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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 – The Light Between Oceans (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Derek Cianfrance – Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines, Metalhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some films that look like Oscar material. They have stellar actors in the main roles, a seemingly interesting plot, and wondrous cinematography. Yet, the film remains in post-production for longer than it should and, upon viewing, the movie simply does not work. 2014’s Serena was one such film. The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) is another.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

  TLBO is a film based on the novel with same title by ML Stedman. It is December 1918 and Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has returned to Australia from the Western Front. World War I (WWI) has taken his toll on him. To recuperate, he applies for a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island, called Janus Rock.

After getting the job, he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander). The two marry and go to live on the island. Life is going all right for the happy(ish) couple, until a baby and a dead man wash up on a lifeboat one day. Tom and Isabel are presented with a dilemma: one that will have consequences for the both of them.

Let’s deal with the good elements of TLBO first. The scenery is spectacular. The producers have chosen a beautiful island to represent Janus Rock and the cinematography captures the wonders (and dangers) of this isolated island. Enhancing the sense of isolation is Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score. It tugs at the heart at times and makes us feel the eerie remoteness of the place at others.

Additionally, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, with Rachel Weisz in the chief supporting role, are attractive and perform decently. But their Australian accents are glaringly non-existent and their characters are bafflingly boring.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

Nevertheless, actors can only work with what they are given. Even the finest of our current crop of actors cannot make something out of a poor script and a frustratingly uninteresting plot. It does not help that at 140 minutes TLBO is a long film. Nothing of significance happens for the first 45 minutes when finally the moral dilemma (i.e. the turning point of the story) arrives. That is at least 30 minutes too late. And even when it does arrive, the conundrum is handled in a woefully sentimental manner, well beyond the point of incredulity. It could even be argued that TLBO trivialises child abduction and Stockholm Syndrome, since the former is dealt with as well-meaning and the latter as a non-issue. Director Derek Cianfrance really should have done more research into these highly sensitive subjects as then the reactions of the characters would not be perplexing. Either that, or Cianfrance got the wrong end of the stick, completely.

But these are merely the start of TLBO’s problems. The film feels badly disjointed. This is despite the director’s best efforts to stitch scenes together that bear no link, using the trick of fading one scene into the next. But it does not make the movie flow any easier and makes one realise that TLBO has some fundamental storyline issues. This could explain why the movie spent more time than it should have done (near two years) in post-production.

The issues regarding the storyline are not helped by the movie trying to cover a plethora of topics, including love, grief, trauma, moral dilemmas, and the consequences of one’s actions. All of these can make for fascinating viewing if they are done well. Yet, none of them are properly fleshed out and there is too much telling and not enough showing in the film. This all makes for a recipe of unsatisfying viewing.

The parallels with Serena could not be more apparent. That film had an attractive cast, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Toby Jones and Conleth Hill (better known as Lord Varys from Game of Thrones); it had gorgeous cinematography; and dealt with a lot of interesting subject matters, such as starting up one’s own business in North Carolina during the Great Depression, law enforcement, corruption, and mafia. But it was a mess of a movie. This led to questions of what director Susanne Bier had initially wanted from the film, what she had cut out in the editing room, and how she had come to release the final draft of the film because Serena was a muddle that did not know what story it was trying to tell.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

TLBO is not on the same scale as Serena. But many of the questions that applied to Serena apply for TLBO. It would be nice if, one day, Cianfrance spoke about what he set out to achieve with TLBO, what he succeeded on, what he failed on, and why he failed on them. Ironically, that would make for a much more interesting tale than the one consisting of Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz.

Over-all, TLBO is a disappointing movie. It has the cast, the setting, and the ideas to be an Oscar contender. Yet, it is a dysfunctional tangle of half-baked plots that go in directions that aren’t plausible. If that does not vex viewers, the movie’s sentimentality will take them over the edge. Indeed, soppiness of the movie will make them wish that The Light Between Oceans had remained in post-production permanently.

