excels beyond expectations through great direction, fine writing and storytelling and some wonderful performances by the three main players. I hope if you decide to visit 10 Cloverfield Lane, I do recommend it; that you are as entertained as I was.

**** stars out of *****

Review by Alexander Halsall