MACBETH (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and brief Sexuality

Macbeth poster

Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Written by: Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie & Todd Louiso

(based on the play MACBETH by William Shakespeare)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki & David Thewlis

In the vast history of the English language, there has been no figure more influential or important than William Shakespeare. Reaching his popularity in Elizabethan London, Shakespeare penned 38 known plays. Some of these were histories (RICHARD III, HENRY V). Others were comedies (THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE). While these types of plays are great in their own ways, his tragedies have always struck a special place in my heart. Always revolving around one person’s downward (involving politics in CORIOLANUS, brought on by revenge in TITUS, etc.), these plays stand out as powerful works that function on both a primal level through their decidedly depressing emotions and on more sophisticated ground given the eloquent dialogue and complex characters. MACBETH, one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, has been adapted onto the stage and screen many times. With his second feature, director Justin Kurzel has impressively crafted what could very well go down as the definitive cinematic version of the “Scottish Play.”

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Macbeth is a Scottish general fighting for King Duncan in a violent civil war. After winning a particularly bloody battle, Macbeth and Banquo (his best friend and fellow general) come across a congregation of witches. These weird sisters prophesy that Macbeth will be crowned king. Initially writing off the strange premonition as the ramblings of some crazy women, Macbeth soon finds himself with an opportunity to dine with King Duncan. Spurred on by the urging of his cunning wife, Macbeth murders the Duncan and is crowned King of Scotland. Lady Macbeth starts to regret their evil deed, Macbeth slips slowly into madness, and a rebellion is beginning to brew in the countryside.

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The key to any good Shakespeare adaptation usually comes in the form of great performances. While there’s so much more to address in this movie, I need to praise the performers who perfectly encapsulate the complex cast of characters. Michael Fassbender easily brings the title tragic hero to life through stellar line delivery and little physical tics. Fassbender’s Macbeth isn’t simply a mad tyrant rising to power. He’s also a traumatized soldier and a father dealing with the untimely loss of his child. Paddy Considine is instantly likable as Banquo, while Sean Harris channels a quiet rage as Macduff. Though he doesn’t have a huge role, David Thewlis makes a strong impression as King Duncan. The real show-stopper is Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth. She’s remarkably unsympathetic in the first half of the film and then gradually earns some unexpected (and probably undeserved) sympathy from the viewer as the story moves forward.

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In any cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare, obvious changes need to be made in translating the original play onto film. What works on the stage won’t always work on the screen. Compacting Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy into a two-hour film leaves room for every important scene, but there are unconventional decisions in regards to how these moments are executed. The only major changes involving characters are there being more than three witches, only two assassins, and King Duncan having one son (as opposed to two). These are minor moves when you take into consideration how some of the play’s most famous speeches play out as well as a couple of dialogue-free sequences that add extra context to the characters. The Dagger speech is brilliantly translated with an addition that brings more weight to the words being spoken. Instead of following the play’s conclusion in a traditional way, a lot of ballsy decisions are made in the final 30 minutes of this film that somehow make Act V far more powerful than one could have possibly hoped for.

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On the technical side of things, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Every single frame looks beautiful. The fog-laden locations, elaborate sets, and convincing costumes are all aided by a soundtrack that sounds very appropriate to the time period of the story. As if the performances and unconventional choices weren’t doing enough to capture the melancholy tone of Shakespeare’s tragedy, these technical touches are icing on the bloody cake. It should also be noted that this is definitely one Shakespeare film that won’t be shown in many high school classrooms. The R rating is earned for graphic violence and two surprisingly sexual moments that fit perfectly into the context of the story. The former is demonstrated through a variety of scenes including a brutal finale that had me wincing. The latter comes from two sequences between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

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MACBETH is everything that I could have possibly hoped it would be and more. Unexpected twists on the often-visited Shakespeare tragedy make this interpretation stick out among its stiff competition. The performances are amazing, with Marion Cotillard being the best of the bunch. Stunning visuals, a beautiful soundtrack, and mature R-rated sensibilities only make it that much better. 2015’s MACBETH is as perfect as Shakespeare can be on the big screen.

Grade: A+

’71 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Disturbing Images, and Language throughout

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Directed by: Yann Demange

Written by: Gregory Burke

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Richard Dormer, Jack Lowden, Charlie Murphy, David Wilmot, Sean Harris, Killian Scott & Sam Reid

To be honest, I didn’t know much about The Troubles (a decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland) before going into ’71. All I knew was that there was a pretty insane span of time in which Protestants and Catholics were at each others’ throats in Ireland with bloody riots and terrorist bombings that took place throughout this time period. You can enter ’71 knowing full well about Ireland’s past or have no clue what this film is about. Neither of these viewpoints will make a bit of difference. This is one intense flick that displays great talent from director Yann Demange (who previously helmed TV’s DEAD SET) and the viewer is kept on the edge of their seat from beginning to end either way.

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Gary Hook is a new British Army recruit. He’s taking care of his much younger brother and has decided to serve his country. Hook’s first assignment puts him into a scenario that’s dangerous from the get-go. He’s sent to a particularly threatening road where Protestants and Catholics live across the street from one another. What began as a simple house raid becomes something else entirely as a riot is sparked and Hook finds himself separated from his troop (who abandon him in the chaos). Stuck behind enemy lines and with a pack of angry IRA members on his tail, Hook tries to navigate his way through the streets and survive the night long enough to be rescued by his fellow soldiers.

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’71 kicks off with real promise as we watch Hook going through rigorous boot camp exercises. Not much is known about this protagonist other than him having a younger brother to take care of. Jack O’Connell (who is fast becoming a rising star) sells the character of Hook through body language, a few lines and mannerisms. Though he tells his brother not to worry and that he’s technically not even leaving the country, we can clearly tell that this young soldier is uncomfortable and that turns into all-out panic once the chaos breaks loose on the streets of Belfast.

'71, Jack O'Connell (center), 2014. ©Roadside Attractions

Seeing as the premise of ’71 is based around real events that took place in Ireland’s streets, this film could have easily become a cheap exploitation flick in the wrong hands. However, there’s a careful attention to detail and way of looking at the story that paints both sides on this conflict as deeply, fatally flawed. The soldiers aren’t simple heroes rushing in to save the day and the Catholics aren’t just cookie-cutter villains. We see good and bad on both sides and Hook just happens to be caught in a dangerous spot in-between them.

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The way in which the chaos is presented on the screen gives the viewer more to chew on than bloody action clichés. This movie gets downright brutal and has some grisly moments (especially in the bloody riot that starts within the first 20 minutes of the film) that made me gasp. The story always maintains a level of stark realism that keeps the viewer from enjoying this as a popcorn action flick. ’71 keeps a fast pace and grimy atmosphere going as we get the sense that there’s danger lurking around every corner. Little touches throughout the film and attention to detail (I especially liked a child actor who made a strong impression in a handful of scenes) make this film into something truly special.

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Aside from Jack O’Connell’s powerful performance, the rest of the cast put in stellar work as well. I especially liked Sean Harris (the baddie from ROGUE NATION) as a commanding officer who doesn’t seem to be giving Hook’s disappearance the attention that it so desperately deserves. With all of this praise being lavished on the movie, I have to say that it loses a bit of steam near the finale and nearly relies on a few well-worn clichés as a result. However, it saves itself from going down a familiar well-traveled path with a few unconventional and challenging touches to the ending that don’t play out the way you would expect them to…for a number of reasons.

'71, Jack O'Connell, 2014. ©Roadside Attractions

’71 hit UK theaters last year and made its way to American shores earlier this year. Though the film has an insanely high Rotten Tomatoes score and people are singing its praises online, it seems to have gone by relatively unnoticed by the general public. ’71 gripped me from the first frame until the end credits and had me fully engrossed in the survival story that I was watching. This movie captures chaos and desperation on the screen in a way that few films have in recent years. I highly recommend checking out ’71. This is one of 2015’s hidden gems!

Grade: A-

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Action and Violence, and brief partial Nudity

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Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Written by: Christopher McQuarrie

(based on the TV series MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE by Bruce Geller)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Simon McBurney & Zhang Jingchu

Before June of this year, I had never seen a single MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie. I didn’t grow up watching the series, so I didn’t have any nostalgia for it. Watching those four movies for the first time, I saw the series like this: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is big dumb fun, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 tries too hard to be cool, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III has the best villain of the series, and GHOST PROTOCOL is a better-than-expected fourth installment. All my preparation of watching those films was for ROGUE NATION (the fifth film in the franchise) and I’m so glad I got into this series at all, because MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION is one of the best films to hit the big screen this summer!

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IMF agent Ethan Hunt is convinced that there’s a threat out there far bigger than any he’s ever faced before. This enemy is a group known as The Syndicate. Though they only serve as tall-tales for the C.I.A. and the rest of IMF, Ethan discovers that the Syndicate is very real and have it out for him. They are an anti-IMF. They assassinate world leaders and collapse foreign economies. It’s a mastermind criminal group made to break societies. With IMF torn down by the C.I.A., only Ethan and a handful of former IMF agents (as well as a questionable femme fatale) have any hope of stopping this terrorist organization from completing their master plan.

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The plots in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise range from clichéd and stupid (a deadly virus being used by a terrorist, a madman armed with some nukes) to complicated and clever (a weapons dealer enacting revenge on an IMF agent). Having sat through all four films recently, I find ROGUE NATION’s plot to be the most complex story yet in the series. This feels like the most mature and adult MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie yet. It’s a result of the series slowly evolving over the later sequels. Tight editing and strong momentum make the film seem neat and compact in its 131-minute running time.

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It should come as no surprise that Tom Cruise slips right back into the role of Ethan Hunt with ease. As an action hero, there’s no denying that Cruise can still carry a blockbuster squarely on his shoulders. However, ROGUE NATION also lends bigger roles to the side characters this time around. Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner all have big parts to play. It was nice seeing them used as equal members of a team and not merely as means to an end. Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (coming off last summer’s awful HERCULES) plays one of the most interesting female characters in this franchise. You’re never fully certain which side she’s on, but her mere presence forces you to like her either way. While Philip Seymour Hoffman remains a vicious baddie who cannot be topped, Sean Harris plays my second-favorite villain in the series. He’s evil and calculating, but there’s also an understandable motivation behind his actions (explained as the film goes along). He was perfect in this role and can’t wait to see what he takes on next.

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Of course, what’s a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie without insane action scenes. Opening with an airplane stunt (that’s been posted in every piece of marketing for this film), ROGUE NATION packs a ton of adrenaline-pumping excitement into a story that knows where to place these crazy scenes. The gun fights and car chases don’t feel pointless or forced in the slightest. Instead, they weave right into the complex plot. One lengthy sequence set at an opera house was a special highlight for me. I was constantly on the edge of my seat through the whole film though. Every scene is riveting for one reason or another.

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It’s crazy how the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise seems to have come full circle and become the highest possible version of popcorn entertainment. However, this fifth film is far from big and dumb. Instead, it’s the most mature, complicated entry yet and made all the better for it. It was originally rumored that this fifth entry would be the final MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie and I can say that the franchise would have gone out on its highest note. However, if the sixth film (now in production) is anywhere near as accomplished and hugely entertaining as this fifth entry, bring it on! I have nothing negative to say about this summer blockbuster. I loved every second of ROGUE NATION!

Grade: A+

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, Grisly Images, Terror throughout, and Language

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Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Written by: Scott Derrickson & Paul Harris Boardman

(based on the book BEWARE THE NIGHT by Ralph Sarchie & Lisa Collier Cool)

Starring: Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, Joel McHale & Chris Coy

Scott Derrickson scared the ever-loving shit out of me with 2012’s SINISTER. With that film aside, the man really hasn’t got another solid horror flick to his name. EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE came off as a TV court-room drama mixed with a watered down version of THE EXORCIST and suffered from plenty of clichés as a result. In his latest offering, Derrickson goes back to the much traveled road of demonic possession with a different angle this time around. DELIVER US FROM EVIL is essentially a feature-length episode of COPS: Exorcist Edition. This is a disappointing and mostly bland police procedural that happens to have a demonic spin on it. It sounds like the recipe for a winner on the outside, but suffers from clichés from both the horror genre and the cop thrillers. It’s not horrible by any means, but barely passable is hardly the description that anybody wants to hear about a movie they’re paying to see on the big screen.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL, Eric Bana, 2014. ph: Andrew Schwartz/©Screen Gems/Courtesy Everett Collection

Based on the supposedly true experiences of cop-turned-demonologist Ralph Sarchie, DELIVER US FROM EVIL begins with a group of soldiers in the Middle East venturing into a foreboding cave. Faster than you can say Pazuzu, the men are ambushed by a mysterious force in the dark. Three years later in the Bronx, Ralph Sarchie is investigating a series of horrible crimes revolving around satanic rituals and demonic possession. Aided by a renegade priest, Ralph does everything within his power to put a stop to this evil force at work…but will it be enough?

DELIVER US FROM EVIL, back, from left: Joel McHale, Eric Bana, 2014. ph: Andrew Schwartz/©Screen

That’s the set up of this supernatural horror flick and it does have potential. The trailers and marketing material for DELIVER US FROM EVIL looked mighty scary, especially given how freaky SINISTER was. I had high hopes for this film and it just wound up being standard on nearly every level. The one thing that Scott Derrickson excels at is spooky atmosphere. While I was never scared, the visuals were gruesome and reminded me of SE7EN with demonic spirits. Every bloody opportunity in this deserved R rating is taken, although the film never becomes an out-and-out gorefest. I liked that every plot development was being treated with a state of seriousness, even though the script is strewn with clichés around every corner. Speaking of clichés…

DELIVER US FROM EVIL, Joel McHale, Eric Bana, 2014. ph: Andrew Schwartz/©Screen Gems/Courtesy

Damn near every jump scare is basically a loud stinger with an animal screeching (whether it be bats, dogs, cats, mice, or even lions in a zoo). It got grating and silly. I mean, shouldn’t the horror genre have moved past the cat jump scare at this point? Also, haven’t cop movies moved past the wise-cracking sarcastic partner? I ask this, because The Soup’s Joel McHale is cast as Ralph’s hardened partner whose always ready with a bad punchline in the face of danger. It may be because McHale has been seen as comedic actor for so long, but I couldn’t buy him as this serious badass police officer with a sense of humor. Eric Bana does a good job as Ralph, but that’s about all I can say about his performance. Edgar Ramirez is the best actor here as the most unusual priest and almost seems to be channeling an action hero style to his character. Every cast member portraying possessed victim does the typical hissy voices and animal characteristics, though the make-up job on them is decent enough.

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A couple of completely unnecessary things pad out the overly long running time as well. The movie takes its sweet time getting to the initial team-up of Bana and Ramirez’s characters. One might argue that it’s entirely too long of a first act. Then there’s the haphazardly constructed plotline of Ralph’s dark past resurfacing (complete with typical visions and canned children’s laughter meant to come off as unnerving). Finally, the tie-in to song lyrics from The Doors is just plain silly and seems to be used only as an excuse for the end credits to use Break On Through. Despite the solid atmosphere and creepy visuals, DELIVER US FROM EVIL suffers from a basic script and completely average execution. This is likely to go down as yet another forgettable horror flick that looked promising, but failed to deliver (pardon the pun).

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One reason for my mere apathetic response I felt at the end of DELIVER US FROM EVIL might be attributed to the complete excess of big screen demonic possession movies as of late (e.g. the awful DEVIL INSIDE, the bad RITE, the good LAST EXORCISM and its terrible sequel, and the passable POSSESSION). I can’t say that’s definitely the case though, seeing as plenty of good horror flicks bring fresh scares to well-worn formulas. Scott Derrickson’s DELIVER US FROM EVIL doesn’t come off as compelling or emotional or even frightening. It’s a film that sputters along from set piece to set piece, but never fully takes off. In some ways, that’s arguably worse than if it had just been an all-out disaster.

Grade: C

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