Assassin’s Creed Review

I’ve been waiting for this film for well over a year. After last year’s Macbeth (which had all the same technical crew and actors), I was super excited for Assassin’s Creed. Could it shake the video game-curse or is it another one to throw on the pile?

Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed and Charlotte Rampling and is directed by Justin Kurzel. The film follows Callum Lynch (Fassbender) who after being saved from death row by a mysterious company has to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) from the Spanish Inquisition.

When I first heard about the Assassin’s Creed movie, I was excited when I heard they were moving away from the story of the games. This is what the film does right, it moves away from the story gamers would know and creates its own Assassin and setting, but leaves little hints for the eagle-eyed fans. Kenway’s flintlocks, Connor’s bow, Baptiste’s descendants, they make the world feel rich with history and lore that could be explored in sequels.

Sadly the film also takes the modern day approach to the story. Instead of it just being about the Spanish Assassin’s the film splits itself between that and the modern day wider narrative. We spend more time in modern day than in the Animus (the machine that allows Callum to relieve his memories), which for me was a problem. I came to see 1500s Spain not Michael Fassbender walk around minimalistic settings. The film only goes back to Spain three times, each only lasting around twenty minutes at the most. There is a reason Desmond Miles (the modern day character from the game) is never on the front cover, because we shouldn’t be focussing on him so why are we focussing on Callum rather than Aguilar?

The actors aren’t doing their best work either. Michael Fassbender flits from cracking jokes and madness to being stoic and brooding with no reasoning behind it. Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons look vacant for most of the film with Cotillard only getting some character development near the end. The most interesting character is Maria (played by Ariane Labed), an Assassin that works with Aguilar. Through subtle looks and gestures, it feels like there was a relationship building up between her and Aguilar, but it never builds to anything. Credit to Fassbender and Labed though for learning Spanish for the sections in the past.

The part that annoyed the most was the camerawork. I do not for a second believe that Adam Arkapaw, the man that was responsible for the beauty of Macbeth, True Detective, and The Light Between Oceans, signed off on these shots. The trailer showed off long extended shots and excellent cinematography, but there is none of that in the actual film. Fight scenes are incomprehensible, parkour chases lack cohesion, and everything is shrouded in fog. Every time the Animus is booted up, we have a long sweep of the area from above, but it’s hardly visible due to the fog and clouds. The best shot is the one of Maria killing two guards, but it was in the trailer. The fight scenes also cut between the action unfolding in the past and then Callum doing the action in the Animus. Cutting between two plains of action is just confusing and takes away from what we actually want to see.

It really is a shame. With Fassbender, Cotillard, The Kurzel brothers, and Arkapaw all working together again on a film, it shouldn’t be bad. But there is none of that spark from their earlier films here. I will say, it’s a film that gets better as it goes on. It’s only in the final third where true character development happens and we get some of those action scenes we were promised, but it’s too little too late. I do wish for a sequel though. Hopefully they will take heed of the criticism and develop the film based on the feedback of both fans and critics (of which I am both).

Score: 4/10 Not truly terrible, but not great by any stretch.

The Light Between Oceans Review

I saw the trailer for The Light Between Oceans several months ago, and I wasn’t too interested. Romance films have never been my thing, but after hearing that Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander were starring, and Derek Cianfrance (director of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines) was behind the film, my interest piqued up. Let’s see if these three can bring me into the genre.

The Light Between Oceans stars Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz and Jack Thompson and is directed by Derek Cianfrance. The story follows lighthouse keeper Tom (Fassbender) and wife Isabel (Vikander), who are constantly trying for a baby with little success. One day a baby washes up on shore and they raise it as their own. A few years later the real mother comes looking for her baby.

The Light Between Oceans came to my attention due to the leads being two of my favourite actors, and neither of them disappoint. Fassbender is a man haunted by his role in World War One, which is conveyed through incredibly expressive eyes, empty and vacated, wanting to get away from the world. Vikander is the complete opposite, young and starry-eyed, with hopeful ideas of romance and having children. Their blossoming romance and chemistry is enrapturing and believable, making the first hour a joy to watch. But that joy is shattered when the film goes through not only one, but two miscarriage scenes, and both Vikander and Fassbender give heartbreaking performances during the same opening act. That dissonance should be something no film would be able to come back from, a tonal whiplash that would kill off any audience enjoyment, but the arrival of the baby in the dinghy both gives Isabel and the film a new lease on life, with the romance film now becoming something much more mature and harrowing to go through.

