Alien: Covenant (Cinema Review)

15 – 123mins – 2017


 

THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP

Five years ago, when movie maestro Ridley Scott returned to the monster franchise he spawned back in 1979, the reaction from fans and critics alike was decidedly… mixed. To me, 2012’s Prometheus was a beautifully filmed sci-fi epic which teased appetisingly at the grander mythos of the Alien saga while introducing deeper and more universally resonant themes about faith, creation and the dangers of answering the unanswerable. I loved it, and have proudly rewatched it many times since, floored every time by its grace and grandeur.

… Keep Scuttling!

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Assassin’s Creed (Cinema Review)

12A – 115mins – 2016 – 3D


 

LEAP OF FASS

In an attempt to cure the ‘disease’ of violence, the Abstergo Foundation use Death Row inmates due to be executed for murder as pawns in their Animus Project, transporting the lab rats back into the memories of their descendants in the hope of locating the mythical lost Apple of Eden, which contains the genetic code for free will and will allow Abstergo scientists Sophie Rikken (Marion Cotillard) and her father Alan (Jeremy High-Rise Irons) to subjugate the human race. Anti-social pimp-killer Callum Lynch (Michael X-Men: Apocalypse Fassbender) – a descendant of 15th Century Assassin Aguilar de Nerha – has just been forced into Sophie’s programme…

…Keep Scuttling!

X-Men: Apocalypse (Cinema Review)

12A – 144mins – 2016 – 3D


 

MU WORLD ORDER

While I don’t tend to pay too much heed to reviews before I’ve watched a new release, my lackadaisical approach to seeing this sixth Marvel/20th Century Fox X-stalment (NINTH if we are to include the 2 Wolverine spin-offs and Deadpool) has meant that before taking my seat in the cinema yesterday evening I was well aware of the glut of two star write-ups Bryan Singer’s Days of Future Past follow-up has received.

Tying directly into the sting at the end of the previous film, X-Men: Apocalypse opens with a colourful-if-chaotic prologue set in Ancient Egypt, establishing the transferable abilities of premiere cyber-mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar “Poe Dameron” Isaac). Beneath my 3D glasses my eyes were struggling to keep up with the tumult of effects and exposition hastily edited together in a headache-induced blur of visual noise.

Not a good start, I thought, and if things stay like this for the following two-hours-and-twenty-minutes I can well understand the backlash… However, once the Stargate-esque opening title sequence concludes and we fast-forward to 1983 (this is the McAvoy rather than the Stewart continuity, in case Wade Wilson was asking), the action settles to a more measured pace, allowing you to appreciate the effort – and expense – put in to the shots.

That’s not to say that the locations settle, for his is still a large-scale, globe-encompassing blockbuster, with Berlin, Poland, Auschwitz, Cairo and New York all featuring in this prequel trilogy closer. Reawakened, Apocalypse – as Sahar Nur now prefers to be known – tours the planet to recruit the deadliest mutants to become his upgrade-enhanced “Four Horseman” and aid the invincible menace in ridding the modern world of the weak and returning Earth to the glory days when he was worshipped.

You could question why an immortal God-like monster with Apocalypse’s immense abilities requires assistants, but by roping in Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Steve Jobs Fassbender) to join his gang, the CG destruction is at least grounded in human drama. The man they used to call Magneto has been in hiding in Poland for the past decade, settling down with a loving wife and daughter in an attempt to put the White House calamity behind him. But when tragedy shatters his domestic bliss, Erik’s rage rises once more.

Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is also haunted by a ghost from his past, with his love for Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, returning from First Class) and his pain at having to wipe her memory still weighing him down. Time-stopper Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is also back in town on personal business, and Apocalypse really hits its stride when drama and spectacle collide. Speaking of spectacle, this film is at its most awe-inspiring when it lets loose with the violence, and I was surprised to see this still achieve a “12A” rating, as some of the bone-crushing and blood-letting is brutally intense.

Although you could argue that the stakes aren’t exactly as universe-definingly fateful as the film would like you to believe (after all, we know Apocalypse doesn’t succeed in wiping out mankind as we’ve seen 3 films set after these events), there is still much to enjoy and invest in here, with a stand out being a zipping set-piece soundtracked by Sweet Dreams Are Made of These perfectly encapsulating the period and timbre. A cameo from a certain adamantium-enabled man-imal (you know Hugh) is also claw-some, and as superfluous as it is, for continuity’s sake it’s nice to finally see how Professor X lost his locks.