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Review – X-Men: Apocalypse (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men IIHouse of WaxFantastic 4 I-IIValkyrie, X-Men: Days of Future PastNon-Stop, 20,000 Leagues Under Sea

The Godfather Syndrome is a common problem for film trilogies. When the first film is a good and the second is better, the third film has a hard act to follow. So often, it cannot raise the bar to the required level and, consequently, the film is unsatisfactory. The Godfather trilogy is the most high profile to fall victim to this syndrome (hence the name), but the third film in the Alien franchise and in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy suffered from the syndrome as well. Sadly, so too does the third film in the X-Men prequel trilogy, Apocalypse.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the 'decadent, corrupt' world of the 1980s.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the ‘decadent, corrupt’ world of the 1980s.

X-Men: Apocalypse begins in Ancient Egypt with the creation of the most powerful mutant of all time (played by Oscar Isaac). This mutant is not given a name, but his enemies nickname him Apocalypse. No sooner is Apocalypse created when he is entombed and falls into a coma.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Apocalypse is awoken. He sees the world is full of decadence and corruption. So he decides that he must destroy it in order to make a new and better world. He recruits four (angry) mutants to his cause: Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn), in order to carry out his master plan. Only the X-Men can stop this plan from coming to fruition. But only if they unite.

Apocalypse’s plot is quite dull, unoriginal and unfaithful to what the X-Men prequel trilogy has been about. First Class and Days of Future Past were original and interesting because they were not about good vs evil. Rather, they were about the polar-opposite approaches of Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto to tackle the problems mutants faced in the world (mirroring the stances of Martin Luthar King and Malcolm X during the American Civil Rights movements of the 1960s). Neither Professor X’s nor Magneto’s approaches were completely right or completely wrong, which was what made First Class and Days of Future Past so fascinating and realistic (for the X-Men world that is). However, Apocalypse goes back on this theme and focusses more on stopping an all-powerful, under-developed and poorly written (and so obviously evil) villain. This is a real shame as director Bryan Singer should have done more to continue the theme of the previous two installments.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world... and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world… and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Yet, the near abandonment of the theme running through the first two movies of this trilogy is not the only major problem with Apocalypse’s plot. The storyline is bitty at best and incoherent at worst. As is so often the case in X-Men films, there are many characters with competing storylines. To condense so many storylines into a TV series is a struggle (just look at Game of Thrones). But to do it in a 144-minute film, and to develop the characters as well, is nigh on impossible. As a result, so much in Apocalypse is left under-explained or simply not explained at all: for example why Magneto begins the film in a metal-works factory in Poland (yes, just go with it)? Why, also, does Apocalypse need four assistants to help him execute his grand plan? (One would think these questions are profound enough to warrant answers. But, no, instead Singer spends the time explaining how Professor X went bald and how Storm’s hair turned blonde.)

It is safe to say that Apocalypse’s plot has enough holes to rival Swiss Cheese. However, to some extent one can ignore its many problems and enjoy watching some of our favourite mutants once more. Like in First Class and Days of Future Past, the acting and the dialogue is good. Again, both are a little bit down on the other two movies. But that may be due to viewers becoming accustomed to the high standard of acting set by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence in particular.

No, the only real surprise in Apocalypse is how much screen time is given to the new members of the cast; notably, Sophie Turner as the young Jean Gray. Turner’s American accent vacillates across the Atlantic during the course of the film and she does not have the screen presence or the charisma (as yet) of the more senior members of the cast. But Turner does a good job with what she is given nevertheless.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

And like with the acting and the dialogue, the action scenes and the special effects are good without being spectacular. Similarly though, audiences have seen what Apocalypse has to offer before (not only in previous X-Men films, but also in other sci-fi and comic-book movies). This, therefore, leaves viewers feeling underwhelmed and yearning for something more interesting to watch.

All-in-all, X-Men: Apocalypse is a disappointing film. The storyline is a muddle, undercooked and a betrayal from what made the previous two films in the trilogy so engaging. With a plot so problematic, it is no surprise that neither the quality of its cast nor the numerous (inconsequential) action sequences can save this third film from being a let-down. Thus, The Godfather Syndrome has struck again and means that the X-Men prequel trilogy has not got the conclusive third chapter that it richly deserved.

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Review – Steve Jobs (15) [2015]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Writer:

  • Aaron Sorkin – The American President, The West Wing, The Social Network, The Newsroom

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Daniel Pemberton – Big Kiss, The Awakening, The Counsellor, The Man From UNCLE

In 2011, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. At the time of his death, he was hailed as a great man, a genius, an innovator, and a man who had stayed loyal to his dreams and fulfilled them. Yet, there was another side to Steve Jobs that was largely ignored in the obituaries. Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs focusses on this side of the man to paint a very different portrait of him.