The cinematography is a highlight of the film. Adam Arkapaw, (another favourite creator of mine), the cinematographer of Macbeth and the first season of True Detective, creates some excellent compositions. Due to the film being about a lighthouse keeper, the surrounding landscapes are sand dunes and open ocean, easy work for a DP as accomplished as Arkapaw. It’s a film that revels in the wilderness of the island and seas, with Fassbender or Vikander standing small in the frame, just to show the expanse of nature in comparison to them and their lives. The music adds to the sense of loneliness. Created by Alexsandre Desplat, the score is simple but memorable, with either a lone piano or a few strings moving in and out of key scenes. It elevates several moments and really brings out the emotion by the end of the film.

There were a few moments I was a bit at odds with. The start of the film is chopped together rather quickly, with Tom’s initial three months on the island and courtship of Isabel being no more than fifteen minutes. It would have been nice to extend this out, instead of just the two leads falling in love with each other at the outset of the film. Another reason was the story. While the film has long extended sections of excellent drama, sometimes it would drop into Nicholas Sparks levels of melodrama and clichés. It was rather annoying that the film would build up and have emotional resonance, but then would fall because of a scene that we’ve seen a million times before. I know that it’s based off an original book (written by M.L. Stedman), but it could have been handled better.

All throughout 2016, I’ve been complaining that this has been a terrible year for films, full of unnecessary sequels and movies not quite living up to hype. But I think with The Light Between Oceans, I think I find myself coming round to the idea that 2016 has gotten better as we’ve gone through.

Score: 8/10 Striking, haunting and wonderfully performed.

Alien Series Collection

Preface

The Alien franchise is known as one of the defining series in both science-fiction and horror. Being passed from director-to-director and catapulting many of the then unknown actors and actresses into the mainstream, it deserves it’s place in film history. So I decided to review all of it.

  • Prometheus
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • Alien3
  • Alien: Resurrection

Review

Prometheus

The prequel set nearly 30 years before Alien, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. While many (including I) first disliked this film, on a second viewing it grew in standing. The sets are beautiful, with Iceland and Spain being used for the endless landscape shots of planet LV-223. The built sets, such as the ship Prometheus and the gigantic head statue with the black vials are some standouts of recent set design. Noomi Rapace (from the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is tremendous as Dr Elizabeth Shaw, especially since this is her first main actress role in an English-language film. Michael Fassbender as android David is another spectacular role for the actor, who is strangely charismatic and sinister simultaneously.

Harry Gregson-Williams’ score merges seamlessly with the awe of the world, highlighting certain scenes like David in the Orrey or the Space Jockey as being great points in the film. While it doesn’t answer many of its questions (much like Alien didn’t) it still stands as a singular film, and stands well.

Score: 8/10 A certain highlight that doesn’t get as much love as it should.

Alien

Released in 1979, with Scott directing and starring Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. A massive group effort, with script writer Dan O’Bannon and designer H.R. Giger working with Scott to create a truly terrifying film. Giger’s design for the xenomorph, with it’s odd steampipe design is one of the most revered monsters in all of movies, and the chest-burster scene is a memorable and scary entrance. The set design, also done by Giger, especially the Space Jockey and Nest are impeccably created and totally deserved the Oscar they won.

The film is shot like Jaws, very few open shots of the monster. While it makes the film tense, it’s a bit of a let-down, especially because of the exquisite design. It’s slow paced and the final showdown feels rather anti-climactic, but apart from that, it’s rather well made.

Score: 7/10 Greatly influential and rather scary.

Aliens

James Cameron took over directing for the 1986 sequel, with Weaver returning, also starring Lance Henricksen, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton, as well as Carrie Henn. Set 57 years after the first film, it sees Ripley return to the planet LV-426 from Alien, along with a platoon of colonial marines to exterminate the xenomorph menace once and for all.

The marines featured can be seen as creating the stock types for army grunts in all other war films (the black sergeant who loves cigars, the diminutive but badass girl, the comedy “wacky” tech nerd) and hopelessly misjudge the situation with a cocky attitude that quickly dissolves in the face of the perfect predator. Weaver builds off the rather lacklustre characterisation in the first film, working with Carrie Henn’s adorable Newt, who set’s a high bar for least annoying child actor ever.

