Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on videogames. There may have been some hits (like Tomb Raider or the Resident Evil franchise), but none has ever been critically acclaimed. So perhaps reuniting the cast and director of 2015's Macbeth might finally break the cycle. But while there's plenty of whizzy stuntwork, this film never finds a story or characters to grab hold of the audience.
In present-day Texas, death row prisoner Cal (Michael Fassbender) is executed by lethal injection and wakes up in a gloomy fortress towering over Madrid. He's been saved by shady businessman Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), whose daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard) is a scientist experimenting with DNA memory. Rikkin needs Cal to travel back into his own history using a mechanical contraption called an Animus to find out where his 15th century ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) hid the Apple of Eden, which holds the key to controlling human will. But Cal discovers that he is the last in a long line of Assassins who have sworn to protect the apple from Knights Templar like Rikkin or his imperious supreme leader Ellen (the fabulously gloomy Charlotte Rampling).
The idea is a clever one, and director Justin Kurzel keeps the visuals grounded with action that feels earthy and real rather than digitally manipulated. Indeed, the combination of sleek sci-fi thrills with medieval fantasy horror is very cool. But there's one huge problem with the premise: all of the big fight sequences and eye-catching parkour acrobatics take place in distant history. Cal can experience these things, but he can't actually do anything, so there's no peril involved. Instead, we get endless explanations of the technology and historical inter-connections, which never quite make sense regardless of how much the characters talk about them.
Continue reading: Assassin's Creed Review
Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using humour to outline the 2008 economic collapse from the inside. With characters who are based on real people, the film shows how economists made a fortune from the financial devastation inflicted on millions of families. And the movie cleverly points out that all of this happened (and people are still getting away with it) because the general public can't be bothered to pay attention.
Things were so booming in the first years of this century that it was easy for the media to divert the attention of Americans away from the dark underbelly of the financial world, creating big scandals out of nothing, spurring rampant buying sprees and making stars of non-entities like the Kardashians. Meanwhile in 2005, investment expert Michael Burry (Christian Bale) noticed that America's mortgage market was turning toxic. So he offered to "short" it, betting against this always-stable market by purchasing credit default swaps. The banks thought they would make a fortune from him, carrying on their dangerous practices. But other experts saw Burry's point, including the nerdy genius Mark Baum (Steve Carell), the shark-like Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and a pair of newbies (Finn Wittrock and John Magaro) who tip off their reclusive mentor Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt). When the economy imploded, these men became billionaires.
Director-cowriter Adam McKay is better known for silly movies like Anchorman, so he packs this film with raucous cutaways to pop culture references of the period, as well as hilariously absurd explanations of economic issues from, for example, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath or Selena Gomez playing blackjack. This approach actually heightens the horror of what's going on as fraudulent bankers and corrupt government officials conspire to undermine the foundations of the economy. Although the explanations still feel like gibberish to mere mortals, it's at least presented in a way that's entertaining.
Continue reading: The Big Short Review
A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as technically astounding as his Oscar-winning previous film Birdman. But it's a much muddier and bloodier, set in a a snowy, mountainous Wild West in which everything is a potentially fatal hazard. There may be some human villains on hand, but it's Mother Nature who holds the cards.
At the edge of civilisation in the 1820s, a group of fur trappers led by Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) is ambushed by a ferocious mob of Native Americans led by Chief Elk Dog (Duane Howard), who is looking for his kidnapped daughter. As the trappers flee from the attack, they are assisted by the guide Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who knows these mountains because he has gone native, adopting an orphaned teen boy named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), who now accompanies him. But as the survivors make their escape, Glass is badly mauled by a grizzly bear. Henry assigns the compassionate Bridger (Will Poulter) and the more cynical Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) to take care of him. But Fitzgerald snaps, leaving Glass for dead. Against the odds, Glass recovers and sets out to get vengeance.
The title refers to someone who comes back from the grave, which is literally what happens to Glass. And DiCaprio plays him with fire-eyed intensity that vividly shows his tenacious will to survive. Moody flashbacks reveal his back-story, and why living means so much to him. It's one of DiCaprio's most viscerally moving performances. Opposite him, Hardy is a bundle of unpredictable, terrifying rage, thankfully balanced by the expressively sympathetic Poulter and Gleeson's alert commander, the only person who takes the time to measure his thoughts. They're surrounded by a terrific supporting cast of sparky actors who appear briefly but memorably.
Continue reading: The Revenant Review
More than just a misfire, this attempt at a rude comedy goes so spectacularly wrong that it actually contradicts its own jokes even as it's telling them. But then it undermines everything as it goes along, for example indulging rampantly in comical cruelty before trying to say something meaningful about the dangers of bullying. The real question is how the cast members could have agreed to make a movie in which they all come across as incoherent idiots.
The story opens as Dan (Vince Vaughn) clashes with his boss Chuck (Sienna Miller) then quits dramatically, taking newly retired Tim (Tom Wilkinson) and airhead newbie Mike (Dave Franco) with him to start a new sales company. But after a year, business isn't good, and the future hinges on making a massive deal with Bill and Jim (Nick Frost and James Marsden). The problem is that Chuck is also bidding for the business, so Dan, Tim and Mike fly off to Maine and then Berlin to seal the deal with a handshake. Impossibly they arrive in Berlin at the same time as Oktoberfest, the marathon, a gay S&M festival and the G8 Summit, with its accompanying anarchist protest. Meanwhile back home, Dan's wife (June Diane Raphael) is having problems with the kids.
Frankly, there is so much going on in this film that it's exhausting. It's as if screenwriter Conrad just threw everything he could think of onto the page and didn't worry if it made even a lick of sense. Every scene feels interrupted by a bit of random chaos that isn't remotely amusing. And despite making a movie that's obsessed with sex, the filmmakers are unable to decide whether they want to make fun of it or are terrified of it (so they end up being both at the same time). Each time something interesting or funny threatens to happen, it's sideswiped by something so breathtakingly bungled that we don't know where to look.