Young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, left) talking through his business plans with his friend and co-founder, Steve 'Waz' Wazniak (Seth Rogen, right, playing decently and in a non-comedic role for a change).

Young Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender, left) talking through his business plans with his friend and co-founder, Steve ‘Waz’ Wazniak (Seth Rogen, right, playing decently and in a non-comedic role for a change).

Steve Jobs is a dramatised biopic of the titular character (played by Michael Fassbender). It centres round events behind the scenes at the launch of the Apple Macintosh in 1984; at the launch of NeXT in 1988; and at the launch of the iMac in 1998. With each launch, we get to see Jobs’ true nature, and the changes in his relationships with his assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet); with his friend and fellow co-founder Steve ‘Waz’ Wazniak (Seth Rogen); with the original CEO of Apple, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels); as well as with his former girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), and their daughter, Lisa (played by Mackenzie Moss at five, Ripley Sobo at nine, and Perla Haney-Jardine at nineteen).

Steve Jobs is a neat and engaging film about the man Steve Jobs actually was as opposed to the myth many believe in. The movie is told via three separate acts that are more theatrical in tone than cinematic. Between Danny Boyle’s excellent directing and Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant fast and witty dialogue, the movie is delivered via long expositions with few editing cuts. This gives the film a genuine feel of continuity and realism that is typical of other films Sorkin has worked on e.g. The Social Network.

Through the three acts, we learn about the sort of man that Steve Jobs was in real life. Yes, he was ambitious and a great innovator. But he was also unreasonable; treated his staff appallingly (with the possible exception of Joanna Hoffman); alienated his friends and colleagues without remorse; denied paternity to his daughter, Lisa; and did not give a cent to his ex-girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan, for child maintenance for Lisa without a court order forcing him to do so (and even then, Jobs only gave the minimal amount; a pittance of what he was earning).

Steve Jobs playing on the Apple Macintosh with his daughter, Lisa (at aged five, played by Makenzie Moss).

Steve Jobs playing on the Apple Macintosh with his daughter, Lisa (at aged five, played by Makenzie Moss).

Why was Jobs like this? God only knows. But Steve Jobs at least attempts to explain the unexplainable. It does this in two different ways: one is by a telling us about an event in Jobs’ early childhood and the effect this had on him; and the other is through Michael Fassbender’s terrific acting. Indeed, the former goes hand-in-hand with the latter. Fassbender’s tight-faced rage, his acerbic belittling of others, and his pathological drive to create better, awe-inspiring products illustrates how hurt (damaged) Jobs was by his childhood.

How true this explanation is (in respect of Jobs’ behaviour) is contentious. Several people who knew him well claim that the film is inaccurate, including Edwin Catmull, the head of Pixar (a company that Jobs was a board member of); Tim Cook, the current Apple CEO; and Waz, himself. Catmull claims that the film’s story is ‘wrong’ (although he does not give a reason for this), and Waz has said that ‘everything in the movie did not happen’ since he never spoke to Jobs before the events that the film portrays. Now, granted, Danny Boyle’s movie does take (considerable) artistic licence. One could never believe that the events happened in real life as they are portrayed in the film because that would have been unrealistic and impossible. But that does not mean that the events did not happen; they just happened at different times and Boyle has put them into his film at certain points to give the movie a solid and satisfying narrative arch.

An older Steve Jobs talking with his long-time business assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a decent if at times dodgy eastern European, New York accent). Joanna was known as the only person to ever stand up to Jobs and he respected her for it.

An older Steve Jobs talking with his long-time business assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, with a decent if at times dodgy eastern European, New York accent). Joanna was known as the only person to ever stand up to Jobs and he respected her for it.

Nevertheless, the film’s tight, solid and satisfying arch comes at a cost. In some respects it is too tight. Boyle misses out plenty of moments and events in Jobs’ life that could have altered the perceptions of Jobs. Adding a couple of key moments/events (or even mentioning them) about his family and about the long, protracted manner of his death could have given the film a more complete feeling and enabled viewers to make better informed judgements on Jobs. Yet, even without these moments, one can still form strong conclusions on the man.

