Movie Review ~ Assassin’s Creed

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The Facts
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Synopsis: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Ariane Labed

Director: Justin Kurzel

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Let’s get this out of the way at the outset.  I’ve never played Assassin’s Creed nor did I have the faintest clue what the big screen adaptation was about when I cozied myself up in a warm theater for the 10am screening.  Maybe it was the early showtime or maybe not having any pre-conceived notions helped because I quite enjoyed this futuristic historical adventure with a hard edge.

Used to be when an A-List actor took a role in a video game adaptation, it signaled a career that had run its course but Assassin’s Creed proves to be a rare unicorn.  Featuring a host of Oscar winners and nominees, I was worried the film would reek of actors slumming for a paycheck but turns out they all bring a much needed gravitas to the proceedings.  Basically, they classed up the joint.  Re-teaming with his Macbeth stars, director Justin Kurzel makes good use of Michael Fassbender’s (Prometheus) dark side and nicely exploits Marion Cotillard’s (Two Days, One Night) air of mystery to keep you off balance surrounding the motivations of the central characters.

Fassbender is a death-row convict whose execution is faked by Cotillard in order to bring him to her next-generation laboratory in Spain.  There’s some mumbo-jumbo about the Knights Templar and a fabled Apple of Eden that holds the key to the nature of evil but it’s all a way to get Fassbender into Cotillard’s machine that takes his DNA and pulls up the memories of his ancestors and allows him to relive the past.  As part of the memories of his Assassins society days, Fassbender is plunged into a conspiracy where his life hangs in the balance in both the past and the present while mankind’s future is up for grabs if he achieves his goal.

The ideas in Michael Leslie, Bill Cooper, and Adam Cooper’s screenplay are loftier than one might imagine considering the source material.  Jeremy Irons (Beautiful Creatures) and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) are Templar elders anxiously awaiting Fassbender’s find and both have fun (but not too much) with some nicely droll line readings.  The cast is rounded out by reliable character actors and an international cast of foes and friends working to either help or hinder Fassbender’s efforts.  Aside from the seemingly never-ending supply of bad guys to kill (in appropriately PG-13 non-bloody fashion), this doesn’t have the typical video game look that has weighed down similar movies.  For that, I am most grateful.

Unfortunately bound to get lost in a holiday season with bigger fish to fry (why didn’t this get a late January or February release?), Assassin’s Creed is better than it should be and more entertaining that I felt it would be.  Kurzel has now shown in two movies that he can get real dark real fast and the finale of Assassin’s Creed is a bold stroke of confidence that I hope pays off.

Movie Review ~ Macbeth

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Sean Harris, Elizabeth Debicki

Director: Justin Kurzel

Rated: R

Running Length: 113 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Everyone has their favorite Shakespeare play (or they should) and while I’ve always gravitated toward the comedies more than the tragedies, if I had to pick one of his darker works I’d go with Macbeth without much hesitation. There’s something so sinister about the plot, something so overtly wicked about it that it has kept me interested in whatever iteration is released.  I’ve seen it on film, and onstage as a play and an opera and it’s malicious deeds always give me the chills.

There have been several screen adaptation of Macbeth over the years (as well as some clever twists on it, see Scotland, PA for a fun one) and they’ve all made their own mark.  Justin Kurzel’s 2015 Macbeth is the shortest adaptation so far, truncating Shakespeare’s prose down to its barest core and taking some liberties with the action that may have purists sharpening their knives.

While watching the film, I was decadently disengaged.  I went in thinking I would instantly love it, especially considering the leads were cast with two of my favorite actors working today.  Yet throughout the two hours I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the proceedings like I expected to.  It usually takes me a few minutes to acclimate to Shakespeare’s dialogue but I struggled mightily, even knowing the play fairly well.  Artfully made and shrewdly performed, it didn’t grab me.

Then I had some time to think about the film and slowly but surely I realized just how effective the piece was.  It’s not your typical Macbeth adaptation and more’s the better for it.  Sure, it’s been slashed to smithereens but what Kurzel cuts he makes up for with imagery and imagination that fill in the gaps for us.

I’d always considered Macbeth more of a pawn to his wife’s ambition but Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) plays the Thane of Scotland as conflicted yet not contrite.  He may have needed the initial push from his significant other but once he gets going he finds that he can’t stop his mission to rise to power.  In typical Fassbender form, it’s an all-in approach that gives the character fearsome depth and calculated strength.

