Movies you didn’t see in the theater – Part 3: “Assassin’s Creed”, “Nocturnal Animals” & “Silence”

“Assassin’s Creed”
Directed by Justin Kurzel

assassinscreed1280jpg-6530e3_1280wAssuming that you consider Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, and Charlotte Rampling to be a fine varnish, you could meticulously work it in to the nooks and crannies of this film and it still ain’t gonna make this turd look any better.

And the sad part is that it’s really close to being a pretty good comic book/video game adaptation. The elements are there…a decent and curious story, tremendous actors giving it their all, terrific action sequences, sky -high production values and high stakes. But the ending is so confusing and convoluted and, due to Cotillard’s accent, unintelligible, I had to turn on the subtitles just to understand what the penultimate line of the film was. In fact, there is an entire section of Reddit dedicated to answering the simple question, “wait…WHAT?! What just happened?!” The result is that I felt I had utterly wasted the previous hour and three quarters. It is absolutely that preposterous and disappointing an ending. The fight scene editing by Christopher Tellefson is terrific, but the final scene looks like it was pieced together by Kurzel’s nephew for a homework assignment. It’s brutal. I watched the scene five times to see what I was missing. The answer…not much.

I won’t go in to too much detail, because, honestly, I’m telling you to stay away unless you either love the video game (in which case you probably saw it in the theater), or like good action sequences…in which case, just fast forward to those moments. BUT, I wanted to mention the acting for one reason only. Many movie stars do dreck like this because of the exorbitant paydays, but that usually ensures you’re not going to witness a committed performance. Fassbender, however, is the exception to that thesis. He’s simply one of our best living actors, and even in this, he shines. In spite of terrible diaologue, he makes you care about his character. Cotillard gives it a go, as well, but alas, she’s been given the most confusing and outlandish intentions throughout. Or maybe she’s just bad in it. She was not good in “Allied” either, so maybe she’s in her blue era. Irons does his Irons thing (which is fitting) and Rampling has three lines…blah blah blah. But Fassbender is spellbinding…as always.

Next…

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“Nocturnal Animals”
Directed by Tom Ford

nocturnal-animals-ring1Tom Ford’s latest effort was the surprise of the group. It looked, from it’s marketing collateral, to be a tedious slog of feigned importance. Granted, I should’ve known better. “A Single Man” is one of my favorite films of the last decade. Luckily, it was nominated in a couple categories and, hence, I felt obligated to view it.

Happy to say, that, while it has some serious lags and faults, it’s quite a good film. The “movie” within a “novel” story, which makes up the majority of the film, is effective and moves well. Its performances, for the most part, are committed, and terrifying in a Tracey-Letts-the-playwright sort of way. And the visuals, as you would imagine coming from Mr. Ford, are stunning. These attributes are enough to overcome the film’s drawbacks…namely, everything taking place in the “real” world, including its narrative and, especially, the acting.

About that “story”. It is absolutely nothing we haven’t seen a million times, and yet, it’s terrifying. It feels quite real, and makes you feel nervous and uncomfortable while experiencing it. There is a reason many people consider it’s opening scene to be the most affecting of the year. And Aaron-Taylor Johnson, who won the Golden Globe for his convincing creepiness, is spectacular without verging in to cliche. The family are convincing enough, although Gyllenhall never really seems totally comfortable in the role, maybe because he no longer plays  characters who possess meekness as their organizing principle – human and relateable as that may be. But Michael Shannon…holy crap! He is, as ever, fantastic; every bit as interesting, hypnotic and creepy as Johnson. And when they are both on the screen it sizzles!

But the real time bits that bookend the “story” are a slog. Slow, overly circumspect, and boring, they add nothing much to the film. Amy Adams is mopey, Armie Hammer’s character is unnecessary, and the flashbacks, while they fill out the tale, don’t ring true. Alas, this leads to an ending that feels contrived and a little too pat.

All that aside, the film is a must see to witness Johnson and Michael Shannon do their thing.

Abel Korzeniowski’s score has moments of greatness, but Ford overuses the main theme to the point of exhaustion. I read an article about how Ford wanted a Bernard Herrmann-esque score to accent the Hitchcock qualities he hoped to emulate, with a touch of Philip Glass, whom Ford greatly admires. While the composer succeeds, Ford forgets that less is more when it comes to the former…especially when it is as epic and grandiose a theme as this one. However, there are two lovingly conceived themes in particular (“A Solitary Woman” & “Revenge”) that I have in playlists. Great listening.

“Nocturnal Animals” is not a great film, and certainly not up to the level of Ford’s first film (“A Single Man”), BUT as sophomore efforts go, it’s pretty good and if you’re searching for something terrifying in its reality (if occasionally boring), you could do a LOT worse than “Nocturnal Animals”.

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“Silence”
Directed by Martin Scorsese

imageOh boy.

Martin, Martin, Martin.

So THIS is the passion project you’ve been dying to make for over a decade? Really?

“Silence” is a brutal exercise in semantics. Nothing happens in the film. Which, in and of itself, is not a big deal to me. Some of my favorite films have no real three-act arc (this year’s “sieranevada” is the perfect example of this). But “Silence” has all the tension of “Last Temptation of Christ”, which is to say, it doesn’t. It’s a film about ideas, but fails to follow the most basic of cinematic rules: SHOW me, don’t tell me.

A major part of the problem revolves around casting. Andrew Garfield doesn’t have nearly enough emotional range and/or weight to carry this film. Lots of sighing and pleading and shouting, but nothing that carries us with him…and since he is in almost every frame of the film…that makes for a VERY long two hours and forty-one minutes. Adam Driver, who is wasted in his role, would’ve been the better choice for Garfield’s role. And, alas, Liam Neeson has too little screen time to make a difference. HOWEVER, if you must watch this film, watch it for the Japanese actors. Issei Ogata is, as ever, fantastic. Creepy, heartless, and ruthless, yet somehow very real, he, along with the rest of the brilliant native-born actors, brings ALL the stake to this bible study class.

If you are a Scorsese acolyte, I suppose it’s worth watching so you can discuss it with knowledge. But, otherwise, unless you are a devout Catholic, or enjoy watching man’s inhumanity to man due to religious intolerance, you can skip this. As most everyone has. Sorry, Marty.

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TRAILERS:

“Assassin’s Creed”

“Nocturnal Animals”

“Silence”

Written on 5/3/2017

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