Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Released: December 21, 2016. Directed by: Justin Kurzel. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons. Runtime: 1hr., 55 min.

I haven’t played any of the Assassin’s Creed video games, so I’m not sure if I would have been able to follow the Apple of Eden storyline better. But since I hadn’t played the games, I was pretty damn confused throughout.

Marion Cotillard’s psychologist character Sophia Rikkin tells us throughout that if they could acquire the Apple of Eden, they could rid the world of violence – because whoever has it controls free will. I didn’t really get the reasoning that if you have the apple, you would control free will, and it seemed like the writers assumed viewers would know that the Apple has mind-control abilities (which is fair, because most people who see this have likely played the games). I thought the explanation was murky, and the story suffered from a lack of clarity.

The story also suffered from just being generally uninteresting. Callum “Cal” Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is sentenced to death by lethal injection for murder – they never elaborate much past that – and since he’s legally dead, he’s taken in by Abstergo Industries (led by Jeremy Irons, father to Marion Cotillard’s character) for an experiment. Turns out, he’s the descendant of a Knights of the Templar member, Aguilar de Nerha (also Fassbender), and is taken through his movements and memories in 1492 Spain to see what happened to the Apple of Eden.

The most compelling parts of the story are definitely the scenes during the Spanish Inquisition that writhe with style, and you know when they’re in 1492 because of a transitioning crow flying through the air. The scenes are action-oriented, and are the most exciting parts of a largely boring feature. The costumes of the time are pretty awesome, too.

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Michael Fassbender in Assassin’s Creed (Source)

Michael Fassbender is good in a dual performance. It’s an athletic one and the fact that he kept a straight face during a manic and rather hilarious (I’m unsure if the hilarity was intentional) rendition of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” was impressive. That’s where the good of the movie starts and ends.

The character of Cal, or any other characters, aren’t interesting. Michael K. Williams made an appearance as another descendant within the Order and his characterization was slack, to say the least. His dialogue was rather cryptic. Cal’s characterization was alright – his mother was killed and it made him an angry person – but he was boring. Irons and Cotillard’s characters who were searching for the Apple were also nothing memorable, and were simply driven by the prospect of eradicating violence.

The whole screenplay just felt like the writers spent more care on the action sequences and fight choreography than crafting a competent story of any kind, with any characters you might even want to slightly root for.

I found the editing annoying when Lynch was plugged into Animus, the device that let him see his ancestor’s memories, since the scene alternated between Aguilar in 1492 back to Lynch in 2016. Perhaps it was trying to remind us that it had happened and now he was just living through the DNA memory, learning assassin skills as he went.

Whatever Aguilar does, Lynch does in 2016 – and the edits of him in Spain actually fighting real people was more interesting than Lynch in a huge room fighting ghostly holograms. It felt unnecessary to switch back and forth so many times, just because Fassbender’s playing both people and we know they’re doing the same exact thing but in different settings.

Cinematography-wise, everything was either too bright or really dark (at least when seen in 3-D). Fight and chase scenes were hectic, making things harder to follow at certain points on who was killing who. The frantic editing also helped avoid showing basically any blood whatsoever, which was ridiculous at one point when there definitely should have been blood. It apparently comes in the territory of adapting an M-for-Mature rated game franchise into a tame PG-13 movie that’s not nearly gritty or interesting enough to be good.

Score: 30/100

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The Purge: Election Year (2016)

Directed by: James DeMonaco. Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson. Runtime: 1h, 45 min. Release date: July 1, 2016.

As the U.S. Election just wrapped up the other day, I thought it would be fitting to post a review of “The Purge: Election Year”. I wrote this review back in August and did not post it, so I had to edit the end bit of the review about Donald Trump ever-so-slightly. 

“The Purge” franchise keeps getting better with each film. Perhaps writer-director James DeMonaco designed it that way – debuting the franchise with a disappointing original that executed its concept poorly, with a huge focus on politics. The one-house setting with a focus on one family was restricting and damning.Now DeMonaco has a formula set where the politics are briefly recapped and then gets right to the carnage. “Election Year” suggests he’s now realized the franchise’s fullest potential, delivering the most focused tale yet.

It’s Election year in 2025 in a very different America, where all crime is legal for 12 hours on a night a year in the Annual Purge, a holiday (for some) introduced by the New Founding Fathers of America to let Americans unleash anger and cleanse their souls, which also reduced crime rates.

It was also a way for the government to put more money in their pockets by thinning the herd and letting the rich kill America’s lowest classes who can’t protect themselves – meaning the government saves money because there are less people on welfare.

Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell) is a voice for those impoverished, running for president to abolish the Purge, largely because her entire family was killed in 2007’s Purge Night in a darkly amusing scene.

The NFFA fears she’s gaining ground in the race against their candidate Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), so they use Purge Night for some “spring cleaning” to take out their enemies, specifically the Senator. To do so, they take away the protection of Level 10+ government officials, so it’s now perfectly legal to kill them.

On the politics side, learning more about the New Founding Fathers is intriguing. The Washington, D.C. setting is opportune for more characterization, and they’re like nutty people blindly following a crazy cult leader.

Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge), the only actor appear in all three films, has taken over the role of Michael K. Williams’ Carmelo Johns as NFFA’s main oppressor. Frank Grillo returns as Leo Barnes, the head of the Senator’s security detail and her main hope of survival through the Purge. His ability in combat supersedes the character himself, as he’s a badass protector with little depth. Mitchell is great as the Senator, though her morals get in the way of certain events which gets irritating.

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Mykelti Williamson, Frank Grillo, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel and Elizabeth Mitchell in The Purge: Election Year(Source)

New low-class characters include Joe (Mykelti Williamson), a deli owner who has to protecting his deli himself after his insurance company raises prices on Purge night. Laney Rucker (Betty Gabriel) is a new character who drives around on Purge night helping those who can’t protect themselves. It’s noble and one of the film’s best concepts.

“Election Year” has horror in its veins thanks to creepy masks and many jump scares. It’s also scary for the low-class citizens who can’t defend themselves on Purge night. The great action and violence from “The Purge: Anarchy” is prominent, and the action sequences are fresh enough to satisfy fans of the franchise and newbies alike. The deaths are cool, especially one by guillotine. The characters are also some of the best yet, in terms of heroes.

The NFFA are cool villains, despite their baffling beliefs. There are neo-Nazi mercenaries who are good, but the main baddie, Earl Danzinger (Terry Serpico), is merely a menacing caricature. That’s what all the villains in “Election Year” feel like – caricatures of the bat-shit craziness of the America portrayed, just bloodthirsty animals wanting to purge.

A main villain, a bratty rich girl named Kimmy (Brittany Mirabile) with two puffs on her hair and a bedazzled rifle, is over-the-top and deliriously annoying – and her motivation is looting for a chocolate bar that Joe wouldn’t let her steal. She’s written in such a way that makes you impatient for her to die.

The characterization of the villains makes me believe the Polite Stranger from the 2013 original won’t be bested. The chilling performance by Rhys Wakefield made him one of the most memorable aspects. DeMonaco’s screenplay is still very good, but his villains have become forgettable.

There was an opportunity to create strong villains with murder tourists, who come from different countries to experience the Purge. Their scene is stylish and frightening. They could have been great – as they’re so prominent in marketing, decked out in patriotic masks of Presidents and the Statue of Liberty. Their potential was squandered when they started babbling about their love of America, and how they really want to kill people.

They were a disappointment, plus, they have the wrong idea: If the Purge ever became real, and it feels like it could with Trump as President, they should leave America on Purge night, not go to it.

Score: 80 out of 100

(This review originally appeared on the Movie Buff.)

Deadpool (2016)

 

Released: February 12, 2016. Directed by: Tim Miller. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein. Runtime: 1hr, 48 min.

The wait for the man in the red suit is finally over. It’s not Santa Claus – but the merc with a mouth himself, Deadpool. And it’s everything I’ve dreamed a Deadpool movie would be.

It’s fun and consistently entertaining. The strong pacing and the film’s fourth-wall breaking enables smooth transitions in the well-written screenplay. As a bonus, it’s heartfelt.

It’s an R-rated dream, challenging the likes of Kick-Ass and The Punisher as one of the most violent super hero films. Though, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is more like a super vigilante.

Wade Wilson was Special Forces before he became Deadpool, signing up for treatment that’s said to cure his cancer. It turned him into an ugly, super human, immortal ass-kicking machine, which led him to leave his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) in heartbreaking nature.

I was hooked from the film’s opening credits – a flipped car frozen in motion, as the camera takes us through a variety of items. The clever film induces big laughs in the most violent situations. The movie and violence work because of its over-the-top nature, and director Tim Miller really makes the humour hit in his directorial debut.

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Deadpool, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool. (Source)

The way the non-linear storyline weaves throughout the present and how Wilson became super is an intriguing style for a super hero film, which meets a balls-to-the-wall revenge tale.

