Warcraft: The Beginning

For F*** Magazine

WARCRAFT: THE BEGINNING

Director : Duncan Jones
Cast : Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Ruth Negga, Daniel Wu, Anna Galvin, Clancy Brown, Terry Notary
Genre : Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 hrs 3 mins
Opens : 9 June 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Blizzard’s fantasy franchise comprising video games and novels finally makes its leap to the big screen. Sir Anduin Lothar (Fimmel), the military commander of the Stormwind Kingdom in Azeroth, faces an unprecedented threat: Gul’dan (Wu), a powerful orc warlock, is leading the orc hordes from their dying homeworld of Draenor into Azeroth. Garona (Patton), a half-orc, half-human woman enslaved by Gul’dan, must decide where her loyalties lie. The noble orc chieftain Durotan (Kebbell), whose mate Draka (Galvin) is pregnant with their first child, does not see the merit in Gul’dan’s attack. At the behest of Stormwind’s King Llane Wrynn (Cooper), Lothar must defend Azeroth from the invaders. Together with young mage Khadgar (Schnetzer), Lothar seeks out the reclusive sorcerer Medivh (Foster), the Guardian of Tirisfal. They must repel Gul’dan’s evil magic, known as the Fel, as the seeds of an ages-long conflict are sown.
            Director Duncan Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Leavitt, weathered an arduous production process and is himself an ardent fan of the Warcraft franchise. The disparity in the reaction the film has received from critics and fans indicates that this does appeal to those already familiar with the source material and who are excited to see the characters and locations come to life in cinematic form, but that those coming in cold will likely be alienated. This is very much a generic high fantasy tale, and there are so many characters introduced from the get-go that it’s easy to get them mixed up. The straight-face earnestness in the approach is a double-edged sword: on one hand, the filmmakers demonstrate a belief in the world they are building, but on the other, there’s an impenetrable rigidity to it all. Jones ploughs dutifully through the plot, but audiences aren’t given a chance to acclimatise to the world and the characters; the story itself is simple in nature but convoluted in execution.
            Visually, this is an achievement, if not as earth-shattering as some might have hoped. The visual effects work, handled by Industrial Light and Magic and other houses like Hybride and Rodeo FX, is superb throughout. Visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer was an Oscar winner for Life of Pi, and one can tell that great care has been put into realising the digitally-created characters and environments. The props were crafted by Weta Workshop, and everything from the suits of armour to the swords to King Llane’s helmet abounds with pleasing detail. It’s a shame then that while perfectly acceptable, none of the designs really set Warcraftapart from its high-fantasy ilk.
            After boarding the project, Jones set about re-writing the script so that it wasn’t built around the hoary trope of “all the humans are good guys and all the monsters are bad guys”. Fimmel, best known as Ragnar Lothbrok on the TV series Vikings, is a serviceable heroic military commander. Lothar’s relationship with his son Callan (Burkely Duffield) is a key component of the character’s arc, but because it has to make room for everything else, that is severely underdeveloped. Patton exudes confidence and retains a degree of elegance while playing a feral half-breed; Garona ended up being the character this reviewer gravitated to the most. Foster lacks the other-worldly mystique that Medivh should have, while Schnetzer is a fine sidekick to Fimmel.
            In addition to playing the orc chieftain Grommash Hellscream, Terry Notary was also the movement coach for the actors playing the orcs. Notary’s credits include Avatar and Rise and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The orcs are brutish by nature, and the gentleness with which Durotan holds his new-born son does lend the character more shades beyond that of a fierce warrior. Cooper looks the part of a dashing young king and Negga is plenty regal as Llane’s Queen-consort Lady Taria. Gul’dan is as one-dimensional as villains get: he’s little more than the snarling, hunchbacked wizard with an unquenchable thirst for power. We would offer Wu some praise, but it is hard to find him (or most of the other actors playing orcs, for that matter) in the character, since his voice has been treated in post-production and there’s no resemblance whatsoever. This reviewer feels Wu should be a much bigger star in Hollywood, so it was a bit of a disappointment knowing he’s in this movie but is hardly noticeable.
            Warcraft is not a total wash, but given the build-up and the massive following the franchise has, it’s a shame that the film carries with it the vibe of going through the motions. Jones is obviously passionate about the property and has filmmaking talent to spare, but the cluttered narrative holds neophytes at bay. It’s hard to shake the feeling that one has been dropped in the deep end of the Warcraft lore pool, when this is meant to be an origin story that builds the world from the ground up. It’s more frustrating than genuinely aggravating that Warcraft stumbles so many times in its would-be epic journey.
Summary:For long-time fans of the franchise, this might be a dream come true, but it will be challenging for newbies to make head or tail of the overstuffed story, or differentiate a number of the characters.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Miss You Already

For F*** Magazine

MISS YOU ALREADY

Director : Catherine Hardwicke
Cast : Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Tyson Ritter, Mem Ferda, Jacqueline Bisset, Frances de la Tour
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 113 mins
Opens : 5 November 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Some Sexual Scenes)
The course of true BFF-ship never did run smooth, and in this comedy-drama, Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore play best friends who weather thick and thin together. Milly (Collette) and Jess (Barrymore) have been the closest of pals since childhood, when Jess’ family moved from the US to the UK. Milly marries former rock band roadie Kit (Cooper) and the two go on to have two kids together. Jess settles down with construction engineer Jago (Considine) and the two are trying for a baby. A spanner is thrown in the works when Milly discovers she has breast cancer. As those around her, including Jess, Kit and Milly’s mother Miranda (Bisset) try to help out in any way they can, the time-tested bond between Jess and Milly undergoes considerable strain. Will the besties conquer all?
Miss You Already is adapted for the screen by Morwenna Banks from her own BBC Radio play. The radio play has a spoiler-tastic title, so we shan’t print it here (and don’t go looking for it if you haven’t seen the movie yet). It’s very easy to be cynical about Miss You Already – it’s a story about a cancer patient and her best friend and has drawn inevitable comparisons to the likes of legendary chick flicks Beaches and Steel Magnolias. Now, “chick flick” isn’t an appellation and it’s perfectly fine for a film to be made with the intention of getting its audience to get all misty-eyed. Director Catherine Hardwicke is cognisant of the pre-conceived notions one might go into Miss You Already with and attempts to walk the tightrope between subverting the tropes of the weepie movie subgenre and playing them straight. This is mostly successful. 
There is the great danger of the film coming across as a blatantly hokey “Lifetime movie of the week” affair. At the same time, one wouldn’t want it to be too bleakly mundane. Miss You Already does stick to many of the established traits of comedy-dramas centring on someone battling a terminal illness, but it carries nary a shred of self-importance and as such is easy to get involved in. The recent comedy drama 50/50 took a down-to-earth, gently humorous look at dealing with cancer, and while the situations in Miss You Already are more outlandish, the approach is along those lines. Many of the jokes do land, and the comedy functions as a way of cushioning the blow of the devastation that comes with a condition like breast cancer. It doesn’t feel like the film is forcing us to laugh at something that inherently just isn’t funny, and that’s a point in its favour. 
Miss You Already’s coup is its casting, since if Milly and Jess come across as actual lifelong friends, half the battle is won. Milly and Jess are distinct enough without being polar opposites; it’s a relief that the film doesn’t take the “one’s buttoned-up and the other’s a flighty free spirit!” approach. Collette does most of the dramatic heavy lifting and her performance is as entertaining as it is affecting. We get the sense that this is a woman who loves having fun and does have a real zest for life, so we’re rooting for her in spite of some very questionable decisions she makes. Collette’s comic timing is on point, and both she and Barrymore consciously avoid over-the-top joke delivery styles. Barrymore’s Jess is the more stable and dependable of the two, having to be the unwavering pillar of support throughout Milly’s ordeal and Barrymore is understated and appealing in the role. There’s even a reference to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which this reviewer found especially amusing. 
Both Cooper and Considine make for fine significant others to Collette and Barrymore, with Considine in particular turning in what might the movie’s most realistic performance. Each has to “share” his wife with her best friend, but they become friends in the process and it is heart-warming to see them all hanging out together and enjoying each other’s company. Bisset, fabulous as always, is a complete and utter hoot as Milly’s feisty actress mother. 
Miss You Already is by no means a realistic movie – there’s a subplot involving Milly dragging a pregnant Jess along on a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Brontë Country, the setting of their favourite book Wuthering Heights. However, by the time the film closes in on the tear ducts, it has largely earned that and the characters feel sufficiently developed and relatable. Miss You Already’s formulaic aspects are easy to forgive, because director Hardwicke and writer Banks have mostly put them to good use. 
Summary: While partaking in its share of clichés, this story of two friends manages to be funny and moving thanks in no small part to enjoyable, engaging performances from its leads.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong 

Dracula Untold

For F*** Magazine

DRACULA UNTOLD

Director : Gary Shore
Cast : Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Diarmaid Murtagh, Charles Dance, Charlie Cox, Art Parkinson
Genre : Horror/Fantasy/Thriller
Opens : 2 October 2014
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Disturbing Scenes) 
Run time: 93 mins
The title character of Bram Stoker’s 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula has reared his fanged head in popular culture, the vampire of vampires a perennially popular subject in every entertainment medium. This origin story takes us back to 1462, when Dracula preferred the taste of coffee to that of blood and was still known as Vlad Tepes III (Evans). The peace that Prince Vlad’s domain of Wallachia, south of Transylvania, has enjoyed for a decade is under threat. The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed III (Cooper) demands 1000 boys to serve in his army – including Vlad’s young son Ingeras (Parkinson). Driven by a love for his son, his wife Mirena (Gadon) and a dedication to his people, Vlad makes the proverbial deal with the devil. In this case, that devil is the Master Vampire (Dance) who has waited centuries for someone worthy enough to inherit his powers. Of course, there’s a price: with the superhuman strength, speed and the ability to transform into a colony of bats comes an insatiable thirst for human blood and various specific weaknesses, including to sunlight and silver. Will Dracula bear this curse for all eternity to save his people?

            Your willingness to accept this incarnation of Dracula will be contingent on which version of the character, if any, you hold dear. Distancing itself from Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Gary Oldman’s famous performances, Dracula Untold recasts its protagonist as a tortured antihero not unlike the Crow, Spawn or the Punisher. The character is handled similarly to in the Castlevaniavideogame series and the “perspective flip” is perhaps reminiscent of Maleficent. The medieval fantasy action feel the film is striving for is also clearly influenced by Game of Thrones, with actor Charles Dance and composer Ramin Djawadi involved in both. Unfortunately, this approach makes the film come off as generic. Largely dreary and self-serious, Dracula Untold would have benefitted from just a dash of theatricality and operatic grandeur, elements often associated with Dracula. The film’s production values are decent, the costumes designed by Ngila Dickson (co-designer and Oscar-winner for the Lord of the Rings films) especially praiseworthy – that dragon relief detail on Dracula’s armour sure is cool. Blurry CGI used for set extensions and to create landscapes does let it down somewhat.

            Luke Evans is solid if unremarkable in the lead role. In terms of presence, his Dracula (im)pales in comparison to those of the afore-mentioned three actors, whom every actor to play the role will be measured against. Evans’ Vlad is stoic and strong and there is an attempt on the part of screenwriters Matt Sazama and Buck Sharpless to give him character development. You might be left wondering “how can someone who loves his wife and child so much be okay with impaling thousands of villagers?” The morality and inner dilemma of the character is touched upon, sure, but it isn’t given the depth required to be truly compelling. The line “sometimes the world no longer needs a hero. Sometimes what it needs is a monster”, in addition to being something that probably applies more to Hellboy than to Dracula, just isn’t enough.

            Dominic Cooper, who had a brush with vampires in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and who’s memorably portrayed real-life villain Uday Hussein in The Devil’s Doubleand who was the bad guy earlier this year in Need For Speed, is the adversary here as well. In this story, Mehmed III grew up alongside Vlad, when Vlad was forcibly conscripted into the Ottoman army as a child. Cooper does look evil-cool in that ornate gold chest plate and guyliner but doesn’t get a lot to do, the story not playing up the angle of “blood brothers-turned-enemies”. As Mirena, Sarah Gadon is little more than “the wife” and could have done with even just one ass-kicking scene to herself. As the being who turns Vlad into a vampire, Veteran actor Charles Dance steals the show, his naturally menacing mug covered in makeup designed to echo Count Orlok from Nosferatu.

            Dracula Untold is intended to launch a new Universal Monsters cinematic universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe got its start with Iron Man, and Iron Man this ain’t – even with Howard Stark in it. That said, Dracula Untoldisn’t the mess it could’ve been, considering that this is director Gary Shore’s first feature film. While horror aficionados might thumb their noses at the PG-13 rating, there are still some brutal moments in the film – these vampires don’t sparkle in the sun, they burn, as it should be. There are a few moments of unintentional silliness – when Vlad hurls Ottoman soldiers into the air, they look like they’re victims of a trampoline accident and when he commands swarming bats, it brings to mind Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of Fantasia. As a period fantasy action film, Dracula Untold is a passable diversion, but as a reimagining of one of the most iconic characters in all of fiction, it leaves a good deal to be desired.
Summary: This “untold” story is a familiar one and in place of elegance and mystique we get humdrum fantasy action, but we’ll take these vampires over those from Twilight any day of the week.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong