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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 – Macbeth (15) [2015]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

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Music Composer:

To look back is a double-edged sword. To look back upon one’s achievements, mistakes and losses in order to grow as a person and to build a better future is important and valuable. Nevertheless, to look back longingly fetters an individual. Justin Kurzel’s take on Macbeth illustrates how looking back longingly can manifest itself in a variety of negative ways on people and impair them.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a battle.

Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), bloody and filthy, in the heart of a (cloudy) battle in the Scottish Highlands.

Kurzel’s Macbeth is based on the play, written by William Shakespeare. Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor (Michael Fassbender), receives a prophecy from three witches. They tell him that one day he will become King of Scotland and that no man of woman born will be able to kill him… although, they do warn him to be wary of Macduff (Sean Harris). Consumed by ambition and urged on by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth acts to fulfil the prophecy. But at what cost?

Macbeth is a compelling and gripping film. Central to this are the performances. David Thewlis as Duncan is decent, and Sean Harris as Macduff is very good as usual. Yet, it is the two main performers that stand out. Both Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are riveting. One may not always understand what they say since the movie is in Shakespearean English. But due to the strength and rawness of their performances, viewers can feel the emotion behind their words and, therefore, understand their actions.

It helps that audiences can empathise with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth straight from the off. Macbeth begins with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffering a tragic loss, and this loss never leaves them. No matter what they achieve, they are always looking back upon this loss and it devours them.

That this scene is not in the original script that Shakespeare wrote should not be of concern, even to play purists. In the play, this tragedy for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is mentioned, so it is part of the story. But by showing the event and making it the opening scene of the film, Kurzel gives the event a gravitas that is lacking in the original play.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter's arrival at Cordor.

Macbeth greeting Duncan (David Thewlis) upon the latter’s arrival at Cawdor.

This alteration from the source material is not the only instance in which Kurzel plays fast and loose with Shakespeare’s version of the story. Nonetheless, for play purists to put too much stress on the alterations would be to miss what Kurzel keeps and enhances from the original play. What’s more, unlike other adaptations which have given Macbeth a more modern slant (for example, the 2013 London theatre production starring James McAvoy as the titular character), Kurzel has made his 2015 film adaptation more medieval. Consequently, the movie is bloody, grisly and muddy; all of which is fitting for the story.

In addition, with the Scottish Highlands for the main setting, Kurzel has increased the authenticity of the play. The landscapes are apt and wondrous (perhaps even worth fighting for). Yet, the weather is grim, windy and rainy. These conditions breed miserable, nasty people who are devoid of humour. Indeed, the entire movie is devoid of humour and somehow that feels right.

Indeed, Kurzel gets much right. However, his version of Macbeth is not without its flaws: the movie should have been longer than 113-minutes, and some key scenes are missing; the first twenty minutes are heavily edited, to point that one could easily believe that Kurzel has ADD; the battles are underwhelming, difficult to see, and rely too much on (300-style) slow-motion followed by super-fast, killer moves; and the final scene is jarringly out of sync with medieval times.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Lady Macbeth (Marion Cotillard) trying to soothe her now kingly husband at Bamburgh Castle.

Nevertheless, even in the scenes where Kurzel does not get everything right, one can still be overcome by the music. The score has been written by Justin’s brother, Jed, and it resonates deeply with audiences. The music enables one to feel Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s triumphs. Yet, in the same beat, it also enables one to feel as if the couple are looking back longingly at the loss that they cannot get over.

Over-all, Macbeth is a really impressive film. The movie is not without its problems as it should have been longer, while the first twenty minutes and the last scenes should have been handled better. All the same, there is much to admire about Kurzel’s Macbeth from its gritty realism of Scotland in the late-medieval period, to the alterations that Kurzel has made from the original source material, to the astonishing performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.

Undoubtedly, Fassbender and Cotillard make up the best elements of the film. They depict the strength and ambition of the two characters, as well as their tragic natures. They do this by presenting what can happen to us if we look back longingly for something we’ve lost. Fassbender and Cotillard show us that this loss will eat away at us and undermine everything we achieve, even if we achieve all that we desire and more.