Equal to (and possible besting) her co-star, Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) takes on the famous role of Lady Macbeth and chooses to add anxiety into her ambitious ways.  Her urging her husband to commit heinous acts comes from a survival instinct…but she realizes too late the machine she’s helped start will bring about their downfall instead of their ascension.  Cotillard has a thrilling monologue late in the film that’s simply shot but complex in its delivery.

The rest of the cast has to take whatever remnants screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso have left of their roles, with Sean Harris (Prometheus, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) getting the most out of his turn as Macduff.  Good cracks from Paddy Considine (The World’s End), Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), and a most minor appearance from Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) round out the supporting players.

Not everyone will love this Macbeth…I sure didn’t when it was happening in front of me.  However, taking the time to ponder it in the hours/days after I found that my appreciation for the work only grew.  It wasn’t what I expected and that wound up working in its favor.

The Silver Bullet ~ Macbeth (2015)

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Macbeth

Synopsis: Macbeth, a duke of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

Release Date:  TBD 2015

Thoughts: If you search IMDB for Macbeth you’ll get around 200 results for countless film and TV adaptations as well as films that were inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedy that has more than stood the test of time.  The newest take on the Bard’s Scottish anti-hero is also supposedly the shortest, which no doubt may upset Shakespeare purists that want their five hour Macbeth in all its gory glory.  Critics at the Cannes film festival didn’t seem to mind because the film received raves for its star performances from Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) and Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) and its director Justin Kurzel.  Our first tease foretells of a visceral film that maintains the brutality of ambition that Shakespeare sketched so well.  High up on my most anticipated films of the year.

Movie Review ~ Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Sandra, a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The morning that the Oscar nominations were announced, between the throngs of people crying their eyes out over The LEGO Movie being subbed for Best Animated Feature and conspiracy theorists writing manifestos over Selma’s exclusion in several key categories there was a small din over Marion Cotillard scoring her second Oscar nomination for this French language film that hardly anyone had seen.  Going into the day, the wise money was on Jennifer Aniston’s worthy turn in Cake to wind up as one of the four women that will lose to Julianne Moore come Oscar night but it just wasn’t Aniston’s year to be called up.

While Two Days, One Night may appear on the surface to be a rather mundane slice of life piece following a central character over a weekend of broken pride and humility, it’s Cotillard’s performance that adds tremendous weight to an otherwise ho-hum viewing experience.

Sandra (Cotillard, The Dark Knight Rises) is a wife and mother coming back from a leave of absence at her blue collar job.  Though it’s never clearly stated, depression or another mental illness has sidelined Sandra and right as she’s coming back to work she’s dealt a terrible blow – her employer has given the other members of the workforce a choice: take a pay bonus and Sandra loses her job, or allow Sandra to come back and forfeit the extra money.  While this offer sets off so many moral/ethical red flags in the eyes of the viewer, writer/directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne’s screenplay interestingly stays away from asking that outright question to the employer himself.

What we have here is a film that has Cotillard going from co-worker to co-worker reciting nearly the same plea to each one of her colleagues…some who are receptive and some who have already spent the money in their heads and can’t fathom turning that kind of money down.  Cotillard’s character, already in a fragile emotional state, has to endure not only gobbling down numerous slices of humble pie but has to appear sympathetic to the rationales of her workmates as to why they won’t vote to keep her.

As has been the case for most of her screen performances (including her devastating Oscar winning turn in La Vie En Rose), Cotillard delivers an unfussy yet deeply complicated character.  We don’t necessarily root for Sandra but I found myself waiting for the moment when she breaks apart and loses it on certain individuals who would fancy a new patio instead of letting her keep her job.

In a rather simple conclusion there’s a bevy of complexities, yet it’s a film that leaves you with most questions answered. Is her performance worthy to stand alongside her fellow Oscar nominees?  I’d say yes, there’s a lot of work going on here and Cotillard is able to let a wellspring of emotion rumble under the surface in ways few can.

