ASSASSIN’S CREED (2016) Michael Fassbender. Marion Cotillard.

assassins_creed_movie_poster.jpgDirector: Justin Kurzel
Writers: Michael Lesslie (screenplay), Adam Cooper (screenplay)
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael Kenneth Williams

Review by Gilbert Seah

 Assassin’s Creed is an action-adventure video-game series created by Ubisoft that consists of nine main games and a number of supporting materials. The games have appeared on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and many other platforms. The games are set in a fictional history of real-world events and follows the centuries-old struggle between the Assassins, who fight for peace with free will, and the Templars, who desire peace through control. From the game came the book series and it is inevitable that a film follows. Very bad idea! For a game about peace, the film is quite violent. Even with Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender starring and producing it, ASSASSIN’S CREED for all its $125 million production cost and star power like Marion Cotillard (barely recognizable), Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling, the film comes out incredibly dull. For one, moviegoers know the famous adage: “It is hard to get excited over a movie made from a video game.” Yes, no matter how much the filmmakers try.

Cal Lynch (Fassbender) is about to be executed as his capital punishment. But he ends up travelling back in time to 15th-century Spain through a revolutionary technology that unlocks the genetic memories contained in his DNA. There, he lives out the experiences of Aguilar de Nerha, a distant ancestor who is also a member of the Assassins, a secret society that fights to protect free will from the power-hungry Templar Order. Transformed by the past, Cal begins to gain the knowledge and physical skills necessary to battle the oppressive organization in the present. There are lots of fighting with Fassbender shirtless showing off his super-toned body.

That is about it for story and plot. The visuals are mainly done though Computer Graphics with the film looking much like a video game with computer generated figures fighting or shown in large crowds. The visuals are nothing out of the ordinary. There are lots of action scenes with characters running about on rooftops, firing arrows or jumping around. These hardly generate any excitement.

The key prize that the Templars and Creed both seek is the apple, supposedly the one from the Garden of Eden that Eve ate, and so released the knowledge of Good and Evil. The audience is supposed to believe that the non-rotting apple has survived through the years and that anyone who possesses it can control man’s free will. So, the Templars wish to control humanity by owning the apple.

The film is directed by Australian Justin Kurzel who directed Fassbender in last year’s MACBETH. He did a good job, rising to fame with SNOWTOWN, but none of his talent is observable in this poor effort.

So during the Christmas season, it is a hard toss which is the worst film of the season or for the year for that matter. The three contenders are PASSENGERS, COLLATERAL BEAUTY and this one!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfJVoF5ko1Y

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Happy Birthday: Jeremy Irons

jeremyirons.jpgJeremy Irons

Born: September 19, 1948 in Cowes, Isle of Wight, England, UK

Married to: Sinéad Cusack (28 March 1978 – present) (2 children)

I’ve never been passionate about acting, and I find more and more that I work to live the life I want to live. An actor like Al Pacino lives to act. I’m not sure though, there’s something about the detachment I have, the feeling of the lack of importance about what I do, that is healthy.

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Movie Review: THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (UK 2015) ***

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

the_man_who_knew_infinity.jpgTHE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (UK 2015) ***
Directed by Matthew Brown

Starring: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Malcolm Sinclair, Stephen Fry

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY is the bio pic of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) based on the 1991 book of the same name by Robert Kanigel. Growing up poor in Madras, Nujan (as he is fondly called in the film) earns admittance to Cambridge University under the mentorship of professor G.J. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). Initially upset at Nujan for his pride and refusal to work out proofs for his mathematical theories, Hardy eventually relents and lets the horse run loose. Together, they achieve milestones in mathematics, cracking the almost impossible task of formulating formulae for partitions.

The first 30 minutes of the film is boring while the the film is set up. Nujan is just married, shown to love and excel in mathematics before fate forces him to leave Madras and serve his true calling. For a biopic of this kind, one expects him to face hardship and prejudice in his new country while finally proving himself to the nonbelievers while uniting with his family at the end. The film felt headed that way and one would almost walk out of the film if it had not changed course.

The typical story is altered by the First World War that creeps into the story. The second is the illness (T.B. or Tuberculosis) that Nujan falls prey to. The rest is pretty predictable stuff with the usual ‘stuffy’ English dialogue put in so that the film feels put up on a high pedestal since it is supposed to have a Cambridge university setting.

Patel was the second option to play the main role as the filmmakers wanted an actor internationally known to carry the film. Patel, who has proven himself apt in comedy as in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and the BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL films, demonstrates here that he is also capable of carrying a more dramatic role, one that needs to show suffering from illness as well as desperation and despair. Irons looks convincing as the pipe puffing professor who ends up sympathetic towards Nujan’s course. Stephen Fry is remarkable in being able to make a lasting impression from a performance than lasts only a few minutes. The role of Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and mathematician undertaken by Jeremy Northam is underwritten and exists only to make a few criticisms on Hardy’s character.

World War 1 is dealt with in terms of both prejudice and its futility. The former issue is demonstrated very effectively in a scene in which Nujan is beaten up by white English soldiers for being a freeloader in a country where the rest have to go fight and die for their country. It is anger that has its point and one almost impossible to resolve. Hardy organizes antiwar rallies dealing with the other war issue.

Associate producers Manjul Bhargava and Ken Ono are distinguished mathematicians who also served as the film’s math consultants. The math is shown only briefly but the message on the intricacies of infinite series and partitions comes across clear enough.

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY make its case more of one of cultural acceptance than (one) in the development of new mathematical theories. Brown brings the film to an end all too quickly, wrapping everything up with Nujan’s eventual failure to survive from Tuberculosis.

 

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Movie Review: HIGH-RISE, Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller

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high-rise.jpgHIGH-RISE (UK 2015) ***
Directed by Ben Wheatley

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Sienna Guillory

Review by Gilbert Seah

HIGH-RISE is a much anticipated film among cineastes. The rights for J.G. Ballard’s (best known for his novel CRASH directed by David Cronenberg) book had been snapped up by producer Jeremy Thomas for decades and a number of directors were slated to make the film, among them Nicholas Roeg. But director Ben Wheatley, British new film enfant terrible snatched the prize after directing two art-house low budget hits A FIELD IN ENGLAND and THE SIGHT-SEERS. Ballard’s book on a dystopian society set up in a 1970’s tower block (film shot in Northern Ireland) where the higher classes occupy the higher floors with better privileges such as parking spots and facilities usage like the summing pool, is a difficult one. The social strata eventually breaks down following a string of building malfunctions.

HIGH-RISE opens with a Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) at his high rise building flat apparently roasting and eating a dog’s leg on the balcony. The film flashes back three months earlier to the events that led to this odd state.

Dr. Lang arrives and occupies in the centre section of the building – reason not given. He meets the building’s architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) who lives in the penthouse and various other occupants including Charlotte, Royal’s aide (Sienna Miller) and a nasty documentary-maker (Luke Evans) who ends up creating a lot of trouble including wanting to take down Royal. Wheatley’s film charts the downfall of order and the rise of anarchy in the building. Finally, the residents stay in and do not venture out to work, waging wars with each other. Wheatley has directed films with similar themes. THE SIGHTSEERS sees the volatile and violent breakdown of the relationship of a new couple while A FIELD IN ENGLAND featured a battlefield among warring factions.

The Korean film SNOWPIERCER two years back featured a similar premise. The last inhabitants on Earth are stuck on a train travelling around the Earth forever with the lower working classes at the back of the train and the richest at the front. The workers revoke and move up the front of the train.

But HIGH-RISE fails to engage the audience despite the Ballard’s difficult novel. It should be noted that Ballard used to hang around with William Burroughs whose NAKED LUNCH with Ballard’s own CRASH ended up as one of the most unlikeable/difficult films ever made. Given that Amy Jump’s script and Wheatley’s direction make little attempt in tying to make their film more coherent or engaging. When Dr. Laing first meets Chartlotte, her comment is on Laing’s body being almost a perfect specimen implying a detachment of human nature.

The rise of the building’s anarchy is also not well orchestrated. Wheatley appears more interested in the film’s sets and images than anything else. To the film’s credit, the production values look great with the film having a past future feel and a look like the old 70’s futuristic films like Joseph Losey’s MODESTY BLAISE. Whereas films like SNOWPIERCER relied on action to grab the audience’s attention, HIGH-RISE consists of a whole lot of cinematic/dramatic set-ups with too much left to the audience to decipher as to what is happening.

Hiddleston delivers a good nuanced performance appearing out of place and finally connecting with the anarchy just as his confident behaviour at the start of the film breaks down to insecurity. Still Wheatley’s film is an intriguing one and one that shows his ability to set his imprint on a story, whether it be successful or not.

 

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Movie Review: BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016) #BatmanvSuperman

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batmansupermanBATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (USA 2016)

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Irons, Gal Gadot

Review by Gilbert Seah

Before the film starts at the press/promo screening of BATMAN V Superman, director Zack Snyder appears on screen practically begging the audience not to give away plot points and spoilers to the rest of the world in order for them to enjoy the film. True to word, there are a lot of spoilers that could be revealed but this latest multi-million dollar effort is so bad that no spoiler could have made the film any worse.

