Warcraft


Some of the dazzling visuals we refer to.

Some of the dazzling visuals we refer to.

(2016) Fantasy (Universal/Legendary) Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Anna Galvin, Callum Keith Rennie, Burkely Duffield, Ryan Robbins, Dean Redman, Glenn Ennis, Terry Notary, Elena Wurlitzer, Michael Adamthwaite, Anna Van Hooft. Directed by Duncan Jones

 

As videogames go, Warcraft is a classic. It led to the massively popular MMORPG Worlds of Warcraft which is one of the most dynamic and rabid communities on the Internet. The filmed version of Warcraft was announced in 2006 when Blizzard Games signed a deal with Legendary Pictures, one of the top production companies in Hollywood. However, the road to the screen was a bumpy one as the project went through a plethora of directors and stars. Now, hot young director Duncan Jones (Moon) has at last shepherded the property to reality.

Durotan (Kebbell) is a chieftain of the Frost Wolves clan of Orcs. He is loved by his people but particularly by Draka (Galvin), his wife who is heavy with child. They, like all the other Orc clans, have gathered on a huge plain at the order of Orgrim (Kazinsky), a powerful wizard who is opening a portal to another world. The world of the Orcs is dying and they need a new place to live, and they have chosen a world called Azeroth.

There a young ambitious wizard named Khadgar (Schnetzer) discovers the presence of the Orcs and takes it to the knight Lothar (Fimmel), the brother-in-law to King Llane (Cooper) who rules a land that has been at peace for generations. They agree to call in the Guardian – the most powerful wizard on Azeroth – for his advice. Medivh (Foster) is one of Lothar’s closest friends and his wisdom and power is well-respected throughout the Kingdom. He agrees the situation is dire, particularly since the Orcs are using the Fel, a type of magic that steals life from everything it touches and warps the user into something evil.

In a skirmish, Lothar’s knights capture Garona (Patton), a half-orc, half-human who at first is fiercely pro-orc. However, convinced by the King (and the Queen (Negga) who happens to be Lothar’s sister) that she would be protected by the humans, she agrees to tell them what Orgrim’s plans are. In the meantime, Durotan has also figured out that Orgrim is up to no good and that all his posturing about glory for the Orcs is only going to end up in disaster for his people. He decides to reach out to the humans and propose a dangerous plan. However, what neither Lothar nor Durotan know is that there is a traitor in the ranks of the humans who might just mean an end to both races.

One of the litmus tests for any movie based on something from a different medium be it comic books, television shows or videogames is whether or not people unfamiliar with the source material can follow what’s going on in the movie. In other words, does the movie stand on its own merits or do you require intimate knowledge of the source material in order to enjoy the movie? The answer here is that the movie does not stand on its own. Being a fan of the game is certainly going to give viewers an advantage over those who are unfamiliar with it.

In fact, the story is so jam-packed with references to the game and background that there’s almost information overload going on. Couple that with some lavish visuals (and I admit that the CGI effects are absolutely stunning) and your senses might be stunned into submission. This is certainly a feast for the eyes and the CGI is detailed and inspiring.

Still, the plot is also dense with a lot of subplots going on. Jones was attempting to show the roots of the conflict that are at the heart of the game and he wanted to show that conflict from both sides so we are constantly switching back between the human and Orcish points of view. I think it was a noble idea that proved to be better in conception than in execution. Too many characters to follow, too many plots. Most moviegoers tend to like things simple.

To be fair, critics have been ripping this film a new one, to the point that they buried Jones’ career even before the movie was released. It is doing spectacular business in China and despite fairly anemic box office in the States it is still already turning a profit. There’s a good possibility that a sequel will eventually be greenlit. I’ll probably see it. Hopefully, they’ll learn from their mistakes and concentrate on telling a story rather than trying to be all things to all fans.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular visuals. Fans of the game likely to love this.
REASONS TO STAY: Bloated and overindulgent. Terribly confusing to non-fans of the game.
FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of fantasy warfare and violence, including some orc gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga play husband and wife here; they are also playing a couple in the upcoming Preacher series on AMC.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/21/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 32/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Twisted Justice

RoboCop (2014)


RoboCop takes aim at skeptical critics.

RoboCop takes aim at skeptical critics.

(2014) Science Fiction (MGM/Columbia) Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Aimee Garcia, Douglas Urbanski, John Paul Ruttan, Patrick Garrow, K.C. Collins, Daniel Kash, Zach Grenier, Maura Grierson. Directed by Jose Padilha

Military drones have become over the past 12 months something of a cause célèbre, although drones have been in use for years. In the near future, those drones will be even more sophisticated – human control may well be entirely unnecessary. However most Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of life and death being doled out by machines.

Pat Novak (Jackson) begs to differ. The host of the right-wing news magazine show The Novak Element thinks that having robots in law enforcement would be a very good thing. However, existing laws in the United States prevent drones and robots being used in a military or law enforcement fashion on U.S. soil. Novak is campaigning to change all that.

Raymond Sellars (Keaton) would like to see him succeed. As the CEO of OmniCorp, the multinational corporation that supplies robotic devices to the military and to international law enforcement, he’s chomping at the bit to get at the virgin U.S. market but is frustrated that public opinion is against him. However, he knows that given the right stimulation, public opinion can change. What the machine needs is a human element.

Cue Alex Murphy (Kinnaman). An honest cop on the Detroit Police Department, he is chasing a  criminal gang leader named Vallon (Garrow) whose investigation by other cops on the force has stalled. An inadvertent miscue by a lowlife gun dealer gives him and his partner Jack Lewis (Williams) an opportunity to connect Vallon to actual crimes and put him away. Unfortunately, someone tips off Vallon and Lewis gets shot for their troubles.

Realizing that Murphy is not going to give up until he gets an arrest, Vallon arranges for Murphy’s car to be wired with an explosive device. It goes off, critically injuring the cop in full view of his wife Clara (Cornish) and son David (Ruttan).

This gives Sellars the perfect opportunity. Brilliant cyberneticist Dennett Norton (Oldman) can rebuild Alex; he has the technology. He can give Murphy all the advantages of being a robot while still retaining his human control. However, there are glitches. A machine doesn’t hesitate or consider human consequences; it just acts. Murphy is held back by having a conscience and emotions. Norton reluctantly must delete these items from the programming.

In his RoboCop role, Murphy scarcely even responds to his family who quickly realize that something is wrong. Norton isn’t happy about the situation either – the whole point was to retain both the human and machine and what he has created is essentially an automaton with some organic material. Nonetheless RoboCop is a huge success and Sellars is getting exactly what he wants – a repeal of the laws that keep his company from profiting in America. However, when Murphy’s human side begins to reassert itself, RoboCop becomes expendable in a hurry.

The 1987 Paul Verhoeven-directed feature was more of an over-the-top satire of consumerism as well as social commentary on urban decay and the ultimate soullessness of our society. It was most definitely a product of its time. Brazilian director Padilha (making his English language debut) is far more subtle but no less satirical, but with a little bit more thought beneath the satire – what constitutes humanity and at what point do we cease being human? He also asks a question that is very much one that should be getting asked more often – is trading freedom for security a wise idea?

I appreciate undertones of that nature, and give the movie points for it. However, movies of an action/sci-fi bent also need to be entertaining and for the most part, this one is. Kinnaman has a facial resemblance to Peter Weller (who originated the role) but in the Alex Murphy scenes shows a little more warmth than Weller radiated. He does surprisingly well as RoboCop and gets the right movement that you’d expect from a robot.

Michael Keaton is one of those actors that you don’t realize you miss until he shows up for an infrequent role. He is perfect for Sellars, making him almost likable despite his black heart. Only near the end of the movie do we see Sellars’ true colors but by then Keaton’s sucked us in. Oldman also manages to bring the conflicted nature of Norton to the fore and show both sides of the coin equally. Cornish is, I think, supposed to act as the conscience for the movie but doesn’t quite jell there. Jackie Earle Haley is awesome as OmniCorp’s prejudiced chief of security.

While the CGI is good (especially a squirm-inducing scene in which we see Murphy without the RoboCop armor) and the action decent, the story has a fractured element to it and seems to be travelling in all sorts of directions. Reportedly, the studio was extremely involved in the film and frustrated Padilha’s creative control to the extent that he made some unwise comments which he later recanted. However, the movie does show all the earmarks of studio interference which is never a good thing. Too many RoboCooks spoil the RoboBroth.

Despite the critical bashing it’s received, the movie is decent enough entertainment. If you go in expecting the same humor as the original, you’re not going to like this much. In fact, this version could have used a little more humor which it mostly gets from the Novak show segments that open the movie and are shown intermittently throughout. I would have been interested to see what Padilha’s vision for the film would have turned out to be although I understand that the movie’s budget became an issue in that regard. I suspect that he could have turned this into a better film than it turned out to be – although what he did produce is pretty good in and of itself.

REASONS TO GO: Pretty decent entertainment value. Kinnaman does a fine job as does Oldman and Keaton.

REASONS TO STAY: Muddled and unfocused, a sure sign of studio interference.  

FAMILY VALUES:  While not as violent as the 1987 original, there are plenty of bullets flying and some mayhem. There’s also a few choice bad words here and there as well as a disturbing image of the remains of Alex Murphy after the bomb blast.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman have both been involved in the Batman franchise; Keaton as the Caped Crusader in Tim Burton’s two films, Oldman as Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Norton’s trilogy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Total Recall

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Hysteria

Hotel Transylvania


Hotel Transylvania

Count Dracula dispenses some fatherly advice.

(2012) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, Fran Drescher, David Spade, Cee-Lo Green, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, Brian James, Luenell, Rob Riggle. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

 

Being the father of a teenage daughter is  a special kind of hell. We, as dads, know what the world is capable of and it’s natural to be a bit overprotective of our baby girls. Still, it must be way harder to raise a daughter in a world where the majority wants to kill off your entire species.

Count Dracula (Sandler) has more reason than most to fear the humans. While vacationing in Hawaii he met a beautiful vampire named Martha whom he married and had a daughter with. However, angry locals discovered that they had two vampires in their midst and set fire to the house. Dracula was able to rescue his daughter but not his wife. Enraged over the loss of his wife, he swears to protect his daughter from the real monsters and builds a castle in Transylvania that will be forever hidden from human view, a place where his fellow monsters can relax, retreat and be themselves. It’s Hotel Transylvania and every boy and ghoul is just dying to get there (couldn’t help it).

Operating on a strictly humans forbidden basis, the hotel becomes a success. Drac’s daughter Mavis (Gomez) is now 118 and getting restless with her protected lifestyle. She wants to live (which is a bit problematic for the undead), travel, see the world and experience everything. Dracula seems to be all for it at first, but this turns out to be a bit of a ruse.

All of their friends are gathering, from the henpecked Frankenstein (James) and his shrewish wife Eunice (Drescher) to the exhausted werewolf dad Wayne (Buscemi), his also exhausted wife Wanda (Shannon) and their brood of…I don’t know, say 150? – werewolf pups. Then there’s the coolest mummy ever, Murray (Green). They’re all gathering for Mavis’ birthday, an annual event.

Into this chaos rolls (or rather walks) Johnny (Samberg), a hiker who could pass for a surfer or a stoner or both. Rather than being terrified (although at first he does have a bit of a panic attack), he becomes fascinated by the monsters and one in particular – Mavis with whom he is instantly smitten.

Dracula is in a quandary. Not only must he keep his daughter safe from this human, he must keep the guests from finding out about him or else their confidence in their safety at the hotel would be compromised. The problem is that Johnny really isn’t a bad guy once you get to know him. And Mavis has developed feelings for him as well. What’s a dad – and the king of the undead at that – to do?

Tartakovsky, best known for his Cartoon Network classics Star Wars: Clone Wars, Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls tackles his first animated feature with an all-star cast and a much more detailed animation than you usually get on the hideously bad CN. It doesn’t hurt that he has an all-star cast to work with.

Sandler usually has a tendency to be over-the-top but here he’s actually fairly restrained. We get all of the things that are endearing about him and none of the things that are irritating. It’s one of his better performances in the past five years. He gives the overprotective Dracula a touch of humanity that many other performances lack. Yes this is a comedy and meant to be about as scary as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World but that doesn’t mean it has to be depth-less. Sandler gives the character a whole lot of reasons for us to identify with him.

Most of the other characters are given less to work with, although Samberg actually acquits himself nicely as the heart-of-gold stoner dude and Lovitz gets to go a little bit over-the-top with his Quasimodo chef’s role. Sadly, that’s about the extent of it. While there are plenty of in-jokes that adults – particularly those who love classic horror films – are going to chuckle at, there really isn’t much in the way of story which we’ve all seen more than once before.

The universe inhabited here is familiar and fun and makes internal sense. While the ending scene with the rap concert at Mavis’ party is unnecessary and simply awful, almost Disney Channel-esque in it’s bad rappery (Cee-Lo baby – you’re better than this, dawg) most of the rest is merely predictable. There are some fun little gags – like Dracula making a demonic face every time he is annoyed.

This isn’t groundbreaking or head-turning in any real way. It’s merely pleasant entertainment that will keep the kids satisfied and the parents won’t necessarily be squirming in their chairs waiting for the show to end. It will probably end up being a Halloween perennial, showing up on cable and later on broadcast TV every October without fail. In that sense it will become a classic because of repeated viewings but it will be one that while inoffensive isn’t necessarily a classic because of exceptional merit.

REASONS TO GO: Nicely drawn universe. Plenty of in-jokes for classic horror fans.

REASONS TO STAY: Story is kind of ho-hum. Rap scene at the end gratuitous and stupid.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few scary images, some rude humor and a bit of cartoon action.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was released on World Rabies Day.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/8/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100. The movie is getting seriously mixed reviews..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mad Monster Party

MONSTER LOVERS: Among the famous movie monsters that make an appearance here are Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Werewolf, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Blob, the Fly and Quasimodo.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Hunt for Red October