 

2013 Oscar Nominations – Predictions

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Forget Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are now officially in my favorite holiday season…Awards Season.  This Sunday are the Golden Globe Awards and you can click HERE for a full listing of nominees.   I enjoy the Golden Globes for what they are…the slightly tipsy foreign exchange student to the Oscars.  A few weeks later on January 27th the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards are given out and these are enjoyable because they are only given for performance categories and are voted on by the true peers of the nominees/winners.  That’s true somewhat for the Oscars but there’s something about the SAG Awards that make them feel like a valued win and not a popularity contest.  The day before the Oscars are the Spirit Awards given out to independent films from the past year.  If you’ve never watched these awards I highly encourage it…they are very much like the films they celebrate…independent and rough around the edges.

All of these are merely appetizers for the Academy Awards which will be given out on February 24, 2013.  Sure to be a lavish affair (even if they are being hosted by the mostly funny but ego-centric Seth McFarlane, Ted), I’ve yet to miss an Academy Awards telecast or the live announcement of the official nominees.

Before the nominations are announced at 7:38 am tomorrow morning, let me go out on a limb and give my predictions as to what is going to be up for major awards and who is going to wake up an Oscar nominee.

Best Picture

Ever since the field was changed from 5 nominees to a possible 10, this one is always hard to predict…so let me start with five nominees and then go up from there….

Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty
Argo
Les
Misérables
Silver Linings Playbook

Life of Pi

Moonrise Kingdom

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Amour

Close Calls – While The Master was a huge buzz film before it was released, its actual reception was so chilly I’m not sure it will earn a place on the list. 

If there’s any justice… Skyfall will be the first James Bond film to be nominated for Best Picture.  One of the best films of the year and most definitely the best Bond film ever produced, this was a full serving of entertainment with more to it than just cool cars and spy adventures.

Best Director

Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Ben Affleck, Argo
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Tom Hooper, Les Misérables

Close Calls – With The Life of Pi sitting just outside the top five Best Picture nominees, director Ang Lee may have a tough time locking down a nomination.

If there’s any justice… Actually, this list is pretty complete.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Close Calls – Again, The Master is popping up as a close call…but potential Best Actor nominee Joaquin Phoenix is such a puzzle in and of himself, he may have hurt his chances at a nomination by starring in an equally puzzling film.

If there’s any justice… Poor Richard Gere…he just can’t catch a break.  Though he could possibly unseat Jackman, his work in Arbitage probably will go un-nominated.

Best Actress

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Close Calls – Helen Mirren is also being mentioned in this category…and while she was wonderful in Hitchcock the film itself wasn’t well liked.  I think there are enough women who did great work in better films that should wind up with a nomination.

If there’s any justice… PLEASE let Quvenzhane Wallis be nominated!  If anyone should go from this list it’s Watts…I’ve heard her film is strong as is her performance but let’s have the youngest ever nominee (Wallis) up against the oldest ever nominee (Emmanuelle Riva, Amour)

Best Supporting Actor

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Alan Arkin, Argo
Javier Bardem, Skyfall

Close Calls – Leonardo DiCaprio may miss the boat on this, his work in Django Unchained was better than his last five films but he’s in good company with his co-stars Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson…both of whom could wind up here.  Bardem might be the one to miss the mark if DiCaprio love fills the hearts of voters…but I wouldn’t count out Bardem’s recent surge of support.

If there’s any justice… Tom Cruise would get some love for putting it all out there in Rock of Ages.  Yes, the film was a total mess but his performance is still one of the most memorable (in a good way) for me at the end of the year.  It’s never going to happen but I had to go on record saying he deserves it.

Best Supporting Actress

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Sally Field, Lincoln
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Amy Adams, The Master
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Close Calls – I haven’t seen The Paperboy but boy is Nicole Kidman getting surprising recognition for her steamy work.  Though it came and went pretty fast, Kidman may just pop up here, replacing Adams or Smith.

If there’s any justice… the Supporting categories are always where Oscar tends to throw a few nice curveballs so here’s hoping that Brit Kelly Reilly scores her first nomination for her haunting work alongside Denzel Washington in Flight.  Director Robert Zemeckis could have cast any Hollywood female for the role but he made a killer choice by going with Reilly.

Movie Review ~ Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenarts, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette, Corinne Masiero, Armand Verdure

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  When Marion Cotillard won her much deserved Best Actress Oscar in 2008 for La vie en rose, her main competition was Julie Christie in Away From Her.  Christie was the favorite to win going into the evening with Cotillard a mini-upset – this was fine with me as I had long felt that Christie was more of a supporting actress to her co-star Gordon Pinsent who was the real star of the show.  The same thing has happened with Rust and Bone.  All the love is going toward Cotillard without mentioning the other half of the equation — Matthias Schoenarts.