Over-all, Steve Jobs is an enjoyable and interesting film about an almost mythical man. In an objective manner, with superb acting, dialogue and directing, we see Steve Jobs for what he was like as a person, how he changed over the years, and the events that shaped him into the man he became, for better and for worse. It is debatable how close to the truth this film is to reality. More than anything, though, Steve Jobs highlights that a person can be a genius and create phenomenal products, but that his/her products can be greater than the person who created them.

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Review – Macbeth (15) [2015]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

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 – X-Men: Days of Future Past (12a) [2014]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men II, House of Wax, Fantastic 4 I-II, Valkyrie, Non-Stop, X-Men: Apocalypse

The Batman and X-Men franchises have undergone similar arcs and reboots in relatively recent times. 1997’s Batman & Robin and 2006’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand were so bad that the franchises were torn up and magnificently re-started in the form of 2005’s Batman Begins and 2011’s X-Men: First Class. And just as 2008’s The Dark Knight was a great sequel to Batman Begins, so Bryan Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future is a great continuation of First Class.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is loosely based on the comic-book with the same title. The movie starts in the apocalyptic, present day or the near future. Led by the reunited Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), the last handful of mutants are trying desperately to hold out against the invincible, changeable Sentinels.

With the situation hopeless, Professor X, via Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), sends Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973. Professor X’s hope is that Wolverine can persuade a younger, mentally-broken Charles (James McAvoy) to re-establish his friendship with Erik (Michael Fassbender) and stop Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from creating the Sentinels.

X-Men: Days of Future Past has an engaging storyline that interlinks the two time-periods within the film nicely, if not without problems for some of the other X-Men films. Indeed, Days of Future Past may come at the expense of some elements of the three original X-Men movies and may even black-out the existence of the two Wolverine spin-offs (but that is probably for the best).

Moreover, Days of Future Past involves itself in crucial events in history, in the same way that First Class did with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1960s. Like with its prequel, Days of Future Past does this in a smart and hilarious way. This, combined many in-jokes and phenomenal special effects, makes Days of Future Past very enjoyable to watch.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Nevertheless, what makes (First Class and) Days of Future Past so interesting is that it is not about a showdown between Good and Evil; it is about the friendship/rivalry of Professor X and Magneto. These two characters may not have the depth or the darkness of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but their personalities and differing ideologies make for a refreshing change to the crash, bang, boom nature of other superhero movies like all five Spiderman films, Iron Man III and Captain America II among countless others.

Additionally, the dialogue and acting in the latter two X-Men films is significantly better than in those above-mentioned superhero movies, with the exception of The Dark Knight Trilogy. All the actors in Days of Future Past (old and new) are brilliant without fail. Whether it is Sir Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender, Magneto is played with the same vigour and damaged personality as in First Class; Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful as the vulnerable Mysterique, whose unhappiness in her own skin has led her to take vengeance against anyone who takes a dislike to mutants; Hugh Jackman once again shows that he owns the Wolverine character; Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy play magnificently as Charles Xavier, although McAvoy undoubtedly has the more demanding parts of the role; and Peter Dinklage is great as Dr. Trask, even if his accent switches from his normal New Jersey accent to Tyrion Lannister’s English accent for no obvious reason.

The above-mentioned characters may dominate Days of Future Past, but they are only a minority of the swollen cast. Consequently, a great many characters are not given much screen time, including new mutants like Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). These mutants have a back-story and it would have been good to hear it.

Otherwise, in the eleven years between the end of First Class and the beginning of Days of Future Past (1962-73), viewers are told of many interesting developments that have occurred off-screen. It would have been nice to have been shown these. (Then again, another film in between these two movies would have been needed for that.)

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels.

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels (which come to look remarkably like the machine-monster Thor fights in Thor I).

And, lastly, the film deviates quite significantly from the same-named comic-book; for example, in the comics, it is Kitty Pryde who goes back in time, not Wolverine. But if comic-book geeks are honest, even they would accept that Kitty Pryde cannot dominate the screen (or hold viewer’s attention) in the same way that Wolverine can. And besides, these alterations should not knock down a film that achieves so much by way of its ambition and is so entertaining.

Over-all, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a really good film. It has its flaws and it would have been nice to learn more about the non-central characters, and to see some of the events that happened off-screen. But, on the whole, Days of Future Past is amusing; it deals well with its two competing time-periods; continues the conflict maturely between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr; and is a credible sequel to X-Men: First Class. Now all the franchise needs, like with The Dark Knight Trilogy, is a satisfying conclusion in its third instalment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Review – 12 Years A Slave (15) [2014]

12 Years a Slave - header2

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Steve McQueen – Hunger, Shame

Cast:

Music Composer:

It is with great relief and pride that state-sponsored slavery has been consigned to history in the West and in most other parts of the world. From ancient times through to the mid-20th century, enforcers of slave-based systems at times demonstrated the worst aspects of human nature. Despite America’s ideology of freedom and democracy for all peoples, the country started off with a terrible stain on its record due to the racially-aggravated slave-based system that was predominantly practised in the South of the country. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave brilliantly gives us a window into the harrowing world of the treatment black people suffered at the hands of white slave masters in the South before the Thirteenth Amendment came into force in 1865.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

12 Years A Slave is based on the true story and memoirs of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Born and raised in New York as a free man, Solomon is invited by two ‘artists’ to share his skills with the violin and make some good money by playing in Washington DC.

But after making some money in the capital, Solomon is drugged one night and wakes up in chains in a dank underground cell. Despite his protestations of being a free man, Solomon is shipped to the South and sold into slavery.

Somehow, Solomon must stay alive, maintain his dignity, and return to New York to see his wife and two children again.

12 Years A Slave is a powerful, tear-jerking and distressing film from the off. Nothing by way of raw brutality is left out to illustrate how badly black people were treated under slavery. By starting the film with Solomon in slavery, having all his moments as a free man via flashbacks, Steve McQueen immediately enables audiences to sympathise and pity Solomon’s situation.

Sometimes (to be really pedantic) in order to rub salt into Solomon’s sorrowful predicament, the film indulges itself a little. This has the dual effect of giving Solomon so much screen time that it is as if the world revolves around him (especially due to the fairly long scene sequences that McQueen favours); and it pads out the movie’s running time to 134 minutes by putting in scenes that have no material effect on the plot. But these minor criticisms should not undermine the effectiveness of 12 Years A Slave.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

The movie, however, would only be half as potent if it were not for the great performances from all the cast members, but in particular from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender. Ejiofor captures the anger and the despair of his character. Moreover, he portrays the sheer willpower of Solomon to survive with (some of) his dignity intact splendidly. Whenever Solomon looks back at the life that was taken from him, viewers cannot help but feel Solomon’s pain, and credit must be given to Ejiofor for enabling audiences to feel such strong emotions.

On the flip side, Fassbender also makes viewers feel strong sentiments with his performance as Edwin Epps, the ‘N*****-Breaker’ as his character is proudly nicknamed. It would have been easy for Fassbender to fall into the trap of a pornographic nastiness (as Ramsey Snow from Game of Thrones and the villains in Hostel and The Human Centipede all gleefully jump into). But by Fassbender playing Epps as an eccentric and quasi-comical human being, with problems of his own, Fassbender provides us with a powerful performance of a sadistic, yet troubled soul that feels entirely natural under the circumstances.

Fassbender can be seen to represent some of the worst facets of slave owners (and humanity in general when given licence). Nevertheless, 12 Years A Slave makes a point to show audiences that some slave owners were not as bad as Epps, and that they lived in fear of men like Epps and their own henchmen because of it.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Being afraid, of course, does not excuse keeping slaves or their actions. But as honest as the film is regarding the cruelty of the slave-system in the South, it is equally honest about why some people, who would have probably been good citizens in the free North, perhaps did not do enough (or anything at all) to help bring down the system. Steve McQueen must be applauded for this, like he should be for virtually everything else in this movie, as it would have been easy to inaccurately portray all slave owners as the Devil incarnate.

Over-all, 12 Years A Slave can be best summed up in the words of one of the actors in the film: “amazing… and none of it good.” Through outstanding performances from the cast, the film powerfully reveals the horrors and brutality of the slave-based system in the South of America in the mid-nineteenth century. One is likely to leave the film feeling numb and distressed, but also with the knowledge that not all the slave owners were wicked and that good men like President Abraham Lincoln put an end to the reprehensible system almost 150 years ago.

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