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La La Land is joyous, Lion will move you, and Fences gives chatty high drama

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ASSASSIN’S CREED: Last year it was Macbeth. This year Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are back together and again directed by Justin Kurzel in this clunker based on a series of computer games. I can only ask why? And why is Charlotte Rampling in here too. Jeremy Irons I can understand. He’s been in a movie based on a game before (Dungeons & Dragons) but this is new territory for the others, although Fassbender does play Magneto in the X-Men series. It just seems so mixed up and in this film doesn’t pay off much at all. The actors elevate the language but can’t budge the story.

 

It is new and not drawn from the nine games and their many offshoots. Marion and her dad (Irons) run a research lab where they resuscitate an executed murderer (Fassbender) and send his consciousness back to Spain at the time of the Inquisition. He had an ancestor back there and this activates his genetic memory.  It also throws him into the eternal war between the Knights Templar and the Assassins, or between strict control and free will. Yep, somebody thought that up. And somebody found the money to make the film. Some of it is quite entertaining. There’s a wagon chase just like the westerns used to give us and a great deal of swashbuckling. But those scenes are brief. The film keeps coming back to the lab where Fassbender’s body is attached to a giant mechanical arm, science funding and politics are argued and the story gets muddled further. I can’t imagine that fans of the games will approve.  (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres)  (2 out of 5)

WHY HIM ?: This seasonal comedy mulls over several incisive plot elements and then messes them all up. Father-daughter bonds? Tested painfully when she takes up with a crude, densely-tattooed, techno-millionaire who eternally spouts foul language and expansive ideas and in his living room has a stuffed moose preserved in its own urine. Over the top. Meanwhile, dad’s printing business is being killed by the paperless digital world. Valid issue, but uncommon in this film and you should see the resolution. Or better not.

 

James Franco is the tech mogul; Zoey Deutch is his soon-to-be fiancé, i.e. the daughter, and Bryan Cranston is the dad. Franco is often in coarse comedies like this (his frequent collaborator Jonah Hill wrote the story) but it’s tough to watch multiple-Emmy winner Cranston in this. He exudes decency and calm as the dad trying to come to an understanding with the wild personality his daughter intends to marry. Then he’s humiliated trying to operate a paperless spray-jet toilet. So funny is it, that his wife gets a go too. This movie is for you only if you must witness the two surviving members of Kiss, in full make-up, singing The First Noel. It’s unlikely to be seen anywhere else. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 1 ½ out of 5 

The two VanCity  Theatre films …

BEING 17: It’s not a world I know, but the story of these two teenage boys in France becoming gay lovers carries quite a bit of appeal. It’s acted, written and directed superbly and according to a review I read by a gay critic understands the nuances of what boys like that go through to learn and then accept what they are. That side was educational for me although the basic events in the story are compelling enough.

 

A farm boy (Corentin Fila) gets into recurring fights at school with a town boy (Kacey Mottet Klein) who keeps watching him and embarrasses him in class. He thinks he’s pretentious but then has to come live in the same house as him for a while. It’s an uneasy arrangement and the fights continue until one night over a joint the two relax and admit that it’s not hate that’s going on. There’s a remarkably realistic sex scene. How it got to that point and what follows is carefully charted in the script by Celine Sciamma and the direction of André Téchiné.  Both are known for intelligent coming of age stories. This is another one. (VanCity) 4 out of 5 

PETER AND THE FARM: This is probably the strangest film you can see this week, and probably the most real. Peter is a farmer in Vermont who loves to talk about himself, as he does to a documentary crew, and in the process comes to evaluate his life. He’s got plenty of highs and lows to recount. He’s had three wives, hates his son and hasn’t had a visit from his daughter in 19 years. The stories flow out of him about his alcoholism, his thoughts of suicide and watching society rebel against a meaningless culture. He calls his farm an oasis (“a paradise in the midst of ugliness”) but lets on that farming isn’t fun anymore (“the old man is slowing down and the weeds are speeding up”). Opinionated, cranky and great to listen to. Watch out though. When he slaughters a sheep it’s not pretty. (Van City) 3 ½ out of 5   

 

 

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