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.

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Angry Birds Review

It’s been a while getting here. I’ve missed every other time to see Angry Birds but after much deliberation I would endeavor to see it. I can’t be a proponent of video games to films and not see what is ultimately one of the most well-known franchises and multimedia enterprises make it’s first steps into Hollywood.

Angry Birds stars Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Sean Penn and Peter Dinklage and is directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly. The film follows Red (Sudeikis), Chuck (Gad) and Bomb (McBride) as they try to save the eggs on their home-world, Bird Island, from an invasion of Pigs.

Back in February I went to see the remake of Point Break. I came out of that screening with a desire to stop reviewing films. How does this link to Angry Birds? I came out of that screening shaking with rage at what I had made myself endure for the good part of ninety minutes.

The story is as hackneyed and generic as it can possibly be. It’s your usual redemption narrative, which is completely out-of-place. It takes so long to get going, never has an hour and a half film felt SO BLOODY LONG. I didn’t think Angry Birds had a story, but that goes to show that you can make a movie out of anything. That doesn’t mean you should make the movie though.

The voice cast is fine, but half of them sound like their phoning it in. Sean Penn’s entire role is grunting, which is a waste of his talent. Peter Dinklage sounds like his going through the motions, I think he was just brought on to add his name to the poster to boost ticket sales. Granted, they don’t have much to work with; jokes about excrement and other slapstick humour is abound, none of it is of merit or memorable. “But it’s a kids film” I hear you say. Okay, the film does have a U certificate, but what child will understand references to The Shining? Or constant sexual innuendos? Or bad language, usually replaced with the word “clucking”?

That’s not even the worst part. The final straw that broke me was the blatant advertising in the middle of the film. As soon as the Birds find Piggy Island, they start using the catapult to fling themselves into the Pig Castle. Before our trio of heroes can be shot by the catapult, around five to six birds are shot first, each displaying their special abilities. These are the birds that you need to spend real-life money to acquire in the game. It’s pandering to the child audience who are in the theatre, “Hey, buy our game, but if you want the rest of these cool birds, getting mum and dad to buy them for you”. Product placement is nothing new in films, just look at any number of James Bond films. But James Bond has an age certificate. And the things he peddles (mainly watches, alcohol and cars) are not being sold to children or being advertised to children. What Angry Birds is doing is shady and exploitative.

And do you know what the worst part is? This is only the start. Did you know Fruit Ninja just got greenlit? Tetris is also in development. The film industry is getting hold of widely known properties and trying to put a narrative to them when they have no backbone to support a narrative. Battleship, Ratchet And Clank even Warcraft, all films that tried to put a narrative on things that have no narrative to begin with. You might call me a hypocrite; I promote video games as being the next great medium that cinema can link with. But the thing is, there are great game stories (I’m not going to go into here). These are just brands that are being stretched into hour and a half adverts.

Bringing it back to Angry Birds, it is honestly one of the worst things I’ve seen this year. Point Break may have made a hobby that I love doing waver, but Angry Birds needs to be called out for the abomination that’s it’s pushing into cinemas.

Score: 1/10 The apotheosis of terrible filmmaking.

Warcraft: The Beginning Review

Video games have never had their day in cinema. While some come close (Silent Hill and Tomb Raider 2, in my opinion) none have ever had widespread acclaim. Now Duncan Jones, director of the fantastic Moon and Source Code is trying his hand at adapting the massively expansive World Of Warcraft to film. Does it change the idea of video games films or is it another sad, failed attempt?

Warcraft: The Beginning stars Travis Fimmel, Toby Kebbell, Ben Foster, Ben Schnetzer and Paula Patton and is co-written and directed by Duncan Jones. With the Orc home-world dying, the Orcs come together to take the human realm of Azeroth for their own by force. But a young chieftain (Kebbell) wants to try and live peacefully with the humans. He tries to link up with the commander of the human army (Fimmel) in an attempt to save both his race and Azeroth.

