Assassin’s Creed, like many formal creeds, is a long, needlessly-complicated statement of beliefs. And plot. It’s a plodding, talky bore. There’s introductory text and two prologues, but really the entire movie feels like one giant, nonsensical preamble to…something. Based on the popular Ubisoft video game series, Assassin’s Creed plays like a collection of cut scenes that gamers, and movie-goers, would want to skip through to get to the good stuff.
Passengers isn’t the movie that’s advertised in the trailers. To be fair to the marketing though, it’s hard to sell a film that never decides what it is. And why not try to push a sci-fi romance between likeable stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt? Indeed, the charmers play two of many Earthlings traveling to colonize a distant planet. And yes, they are awoken from hypersleep 90 years early, but the circumstances make it impossible to go along with the love story.
Williams has confidence in the thought that the waiting is the worst part and with this in mind, he draws out instances of heightened vulnerability to anxiety-ridden levels of unease. Something is bound to happen, it is just a matter of when and how; that suspense happens to be the cornerstone of the film’s success. A success that is accomplished through its meticulous construction and the confidence of said construction. It also helps that the film benefits from the performances of its two leads - Roscoe and Marx - alongside the cinematography of Chris Messina in his capturing of the seemingly-innocent landscape.
Often thrilling and occasionally frustrating, Rogue One is an ultimately satisfying if faulty Star Wars spinoff. It’s a story we’ve heard before, briefly, and expanding the narrative from a plot point summarized by a few lines in A New Hope proves difficult, especially in a meandering and repetitive second act. A few strong performances, a climax that’s one of the best battles in the entire saga, and spectacular visuals carry the day, however. A couple of horrendously rendered CGI characters notwithstanding.
I was instantly intrigued when I first heard that the folks at Titmouse Inc. - the production company that brought us The Venture Bros., one of my all-time favorite animated shows - was making a feature-length film called Nerdland starring Patton Oswalt and Paul Rudd. After finding out that Andrew Kevin Walker, screenwriter of Se7en and 8MM, wrote the script, I was even more interested. Perhaps my expectations were set too high, but after seeing the film, I can safely say this is one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had at the cinema this year.
An efficient and direct-to-the-point bit of work, Matthew M. Ross’ Frank & Lola moves throughout its neo-noir aesthetic, punches through its storyline, and then gets out. Its brevity is both a major asset and a moderate liability – using a basic plot structure to avoid overlong diversions at the cost of developing important characters who may not be in every scene.
I love heist movies. I couldn’t care less about the big prizes, but there’s something exhilarating about seeing the layers of an onion peeled back, something thrilling about watching a mastermind play all the chess pieces that were there in front of you the whole time, something gratifying about witnessing a ragtag team surmount seemingly impossible odds.
In a somewhat lackluster year for horror, Nicolas Pesce’s beautiful, monochromatic nightmare The Eyes of My Mother easily stands out as one of the most disturbing and striking films you’ll see this year. An exploration in isolation and the need for human contact lay the groundwork for this unnerving tale of loneliness.
From its fantastic opening credits, I knew I was going to be into Sophia Takal’s psychological drama Always Shine. It instantly evoked some sort of dread that I really couldn’t put my finger on, but those De Palma-esque scrolling letters were enough for me to know this wasn’t going to be a happy-go-lucky comedy about two friends heading to Big Sur for the weekend.
May none of us ever know the pain and hopelessness that comes from becoming forever separated from our family. Losing a child, or becoming a lost child, seems to be one of the most unimaginably horrible things that could happen – but happen it did to Saroo Brierley and to his family.
Unless your heart is made of stone or you simply hate music, it’s more likely than not that you will leave the theater humming at least one of the unbelievably catchy tunes from Disney’s Moana, courtesy of Grammy-winning composer Mark Mancina, Somoan artist Opetaia Foa’i and the great Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame.
“You used to have it all,” a character tells Thomas (Michael Paré), early on in John Fallon’s The Shelter. We come to realize quite early on that whatever he had, he certainly doesn’t have it anymore. He’s disheveled and homeless, an alcoholic who mugs passers-by so he can afford more booze. His life has plunged to the deepest depths and he doesn’t see a way up from rock bottom. Sooner or later, Fallon fills in the loose ends and shows us what happened to our protagonist – a number of years ago, his pregnant wife Maryam (Gayle James) committed suicide, and Thomas has felt immensely guilty, believing he was largely responsible for her depression and death. The ghosts of his past have never left him.
Arrival is sci-fi that thrills on an intimate level while exploring basic fundamental questions of humanity, language, and communication on a grand scale. And there are aliens. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) is typically deliberate, bringing together immaculately composed visuals with bubbling anxiety. Where it goes and how it gets there is mesmerizing, even through some expositional redundancies and a few lulls in the extra-terrestrial conversation.
Hacksaw Ridge, a true story about a pacifist who served in World War II, opens with a slow-motion montage of somersaulting bodies on fire. The juxtaposition of content is made all the more incongruent with a righteous voiceover. The intro helps set up the stark differences between the film’s maudlin first half and brutal second half in which director Mel Gibson depicts graphic battle scenes, his first opportunity to do so since 2006’s vastly superior Apocalypto. The clashing contexts fail to connect. Medal of Honor recipient Desmond T. Doss is unquestionably a hero; unfortunately, this dramatization of his heroism feels a little too sanitized despite all of the battlefield viscera.