Tag Archives: 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars

Now I’ve come full circle.

I’ll gladly admit that I’m an Underworld fan. Since the first one arrived in 2003, I’ve loved them. I know they’re a bit shit, I know they’re not everybody’s cup of tea, but dammit they’re fun popcorn movies that I can happily watch over and over again. Even after 2012’s Awakenings essentially felt like a poor man’s Daybreakers, I was still somewhat interested in Blood Wars, the fifth film in the Underworld series.

After the events of Underworld: Awakenings, disgraced vampire soldier Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is on the run from the vampires that betrayed her, as well as the werewolves who know that her young daughter is the key to their evolution towards immortality.

Offered forgiveness from the coven (whose elders she ploughed through over the years) in exchange for her experience training the vampire “Death Dealers”, Selene is brought back in to the fold by her people, only to be quickly betrayed again by her power hungry kind.

Meanwhile, the growing Lycan horde, led by a powerful werewolf named Marius (Tobias Menzies), are simultaneously planning to wipe out the last remaining vampire coven in Europe and kidnap Selene. Their plan is to use her to find the daughter that she promised to never look for. Double crosses become triple crosses as everyone tries to one-up and kill everyone else. Chaos ensues.

Let’s get this out of the way, straight away: If you aren’t a fan of Underworld, if you’ve not seen any of the four that came before this one, then there is nothing here for you. This is a series that has sold us on more than a decade of sucking people in after one good film. It’s a franchise that, like any other that’s gotten to its fifth instalment, will have a fan base that this is specifically for. So, if me saying that hasn’t turned you off already, then read on.

Blood Wars has moved on from the semi-futuristic aesthetic of Awakenings and has instead gone back to the purely gothic feel of the earlier films. While this is an artistic style that suited the film more back in 2003, it makes this latest incarnation feel undeniably Underworld – and that’s not a bad thing. Assuming you’re a fan.

Theo James and Charles Dance return from the previous entry as vampire warrior David and his loyal-to-his-people-to-a-fault father Thomas. James plays the part of Beckinsale’s partner and together they get the meatiest bits of action in this out-of-date fantasy-thriller.

Beckinsale is on excellent form once again as the betrayed elite soldier. Her action scenes are well done; they look great and she fights very well on screen – as I would expect of someone making as many entries as she has into a franchise such as this. Beckinsale is always fun to watch in action roles and Blood Wars is no different. Her support is decent, but even someone with the pedigree of, say, Charles Dance, seem a little disinterested and not really up for the 90 minutes that we are asking of them.

Eastern European castles, and classic vampire and werewolf lore, are all mixed up with some modern stuff too. There’s a ton of action from start to finish; this is Underworld all the way through.

Overall, Blood Wars is a functional action movie that adds nothing to a fourteen year long franchise (bar a few extra dollars to its overall profit margins). It’s a film for people like me that saw and enjoyed the other films as they came out. There is nothing here for newcomers to the series, although there’s no barrier for entry if you’ve never seen one before. In what should be – what needs to be – the last in this series of fun junk food movies, even the most avid fan will find themselves questioning the point to what they just watched.

Live By Night

“This, right here, is heaven. We fucked it up.”

From Ben Affleck, the director of Argo and The Town – and starring Ben Affleck, the star of Argo and The Town – comes an early competitor for most infuriatingly boring film that should never have been so infuriatingly boring: Live By Night.

Maybe my expectations were set a little high? Maybe I was hoping for a little too much? Maybe, the pedestal I’ve put Ben Affleck on in recent years is too lofty for him? But this film – a film that stars Affleck, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Zoe Salanda and Brendan Gleeson, to name but a few – and Affleck on directorial duty; this film disappointed in such a massive way that I felt crushed as I left the screening on Saturday afternoon.

After a stint in prison for his part in a bank robbery, long time petty crook Joe Coughlin (Affleck) hits the streets of Boston a free man with money, power and revenge on his mind. Aligning himself with the head of the Italian mob, the Irishman is sent to Florida to remove certain entities from power and start making the boss some money.

Coughlin uses his smarts and is quickly the top dog in the sunny state, making a fortune selling dark Cuban rum in the height of prohibition America. Of course, working your way up from nickel-and-dime hood to being the most powerful man in Florida brings you an enemy or three and now Coughlin’s found himself on the wrong side of some very powerful people.

Pretty much “30’s Gangster Movie 101”

Based on the novel of the same name by writer Dennis Lahane – writer of books like Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone (Affleck’s directorial debut) – Live By Night is surprising in its awfulness considering just how good its inspiration is.

Whilst it’s not the worst film Ben Affleck has starred in (not by a long shot) Live By Night is most certainly the weakest of his directorial efforts. By quite a margin. The man has no one else to blame but himself.

Writer, producer, director and star may have been too much for the current Batman to do all by himself this time around as every role that he took responsibility for in the creation of this film suffered a lack of care and attention: This, considering The Town is one of my favourite crime thrillers (I’ll forgive it being an ADD, Boston based remake of Heat), a film I think is beautifully made and superbly paced with excellent acting all around. Affleck’s latest seems to have forgotten all the skill that made his 2010 crime thriller great and has decided to make himself a paint-by-numbers prohibition movie in an age that includes Boardwalk Empire having once been a thing.

Lacklustre, badly paced direction and a beyond poor script do little to take away from the terrible acting in this film. Not just from Affleck, but his whole cast.

Chris Cooper’s police chief, who a penchant for burying his head in the sand, looked bored on screen. As did Elle Fanning – fresh from an excellent performance in The Neon Demon – as the chief’s daughter: A woman with Hollywood bound aspirations. Both Sienna Miller and Zoe Salanda are neither convincing (nor apparently convinced) in their roles as Coughlin’s fancy pieces at various stages. The whole ensemble seem like puppets with someone’s hand up their arses doing the talking. Only their puppet master is asleep at the wheel.

Live By Night takes a tremendously long time to get to its wholly predictable conclusion. Considering how much good quality strong coffee I get through on a standard Saturday and the venti double shot Americano I take in with me to almost every screening, there is no way I should have been dozing off whilst watching this. Yet there I was, nodding off in my chair like your old man after Christmas dinner.

Not bad considering I don’t remember feeling tired when I went in.

The Bye Bye Man

“My fear makes you stronger. I’m not scared.”

It’s the first Friday the 13th of 2017. And as this most auspicious date now requires, we are duty bound to consume whatever horror film is released into cinemas. So off I went, the good little consumer (and horror fan), to sit in a dark room and indulge in my favourite of all the genres.

Things are bound to go wrong for college kids Elliot and Sasha; the couple move into an off-campus house with Elliot’s friend, John, where they soon trip across strange scribblings in a night stand. The words “don’t say it. Don’t think it” repeatedly scrawled on a board covering up a name carved into the wood.

“The Bye Bye Man”

The Bye Bye man is a ghost, of sorts. The utterance of his name brings him to you and once he’s in your head he can play with it. The spirit shows you things meant to mess with you, to scare you and to make you do stupid and dangerous things to yourself and those around you. The pale ghost-like entity terrorises the trio as they fight to figure out where he came from and how to escape the curse that they seem to have brought upon themselves.

Every time I watch one of these committee built horror films, a little bit of my soul dies. I knew this film was going to be garbage, but the premise of a supernatural villain who feeds off people’s fear, strengthened when they allow him into his head, sounded kind of cool. It sounded tacky, played out and completely unoriginal, but it sounded kind of cool. It was an idea that I was willing to get behind and give a chance to.

Sadly, as is always the case, I was let down badly.

One dimensional, walking talking clichés for main characters annoyed the piss out of me. Within minutes of them being on screen I was praying for their swift but gory demise to put them out of my misery. The hatred for them meant I was in no mood to watch as they try to trade blows with The Bye Bye Man. Instead, I’d rather they were killed off quick so I could go home and wash the tropes off me!

Worse still is that the main bad guy seems like a neutered, pre-watershed baddie! Watered down to almost nothing, I’m embarrassed for the character and I’m embarrassed for Doug Jones (the man behind some of Guillermo Del Toro’s best creations including Pan and Abe Sapien) for putting effort into his role. Writers and director make no effort to make him scary and instead chose to have this man just wander round in a cloak with an enormous blood soaked hound with no rhyme nor reason to his existence. It just felt like such a waste.

Essentially, I reckon someone had the idea of this lanky ghost in an overcoat that looks a little like the pictures we’ve seen of the new Pennywise and based their entire film around that concept with little thought going into much else. The idea of these kids hallucinating things that scare them giving us a look into their personalities is only a good idea if I know anything about them. Or care about them. Or at least don’t want them to die a horrible death.

I really wanted to like this film, I thought The Bye Bye Man was a very cool looking character and this ghost patrolling people’s psyches with his dog in tow was an awesome concept. But there was absolutely no follow through. A selection of ideas put to film with no real connecting thread for them; The Bye Bye Man is the bastard love child of Jeepers Creepers, Candyman, Final Destination and a ton of other, much better horror films.

Perhaps I would have been a little more forgiving if it had turned up on my HorrorShow or Shudder subscriptions with an indie feel to it, but the hyper glossy Hollywood treadmill look doesn’t endear it to me in the end. I expect – no, I demand – much better from my horror films.

Manchester by the Sea

“We’re going back to Boston.” 

Didn’t think I’d be saying how refreshing it was to be watching a typical Oscar-bait film this early on in the year. Between religious period dramas and musicals, I went into Manchester by the Sea hopeful of a good film; wanting a great performance from its star; and hoping for something a bit more… I don’t know… run of the mill for Oscar season.

I know how bad that sounds. But I mean it one hundred percent as a compliment. I was really looking forward to this.

Shortly after the sudden death of his brother, quiet and reserved handyman Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) finds himself pulled back to his hometown of Manchester to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Named the moody high schooler’s legal guardian by his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) without his knowledge, the troubled janitor has to face a home he’s been avoiding for years, family and friends – including his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) –  he’s not willing to deal with and a kid who’s just lost his old man.

Between the pair of them, they have enough baggage to last a lifetime or two and now they’re stuck with each other. Somehow, they need to work out their differences and their demons to find a way to live together.

So yeah, run of the mill is the order of the day here.

Manchester by the Sea doesn’t do anything that Oscar chasing movies haven’t done before. Dead family, orphaned kids, quiet dude with a really dark past and they all somehow meet in the middle and have to settle their differences. It’s an old, clichéd story that hasn’t had anything new to say in years. So the way to make your film shine, the way to make it stick out, is with its performances. Your stars have to make me give a shit and that’s where Casey Affleck, a guy I’ve been a fan of since I saw him in Gone Baby Gone, shines.

Lee Chandler is a loner. He chooses to live a solitary life in a basement apartment and can barely change a bulb or go for a pint without his being a downer affecting everyone around him. The man is haunted by his past and it takes around an hour for the film’s flashbacks to tell you why. Until then, the only indication you’ve got is Affleck’s face; and boy does he put on a show.

The man wears all his emotion on his face and every second he’s on screen you feel sorry for the guy, you feel awful for him, you know the guy has been through some shit and there are no words to describe just how deep the pit in your stomach is by the time you’ve gotten to the end of the film. And it’s all Affleck’s doing. His performance is the stand out one of the season and his recent Golden Globe is more than deserved. A top rate performance and I’d like to go ahead and congratulate him on his Best Actor Oscar now, if I can.

But of course, Affleck isn’t alone here and without the support of some great talent in the form of Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, he’d be nowhere. Hedges’ role as the mopey teen trying not to look like a mopey teen was sublime. Perfectly encapsulating the way so many teenagers would behave in that situation, trying to not look upset, trying to be the big guy in front of his mates and letting his frustrations out in the wrong direction, every time. I mean, he’s no Jacob Tremblay, but he’s done a pretty damn fine job.

Equally as impressive is Michelle Williams as Lee’s traumatised ex-wife. I can’t imagine how tough a role it must have been, dancing elegantly between flashbacks to the days that brought her and her husband to where they are today; all the way to showing us her new life with her new family. Her moments on screen are far fewer than Affleck’s, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful or emotional. With the always great Kyle Chandler bringing up the rear as the brother not long of this world; you certainly can’t accuse this film of skimping on the cast.

Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan has put together a fine tale here, with more than enough emotional pull to satisfy even the most masochistic of weepy drama lovers. Every tear jerking trope is here for you to enjoy as Lonergan tells Chandler’s story both after his brother’s death and before with some pretty heavy handed flashback use. Interestingly, the one thing I didn’t expect was for this film to have as strong a comic edge as it had. I almost felt bad for laughing as much as I did but the man’s crisp, funny script provided the perfect amount of levity in all the right places to stop me from being a quivering mess by the time I left.

If I had to find a complaint, I would have to say it’s with the flashbacks. While poignant and necessary for the story, they felt a little overplayed and, almost criminally, didn’t define themselves from the present day parts of the film in any way except to have his brother alive in them. I’m annoyed to say that I got lost on more than one occasion, if only for a second or two, because I didn’t realise we’d skipped back a few years. But that’s a minor complaint in an overall excellent film.

Manchester by the Sea checks all the Oscar committee boxes and then some. It’s not original and it’s not going to break any records, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable film that deserves every accolade it gets and more.

Failed Critics Podcast: Silence is Golden (Globes)

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Bad episode titles, published at 3am, and two miserly gits moaning about the world? It can only be the return of Failed Critics Podcast in 2017!

Hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are on their Todd for the first podcast of the new year to talk about Scorsese’s latest drama, Silence, as well as supernatural hocus pocus shenanigans in The Invitation. The pair also end up chatting about the iconic Steven Spielberg after Steve’s first ever watch of The Color Purple – and perhaps more surprisingly, Owen’s first ever watch of Schindler’s List.

In the news, there’s a chat about Carrie Fisher’s passing, which leads to a discussion about the use of CGI to replace actors in movies. We also quickly skim through the winners and losers of the recent Golden Globes and the speeches that were worth paying attention to.

Join us again next week for reviews of La La Land and Manchester by the Sea.

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Field & Mullinger’s Underground Nights: UGN’s Guide to 2016

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The tinsel is down, the tree is in a skip, the annual bottle of port is long gone and only the orange ones remain in the tub of Quality Street, but 2016 has one last hurrah as hosts Paul and James take a look back at their favourite films of the past 12 months.

First they tackle the results from the Failed Critics Awards 2016 and discover which hugely popular titles they’ve managed to completely miss. They discuss their biggest surprises, biggest disappointments and hopefully don’t alienate most of their movie-going listeners by rubbishing the biggest critical hits of the year.

Finally, they each countdown their three worst films – and the lads have their sights firmly set on those with money and talent who’ve managed to balls things up spectacularly in 2016. There’s also time for a round-up of the top 5 movies of the year. What a wonderfully mixed bag it is too!

As ever with Underground Nights, if you’re looking for superhero films, head elsewhere. If you want competitive endurance tickling, bizarre erotic fan-fiction, Nicolas Cage movies without Nicholas Cage, and Dave Courtney in a tank, then you’re in luck.

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Support the podcast by streaming the podcast from our hosts Acast, subscribing on iTunes and leaving us a review and rating, or sharing this page with all of your friends – and some people who aren’t your friends too, just for good measure.

La La Land

“I was a bit curt. Okay, I was an asshole.”

Every year awards season brings out that one film that everyone falls head over heels in love with. Almost every time it’s a film that’s been doing the rounds for months before it gets to us in the UK and we’ve been beaten to death with headline after headline telling us how it’s the greatest film you’ve ever seen, destined to change the world.

It never does.

And neither will La La Land.

Daydreaming jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) seem to keep crossing paths with each other. When the pair eventually give in to their destiny and become a couple, they begin to push each other to follow their dreams.

Time goes on and whilst things on the surface seem fine, life just has a habit of getting in the way. As the happy couple’s aspirations start to pull them in opposite directions, the hard work just gets harder as the pair have to make some tough decisions.

Oh, and it’s a musical.

I really hate musicals. With a blinding passion. I hate them so much that I considered not going to see this preview screening and instead acting the hermit at home watching playoff football.

I dislike this genre so much that I’d rather stab myself repeatedly in the leg with a blunt pencil dipped in Ebola and knob cheese than suffer through a collection of dickheads singing and dancing their way through conversations that would be much more effective if they were just spoken. Like a normal person. Not like a dithering granny who can’t help herself as she bursts into song while washing the dishes.

Saying that, I don’t have an awful lot of time for silent cinema either, yet I gave The Artist a fair shot. It’s only right that I give the same chance to La La Land.

Unfortunately, what should be an homage to the golden age of Hollywood, feels like a grim reminder that the musical has no place in Hollywood any more.

Damien Chazelle, the director behind the sublime Whiplash has tried to capture lightning in a bottle a second time with his love letter to musical cinema. There’s no denying the man has an eye for a good film and the parts of La La Land that work, look great. He’s made a near perfect choice for his leading actors. Both Gosling and Stone are spectacular to watch and are undeniably on top form (as their recent Gold Globes wins can attest to). But the good parts don’t outweigh the poor; and there are plenty of those.

For starters, the film is dull. Just dull. Its overlong runtime of around two hours feels stretched to within an inch of its life as we watch this pair of dullards, seemingly unable to get their shit together, sing and dance through their lives. Apart from the opening salvo of imbeciles dancing and singing over cars on a packed motorway, and a concert with John Legend doing the singing, I’m pretty sure that Gosling and Stone are the only ones doing any vocal work. So dragged out is this damp lumpy fart of a movie that I was begging for it to be over. I was checking my watch hoping to see the time tick away faster. I was sick of listening to their voices.

Let’s be honest about this, whether or not I like musicals, I should be able to remember some of the songs, right? Nope. All of them are completely forgettable. Considering the film’s biggest song “City of Stars” won the Golden Globe for Best Song, it’s pretty bad that 12 hours after I saw the film, I can remember nothing but the opening line. It’s “City of stars”, if you’re wondering.

La La Land shifts its tone so often that it doesn’t feel like I’m watching a musical or a romantic drama. It feels like a mish-mash of ideas splattered onto a page with little regard for how it plays out. As a romance-filled drama, it almost plays well; but just as it looks like it might do something interesting, it bitch slaps you with another rubbish, forgettable song that resets any good will it had dragged from me back down to zero.

The awards it has garnered in the last day and the untold number of people ejaculating over social media, thoroughly in love with this shambles of a film, tell me I’m in a very small minority when it comes to my negative views on this musical farce. But don’t worry friends, I hate it enough to balance the books perfectly. What a complete waste of two hours that I’ll never get back.

Silence

“They’re not dying for God. They’re dying for you.”

Holy shit, where to begin. I really didn’t want to watch Silence.

A film centred around the persecution of Christians and Christianity in Japan during the 17th century doesn’t really float my boat the way it would a lot of others. Scorsese’s latest or not, I’m not the kind of guy that likes being preached at for nearly three hours.

Silence interests me on an historical level, but I’d prefer a documentary on the subject rather than the film, thanks very much. But there I was, in my comfy seat ready for a few hours of sermons hoping for the best.

Volunteering to make a pilgrimage to Japan, Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, respectively) are searching a country in which their religion is outlawed for their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). With no word from their old teacher bar a years old letter reporting on the state of the country before his reported conversion to Buddhism, the young idealists walk into one of the most dangerous places to be a Christian with the hopes of getting answers and spreading the word of God.

In a harrowing time to be a Jesuit, the pair are forced, along with the persecuted Japanese Christians, to hide from a country determined to wipe them out, with a man known as “The Inquisitor” hunting out as many of them as he can. The priests and their country-wide congregation have an uncertain future filled with humiliation, torture and possible death if they are caught.

Jesus Christ this was a tough film to watch!

I mean, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, as you would expect from a film directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. It looks beautiful and its leads (a pair I don’t really care all that much for) are very good together on that screen. Both Driver and Garfield are very convincing as the priests facing the ultimate test of their faith under the most extraordinary of circumstances. Their story is a predictable one and plays out almost exactly as you imagine it will once you realise just what kind of film you are watching; but that in no way stops either of them, nor the slew of actors supporting them, from putting their all into their performances and convincing me just what an awful time the Christians living in Japan had.

Much to my surprise, I found myself engrossed with what I saw on screen. As dozens of indigenous Christians are hunted out and brutally tortured for your viewing pleasure, you can’t help but to try to will them to denounce their faith from your seat. You can’t help but get angry when they don’t. And you can’t help but want to scream at them when the logic of the devout is to believe that no answer to their prayers is indeed it’s own answer. It’s a purposeful lesson in annoyance for people like me who need logic in their lives. While the film tries desperately to convince me that these people were strong and devout, certain less friendly words were rolling around in my head after the first couple of times these people refused to save their own lives. I know, that’s the whole point, but it’s a point lost on me almost completely.

And don’t even get me started on the arsehole that repeatedly fucks everything up for everybody only to believe that he’ll be forgiven time and time again – then he is! It’s a recurring theme across the entire film that beggars belief and makes you truly wonder as to the logic some of these people live by.

Narration is provided, for the most part, by Andrew Garfield’s Father Rodrigues as he writes letters back to the church in his homeland. It sets the tone as the story continues rather well. Unfortunately, toward the final act, narration is complimented with voice over from sources that interrupt the flow of story telling. On more than one occasion I mistook a voice in the head of a mentally and physically tortured priest for that of continued narration and completely lost the plot of what was going on because the voice sounded so much like an additional narrator that it became genuinely difficult to keep track of the story.

Silence has been a passion project of Scorsese’s for a lot of years, and that love and respect shows in the film I saw today. But it’s not the second coming of Christ as some may be preaching it to be. There’s no doubt that it’s a brilliant film, but it’s one I don’t think I need to watch again. I wouldn’t even necessarily suggest it be seen in the cinema. The big screen experience is all well and good, but you’ll miss nothing from watching it at home and you’ll gain the ability to pause the film and go take a piss without missing anything.

Character Unlock: The Assassin’s Pod

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So begins 2017, the year that will almost certainly end with our hosts ruining the podcast completely because they refuse to stop talking about their big games once they come out. Wondering how much time the lads can actually spend talking about Mass Effect and Horizon: Zero Dawn? Stick with us this year and find out.

But back to the present; with the Failed Critics guys having a well deserved week off (have you heard their stuff from the back end of the year? We’re surprised Owen is still standing) we have decided to fill in the film flavoured hole that they’ve left this week. What better way to do that with rolling in an Assassin’s Creed special that ends with us chatting about (and spoiling) the latest video-game adaptation?

Fresh from their New Years Eve hangovers, hosts John Miller and Andrew Brooker return to dissect the decade old stealth series and have invited Failed Critics regular and Assassin’s Creed super fan Brian Plank into our dark and dingy gaming basement to help us talk about the franchise that has moulded Ubisoft’s gaming model for nearly ten years.

Come spend some time with us as the boys enlighten you about their history with the Creed. What’s John’s favourite game in the series? Who is Brooker’s top Assassin? Is Brian a secret (American) psychopath? All this and more in our epic special.

Join us in a fortnight when we will… well, we don’t know. Join us in two weeks when there will be a podcast. About something. Shambolic as ever.

In the mean time, come find us on Twitter or Facebook (both @CharacterUnlock) and join in the conversation.

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A Monster Calls

“You must speak the most simple of truths.”

This time last year I was rolling out of a preview screening of Room decimated at what I’d just seen. I walked out of that film a complete wreck. This early in the year, I didn’t expect to have a movie comparable if not to the film, at least to the way it left me and the entire audience of screen 11 as we all walked out puffy eyed and blubbing at what we’d just witnessed.

12 year old Connor (Lewis MacDougal) is a boy teetering on the edge. His entire world is crumbling around him: His mother is deathly ill; he’s being bullied daily at school and; he and his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) most certainly do not see eye-to-eye. When he’s at his lowest and he can’t confide in his mum (Felicity Jones), he finds himself with a new friend. An ancient friend. A monster who finds his way to his bedroom window and introduces himself to the not-quite-a-teenager.

The monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) promises the boy three stories. Three tales to teach him the way of the world and by the end of them, the disillusioned kid will have a story of his own to tell; a “truth” that he’s too afraid to speak out loud. The monster is here to give Connor the strength and courage to face what lies ahead, no matter how hard a road he has coming.

No messing around, no silly shit. Go watch this film today.

While it might not be as emotionally affecting as the aforementioned Room, this tale of a young boy searching for courage is definitely up there when it comes to heartbreaking stories. The Orphanage director J. A. Bayona has created a beautiful film that has to be seen to be believed. Set in the grey and melancholy north of England, the only place to showcase your ideas is through the titular Monster and his stories.

Neeson’s monster is a thing of beauty. A giant, walking, talking tree that looks like Groot’s scarier older brother, who engulfs Connor’s house with his spreading branches. He is a magnificent creation. Between the excellent computer work, Neeson’s motion capture and voice performance, the towering beast that appears to wreck everything in its path is an early yardstick for filmmakers to measure their creature work for this year.

The only thing to contend with the Monster, are his stories. Told to us through a series of watercolour paintings that come alive at his voice, the gorgeous artwork is absolutely mesmerising. By the time the first tale is finished, I’m desperate for the reappearance of the creature just so I can hear and see him tell his next story.

Of course, the computer generated monster would be nothing without the character he needs to interact with to bring this story to life; and absolutely nothing should be taken from Lewis MacDougall. The young actor sells his part to us with such conviction that I feel so sad for him at each step. Every single emotion the young boy goes through, we go through with him. He gives it his all from the opening frame to the final scene. Man, that kid drags the tears from you, kicking and screaming if he has to, to leave you in more of a mess than he ever was by the time those credits roll. Supported superbly by Weaver and Jones, what this cast do is nothing short of phenomenal.

A Monster Calls is a beautiful film, on more than just the superficial level where it already thrives. Its superb world is complimented beautifully by those that fill it. Its steady build to its predictable finale doesn’t make it any less gut wrenching. In fact, you knowing what’s coming gives you time to let that pit in your stomach settle in before the boy’s final tale is told.

I’d definitely give this film a watch. Maybe two. The creature alone is impressive enough to warrant a big screen visit. I’d love to carve out a couple of hours to go watch it again, but I genuinely don’t think I’ve got it in me to sit through it twice. I’m definitely lacking the balls for visit number two. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing the magical piece of cinema – just grab a few Kleenex on your way out the door.

Assassin’s Creed

“Your blood isn’t yours. It belongs to the creed.”

This is going to be tough. Video game adaptations come and go, mostly in a haze of their own dusty farts as they are tossed on the rubbish pile never to be talked of again. Those of us that love both films and games tend to watch them pass by with yet another feeling of bitter disappointment, as yet more of those games we love are mistreated and bastardised in the worst ways imaginable for the sake of a few multiplex dollars.

After last year’s blandly inoffensive but annoying Warcraft adaptation, Macbeth director Justin Kurzel found himself with the hopes of game lovers everywhere pinned to his part sci-fi, part historical action film, Assassin’s Creed.

This is especially true when it came to me, a self-confessed Assassin’s Creed super-fan who has adored the game franchise since it first appeared in 2007.

A convicted murderer sentenced to death, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) wakes up from his apparent execution a prisoner of the Abstergo foundation, the modern day incarnation of the ancient Templar order. Forced into the Animus, a machine that allows a person to relive the memories of their ancestors, Lynch finds himself in 1492, living the life of his Assassin forefather Aguilar de Nerha, the last known protector of an artefact dating back to the origin of mankind with the power to control free will: The Apple of Eden.

As his sessions within the Animus continue, Callum finds himself becoming an Assassin. His memories and his ancestor’s skills bleed through to his present day self allowing him to harness the training Aguilar has both inside and outside of the machine. Under the guise of this program, being secretly run by Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) under the guidance of her father, Alan (Jeremy Irons), Abstergo is holding dozens more ancestors like Lynch as a collection of failed experiments, that they hope they have seen the end of now the Spanish assassin’s relative has arrived in their lab. Little do the Templars know that the captive brotherhood is not only plotting their escape from the facility, but planning to stop Lynch’s travels to the past from succeeding.

Between early reports that the film was badly balanced between the historical and futuristic scenes (not completely unlike the games, to be frank) and reading some poor early reviews, my expectations were severely lowered in the months leading up to this latest game-to-film release.

Maybe that helped the film a little.

There was never going to be any denying the prowess of everyone involved in the making of this movie, Kurzel and his composer brother Jed set almost every scene beautifully. Justin brings a veteran director’s gaze to a property that previously would have been handed over to a nobody just to churn out a film hoping to make back a few quid on the game they’d licensed – or worse, handed it to Uwe Boll. It’s a game series deserving of a quality helmer and I think it got that in Justin Kurzel. Aside from a bizarre choice in music for the film’s opening shots in Inquisition era Spain, his brother’s score does a magnificent job of elevating the direction to epic heights. At least, for the second half of the movie.

The opening hour feels like it’s dragging far more often than it feels well paced. A boring slog introducing elements – that need explaining to those in the cinema not savvy with the world so many of us have invested years of our lives in – almost kills the film dead in its tracks. It’s worth noting I saw the film with someone with absolutely no idea about about the game series, who said something very similar. And while that information dump and the very cool looking new Animus are appreciated, it came dangerously close to sending me to sleep. A glacial opening to set the scene and tone is all well and good, but this went on far too long and the closing fifty minutes worked very hard to send me out with a positive outlook on the film. And, for the record, I did walk out with a positive outlook.

Fassbender’s performance as the convicted murderer and his Assassin ancestor is a load of fun to watch. Any stunt double work is well hidden as his parkour moments and hand-to-hand combat are well filmed and excellent to behold. Excluding an absolutely mental moment as the film tries to convince us that Callum is losing his marbles as he breaks into song, his character was convincing and entertaining. Whether or not you think Mr Fassbender is stepping down a level or two to be in a video game movie, he still does a grand job.

Similarly, Marion Cotillard does sterling work as the scientist out to do good things with her time. Her, and her chemistry with Lynch, are very good and again, feels like she’s giving it her all in a film that wouldn’t necessarily deserve it. Sadly, Jeremy Irons and fellow inmate Michael K. Williams seem to be phoning in their performances; showing little to no care for what they are doing.

Overall, I did enjoy my time with Callum, Aguilar and Assassin’s Creed. But it’s not without its troubles. The aforementioned pacing issues and glaring problems with some music choices are at the top of a list that also includes a lack of care and attention to the source material; admittedly something only fans would see, but you made this for us, so treat us with a little respect.

A slightly above average film that I really enjoyed, but star power and fan service doesn’t make a great film without a little more substance. I would imagine someone with no familiarity with the games would get very little from this film, as pretty as it is.

Keep your eyes peeled on the Failed Critics and Character Unlock feeds in the coming week as we dissect Assassin’s Creed as a franchise before we review the film.