Let’s begin with the good. The art direction for Warcraft is one of the best things about the film. While it has diluted the vibrant colours of the original world and added a more realistic look to the characters, the creatures that inhabit Azeroth are an impressive technical marvel. The detail and nuance, especially of Orc protagonist Durotan (played by Toby Kebbell, who played Koba in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes) is great and shows that Jones has a care for the series. He wants to make a good film and will not settle for poor digital effects.

The merging of CGI and live-action is also another good point of the film. The characters blend seamlessly through built sets and then into green-screen battles, with very little slip-ups that break the immersion. Some of the cinematography as well, particularly the opening, an over-the-shoulder battle between Orc and Human is very nicely shot.

Sadly that’s where most of the good ends. We have to talk about the bad stuff.

The script is the biggest weak point and it brings down the rest of the film. While the film does try to set up its own new mythology and franchise, a lot of it will be confusing to people who don’t know the games, such as myself. It’s a lot of new places and people; The Fell, The Horde, The Alliance, Stormwind etcetera. It’s all dumped on us through exposition in the first half an hour and before we’ve got to grips with it our main characters are already flying away to mountain-top fortresses and we are completely lost.

The rest of the story feels like a grab-bag of clichés of fantasy storytelling and other fantasy-based films. You can see its influence, (Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit and Dawn of The Planet Of The Apes are the main ones) and since it’s just wanting to set up a new world, it falls back on the tired stereotypes of not just fantasy films but also storytelling in general. It’s such a bog-standard story, you can see the twists and turns from a mile off and with the ten or so main characters, none of them are ever developed well. The best is Kebbell’s Orc Dorutan, mainly through his family interaction that opens the film. Even at two hours, it feels rather empty; characters are dropped rather anti-climactically near the end and since Jones wants it to be a trilogy, we have a lifeless ending.

I found myself really wanting to like Warcraft. After ten years of being in development, and Blizzard Entertainment even turning down legendary hack Uwe Boll’s bid to the rights, the story of Warcraft as a film should have a happy ending. But sadly we haven’t made progress with games based films, and as someone who loves games as a medium and as an art, it makes me weary. But we still have Assassins Creed in December, let’s hope it finally changes, right?

Score: 5/10 The fans are the ones who will get enjoyment.

Ratchet And Clank Review

With Warcraft and Assassins Creed coming out this year, I think 2016 will be the year when we have a genuinely great video game based film, rather than just something that fans (or in some cases nobody) enjoy. But right now, we have another video game based film to review, Ratchet And Clank.

Ratchet And Clank stars James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Paul Giamatti and Rosario Dawson and is directed by Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe. The film follows space mechanic Ratchet (Taylor) and robot Clank (Kaye) as they team up with the Galactic Rangers to stop Chairman Drek (Giamatti) from destroying the universe.

I was a fan on the Ratchet And Clank games and purely as a fan, I got enjoyment out of the fan service in the film. Most of the voice actors for the characters in the games; James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Jim Ward (Captain Quark) and Armin Shimermann (Doctor Nefarious) appear and add to the sense that this was made with the fans in mind. The film also has jokes linked in with the games, with gags tied in with spiritual sequels Jax and Sly Cooper.

Despite being a 3+ game, the Ratchet And Clank series had some very adult and clever humour. The film has some great moments but sadly falls down a lot. There are jokes aimed at movie fans, with references to other films such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Kubrick’s 2001 and also has jokes riffing on that state of montages and sequel baiting in films. The best are a pair of jokes about the Wilhelm scream and nerd culture. Apart from these flourishes of brilliance though, the humour tries to appeal to the younger demographic with slapstick and low brow jokes for most of the running time, making the large part of the film incredibly boring.

The animation in the film varies in quality immensely. Ratchet is a Lombax, a cat-like creature, and has some good design, but others like Captain Quark just look like plastic models. The animation looks like they seem to skip a couple of frames and reuse sections of it, which speaks to either laziness on the part of the animators or problems with the budget. Maybe they spent all the money on getting Paul Giamatti, John Goodman and Sylvester Stallone to record bit parts in the film. In a year where we’ve had great animation such as Zootropolis or The Jungle Book, you really have to step your game up in terms of quality.