Continue reading: Unfinished Business Review
Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu continues to reject traditional narrative structures with this whizzy, ambitious exploration of celebrity, art and commerce. And the clever casting of Michael Keaton adds another layer of meaning to the whole film, which is shot as one long wildly entertaining single take and pointedly subtitled "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance". Blackly hilarious and darkly emotional, this is an exploration of how show business can push a person to the brink of madness. And maybe knock them over the edge.
Keaton stars as Riggan, once a top movie star known for his three Birdman blockbusters. But he hasn't done anything notable since, and is now trying to reboot his career by directing, adapting and starring in a Broadway play based on a Raymond Chandler story. The problem is that no one will let him escape from the iconic superhero character he's best known for, least of all Birdman himself, who mentally haunts and taunts Riggan at every turn. Meanwhile in the theatre, Riggan locks horns with costar Mike (Edward Nortan), a controlling show-off brought in at the request of lead actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). As opening night approaches, Riggan and his producer-friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) are also struggling with the demands of high-maintenance costar Laura (Andrea Riseborough), plus distractions from Riggan's daughter-assistant (Emma Stone) and ex-wife (Amy Ryan).
Inarritu and ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki tell this story as if it's one continuous snaky shot with the camera following Riggan through the maze-like backstage corridors, into the theatre and out into nearby Times Square streets. The virtuoso filmmaking is simply breathtaking, and it works perfectly because all of the characters are packed with pungent details and fully developed inner lives. The actors find all kinds of quirks that are both hilarious and darkly thoughtful, creating jagged interaction as they cross paths with each other, sparring riotously for attention. Every scene bristles with startling revelations and barbed jabs at the Hollywood system.
Continue reading: Birdman Review
Those who have read the blockbuster novel may be disappointed to know that author Gillian Flynn hasn't changed anything in adapting it to the big screen, so there aren't any surprises along the way. But they'll be glad to see the story so faithfully and skilfully adapted, with snaky direction from David Fincher and actors who add layers of new meaning to the characters. And non-readers are in for a thrillingly twisty experience as a mysterious conundrum shifts into a full-on thriller and then something much more intensely personal.
When Nick (Ben Affleck) discovers that his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, he has no idea what has happened. As recounted in Amy's journal, their marriage has been a whirlwind of sexy highs and dark lows, as both writers lost their jobs in New York and moved to rural Missouri to take care of Nick's terminally ill mother. As a result, their marriage ran aground, and Nick increasingly turned to his twin sister Margot (Carrie Coon) for support. As two police officers (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) investigate Amy's disappearance, the media circus begins to paint Nick as a villain, led by rabid tabloid-TV host Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle). So while he suspects Amy's stalker-like ex (Neil Patrick Harris), Nick has little choice but hire a high-powered lawyer (Tyler Perry) to defend himself.
Even at nearly two and a half hours, this film races along breathlessly as events and revelations continually shift the perspective. It's clear from the start that neither Nick nor Amy (in diary-entry flashbacks) are particularly reliable narrators. Both are a bundle of secrets, although Nick remains far more sympathetic. Affleck gives one of his most textured performances in years as a nice guy who struggles to look "nice" for the cameras. His isolation and confusion are hugely involving, which contrasts strongly to Amy's far too confident point of view. Pike manages to bring out the peeling onion of Amy's personality beautifully, offering telling glimpses of the real woman beneath the characters she seems to always be playing. And the supporting cast add details that twist their roles as well. Dickens and Fugit are a terrific double act, while Coon and Harris constantly offer surprising hints about their characters beneath the bravado and concern.
Continue reading: Gone Girl Review
Darren Aronofsky continues to ambitiously experiment with genres in this Old Testament blockbuster, but this is his first real misstep as a filmmaker, as the impressive parts simply don't add up. Still, there are flashes of genius as the epic struggle between good and evil is echoed both in the grand spectacle and within the characters themselves.
It starts with the original sin, which divides Adam and Eve's sons - brutal killer Cain and peaceful caretaker Seth - into warring factions. A few generations later, all that's left of Seth's righteous line is Noah (Russell Crowe), his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons (Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll), plus an adopted daughter (Emma Watson). After he has a vision that God is planning to cleanse mankind with a flood, Noah consults his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and builds an ark to save his family and all of earth's animals. He also gets help from the Watchers, rock-encrusted fallen angels who previously assisted Cain's descendant Tubal (Ray Winstone), who goes into battle mode to stop Noah.
All of this is inventively set in a post-apocalyptic landscape left in ruins after generations of fighting. And Noah is the last true believer tending to creation, refusing to eat meat (although he wears leather accessories) and ruling over his family like a tyrant. This of course creates various carefully scripted conflicts for his family over the months they're stuck in the ark. But the moralising is never as deep as it pretends to be.
Continue reading: Noah Review
Unfortunately, there are no happy endings for dreamers in this alternate world. Sam always awakens to his mind-numbing existence, only plugging away in a system that rewards only blandness, appeasing his socialite mother (addicted to face lifts) whose only wish is to see her meek son move his way up a corporate ladder to nowhere.
Continue reading: Brazil Review
To wit: This is a movie about a Puck-like character named Jack (Tom Cruise, before he hit it really big) who wages war against the Lord of Darkness, a demon seeking to create eternal night in his fantasy kingdom by marrying the local princess (Mia Sara) and killing the last of the unicorns. A quest naturally follows, with the goal of saving the princess -- and along the way, the world.
Continue reading: Legend Review
Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...
Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...
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Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu continues to reject traditional narrative structures with this whizzy, ambitious...
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