Warcraft Review: Dungeons and Dullards


Director: Duncan Jones

Writers: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt

Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2/5

Best part: Toby Kebbell as Durotan.

Worst part: The human characters.

Hollywood has had a difficult run of adapting video games to the big screen. Over the past two decades, each entry has become a critical and commercial bomb. Sure, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises are enjoyable, but not well made. The ins and outs of even the most popular video game properties appear to be lost on modern movie audiences.

Warcraft has stepped up to the plate, hoping the achieve what Max Payne, Doom, Prince of Persia, Need for Speed, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros., Hitman (twice) and every fighting game franchise failed to do. Does it succeed? Nope, not even slightly. It merely adds to the long-line of silly, pitiful video game adaptations. It kicks off with the Horde, as the orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his pregnant wife, Draka (Anna Nelvin), and his friend, Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky), prepare to leave dying orc realm Draenor. Led by warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and dark magic known as the Fel, the orcs leap into human realm Azeroth via portal and soon wreak havoc.

From conception to execution, Warcraft presents all of Hollywood’s worst and craziest impulses. Writer/director, and long-time WOW fan, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has worked on this adaptation for the past few years. Jones’ intentions are admirable, attempting to turn this franchise into the next Lord of the Rings-sized cinematic experience. Indeed, thanks to his unique style, it features several unpredictable twists and turns. In particular, the action sequences are directed with enough physical and emotional impact. Throughout its exhaustive 123-minute run-time, however, those unrequited with the lore will struggle to keep up. Marketed as an origin story, the movie exists entirely to set up a potential franchise. Jones is a little too infatuated with the world of Warcraft, throwing together a plethora of sub-plots, characters, and specifics from the franchise without explanation.

Similarly to Avatar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the movie provides a hands-on look at a whole new civilisation. The orc characters are fascinating, making rational decisions and showcasing their impressive brute strength in equal measure. However, the human characters are reduced to one-note performances and stereotypes. Vikings actor Travis Fimmel fails to make Military commander/lead badass Lothar appealing. Despite vague attempts at humor, he suffocates under the dour, self-serious tone and artificial backdrops. Charming actors including Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, both from AMC series Preacher, deliver monotonal, deer-in-headlights performances. The Mage characters are laughable, with Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer providing little else beyond out-of-place American accents. A miscast Paula Patton is buried under green paint and awkward prosthetics as human/orc warrior Garona.

Warcraft marks yet another failed attempt at adapting a video game into the celluloid medium. Despite Jones’ best intentions, the impenetrable exposition, stale performances, and lack of excitement make for one of the year’s most forgettable movies. Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed, out on Boxing Day, can break the curse.

Verdict: Another woeful video game adaptation.

Dracula Untold Review – Toothless Trash


Director: Gary Shore

Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless (screenplay), Bram Stoker (novel)

Stars: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance


Release date: October 3rd, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: USA, UK 

Running time: 92 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: The production values.

Worst part: The overbearing performances.

Since Hollywood’s transition from ‘classic’ to ‘modern’, big-budget entertainment has focused entirely on sex appeal. Defined by awe, devilishness, and attractiveness, Tinseltown promotes aesthetic beauty over substance. Even the idea of ‘style’ itself – distinguishing one’s work from everything else – has been watered down to an extraneous extent. Now that the studio system has exhausted trends like fairytale adaptations, comic book movies, and nostalgic actioners, the world’s biggest media hub is turning cannibalistic. Dracula Untold may be the high point of blockbuster/remake/reboot fatigue. What’s next, a cuddly wolfman? A sensitive mummy? a sexy invisible man? Good luck, Universal!

Luke Evans as Vlad III Tepes/Count Dracula.

Recently, there have been several similar big-budget extravaganzas. Most of them, Twilight included, are directed at teenage girls. While some of them are mindless adaptations of classic  texts. All of them, however, bend vampire mythology to their will. Mixing classic horror with explosive action and sappy romance, Dracula Untold is a horrific experiment in itself. Staggering toward its release date, this action-horror flick means little to either the people involved or those watching it. We begin with a highlight reel of one of history’s most disturbing people. We first meet Vlad III Tepes aka Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) in a rushed opening sequence. Depicting his fearsome fighting skills and determination, Vlad’s reputation is built on the bones of fallen enemies and kingdoms. The movie jumps forward to the central conceit, and Vlad has become a cunning warrior keeping guard of his people. Tracking a battalion of Turkish soldiers, our ‘hero’ and his men head to Broken Tooth Mountain to find answers. Instead, Vlad – the expedition’s sole survivor – unearths the world’s most terrifying secret. Vlad must also keep his home, Castle Dracula, out of the Turkish army’s hands. Led by Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), the army asks for 1000 able-bodied boys in exchange for ever-lasting peace.

Dominic Cooper.

