by Adam Riske
Assassin’s Creed – I’m not one of those people who cross their fingers hoping video game movies are good. I’m in the camp that looks forward to them being kind of bad, especially during this part of the year ( "prestige" season). It’s comforting at this point because it’s a genre that delivers the “goods” (“bads” may be more appropriate) with consistency. So for the first 30 minutes of Assassin’s Creed, I was sitting in the theater thinking “people are being too hard on this,” but then I gear-shifted and fell comfortably into the consensus. The movie gets more and more nonsensical as it progresses but not in a fun way; more in a dull way where you can’t even enjoy the movie on its own terms. Michael Fassbender cares and that sustained me for a while plus some of the 15th century Spain action set-pieces are interesting to look at (it’s a neat visual, the way they introduce you into that setting each time Fassbender’s character enters the virtual reality) but a parade of characters where you barely know their names, let alone character motivations, ultimately make Assassin’s Creed a slog.
Why Him? – This movie made me laugh just enough to not dislike it. Why Him? comes from director John Hamburg, who’s a veteran of a handful of Ben Stiller comedies and who previously directed I Love You, Man. Coincidentally, I caught I Love You, Man on cable again recently and I still really enjoy that movie. Why Him? is not as good, and I think a reason why is because it’s more set-piece driven and less about character interaction with smart writing and funny people delivering those lines. I’m not trying to bag on James Franco or Bryan Cranston (I like both in general and both in Why Him?), but they don’t have any special chemistry to make the movie memorable. It’s fine and disposable. It feels like a lot of Judd Apatow productions from a few years ago, where there’s some raunchy behavior, a lot of sweetness but ultimately the movie is easy to forget. This is a movie made to fill out a DVD 4-pack.
Fences –Denzel Washington would get my vote for Best Actor of the year because he’s terrific in Fences and it features THE MOST acting. Dude acts his face off in Fences (as well as Viola Davis, who is almost always great except for Suicide Squad…that movie takes down everything), and as a moviegoer who enjoys watching acting maybe more than any other facet of the medium, this was a real treat. I’ve heard criticism that Washington doesn’t “open up” the movie Fences so it still feels stage-bound, but I’m perfectly fine with that. I don’t get out to see live theater as much as I would like, so seeing something that’s more like a play was a unique experience for me which I enjoyed. If for no other reason, I appreciate Fences because it is my introduction to the writing of August Wilson (and probably is for a lot of people) and for that I feel fortunate. Fences is a tough movie, tougher than something like Manchester By the Sea imho, because it’s a much angrier movie and without all the gallows humor. It’s an experience that got under my skin, similar to how the Brad Pitt sequences in The Tree of Life are because they feel so authentic and suffocating. Despite the dialogue being poetic, the emotions and situations are messy and ugly, with lead characters that have the capacity to be much more than one single type.
Have you seen any of these films? What were your thoughts?