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Review – Rust And Bone (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Jacques Audiard – Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet

Cast:

Music Composer:

In August 2012, London held the Paralympics event. More than anything, the paralympians illustrated that people with crippling injuries can be full of life and can excel in the face of much adversity. Yet, the tournament did not display the hardships that such people face on a daily basis. Rust and Bone does so, and in a particularly gritty and unglamorous way.

Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) giving his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure), a piggy-back. Ali, however, is not necessary the most responsible of parents.

Rust and Bone is a French film based on the book by Craig Davidson with the same title. The movie centres round Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts), a man of dubious morality, who is seemingly in sole custody of his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure). As Alain is unemployed, he leaves Belgium to go to live with his sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero), in the Antibes, where he hopes to find work. Using his skills as a former bare-fist boxer, he gets a job as a bouncer at a nightclub.

There, Alain meets a drunken Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer-whale stunt trainer. After she falls over and cuts herself badly outside the club, he takes her home. Yet, it is not until Stephanie loses both her legs when a stunt goes horribly wrong that she and him form a close relationship.

Rust and Bone is a 120-minute unhurried, art-house film with a very serious atmosphere. Much of the movie is played out in under-privileged dismal areas, akin to those in Harry Brown. The aesthetics, as well as the silence (with the exception of the loud and brash Katy Perry song, Firework, for the Killer Whale stunts) emphasise the severity of the movie’s tone.

Ali carrying Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) into the sea, following her crippling injury, wherein she had to have her legs amupatated from the knee.

The stark manner of Rust and Bone is reflected in the generally unpleasant characters in the film. Due to a lack of action or intrigue in the plot, the movie relies heavily on the characters, and the relationships that they have with one another, to maintain viewers’ interests. This is not an issue, per se, but as none of the characters are particularly amiable, it is hard for one to truly empathise with their situations.

Alain, for one, is a scummy and untrustworthy individual, with a violent side as well. Indeed, if it were not for his (almost) wonderful treatment toward Stephanie after her injury, Alain would have no redemptive qualities and would be utterly detestable. Despite the nature of Alain’s character, though, credit must go Matthias Schoenaerts. It would have been easy for Schoenaerts to turn Alain into a stereotypical thug. Yet, Schoenaerts doesn’t do this. Rather, he makes Alain unlikeable, but at the same time human, realistic and understandable, which is far from a simple task.

Similarly, Marion Cotillard does a good job as Stephanie, an ordinary girl coming to terms with a crippling injury. Cotillard’s performance in the wheel-chair leaves out nothing, including the struggle of doing something as mundane as making a coffee or going to the bathroom. Cotillard truly makes viewers sympathise with Stephanie’s predicament. Furthermore, and arguably what makes Rust and Bone so unique is that director Jacques Ardiard is not scared to have Stephanie discuss (and perform) sex or swimming in the sea. By doing these, and making Stephanie feel better for it, Audiard demonstrates that Stephanie, and anyone else with a crippling injury for that matter, is a human being. It is a tribute to Cotillard’s skills that she is able to illustrate Stephanie’s feelings so naturally, and without it seeming odd either.

Stephanie looking good and enjoying herself in a nightclub, demonstrating that amputatees know how to have a good time like the rest of us.

Unlike with Schoenaerts and Cotillard, it is hard to overly praise or fault the rest of the cast for their performances. Since the film is dominated by Alain and Stephanie, and how their relationship develops, Armand Verdure, Corinne Masiero and Bouli Lanners (who plays as Martial, Alain’s friend and part-mentor, who is also a gambler of unofficial violent sports among the underclasses) are not given much time on screen. What little we see of them shows us, plausibly, that they are normal people with problems, facing the issues that normal people face, while living in a terrible area.

Over-all, Rust and Bone is a slow-paced and sombre film, but an impressive one in its own right. The movie may not be shot in aesthetically pleasing places, and it may not contain particularly nice characters either. Nevertheless, the film does not do what the authorities of the London 2012 Paralympic games did, and shy away from tackling the harsh realities that arise from crippling injuries. Marion Cotillard’s Stefanie embodies how difficult it can be for people with such injuries to pick themselves up. What’s more, Cotillard’s performance emphasises that a little support from even the most improbable of individuals can help to steer an injured person onto the path of becoming more comfortable with their new and forced lifestyle.

