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Movie Review: “Assassin’s Creed”

Starring
Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams
Director
Justin Kurzel

“Assassin’s Creed” is not the video game adaptation that fans have been waiting for. What makes the action film most disappointing is that it comes from director Justin Kurzel, who crafted last year’s visceral adaptation of “Macbeth,” which also starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Kurzel’s latest has style to spare, but it’s missing the soul and emotion from his previous work.

Calum Lynch (Fassbender) has just been given a second chance. Michael Leslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage’s script opens with the convicted murder on death row. With his last words, Calum says that he’ll meet his father in hell, but instead of dying, he wakes up, disturbed and shocked, in an unknown location and greeted by Sofia (Cotillard), a scientist who wants to rid the world of violence. She informs Calum that one of his ancestors, Aguilar de Nerha, was an assassin in 15th century Spain, and he has the power to relive his memories through a contraption called the Animus. Sofia and her father, Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), are looking for the “apple,” a MacGuffin that will cure people of violence and destroy free will, and Calum and Aguilar’s memories can lead them right to it. Despite the high stakes, most of the film’s events are inconsequential.

Calum is a blank slate. We know his terrible past, and he describes his aggressive personality, but there’s little internal life to the character, which isn’t true of most of Fassbender’s performances. The world and the rules are the primary focus of the script, not the characters. In the first act, there’s plenty of information revealed but very little of it regards Calum and why we should care about him and what’s beneath the aggression. The character’s underwhelming attempts at comedic relief don’t help matters, either.

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Movie Review: “Passengers”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Director
Morten Tyldum

Norwegian director Morten Tyldum may not be as flashy as some of the other filmmakers who’ve broken into Hollywood recently, but between his little-seen 2011 thriller “Headhunters” and his Oscar-winning drama “The Imitation Game,” it’s evident that he has serious chops behind the camera. Despite that past success, Tyldum’s latest project is easily his biggest movie to date – a heady slice of genre-hopping sci-fi developed from one of the hottest scripts in town and starring two of its most bankable stars. Though the film fails to reach its lofty ambitions, “Passengers” is still a surprisingly thought-provoking holiday release that’s biggest misstep is succumbing to the very formula that it works so hard to resist.

Sometime in the distant future, interstellar space travel has not only become a reality but a way for humans like blue-collar mechanic Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to immigrate to other planets. Jim is one of 5,000 passengers traveling aboard the Starship Avalon, a luxury cruise liner currently en route to the colony world of Homestead II. The Avalon is just 30 years into its 120-year journey, however, when it sustains damage during a meteor storm that causes Jim’s hibernation pod to malfunction, waking him up 90 years too early. Stranded on the ship alone with no way to contact the sleeping crew and only a robotic bartender (Michael Sheen) to keep him company, Jim spends the next year slowly spiraling into depression until he becomes smitten with a fellow passenger named Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and decides to wake her prematurely against his better judgement. Jim keeps his involvement a secret from Aurora at first, but as the two grow closer together over time, he becomes racked with guilt. Meanwhile, a larger threat looms in the background when the spaceship inexplicably begins to break down.

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Movie Review: “Patriots Day”

Starring
Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michelle Monaghan, Jimmy O. Yang, Melissa Benoist
Director
Peter Berg

Over the last few years, director Peter Berg has carved out a nice little niche for himself making unapologetically patriotic films about real-life heroism in the face of adversity. Much like “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon,” Berg’s third collaboration with Mark Wahlberg doesn’t really have anything important to say politically, but it’s their finest movie to date and perhaps their most meaningful one due to the actor’s close ties to the city of Boston. Though some people will question whether “Patriots Day” arrives too soon after the true events that inspired the film, Berg does the story justice with his gripping yet tactful retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the five-day investigation that followed.

The movie begins on the morning of April 15, 2013 and introduces several of the key players involved in the tragic event, including Boston cop Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), Chinese exchange student Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), Watertown police officer Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) and the bombers themselves, Kyrgyzstani-American brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, respectively), who detonate the homemade bombs about four hours into the race and then return home to watch the ensuing chaos on TV. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials work together under the guidance of FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) to recreate the crime scene and comb through hours of video surveillance in order to identify the suspects, eventually leading to a manhunt through the streets of Boston and the surrounding suburbs to capture them.

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Movie Review: “Sing”

Starring
Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, John C. Reilly
Director
Garth Jennings

Illumination Entertainment prints money. Their three most recent films (“Despicable Me 2,” “Minions” and “The Secret Life of Pets”) have raked in just under $3 billion combined, with an average budget per film of $75 million (which is roughly half what Disney and Pixar spend on their films). As business models go, it’s hard to come up with a better one. On the other hand, those Illumination films range in quality from aggressively mediocre to downright bad, and in 10 years, they’ll all be forgotten. If Pixar films are a blue chip stock, Illumination films are day trader profits; it’s all about the now, hence the emphasis on merchandising over story.

“Sing” appeared to be aiming (slightly) higher than its most recent predecessors in terms of quality, but it falls victim to the same trappings as the others, namely a script that feels as though it wasn’t touched by human hands until the third act. The first hour is a laundry list of overused tropes, including a few that are so outdated that their presence here beggars belief.

Koala bear Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a theater owner in desperate need of a hit. He decides that his newest show will be a singing competition, and when the grand prize amount is moved two decimal points to the right thanks to a series of events both gross and absurd, Buster is surprised to see that he has a bevy of talent to choose from at auditions (but doesn’t yet know why). The ones to make the final cut are classically trained mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane), hausfrau pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), German pig Gunter (Nick Kroll), sensitive gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) and teen punk porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson. Yes, Scarlett Johannson plays a teenager). Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with pipes for days, went to audition but is terrified of performing in front of an audience and is bullied off stage by Mike. She goes to audition a second time, and Buster asks her to be his stage hand without ever hearing her sing. This turns out to be a very good thing for all concerned, for obvious reasons.

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Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Starring
Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tuydk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang
Director
Gareth Edwards

With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” director Gareth Edwards has made an entertaining and intense, if mildly frustrating, war picture set in a galaxy far, far away. As a huge blockbuster, its tone, morally ambiguous characters and often bleak resolutions set it apart from standard studio fare. The first standalone Star Wars picture is sometimes as admirable as it is enjoyable, but it also has some glaring problems that are clearly holding the movie back from reaching its full potential. The good news is that it’s still a fine start to this new branch of standalone Star Wars stories.

The story opens with a young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) seeing her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), being taken away by the Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in order to complete construction on a powerful space station called the Death Star. After her father is kidnapped, Jyn is raised by rebel-turned-extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a standout character who’s barely human. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script then cuts to an older, more dangerous Jyn in custody of the Empire. She’s been living much of her life under pseudonyms until she’s intercepted by Rebel forces and commanded to lead them to Saw Gerrera. Leading the mission are Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who doesn’t trust Jyn, and a quippy, rewired Imperial droid named K2-SO (Alan Tudyk), who calculates that the odds she will betray them are strong. In the end, however, Jyn agrees to join the small band of rebels in an attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star.

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