Mini-Reviews: Jackie, Assassin’s Creed, Hidden Figures, Passengers & Sing

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Jackie

Director: Pablo Larrain

Writer: Noah Oppenheim

Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella, Beth Grant, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson and John Hurt

Synopsis: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

 

I’ll admit, I didn’t know too much after Jackie Kennedy before the film, besides of course her being the First Lady, and being the widow of John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated when riding around Dallas. It’s a bit of shame that that’s the only thing most people, probably, know about her. However, here in Jackie, we get to see a glimpse of what she potentially – films based on true stories are already up for interpretation – through after her husband was shot.

The film starts off with a reporter, played by Billy Crudup, coming up to the house in Massachusetts where Jackie (Natalie Portman) is staying. The reporter starts to ask her questions and we flashblack to a couple of different events: her televised tour of the White House in 1961 and the week of the assassination. Through all of it, we see Jackie as she deals with the tour, and after the assassination of her husband, the grief of she is consumed by and how history will remember him.

Jackie is not an easy film to watch, not because it’s not any good, but because the majority of the film is Jackie Kennedy trying to keep herself composed after losing her husband. And I don’t know about most people, but I think some people sometimes forget that Jackie didn’t lose the President of the United States, she lost her husband, and that’s something the film bring up. Jackie lost her husband that just so happens to be the President. It’s a fine line that the film balances pretty well.

Another fine line the film balances is not making Jackie too much of a sympathetic character. The film has no problem making her a flawed person, and if you find her actions odd or even questionable, you’re not alone. The film isn’t there to make Jackie a saint, even though she lost her husband, the things she does make you believable she may be just a bit unstable. But that’s also the beauty of Jackie, Natalie Portman does an impressive job of creating and explore the layers to this public figure that went through it all, and through a very personal tragedy in the public eye. Once you get past the accent, you can really enjoy watching Portman hit every emotion to a tee.

All in all, Jackie rests in the capable hands of Natalie Portman as she brings Jackie Kennedy to life and walks a fine line between sympathetic and flawed that makes the film and character feel real.

Jackie

4.5 out of 5

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Assassin’s Creed

Director: Justin Kurzel

Writers: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael Kenneth Williams, Denis Menochet, Ariane Labed, Matias Varela, Callum Turner, Khalid Abdalla, Hovik Keuchkerian, Brendan Gleeson, and Charlotte Rampling

Synopsis: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguliar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassin’s society.

 

Based off the highly popular and successful video game series, Assassin’s Creed was many people’s hopes to finally have a good, or at least descent, video game film. Well, while the film has some really cool and great moments, Assassin’s Creed is not the film that will change people’s perspective of the video game films. Also, for fans of the game, the film doesn’t follow a lead character from the games, but does have some big elements – at least from the games that I have played.

The film opens with a crawl of text that sets up the historic storyline and gives us the glimpse of the Assassins and their fight with the Templar. The film then jumps time as we see a young Cal finding his mother killed and his father the prime suspect. We jump again as see Cal (Michael Fassbender) getting executed to only wake up in a mysterious facility owned by Abstergo Industries. It’s there he meets Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), the daughter of the company’s CEO, played by Jeremy Irons, who runs the Animus project. A device that allows the user to see, feel and experience their ancestor’s life and memoires.

Cal finds out that he’s part of the company’s latest big project to find the Apple of Eden. The idea is the Apple of Eden will eradicate free will. In order to get the artifact they need Cal to get the memories of his 15th Century ancestor in Spain, Aguilar de Nerha, who was the last to have seen the Apple.

The film has a descent set-up, but the problem becomes the film moves too fast for its own good, and doesn’t live any of the characters breath. The first time we meet Cal really is right before he’s executed for a crime of killing someone – we find out later that he may have deserved it, but it felt like a throwaway line – but Cal is just someone walking through the paces. We never really feel connected to Cal in the real-world, which is a bit of a bad sign considering we spend a lot more time in the real-world than the past. Speaking of the past, that’s when we get to see Fassbender shine to the extreme. Aguilar doesn’t need to say much as his presences is enough to tell the story. Next to him is Ariane Labed’s Maria, who unfortunately doesn’t get fleshed out as much as she should, but shines in her small screen time with Aguilar.

The rest of the cast is just okay. Marion Cotillard’s Sofia is there to lead the “science” to the audience and give the feeling that she actually cares about Cal, while Jeremy Irons does the best he can with what he’s given. Brendan Gleeson, Michael Kenneth Williams and Charlotte Rampling are heavily underused in their small roles which is shameful in a lot of ways.

The saving grace in the film is all the past scenes. It also happens to be where most of the action takes place. Combined with the heavy score, the action scenes make the film actually worthwhile, and once they stop, it does take a lot of the air away from you. It could have also helped that all the present/real world scenes fall rather flat and the concept of what they want the Apple of Eden seems rather, to not make it sound harsh, stupid. There’s also the “bleeding effect” concept that is rather cool, but near the end of the film the effect could have used better, especially since it seemed important.