To be honest, the film may be called Ratchet And Clank but a more apt title might be Ratchet: The Movie (Featuring Clank When It Can Be Asked). The dynamic of the film and game is watching these two characters interact, but quite quickly Clank is pushed off to the side with Rosario Dawson’s character Elaris as tech support while Ratchet joins the rest of the Galactic Rangers. It feels rather like a waste of a good starting point and of talent to have these two characters and then do nothing with them.

In the end though, I was just bored with Ratchet And Clank. From the witless script that only had a few great jokes, to the generic story and clichéd side characters, the waste of a good property and the poor animation and design, it’s just a sad finished product. It’s not the worst video game film (which is Silent Hill: Revelations) and isn’t anywhere near the best (which for me is Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and Silent Hill), instead it’s just average.

Score: 4/10 Might be just one for the fans.

Hardcore Henry Review

I saw the first trailer for Hardcore Henry in the cinema a few weeks ago and I was shaking my head at the ridiculousness of it. It seemed like just another dumb shooters with a gimmick of that it was in first person. But trailers have advertised their films wrong before and I always try to go into a new film with an open mind. So, does Hardcore Henry actually come together as a film?

Hardcore Henry stars Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett and Tim Roth and is directed by Ilya Naishuller. The film follows Henry as he is brought back to life as a cyborg by his wife Estelle (Bennett). She is soon captured by mercenaries led by villain Akan (Kozlovsky) and Henry sets out to save her.

Hardcore Henry‘s main selling point is its first-person camera perspective. While films have dabbled in first person (the adaptation of Doom had a cringe worthy stab at it), it hasn’t been widely used by creators for films. And sure, for a good while the first person viewpoint works. And extended sequence in an abandoned hotel, which features a floor-by-floor gunfight is gloriously dumb, along with several moments of flashy parkour chases, it comes together for a few minutes. Sadly, a film can’t be an hour and a half of continual gunfights and punch-ups. You need peaks and troughs, otherwise the audience doesn’t get a break. I eventually lost interest because there was no lull in the action for me to catch my breath.

The film proudly wears it’s inspirations on its chest. Naishuller as a director has obviously grown up with YouTube, as he swipes not only video game Let’s Play’s but also amateur parkour videos and smashes them together. But that’s actually a point against it, it doesn’t feel like it should be in the cinema, it feels like I should be watching this on my computer at home.

Most of the storyline can be swept aside by just saying “because video games.” The main character having amnesia and being mute? Because video games. Telekenisis? Because video games. Women used as catalyst for story and is trophy for completing mission? Because video games. The previously mentioned abandoned hotel is ripped straight from Call Of Duty, there is a strip club from Grand Theft Auto and the parkour is from Assassins Creed. It even tries it’s hand at a Bioshock type of twist (which even the most simple of audience member will guess). That’s where Hardcore Henry will find its audience, in video game lovers and players who want to see their favourite games on play out in real life.

The script even goes a bit video gamey. Henry get’s a phone from his friend Jimmy and he calls him with his next mission. “Go there. Kill this guy. Take his macguffin to keep the plot moving.” The script also tries it’s hand at a few jokes but most of these miss. Apart from a rip on The Magnificent Seven as well as a two second visual gag involving a doormat, most of the rest of the jokes feel aimed at the teenage audience that can’t even get into the screening (Hardcore Henry is an 18). Jokes about women and gays are throughout, with nothing more to say than “you’re not the target audience for this film so we’ll make fun of you.” The whole script feels like it was made by a twelve year old hooked on sherbet, filling it with all things he thinks are cool. The previously mentioned strip club scene, which brings in needless titillation, as well as heaps of gore throughout (that makes Deadpool look like it was made for kids) it all seems juenvenile.

In the end, Hardcore Henry is exhausting. If you can turn your brain to the male teen setting (other films in this category are 300 and Grown Ups) then you might find some enjoyment. If not, then skip it.

Score: 3/10 If you’re old enough you to see it, you’re probably not its target audience.

Silent Hill Double Review

Preface

As you might have gathered from my other forays of video games turned into movies (Hitman: Agent 47 and the Tomb Raider films) I love video games. And with one of my university courses this year focussing on horror, I recently got back into one of the most interesting game franchises ever, Silent Hill. And since it’s one of the many franchises that has been adapted, I thought I would take a break from actual work and bring you another double review, Silent Hill and Silent Hill: Revelation.

