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.

Jake Gyllenhaal & cast/crew – Source Code

April 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the sci-fi action thriller “Source Code,” Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up inside the body of another man eight minutes before he and a train full of commuters on a Chicago train are killed by a terrorist’s bomb. Wired into a military program allowing him to travel through time, Capt. Colter is repeatedly transported into his avatar each time getting closer and closer to finding the source of the bomb and stopping it from detonating.

During the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas last month, I got the opportunity to sit down with “Source Code” director Duncan Jones, screenwriter Ben Ripley, and actors Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, and Vera Farmiga to talk about their new film and what is so intriguing about the sci-fi genre.

Duncan, You’ve described “Source Code” as a “thinking man’s sci-fi movie.” Can you elaborate on that idea and compare it to other sci-fi movies that might be a bit more mainstream?

Duncan Jones: Yeah, I see it as a contemporary thriller. There are definitely science fiction elements to it. It builds on that foundation and needs it for the story to work. But the heart of the film is about relationships. I think a lot of it comes from the set up that Ben wrote.

Ben Ripley: Yeah, there’s not a lot of tech in “Source Code.” There are no starships or lasers. We’re not in outer space. The technology is implied. I think that challenges you a little more whereas mainstream science fiction is going to try to wow you by setting the film on the surface of another planet; it’s the spectacle of it all. This is internal. This is a character mystery first and foremost.

Duncan, since “Source Code” is your second film, did you worry about what is known in the film industry as “the sophomore slump” – where your second film doesn’t live up to the critical success of your first?

I have to be honest, I didn’t think about it while I was shooting the film. It was a term I was familiar with, but I didn’t really have time to worry about it until we started talking to press and media. (Laughs) You start thinking about it when someone asks, “Well, what’s the third film called?”

Jake, this is the first sci-fi film you’ve made since “Donnie Darko” in 2001. How exciting was it to find your way back to this genre?

It was great. First of all, the screenplay was fantastic. For me, when Duncan decided he wanted to do it, that was it. I was excited because I feel like doing a sci-fi movie gives you the opportunity to use your mind in a way you normally don’t. Usually, you’re focused on character and not how a character is moving through a situation. Even if the character is moving through something, there are always rules of reality. In the world of sci-fi there aren’t any rules. It offered me the opportunity in my performance to pretty much do anything. That was a thrill. The process was fun because there is so much you can do

Was Duncan open to all your ideas?

All the time. I would say, “I’m going to try something crazy” and he’d say, “Do it, mate.” The crazier the better for him. He was like, “Weirder! Go weirder! You can do anything you want to anybody.” I found a real kindred spirit in that. He has this really big heart and is fascinated with details. It’s rare to see that in a movie like this.

Michelle, this is a fairly complicated script. When you were shooting it, did you ever have to stop and make sure you knew exactly where you were in the story?

Absolutely. I think the first time I read it, I had to read it again. The great thing about the movie is that it’s totally engaging. It literally grabs you from the first 10 or 20 pages. But you’re in an alternate reality part of the time so it definitely is confusing trying to work it out. You see the words on the page, but visually you’re trying to work it out in your head.

How did you manage to keep everything in order in your head and shoot what’s basically the same scene over and over again?

Well, when it came time to shoot it, it was really tricky. We were doing the same eight minutes. Playing those eight minutes over and over again was the most intriguing and challenging thing as an actress. We wanted to make them engaging and add all the subtleties. We would huddle up for a good hour prior to each scene over three days to make sure we were all in the same place in the story. We shot them chronologically, which was a nice luxury to have. We wanted to start each scene with a clear idea of what we wanted to puzzle together. That was our clear goal.

If you were to have the opportunity to go back and correct something in the past, would you or do you believe everything happens for a reason?

I’m a really big believer that everything happens for a reason, but if I could have eight minutes just to experience something again it would be my wedding because it was way too fast. No, I wasn’t drunk. (Laughs) It’s one of those things like, “Oh my gosh, I wish I could hear those speeches again! Oh, I wish I had a second shot at that first dance!” If I could have eight minutes again I would have that day.

You studied journalism for a long time…

Yeah, I did!

Could you see yourself on the other side of this table asking the questions?

Yeah, sure! It’s funny because for years that’s all I wanted to do and that’s what I studied. Then I discovered acting and found out when I was researching for roles I was doing the who, what, when, where, why. That’s how I prepare for all my roles now. So, I didn’t waste all that money [for college]. It was such a relief.

Vera, what were the challenges of playing a role that was fairly stationary from your character’s perspective?

Yeah, there wasn’t much movement. I was in a roller chair so I could roll back and forth and swivel right and left. My movement was confined. I knew my face was going to be massive and probably skewed in the way cameras skew your face when you’re video chatting. It forced me to think about their psycho-spiritual connection and maneuvering from an ocular standpoint. This role isn’t something I would particularly be drawn to, but because it is so opposite of what I’m usually drawn to, I took a look at it. Duncan Jones on the cover sheet was enough to get a yes from me. To be a part of an intricate puzzle was enough to get a yes from me. I think the challenge was to consider what the character was not saying and to read what was between the lines. I think that allowed for more life. I think the challenges were to convey all of that.

And convey it while reciting some very technical dialogue.

In all candor, that kind of dialogue – that expository dialogue – is just boring to execute. So, the challenge of that was to find life beyond the information. My character had to be a whip-cracker with information, but I also wanted to find a way to convey what her morale dilemma is and how that would play out.

Source Code

April 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
Directed by: Duncan Jones (“Moon”)
Written by: Ben Ripley (debut)

Playing like a bizarre mix of the Billy Murray comedy “Groundhog’s Day” and the early 90s TV series “Quantum Leap,” director Duncan Jones’ second feature film, “Source Code,” is an exciting and smart sci-fi story that proves original ideas still exist out there – even if you have to search beyond time and space.

In “Source Code,” Jake Gyllenhaal (“Love and Other Drugs”) plays Capt. Colter Stevens, a helicopter pilot stationed in Afghanistan who wakes up one day to discover he is no longer himself. He now inhabits the body of a high school teacher traveling into Chicago on a train with one of his fellow colleagues and possible love interest (Michlle Monaghan).

Extremely confused for the first half hour of the film, Capt. Colter soon learns he is part of a special mission, which gives him eight minutes to find a terrorist who ultimately ends up bombing the train he is on. Sent back and forth into this parallel universe by military officer Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and a team of scientists, Capt. Colter is forced to participate in what Goodwin calls a Source Code, a time reassignment program (way more interesting than the time traveling hooey Gyllenhaal goes through in “Prince of Persia”) that allows him to revisit past events in hopes of retrieving vital information and saving lives.

Shot in a Hitchockian-type style that keeps the intensity high, director Jones knows how to thread scenes together with inventiveness. Each time Capt. Colter fails at his mission, he awakes inside a mechanical pod, asked to report on what he has seen, and is sent back again without much warning. Like Sam Rockwell in Jones’ first film “Moon,” Capt. Colter is overwhelmed by isolation. Gyllenhaal, in a very convincing peroformance, gives his character depth and likeability. Each time he asks to speak to his father, Jones hits us hard with heartbreaking compassion.

It’s because of this that “Source Code” is more than just a fun sci-fi ride through the creative mind of Jones and screenwriter Ben Ripley; there’s actually a reason we care about our leading man and the pain he is feeling as he is jerked around between worlds. While Jones delivers an enjoyable balance of charm and humor to the picture, it’s the emotional pull that keeps us deep inside “Source Code” eager to see the captain emerge from the smoke and mirrors.

Moon

March 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Kevin Spacey (voice)
Directed by: Duncan Jones (debut)
Written by: Nathan Parker (debut)

Reminiscent of early episodes of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone,” the new science fiction film “Moon” is a refreshing addition to a genre usually reserved these days for million-dollar special effects and overly-scripted premises. With “Moon,” debut feature director Duncan Jones gives us one of the most minimalistic and stimulating narratives since 2002’s underappreciated “Solaris.”

In “Moon,” the same deep emotions are layered throughout the story just like Steven Soderbergh’s remake of seven years ago. It’s not necessarily as haunting of an experience, but Jones is able to pick away at our psyche little by little to keep us intrigued by the eeriness of it all.

The film begins with an introduction to Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), an astronaut who has inhabited a space station for almost three years mining for a much-needed power source for earth. Alone for the entire duration of his mission, Sam get through the days by watching old TV sitcoms, exchanging messages via video feed with his wife and daughter on earth, and talking to the space station’s main computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Unlike Tom Hanks communicates with his volleyball Wilson in “Castaway,” at least GERTY speaks back.

Coming to the end of his contract with the company that sent him into space, Sam is eager to get back to earth after three long years in solitary confinement. A man can only take so much ping-pong playing with a wall and talking to a mainframe whose emotional outbursts are limited to computer-generated facial expressions.

Sam’s mission is derailed, however, when he mysteriously wakes up in the station’s infirmary after crashing his rover during an excavation on the surface of the moon. When he returns to the crash site to investigate, he discovers something that makes him question his sanity and even his own existence.

Cleverly-written and well-paced, “Moon” is anchored by a top-notch performance by Rockwell, his best since 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” As Sam attempts to piece together what he is experiencing aboard a station, Rockwell slowly unravels his character to his rawest form. Director Duncan magnifies this by giving us thought-provoking scenarios that will have you talking long after you’ve left the theater.