All in all, Assassin’s Creed is a film that has a descent enough set-up, but the overall execution is poorly delivered. The action scenes make up for it, but it would have been better if they spent more time in the past than the present. Things aren’t fleshed out enough and the plan by the villains is rather dumb. Assassin’s Creed won’t change the opinion of video game movie doubters, but it’s serviceable enough.

Assassin’s Creed

3.5 out of 5

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Hidden Figures

Director: Theodore Melfi

Writers: Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, and Glen Powell

Synopsis: A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

 

Based on the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is set in the early days of the space race and is also based on a true story. We focus on three African-American women who work for NASA in Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer, and Mary (Janelle Monae). Katherine is a brilliant mathematician, Vaughan acts as the supervisor – although she isn’t – over the African-American “Computers” (the African-American women that worked the calculators), and Mary works with the engineers and hangs with the best of them. We follow the three as the space race comes to a head when Russia successfully sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit. Katherine is placed in the special task group to get the math right, Dorothy works to get her girls more important positions and be seen as an equal, while Mary takes the advice and tries to become a certified engineer. Each of them deal with their own hardships and discrimination in a time that was trying to progress.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really that excited for Hidden Figures, but I’m glad I went to watch the film. The film is really well done and has great performances by the whole cast that is lead by Henson, and Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison, the supervisor of the program. While the film follows Katherine, Dorothy and Mary, its Katherine that we mostly follow, which is fair considering we see her story at the very beginning of the film. Dorothy has to deal with Kirsten Dunst’s character Vivian Mitchell, and Janelle Moane’s Mary has a great story, but seems to take a backseat to Katherine’s and Dorothy’s arcs. Overall, their stories are an important part in NASA and the space race’s history, but each of them have their own part to play within the film itself.

The film does of course touch heavily on the race issues during the time. It doesn’t tiptoe around the issue too much, and shows how hard people of color, especially women, had during the time. There is a montage that involves Katherine running from building to building that effects her and her work, and while some will see it as heavy-handed or played out, it pays off in full effect later on in one of the most powerful scenes in the film, and one that is carried by Henson.

All in all, Hidden Figures is a great true story that many people may not know too much about. Carried together by its great cast, the film hardly lets up and if you feel yourself get angry over the treatment our main characters feel, I think the film has done its job.

Hidden Figures

4 out of 5

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Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum

Writer: Jon Spaihts

Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia

Synopsis: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

 

When you get two of the biggest and popular stars in Hollywood in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, you have to think it has to be great, right? Well, that is the case for Passengers, most of the time. The film follows Jim Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Lawrence), passengers on the spaceship Avalon that is destined to a new planet to start anew called Homestead II. However, the hibernation pods malfunction and they wake up ninety years too soon. With only a bartender android named Arthur (Michael Sheen), the two eventually develop feelings for one another until the ship starts to malfunction putting everyone still asleep and them in danger.

There is a lot more to Passengers than the marketing lets on, so I’ll keep everything to a minimal in this already mini-review. Like noted before, when Passengers works it really works. Everything is compelling, well-acted and Pratt and Lawrence’s chemistry is spot-on, with each getting their individual big moments. Sheen as Arthur the android bartender brings the comedic relief to the film.

I will admit, it’s a bit hard to talk about the big theme and decision a character makes in the film without spoiling something, but that decision is much better to see for yourself, instead of being spoiled. The decision is something that lingers throughout the film and when its bought up it really is the heart of the film. The good thing is the film doesn’t pick a side on it. It lets the characters really be weighed up it and feels like it lets you decide whether it was right.

The film does falter at times, and that’s when the film takes a plunge. The romance story almost gets too heavy handed in the sci-fi elements, but with Pratt and Lawrence leading the charge it makes it pretty okay.

All in all, Passengers has a good setup that works when it’s in full effect, but when the film slows down too much is when the film takes a dive.

Passengers

3.5 out of 5

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Sing

Directors: Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet

Writer: Garth Jennings

Voice Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Garth Jennings, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones and Rhea Perlman.

Synopsis: A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

 

Illumination Entertainment has been pushing Sing for a while now. The film has been promoted since early this summer, non-stop. This meant that the studio had really high hopes for the film. After seeing the final product, I can somewhat see why, but Sing doesn’t do too much to separate itself from the crowded animated crowd this year.

The film follows Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a koala bear who runs a failing theaters. Desperate to return the theater to its former glory he decides to put an open casting call for a singing competition. The casting call gets more attention than he thought after an error and the auditions bring a bevy of talent to Moon. The ones we follow are overworked housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson), smooth talker Mike (Seth MacFarlane), showman Gunter (Nick Kroll) and trying to break free from his father’s life of crime Johnny (Taron Egerton).