Review

Silent Hill

Silent Hill stars Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Jodelle Ferland and is directed by Christophe Gans. The film follows Rose (Mitchell) as she tries to find her daughter Sharon (Ferland), after she loses her in the town of Silent Hill.

Games like Hitman or Tomb Raider, while they have some semblance of story are not the most cinematic of games. Silent Hill however, is very focussed on narrative and that’s one of the films strongest points. It’s a straight adaptation of the first game’s story, with minor points from the rest of the series thrown in as little Easter eggs for the fans. The major change in the story is changing the main character from male to female. Gans says that he made this change as when he was writing the film, the main character’s emotions and dialogue had more in line with a woman than a man. To be fair, the main character from the game, Harry Mason, hardly had a personality to begin with, so Gans would have had to create a background for whoever the main character was and Radha Mitchell does great as terrified mother Rose.

Gans does a good job of capturing the iconography of the series; the radio static, the misshapen Freudian monsters and the beautiful detail as the haunted town peels away into the “Otherworld”. This is another one of the films strong points, with CGI blending seamlessly with the built sets, creating a flaking snowfall effect to both bring in and take away the dark world.

The film does have several problems however. A lot of the cast seem to be hamming up the script (despite the original Silent Hill already having a lot of camp in it), with Sean Bean’s atrocious American accent being the cherry on top. Along with this, the film is very American in its horror, meaning the horror is mostly all gore and blood with no deeper meaning. Silent Hill was created in Japan, and a lot of their horror stems from psychology, but here a lot of that has been stripped backed for a more in-your-face approach. And just as a fan, why is Pyramid Head here? He’s a (spoiler alert) Freudian/Jungian manifestation of the main character from Silent Hill 2, him being in the film is a total undermining of his symbolism. But in fairness it is pretty good visualisation of the infamous monster.

In conclusion, Silent Hill has a few slip ups, but overall, it manages to capture the atmosphere of the game very well.

Score: 7/10 A good enough example of a video game film done right.

 

Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation stars Adelaide Clemens, Sean Bean, Kit Harrington and Malcolm McDowell with directing duties being moved over to Michael J. Bassett. The plot follows Heather (Clemens) who on her eighteenth birthday is called back to Silent Hill, with the town holding dark secrets about her past.

You won’t find a good Silent Hill film here. You won’t find a scary horror film here. You won’t even find a good film here. What you will find, if you ever decide to watch Silent Hill: Revelation, is something that flips from being incredibly tedious to unintentionally hilarious.

Where to start? Well, at the beginning. The film just starts in the middle of a conversation, with no build up to introducing the main characters or back-story to get us up to speed from what happened since the last film. I rewound the film several times because I was sure I had missed a few minutes of the film before realising that the film just begins abruptly.

Sean Bean’s American accent appears again and is terrible, but Bean is only the start of a selection of bad performances. Adelaide Clemens as Heather does nothing but scream and pout and Kit Harrington once again shows that the only good performance he can give is in Game of Thrones. Malcolm McDowell shows up for a couple of minutes in a dress and overacts his heart out. Sure, the script doesn’t help, with endless exposition and dialogue so wooden is basically a tree.

Quite a few of the monsters are done practically, but the effects are so poor you can tell it’s a guy in a mask. The rest of the monsters are created with cartoon levels of CGI which just adds to the “so-bad-it’s-good” quality of the film. Pyramid Head shows up again for no reason, becoming a good guy and helping the protagonists out at the end, which makes no sense.

The film was made for 3D viewing, so there are lots of moments when stuff is meant to be jumping at the camera. Since all I’ve seen is the normal version of the film, the spectacle of a blade being jabbed at the screen or blood flying at me doesn’t work and just makes the viewing experience worse.

It’s not like the film doesn’t try. There are a few moments when the snow is falling in the streets and enough of the plot and characters from Silent Hill 3 that it feels like a film that everyone involved thought it could be a good film. The fact that it tried and failed is fascinating to watch.

