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
It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum, and now they're back. The plot feels like it was agreed by a committee, as thin as the non-title of this film. Honestly, this franchise offers endless options for titles, and they just decided not to bother this time. So even though the story has a whisper of soap-opera silliness about it (yet another blurred memory comes to light), the film is relentlessly entertaining, building momentum as it surges from dark drama to intense action.
Since finally figuring out who he is, Jason (Damon) has been earning a living as a bare-knuckle boxer on the Greek-Albania border. Then his former cohort Nicky (Julia Stiles) uncovers a new piece in his life puzzle, which allows the CIA's Director Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) to track them down. As he sends in a ruthless assassin (Vincent Cassel) to get rid of them once and for all, plucky CIA analyst Heather (Alicia Vikander) takes a different approach, determined to bring Jason back into the firm. But he's not coming in without a fight, and as the stakes rise, the chase shifts from Athens to Berlin, London and finally Las Vegas.
As all of this is happening, Dewey is also trying to strong-arm the billionaire founder (Riz Ahmed) of a hot social media platform to allow the CIA to have access to its customers. And he's heading to Vegas as well. This sideplot integrates cleverly with the main narrative, although its message about government overreach is a bit heavy-handed ("Privacy is freedom!"). Still, it adds some kick to the whizzy computer gadgetry that fills this franchise, from tracking devices and tiny earpieces to miraculous hacks.
Continue reading: Jason Bourne Review
For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison, with whom he made E.T. nearly 35 years ago. Another story of an unlikely friendship, this film is even more wondrous and earnest, and also much more reliant on effects. But it's also hugely involving, with a terrific cast and of course a delightful story with a wry sense of humour.
It's set in a timeless London, where Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) lives in an orphanage. One night she spots a stealthy giant (Mark Rylance) prowling the city streets, so he grabs her and takes her back to Giant Country so she can't reveal his secret existence. As she gets to know him, Sophie discovers that he's an outcast in his own community, half the size of the nine giants (including Jemane Clement and Bill Hader) who live around him and bully him mercilessly because he doesn't eat human beans. This has earned him the nickname Big Friendly Giant, which Sophie shortens to BFG as she accompanies him into a colourful parallel world in his job collecting dreams and nightmares. Then when the bullies' threats grow stronger, Sophie comes up with a plan to get help from the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and her staff (Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall).
Continue reading: The BFG Review
With studios afraid of anything new or original, it's not surprising that the dinosaurs are back on-screen nearly 15 years after the rather disappointing Jurassic Park III. The good news is that this film has a clever script and solid characters to go along with the first-rate digital work. So even if the effects kind of take over the movie in the final act, it's still a great ride.
The massive island resort Jurassic World has been running safely for a decade off the Costa Rica coast, so it needs ever-scarier attractions to bring in visitors. The owner Masrani (Irrfan Khan) has been instructing his top scientist (BD Wong) to genetically engineer a bigger, scarier species, and he's come up with a beast called Indominus rex. Park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) has her doubts, but her velociraptor trainer Owen (Chris Pratt) is downright furious when he finds out. Sure enough, just as Claire's nephews (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson) arrive for a visit, the I-rex escapes and threatens the 20,000 visitors on the island.
The screenplay sets everything up in fine disaster movie style, with quickly explained back-stories to add some emotional undercurrents to the big-scale chaos. There's also, of course, a requisite villain in the form of the meathead Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), who thinks dinosaurs could be used by the military and welcomes this catastrophe as a chance to prove his point. Thankfully, the cast dives in with gusto, adding hilarious personality touches to every scene. Pratt is terrific as the swashbuckling action-man, nicely set against the feisty Howard, who trumps him by doing all her action scenes in heels. Simpkins and Robinson have a lively adventure all their own that adds to the film's overall appeal. And there are superb side roles for the talented likes of Omar Sy, Judy Greer and Jake Johnson that add both humour and emotion.
Continue reading: Jurassic World Review
This biographical documentary about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong feels eerily gentle compared to filmmaker Alex Gibney's recent films, the WikiLeaks doc We Steal Secrets and the Catholic priest expose Mea Maxima Culpa. But then it was originally conceived as a celebration of Armstrong's comeback at the 2009 Tour de France, which is still at the heart of the film.
It was during this comeback that Armstrong's stellar image started to slip, with old rivalries and gurgling rumours surging to the surface. Gibney intercuts interviews he shot at the time with more recent chats, including a conversation immediately after Armstrong taped his notorious confessional interview with Oprah Winfrey. So we vividly see Armstrong's two-faced personality. Along the way, Gibney also traces the cyclist's remarkable rise to fame, his near death from cancer and the secret doping system he used to win the Tour de France seven times from 1999 to 2005. Armstrong's rationale is that everyone else was doing the same thing, so it was actually a level playing field.
Only of course it wasn't, because many cyclists remained clean and were edged out of the winning position as a result. Gibney also talks to a wide variety of experts, journalists and fellow riders who discuss the sport's culture of omerta (a mafia-style code of honour). From the news reports, we already know about the many years of deception, which is why society no longer holds professional athletes to such high, clean standards. It's clearly more about the money now than the human achievement. And there's so much cash to be made that competitors will break every rule there is if they think they'll get away with it.
Continue reading: The Armstrong Lie Review
Genetically altered government agent Aaron Cross (Renner) is part of Outcome, a parallel programme to Treadstone, which created Jason Bourne. Since Bourne's antics have lifted the lid on Treadstone, Outcome director Eric (Norton) decides to terminate his programme by brutally killing everyone involved. But Aaron slips through the net, as does geneticist Marta (Weisz), whom Aaron needs for the meds that keep him going. As Eric's team hunts them down, they head to Manila to find a solution.
Continue reading: The Bourne Legacy Review
Ford is good as the everyman, brushing against the various plots. Despite the insipid Mark Isham score, there are some seriously powerful emotional scenes along the way, although a couple of strands get lost in the shuffle, disappearing for long stretches and only coming back to fit into the final tidy mosaic. Ultimately, Kramer strains to make it gel together, but we still hear his cry for understanding and compassion in a world filled with bigotry and ignorance.
I said "aims," of course. A Map of the World is deeply flawed yet still worth a look, especially if you're into grandiose, weepy, self-important dramas. And hey, who isn't?
Continue reading: A Map Of The World Review
Whether this was Spielberg's most desperate attempt to win an Oscar (didn't work: The Color Purple received a whopping 11 Oscar nominations and won precisely zero) or a genuine kinship with the black women of the 1910s we'll never really know. But Purple is a solid enough film, though it lacks true inspiration and gets a little wandering and lost after an hour of running time (and you've still got 1 1/2 more to go!).
Continue reading: The Color Purple Review
Christian Bale stars as Jim, a British kid born in Shanghai, the son of upper crust expatriates who feel the rising tide of Japanese-Chinese aggression will never reach there strata. Of course it does, and as the Japanese overtake Shanghai, Jim's family is torn asunder, scattering in the chaos. But eventually, like Ben-Hur, Jim returns home to discover his house in ruins and his loved ones gone, so he does the only thing he can think of -- surrender to the Japanese. Only the Japanese don't even want the worthless kid, until finally, after hooking up with a seedy scam artist named Basie (John Malkovich) and his flunkie (Joe Pantoliano), does he manage to get himself arrested and thrown into an internment camp where at least there is the promise of a daily potato and some gruel.
Continue reading: Empire Of The Sun Review
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What American Beauty did for the suburbs, A Map of the World aims to do...