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

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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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The Purge: Anarchy (**) needs to improve if it wants to be the new Saw, Paranormal Activity

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The Purge: Anarchy – 2014


Writer and Director James DeMonaco
Starring Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Michael K. Williams

In the second take of the dystopian series, we go outside the confines of the home to the streets of L.A., where, presumably, no one is safe. This is especially true for the lower and working class people. It occurred to me that this makes it seem as if the high-class (aka Republicans) are the villains in these stories. The other day I heard the theory that Obama was granting amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants to produce a permanent lower class, so I suppose he’s just filling up targets for future purges.

It’s difficult to treat The Purge: Anarchy as much in the way of a horror film, though, because there are no real elements of tension. There are shootouts and people cutting other people, but everyone’s paths intersect right when they need to, so there is no sense of desperation at all. We have 3 stories intersecting. There is a young couple on the verge of divorce driving across town. There is the honorable single working class mother who looks like she came right out of a politician’s anecdote. Then there is a guy out looking for revenge, armed to the hilt. When a roving band of purgers run into the low rent apartment buildings grabbing targets, and the fleeing young couple’s come across the path of the guy who is looking for revenge you can only guess what happens. That’s right: buddy comedy. Only without the friendship and the laughs.

This movie just goes from place to place, putting the targets in poorly imagined constraints and allowing them to get out. One guess what happens to one of the fighting couple when they decide to reconcile. There are heavy-duty semi-trucks that roll around the town mowing people down with high-tech Terminator 2 weapons. It turns out the rich folks don’t think we’re getting rid of enough riff-raff. The riff-raff has a voice, though, in the form of Michael K. Williams and his group. They show up on interrupted feeds and break up arena killing shows. The next movie is supposed to be a prequel revolving around this group. Too bad they weren’t made interesting enough to carry a film.

That hasn’t stopped them through two films so far. In comparing the minimal budget to the vast gross to each of the movies, it’s easy to see this routine going on for a while.

(** out of *****)

This is not your father’s Robocop, it’s your younger son’s

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Robocop – 2014

Director José Padilha
Starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel
Screenplay by Joshua Zetumer

Poor ED-209.  Never has there been such a cool looking law enforcement officer destined only to be the sucker.  In both the original classic and the good, but softer remake, ED-209 performs as the Washington Generals to Robocop’s Harlem Globetrotters.  Even if he and several of his brothers get the lead, there is no way he wins.

“It’s the illusion of free will” is the conclusion the makers of Robocop decide they have arrived to as they watch his creation mow down a bunch of other robots (ED 208’s if you are curious) and one of their commanders (Earle Haley).  His creation is, as it was in the original, a cynical attempt to buttress corporate greed. Omnicorp’s CEO (Keaton) wants to get more of his robot armed forces available in the U.S..  The automaton forces have done a decent job in the rest of the world, but here, they seem a little too much like drones.

The filmmakers give ironic codes to imply who is good and who is Republican.  The senator who is against the drones, Dreyfus (aka Richard) has a bill that was passed prohibiting their implementation.  On the other side, we have a TV Pundit Pat Novak (Jackson), who has a show called The Novak Element (O’Reilly Factor) intent on siding with corporate interests and against liberty.  If only the irony was funny and less politically misleading.  No one wants to see an action film with politics in it these days, much less lazy politics.

For those who don’t know the story behind Robocop, Det. Alex Murphy is nearly killed by bad guys, and then resurrected by Omnicorp.  This resurrected version becomes an almost unstoppable crimefighter.  His only weakness is that he is too good at his job, and finds people too high up the chain.  There are some differences between the incredibly graphic original and the new, PG-13 version.

To my surprise, I discovered that I liked some of them.  The new version strikes gold when supplying Murphy with tasers in order to subdue bad guys without having to decimate them.  I also like that he is aware of his family and past life, for the most part.  I never have been able to buy into the memory wipe concept.  Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jennifer Ehle and Samuel L. Jackson are some heavy hitters to throw into the mix for what mostly amount to character roles.  I loved that it’s still Detroit that is the cesspool.  They called it back in the 80’s, and it came true.  Might as well stay with it.

Ultimately, though, the film is a lighter touch than the original.  Kinnaman lacks the charisma to even top Peter Weller, and that’s saying something.  Perhaps if he had more screen time apprehending criminals, some of the lines borrowed from the original (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me…”) would feel more organic.  Abbie Cornish does not bring much to the table either.  There is not one bad guy who can even hold a candle to Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith), not to mention Ronny Cox’s Richard “Dick” Jones.  There is very little in this film to supplant memories of the original.

That said, if you liked the original, but don’t want your kid to be exposed to the violence it engenders, try this one.  The original should definitely not be seen by anyone under the age of 17.  This movie is for anyone under that age.

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