The ending is what really got me though. The film has the gall, the sheer temerity to not have one, but three sequel baits, with several characters from the series turning up. A sequel will never be made, which is good but also sad. This is one of the best series to adapt, but the people making it don’t know anything about Silent Hill.

In conclusion, Silent Hill: Revelation is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. That sounds like praise, but then you remember that it was meant to be a horror film.

Score: 1/10 A slow-motion trainwreck of a movie.

Halo Legends Review

Preface

Halo is probably one of the most played video games series in the world. I have played several instalments but I never really was too interested in them (although I do think the “Don’t make a girl a promise” quote is great). Film is what I’m more interested in and after learning there was an anime film about the Halo universe produced I thought I would track it down and watch it.

Review

Halo Legends stars Shelley Calene-Black, David Wald and John Gremillion and is directed by Toshiyuki Kanno, Hiroshi Yamazaki, Koji Sawai, Tomoki Kyoda and Yasushi Muraki. The film follows seven different stories in the Halo universe, based on several characters over thousands of years.

Instead of a single story based on the video game (which has apparently been in development for several years, once with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg as directors), Halo Legends decides to be an anthology series, swapping between four different anime houses. There’s Production I.G. (creator of Ghost In The Shell), Studio 4C (who created The Animatrix) BONES (Full Metal Alchemist), Casio Entertainment and probably the most well known, Toei Animation (Dragonball Z). It’s a mix of art styles and keeps the visuals changing from story to story.

The most visually striking segment is The Duel, a samurai/ronin style film, featuring the alien species, The Elites. It’s created with CGI, but then retrofitted with a watercolour feature, making it look like an in-motion painting. It looks beautiful during the sweeping shots of the battle, but looks a bit odd during dialogue sequences. There is traditional anime in Homecoming with Prototype, Origins and The Babysitter being more broad in their animation styles. Odd One Out, created by Toei, is very reminiscent of their Dragonball series and The Package is CGI, looking like an overlong cutscene.

While the stories take different characters and situations, most descend into action sequences. If you have no interest in violence then Halo Legends will not be for you. While certain stories (like Odd One Out) are over-the-top comedy violence, others like The Duel are filled with blood. Sure, the blood is green and purple, but it’s still very graphic. All the rest of the sections are filled with machine guns and rockets and is your standard action/war film.

Despite being violent, the sections do have some good storytelling. Homecoming brings up the ethics of torture and taking children to become soldiers and the opening to Prototype discusses ideas of survivor guilt, but loses a bit of sparkle during the second half. The Duel is standard samurai affair, and The Babysitter and The Package are very generic in their story, despite The Babysitter being one of my favourite segments. Origins, narrated by series female AI Cortana, is a re-cap of the entire Halo back-story. Even to someone like me who doesn’t really like Halo, it was interesting and is another favourite section. It actually makes me want to go back and play, but then I remember that there is literally no story in the video game.

Odd One Out is probably my least favourite section. This section is the only out of canon in the anthology, and the influences of Toei’s Dragonball Z don’t really mesh with the Halo Universe. There are martial art students, three orphans, a T-Rex and an gorilla who can control electricity. It feels out of place, and the comedy is very forced.

The music from the game, by Michael Salvatori and Martin O’Donnell, is reused in Halo Legends, and despite the change in the medium it fits very well into the stories. There are remixes and new scores created by Tetsuya Takahashi, Naoyuki Hiroko and Yasuharu Takanashi, mainly for The Duel, and despite radical changes it still feels thematically similar to Salvatori and O’Donnell’s work.

In conclusion, Halo Legends is a well-executed experiment. It will appeal to Halo fans, as well as general sci-fans and anime/animation fanatics. If you don’t fall into one of those categories then maybe this will be one to miss.

Score: 7/10 A fun sci-fi romp that is visually stunning.

Pixels Review

I wasn’t really looking forward to going to see Pixels. I had read and heard lots of reviews that were slating the film and I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated to go and watch it. But, as it was on its final few days in the cinema, I thought I may as well go for the sake of film journalism.

Pixels stars Adam Sandler, John Gad, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage and Michelle Monaghan and is directed by Chris Columbus. After aliens misinterpret a collection of 80s video games in a NASA probe as a declaration of war, it’s up to veteran gamer Sam (Sandler) and his friends to save the world.

