(On Cable TV, September 2017) Videogame movie adaptations have a terrible track record, and Assassin’s Creed won’t do much to counter the prevailing opinion. Some things that only make sense when you have a game controller in your hands don’t survive the transition to the big screen very well, which is demonstrated as Assassin’s Creed piles up a mythology that sounds ludicrous from the first time “genetic memory” is mentioned. Even after watching its conclusion, I remain unconvinced that the Assassins are the good guys we’re supposed to be cheering for (and the film does have an unexamined propensity for using violence as a tool that I find off-putting for all sorts of reasons, but again: look at the source material). It doesn’t help that the plot seems to be twisting itself in all sorts of needlessly pointless shapes, grandly referring to things that are of no interest to most viewers. (Deep and sombre contemplation of a “leap of faith” had me scurrying to the nearest explanatory web page, only to discover that it was an overblown game mechanic.) Still, even as mired in its own lore as Assassin’s Creed can be, it does sport one or two interesting things. Michael Fassbender is vastly overqualified as the lead actor, but he does bring his own kind of interest to the proceedings, helped along by Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons. The quality of the images show just how well CGI can now be used to create historical environments and bathe the rest of the film in gauzy haze. The production values are very good, including some impressive costume and set design work in its historical segments. Sadly, little of this leads to a film that can be enjoyed. In between the lengthy moments in which nothing happens, the ludicrous mythology, the confused morals and the self-important nonsense that passes off as dialogue, Assassin’s Creed remains a disappointment and another piece of evidence that no one has yet mastered how to bring interactive entertainment to the movies.
(Video On-Demand, March 2017) As someone with supposedly professional movie criticism credentials, I loathe to dislike a movie because of an unhappy ending, but here I am now thinking about Allied and what sticks in my craw is the ending. Much of it has to do with expectations set up much earlier in the movie. Allied does begin, after all, with a first act in which two likable heroes meet in WW2 Casablanca, fall in love and kill some Nazis in a guns-blazing action sequence. It’s fun and games and doesn’t really represent the rest of the film, which goes back to England for some rainy gloomy counter-espionage drama. It gets less and less triumphant as it goes on, while Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are perhaps too successful in creating sympathy for their characters—by the time we see there is no issue for both of them, it’s too late. Otherwise, director Robert Zemeckis is up to his usual technically demanding standards in presenting a World-War 2 drama with flair and theatrics—there’s a love-in-a-sandstorm sequence that’s both effective and over-the-top, a decent recreation of covert work tension and fancy camera moves. While the film exploits WW2 spy tropes for drama, it remains grounded in some reality. (Well, other than Brad Pitt speaking French—while he’s supposed to be a Franco-Ontarian like myself, his French sounds exactly like an Englishman reciting European French phonetically—and no amount of in-script joshing about it can compensate.) A shame about the downbeat ending, then, because otherwise Allied is semi-successful at what it tried to do. Although, what can I say—I’m a guy. Spies, guns and car chases work better than tragic romance.