There’s no doubt that the work Cotillard does in Rust and Bone is praise-worthy.  As Stéphanie, a whale trainer at a Sea World-esque amusement park in France, she has to learn how to move on and cope when a horrific accident forever changes her life.  Cotillard lays herself bare literally and figuratively, getting to the troubled heart at the center of this woman.  She avoids the cinematic stumbling block of becoming bitter…but rather plays her as simply broken.

On the other side of the coin, Schoenarts has just as much of a challenge playing Ali, a man moving through life in any way that pleases him.  He steals, he takes his family for granted, and he doesn’t have much of a moral compass when it comes to ethics or relationships.  This is a man that makes choices that have serious consequences, no matter if the choice was accidental or on purpose.

Though it’s acted with a fierce passion, my main problem with the script was that it never seemed to justify why things were happening to these people they way they were.  Everything about the film seem contrived to move the characters to a pre-destined spot without any real motivation – so you’re left feeling as manipulated as the actors on screen.

For example, Stéphanie and Ali meet when he is a bouncer at a nightclub.  She is involved in a fight that leaves her bloodied so he drives her home…I guess his shift was over.  On the way back he insults her but she still lets him come up to meet her live in boyfriend in an awkwardly constructed scene.  Later, after Stéphanie has her accident, she calls Ali out of the blue to meet up.  Why after all this time would she call him to seek out his company?  I get that he maybe made enough of an impression on her to keep him fresh in her mind but it still was a transition that was more for the benefit of the story than the characters.

Director Audiard also contributed to the script that was adapted from two short stories by Canadian writer Craig Davidson and he has trouble juggling a lot of thin subplots that never feel fully resolved.  There are numerous characters and situations that are introduced only to be forgotten and never touched upon again.  Ali has a five year old son he was recently put in charge of but we don’t even hear why this happened.  For a while, it looks like the father-son plot might take center stage but it quickly veers into a plot about Ali’s involvement with illegal surveillance of employees at local businesses.  That is also jettisoned for Ali’s side job of brutal street fighting for cash that he lets Stéphanie come along and watch.

If you notice above, many of the plot strands involve Ali which is why I’m still amazed that Schoenarts isn’t mentioned as a worthy award nominee along with Cotillard.  Like Cotillard, Schoenarts leaves it all on the field for us without ever sacrificing the brute man that he clearly is.  Neither character is one that changes their tune without suffering for it…but Schoenarts seems to work his angle better.

All signs point to Cotillard receiving a Best Actress nomination for her performance and at the end of the day that is OK.  She’s had a solid year between this and The Dark Knight Rises (she filmed both films at the same time!) and she’s one of the most interesting actresses working today.  I hope we see more from Schoenarts as well because he’s the true north of the picture…unwavering and bold.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rust & Bone (De rouille et d’os)

Synopsis: Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

Release Date: November 23, 2012

Thoughts: From what I’m hearing, if anyone is going to give Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Silver Linings Playbook a run for her money, it’s going to be Marion Cotillard in this French drama that is arriving on US shores with strong buzz.  I’m still of the mindset that Cotillard’s Oscar win for 2007’s La Vie en Rose was one of the most deserved Oscars given in the last decade so there’s little doubt her performance isn’t award-worthy.  I can’t help but think of Free Willy anytime I see a killer whale playing a factor in a movie, but I’ll try not to hold it against the film or Cotillard.

The Silver Bullet ~ Little White Lies

Synopsis: A near-fatal accident leaves one friend in the hospital while the rest go on their annual vacation. But their secrets and personal grief threaten to drive them apart

Release Date:  August 24, 2012

Thoughts:   Filmed in 2010 before Jean Dujardin broke through in his Oscar-winning turn in The Artist, Little White Lies also adds French beauty Marion Cotillard to the mix.  Described as a French take on The Big Chill, this foreign import is aimed squarely at the adult art-house consumer that enjoys regaling their non-suburban friends about “this wonderful little French film you simply must see.”  Clocking in at an epic 2 hours and 34 minutes, I’m hoping that the film isn’t nearly as dramatic as it’s marketing itself as.  I like Dujardin and Cotillard so would be interested in seeing them together but I sometimes resist the urge to run out and see these older films being released stateside as a new release.