Wilson has pledged revenge on Francis (Ed Skrein, The Transporter Refueled), who is responsible for the way Wade looks. Which, as the amusing T.J. Miller’s character Weasel describes, it’s like “Freddy Krueger face-f**ked a topographical map of Utah.”

Francis, whose villain name Ajax is more threatening, is a strong villain. He’s as sadistic as he is unrelenting. His power is a curse – where the super serum that Wade was put through turned Francis into someone who could not feel pain.

His right-hand woman is Angel Dust, a villain with super strength portrayed by former MMA fighter Gina Carano. She’s kick-ass, even though she can’t act her way out of a paper bag. For me, she’s the film’s biggest flaw.

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Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (Source)

Wade enlists two X-Men to take down the baddies. One is Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), an iron man with super strength; and the other is a trainee called Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). She has explosive powers, and is described as a “moody teenager” in Wade’s amusing vision of opening credits.

Deadpool’s great self-referential humour featuring digs at X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern make this a winner. It also feels so fresh and unique.

Even when it falls into a standard hero versus villain battle at the end, the humour and ambition add a fresh spin. The pure beauty of the film is Wade Wilson and how well Ryan Reynolds does as the character.

His comedic timing fits the badass character as well as the red suit fits him. Reynolds’ ability to act so effectively with his voice brings an energetic aspect to the performance, and he seems to be picking his roles better since his entertaining turn in The Voices. It seems like a promise for better things for Reynolds.

He knows he isn’t a hero and he just does his thing and it’s awesome. The hero is harshly judged and his ugliness gives him a vulnerable layer that makes him relatable. The memorable action scenes and soundtrack complement the mood so well, which is the cherry on top on this glorious movie.

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Title: Mad Max: Fury Road. Released: May 15, 2015. Directed by: George Miller. Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult. Runtime: 2 hr.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth film in the popular Australian post-apocalyptic franchise. It’s a sort-of  reboot and a solo installment, merely referencing films previously in the franchise. It’s a re-imagining from George Miller, updated to where Max’s deceased child is a few years older than in the original.

The child actress is creepy, assisted with visuals – especially when her head flashes into a skull. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Max Rockatansky (portrayed by Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson), he used to be a police officer in this post-apocalyptic world where his wife and child murdered.

George Miller simply portrayed Max’s past in the film’s prologue. It’s a time-friendly idea where we learn that the world is run by blood and oil, where Max operates on the most basic human instinct, to survive and evade the scavengers that occupy hostile territory of The Wasteland.

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Tom Hardy as Max. (Source)

Max searches for a righteous cause, which he finds after he is captured by war dogs of the ruthless leader of Citadel, Immortan Joe – portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also starred as Toecutter in 1979’s “Mad Max.”

Joe’s a wicked villain – ruling over Citadel’s people with water, which he calls Aqua-cola. It has been in serious decline since the apocalypse, where it has turned his people into dehydrated near-humans. They have decaying skin, something a bit worse than those in “The Book of Eli.”

His motivation is to keep power over his people, which is threatened when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a war rig driver who takes a run to Gas Town to trade Aqua-cola for guzzaline, betrays him and takes his wives with her. What ensues is an amazing series of chase sequences to get Furiosa and his most prized wives back to Citadel.

Max gets in the mix by also wanting to evade his capturers and was transfusing blood to Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, who steals a few scenes. I also thought the fact that the war dogs wanted to go to Valhalla in the hall of Asgard was a great concept.

Max’s character doesn’t seem to be strictly the Max of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, prolonging the initial chase for about a minute before toppling over and being captured; where the Max of yesteryear would have gave a bigger fight. It seems like a way to preserve time and get right into the heart of the plot. His character is interesting, being hunted by scavengers and haunted by those he couldn’t protect. They come to him in visions, which adds an intriguing quality.

Humour is added to the film occasionally – in the form of simplistic visual gags and one hell of an awesome guitar player called the Doof Warrior (portrayed by musician iOTA), shredding a fully operational flame-throwing guitar on an 8-wheeler, while sporting a red onesie. Suffice to say, the character design is so creative. The score is also super fun.

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. (Source)

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. (Source)

Even though Max’s name is on the film, Theron’s Furiosa absolutely rules this movie. She’s defiant, independent, and mercilessly bad-ass.

Her intentions are noble – to search for redemption, as well as bring hope and a brighter future to the wives in Citadel that haven’t seen a good life. Their hope takes form in where they’re going, a place called the Green Place.

