Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Warcraft (dir by Duncan Jones)


Last night, my cousin and I watched Warcraft, which is a film that has been called “the worst of 2016” by several critics.

Personally, I don’t think it’s the worst film of 2016.  It didn’t make me physically ill, like Hardcore Henry did.  My cousin — who, unlike me, has actually played all of the Warcraft games and therefore came into the film already knowing who and what everything was — says that he enjoyed it.  On the basis of both Moon and The Source Code, I think Duncan Jones is a genius who will eventually emerge as one of the most important directors working right now.  Dominic Cooper is in Warcraft and so is Ben Foster.  They’re both fairly unrecognizable (thought not as unrecognizable as Clancy Brown!) but they’re also two excellent actors and I’m always happy to see them listed in the credits.  Visually, the film was well-designed though it was impossible for me not to think about the Make Love, Not Warcraft episode of South Park.

But I have to say that no film has ever left as totally confused as Warcraft.  I got that the film was about a war between Orcs and humans.  And I appreciated the fact that the film attempted to give all of the Orcs their own individual personalities and culture.   If I wanted to, I could probably spend a few 100 words talking about how the war in Warcraft can serve as a metaphor for every war currently being fought in the real world.

But seriously, I spent nearly the entire film trying to keep straight who was who.  The cast was huge and the dialogue was full of people and creatures talking about magic and honor and history and tradition and sacrifice and why so-and-so had to do this to such-and-such because of something that happened to someone else centuries ago and it made my head hurt trying to keep up with it all.  I eventually gave up.  My cousin was enjoying the film and, in the end, that’s all that mattered.

Plus, there was a cute little orc baby!  I liked him and his story reminded me of the story of Moses floating away in that basket.

Anyway, Warcraft was slaughtered by critics and, because it cost a ton of money to make, it didn’t make any money back.  So, the film probably won’t get the sequel that the ending was obviously designed to set up.  However, I get the feeling that, next year, Warcraft will be a popular film to live tweet whenever it shows up on SyFy.

It may have been the most incoherent film of 2016 but it wasn’t necessarily the worst.

Warcraft Official Trailer (For The Film…Not The Game…I Know, Right!)


Warcraft

Warcraft was a game on the PC that I played for hours on end. It was the closest thing gamers had to a video game version of the Warhammer Fantasy property. the title had two popular sequels and gave birth to the biggest, most popular and most addictive MMORPG in history. I mean, World of Warcraft, led to couples getting divorces, players getting into real fights outside the game and even getting together in holy matrimony for reals.

So, Hollywood seeing a cash cow when it sees one had been trying to get a live-action film based on the Warcraft property for years. So many different directors had been attached to make it (from Uwe Boll right up to Sam Raimi) but in the end Duncan Jones got the job to bring Azeroth (and Draenor) to life on the big-screen.

With the film still months away, Universal and Legendary Pictures look to start the hype train going by releasing the first official trailer for Warcraft with much fanfare.

Shattered Politics #84: Swing Vote (dir by Joshua Michael Stern)


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Have you ever heard the old saying about how one vote can make all the difference?  I’ve always had to laugh whenever I hear that because I know that, every election, my sister Melissa is going to cancel out my ballot by voting the exact opposite of how I vote.  As a result, even though I’ve participated in almost every election since 2004, my vote has hardly ever really mattered.

(Then again, neither has my sister’s….)

But anyway, the idea of one vote making all of the difference is taken to its logical extreme in the 2008 comedy Swing Vote.  In Swing Vote, a presidential election comes down to who wins the state of New Mexico.  And who wins the state of New Mexico will be determined by just one vote.  You see, the popular vote in New Mexico is tied between the two candidates but it turns out that, due to a voting machine error, one man’s vote has not been counted.  And now, that man has ten days to recast his vote.

(Why does he have ten days?  Mostly because there would not be a movie if they just said, “Please cast your vote again…now!”)

Of course, the problem is that the guy never cast a vote in the first place.  Instead, his vote was cast by his daughter (Madeline Carroll), who basically committed an act of vote fraud and violated federal law.  But it’s cute because she’s super precocious and she just wants her Dad to stop being such a fuck-up.

Oh, did I mention that?

That’s right — the fate of America is in the hands of a complete and total fuck-up.  His name is Bud and he’s played by Kevin Costner.  He’s a rather stupid guy who has never been responsible a day in his life.  He’s also a former felon, which really should have made him ineligible to vote in the first place.  And, on top of that, he’s the type of alcoholic who promises his little girl that he’ll meet her at a scheduled place and time and then proceeds to get drunk inside.

OH MY GOD, WHAT A GREAT GUY!

But, we’re supposed to like Bud because he’s played by Kevin Costner and I really don’t get that logic.  I always find it odd that, every year, we hear about how Kevin Costner is going to be in a few dozen films and how they’re all going to be hits and he’s suddenly going to be a big star again.  I’m never quite sure why people are excited about this prospect.  Whenever I see Costner on-screen (which, admittedly, doesn’t happen that often), I’m always struck by the fact that, regardless of the role, he really does come across as being an asshole.  That really does seem to be his screen presence.  That’s certainly the case in Swing Vote.

And maybe that’s the point of the film.  Be sure to vote so that the fate of America doesn’t end up in the hands of Kevin Costner.

That said, I will say that Swing Vote deserves some credit for casting Kelsey Grammer as the President and Dennis Hopper as his opponent.  Personally, I probably would have voted to reelect Kesley but I think Dennis would have done a good job as well.

(By the way, if ever do find yourself watching Swing Vote, imagine how much funnier the film would have been if it ended with Costner casting his vote and then announcing, “I voted third party!”)

 

6 Late Film Reviews: 300: Rise of Empire, About Last Night, Adult World, Jersey Boys, Ride Along, and Trust Me


Well, the year is coming to a close and I’ve got close to 50 films that I still need to review before I get around to making out my “Best of 2014” list.  (That’s not even counting the films that I still have left to see.  December is going to be a busy month.)  With that in mind, here are late reviews of 6 films that I saw earlier this year and had yet to get around to reviewing.

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1) 300: Rise of an Empire (dir by Noam Munro)

Last night, I watched 300: Rise of an Empire for the second time and I still couldn’t figure out what exactly is going on for most of the film.  I know that there’s a lot of fighting and a lot of bare-chested men yelling and, whenever anyone swings a sword, they suddenly start moving in slow motion and dark blood spurts across the screen like Jackson Pollock decorating a previously blank canvas.  The style of 300 has been co-opted by so many other films that 300: Rise of an Empire feels more like an imitation than a continuation.

At the same time, I’m resisting the temptation to be too critical of 300: Rise of the Empire for two reasons.  First off, this movie wasn’t really made to appeal to me.  Instead, this is a total guy film and, much as I have every right to love Winter’s Tale, guys have every right to love their 300 movies.  Secondly, 300: Rise of an Empire features Eva Green as a warrior and she totally kicks ass.

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2) About Last Night (dir by Steve Pink)

Obviously, I made a big mistake this Valentine’s Day by insisting that my boyfriend take me to see Endless Love.  (I still stand by my desire to see Winter’s Tale.)  I say this because I recently watched this year’s other big Valentine’s Day release, About Last Night, and I discovered that it’s a funny and, in its way, rather sweet romantic comedy.

About Last Night tells the story of two couples, Danny (Michael Ealy) and Debbie (Joy Bryant) and Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Joan (Regina Hall).  All four of the actors have a very real chemistry, with Hart and Hall bringing the laughs and Ealy and Bryant bringing the tears.  The film itself is ultimately predictable but very likable.

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3) Adult World (dir by Scott Coffey)

In Adult World, Emma Roberts plays Amy Anderson, an aspiring author and recent college graduate.  Despite her own overwhelming faith in her own abilities, Amy struggles to find a job outside of college.  She is finally reduced to working at Adult World, a small adult bookstore.  Working at the store, she befriends the far more down-to-earth Alex (Evan Peters) and eventually discovers that one of her customers is also her idol, poet Rat Billings (John Cusack).  Amy proceeds to force her way into Rat’s life, volunteering to work as his assistant and declaring herself to be his protegé.  However, it turns out that Rat is far less altruistic than Amy originally thought (and with a name like Rat, are you surprised?).

Adult World is a flawed film but I still really enjoyed it.  The story has a few problems and the film never really takes full narrative advantage of Adult World as a setting but the entire film is so well-acted that you’re willing to forgive its flaws.  Cusack gives a surprisingly playful performance while Evan Peters is adorable in a Jesse Eisenberg-type of way.  Emma Roberts shows a lot of courage, playing a character who is both infuriating and relatable.

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4) Jersey Boys (dir by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper has been getting so much attention as a potential Oscar contender that it’s easy to forget that, at the beginning of the year, everyone was expecting Jersey Boys to be Eastwood’s Oscar contender.  In fact, it’s easy to forget about Jersey Boys all together.  It’s just one of those films that, despite its best efforts, fails to make much of an impression.

Jersey Boys is based on one of the Broadway musicals that tourists always brag about seeing.  It tells the true story of how four kids from the “neighborhood” became the Four Seasons and recorded songs that have since gone on to appear on thousands of film soundtracks.  The period detail is a lot of fun, Christopher Walken, who has a small role as a local gangster, is always entertaining to watch, and the music sounds great but Eastwood’s direction is so old-fashioned and dramatically inert that you don’t really take much away from it.

Hopefully, American Sniper will be the work of the Eastwood who made Mystic River and not the Eastwood who did Jersey Boys.

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5) Ride Along (dir by Tim Story)

School security guard Ben Barber (Kevin Hart) wants to marry Angela (Tiki Sumpter) but Angela’s tough cop brother James (Ice Cube) doesn’t approve.  In order to prove himself worth, Ben goes on a ride along with James and the results are just as generic as you might expect.  Probably the only really funny part of the film was the way that Hart delivered the line, “You’re white!  You don’t fight!” but we all saw that in the commercial so who cares?

On the plus side, Ice Cube has a lot of screen presence and is well-cast as James.  As for Kevin Hart — well, he should probably be thankful that About Last Night came out a month after Ride Along.

Trust Me

6) Trust Me (dir by Clark Gregg)

In Trust Me, Clark Gregg both directs and stars.  He plays Howard, a fast-talking but ultimately kind-hearted talent agent who mostly represents children.  After losing some of his most popular clients to rival agent Aldo (a hilariously sleazy Sam Rockwell), Howard meets Lydia (Saxon Sharbino), a 13 year-old actress.  Soon, Howard is representing Lydia and trying to land her a starring role in a major production.  Howard also finds the time to tentatively date his next door neighbor (Amanda Peet).  However, there’s more to Howard than meets the eye.  He is haunted by the death of one of his previous clients and his guilt leads him to become especially protective of Lydia.  When Howard concludes that Lydia is being sexually abused by her crude father (Paul Sparks), he attempts to protect her from both him and the Hollywood system that’s threatening to corrupt her.  It all leads to an oddly tragic conclusion…

I say “oddly tragic” because Trust Me is, in many ways, an odd film.  As a director, Gregg gets good performances from his cast but he never manages to find a consistent tone.  The film starts as a Hollywood satire and then it becomes a romantic comedy and then it turns into a legal drama before then becoming an all-0ut attack on the way the entertainment industry treats child actors and then finally, it settles on being a tragedy.  As a result, Trust Me is undeniably a bit of a mess.

And yet, it’s a compelling mess and the film itself is so heart-felt that you can’t help but forgive its flaws.  If nothing else, it proves that Clark Gregg is capable of more than just being Marvel’s Agent Coulson.

Disconnected From Disconnect


Disconnect, the feature film directing debut of award-winning documentarian Henry-Alex Rubin, has been getting some fairly positive reviews.  According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a critical score of 71 while audiences have been even more impressed.  The last time I checked, it had an audience score of 83%.  If you’ve seen any of the commercials for this film then you’ve undoubtedly heard it referred to as being “the best film of the year.”

That’s high praise for a film that’s essentially Crash with better acting.

Much like Crash (which, incidentally, I consider to be the worst film to have ever won the Oscar for Best Picture), Disconnect is an ensemble film that tells several different stories.  For whatever reason, first-time directors seem to have a weakness for movies with ensemble casts and multiple-story lines.  When done well, an ensemble film can say something profound about the way that people in a society relate to one another.  When done poorly (like in Crash or Disconnect), they just feel trendy.  Watching Disconnect, I felt as if the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a way to tell one compelling story from beginning to end so, instead, they just tossed together fragments of three separate stories and then desperately tried to come up with a theme to connect them all.

That theme, by the way, is that our reliance of modern technology has created a society where people are Disconnected from one another.

Gee, you think?

Disconnect tells three separate, inter-connected stories.  In one story, Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard are a married couple who are struggling to deal with the recent death of their child.  Skarsgard deals with his grief by going on long business trips and getting addicted to online gambling.  Meanwhile, Patton joins an online support group and finds herself tempted to have affair another member (Michael Nyqvist).  Patton’s activities leads to identity theft and bankruptcy.  With the help of a sleazy private investigator (Frank Grillo), Patton and Skarsgard try to track down the man who stole their identity.  This story falls apart once Patton and Skarsgard find the man and both characters suddenly start acting in the most inconsistent ways conceivable.  It really should be impossible t0 make charismatic performers like Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton seem  bland and boring but somehow, Disconnect manages to do it.

In the film’s best storyline, Grillo’s teenage son (Colin Ford) catfishes and cyber-bullies an alienated classmate (Jonah Bobo).  When Bobo hangs himself as a result, Ford is wracked with both guilt and fear.  Ford’s attempts to cover-up his involvement leads to him meeting and briefly befriending Bobo’s father (Jason Bateman), who has no idea what led to his son attempting suicide.  In this story, Bateman proves that he’s as good with drama as he is with comedy and Ford’s complex and multi-layered performance is more than award-worthy.  This was probably the most powerful part of the film and, if the filmmakers had simply concentrated on this story (as opposed to diluting it by making only one part of a multi-part film), Disconnect would fully deserve the high-praise that it’s currently receiving.

In the film’s third (and most flamboyant) storyline, Andrea Riseborough is a cynical and opportunistic reporter who does a story about a cocky teenager (Max Thieriot) who performs on an adults-only site and who recruits other teenagers for a manipulative pimp (played by none other than Marc Jacobs).  Riseborough finds herself charmed by the teenager (and who can blame her because, after all, he’s played by Max Thieriot) and soon she’s having an affair with him.  However, her news story captures the attention of the F.B.I. and soon both Thieriot and Riseborough find themselves in danger.

At first, I thought I was going to enjoy this storyline because I love Max Thieriot.  He’s ideally cast here and he gives a good, sympathetic performance. For that matter, so does Andrea Riseborough and even Marc Jacobs brings a certain reptilian charm to his role.  However, this story falls apart as it quickly becomes obvious that the filmmakers, having set up a potentially interesting situation, have no idea what to do with it.  Instead, much as with the characters played by Skarsgard and Patton, Riseborough ceases to behave with anything resembling logic or consistency.  Both she and Thieriot go from being interesting, well-rounded characters to being mere plot devices.

That, ultimately, is the main reason why Disconnect fails.  With the exception of the characters played by Bateman and Ford, nobody in this film feels real and, again with the notable exception of Bateman and Ford’s storyline, very little that happens feels genuine.  The film is watchable because of the talented cast but, otherwise, it’s a melodramatic and predictable mess that seems to think that it’s a lot smarter than it actually is.

Perhaps that’s why so many people over on the imdb have been praising this film as “the best of the year.”

Some people will always enjoy feeling like they’re thinking without actually having to do it.

Trailer: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Official)


I’ll be honest and admit that I wasn’t overly impressed by J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible 3 and when it was announced that a fourth film in the franchise was going into production my initial reaction was an emphatic “meh”. It didn’t help when Pixar veteran Brad Bird was chosen to helm this fourth film. This was a filmmaker who did a great job with Pixar animated films, but still an unknown quantity when it came to live-action projects.

As the months passed and news filtered out from the film’s production the news was positive with many who have seen some rough footage becoming convinced that Brad Bird might know what he’s doing outside the Pixar stable. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was soon being talked as being one of the most-awaited films of 2011. This newly-released first official trailer goes a long way into adding more positive buzz to a film already hyped up on it.

Also, it has Paula Patton in it, nuff said.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is set for a December 16, 2011 release.