The film has other characters like a shy elephant in Meena (Tori Kelly), who actually can sing, but is too shy in front of crowds, John C. Reilly as Buster’s best friend Eddie, Jennifer Saunders as Eddie’s rich Grandmother, and director Garth Jennings as Buster’s secretary Miss Crawly.

Like I mentioned, Sing doesn’t really do anything special to separate itself from the other animated films this year with the expectation of having songs you may recognize. The characters are great when they have their individual moments to shine, but it’s nothing we having really seen before.

All in all, Sing has its moments, but compared to the other animated films released this year, it doesn’t really come that close. Filled with some genuinely funny moments, and standout song sequences, Sing is just an okay animated film.

Sing

3 out of 5

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‘Doctor Strange’ Review

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, and C. Robert Cargill

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Scott Adkins, Benjamin Bratt, and Tilda Swinton

Synopsis: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: There are two post-credit scenes.*

*Reviewer Note 3: I do think the best experience of watching the film is in 3D. I know the extra ticket price and 3D in general might be a pain, but I think it’s worth it to gain the full experience.*

 

 

It feels like the last three years, Marvel has released films that everyone has either doubts about or feels like Marvel is taking too big of a risk. First it was Guardians of the Galaxy, then Ant-Man, and this year is Doctor Strange. And of course, every year those doubts are proven wrong. Not only is Doctor Strange another great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it truly is unlike anything Marvel has ever done onscreen.

The film follows Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), highly popular but arrogant surgeon whose life gets turned upside when he’s in a sudden car accident that severely injuries his hands. When he runs out of options to gets his hands better, he heads to Nepal to search for someone that could potentially cure him. That person is The Ancient One (Swinton), who then reveals to Strange that her way is through the mystic arts. While Strange is learning things he never thought were possible, an old student of The Anicent One, Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to open a portal to The Dark Dimension and summon a dangerous entity in Dormammu.

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Like the previous films I’ve mentioned, Doctor Strange was a risk for Marvel since not many causal movie fans will know who Doctor Strange is, but more importantly, the film is adding something and putting front and center in the MCU: magic. The interdimensional aspect of the film only works because of director Scott Derrickson. He was able to bring some really great and awesome looking visual effects that I’ve rarely ever seen on film. It also helps that Derrickson has worked in horror, because you can see that in some of the shots, especially when the Dark Dimension comes into play. You will definitely walk away talking about the visuals of Doctor Strange. Also, for a film that delves into magic quite a bit, I was surprised how much hand-to-hand combat there was in the film. Not complaining, just an observation.

When it comes to the film itself, Doctor Strange does feel familiar in terms of what we’ve seen before from Marvel in the way of an origin story. We see the arrogant and egotistical character on the top of his game when suddenly something tragic happens and he’s having a self-made crisis until he has to rise to the occasion and prove himself. Of course, it’s always nice to see those stories play out, and Doctor Strange does enough to make that formula work for it, instead of against it.

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Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty much perfect as Doctor Stephen Strange. He finds the right balance of arrogance and likeability to keep us invested in his story until the very end. However, one of the big highlights – cast wise – is Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. “White-washing” controversy aside, which never made sense to me because it’s Tilda Swinton, she almost steals the show every time she’s onscreen. She also has her own balance of being a mentor, but someone who must keep her distance from people because of the responsibly of being the Sorcerer Supreme.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo has his own history before the film that is hinted at, but is a by-the-books kind of warrior that teaches Strange along the way. Benedict Wong’s Wong is another highlight of the film, although I wish we had a little more with him. When it comes to Mads Mikkelsen’s villain Kaecilius, I’m sure many will see him as another underdeveloped villain that doesn’t fix Marvel’s villain problem. I wouldn’t be doing a good job of a reviewer if I didn’t agree with that to some extent.

Kaecilius doesn’t see himself as a villain and that usually makes the best kind of villains. Everything he does he thinks is for a grander purpose and makes a sound enough reason for his actions when he goes face-to-face with Strange, something even he points out that sounds good in theory, but in action not so much. However, the thing that keeps us invest in Kaecilius’ story – even for a moment – is Mikkelsen, who is always great in everything he does, and the same can be said here. But, it would have been nice to spend more time with him, and even see just a bit on how he became the way he becomes onscreen instead of just being told.

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One of the biggest cast missteps is Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer. There’s no denying McAdams is a great actress, and anytime she’s in something you know she’s going to give one hundred percent. However, here, she entirely wasted. Palmer doesn’t add much to the story. She does have one key moment before the final act of the film, but that is about it. Although, many probably won’t know him too much, Michael Stuhlbarg pops in the film as Dr. Nicohemus West, a character from the comics, and somewhat rival to Strange, but it’s nothing more than a lesser supporting role.

All in all, Doctor Strange is truly unlike anything Marvel has ever done before in terms of visuals and the “out there-ness” of it all. While the film does have some familiar beat-for-beat origin story Marvel moments, and loses just a bit of steam in the final act, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton keeps us invest from start to finish.

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Doctor Strange

4 out of 5