Furiosa’s an empowering female character and her relationships with the wives and between the wives – including actresses Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough – adds a heartwarming quality that has been absent from the “Mad Max” franchise. Furiosa’s character occasionally reaches poignancy, which is effective for a film with limited dialogue.

That’s because the sole focus of “Fury Road” is being one gigantic car chase, and it’s a cinematic, visually pleasing spectacle, where by the end of the chase, people rarely end up on the same vehicle they started on.

There’s about 15 minutes where someone isn’t in a car and there’s rarely a time to rest from the non-stop action, as even when the rig needs to take a break, the oncoming enemy convoy just makes the need to keep going more urgent.

Some may be turned off by the fact that there isn’t a ton of dialogue. The storyboard and action sequences were created before the screenplay, and then it seems the writers figured out the logistics. But the stunts are magnificent and the narrative is compelling. It’s creative and the ride is pure madness, and Miller’s universe immerses.

4 stars

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Source: IMDb

Source: IMDb

Released: June 6, 2014. Directed by: Doug Liman. Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton. Runtime: 1hr., 53 min.

When it comes to summer blockbusters, there are three kinds of anticipation. The ones that muster excitement and they satisfy; the movies that you get excited for but they bring disappointment; and the ones that you don’t have high expectations for, because high-concept science fiction so often just stays that way – a high concept with bad execution. I’m looking at you, Transcendence.

But sometimes, those high-concept movies get great execution and just blow you out of the water, because it actually is good. That’s the category Edge of Tomorrow falls under.

The story follows Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a man who tries to get out of duty by blackmailing a General (Brendan Gleeson). The General doesn’t like that, and he puts the untrained Cage into battle against an alien race called the Mimic. It’s a day much like D-Day, but this time the baddies have the edge.

When facing sure death, he is able to adopt the power of the Mimics: the ability to restart the day. He is given another shot to win an unbeatable war. To do so, he needs help from the poster girl of awesome soldiers, the Full Metal B**ch herself, Rita Vrataski. She also found herself in a similar situation when she led the victory at the Battle of Verdun. Rita will train Cage in an attempt to win the war, and create the perfect soldier out of him.

This film is a lot smarter than anyone might expect it to be. It handles the time loop effect perfectly in a mildly easy to follow narrative. It weaves in a great sense of humour into the superbly shot and ridiculously fun action sequences. The humour is helped out by Tom Cruise and a great Emily Blunt. Cruise offers a vulnerable, wide-eyed and charismatic performance.

The film’s helped out by great writing by Christopher McQuarrie and the Butterworth brothers, adapting the novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. McQuarrie’s humour is evident in the screenplay.

The films blends a great training movie with fun sequences, and aspects of Groundhog Day – notice the same the female protagonist name, Rita – to form a refreshingly original blockbuster. It’s surprisingly not a repetitive film, as it finds new and creative ways to re-shape every days – even if we’ve seen the dialogue before.

A bothersome aspect is why Cage is forced into combat, when he recruits a few million soldiers for the war as an apparent military marketer. He’s an average guy plunged into a crazy situation, and since he is only experienced in marketing, he has to be trained to win this war. It’s a funny aspect to the narrative.

Also bothersome is how run-of-the-mill the ending feels to the rest of the brilliant picture. Saving it is superb visual effects and a great chemistry from the cast. Even if the ending isn’t perfect, it’s still a film that can be enjoyed repeatedly.

Score: 85/100

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Source: IMDb

Source: IMDb

Released: August 1, 2014. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel. Runtime: 2hr., 1 min.

If a time traveller had told me that the writer of Scooby-Doo, James Gunn, would co-write and direct one 2014’s most enjoyable films, I would be hesitant to believe them.

But with co-writer Nicole Perlman, he does so with Guardians of the Galaxy. And it hits a perfect strike in every aspect. The Marvel comic book films’ humour fits this film like a glove.

Its laugh-out-loud funny consistency suits the film’s easy-going tone. The humour is clever and often literal. The simplistic story follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), subject of a manhunt after he finds a powerful orb. The orb has caught the eye of Ronan the Accuser (a strong Lee Pace), who is to deliver it to the powerful Thanos.

Ronan, a Kree who takes the beliefs of his people very seriously, has been pillaging planets motivated after his people signed a Peace treaty with the planet Xandar. Djimon Hounsou portrays one of Ronan’s henchmen. His villainous side is fun to watch.

Also on Peter’s tail is Yondu, portrayed by The Walking Dead‘s Michael Rooker, leader of the Ravagers and the man who abducted Peter 26 years ago. His deadly power allows him to control a tiny spear with varying whistles.