As the land’s most fearless and skilled warrior, Vlad refuses to go down without a fight. Keeping his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), and child, Ingeras (Art Parkinson), away from the Turkish forces, our lead character takes on the world’s largest army. As the launchpad for Universal’s new Avengers-style franchise, Dracula Untold has been whittled down by the studio, director, screenwriters, and editor. Turning potentially-entertaining material into October-bound schlock, this production wastes several opportunities. The story, spoiled thanks to an egregious marketing campaign, is messier than a corpse in Dracula’s possession. The aforementioned opening, delivering cold-blooded exposition with static images, doesn’t deliver anything original or interesting. Those wary of the original material might stand a chance of following this sequence. However, those without said knowledge might become lost. From there, the movie leaps between concepts without purpose or warning. The first 15 minutes promises a down-and dirty superhero origin story/reboot for the archetypal vampire character. Showing off his powers – turning into a swarm of bats and utilising infra-red vision –  it defines our lead character’s inner conflict with visual effects and tiresome cliches. The movie also throws two more story-lines at us. The love story and medieval warfare sub-plots turn this straight-forward actioner into a convoluted foible. Transforming this alluring villain into a misunderstood anti-hero, the movie delivers nothing for viewers to sink their teeth into.

“Do you think you are alive because you can fight? You are alive because of what I did to save you!” (Vlad/Dracula (Luke Evans), Dracula Untold).

Charles Dance.

I could say Dracula Untold “lacks bite” or “sucks”, but that would be too damn easy. The biggest problem resides within its flesh and blood: it takes itself way too seriously! The performances, drifting between maudlin and over-the-top, are difficult to comprehend. Evans, despite the charisma and immense physicality, never meshes with his fruitful character. Gadon is underused in her plot-device role. While Cooper makes for an unconvincing Middle-Eastern/moustache-twirling villain. However, Game of Thrones actor Charles Dance heartily tackles his make-up-induced role. Quicker than you can say: “Transylvania”, Matt Sazama and Burk Shapless’ screenplay delves into sprawling conflicts, overblown speeches, and Greek tragedy-like drama. Giving the story or characters little development, the alliance switches, noble sacrifices, and revelations become increasingly stupid. Speed-reading the original text, the movie pretends to understand Stoker’s words. Explaining everything with stilted exposition and silly one-liners, its thrills are few and far between. While its comedic moments fall flatter than the lid of Dracula’s coffin. Lacking experience, first-time feature director Gary Shore succumbs to the monsters leering over him. Bullied by producers and studio executives, Shore turns this gothic staple into a transparent actioner. Despite the immense budget (for a British production), his action-direction hammers the stake into the heart. Thanks to quick cuts, shaking cameras, and shoddy camera angles, the action is incomprehensible. Despite the sword-and-sandal vibe, the video-game-like sequences shrink the story’s heart and brains. However, thanks to sterling sets, costume designs, and cinematography, the production values elevate it above I, Frankenstein (but that’s not saying much).

Despite the minor positives, Dracula Untold succumbs to a mystifying and laughable case of prequelitis. Telegraphing specific events ahead of time, the movie tests its audience’s patience. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula suffocating aura lingering overhead, this action-oriented version is a spineless adaptation of Stoker’s masterpiece. Despite the brief run-time, the movie becomes as deadly to cinema as sunlight to a bloodsucker.

Verdict: A stake through Universal’s heart.

Need for Speed Review – Crash ‘n’ Burn


Director: Scott Waugh

Writer: George Gatins

Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi


Release date: March 14th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes


 

1½/5 

Best part: Aaron Paul.

Worst part: The frustrating supporting characters.

Disastrous losing streaks aren’t enjoyable for anyone in Hollywood. They come without warning whilst embarrassing their victims beyond belief. In Tinseltown, losing streaks can happen to directors, writers, and actors. Sadly, Hollywood’s catastrophic run of video game adaptations is officially getting worse. After witnessing exhaustive action flick Need for Speed, I believe Hollywood should throw in the towel. The movie, despite its alluring cast and marketing campaign, isn’t worth the admission cost. Save your money and play the game instead. trust me, you’ll have a much better time. At the very least, you’ll gain some sense of control.

Aaron Paul.