The acting (if I can even call it that) is all over the shop. Adam Sandler as usual is just playing himself, an overgrown man-child who never knows when to shut his mouth. According to several people in the film he’s meant to be a super-smart guy who invented gadgets at university but the way Sandler saunters around the screen, it conveys the exact opposite. Josh Gad is alright as the more socially awkward gamer Ludlow, always clutching at Sandler’s sleeve for support, but it quickly turns into him screaming at an insanely high pitch. Peter Dinklage is wasted in the film, I feel a little bit sorry that he had to perform some of the worst lines ever committed to paper (and then don’t feel sorry because he probably only did it for the money).

The script is the main problem with the film. The story has thousands of plot holes and doesn’t have any coherence in its tone or logic. For instance, Kevin James, who plays the President of the United States (because that’s totally not self-aggrandising) in the beginning says that his wife hates him, but throughout the film they are seen to be smiling and having fun together. It’s as if the two screenwriters, Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling wrote the script over a lazy weekend and then never revised it, just giving it straight to the actors on the first day.

The jokes are the same childish attempt of humour that were in Grown-Ups (1 and 2) and can be seen coming from a mile off. Many jokes are made at the expense of the three gamers, most of which are based around the tired, outdated stereotype that all gamers are basement-dwellers that still live with their parents. For a film that is trying to fly the flag for video games, Pixels instead just demeans the audience that it’s trying to pander to. the film also is laden with homophobic and racist jokes, with an entire sequence where Josh Gad is screaming at a platoon of Navy SEALs, using homophobic slurs to try and pump them up so they can take on the alien video game characters.

Although, these jokes are nothing compared to how the film depicts women. The film obviously doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test (although that’s not a mark of quality), since all the women are either crying in the closet while drinking wine, demonised by their husbands or are a literal trophy, given to the gamers after beating the aliens at Donkey Kong. It’s cringe-worthy to see a film in 2015 that still treats women as the tropes of the damsel in distress or as objects that are given in exchange for good work.

While there were a few lines that I smiled at, such as when Professor Toru Iwatani, creator of Pac-Man appears and tries to appeal to the alien version of Pac-Man. It’s a really nice scene, but it’s swiftly ruined by a crass bout of profanity when Pac-Man bites his creator’s hand off. This was my favourite scene of the film, until I started reading up on the film for this review, when it was revealed that it wasn’t the real Professor Iwatani, and instead just an actor. Knowing that it isn’t the actual creator having a sweet moment with his creation, the scene is robbed of all the impact that it managed to have.

To be honest, Pixels isn’t Adam Sandler’s worst film. But with its uninvolving action sequences, lame jokes and it somehow seeming to drag on forever (despite being only 106 minutes), Pixels is one of the dullest of the year.

Score: 2/10 It will bring you to tears by how boring it is.

Hitman: Agent 47 Review

I believe I am a pretty big video game fan. Being born in the 90s I grew up with a least one console in my home during my childhood years. One of my favourite franchises is the Hitman series, a long running stealth game franchise about being…. well a hitman. Be it the games, books or even the first Hitman film starring Timothy Olyphant (which is a guilty pleasure of mine), I love the franchise and it’s protagonist, so when I heard about a reboot I was all for it.

Hitman: Agent 47 stars Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Thomas Kretschmann and Ciaran Hinds and is directed by Aleksander Bach. The story follows Agent 47 (Friend) a genetically engineered clone who is out to stop an organisation known only as the Syndicate from obtaining a woman with very special skills.

As always, let’s start with the good. The best actors by far are Rupert Friend and Ciaran Hinds. I believe Friend is the best on-screen adaptation of 47, he looks the part with his shaved head and barcode tattoo, he walks and talks just like the character should and has the presence of “you-have-no-idea-who-you-just-messed-with”, which is something I felt Timothy Olyphant was lacking in his portrayal. Ciaran Hinds is also good in the film, playing a retired scientist who knows a lot more about 47s past that he’s letting on. To be honest Hinds is brilliant in basically any film he’s in. I mean, he made the second Tomb Raider film fun to watch.