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Review – The Dark Knight Rises (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 5/5

Director:

Cinematographer:

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Music Composer:

Once in a decade, perhaps, are audiences treated to a trilogy wherein the three films are not only worthy of five stars each, but also raise the bar over the movie that preceded it. Ten years ago, it was Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, which culminated beautifully in the epic The Return of the King. Now, it is the turn of Christopher Nolan and his Dark Knight Legend saga, which has climaxed spectacularly with The Dark Knight Rises.

The monstrous-looking, hulking Bane (Tom Hardy). Ra’s Al Ghul’s successor intends to finish off Gotham once and for all, forcing Batman to come out of his virtual retirement.

Eight years have passed since Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) defeated the Joker, killed the District Attorney, Harvey Dent, and disappeared. Since then, Gotham has branded Batman an enemy, after he took responsibility for Dent’s crimes to uphold the reputation of the ‘White Knight.’ Whilst away from his former exploits, Bruce has been a recluse, investing some of his considerable wealth in peaceful nuclear energy and the Wayne Foundation, where he uses the expertise of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to good effect.

However, Gotham now faces a new threat. The League of Shadows has returned and is led by the masked, super-strong Bane (Tom Hardy), who is out to destroy Gotham and Batman with it. After Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wounded trying to take out Bane, leaving the police almost solely in the hands of the young idealist officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Bruce feels that the time has come to don the bat-gear again. But how will Gotham take to his return? And what will Batman do with the criminal Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who has a mysterious interest in Wayne Manor and Wayne Enterprise?

Rises’ plot might be slow-moving for the first hour and it certainly requires great levels of concentration for the entire 164 minutes; yet, the film is intellectually-stimulating, absorbing and multi-layered. It also builds up to a stunning, well-thought-through climax, ensuring that those who give the movie their full attention will be rewarded.

One of the most satisfying aspects of the storyline is that Nolan cleverly links Rises with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the two previous instalments in the series. He does this by making the caped crusader rise to a new mental and physical challenge, which is a direct result of his prior victory over the League of Shadows; and by illustrating the relevance of Batman and Harvey Dent as symbols of hope against injustice and corruption. (Not to mention demonstrating how susceptible the fabrics of society are to implosion when the symbols are smashed.)

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) wearing her figure-revealing ‘cat’ outfit while she steals what she needs at night and fights her way out of trouble.

Furthermore, Nolan intelligently incorporated genuine, present-day issues and analogies into the previous two films to make them relatable to the epoch. He does it again in Rises. Like in The Dark Knight, he throws in moral and ethical dilemmas here to illustrate just how tough and messy decisions can be for our political leaders (in the war on terror). And, like in Batman Begins, Nolan underlines how sophisticated, scientific technology can be used as weapons. In the first film in the series, it was the dangers of microwave emitters. In the third, it’s the threat posed by ‘peaceful’ nuclear programs (Iran) and what happens should they fall into the wrong hands.

Arguably, Rises lacks a character with the charisma of the Joker, especially as he is Batman’s traditional nemesis. Nevertheless, the astuteness of the plot and the excellence of the cast make up for this absence. Christian Bale superbly reveals the psychological torment and the multifaceted nature of Bruce Wayne that makes all other comic-book based protagonists, such as those in Fantastic Four, The Avengers Assemble and Spiderman appear immature and superficial by comparison; Anne Hathaway looks as eye-catching in tightly-fitted latex as she plays; Michael Caine again gives a touching performance as Alfred, Bruce’s wise fatherly butler, as does Morgan Freeman as the humorous Lucius Fox, the head of Wayne Enterprise; and, lastly, Tom Hardy is terrifying as Bane.

Just as Nolan did with the villains Scarecrow, the Joker and Two-Face in the other movies, he’s turned Bane from a pantomime fool (as was seen in the unwatchable 1997 Batman & Robin) into a complex and sinister character, with a distressing backstory. It is not merely Bane’s brute strength and intelligence that’s scary, it’s also the glint of frightening fanaticism in his eyes which was probably last seen with Ayatollah Khomeini, the late leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Batman (Christian Bale), with renewed vigour, battling it out with Bane to save Gotham from destruction.

While the actors do their parts splendidly, so too do the special effects team and Hans Zimmer. The effects look so real, viewers have to remind themselves that CGI was used. Similarly, the score may not be as grand or uplifting as the one composed by Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings; nonetheless, the dark disposition of Rises entails that Zimmer’s gothic-style music is apt and augments the scenes exponentially.

