Movie Reviews: Assassin's Creed and Endless Poetry

This week Declan Burke looks at the latest video game movie adaptation with Assassin’s Creed and Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry.
Movie Reviews: Assassin's Creed and Endless Poetry

Assassin’s Creed (12A) stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, whom we first meet as a convicted murderer sentenced to death.

Executed according to plan, Callum miraculously wakes up to find himself in a programme run by Sofia (Marion Cotillard) and her father Rikkin (Jeremy Irons).

The programme, Sofia tells Callum, is intended to eradicate violence forever; to this end, Callum will be plugged into the Aminus, which will transport him back in time to the 15th century, where he will embody his ancestor Aguilar and fight alongside the brotherhood known as the Assassins to wrest control of the Apple of Eden from the malign Knights Templar.

Adapted from the phenomenally successful computer game of the same name and directed by Justin Kurzel, Assassin’s Creed is hokum of the first order.

On paper the script must have seemed a sure-fire winner: a tale of derring-do with Michael Fassbender as a mediaeval Spanish assassin, with Marion Cotillard playing the smouldering femme fatale just to spice things up a little further.

Unfortunately, they make movies on celluloid rather than paper, and Assassin’s Creed is such a hot mess that it’s difficult to credit the fact that Fassbender, Cotillard and Justin Kurzel combined to make the magnificent Macbeth as recently as last year (although, yes, the fact that one yarn was written by Shakespeare and the other by a team of computer programmers may have something to do with it).

Too much time is invested in the backstory that explains how Callum becomes Aguilar, which is, presumably, the bit that everyone skips when playing the computer game, although matters don’t improve hugely when Fassbender does start wielding his sword and pinging off arrows, given most of the action sequences consist of Aguilar and his comrades running away from the Templar Knights in a vigorous display of 15th century parkour.

The dialogue, meanwhile, is utterly ludicrous, and there are moments when Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling appear to be swallowing hard before blurting out the latest awkward chunk of exposition.

That said, it might still have been enormous fun if everyone involved wasn’t labouring under the delusion the frankly risible conceit underpinning the story is akin to a philosophical conundrum (the Apple of Eden, apparently, contains in its seeds the DNA that will allow the Knights Templar to breed disobedience, dissent and free will out of humanity), a notion teased out with all the po-faced earnestness of third-rate Greek tragedy.

While it’s understandable movie versions of computer games tend to be overly literal adaptations in order not to alienate the core audience, and can often appear to the uninitiated to resemble a frustratingly passive experience of watching rather than playing a game, the makers of Assassin’s Creed appear to have entirely overlooked the crucial element that renders a game a success, which is the player’s emotional engagement in the story.

Assassin’s Creed - **

Endless Poetry (18s) is writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s imaginative autobiographical valediction.

Born in Chile to Jewish parents, Alejandro (played here by the director’s son, Adan Jodorowsky) rejects his father’s desire he become a doctor, instead giving himself over to poetry, which he believes will ‘illuminate his path like a blazing butterfly.’

Unsurprisingly, given Alejandro Jodorowsky’s reputation as an avant-garde filmmaker, it’s a story told in offbeat fashion: Alejandro’s mother, Sara (Pamela Flores) sings her lines operatically, while the poet encounters the real-life Chilean artists who inspired the young Alejandro, such as Stella Diaz (also played by Flores), Enrique Lihn (Leandro Taub) and Nicanor Parra (Felipe Ríos).

The tone is bawdy and irreverent, and there are times – particularly when Jodorowsky depicts the self-absorption of ‘ultra- pianists’, ‘symbiotic dancers’ and ‘polypainters’ – when it’s hard to know whether Jodorowsky intends the film as a parody of creative excess or a love letter to those ‘who love art above all things.’

It is both, perhaps, but there’s no mistaking the poignant rage that underpins much of the tale, especially in the final confrontation between the young Alejandro and his domineering father, Jaime (also played by one of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s sons, Brontis Jodorowsky), as the aspiring poet and artist takes his leave of family and home in a bid to forge a future ‘in a world in which poetry no longer exists.’

Adan Jodorowsky is in wonderfully expressive form here in a very difficult role, imbuing his real-life father with an endearing naivete, and he gets superb support from Pamela Flores in her differing dual roles.

Absurd, playful and archly comic, Endless Poetry is a surreal portrait of the artist as a young man.

Endless Poetry - ****

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