Assassin’s Creed (*1/2) Now really, what did you expect?

assassins-creed-movie

Assassin’s Creed – 2016

Director Justin Kurzel
Screenplay by Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams

There is an inexact scientific measure used to determine the worth of a movie that may be otherwise questionable. Three screenwriters or more is usually a good indicator they don’t have a solid story, they are just trying to hit the marks expected for an hour and a half film. A directing track record is also a decent indicator, but anything less than 4 major films and who knows. Kurzel’s last effort was the critically well received MacBeth. I have not seen nor do I plan on seeing this film. Shakespeare on-screen is worse than reading it for me: no annotations and the images don’t add up to excitement if I can’t tell what form of English they are speaking.

Less precise is the acting quotient. Upon discovering that not only was Fassbender playing the titular Assassin, but that he was to be joined by Cotillard, Irons, Gleeson and Rampling, it was a sell for a rental. There is no way all of these actors can be swallowed up by something that is pure garbage. And they weren’t. Not entirely.

Mostly though.

The property is not without cinematic promise. Taking a modern man of questionable repute and throwing him backwards through time with some scientific mumbo jumbo so he can…well, I am not sure what. Mostly find where things are hidden, I guess. This man needs to be related to Assassins. And these Assassins follow a creed, which is different from competing assassins who follow a different creed. Then they have to fight, kill one another, perform parkour and then jump off of high stuff.

To what end never really matters in the game, and here it doesn’t amount to much either.

This time we have Callum (Fassbender) who is on death row a few (lets say at least 3) decades after seeing his father apparently cause his mother’s death. Does he deserve it? Who cares? To get where he is going, he has to die anyway.

He wakes up at the Abstergo Foundation, where there are a peculiar set of people who are in his position. They are part of an experiment. This is supposedly of their own free will, but they really would prefer that you stay and help out.

The experiments are led by Dr.’s Sofia and Alan Rikkin (Cotillard and Irons). Sofia is young and idealistic. Alan seems more the cut-throaty type. They battle back and forth over the best way to move forward with their project, which now is focused on the genetic memory and abilities of Callum, in the form of his Assassin ancestor, Aguilar.

This leads to some back and forth between the past and present. None of this is interesting. The MacGuffin is an Apple device which contains the genetic code that is important for reasons not necessary to explain. Eventually this leads to the end of the film, which is a set up for the next film.

No thanks.

The actors give their B movie best here. It brings to mind that Fassbender has been in almost more crap than good stuff in his career. Cotillard is just as likely to be in average pulp like Allies as she is something originally delicious like Inception. And Jeremy Irons? Well, let’s just hope there is not a Pink Panther 3.

I never thought they’d pull Gleeson down, but they did. Charlotte Rampling was another one that feels like she’s only been in high brow stuff. Everybody has to cash a check once in a while.

Apparently, there is enough riding behind this one to push through at least one sequel. The director is actually interested to explore the cold war. If they let him come back, at least it won’t force some other director to take a dive for material that can only take you so far before it pulls you down into the pit of hitting the marks.

It’s the same kind of fate Michael Bay has been saving directors from since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

(*1/2 out of *****)

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (**) – Why build a miracle at all?

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – 2016

Director Zack Snyder
Screenplay Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

“What goes up must come down.
What must rise must fall…
And what goes on in your life
Is writing on the wall!
If all things must fall,
Why build a miracle at all?…”

Alan Parsons Project, 1978

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not the colossal failure everyone wants to proclaim. It’s about as cumbersome as Batman’s suit during their second meeting with the weight of its self-importance. It forgets that there are two characters in the title. In terms of story, it unwinds like more a math problem. It feels like they tried to set up D.C.’s version of The Avengers in one big bloated carcass of a movie. Still, with all of that going against it, I believe it squeaks by as a film that is a passable, if not all that likable building block to a franchise. If this is The Phantom Menace, let’s hope The Justice League is not Attack of the Clones.

The thing about Zack Snyder is that I generally enjoy his view on the cinematic world. His movies are usually visual masterpieces that, while not perfect, are at least memorable. The Watchmen, still his best work, actually improved upon the comic for me by making the ending an existential question. His version of Dawn of the Dead is still the best zombie movie I have ever seen. Man of Steel is, until the last act, perhaps the best Superman film. Somehow he forgot that Kal El is supposed to lead the carnage away from civilization…and that smile on Clark Kent’s face just doesn’t jibe with so many people dead.

