Monthly Archives: August 2016

Talk About Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard

For years we’ve heard moans that video-game movies are jinxed. Unfortunately, “Assassin’s Creed” won’t lift that curse. Not even with stars like Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and the game’s creator, Ubisoft, as a producer.

If you’re unfamiliar with the game, you may be confused by what’s going on and why anyone would even bother playing it. If you have played, you’ll wonder how the moviemakers could mess things up so badly and squander the game’s rich tapestry of stories.

Following an introduction to an ancient order of Templars, the film leaps to current day, where Callum Lynch is serving time in jail. In his youth Cal saw his mother being murdered by his father, leading him into his own life of crime. Cal is released from prison to Abstergo, a tech company that plans to use him and his family bloodline of assassins to find the elusive “Apple of Eden” that has priceless info at its core.

To do this, Cal employs a device called the Animus, which accesses ancestral memories that date to the 15th century. The gizmo is straight from the game, but it has morphed from a simple transportational pod into gigantic mechanical arm connected to Cal’s body. It’s unwieldy for him — and us.

Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s direction is all about visuals, not coherence, just as it was in his adaptation of “Macbeth” with Fassbender and Cotillard. “Assassin’s Creed” works best during the action scenes set in the distant past. But the present — along with Cal and that massive appendage and too many windy conversations — keeps elbowing its way back in.

Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg rings false

Mark Wahlberg’s new vehicle purports to tell the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. While “Patriots Day” works in some ways, especially in its intriguing blow-by-blow of the events before and after the attack, the film is ham-fisted. It works so hard to evoke a sense of teary patriotism it leaves behind a grimy feeling.

The problems start with Wahlberg’s character, Sgt. Tommy Saunders. This cop manages to be at the bombing site, FBI investigator’s strategy meetings in a command center, and a Mobil station where he helps rescue the bombers’ hostage. He also pops up at the shootout with the suspects, and the final apprehension of the surviving suspect. He’s everywhere.

But there was no real Tommy Saunders. A composite character with a bum knee, he’s meant to be an homage to the many Boston cops who worked the case. This becomes confusing and annoying because most of the rest of the characters are based on real individuals —  people, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Vincent Curatola), Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and lead FBI investigator Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon). A composite character can work, but I felt manipulated and was distracted by Saunders’ Zelig-ness.

Another major distraction were the advertisements for Dunkin Donuts. MIT officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking) was handed a “Coolatta” — yes a, specifically spoken, trademarked Dunkin beverage — shortly before being killed by terrorists trying to steal his gun.

There is little sense in terrorism, and those of us who have lived through it, including anyone who was in New York in September 2001, are repulsed by most efforts to impose narrative sense on senseless slaughter. Director Peter Berg wants us to believe the bombing had positive effects in uniting the city, making it “Boston Strong.” I think everyone including maimed runners were better without terrorism.

Inspiring drama from director Ken Loach

If you’ve ever dealt with bureaucratic red tape — even if that merely means a simple trip to the DMV — then you’ll relate to the title character in the truly moving and special British drama “I, Daniel Blake.”

A carpenter by trade, middle-aged Daniel (Dave Johns) has been unable to work after suffering a heart attack on the job. He is relying on government benefits to survive, but he finds it’s far more difficult to get them than it should be.

As he’s evaluated by a social worker we get a sense of frustrations and his cynical wit and how angry he is about not being able to work.

Daniel is also one of those people who doesn’t own and has never used a computer, so when he learns how much he has to do online to get his benefits, it becomes even more frustrating for him.

Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Loach is a master at capturing the day-to-day of British life, and this film, which won the coveted Palm D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, is no exception. That said, it may be easier for some to decipher the heavy British accents than others.

It’s heartbreaking at times to watch Blake’s plight, but things get even more desperate for Katie, who is starving herself to make sure her kids eat. Guided by Loach, the actors have created two such likeable characters that you’re constantly invested in their attempts to deal with a convoluted system.

In a world that seems to be getting worse with every passing minute, “I, Daniel Blake,” is a sobering but inspiring pleasure — easily one of the best films of the year.