Filled with expert set-pieces like the Powerloader fight, the tunnel escape and several raging gun-battles as well as some of the most quotable lines in cinema (there are so many, and most of them aren’t really suitable for a family friendly site like this). Aliens builds on the success of Alien by doubling the size and scope, moving from horror to action and moving up in score.

Score: 8/10 A fine sequel that is better than the original.

Alien3

Released in 1992, Alien3 once again stars Sigourney Weaver and introduces Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton and Pete Postlethwaite and is directed by David Fincher (his first feature film). Set another 20 years after Aliens, the emergency pod from the Sulaco marine ship crashes onto a mining planet and penal colony Fury 161. An Alien egg crashes down with them, sending the mining site into disarray.

While Fincher is on record as saying he hates the film due to not being allowed full control over it, for a debut it’s rather well done. The dialogue and acting is sometimes over-the-top and comical (it seems all convicts in the future are cockneys) but the film features several excellent characters such as de facto leader of the prisoners Dillon (Dutton) whose constant quoting from religious scripture lends the film a nice sense of gravitas. The dark brown and grey colour palette becomes a bit dull and the CGI Alien is rather poorly merged within the film, but a fast-paced finale involving Ripley and the inmates trying to guide the Alien into the mining pit brings the ending up from a drab middle.

And the trilogy concludes by reinforcing the notion that runs throughout the entire series; the Alien always wins.

Score: 7/10 Give it a chance, it’s surprisingly alright.

Alien: Resurrection

You just can’t keep a girl down. Set two hundred years after her death at the end of Alien3 , the film follows the clone of Ellen Ripley who is brought back to life by Weyland Yutani to harvest an Alien foetus from her DNA. Featuring Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film follows a set of mercenaries who after coming aboard the Weyland Yutani ship are attacked by Aliens.

This is seen as the worst Alien film in the franchise, but it still has some standout scenes. Brad Dourif as crazy scientist Dr Gediman, who gauges the Alien’s intellect through a series of tests is an impressive moment, showing how clever the super predator is. An underwater pursuit of the heroes by Aliens is another well-made scene and shows the Aliens working as a team to catch their prey. This film also features the Newborn, a xenomorph with human traits. While the human eyes look rather silly, the rest of the appearance, which looks like Slimer crossed with Skeletor, is rather disturbing and creepy.

The film feels rather like the first Alien, ordinary working people trying to make a living while facing off against an enemy too powerful for them to comprehend. But the switch from comedy to horror to action feels rather awkward, while Sigourney Weaver looks thoroughly bored again as Ripley, only there to pick up a check.

Score: 5/10 It’s ridiculous but has some superb scenes.

X-Men Apocalypse Review

Finally, a superhero series I’m actually interested in, the X-Men. Coming out two years before Sam Raimi’s Spiderman (thought by many to be the pivotal films for the superhero genre) X-Men showed how good superhero movies could be. And after watching Days Of Future Past literally 24 hours ago to be caught up with the entire franchise, now it’s time for the Apocalypse.

X-Men: Apocalypse stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Oscsar Isaac and is directed by Bryan Singer. The film follows the young X-Men as Apocalypse (Isaac) the first ever mutant comes back to wreak havoc on the world.

The great cast we all know and love are back. In addition to the old regulars we have newcomers such as Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan and my favourite, Kodi-Smitt McPhee, recast to bring back younger versions of Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler respectively. But even with the frankly amazing cast, there are too many characters. The first X-Men film gave us maybe around seven main mutants to remember. Here we have way too many; Apocalypse and his Horsemen, the older group of X-Men and the younger mutants as well. Lots of critics and fans have been hating on Oscar Isaac for his portrayal as Apocalypse. Sure, he was a bit flat, like if Ultron hadn’t had the brilliant voice of James Spader and we never understood what his powers were, but overall he was fine in the role.

The over-crowding of the mutants brings the other problem of the film to the front, the script. With all these characters are their different sub-plots and character re-introductions; it’ll get to the point where it’s been well over half an hour before you get back to certain characters. Mystique and Nightcrawler’s introduction especially, there are massive gaps in their parts of the story. And due to the odd editing, it seems like the duo are stuck walking around East Berlin for a couple of days instead of going where they need to immediately. To continue with the script, the film isn’t as witty as the ones before, with only a few jokes coming from the naivety of Nightcrawler. Character development, which Days Of Future Past managed to have a lot of, seems to happen here in an instant, with characters changing allegiances in mere seconds, rather than over the 2 AND A HALF HOUR running time.

