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Review – Assassin’s Creed (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Justin Kurzel – The Snowtown Murders, Macbeth, Haven

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Jed Kurzel – The Snowtown MurdersThe BabadookSlow West, Alien: Covenant

Films based on video games have not been well received, historically. Super Mario Bros, House of the Dead and BloodRayne were atrocious; Street Fighter was rubbish, even if it had moments of unintentional hilarity; while Warcraft was bad, but tolerable mainly due to the visuals. This raises two questions: one, can video games be successfully adapted into movies? And, two, could Justin Kurzel, reuniting with his Macbeth co-stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, buck the trend of bad video game adaptations with Assassin’s Creed?

Rikkin (Jeremy Irons, left) telling Cal (Michael Fassbender) about the purpose of his institution.

Rikkin (Jeremy Irons, left) telling Cal (Michael Fassbender) about the purpose of his institution.

Assassin’s Creed is based on the video game franchise of the same name. The film goes back and forth between fifteenth-century Spain and the present day. Cal (Michael Fassbender) is a descendent of Aguilar de Nerha, an assassin in 1492. He is recruited by a scientist, called Sofia (Marion Cotillard), who needs him to go into a machine and become his ancestor. That way, they can discover what happened to the Apple of Eden. For the Apple was the source of sin in the world and, with it, Sofia and her father, Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), can rid the world of evil. The only problem is that the Knight’s Templars stand in their way…

Assassin’s Creed has a lot going for it. The CGI is very good. Justin Kurzel has done his homework with regards to what Spanish cities looked like in 1492, so the art and architecture are fantastic. Michael Fassbender puts in an admirable, physically-demanding performance that Jason Bourne would be proud of. And the film is full of fight scenes and action sequences that are well choreographed.

Yet, for all the above, Assassin’s Creed is boring and head-bangingly silly. The storyline makes no sense (not that it was ever meant to) and the movie has a superfluous amount of overly long (and amateurishly sped up) fight scenes. Indeed, the film has so much action, one wonders if the fleeting bits of (incoherent) dialogue are sprinkled in here and there to give viewers respite before the next action sequence begins.

Cal in the machine that connects him to his ancestor, Aguilar.

Cal in the machine that connects him to his ancestor, Aguilar.

Furthermore, the performances of Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons leave a lot to be desired and both deserve their Golden Raspberry nominations. Cotillard, at least, looks like she is trying (at times), only to be let down by the nonsensical script. Irons, on the other hand, is just going through the motions. His laziness is on a par with Liam Neeson in Battleship, which means Irons is in Assassin’s Creed solely to pick up the cheque and visit some historic locations while he’s at it. (Come on, Irons, you can do better than this. You have won an Oscar, voiced Scar with banal menace, and earned yourself a golden globe nomination for your portrayal of Pope Alexander VI as recently as 2012. Put in some effort for heaven’s sake.)

Nevertheless, as bad as Irons’ acting is, Jed Kurzel’s music is worse. God knows why, but he decided against using Assassin’s Creed’s awesome video game theme tune for the film. (Seriously, it is so awesome DB Weisz and David Benioff used it as background music for the second trailer for Game of Thrones, Season Five.) No, instead, Jed Kurzel has written an awful score that is so loud it cannot be heard and gives one a thumping headache. Plus, what was Jed Kurzel thinking when he decided to use loud, electric guitars to be at the heart of his score for the Medieval/Renaissance Spain scenes? It simply does not work!

Aguilar the Assassin fighting men of the Knight's Templar.

Aguilar the Assassin fighting men of the Knight’s Templar.

Over-all, Assassin’s Creed is a shambles of a film, but it is not an atrocity to cinema. Sure, it is dull; the script and the dialogue are incomprehensible; some of the acting reeks of a disinterest; and the music is horrible. But the movie also has several positive elements, such as the CGI, cinematography and Michael Fassbender’s acting. These give the film cre(e)dence and make it marginally watchable.

But does Assassin’s Creed buck the trend of bad video game adaptations? Not really. And if a video game adaptation with as much talent as Assassin’s Creed cannot turn the tide in the right direction, perhaps video games should remain on their consoles rather than be adapted for the big screen.

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Review – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Zack Snyder – 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Man of Steel, Justice League: Part I

Executive Producer:

Cast:

Music Composers:

Batman v Superman…? The title alone draws a sigh. How can a mortal defeat an immortal? How can a man defeat a god? These questions already hint at problems with the film and that is before its 151-minute running time begins. And then there is the problem of Director Zack Snyder, and the sigh lengthens. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was doomed from the start, wasn’t it?

The villainous Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), getting in away of a first and tense encounter between Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).

The villainous Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), getting in away of a first and tense encounter between Clarke Kent (Henry Cavill) and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).

  Batman v Superman (BvS) is about… well, that is another of the film’s many problems. The first 90-100 minutes are a convoluted, chaotic and inconsistent muddle just to pit Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) in a fist fight against one another. And this fist fight, which comes to include Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Doomsday (aka the Cave Troll from Lord of the Rings I: The Fellowship of the Ring) goes on for an Earth’s turn.

One would have thought that Zack Snyder had learned his lessons from Man of Steel and not put in a long (pointless and boring) fist fight in which collateral damage is caused on a colossal scale. (The first two-thirds of BvS bangs on about how much of a menace Superman is because of the collateral damage he caused in his flying fight with General Zod.) But no. The fight scenes at the end of BvS go on for even longer and cause even more collateral damage than in Man of Steel. It is quite astonishing, really.

What is not astonishing, however, are the twists in BvS. Worse, they are not in the least surprising. (The trailer gives most of them away anyway.) One twist in particular, which has to do with Clark Kent’s and Bruce Wayne’s deceased mothers, is downright stupid. Who thought that was a good idea? Was it you, Snyder? Really?

A fire-eyed Doomsday, ready to destroy all of mankind. Weta are behind the design of this 'terrifying' monster. Alas, the same company have used this monster before and he was defeated then. So what chance of him surviving this time around?

A fire-eyed Doomsday, ready to destroy all of mankind. Weta are behind the design of this ‘terrifying’ monster. Alas, the same company have used this monster before and he was defeated then. So what chance of him surviving this time around?

And whose idea was it to have an origins story for Bruce Wayne? We had that in 2005 with Batman Begins. There was no need to have it in this film; especially not with that utterly clichéd, slow-motioned “Noooooooooo!”. For goodness sake, in 2005 Darth Vadar did it in Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and it was laughable back then. So again, whose idea was it to put that in BvS? Was it you, Snyder? Or are you going to blame Christopher Nolan? (Yes, that genius who gave us The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and a host of other thought-provoking films. Quite frankly, it is hard to believe that Nolan had any input into the plot for BvS as one can believe he can excrete a better film than this one.)

Whether Snyder or Nolan are to blame for the paucity of BvS, it should be noted that the actors are entirely blameless. In fact, Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons and Amy Adams should be commended for trying so damn hard to make something of this train wreck. No-one can question their efforts. Although, Clark Kent/Superman is by nature devoid of character, making him somewhat boring to watch; and Lex Luthor… well, it is hard to say what Snyder was aiming for with the character. Villains can be scary, cunning, honourable, witty, sadistic or cruel (or mixtures of all those traits). But villains cannot be annoying, and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is bloody annoying. As a result, one wants him dead the moment he introduces himself and for all the wrong reasons.

Lastly, it should be said that even this disaster of a movie has some positive points. The relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred is one such point. Alfred might be the commander-in-chief of Bruce’s arsenal instead of his butler (just go with it), yet whenever the two of them are together on-screen the scenes are genuinely enjoyable and wryly funny. For a film that takes itself way too seriously (but has stupidly unrealistic fight scenes), Bruce and Alfred strike the right tonal balance so as to make the jokes apt for their circumstances.

Superman and Batman on the same side (shocking!), along with Wonder Woman (centre, Gal Gadot), to take down Doomsday.

Superman and Batman on the same side (shocking!), along with Wonder Woman (centre, Gal Gadot), to take down Doomsday.

The other major positive point is the visuals. Credit where credit is due: Snyder knows how to make his products look shiny. It is just a shame that the visuals have no substance under the gloss.

Over-all, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a mess. The storylines are all over the place, the tone is off, and the fight scenes go on for too long. Bruce Wayne and Alfred provide highlights that one can enjoy, but not even Ben Affleck’s and Jeremy Irons’ best efforts can make this film worthwhile. No, they and the rest of the cast have been badly let down by director Zack Snyder. The man should not helm another movie until he learns how to write a sound and logical script. Nevertheless, guess who Hollywood has signed up to direct Justice League: Part I & II? Yes, you guessed it: Zack Snyder. To quote Homer Simpson: “D’oh!”

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Review – The Lion King 3D (U) [2011; originally released in 1994]

Star Rating: 5/5

Many argue (and not without justification) that the re-release of old Disney films in 3D is simply a scam to make more money. Well, whether true or not, the magnificent 1994 The Lion King is fully worth paying to see again. (Warning, this review contains spoilers.)

Rafiki holding Simba at the latter’s birth presentation to the kingdom. Sarabi (voiced by Madge Sinclair) and Mufasa, Simba’s mother and father, respectively, watch on proudly.

The movie starts with the presentation of the birth of Simba, the future King of Pride Rock. From early on, cheeky young Simba (voiced by Jonathan Taylor Thomas) learns from his father, King Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones – Star Wars IV-VI, Criminal Intent, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride), about the circle of life and how to become a responsible king. Simultaneously, Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons – The Man In The Iron Mask, The Borgias, The Words), Mufasa’s younger brother and Simba’s uncle, secretly plots to kill both Mufasa and Simba. Using his three main hyena henchmen, Shenzi (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg – Sister Act I & II, For Coloured Girls, The Muppets), Banzai (voiced by Cheech Marin – From Dusk Til Dawn, Cars I & II, Machete) and Ed (voiced Jim Cummings – Aladdin I-III, Hercules, Zambezio), Scar intends to usurp the throne.

He half succeeds. Scar kills Mufasa, but Simba escapes, fleeing into exile. There, Simba meets a Meerkat, called Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane – The Producers, Stuart Little I & II, The English Teacher), and a Warthog, called Pumba (voiced by Ernie Sabella – The Lion King II & III, Listen To Your Heart). Simba grows up with them and enjoys life, forgetting that he is meant to be ruling the now-ravaged plains of Pride Rock. It is only when Nala (when young, voiced by Niketa Calame; when adult, voiced by Moira Kelly – The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, Dangerous Beauty, One Tree Hill), Simba’s childhood friend, and Rafiki (Robert Guillaume – The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride), a wise baboon and an old family friend, find him that Simba realises that he must return to the Pride Lands and fight his uncle for the kingdom.

The Lion King’s storyline is easy to follow and gripping. Ostensibly for children, adults can like the movie just as much. (If not even more!) Whilst children may enjoy the sing-along-songs and the funny Timon and Pumba; adults can appreciate the intelligent, wry humour (not to mention how appalling some of Timon’s jokes are), as well as the satire in the film, such as Scar’s Hitler-like moment when he’s standing on a podium addressing his army of goose-step marching hyenas.

The silver-tongued, smiling Scar convincing his young, naive nephew, Simba, to stay and wait in gorge for his father, who has a ‘marvellous surprise’ for him. It’s apparently so good it’s ‘to die for.’ For once, Scar might even be telling the truth.

Adults and children may get pleasure from different aspects of the film; yet, everyone can equally be enamoured with the movie’s beautiful music, composed by Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV, The Dark Knight Rises). Much of the film adopts Zulu-style music, which is not only apt for the setting (after-all, The Lion King is based in South Africa), it enriches every scene wonderfully.

The music, though, would not have the same impact if the characters and the dialogue were not so well defined, written and articulated. All the characters have great depth, from the cunning, forked-tongued, yet cowardly Scar (that he is such an offhandedly sinister villain, rather than a pantomime one gives him an added chilling dimension); to the mischievous-cum-deferent-cum-bold Simba; to the stupid, moaning hyenas; to the funny but sensitive Pumba, to mention four of many.

The fine brilliance of the music and the dialogue is epitomised in the scene following Mufasa’s death. Seldom in Disney films (where death is surprisingly common) have audiences, in general, been reduced to tears. The empathy one has for Simba at that point is heart-breaking. That this is followed by Scar wickedly manipulating the situation to his advantage (as intelligent, psychopathic leaders always do) makes the dosage so much more potent. Since this scene, perhaps only the ending to the excellent Toy Story 3 has come close to making viewers feel the same way again, and for very different reasons.

The music and the dialogue in The Lion King has rightly been praised. Likewise, although it’s easily missed, should the expressions of the characters. Since the majority of the characters are not human-like, since they don’t have arms and legs, the producers/artists had to rely on the characters’ body-language and body-movements to make up for it. Indeed, the way each character moves is indicative of his/her personality and circumstance at any given point. For instance, mischievous little Simba walks (struts) very differently to when he is guilt-riddled in exile. The producers/artists should justifiably take credit for this, as it gives the characters greater subtlety and complexity.

Simba, all grown up now, happily singing, with Timon and Pumba, the joyful ‘Hakuna Matata.’ It means ‘no worries,’ which is exactly how Simba has been living in exile.

Similarly, the hard work that the producers/artists put into the graphics should also be recognised. 2011 viewers may find the graphics antiquated or unsatisfactory. If this is the case, it is most unfair. One has to remember that this film was initially released in the pre-Pixar era, at the time of Beauty & The Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992), meaning one cannot compare the results of today’s technology with those of the early 1990s. And irrespective of the relative backwardness of the graphics, The Lion King has been converted magnificently into 3D. Unlike recent animations like Rio or The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, the 3D here makes a difference to the extent of making The Lion King spell-binding; especially, during the fight between Simba and Scar at the end.

All-in-all, The Lion King is a Disney classic for many reasons. Bringing it back to the cinemas in 3D may be a ploy to make more money, but one should see it anyway and treasure this encapsulating masterpiece once again.

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