Reeling it in: 'Sing' has chops; 'Assassin's Creed' stumbles

“Sing”

 

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 48 minutes

 

“Assassin’s Creed”

Twentieth Century Fox

1 hour, 55 minutes

 

This week, with Christmas break in full swing, I was able to make it to two different movies, but before we talk about them, I have a bone to pick. I don’t know who’s to blame, be it the corporate behemoth or the small-town locally owned, but for some reason our two movie theaters have taken to actively battling each other for audiences by showing some of the same movies at the same time. A few weeks ago it was “Trolls” and this week it’s “Sing.” Is this really necessary?

That question may sound facetious, but I’m serious, I’d like to know. I know that, when dealing with distributors, the big company is always going to have an advantage and that the smaller company has to fight to make sure they keep their place at the table. But I’ve been writing this column for over 15 years and I can only remember this ever happening before once, maybe twice. We have five screens here on the Central Kenai Peninsula, and they’ve always been able to balance the major and minor releases between the two theaters. It’s a common complaint that we don’t get some of the most critically praised independent films here because the bigger, often dumber movies edge them out, and I get it. The theaters have to make money somehow, and of course they’re going to fight over kids’ movies because those are the films that sell the most concessions.

But we in the audience are the losers in this battle because now there are effectively four screens instead of five. I don’t know what the solution is. One thing you can do is to politely tell the theater managers how you feel. Another is, when the theater actually brings something smaller and independent, like they did with “Arrival,” for example, go out and see it. Vote with your wallet and maybe we’ll start getting more variety instead of less.

OK — got that off my chest. Now, about these two movies. They have nothing to do with each other so I’m not going to try and build a common thread.

“Sing,” the first movie I saw, is the latest animated epic from Illumination, the folks that brought you the “Despicable Me” franchise, among others. I’ve heard bad things said about this film, but I enjoyed it. It’s not an all-timer, but it has a spark and a specific kind of reality that I particularly keyed into.

It’s the story of a koala bear with a dream. Buster Moon has wanted to be in the theater from the time he was but a cub. Taking the meager inheritance his father left him, Buster is able to purchase a dilapidated old theater, fix it up and, on a shoestring, put on regular productions.

Unfortunately, the shows are flops and Buster’s reached the end of the line. Unless he can come up with a bundle of money and fast, the bank is going to repossess the Moon Theatre. Desperate, Buster hits upon the idea of a singing contest, one where local talent will bring audiences out of the woodwork to listen to their neighbors warble up on the big stage. It’s not a bad idea, but will an under-appreciated pig, a couple of moody teens (a gorilla and a porcupine), a con-artist mouse, and an elephant with stage fright draw in the big crowds? Only time will tell.

“Sing” isn’t necessarily great — the animation is nothing to write home about and the story is pretty predictable, but it’s also sweet and the songs are undeniably fun. Watching all the different animals audition, some of which is seen in the trailers, was a blast. There are lots of big name stars in the film, but aside from Matthew McConaughy, you probably won’t notice.

The characters are entertaining, and genial, for the most part. But what I enjoyed most about the film is true to the life of a small theater it seemed. I know all about the difficulties of trying figure out what will bring out an audience. I know all about how hard it is to fund a show when you have no idea whether it’s going to make a profit. The calculation that goes into writing or casting a show about what’s going to attract the largest group of viewers. The hard work that goes into endless rehearsals. The tech. The promotion. And last but not least, the unique jolt you get from standing on stage under the bright lights and sharing in the energy of an entire room of people.

“Sing” is fun for all, but feels specifically made by and for theater people. Grade: B+

The other film I watched was not nearly as successful, and definitely not made for theater people. “Assassin’s Creed” is the latest in a long and increasingly desperate line of movie flops adapted from video games. I don’t know why, exactly, Hollywood seems unable to bridge the gap, but “Creed” like many of the others, collapses under the weight of its convoluted plot.

The film takes place in the modern day where a condemned man is strapped onto a table and executed, but is miraculously revived by a mysterious company searching for an ancient biblical artifact. Our hero, Cal, played by Magneto himself, Michael Fassbender, is the direct descendent of Aguilar de Nerha, a fifteenth-century member of a group of assassins bound to keep said artifact hidden. You can see where conflict might arise.

Through a preposterous mechanism, a giant mechanical arm called the Animus, Cal is transported back in time to relive the genetic memories of his forebear. This involves a lot of leaping, kicking, and stabbing, which looks cool while the movie is in 1492, but pretty goofy in 2016.

“Assassin’s Creed” boasts an impressive pedigree, suggesting the studio had high confidence that this film would work. In addition to Fassbender, we have Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard, as well as Charlotte Rampling and Brendon Gleeson in smaller roles.

It’s not the acting, nor is it the visual sense of the film’s director, relative newcomer Justin Kurzel, that kills this film, however. The direction is haphazard, unfortunately, the film is poorly paced, and worst of all, the story is just goofy. Fassbender’s assassin can swan dive off as many buildings as he wants, they’re never going to stick the landing.

Grade: C

“Sing” is rated PG for mild rude humor.

“Assassin’s Creed” is rated PG-13 for violence and language.

 

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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