Warcraft

June 10, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster
Directed by: Duncan Jones (“Moon,” “Source Code”)
Written by: Duncan Jones (debut) and Charles Leavitt (“Seventh Son”)

First things first: I’ve never walked out of a movie, regardless of how awful it is. I try to remain professional, evaluating each and every painful film from start to finish. 2015 tested my patience with garbage like “Blackhat,” “Jupiter Ascending,” “Entourage,” and “Seventh Son,” but 2016 had been relatively free of patience-testing movies. Then a giant lump of orc shit named “Warcraft” digitally unspooled before me in IMAX 3D and, for nearly every second of its two-hour runtime, I wanted to jump into a magic portal of my own – anything to get me the hell out of the theater.

Based on a video games series that debuted in 1994, “Warcraft” tells the story of the kingdom of Azeroth, under siege from an army of orcs led by the evil/magic/green-skinned Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). The mission of the orcs is to jump through a magical portal Gul’dan creates to grab enough humans to power the creation of an even bigger portal that will allow the entire orc army to travel through, enslaving the world. Certain orcs (some without green skin), though, namely mild-mannered Dotan (Toby Kebbell) and half-human Garona (poor, poor Paula Patton), remain skeptical of Gul’dan’s plan and his use of some deadly magic bullshit called The Fel. Defending humanity against the orcs is King Llane (Dominic Cooper), his most trusted warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and magical guardian Medivh (Ben Foster). When Garona is captured during a raid, she earns the uneasy trust of the humans and proposes a cooperation with the non-green-skinned orcs to defeat Gul’dan.

Incomprehensible and interminable, “Warcraft” takes a video game with a paper-thin premise and attempts to craft a low-rent “Lord of the Rings” adventure out of a handful of generic realms, corrupt dark magic, and free iPhone game-level CGI creatures. While a movie filled with motion-captured performances like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” or “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” have astounding visual effects that make you believe those goddamn turtles are real, “Warcraft” is full of shitty beasts that look instead like they belong on your nephew’s iPad screen, pausing every few seconds to swing a giant battle hammer and then ask for his mother’s credit card information – all while blatantly setting up the next adventure to come!

The real tragedy here is that director Duncan Jones, son of the late David Bowie and director of the fabulous low-key sci-fi film “Moon,” finds himself and his characters buried beneath layer upon Adobe After Effects layer of indifferent special effects and plot lines cribbed much better fantasy epics, perhaps driving a battle axe into the skull of his one-mighty potential as a science fiction filmmaker adults could love.

Seventh Son

February 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Ben Barnes
Directed by: Sergei Bodrov (“Nomad: The Warrior”)
Written by:  Charles Leavitt (“Blood Diamond”) and Steven Knight (“Locke”)

Since the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy came along 14 years ago, followed a decade later by HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” popular culture has had all of its swords and sorcery needs met with high-end product, media that blends imaginative storytelling with committed performances and cutting-edge special effects. But that hasn’t stopped rival studios from attempting to make a quick buck riding the fad’s coattails. Now, it’s easier than ever to throw some actors in suits of armor and cloaks, ship them off to a Canadian forest, and film them swinging swords in the air while some special effects studio digitally renders a dragon or giant or whatever it is months down the road in a cramped Burbank office park. The latest knock-off is the dismal “Seventh Son,” and the only surprise in the film is how they managed to land both Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore for what has to be the worst-ever reunion of “The Big Lebowski” cast members committed to film.

Starting, as these things do, with a mysterious evil once thought banished returning to threaten the entire world, “Seventh Son” opens with a witch named Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) transforming into a dragon in order to escape her mountaintop prison. You see, the Blood Moon is coming up, and when witches do something on the Blood Moon, they can rule the world or whatever. But she needs something? Or she’s just waiting for the days to pass until the Blood Moon rises? Frankly this plan is thinly sketched. Anyway, Mother Malkin calls upon her “Mortal Kombat” reject family of witches and warlocks to prepare for the inevitable attack led by Sir Gregory (Jeff Bridges with an accent like a bad Sean Connery impression performed through a mouth full of peanut butter), an unfortunately-named Spook, a breed of knight who specializes in hunting down supernatural creatures. Along for the ride is his new apprentice Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), a seventh son of a seventh son, supposedly seven times stronger than the average man but really just sort of okay. And his mom is a witch too, so he’s got that. Ugh, this thing is a mess. Rest assured there’s a fight between the Spooks and the witches and it is all very boring.

While Barnes and his half-witch love interest Alice (Alicia Vikander) look pretty enough, absolutely no effort is made by either one to fit into the time frame, forgoing the genre standard British accents and speaking with flat American dialects and with the speech patterns and sarcasm of modern 20-somethings. At least they fare much better than whatever the hell it is Jeff Bridges is doing with his voice, chewing every single word like a piece of bubble gum and spitting them out through a sub-Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones” over-enunciated squawk. This aggression will not stand, man.

The Express

October 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Darrin Dewitt Henson
Directed by: Gary Fleder (“Runaway Jury”)
Written by: Charles Leavitt (“Blood Diamond”)

As far as inspirational true-life sports dramas go, there haven’t been too many in the past few years able to distinguish themselves from the rest. For every modern classic like “Friday Night Lights,” we are blitzed with less effective films like “Remember the Titans” and “Glory Road” unable to dodge formulaic plot points and over-emphasized sentimentality.

In “The Express,” the football drama takes the usual route toward forced emotion by unavoidably playing the race card for a majority of its runtime. Yes, the true story of footballer Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) takes place in the late 50’s when racism in America was at its most alarming, but screenwriter Charles Leavitt spoon-feeds so much black-versus-white verbiage and unnecessary conflict, you’ll think he’s been studying Paul Haggis’ cliffnotes on thematic overkill.

Based on Robert C. Gallagher’s book “Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express,” the film follows Ernie’s collegiate football career (he was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy) and short-lived life, which ended during his rookie year in the NFL after being diagnosed with leukemia.

As a young boy, Ernie realized his passion for running would take him anywhere (a la Forrest Gump) when his quick feet save him from a group of white, troublemaking kids looking for a fight. His natural athletic ability would later lead him into the college football ranks where Syracuse University and Coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid) manage to lure him away from his other suitors with the recruiting assistance of Syracuse alumnus and Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson).

Ernie’s not quite comfortable being helmed the second coming of Brown (Coach makes him wear No. 44, Brown’s old jersey number), but as a fan of Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson when he was a child, he understands the positive influence an upstanding and talented black man can have on a repressed black community, and is starstruck when Brown shows interest in his running game. As one of only three black players on the team, however, it’s no easy task to integrate as older teammates take offense to him being on the varsity squad and when his ambiguously bigoted coach calls him into his office to give him the “white girl speech,” which basically forbids him to date outside his race.

While “The Express” continues to hammer the obvious elements into an already unstable script (every white character acts like they’ve been ripped from “The Jerry Springer Show”), the film is less concerned about pounding the ball down the field and capturing authenticity between opposing teams. It tries to be gritty with cinematography tricks, but “The Express” feels lax and imitative. There are some action sequences on the gridiron that actually feel like 30-second Super Bowl spots with all the overproduced sound effects (do I hear buffalo stampeding during kickoffs?) and a stale score featuring military cadences. All this leads up to an anticlimactic and longwinded fourth quarter that would have benefited from some skilled editing. While Davis’ biography is extremely noteworthy, even he knew running up the score while you’re ahead isn’t very sportsmanlike.