Tag Archives: Jeremy Irons

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.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice

This isn’t the film you wanted, but it’s the film you deserve.

I’ve seen that line totted out recently in relation to Zack Snyder’s latest offering in the newly established DC cinematic universe. Often by folks that I’m dubious as to their claims of having actually seen the movie yet.

Nevertheless, to quote Steve Coogan’s fantastic fictionalised autobiography I, Partridge, as an adolescent Alan is called ‘Smelly Alan Fartridge’ by his school tormenters, it’s a line that is “about 3% as clever as it thinks it is”. Or I guess maybe it’s 1%. But if there’s a 1% chance, then it should be taken as an absolute certainty, right?

It’s mainly a statement repeated in relation to the bleak, cold, depressing realisation of the world that Superman – and now also apparently his nemesis Batman – inhabits, where humour, warmth and vibrant colour are secondary to moody, dreary greys, suspicion, paranoia and snarling teeth.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t an AC/DC soundtracked flash of electric-blue, pyjama-clad heroes, comic-book niceness. Nor does it ever try to be anything but what it is. Nor should it even try to be anything else.

This is a place, as established in 2013’s divisive blockbuster Man of Steel, where an alien descended from a dying world to be raised amongst us, as one of us, to love us and protect us until he was old enough to decide whether to make the ultimate sacrifice to save us from ourselves/angry aliens. By, er, destroying half of the largest city in the US during a fist fight with said angry alien that resulted in thousands of collateral deaths. Deaths that an angry billionaire human dressed in a bat costume now wants to avenge. As does another psychotic billionaire by the name of Lex Luthor, with slightly more suspect motivations.

If the unremittingly desperate and sullen tone for this first live-action, big screen clash between DC’s iconic superheroes is what we deserve, then I’m OK with that. It sure as Hell is exactly how I wanted it to be in a number of different ways.

That isn’t to say the whole movie is exactly what I wanted from Snyder’s second foray into the often unforgiving spectrum of comicbook fanboy elitism. Just as Man of Steel left millions of steaming big blue boy scout fans loudly exclaiming “that’s not my Superman”, as if that was at all relevant, then just wait until the masses get ahold of the virtually unrecognisable character traits of their beloved caped crusader. If the internet could be fitted with a blast screen, now would be the time to assemble it.

The Dark Knight has always been, well, dark. Cracking bones, smashing skulls, practically crippling criminals for the rest of their life, all in the name of justice as he carefully tiptoes along the delicate line of his moral conscience, never straying into the territory that there’s no coming back from. But here, there are some rather extreme and remorseless attacks by the Bat that will please fans wanting a more grown up comic book film, as well as pop a few pulsating veins on the temples of outraged viewers.

Personally, I think it’s precious to perceive only one possible interpretation of a character that has seen hundreds of writers and dozens of actors portray him. Who’s to say that the kooky Adam West version is not the definitive creation? Or what about Tim Burton’s criminal-burning take in Batman Returns? Why not use Frank Miller’s portrayal of a grizzled old Bruce as the only measure?

The best versions of Batman in the comics in recent years have been, to my mind, when he went insane during Grant Morrison’s series that began a decade ago this year, and in writer Scott Snyder’s Detective Comics run – when it wasn’t even Bruce Wayne who was Batman, it was Dick Grayson. So really, it just doesn’t matter which you prefer, or what you think makes Batman the character he is; there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of representations of the character that are as valid as each other. This movie is no exception to that rule.

However, I feel like I’m explaining myself around the issues with this movie, of which there are plenty. Much like when George Clooney put on the cape and cowl (and nipple-plate), it’s hard to separate Ben Affleck from Bruce Wayne. Maybe that’s an unfair criticism as it’s a fine performance, but whenever he’s out of the mask, it’s hard to see past Ben Affleck. He also acts the chops off of his opposite number, with Henry Cavill caught in the headlights of a crash-bang-wallop barnstorming Batman movie where he is playing second fiddle in what should be his sequel. His story. His character’s atonement.

Ignorance is not the same as innocence, or so we’re told, which leaves the film to question how the red-caped Übermensch can continue to separate his private life from that of his heroic exploits. A hole was ripped through the centre of the planet not 18 months ago thanks in no small part to his own quest for knowledge, yet here he his saving children from burning buildings and being heralded as a messiah. I would not be the first person to scratch my head at the hypocrisies of the DC universe, but it at least tries to answer some of the questions it poses. Admittedly, Democracy v Superman would probably not have been a snappy title for the film.

And therein lies its biggest issue. I do like Man of Steel. Very much. In fact, Thursday evening, I saw a double-bill of it followed by a Batman v Superman midnight screening, and quite happily endured it. The dialogue is blunt, to the point and often without ambiguity, but the narrative structure combined with the character development of the wandering drifter Clark Kent, discovering his true identity as Kal-El, and subsequent trial by fire at the hands of Michael Shannon’s exceptional performance as General Zod; the more I see it, the more I like it. The religious symbolism is perhaps heavy handed as he floats off into space in his Jesus Christ pose to save the Earth, but there’s depth beyond merely a superhero smashing a villain’s face in. Zod’s pitiful plea and loss of identity, or his “soul” as he claims, at a time where a triumphant Clark struts across a city blown to smithereens to victory-snog his girlfriend; its complexities are frequently lost in a tide of criticism because it just happens to take place during a mass of CGI destruction. I hesitate to make further comparisons between the two, but compared to some of Marvel’s third-act fight sequences (The Incredible Hulk, Age of Ultron and Thor: The Dark World to name but a few) which serve absolutely no narrative purpose other than “beat-the-baddie”, it just further increases my opinion that it is a vastly underrated movie.

Now, Batman v Superman, as you might expect, spends forever building towards a climactic fight sequence between (you guessed it) Batman and Superman. By contrast, yes it looks cool and yes Snyder’s fingerprints are all over it, but it is as shallow as a paddling pool during a hose-pipe ban. It merely gives the fans what they think they want and not what they deserve.

I’m not going to spoil who wins the fight for you! Needless to say, the victor was inevitable. And yes, the allegories to religion, domestic and international terrorism threats, and playing God, are all there. But they are in much broader strokes than seen previously.

As for the rest of the 2.5 hour run time, a huge proportion of it is a confusing, sprawling mess that I kept trying to pretend was still good, like a buttered piece of toast that had fallen on the kitchen floor. Alas, you could probably scrape it off and it’d still be edible, but why would you? There’s bound to still be a mystery hair or unrecognisable piece of grit to crunch sickeningly between your teeth. What I’m getting at with this confused, sprawling metaphor, is that you can dust off all the crap from Batman v Superman and see just the delicious slice of warm toast underneath, but as you chew, you will secretly feel a little ashamed and embarrassed.

There’s just one dream within a dream sequence too many for my tastes. There’re more Easter eggs littering this film, distracting from what should be an interesting concept of man vs God, than you will find in the Sainsbury’s Petrol Station reduced isle next week. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is a passenger whose presence merely exists to pay fan-service for the Trinity and set up future Justice League movies so the other two can get on with battering each other.

I’m not going to sit here and say that the fault with Batman v Superman is that they didn’t follow the blueprint so successfully laid out by Marvel. I do not subscribe to that theory at all. The Marvel blueprint was laid out to make the audience more susceptible to expanded movie universes, that doesn’t mean DC, by not copying the exact format of individual introduction movies building to a crossover event, have failed. What will make Batman v Superman a relative failure is the cramming of about seven different story strands (that I counted) into one single film. It’s convoluted and each one (or maybe two or three together) would have been better served if held back for individual movies.

That, plus Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor was either incredibly poor casting, or the right casting for the wrong film. His twitching peculiarities and eccentric ranting about his father only weaken what should make a menacing focal point for the story. He’s a raving lunatic with an unoriginal fiendish plot to, I don’t know, get in the way, or something. He shouldn’t have been in this film. Or, rather, it should have been Batman or Lex Luthor.

The rest of the supporting cast are as expected. Laurence Fishburne returns as Daily Planet head-honcho Perry White to probably the highest degree of competence out of the lot. Folks worried about Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s casting as Thomas Wayne, concerned it might mean yet another origin story, need not panic as his role is squished into a Watchmen-esque opening segment. Amy Adams as Lois Lane is not as integral to the plot as she should be, although her performance is slightly more assured this time around. Jeremy Irons as Alfred is just Jeremy Irons. No more, no less.

Batman v Superman is bloated, convoluted, full of inconsistencies and lacking in focus. As many suspected might be the case, Superman is reduced to merely a concept rather than a character as Batman takes centre stage.

But Affleck does do a great job carrying the burden of this movie. On more than one occasion, his skulking in the shadows alluded me for a few moments, which gave me a giddy thrill when I spotted him (mind you, it was nearly 2am by this point). Make no mistake, when you read articles online about the actors and creative people behind this movie claiming that it is not designed to win over critics, they’re not lying. This is a Superman movie designed for Batman fans.

Arguably self-sabotaging in typical DC fashion by trying to introduce Batman to what is perceived as a flagging franchise or series, it might simply be too much, too soon. Yet, I still kind of got a kick out of it on some base-levels and I’m sure plenty of others will see through its many foibles too.

High-Rise

high rise

“That’s right. You sit there and think about what you did.”

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I sat down for High-Rise. The trailers and marketing purposefully tell us nothing useful about the film or its story. Outside of “stars Tom Hiddleston and directed by Ben Wheatley”, I wasn’t entirely sure this would be something worth seeing. But, you know, sometimes playing a hunch pays off.

In mid-70’s London, Tom Hiddleston is Robert Laing, a doctor at a teaching hospital who has just moved into his new place in a luxury tower block. One of a handful of high-rise buildings developed by renowned architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), Laing has found what should be the perfect home on the 25th floor of this new community. Designed with isolation in mind, the high rise is a self-contained society with its own social hierarchy where those with the most money live at the top and the closer you get to the ground floor, the closer you get to the lower classes.

No sooner has Laing moved his stuff in than he finds himself in the middle of a very literal class war. Those on the top floors behaving like the aristocracy and ensuring that their fair share is much more than those below them. On the lower floors, documentary maker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans); a man intent of documenting the injustice of living literally at the bottom of the food chain and his pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) turn out to be the kind of people that Robert gravitates to more than those above him. At the same time, with his place cemented with the middle class, he strikes up a friendship with this upstairs neighbour Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and as the building’s occupants slowly lose their minds and the isolated society descends into anarchy, Laing must decide who his loyalties lie with and how to survive as his new found home has its very own little apocalypse.

I know what you’re thinking. At least, I hope I do, because I thought the same thing. “This sounds like Snowpiercer in a block of flats”. You’re right, it does; and that feeling doesn’t leave you once you’re done watching High-Rise. Kill List and Sightseers helmer Ben Wheatley has been handed a large budget and a big star or two and given free reign to create his own little world for us, and boy does he surpass all expectations. I’ve said in the past that Wheatley has shown flashes of Kubrick-esque brilliance in his films, and this is his A Clockwork Orange in so many ways. Most obviously is in the aesthetic the man has created inside the Tower Block. The 1970’s setting is full on Kubrick: when you see that the tower has been built around the 70’s idea of what the future will look like, with residents “living in a future that is already here”, we are told.

I admit that I wasn’t entirely convinced when I saw the cast list. I wasn’t Luke Evans’ biggest fan after that dumb Dracula film he did, and Sienna Miller has never really hit my radar as someone worth watching. But both are amazing in their roles as the filmmaker trying to climb the ladder a little and the wannabe socialite with her ear to every wall. Most surprising to me though was Elisabeth Moss. I loved her all those years ago in The West Wing but I’ve not really enjoyed anything I’ve seen her in since. She does manage to change my mind here though, in a dramatic way. She is easily one of my favourite characters in this film and she does such a great job as the wife just trying to scrape by in the lower levels. Adding those to the always stellar Hiddleston and the unable-to-disappoint Irons, we’ve a stew pot filled with talent and amazing performances.

Based on J. G. Ballard’s novel of the same name, slightly-unhinged director Ben Wheatley has brought us yet another darkly funny, twisted and completely surreal way to spend a couple of hours. As Hiddleston’s quiet doctor falls for the madness of the block’s twisted self delusions, his struggle to keep sane and keep the right people on his side is one that keeps us all on the edge of our seats. The creeping sense of horror that comes from the tension between the guys at the top and the wasters at the bottom has with it this tremendous sense of foreboding from the second the violence is hinted at. We all know the direction this is going, the opening minutes showed us; but to watch the anarchy play out over such a short space of time as the high rise’s residents go from perfectly fine to near feral is pretty terrifying.

High-Rise, like almost all of Wheatley’s films, is likely to divide audiences straight down the middle. But one thing is for sure, his little slice of dystopia, love it or hate it – and believe me, I loved it – will be talked about and analysed for years to come.