They barely let the credits roll when the decision was made to contort the sequel into this grab bag of scenes and pulpy carnage in Snyder’s estimation of the modern version of a D.C. story line. They conscientiously moved away from the reliable but admittedly routine chuckle a minute Marvel formula. They also moved away from moments of wonder that are best fed in moderation.

After yet another young Bruce Wayne tragic awakening scene, we get a segue into the climax of Man of Steel, with the big ship falling into the sky and Superman (Cavill) working over Zod’s soon to be corpse in the background. Bruce Wayne (Affleck) has decided to fly into Metropolis as…Bruce Wayne. In a helicopter. Even with those means, he lands the copter several blocks away and drives in, until the roads are, soon enough, impassible. Then he runs. Again, as Bruce Wayne. Why does he do this?  Because Batman might have gotten there and actually helped more people maybe?  Well probably not. The Earth itself is knocked all to hell. How is Batman going to do anything about that?  Don’t think too hard about it. They didn’t.

So Bruce Wayne lost some employees and one friend we never really get to know. That’s alright for this story, though. We lose Jimmy Olsen a few minutes later when he’s going undercover during a Lois Lane interview with a bad guy.  Superman kills the bad guy after he holds Lane hostage, but back in Gotham/Metropolis, Bruce/Batman is stewing. The world has mixed feelings about Batman, who has been operating for years. He’s taken to branding his victims lately. They also don’t know what to make of Superman. This means the two heroes find one another on the opposite side of the justice spectrum.

The writers go to some lengths to establish these feelings, but the inclusion of Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor makes a jumble of it. Luthor likely knows the identity of both when he brings them together at a party. Also at this party is Diana Prince (Gadot). We know who she is, but Bruce and Clark will not until they need her, later in the film.

Anyone who has seen even the second commercial knows what happens from this point, which made seeing it somewhat redundant. There are angles that work (Batman), some that are forced (Luthor) and some that rely too much on Lois being an investigator and not enough on her boyfriend.

For what is supposed to be a sequel, it feels more like Batman with a bunch of Superman’s supporting cast. The reason for them to battle (even in the comic) has always been a little too counter-intuitive to their supposed intelligence. Still, the fact that we do not spend more than a few frames contemplating alternate identities is a plus.

As before, Snyder puts way too much into the last act. They make some overt attempts to intimate that the battles are taking place away from populated areas, but…come on. These folks do more damage than Godzilla meeting King Kong. In the midst of this, we do get a nice, somewhat nuanced subplot with Wonder Woman that makes her upcoming movie feel more interesting than Captain America’s.

We get to see a a video collection of other “Meta humans” who have been tracked down in a method convenient to the Justice League plot, but nowhere near any sort of canon. Even more, the titular battle is halted for a reason that makes no sense. Perhaps though it is commonplace in the dark D.C. Universe for people to refer to a parent by their first name.

The film is dark. Oh Lord is it dark. It feels like we have a giant boot to the neck for most of the 2.5 hour running time. If they were going for serious, the settled for constant heart attack inducing stress. Why do we have to make this world so dark?  It’s okay to see amazing things without seeing several caskets roll by throughout the film.

Who do we blame?  Most of it belongs to Charles Roven and Team Snyder. This whole format is in their guiding hands for now. The story provided by Goyer and altered by Terrio feels piecemeal. Goyer is on the hook for the two Justice League films. The franchise feels like a deeper hole than even they were anticipating. Word has it that there are a series of re-shoots even this late in the game to Suicide Squad in order to brighten the tone, even just a little.

It’s not that I hate this film. It’s got some good, albeit disconnected moments. The task of entering the DC Universe mid-step means it will necessarily be different than the origin story heavy Marvel Universe. A used universe is fine with this reviewer. It just shouldn’t have to require one to watch Blade Runner to lighten the mood afterword.

(** out of *****)

Beautiful Creatures is a sterile experience

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Beautiful Creatures – 2013

Written and Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson
Based on the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

First things first.  I hate the accent applied by Ehrenreich.  Normally bad accents don’t serve as much of a distraction, but this one sure does.  The actor is from Los Angeles, and not Gatlin, South Carolina.  Near as I can tell, his accent is from the belief that if you say anything fast enough, people will assume you know what you are doing.  The aggravation normally lessens as time goes on.  In this case, one could only imagine why the person wasn’t told to bag it and go with what got him the part.

Second is the story.  It’s a sped up version of Twilight.  I am sure it ran a little slower on the printed page, but it feels like we hit the end right about the time we find out that Lena (Englert) is a witch.  This is not just because it is predictable, we have several flash forwards, disguised as flashbacks to tell us what is bound to happen.  And then it just happens.

The South is reduced to a religious, ignorant and bigoted character with no room for nuance or differences.  The narrative even narrows the type of person down to ‘either too dumb to leave or too stuck to get away.’  There is another character, with panache and color.  They are, of course, witches and warlocks.  They have elegant clothes, nice decoration and a bigger vocabulary.

Even witches are divided into good and bad.  Who and why they split is not as relevant.  The important thing is that we know Lena is teetering on the precipice of good and bad and seemingly has to make a choice.  Is there a middle ground?  Not really.

As for acting talent, the script really does not need much.  Having Irons and Thompson present adds very little.  They are capable of great work, of course, but they can arrive for the paycheck as well as anyone.  They leave no real impression to the viewer who hasn’t seen them in something better.  Viola Davis does have some consistently effective moments in a pivotal role.  Her eyes are quite powerful, and they make up for a lot that isn’t present with the rest of the story.

As half of the featured couple, Englert is actually quite good in one of her first major roles.  She carries the relationship of Lena and Ethan, with Ehrenreich coming across as not much more than a horny rube who likes to cut covers off box and put them on a map.  There is a reason he does this, but it’s not all that poignant as it is goofy.

There is nothing all that bad about Beautiful Creatures.  The story is something one would expect from the teen genre from which it derives.  Whereas Twilight put its emphasis on hot romance, this film takes the story and makes it palatable for those who don’t want their kids to see a man’s bare chest before he turns into a Werewolf.  There is nothing here that is too offensive, but neither can we expect it to win any awards.  It’s from the familiar place of romance.  To quote Tracy Ullman: “They don’t know about us and they’ve never heard of love.”

But we have heard of this before.  Quite a few times.

(*** out of *****)

CoolPapaE Reviews The Die Hard Series

A-Good-Day-To-Die-Hard

Cool Papa E Reviews The Die Hard Series

I’ve been waiting for this, like I always do.  The evolution of Bruce Willis is most easily categorized with the Die Hard films.  When he first hit the big screen as John McClane, he was more of a punk than anything.  Skinny, mouthy and not much more than the swagger of a young man,  he wore the role of McClane as a man somewhat surprised that the shoe of tough guy fit.  Two years later, they almost killed the franchise with a ridiculous, yet wildly successful sequel.  It took 5 more years to get the original director back.  The result, was the best of the films, Die Hard with a Vengeance.  For some reason, it took 22 years to come up with Live Free or Die Hard.

Now we are on the verge of the fifth film, with the prospects of a 6th on the horizon.  A Good Day to Die Hard takes the opportunity to introduce us to John’s son, Jack, played by Jai Courtney.  From early indications, it should be a more successful pairing than that of Indiana Jones and his son.  If the 5th and 6th films have anywhere close to the support that the rest of the series has, we could see the series advance beyond Willis.  While I am not sure how I feel about this, I am damn sure I can’t wait for A Good Day to Die Hard.

Die Hard – 1988936full-die-hard-poster

Director John McTiernan
Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald “Veljo” Vel Johnson, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta
Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, Jeb Stuart based on Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

Review: This, along with Lethal Weapon 2, is the measuring stick for all action movies released since.  Everything about this film looks great and feels better.  So many iconic scenes, lines and sequences.  The best hero (Willis), the best henchmen (Godunov), the best villain (do I have to say his name?) in movie history.  Anyone who likes action has this film at the top of their list.  An absolute classic.

Several of the elements of this film could have been moronic and tacky, such as Gleason’s need for “more FBI guys” and Atherton’s idiotic approach at getting the story.  McTiernan’s hard-edged approach allows a guy like Veljo’s Sgt. Al Powell grabbing a bunch of ‘Twinkies for his pregnant wife’ in one scene to develop into the hero one of the 3 climactic moments.  Yeah, I said 3.  Each scene is a winner, to0.

(***** out of *****)

The Good:  Let’s give a top 5, since damn near everything is great in this film:

  1. The takeover, from the  fast break for “BOOM! Two points!” to the Takagi saying “You’re just gonna have to kill me…”
  2. The fight between McClane and Tony.  It’s visceral, looks dangerous and Willis turns the first daunting step into rage.  And I think you really can hear Tony squeal when McClane breaks his neck.
  3. “Welcome to the party, Pal.”
  4. “When they touch down, we’ll blow the roof, they’ll spend a month sifting through rubble, and by the time they figure out what went wrong, we’ll be sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent.”
  5. The FBI guys.

The Bad: The only thing that could be construed as bad is that the characters of Robinson and Thornburg were approximated in lesser films (including Die Harder, by the entire police force and Thornburg himself)

The Ugly: This really isn’t fair, and it’s really more of a testament to the clarity of Blu Ray that I can tell many of the stunts were not performed by Willis.  The hair is different, and in one case the nose.  It’s really a stretch, because I could not tell these things until I had seen it about 35 times.

DieharderDie Hard 2: Die Harder – 1990

Director Renny Harlin
Starring Bruce Willis, William Sadler, Bonnie Bedelia, Dennis Franz, Reginald “Veljo” Vel Johnson, John Amos, William Atherton, Fred Dalton Thompson, Franco Nero, Robert Patrick
Screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, Doug Richardson based on 58 Minutes by Walter Wagner

Review: This is the one movie in the series that has not aged well in the slightest.  Thanks mainly to some unbelievably antagonistic airport police led by the laborious performance of Dennis Franz, the film clunks along between action scenes.  There are some good performances, such as Fred Dalton Thompson, John Amos, William Sadler and the underrated Art Evans as Leslie Barnes, director of communications for Dulles Airport.  William Sadler gets his moment in the sun, and he is okay, but really anyone would be a comedown from Rickman.

An incredible amount of damage is done by having such an inept force protecting the airport closest to the White House.  Thing is, a hero like McClane has no need for such a foe in his efforts to combat the forces of evil.  Having such yahoos along for the ride prevents the bad guys from looking good, too.

Harlin’s direction ramps up the cheese factor.  The bad guy troops come out of their hotel in perfect unison and as they travel down the hallway, you realize that the corridor is getting smokier with each step.  Why?  Because he is Renny Harlin.

Even so, the film is still very watchable.

(**1/2 out of *****)

The Good: Top 3 this time:

  1. “Just the fax, Ma’am.”
  2. John McClane: Guess I was wrong about you. You’re not such an asshole after all.
    Grant: Oh, you were right. I’m just your kind of asshole.
  3. -200 feet was a damn horrific sight, especially since 9/11.  Seeing McClane’s attempt and failure to prevent that was a tragic hero’s moment.  “We’ve got you.”

The Bad: The eject-seat.  Truly bad.

The Ugly: All the references to Dennis Franz, his brother and even Willard Scott for their weight.  Watching this movie helped me to understand that fat people are generally foolish and incompetent.  That’s good to know.

Die Hard with a Vengeance – 1996Die-Hard-With-a-Vengeance

Director John McTiernan
Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Irons, Graham Greene, Larry Bryggman, Colleen Camp, Sam Phillips
Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh

Review: McTiernan makes an excellent return in what is my favorite film of the series, even if it’s not the best film of the series.  The reason it’s my favorite is due to Samuel L. Jackson in one of his best performances as “Hey” Zeus.  He adds an equal element of grit to that of Willis’ McClane, wh0 has never seemed so grimy.  Their counter punches are as good as anything else in the series.

The premise turns the original movie inside out.  Instead of a skyscraper in L.A. we have the vast expanse of New York City.  It’s fascinating how the large number of citizens creates such a sense of confinement.  Making things even better is the New York City police department as portrayed by Greene, Camp and Bryggman.  Showing compassion, kindness and an actual competence in crime fighting, it’s a refreshing change of pace from earlier efforts and especially from the idiots in Die Hard 2.

As Simon, Jeremy Irons is okay, but not nearly as effective as his “brother,” Hans (Rickman).  Part of this is just that imitation can rarely exceed the original.  The other is I am just not a fan of Irons.  He delivers the lines, he has an accent.  He’s been in too many films.  Really, I think it’s just me.

(****1/2 out of ******)

The Good:

  1. The opening Lovin’ Spoonful song, capped off with a bomb.  Unforgettable and harsh, like the rest of the film.
  2. “Stick your well-laid plans up your well laid ass.”
  3. The bomb in central park with the jugs and the water.
  4. The way the police saved the children at the school.  Especially Greene and Camp.  Classic.
  5. The truck driver knowing which number president Chester A. Arthur is (21).  Only in New York.
  6. The cab ride with Zeus.  “Are you aiming for these people!”  “No.  Maybe that mime.”

The Bad: The ending.  Shoot down the helicopter?  Underwhelming.  And why would Simon and his hit girl bother killing the #2 guy?  He still has about 30 0ther guys he has to share the loot with.  Why was Sam Phillips in the movie?

The Ugly: How the hell they get on the boat.  It chops the machine gun guy in half, but not the two holding the cable?  Oh, and the way they survived that boat exploding was as preposterous as the eject seat in the second film.

Live Free or Die HardLive Free or Die Hard – 2006

Director Len Wiseman
Starring Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q, Kevin Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cliff Curtis
Screenwriter Mark Bomback based on A Farewell to Arms by John Carlin

Review: Incredibly solid, despite the ten-year gap between films.  Excellent supporting cast starts with bad guy Timothy Olyphant, who puts more into it than anyone since Rickman’s Hans.  Justin Long is the perfect antidote for Willis’ muscled up old guy, and Winstead is an excellent Lucy.  Maggie Q is the most lethal henchman since Godunov.

The story is far-fetched, but intriguing.  The idea that one could shut down the world through the net has never been done so well.  The other cops are well-meaning, but more useless than the crew from …Vengeance.  It’s more plausible this time because the plot is executed effectively.

The major drawback artistically is the decision to go PG-13.  Everything feels edited, and it takes away from the feel of McClane’s attitude.  The decision helped financially, though, as the movie is the most successful of the franchise.

McClane is older, but still amazing.  He breathes heavier, but still kick’s ass.

(**** out of *****)

The Good: 

  1. Matt Farrell: Did you see that?
    John McClane: Yeah I saw it, I did it!
  2. Kevin Smith.  It’s good to see him in something he didn’t direct or write.  Seems more natural that way.
  3. The fire sale breakdown.  “All the lights are green.”
  4. The fight between Maggie Q’s Mai Linh versus McClane.  Best Die Hard fight.  Ever.
  5. The car hitting the helicopter.  It could just as easily be in the bad section, but what the hell.  It’s cool.

The Bad: Cutting off “Yippie Ki Yay?”  Unforgivable.

The Ugly: A semi-truck going up a circular ramp attempting to out maneuver a Harrier jet?  Next thing you will tell me the truck was accelerating up the hill…A good day to die hard

A Good Day to Die Hard – 2013

Director John Moore
Starring Bruce Willis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir, Radivoje Bukvić, Cole Hauser
Screenwriter Skip Woods

Review: This is the kind of movie you make when the previous film was an unexpected bonanza of a success.  The money demanded another one, and really, they did it too fast.  Even when the wait is seven long years.  That’s what it has to be.  How else do you explain the by the numbers routine of explosions and gunfire in which no one is surprised, even from the first boom?  It’s Russia, I know, and we are really supposed to think it’s funny when John McClane punches someone before stealing his car and screams “Do you think I understand a word you’re saying?”  On a human, level, though, it just doesn’t resonate.  I am pretty sure I can imagine what the guy is saying.

John McClane and his son, John McClane, Jr. go through the motions of two tough guys, bitching about the position they find themselves in while they desperately attempt to keep themselves in those positions.  Why?  Because, according to Jr., ‘there are nukes and stuff’ on the line.  Really, at Chernobyl?  Where do you think the end of the film will take place?

John Moore hasn’t directed a movie since the abysmal Max Payne in 2008.  Here he provides ample evidence why this is so.  He has one mode: blow stuff up.  There is something wrong when expository dialogue seems forced and out of place.  It’s really hard to tell if Skip Woods’ script would have worked any better in the hands of a real director.  The words here provide no chemistry whatsoever between both sets of parents and their siblings.  For the first time ever in a Die Hard film, there is not one memorable line of dialogue.

The best thing this movie can do is provide a placeholder for the sixth and – most say – final film.  My God, I hope Willis is smart enough to demand that real talent be involved this time.

(** out of *****)

The Good: 

  1. We get to see Mary Beth Winstead again.
  2. Bruce Willis looks like he is genuinely happy to be there.  Might be the paycheck, though.
  3. Jai Courtney looks like a passable product of John McClane.

The Bad:

  1. So many explosions.
  2. So many bullets.
  3. So many falls from great heights.  Perhaps Dwarves can survive those, but not humans.
  4. Pulling rebar out of one’s abdomen, making a passing reference to tetanus, and ignoring the prospects of internal bleeding for the rest of the film.
  5. Who’s the bad guy?  Who cares?

The Ugly: 

  1. Someone got paid to direct this film.
  2. Someone got paid to write this screenplay.