It’s weird; all I seem to do with superhero films is rant when I come down to writing the review. Even with a franchise that I like, it’s just that saying anything I did like would essentially be repeating myself over and over again. The cast is good, the action is good, the effects are good, but we all know this already from past films. That’s not to say that there aren’t new, interesting side-plots. Quicksilver copies his set-piece run from Days Of Future Past in Xavier’s school, set to Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and it is honestly the best scene of the film. A scene with Apocalypse, which uses a Beethoven remix (if I’m correct) is also fun for the choice and use of classical music in that scene. It’s just I can’t really remember anything from the rest of the film clearly.

The last thing I want to talk about is the scale of the film. In Days Of Future Past, the final climactic battle takes place on the lawn of the White House. All of the energy of the film was focussed on that space. In Apocalypse, it’s major battle encompasses nearly the entire world. When it’s spaced out it loses something. To make a nerdy analogy; in Doctor Who when the Doctor first faced the Daleks, it was a big deal. Now they appear so frequently it’s lost all sense of emergency. It’s the same here. It feels too big, too dramatic, too weighed down. It just needed to back up a small amount.

In looking back and writing this review, Apocalypse wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. I enjoyed myself while I was in the theatre, but it’s not a great X-Men or superhero film, just good enough.

Score: 6/10 Days Of Future Past was better.

Macbeth Review

William Shakespeare is one of the most adapted writers in history, with an estimated nine hundred films based on his plays. In my opinion, I would say Macbeth is his mostly widely adapted. I’ve seen versions of it set in Soviet Russia, in the back streets of London and even one done with Team America-esque marionettes. But by far the best adaptation of the infamous play is the 1971 Roman Polanski version. Can the new adaptation, starring Michael Fassbender reach the heights of the much watched 1971 version?

Macbeth stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis and Paddy Considine and is directed by Justin Kurzel. Based on the William Shakespeare play of the same name, the film follows Macbeth (Fassbender) as three witches tell him he will one day become King Of Scotland.

The cast for Macbeth is spectacular, Along with the four top actors I named in the introduction, the film also features such great actors as Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), Sean Harris and Jack Reynor (who we last saw in the woeful A Royal Night Out). It’s a stellar cast, and all of them perform Shakespeare’s lines with passion. The script hasn’t been modernised or updated, it’s a simple transition from stage to screen. In fact, the film feels more like a play than it does a film, with long takes of the actors performing their soliloquy’s out loud. It’s nice to see a film that isn’t afraid to keep the meddling of Shakespeare’s material to a minimum and just let the film play out.

The standout actor of the film though has to be Michael Fassbender. The man brings an entirely new take on the classic character, giving a much more battle-scarred approach to the role. The action scenes, which seem to all be performed by Fassbender himself is making me very excited to see him in next year’s Assassin’s Creed. Macbeth could almost be his audition piece, as he glares menacingly at his foes (in that assassin way) before coming in with his dual swords or his nifty twin daggers that are strapped to his arm.

This version of Macbeth is rooted much more in the battles than the supernatural elements that other adaptations have been based on. The very first scene after the title credits come up is of the battle that the play opens with, and it’s brutal. Fassbender roars like a madman as he races towards his enemies and just as the two opposing sides clash the film drops into slow motion, similar to Zach Snyder’s 300, and lets us watch the blood soaked action unfold.

The Director of Photography is Adam Arkapaw (the guy responsible for the six-minute long take in the first season of True Detective) and just like his television credentials, Macbeth looks stunning. I’ve already talked about the long soliloquy takes and the wide shot battle scenes, but just the establishing shots of the Scottish Highlands are incredible to look at. Another scene worthy of mentioning is the final battle that is surrounded by burning trees. The film basically becomes one giant red haze, with only the silhouettes of the actors outlined amongst the flames. It looks like something out of Dark Souls or The Cursed Crusade, and it’s awesome.