Even with the two crews are after him, the film doesn’t feel over-crowded with multiple antagonists. Impressively, this introductory film has great pacing. The characters fit superbly into the Marvel universe, in between the characters of the Avengers group.

I prefer this crew over them, which surprises me because I don’t usually favour these space movies. Peter Quill is a great character and an outlaw who calls himself Star Lord. He’s an average hero with cool gadgets and a great sense of humour.

Chris Pratt brings his charisma and training to the role, after losing sixty pounds to take on the role. There is a familiar character arc with Quill where he has a letter and gift from his late mother that he doesn’t open. Though, he does like music from the 1970’s and 80’s, which enables this to be my favourite soundtrack from 2014.

Gamora, Zoe Saldana, is like a living weapon who works for Ronan. She is also the adopted daughter of Thanos, and her sister, the villainous Nebula, portrayed by Karen Gillan, is badass in her own right.

Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper who only vaguely sounds like himself, is a bounty hunter driven by money. The character is given poignancy through the fact that he is the only one of his kind – half-machine, half-raccoon, the result of an illegal experiment.

Vin Diesel portrays Raccoon’s best buddy Groot. “I am Groot” is a phrase he regularly says in varying volumes and emotions, actually recording the phrase about one thousand times. Groot is among a species of walking trees who could have just come out of Middle Earth. The quiet character is surprisingly funny. Rocket is like a translator of Groot’s tones. Diesel is just as effective as he was when he voiced the titular Iron Giant back in 1999, also a character of few words.

The final piece of the group is Drax the Destroyer, a great Dave Bautista, who is driven by vengeance for his wife and daughter. Ronan killed them. Money is the group’s main drive, but Groot seems like he’s just along for the ride. Their drives make them relatable, and they work so well because they’re an unlikely cast of characters.

The make-up specialists, in special effects and in general, outdo themselves, especially with Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace and Karen Gillan. The story’s heart in such a compelling and easy-going film is just astounding. Due to the film’s great visuals, top-notch writing and its ability to surprise its audience, it just has to be seen.

Score100/100

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers 3Released: June 29, 2011. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Tyrese Gibson. Runtime: 154 min. 

A fault for me for the Transformers films is the fact that they can work as stand-alone films because Optimus Prime gives a little narration at the beginning of each film, which also introduces a new artifact where the Autobots will have to find this thing before the Decepticons do. Essentially, these films are exactly the same. But some of them are kind-of fun. This one improves on the first sequel by giving a stronger narrative, but its length is still exhausting. The Autobots, this time around, have to find the pillars that was on a spacecraft piloted by Centennial Prime that crash-landed on the moon (a creative spin for the reason the members of Apollo 11 went to the moon) in the war of Cybotron. The Autobots have to get there before the Decepticons to save the world. They harbour a powerful enough energy to cause that Chernobyl mishap, which is a kind-of creative reason to describe it, too. I like those blockbuster twists on past events to add alternative causes. 

Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam Witwicky, who gets a bit of an annoying characterization since he wants to matter again, and he flaunts his Hero’s Medal to anyone he meets. It’s a a funny difference from his reluctance to initially help in the previous film. He really wants recognition and it gets to the point of being whiny. The only one who hasn’t been too impressed by the medal was Megan Fox’s Mikayla, because now Sam has a new hottie named Carly (a meh Rosie Huntington-Whitely, a super model turned actress), who is a personal assistant to a billionaire, Dylan, portrayed by Patrick Dempsey. (He must be some sort-of entrepreneur because he collects a lot of cars.) The chemistry shared between LaBeouf and Huntington-Whitely is nothing special. Ms. H-Whitely doesn’t do much, except just look dirty and somehow manages to survive during action sequences. The ending of the finale is a bit lazy, and if it were any other movie I’d be mad at its laziness, but since it drags on so long it was welcome. Villains who still opt to help the Decepticons when they don’t really have to anymore is uninspired and it just prolongs the flick. 

In terms of ambition, some action sequences are pretty spectacular, but too long, and they’re reminiscent of several other sequences we’ve seen so far in the franchise. There a few characters who make this something fun. Tom Kenny is still very funny as Wheely, a Decepticon turned Autobot. John Malkovich shows up as Witwicky’s boss in a funny role. John Turturro is also good, but he gets outshone this time around by his sidekick Dutch, who is portrayed by a very funny Alan Tudyk. They are some redeeming aspects of an otherwise stupid film where there’s a Decepticon that reminded me of the huge worm from Men in Black 3, and where a character quotes Spock as a reason for attempting to take over the world.

Score: 50/100