Snyder makes no qualms at reminding the audience that he directed the Spartan film 300. At the film start, after Bruce Wayne rushes into the dust from the rumble of a fallen skyscraper, a lone horse is seen on the screen. 3/4 through of the movie, a cop and a horse is again shown on the screen. Of course lots of muscled bodies like the Spartans in 300 are on display throughout the film.

One can tell that a movie is bad from its continuity. The car chase segment makes no sense whatsoever. The reason for the chase is zero. When it takes place, there are lots of overturned other vehicles, lots of explosions but the scenes could have be taken out of 4 different streets for all that matters. The editing is awful and continuity is non-existent.

At the promo/press screening the executive introducing the film touted the imax technology involved in the making of the film. 40% more images can be seen in the imax version. But in the in the imax version that I saw, only the last sequence and the Batman Superman fight was in full imax top to bottom presentation.

There is little to enjoy in this film – the main problem being that the film is all over the place and all the filmmakers seem more content with the special effects. Comic book fans will be flabbergasted at the way the filmmakers have taken liberties to change what fans deem unchangeable and a staple to the comic book fan base. The main premise for example, would be that if ever anyone would want to see Superman fight Batman? And who would care which one would win? A true comic book fan would cringe every time anyone of the heroes, Superman or Batman was hurt.

The plot of the film involves Superman and Batman questioning each others tactics in order to save the world. The reasons are superfluous and unconvincing. All this leads to a confrontation and fight at the film’s climax.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN is a very dark film no doubt. So was the recent DEADPOOL. But DEADPOOL was smart enough to be funny and tongue-in-cheek while the latter took itself far too seriously.

And there is the question of the villain and a few other loose ends. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is an odd one. Eisenberg seems to have sculptured his role from Heath Ledger’s edgy Joker before his death. Esisenberg does what he does best – speaking his lines at a thousand words per minute but in this film, with creepy twitchings. It is not what is expected from classic Lex Luthor. Eisenberg dons his long hair till shaved off bald when in prison. Aquaman and Wonder Woman make their appearances but for no real reason. It seem a total farce and they should have been better totally omitted from the script.

In one segment of the film, a character says that people hate what they do not understand, referring to the suspicion they have of Superman being an alien doing good but causing destruction of the planet. Audiences might hate this film for it is impossible to understand for its purpose or plot.

*****

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Movie Review: RACE (2016) Directed by Stephen Hopkins

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival: http://www.wildsound.ca

raceRACE (Germany/France/Canada 2016) ***
Directed by Stephen Hopkins

Stars: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt

Review by Gilbert Seah

The word RACE of the film title could mean the running competition or a people of the world. Stephen Hopkin’s biographical sports drama tells both the story of African American athlete Jesse Owens (Stephan James) running in the Berlin Olympic games in 1936 and the controversy ensuing with the then upcoming Hitler regime. Owens went on to win 4 gold medals. Hopkins is no stranger to biography, having directed THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS.

The script, written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, covers many stories. The first and foremost is the story of the athlete Owens and his white coach Larry Snyder. The other is the romance between Owens and his girl, Peggy (Amanda Crew), who he has already had a daughter with, when going to the games. A political subplot involving the boycotting of the Games by the U.S. due to Germany’s racial policy of exclusion of blacks and Jews makes good interest into an otherwise too often told tale of underdog achieving the top prize. This story pits Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) against host of adversaries. Despite the many stories, director Hopkins always has the main story in focus, the winning of the games, while keeping the other side stories in perspective. The overall feel is a solid narrative.

Newcomer Stephan James inhabits the role of the star athlete very comfortably. He looks young as well as buff enough to pass off as an Olympic medallist. He is convincing without having to overact his role. But it is the supporting cast that deliver the prized performances. Carice van Houten steals the show as German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, commissioned by the Hitler to film the games. She runs head to head with the Interior Minister, Dr. Joseph Goebbels (played with sinister relish by Barnaby Metschurat). One could watch both van Houten and Metschurat, two German acorn forever.

The period piece was sot in both Berlin where the Games took place as well as Montreal to stand in for spots of Berlin. The atmosphere of 30’s Europe is satisfactorily convincing, but not over-stunning. The shot of the Games are excitingly executed with camera intercutting among the faces of the athletes, the looks on the faces of the coaches and of course, the spectators.

It is odd that this piece of anti-racism is a co-production between Germany and Canada. One would have expected the film, supported by the by the Owens family, the Jesse Owens Foundation, the Jesse Owens Trust and the Luminary Group to have some American financial backing.

Hopkins plays his film safe without trodding into too deep waters. The racial controversy is tackled with tact and quickly covered for. The result is a rather mild anti-racist film, that is more suited for the family than one to invoke controversy.

The film ends with the pictures of the real characters against the actors that played them. Again, formulaic safe filmmaking, like a history lesson that disturbs no one and stirs no still waters!

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