The film at times looks stunning, especially when the third act rolls around and the characters head to Singapore. The camera swoops around the almost futuristic city, soaking in the beautiful architecture on display. A key scene in the third act takes place at the famous Gardens by the Bay is spectacular to look at, as well as a few shots of the amazing infinity pool at the Parkroyal at Pickering hotel. The finale, which takes place on top of a helipad, also uses the city for it’s stunning backdrop. These shots of the city at night are beautiful and it fits straight into the globetrotting story that Hitman is used to.

Now for everything else. The rest of the actors are appalling. Some, like Thomas Kretschmann just look bored with the material, others like Hannah Ware and Zachary Quinto are just hamming it up making bad dialogue sound even worse. Quinto is especially bad, giving off a wide-eyed mad dog look for most of the film. Ware is monosyllabic and her primary dialogue is just the f-bomb repeated at varying degrees of volume.

The fight scenes are also below par, feeling more like action for action’s sake. Shoddy CGI is used to make bodies crumple for long falls, barely hidden stunt doubles are used, and the camera is shaking around and cutting around ten times per second. When will directors learn that this doesn’t look good on screen? With the camera cutting every time there is an impact, the fights loses any sense of momentum and geography, to a point where during one scene I clocked out for a couple of minutes because I was so bored. The only fight scene that is worth any merit is at the end, where the film takes a leaf out of John Woo’s book by setting everything to slow-motion, giving 47 his two trademark silver pistols and letting us watch the almost balletic gunplay unfold, with some synchronised shooting finishing off the scene when a sidekick comes to help him.

Most of the film’s problems do come from the script, which feels like it’s been written by someone who was brought up solely on a diet of 80s and 90s action films starring either Schwarzenegger, Stallone or Van Damme. The writer, Skip Woods is the genius that also wrote the screenplay for films such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, A Good Day To Die Hard and the other Hitman film. While the film does have some fun little Easter eggs for fans of the franchise with recurring characters, locations and assignments from the games, as well as a few lines of funny throwaway dialogue to liven up some dead actions set pieces, the rest was a collage of action clichés that made me shake my head in disbelief.

It shouldn’t be hard to write a story for a good Hitman film. With hundreds of pages of great storytelling from both the games and the books, Skip Woods could have created something that was fun and enjoyable, or at least competent. There are gaping plot holes throughout the film, as well as some sub-plots that go nowhere apart from a few lines. There are even a few teasers and an end credit scene that hint at a possible sequel and franchise. Even as a die-hard Hitman fan, I am very apathetic about Hitman returning to the screen.

In conclusion, Hitman: Agent 47 is not just a generic action film with dull characters and shoddy fight scenes; it’s an insult to the character of Agent 47 and the people who created him.

Score: 2/10 The first film was better.

Tomb Raider Double Film Review

Preface

I love Tomb Raider and it’s heroine Lara Croft. Being the exact same age as myself, Tomb Raider was and has been a staple of childhood; I’m a fan of the games to my core. And while my enthusiasm may have waned with the last few instalments, my love for the character hasn’t. Lara Croft, like Ellen Ripley and Clarice Starling before her has become a poster-girl for empowered females in the media. And with rumblings of a new film coming along featuring current Lara voice actress Camilla Luddington as our dear Lara, I thought it would be fitting for a film review. So, without further ado, lets look at Lady Croft’s two forays into the film world, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and it’s sequel The Cradle Of Life.

Review

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is directed by Simon West stars Angelina Jolie in the title role, with Iain Glen as bad guy Manfred Powell, Daniel Craig as fellow tomb raider Alex West and Jon Voight as Lara’s father Lord Richard Croft. The story follows Lara’s journey to retrieve the powerful Triangle of Light before a sinister organisation.

Despite having a budget higher than the first The Lord Of The Rings film (another film that came out in the same year), the acting is all over the shop. Angelina Jolie does an almost caricatured plummy British accent to rival that of recent release A Royal Night Out, while Iain Glen is almost like a Bond villain, being ridiculously evil. Daniel Craig fares a bit better as a Nathan Drake-lite even if his American accent does fluctuate a few times in the film. This, along with Layer Cake, could have been his audition piece for the role of James Bond; it shows that he can do action with small inflections of humour throughout. But really, this is a video game film, so story is never one of its strong points; we’re here for the action, which is pretty incredible.