Over-all, The Dark Knight Rises is an engrossing and special conclusion to an exceptional trilogy. Christopher Nolan has transformed the Batman story from a joke into a dark and very human tale that has relevance to the current era, making all other comic-book based movies seem light and casual in contrast. Once more, Nolan has used intelligence and a phenomenal cast to outdo himself in the same way that Peter Jackson did almost a decade ago. Heaven knows, it might be another ten years before we see a series of such brilliance again.

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Review – Contagion (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

In the Middle Ages, pestilence and plague were semi-regular occurrences. Every fifteen years or so, the grim reaper would appear in the form of the Black Death and scythe down a not insignificant percentage of populations across Europe. Again, in 1918, after World War I (WWI), the world was struck by another form of pestilence: the ‘Spanish Flu’, which killed one percent of the then-world population. Despite being over-all quite poor, Contagion shows us once more that mankind is still not immune to new diseases and viruses.

Mitch (Matt Damon) in shock after suddenly losing his wife to the epidemic.

Contagion is a medical thriller about a virus that rapidly spreads across the world. The first known death in America is that of Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow – Se7en, Shakespeare In Love, The Avengers Assemble), who returns home to her family and husband, Mitch (Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Elysium), from a trip to Hong Kong only to have a seizure and die soon afterwards. Rapidly, more people become infected. There is no cure for the virus either, and around one in four people are expected to become infected. (Although, one in three people who become infected are expected to survive.)

Scientists, from across the world, led by Atalanta-based Dr. Ellis Cheevers (Laurence Fishburne – Apocalypse Now, The Matrix I-III, Man of Steel) and his team, work hard to find an antidote. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet – Titanic, The Reader, Steve Jobs) uses her knowledge to try and slow down the spread of the virus, whilst working in the field. Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard – Public Enemies, Midnight In Paris, The Dark Knight Rises) works with a team in Hong Kong to establish where the virus came from in order to facilitate the creation of an antidote.

But until an antidote has been tested sufficiently and is safe, nothing can be distributed. In the meantime, indirectly egged-on by a conspiratorially-inclined blogger called Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law – Enemy At The Gates, The Holiday, Side Effects), social order breaks down.

Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), a scientist under Dr. Ellis Cheevers, working hard in the laboratory to try and create an antidote.

The plot for Contagion has been done in a documentary style, similar to Cloverfield (albeit, without the camera wobbling). This entails that one watches the effects of the virus upon people and societies over a series of days. One images that the director, Steven Soderburgh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Twelve, Side Effects), did this to give the film a more realistic feel. If so, he succeeds. As a corollary of the realism, the speed at which the virus transmits and kills people has the impact of frightening the audience (in probably the same way that bubonic plague used to terrify people in Medieval times). Also, the timing of the chaos that subsequently unfolds, as a result of panic by those who have not yet been infected, seems quite natural. It is quite conceivable for law and order to collapse under the pressures that Contagion puts forward.

However, many aspects of the storyline are either left unexplained or fall by the wayside, which undermines the film considerably. Moreover, as the movie has no central protagonist, one cannot build any sympathy or empathy (or care) for any of the characters. Worse, the dialogue, at times, sounds contrived (if not risible) and none of the actors play particularly well. Even the normally excellent Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Matt Damon do not do themselves justice here.

Allan Krumwiede (Jude Law), wearing a ridiculous ‘wannabe’ Buzz Lightyear outfit so he doesn’t contract the virus, spreading his new-found insight about why the government has not distributed the cure as yet onto a random car.

Due to the lack of a dominant performer, the audience may struggle to maintain interest in the film. At 106 minutes, Contagion is an average length for a movie; yet, viewers may find themselves yawning or looking at their watches (long) before it is over, which is never a good sign for a film. Not even the music, which adopts a standard fast beat for much of the movie, has the ability to keep the audience’s eyes concentrated on the screen for long.

On the whole, Contagion has many deficient features, as several of the sub-stories are forgotten about and there is a distinct lack of a central and well-defined character. Nevertheless, Contagion appears scarily realistic and shows us that, irrespective of how advanced medical treatment may be, humanity is still potentially defenceless against new and ever-mutating epidemics.

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