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

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REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

4 01 2012

Leave it to Brad Bird, a member of the Pixar brain trust responsible for such triumphs as “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” to figure out how to make the year’s purest, most enjoyable action movie with “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.”  For 135 minutes, the adrenaline pumps steadily as the eye is treated to a potpourri of dazzling stunts followed by stunning cinematography.  It’s skin deep, sure, but Tom Cruise has been unabashedly likewise for years, so who cares?  Movies like this are supposed to be fun, and so often they aren’t.  This one is.

Maybe it’s the sort of child-like wonder and awe that Bird brings with him from Pixar that makes this movie “Mission: Enjoyable.”  But whatever that X factor is, it works well.  There’s slightly less substance and character development than J.J. Abrams’ last installment in the series five years ago, which also featured one of the most maniacal villains in recent memory in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian.  But when you’re seeing Tom Cruise actually scale the world’s tallest building in the world – yes, he actually did that stunt himself – Bird more than compensates for the film’s major shortcoming.

He draws on two valuable resources to make the movie such ruckus fun.  The first is simplicity: it’s much easier to enjoy the ride when you aren’t having to keep track of a million different characters and names caught up in a huge scheme of political espionage.  When it’s Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, being as corny and ridiculously impetuous as ever, being backed up by an eclectic IMF squad going against a crazy Swedish scientist and a small gang of confederates trying to nuke the world, it makes it easier to sit back and enjoy the car chases and the cool gadgets.

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REVIEW: Just Wright

8 12 2010

Guys, don’t let the basketball fool you.  “Just Wright” is as much of a sports movie as “Forrest Gump” is.  If you take a gander at the poster, look at Common’s right hand (the one on top of Queen Latifah’s hand) for a better of indicator of what the movie is really like.  Substitute it for a microphone and Katherine Heigl/Gerard Butler and you’re right back in “The Ugly Truth.”

Now here comes the part of the review when I throw out words like cliched, formulaic, and predictable to warn you that if you’ve seen a romantic comedy in the past decade, you’ve seen “Just Wright.”  The only counter to all these negative adjectives is, of course, if the charms of the leading man and lady can overcome the familiarity.

While I could just heap on the insults on “Just Wright,” I just don’t have the heart to bash Queen Latifah.  She’s just seems so warm and friendly that it would feel like a low-blow to really go after her and tear her up.  We all know she can do better, and for the most part, she selects roles pretty well.  This is just a misstep.  As the physical therapist who can’t help but fall for the basketball player she’s rehabilitating, the story is just so uninspired that it can’t get you to care enough to be involved.

It’s not her fault that this movie wound up as bad as it did.  Common is a pretty pathetic actor, and Paula Patton just can’t do much with her confused character.  Queen Latifah is actually a nice presence in the movie, endowing it with some of her charisma and personality that’s hard to resist.  She’s like a juicy burger enveloped by a moldy bun, which wouldn’t taste quite as unpleasant if we hadn’t been fed nothing but burgers by the romantic comedy restaurant.  C-





REVIEW: Precious

17 11 2009

Precious” joins a very selective group of movies that is able to sear its impact into your memory with a flaming hot brand, leaving a mark that will burn for a while and stay forever.  It will undoubtedly reign as this year’s most emotionally charged movie, packed with some of the most profoundly affecting scenes ever committed to celluloid.  The movie portrays the devastating heartbreak of Precious’ life with unflinching reality, but what I found equally remarkable in Lee Daniels’ movie is how glimmers of hope manage to shine through in even the darkest of situations.

Claireece “Precious” Jones (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) leads the life that we imagine when we think, “Well, at least I don’t have it as bad as this person.”  She lives in poverty.  She is illiterate.  She is obese.  She is pregnant for the second time by way of her biological father.  She has an careless, lazy, and abusive mother (Mo’Nique in a performance that will make your jaw drop).  Worst of all, she thinks no one cares for her.  But despite her situation, she still dreams of a life where she can dance on BET and have a light-skinned boyfriend.  In these moments of reverie, Precious’ face lights up like a Christmas tree, and it is so heartbreaking for the audience to watch because we know that she will soon have to wake up and face the world which she can greet only with a sullen frown. Despite all the bleakness of her situation, she manages to stay somewhat optimistic, seeing the person who she wants to see when she looks in the mirror.  With some help from a compassionate teacher (Paula Patton) at her new alternative school and a social worker willing to go the extra mile (a very de-glammed Mariah Carey), Precious soon gains the courage not only to face her fears but to find a way to triumph over them.

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