Short of using Cerebro, I’m clueless as to why so many critics have given X-Men: Apocalypse such a rough time – while it is long and its bulging ensemble set-up is busy, it’s also fun, rounded and far from shallow. Yes, it takes an unnecessarily petty pot-shot at The Last Stand (“The third films are always the worst”), but Singer’s confident enough that his saga-stitching threequel is not equally as disappointing. Ignore the critics who want you to believe that it is (no doubt all for the sake of “ironically” utilizing the quote) and make this one X you do give another chance.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

Macbeth (DVD Review)

15 – 113mins – 2015


 

IMPERFECT SPEAKERS

“Fair is foul and foul is fair”-ly off-putting in this latest big-screen adaptation of the Scottish play. Despite receiving a slew of award nominations and critical praise aplenty, director Justin Kurzel – currently filming the Assassin’s Creed movie with his Macbeth leading man – has arthouse aspirations for Shakespearian theatre which simply put me in mind of the overblown disaster that was Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic Noah (2014).

Haunting orchestral music strong with strings soundtracks artistically choreographed, slow-mo heavy battle scenes in near-silhouette, with much of the action played out on what look to be soundstages backed with beautifully picturesque landscapes.

Steve Jobs’ versatile Michael Fassbender does an admirable job as the troubled Thane of Cawdor with murder on his mind, but this lofty retelling just feels far too obviously staged and unnatural, leaving me cold to the verbose human drama and “supernatural soliciting” which follows the grimy, mist-shrouded battlefields.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Steve Jobs (DVD Review)

15 – 117mins – 2015


THREE BYTES OF THE APPLE

“No-one sees the world the same way you do.”

Following his 2011 death from pancreatic cancer, Apple CEO and business icon Steve Jobs has already had his life put under the microscope in 2013’s middling Jobs, with Ashton Kutcher playing the divisive genius. Just three years later and Michael Fassbender is putting his toilet-rinsed feet into the quirky genius’s shoes in this adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s biography, directed by Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle and scripted by The West Wing supremo Aaron Sorkin.

Set backstage in the minutes before the launch of pivotal, potentially world-affecting products (Microsoft in 1984, the NeXT Black Cube in 1988 and the iMac 3 in 1998), Sorkin’s structure bravely chronicles Jobs’ incredible decades-spanning career in just three acts (interspersed with graphic-heavy infomercial-esque montages), while his verbose script pulls no punches in presenting an intimate portrayal of a man who put his striving for success above everything – and everyone.

“I don’t want people to dislike me; I’m indifferent to whether they dislike me.”

There’s no disputing Sorkin succeeds in crafting an inspiring and dramatic character study (even if questions have since been raised about the accuracy of his portrayal of Jobs’ insufferable personality), however despite a ramping up of the human drama in act three, my attention was waning due to the repetitive nature of all the seemingly life-long dramas somehow still raging.

“It’s like five minutes before every launch, people go to the bar, get drunk, then tell me what they REALLY think.”

By this final scene we are fourteen years on from the beginning of the film, yet the same jokes are still being told (“Andy? Which one?!”), the same magazine articles are still being referenced and the same faces still keep popping up with the same bitter gripes. Even Steve comments that the mother of his child has “had the same sinus infection since 1988!”

The phrase “reality distortion” is used in the film. Rather aptly, that’s exactly what Steve Jobs feels like – everything feels so convenient, so stagey and so precisely scripted. Its attention to callbacks is commendable, but it doesn’t feel at all realistic or progressive, and it begins to feel overtly reliant on nifty, back-slapping script conventions.

Despite being guilty of over-egging the man’s futile exasperation at living in Steve’s shadow, Seth Rogen (The Night Before) nonetheless delivers quite possibly his most emotionally-diverse performance to date as Apple co-founder and Apple II creator Steve “Woz” Wozniak, while Kate Winslet is next-to-unrecognisable as marketing exec and Jobs’ confidant, Joanna Hoffman.

As Steve steps out on stage to launch the iMac 3 in the films’ final moments, Boyle basks his leading man in a rousing, emphatic and messiah-like slow-mo eruption of applause and adoration, coercing the viewer to congratulate a man we have spent two hours being shown to be a flawed father, friend and business partner. Its at odds with what preceded it, sending out a muddy final message. He might well be a brilliant and accomplished genius, but “things don’t become so just because [Steve Jobs] say[s] so.”

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars