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Assassin's Creed Review

Weak

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

Unfinished Business Review


Terrible

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

Birdman Review


Excellent

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

Gone Girl Review


Extraordinary

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

Noah Review


OK

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

Brazil Review


Essential
Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) is a civil servant Dilbert at the Ministry of Information. He's a low level office grunt typing his way through a lifetime of meaningless papers in a retro-future totalitarian state. His one escape from his dreary life is his dreams. Bursting with vivid colors, Sam's visions see him with armored wings rising into the bright sky above the cold city. There, in the firmament, Sam battles with Darkness to free a blonde beauty (Kim Greist) imprisoned in a floating cage.

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

Freddy Got Fingered Review


Terrible
(sung to the tune of Tom Green's "The Bum-Bum Song")

My bum is in the chairMy bum is in the chairLook at meI'm watching Tom Green's hair!

Continue reading: Freddy Got Fingered Review

Legend Review


OK
Seventeen years after its release, noted film tinkerer Ridley Scott has returned to his entry in the fantasy genre, Legend, which has been subject to as many scathing one-star reviews as it has five-star ones. Why the disparity? The movie is enchanting and has moments of magic, but it's an utter train wreck, overwhelmed by cheesy special effects, dialogue writ insanely large, and a kind of goofy plot.

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

Elektra Review


Bad
Allow me to geek out for a minute. Renowned comic book writer/artist Frank Miller first introduced his assassin-for-hire character Elektra in the pages of Daredevil (issue No. 168, to be exact). His contributions to the ensuing story arcs are widely considered some of the strongest character-development work done in the comic industry to date.

Elektra, a needless spin-off from Mark Steven Johnson's already flawed 2003 Daredevil film, might have had a fighting chance if it stayed within the boundaries of Miller's rich source material. Instead, it can't even stay consistent with the lackluster film that inspired it.

Continue reading: Elektra Review

Man On Fire (2004) Review


Good
An overstuffed, pricey, and smashingly gorgeous bag for a variety pack of clichés, Man on Fire represents director Tony Scott taking somewhat of a step backwards after fun, spry thrillers Spy Game and Enemy of the State; but damn if he doesn't try his hardest to make it all mean something.

In the film (a remake of a 1987 flick of the same name) Denzel Washington coasts through his role as John Creasy, your average ex-undercover operative now saddled with a drinking problem and a yen for his own death. His buddy from the bad old days, Rayburn (Christopher Walken), now a wealthy Mexican businessman of ill repute, gets Creasy a job as bodyguard for the nine-year-old daughter of Mexico City industrialist Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony). The average parent might have noticed that Creasy might not have been the best man for the job, seeing as he drinks, is temperamental with the daughter, and tries to off himself one lonely night. But the girl herself, Pita (Dakota Fanning), takes to crusty old Creasy anyway, saying to her mother (Radha Mitchell) that "he's like a big, sad bear" and filling her notebook with moony scribblings about how much she loves him. Creasy finally warms up to Pita, an irresistibly personable ball of energy as played by Fanning, who also brings a powerfully adult presence to her scenes with Washington, complementing his character's world-weariness: they're like the only two adults in a world full of corrupt, venal teenagers.

Continue reading: Man On Fire (2004) Review

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Arnon Milchan Movies

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

The Big Short Movie Review

The Big Short Movie Review

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...

The Revenant Movie Review

The Revenant Movie Review

A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as...

Unfinished Business Movie Review

Unfinished Business Movie Review

More than just a misfire, this attempt at a rude comedy goes so spectacularly wrong...

Birdman Movie Review

Birdman Movie Review

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu continues to reject traditional narrative structures with this whizzy, ambitious...

Gone Girl Movie Review

Gone Girl Movie Review

Those who have read the blockbuster novel may be disappointed to know that author Gillian...

Noah Movie Review

Noah Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky continues to ambitiously experiment with genres in this Old Testament blockbuster, but this...

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Broken City Movie Review

Broken City Movie Review

While this thriller plays with themes of political ethics and ambition, it merely lets them...

The Sentinel (2006) Movie Review

The Sentinel (2006) Movie Review

The Sentinel is one of those movies made for commercials and trailers full of shots...

The Fountain Movie Review

The Fountain Movie Review

In the press notes for The Fountain, Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) says...

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) Movie Review

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) Movie Review

It will go down in infamy as the film that split up Brad and Jen...

My Super Ex-Girlfriend Movie Review

My Super Ex-Girlfriend Movie Review

To use relationship parlance, My Super Ex-Girlfriend is good for a one night stand. It...

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