REVIEW: Warcraft

8 06 2016

A few years ago, I spent some weeks studying abroad in Argentina. I knew enough Spanish to converse and survive, though not nearly enough to where I could fully understand Spanish-language programming. On occasion, however, I would watch shows on television with my host mom that had no English subtitles.

Those shows made more sense than Duncan Jones’ “Warcraft.”

The film begins with an ominous prologue, foregrounding the conflict ahead by pointing to a period in time where humans and orcs became enemies. Then, speed ahead to the present day in “Warcraft,” and it feels like being dropped in part four of a series. Familiar scenes, discernible settings and recognizable powers abound, but none of them come with any kind of context or explanation.

In many ways, “Warcraft” is the antithesis of Jones’ last film, “Source Code” – a work of that disappearing breed of mid-range budgeted original sci-fi. That 2011 film derives from a high concept, and once again, he chooses to dole out precious little exposition to explain the world. Yet viewers could catch on because it was rooted in humanity and character. There was something intrinsic to pull us in.

“Warcraft” comes with no such hook, instead leaving in the cold those without an extensive knowledge of the MMORPG.  At least it kicked me off early, leaving me to watch a fast-moving carousel coming unhinged by the second. (Seriously, this makes M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” look like a paragon of narrative cohesion.) The film feels less like a movie and more like a YouTube playlist shuffling through deleted scenes of “Avatar,” “John Carter” and “The Hobbit.” While the effects – particularly motion-capture – look impressive, they mean jack squat with internal logic entirely absent.

All the money and technical wizardry on display is quite literally in service of nothing. Why spend $160 million on a spectacle of a fantasy film when production value is all that separates it from a direct-to-Redbox “Lord of the Rings” knockoff? The filmmaking team might as well have just pretended “Warcraft” took place in Middle Earth since they can never satisfactorily explain the tribes and the conflicts of this world.

Truly, the only people who can eke out a small victory from the film are the live-action performers such as Travis Fimmel, Ben Schnetzre, Dominic Cooper and Paula Patton. At least Universal’s marketing focused on the computer-generated creatures. They might be able to escape “Warcraft” relatively unscathed by what would otherwise by a substantial blemish on their careers. Everyone else, likely (and sadly) including Jones, is probably not so lucky. D-1star





REVIEW: Source Code

9 07 2011

Part “Inception” and part “Groundhog Day,” Duncan Jones’ sophomore directing effort “Source Code” is a fully engrossing thriller that blends the best aspects of both and reminds us how a good action movie should make us feel.  It’s cleverly written, masterfully directed, and potently acted.  It maintains an uncannily even keel while juggling action, mystery, and even some wit and heart.  Come December, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is still one of my favorites of the year.

The movie’s captivating sci-fi premise is executed admirably and with precision, largely thanks to how screenwriter Ben Ripley insists on making it so simple.  “Source Code” reminds us that original and complex aren’t necessarily synonyms on screen.  In about the time that it took “Inception” to lay out its exposition, Ripley gets us in and out of the source code, never making us feel lost or confused for a second.  Even at its short running time of under an hour and a half, we never feel like shorted in terms of story or entertainment.

The titular program allows Captain Colter Stevens, played with cunning and intensity by Jake Gyllenhaal, to relive the 8 minutes before a bomb explodes on a train outside of Chicago in the body of teacher Sean Fentress.  As he switches back and forth between finding the terrorist inside the source code and figuring out his own status outside, Stevens is putting together more than just an elaborate puzzle – he’s piecing together his life.  The stakes are high, and Gyllenhaal along with Vera Farmiga’s stone-faced – but not unemotionally robotic – webcam operator play them as such.  The result is that we don’t just want to sit back and watch the characters put the pieces together; we want to join in from the other side of the screen.

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REVIEW: Moon

17 02 2010

It’s pretty obvious that Duncan Jones’ “Moon” draws a great deal of inspiration from sci-fi classics like “Alien.”  Jones manages to nail one aspect of these movies: their simplicity.  However, this works directly against Jones’ ambitious movie, which tries so hard to have nuances and complexities.  But the unfortunate reality is that the story is actually quite vapid and dull.

Jones’ script is most urgently lacking in emotion.  Sure, it’s a subtle portrait of Sam Bell, the Lunar Industries employee on the moon base, and the steep toll that three years of solitude takes on his mental state.  But is it too much to ask for hints of passion or fire?  I don’t mind a build-up, yet Jones doesn’t give us much of a payoff for our waiting.  “Moon” is tormentingly boring to a point where I had to repeatedly wake myself up while watching it.

The only fascinating thing to watch here is Sam Rockwell.  The movie is his soliloquy, and the only actor that I can think gave a comparable performance in such a situation is Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.”  Hanks he is not, but Rockwell manages to command and excite where the script and movie in general doesn’t.  The two forces effectively cancel each other out, and we are left with a product that is just a smidgeon above average.

I can see “Moon” becoming a cult hit in the future.  It has the fan base, as shown by the great volume of people who signed Jones’ Internet petition for Rockwell’s consideration for the Best Actor Oscar.  It lacks the flavor or originality to score any sort of large public following, but I think a select group sees a lot more in this directorial debut than I do.  B- /