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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Movie Review: MacBeth (2015)

MACBETH (USA/UK/France 2015) ***

Directed by Justin Kurzel

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Madigan

Review by Gilbert Seah

It does to seem that long ago (1971) that Roman Polanski, in top cinematic form directed his version of MACBETH with Jon Finch in the title role.  His was an unforgettable MacBeth complete with old nude witches brewing around a cauldron and ending with the MacBeth’s head paraded on a stick.

No such luck in Justin Kurzel’s MACBETH.  (Kurzel is the Australian director best known for THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS, shown at the Toronto International Film Festival years back but not released.)  The troubled King of Scotland does die at the end but his head is intact.  The witches look like normal human beings, more like Scots women, wearing normal garments.  But his version is a Shakespearean film concentrated more on poetry, both verbal and visual than on shock tactics.

Running just under 2 hours, Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy is still a lengthy drama, spoken in Old English Shakespearean prose, which takes some minutes before the ear gets accustomed to.  The story that needs not be reiterated in detail, which almost everyone is familiar with, concerns MacBeth and his wife usurping the throne of Scotland from King Duncan (an excellent David Thewlis), after murdering him.  All this is foretold by three witches, and a child in the case of this film, to MacBeth who seems to believe all their predictions.  

It is clear right from the film’s beginning that director Kurzel wants to take the Scottish play out in the open.  The witches appear in the open countryside instead of a room with a cauldron.  The epic battle which MacBeth wins to gain favour with the King of Scotland is expensed in all its gory and bloodiness.  The battle scene looks something right out of 300.  Together with cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, Kurzel keeps most of the action outside thus displaying the ruggedness and stunning beauty of the Scottish terrain and mountains.

One disadvantage of pulling the camera back from the characters results in the audience feeling more distant from MacBeth and Lady MacBeth.  They seem less evil.  When the camera shows the surroundings of the execution of a mother and her kids, Kurzel opts to show sympathy in the face of Lady MacBeth, thus making her more sympathetic and less ambitious and evil, and taking away the main spirit of the MacBeth play.

Performances-wise, every actor dreams of playing the titular roles of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth.  Fassbender and Cotillard can do no harm but they are not exceptional.

Kurzel’s MACBETH works as another adaptation of the Bard’s work, still worth a look and a good film for those studying the play in school.  At least it is not a modern interpretation like the recent HAMLET with Benedict Cumberbatch wearing Jeans thus bastardizing the Hamlet play.  But Polanski’s 1971 adaptation remains my favourite MACBETH.

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