Jed Kurzel (brother of the director) returns to a Michael Fassbender production after their collaboration on Slow West and provides yet another amazing score. There are no stereotypical bagpipes here, it’s mainly violins and battle drums, each perfectly encapsulating the misty highlands and the war-centric story. I remember several times sitting in the movie theatre with a massive grin on my face when Kurzel’s music kicked in, punctuating certain scenes and bringing them to a higher level of filmmaking.

I did find some problems with Macbeth. For some bizarre reason, nearly every line of dialogue is spoken in a half-whisper by the cast. It’s like a weird game of Chinese Whispers, and it sometimes gets to a point where you are struggling to hear the actors speak their lines. Second of all, the first act simply drags on for way too long. I know that the first half is crucial to the story progressing but there was two times within the space of a minute where I did nod off for a couple of seconds. Luckily just as I was falling asleep an incredibly violent stabbing took place on screen (I don’t care if the play has been around for almost 400 years, still no spoilers) and it was the perfect remedy to wake me up for the rest of the film.

In summary, Macbeth is one of the greatest hack ‘n’ slash films since Gladiator. If you think you would be put off by the fact that it’s a true Shakespearian script don’t be, otherwise you’ll be missing out on quite possibly the most epic film of the year.

Score: 9/10 Dark, brooding, moody and blood-drenched, everything you want a Shakespeare play to be.

Slow West Review

After a long hiatus, Western’s seem to be coming back into our cinemas. While some like The Lone Ranger have been shameless cash-ins, others like Salvation have been critical successes. Will Slow West, the newest entry into the Western genre, be one of the latter, or will it fail to ignite audiences?

Slow West stars Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smitt-McPhee, Caren Pistorius and Ben Mendelsohn, with John MacLean both writing and directing. The story follows a young boy called Jay (Smitt-McPhee) as he travels from Scotland to the west of America to find his love Rose (Pistorius) when she flees for her life. On his way he encounters the dangerous Silas (Fassbender) and his old gang.

The set-up is one of the most basic of stories. It’s basically the one hundereth retelling of Romeo and Juliet, this time set in the Wild West. That Wild West (represented here by New Zealand) however is beautiful. Throughout the film our heroes and villains trek through several miles of desert and forest, so we see several stunning landscapes which are breathtaking. Credit is due to cinematographer Robbie Ryan for capturing these shots.

Slow West flips between the trek from east to west of America with Silas and Jay and then back to Scotland to Jay and Rose, their supposed blossoming relationship and the act that makes Rose flee along with her father. The back-story is interesting and engaging, before we are catapulted back to the main story. Even though flipping back to a “shameful escape” it’s an overused trope of storytelling, the Scottish seaside that we see is just like the New Zealand Wild West, beautiful and for a few moments, actually breathtaking.

The film is near silent most of the time, with only small interupptions by Kodi Smitt-McPhee which are soon silenced by a death stare given off by Michael Fassbender. For a time the film does starts to just feel like a travelogue of New Zealand with some period costumes thrown in, but what it is a build up to a final third act gun battle that is spectacular.

The final shootout is one of the most well directed shootouts I have seen since John Wick. With a contrast of wooden prairie houses, wheatfields, and wide open expanses all being used for the shootout and with none of them feeling out of place, and with five different parties playing a violent game of whack-a-mole in the wheatfield, it’s a memorable scene to watch. It’s even at moments bloody, with gaping bullet wounds adorning both our heroes and villains. There is even a small little Star Wars reference with the last kill. Once we have our last man/woman standing, we get a run-down of all the bodies left in the wake of not just the final shootout, but all of the unattended and unburied bodies that have been littered throughout the film, from the final scene to the very first. it’s a solemn reminder of the bloody death that the Wild West will deliver you if you are not alert.

The film is as the name implies, a slow build, and this is where some of the audience might be left in wanting. At 84 minutes, the film is pretty short for most cinema releases, but with only the final ten minutes being the pay off for over an hour of build up, some audience members might feel cheated. This isn’t your old-skool John Wayne style cowboy flick, or an irreverent Django Unchained style murder-fest. It’s a slow, artsy think piece with the trappings of cowboy stereotypes.

In summary, Slow West is a film that will not be for everyone. It’s slow pace, near mute characters and constant build up to the final scene will definitely alienate some viewers. But if you stick with it you will find one of the most artistically beautiful and best films of the year.

Score: 9/10 Destined to be a classic in the Western genre