Fans of Tomb Raider will get a kick out of some of the locations of the action scenes, with certain locations being ripped from the games with very little changes. Cambodian temples, Siberian landscapes and ancient astronomy sets are a feast for the eyes, but the stunt work is what is to be admired here. Massive jumps, cartwheel backflips and some impressive bungee wirework make several of the fight scenes, even the one at the very beginning of the film fun to view, kudos to the stunt team for crafting several well executed stunts one after another.

As the film is fourteen years old, the CGI is pretty poor. It’s mainly confined to the middle of the film where stone statues in the aforementioned Cambodian temple come to life. The effects are pretty terrible; it’s so easy to see that the enemies have been put in post-production, even if the cast do a good job of fighting against thin air, hoping that some convincing enemies will be put in facing them.

In summary, not a great film, with only a few scenes, along with little nods to satisfy some diehard fans.

Score: 4/10 A pretty poor video game film, even if it is faithful to the source material.

Lara Croft: The Cradle Of Life

Angelina Jolie reprises her role as Lara Croft and is joined by Gerard Butler as former love interest Terry Sheridan, Ciaran Hinds as bad guy Jonathon Reiss, Djimon Honusou as friend/guide Kosa and Til Schweiger as Reiss’ sidekick, Sean. The directing chair this time has been moved over to Jan de Bont of SpeedEquilibrium and Die Hard fame. The Cradle of Life follows Lara once again trying to find a mythical artifact, this time Pandora’s Box, before Jonathan Reiss, a mad scientist/weapons manufacturer gets his hands on the evil that lays within the box.

The acting in the sequel is marginally better than the first. Jolie has dropped her plummy accent and it somehow makes her interpretation of the iconic character much better than in the first film. Everyone else seems to be doing rather good portrayals of their characters, with only Ciaran Hinds being over the top. But even when he is chewing the scenery, Jonathan Reiss is still believable character. Being a madcap scientist, it feels almost true to a character so mad that he would act like in the way he does.

Just like the first film, The Cradle of Life borrows a lot from its source material, and again, just like it’s predecessor, it copies certain chunks verbatim from console to screen. But as well as giving us some more stellar action sequences, the film also has a pretty good story, not just small talking sections between set pieces.

As Lara and Terry are former lovers, we get several scenes of them mentioning their past relationship, which serves to humanise our heroine instead of just painting her as an all-purpose badass who can take on anything, something which the first film seemed to revel in. No, in The Cradle of Life, Lara is bruised, beaten, falling back in love with a man she can’t trust and all the while, trying to stop a crazed man from ending the world. This conflict of emotions and feelings brings out the essence of what Lara Croft was designed as by her creator Toby Gard, the idea of “how far someone will go for their obsession,” and stepping over certain moral lines. What it gives us is someone heart-wrenching scenes where Lara is given two choices, and it’s very hard for her to choose the right one.

The stunts and action set pieces are some of the best put to film, and I don’t say that lightly. Gunfights that happen while sliding down ropes, motorbikes chases, as well as a spectacular wingsuit flight over Hong Kong are really fun to watch, and even better when you realise that shoddy CGI hasn’t been used for the bigger stunts.

That’s not to say CGI hasn’t been used. And its usage is pretty poor. The problem is the contrast. Either the background looks too washed out or the actor/actress does, making it abundantly clear when CGI has been used. It’s almost laughable that anyone approved such bad CGI as the shark that is used at the beginning of the film (that shark has become a meme of sorts in the Tomb Raider community) as well as Lara riding a motorbike along the Great Wall of China. The CGI is lessened the further the film goes on, with more reliance on practical stunt work, and the CGI even starts to get good at the end, with creepy shadow monsters looking halfway decent.

In summary, The Cradle Of Life is a film that builds on what worked in the first film, but has neglected to take out the things that didn’t work.

Score: 7/10 A very competent action film that still manages to deliver some humanity