Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on videogames. There may have been some hits (like Tomb Raider or the Resident Evil franchise), but none has ever been critically acclaimed. So perhaps reuniting the cast and director of 2015's Macbeth might finally break the cycle. But while there's plenty of whizzy stuntwork, this film never finds a story or characters to grab hold of the audience.
In present-day Texas, death row prisoner Cal (Michael Fassbender) is executed by lethal injection and wakes up in a gloomy fortress towering over Madrid. He's been saved by shady businessman Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), whose daughter Sofia (Marion Cotillard) is a scientist experimenting with DNA memory. Rikkin needs Cal to travel back into his own history using a mechanical contraption called an Animus to find out where his 15th century ancestor Aguilar (also Fassbender) hid the Apple of Eden, which holds the key to controlling human will. But Cal discovers that he is the last in a long line of Assassins who have sworn to protect the apple from Knights Templar like Rikkin or his imperious supreme leader Ellen (the fabulously gloomy Charlotte Rampling).
The idea is a clever one, and director Justin Kurzel keeps the visuals grounded with action that feels earthy and real rather than digitally manipulated. Indeed, the combination of sleek sci-fi thrills with medieval fantasy horror is very cool. But there's one huge problem with the premise: all of the big fight sequences and eye-catching parkour acrobatics take place in distant history. Cal can experience these things, but he can't actually do anything, so there's no peril involved. Instead, we get endless explanations of the technology and historical inter-connections, which never quite make sense regardless of how much the characters talk about them.
Continue reading: Assassin's Creed Review
Callum Lynch is a criminal facing the death sentence but is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to escape his fate by joining the mysterious Animus Project set up by Abstergo Industries. Abstergo is to its time essentially what the Knights Templar was in the 12th and 13th century, and want to hook Lynch up to an experimental piece of technology that will allow him to experience and explore the memories of his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha who lived as an Assassin in 15th century Spain. He's returning to the age of the Spanish Inquisition which means he must absorb the warrior skills of his long-dead relative - but that only means that he's developing the tools to take down the organisation that pose a threat to him in the modern day.
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A whooshing pace and snappy dialogue help bring this true story to life, tracing the triumphant and scandalous career of cyclist Lance Armstrong. And the energetic approach helps bring out several layers in Armstrong's perspective, exploring why a top sportsman would cheat to win. It also features a steely performance from Ben Foster that captures Armstrong's physicality and personality, but not in the usual ways.
When he was 25, Armstrong (Foster) was already a star, but his career was cut short in 1996 by advanced testicular cancer. After recovering, he retrained himself as a long-distance cyclist and launched a global cancer charity, then went on to win seven Tour de France titles. His friend, Irish journalist David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) noticed that his improvement was too good to be true, and continually challenged him to be honest about his work with controversial doctor Michele Ferari (Guillaume Canet). Armstrong defended his name in court, but years later the truth came out that throughout his career he had been systematically cheating with banned drugs and blood-cleansing processes. The truth came out in 2010, but he didn't admit the deception until an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013.
Since this was so thoroughly reported in the media, and finely detailed in Alex Gibney's acclaimed documentary The Armstrong Lie, there aren't any surprises in this movie. And despite being based on Walsh's book Seven Deadly Sins, the film takes Armstrong's perspective, trying to get under his skin to reveal his motivation. John Hodge's screenplay is insightful, building some strong dramatic suspense along the way, and the film is sharply well-directed by Stephen Frears, a filmmaker better known for softer movies (like Philomena and The Queen). But he guides Foster to a strikingly physical performance that's sweaty and aggressive, and also darkly internalised. Stand-outs in the supporting cast include Jesse Plemons as a fellow cyclist haunted by his conscience and Denis Menochet as Armstrong's team manager.
Continue reading: The Program Review
Lance Armstrong was an athlete the entire world loved to support. Having beaten testicular cancer the cyclist went on to win numerous titles around the world including seven gold consecutive gold medals for the Tour De France, which has become known as the hardest bike rice in the world. He had few doubters, everyone loved the superman that he'd become and wanted to believe in the story surrounding his success.
One of those few doubters was David Walsh, a sports reporter with The Sunday Times newspaper. After digging into Lance and his team mates, Walsh began to build a case with more and more information backing his thoughts on Lance. One such piece of evidence was Armstrong's connection to an Italian doctor named Michele Ferrari. What followed was years of Walsh digging and uncovering the real truth behind Armstrong.
The Program is based on David Walsh's 2012 book 'Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong'.
Gary has been in and out of low-paid work for most of his young life despite being physically fit and able to adapt to most workplace situations. However, his adaptability could be about to be challenged as he signs up to work at a nuclear power plant in France. He is inducted into the plant by his colleagues Toni and Gilles, who become like family to him as the trio and their team battle for their health against the ever imminent threat of radiation poisoning. His new 'family' situation gets complicated when he falls in love with Toni's flirtatious fiancee Karole and he risks losing everything he's worked so hard for. Not only that, there's fear at work when he and some others suffer at the hands of radioactivity - and now his life could well be in danger.
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With Ozon's usual sharp writing and direction, this black comedy is a fabulous series of provocations, challenging us to explore how we see, or perhaps imagine, the people in our lives. It's also a playful exploration of the nature of storytelling itself, using a teacher-student relationship to reveal all kinds of uncomfortable truths.
The teacher and student in question are Germain (Luchini), who's tired of teaching literature to illiterate students, and shy 16-year-old Claude (Umhauer), a gifted young writer. His essays spark Germain's imagination because they continue on from each other to serialise his encounters with the family of his friend Rapha (Ughetto). As Claude writes about flirting with Rapha's mum (Sagnier) or becoming pals with his dad (Menochet), Germain becomes gripped by the story. And so does his wife Jeanne (Scott Thomas), who sees this as a wonderful escape from the mundane pressures in her life. But in a private tutoring session with Claude, Germain crosses an ethical line. And things start to get strange.
Writer-director Ozon is wickedly blurring the line between fact and fiction, as everyone who reads Claude's essays imagines the people in ways that fuel their own fantasies. So events unfold through a variety of perspectives, some of which must surely be imagined, especially as Germain and Claude adjust the characters to reveal hidden secrets. Yes, this brings out the voyeuristic tendencies in all of the characters, and in us as well, since we too are living vicariously through people whose lives seem so much more interesting than ours. Even if they are supposed to be us.
Continue reading: In The House [Dans La Maison] Review
Barely recovered from a full-on secret mission to Kosovo, the French Special Forces team (including Hounsou, Menochet, Figlarz and Marius) heads to the mountains of Pakistan, where journalist Elsa (Kruger) and her local assistant (Nebbou) have been kidnapped by wild-eyed fanatic Zaief (Degan). The team is joined on the ground by Tic-Tac (Magimel), and while the rescue goes to plan, Zaief's well-armed militia is relentless (Personnaz's sniper calls them "playful"). And getting out is trickier than these six tough guys expected.
Continue reading: Special Forces Review
Orphaned as a child, Marine (Denarnaud) was adopted by Millie (Celarie) and raised alongside adoptive sister Lisa (Laurent), who's now a single mum to Leo (Maquet-Foucher). And their life is pretty much like any family's, with deep-seated love submerged under layers of family history, tiny grudges and personality issues. So Lisa struggles to get excited about Marine's charming new boyfriend Alex (Menochet). Then their lives take a dark twist, and each person has to stop and think about what they really mean to each other.
Continue reading: The Adopted Review
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