Making its way to Seattle last week for an unheralded run at the Pacific Place, then quickly dropped to a single show in town and shunted off to Tukwila’s Parkway Plaza was the latest film from the most singular artist working in mainstream American film today. As with every Terrence Malick film since his reemergence with 1998’s The Thin Red Line, Song to Song has been met with baffled derision by much of what passes for the Hollywood intelligentsia, that dense Ouroboros of movie reviewers, Oscar bloggers and self-appointed box office gurus that pass as journalists in our debased world. The complaints are familiar, cheap and lazy, ultimately sourced in the fact that Malick doesn’t make movies like They expect movies to be made. Unable to conceive of possibilities beyond their narrow imaginations, his refusal to conform is viewed alternately as pretension or incompetence (see for example Christopher Plummer’s whining about Malick during The Tree of Life‘s Oscar campaign that Malick didn’t know how to edit films, a complaint (I believe, perhaps uncharitably) ultimately sourced in the fact that Malick cut out most of Plummer’s performance in The New World). Malick doesn’t make conventional movies, and it’s easier to snark about twirling and poetry (the nerve!) than it is to wrestle with what he does make.
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Assassin’s Creed‘s principal visual motif, that of the same eagle seemingly flying all over the world in multiple different time periods, feels as head-slappingly obvious yet needlessly convoluted as the film it stitches together. Said film, of course, is in the long-standing tradition of movies based on video games that almost invariably fail to attract critical support (the only probable exceptions are the Resident Evil films by Paul W.S. Anderson and Takashi Miike’s Ace Attorney), but this particular incarnation’s failure is more puzzling than usual. Directed by Justin Kurzel, who helmed last year’s lurid but tedious adaptation of Macbeth, and featuring many returning collaborators from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw to lead actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, Assassin’s Creed possesses the talent to become a dynamic and thrilling movie. But it feels hampered by many aspects, neither embracing its video game origins nor providing any sort of compelling reason to exist.
Though the movie essentially takes place two timelines, and most of the physical action is set in 1492, it primarily follows the story of Callum Lynch (Fassbender), a convicted criminal sentenced to death, in present-day Spain. After undergoing a fake execution, he is brought to an organization known as Abstergo Industries and, under the supervision of Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Cotillard) and her father and CEO Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons), is connected to a device called the Animus. The contraption allows Callum to relive the memories of his ancestor Aguilar, a member of a group of assassins that has continually opposed the Templar Order, so that he may help Abstergo find the Apple of Eden, an ancient artifact that purportedly would allow the owner to control the free will of the entire human race.
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Opening this week at a few screens around town (the Uptown, the Seven Gables, along with the Grand in Tacoma) is the latest high-profile adaptation of a Shakespeare play, with Michael Fassbender as the Scottish usurper and Marion Cotillard as his ambitious wife. Directed by Justin Kurzel, this Macbeth proves a solid entry in what must be considered the Games of Thronesification of the historical film, with an outsized emphasis on the lurid details of medieval warfare. The brooding sense of doom, of course, comes right out of Shakespeare, but where previous adaptations by Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa found shadows and fog in the text, Kurzel finds blood. Whether that is an improvement or not I think depends a great deal on how important you feel verisimilitude is to realism. At its best, the film has some of the hallucinatory power that gives the play an eternal aura of mystery, like Nicolas Winding Refn’s psychotic Viking epic Valhalla Rising, but with words. At its worst, it’s simply Fassbender looking confused and mumbling incoherently.
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