Who’s asking for these video game adaptations, anyway? Everyone wants their favourite games, comic books, and novels adapted into movies. But why can’t people simply enjoy them for what they are? These adaptations, cashing in on a particular brand, prove that some entertainment mediums don’t cross over effectively. The mass divide between video game and cinema mechanics drifts Need for Speed into an inescapable vortex of mediocrity. It’d be simplistic and cheesy to make a significant number of car puns throughout this review. However, the plot, such as it is, relies on its viewers having low IQs, acute nymphomania, and Red Bull addictions. People who refuse to sit through 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street (you know, intelligent movies) will lap up Need for Speeds irritable ticks and predictable turns. The plot kicks off with testosterone-fuelled car mechanics being idiotic. After a sorrowful introduction from renowned radio presenter Monarch (Michael Keaton), we run into notorious grease monkey/street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul). Marshall, running his late father’s garage, is haemorrhaging money faster than he can earn it. Gaining respect within Mt. Kisko, New York’s underground drag-racing scene, Marshall is considered one of the circuit’s hidden treasures. Celebrity driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) comes to Marshall for help. Hoping to settle their long-lasting feud, Brewster offers Marshall a spectacular opportunity. Brewster asks Marshall’s crew to fix-up the Ford Mustang acclaimed car designer/entrepreneur Carroll Shelby (don’t worry, I didn’t know who that was either) was working on before his passing.

Dominic Cooper & Dakota Johnson.

Before I go on, I’ll ask Dreamworks Studios and co. just one thing. Dear studios, this is based on a plotless video game, what did you think would happen?! The Need for Speed franchise consists only of uninteresting cut scenes and exhilarating car chases. This franchise, despite reaching the right demographic, can’t deliver acceptable cinematic endeavours. Congratulations Burnout and Gran Turismo, I now have more respect for you! Anyway, the plot takes sharp turns early on. After pitching their work to car dealer Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), Marshall gets back on Brewster’s bad side. Hindered by Marshall’s efforts, Brewster challenges him and his comrade Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) to a race. Using Koenigsegg Ageras, the three speed down the freeway before Pete is killed. With Pete’s sister and Marshall’s old flame Anita (Dakota Johnson) standing by Brewster’s word, Marshall is sent to prison. Before long, motivations, revelations, and speeches bust out of these irritating characters. This revenge plot, controlling this half-assed Fast and Furious rip-off, is as tedious as watching someone play the aforementioned video game. Even before the half-way mark, it divulges into derivative tropes and face-palm-inducing moments. Sadly, thanks to George Gatins’ interminable screenplay, the movie assumes its two or three movies into its own franchise. After its annoying characters are introduced, the movie pushes on without depth, personality, or originality. Separated from the franchises’ eighteen instalments, these characters are simply uninteresting hindrances. Another problem – trust me, there are a lot of ’em – stems from Hollywood’s current trend of adapting useless properties. Stunt coordinator turned director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) obviously doesn’t care about the movie’s slower moments. Not knowing whether to take itself seriously or take deep breaths, Need for Speed’s jarring tonal shifts become debilitating road blocks.

“Racers should race, cops should eat donuts.” (Monarch (Michael Keaton), Need for Speed).

The cars.

Tripping over the franchise’s baffling ‘mythology’, gullible thirteen year-old boys will be the only ones savouring this tumultuous experience. Deliberating on visions of the future, masculinity, and racing’s raw power, the movie’s spiritual side dampens its insignificant and questionable narrative. Predictably, plot contrivances, cliches, and unnecessary sketches extend the bloated story. Despite presenting itself as a homage to 70s drive-in flicks, aided by overt references to Bullit, the movie sorely lacks pathos, energy, and relevance. Beyond the plot-hole, and pot hole, driven narrative, the dramatic and comedic moments don’t help. The slapstick moments, led by irritating supporting players, are accompanied only by crickets and tumbleweeds. One act of defiance, involving one character quitting his job, is just plain tiresome. Paul, coming off of AMC hit series Breaking Bad, does his best with such immature material. Paul and Poots, developing a slither of chemistry within their Mustang’s small confinements, are charismatic forces in need of better projects. On the other end of the spectrum, rapper Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi hampers every scene he coverts. As the movie’s most offensive stereotype (and that’s saying something), Mescudi should stick to his rap career. Somehow, Need for Speed‘s characters are less realistic than the racing sequences. Thankfully, the action set pieces steal the show. Created with flawless technical precision and attention to detail, the skids, crashes, and flips deliver tiny joyful moments. Thanks to immaculate practical effects, Waugh’s exhaustive knowledge of stunt-work pays-off here. Unfortunately, he and the screenwriters stall when it comes to everything else. Why should I compliment this abominable mess? The negatives far outweigh the positives. I could make more car puns and jokes, but they would distract from my anger toward this unending skid-mark.

Here, Hollywood has blessed us with yet another woeful and forgettable video game adaptation. Yawn! Surely, it can’t be that difficult to produce one worthwhile adaption. Up there with Doom, Max Payne, and Prince of Persia, Need for Speed steals this franchise’s rhythmic title and speeds off into the distance. Thankfully, this movie will probably crash and burn at the box office. Trapping Paul, Poots, and Keaton inside a fiery mess, this lazy car-race flick delivers cheap thrills and loud groans. Unfortunately, story-driven games are now being given short shrift. Thanks to the aforementioned franchise killers, the Last of Us, Halo, and Metal Gear Solid adaptations may never happen.

Verdict: A tedious and stupefying actioner.