A Cold War? A 60 Second Review of Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)

“I’ve led thousands of warriors into battle, but I fear being a father.”

I’m one of the many reviewers to admit that I have not put a single digital foot into the world of Warcraft. Not that this should excuse the film if it washes over the heads of the uninitiated such as I, considering the amazing job Lord of the Rings did at immersing every viewer into the world of Middle Earth.

The plot seems to be that Orcs are from a world that is dying from an evil magic called ‘The Fel’, so an evil guy brings all the tribes of their world together to create ‘The Horde’. He then convinces them to invade the human world Azeroth, to make it their home. How? By building a portal of course. Believe me, this is just the basic premise, and it gets way too confusing way too quickly.

What I liked…

Tries to be funny, and at times almost is. It admirably  seeks the natural wit and humour of Marvel and the useful mid-battle levity of Lord of the Rings. But unfortunately it doesn’t have the cast and the direction necessary to pull it off, despite some early moments that lifted the corner of my mouth.

I liked Ben Foster as the hammy magician Medivh. He seems to be the only one willing to time his lines correctly, albeit his character is as paper thin as the others. Gul’dan was pretty evil as well, although CGI has to be close to perfection to deliver a true likeness in an Apes world.

Action scenes actually were not that bad. When it becomes the usual CGI mess in the bigger battles later on I did lose interest, but those early struggles had me at least looking up from my iPad a bit more.

What I disliked…

Seems to be a certain lack of focus that unhooks the viewer from the characters. This happens quite literally during battles, where I am sure the blue screen gave the director the idea that he no longer had to pay attention to what was going on in the background.

The sentimental character creation didn’t work for me. Although having an Orc that cared about family and proper ethics made a “we have a common enemy” situation that was necessary to mix the plot, it went way too far in places and ended up boring the viewer for the most part.

Whole movie quickly becomes a bit incoherent, mixed up and full of poor CGI. Although the screen writers have a lot to answer for by making it unbalanced and unfocused, I am really disappointed in Duncan Jones here. From a director that brought us the brilliant Source Code and Moon, you would expect better things. But he is still relatively new to the scene so maybe it’s a misstep only.

Shapstik Verdict: It would be very easy to insult the film and call it a childish version of other, better fantasy films. So I will. It is ridden with tired dialogue, poorly put together and lacks any tension due to bad pacing and over editing. That being said, I have seen worse films this year and there was more than one occasion when I was entertained. It has all the ingredients of a decent film, but fails where it matters the most. 4/10

Rebel without a Cause? A 60 Second Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

“The power that we are dealing with here is immeasurable.”

Here we go again people, it’s Star Wars time! The second film under Disney sees Godzilla’s Gareth Edwards take the helm as he tells the story of capturing the Death Star plans. I guess it’s one of the stories we wanted to hear… maybe? But really, who cares as long as Disney continue to hire the right directors, writers and actors that love the franchise and want to deliver their best for the fans.

I was among those that assumed the new film might have a slightly different tone from the saga films. Not least because of Edwards’ style, but more in an effort to place it slightly aside from the main story. I wasn’t wrong, but at the same time there is plenty of humour, adventure and universe-building taking place in Rogue One to ensure you get your fill of Star Wars pie. But is it any good?

What I liked…

Edwards handles the action like a boss. The CGI is fantastic and the set pieces are mindbogglingly good. He is clearly making the most of his mammoth $200m budget and adds a real deeper layer to realising the Star Wars universe. The ships sound, look and feel real, and in a cinematic universe forced to re-embrace practical effects, they often are. As a fan of EU novels, this felt like a really good one brought to life, filling in gaps in knowledge and fleshing out new vehicles and weapons.

It’s Surprisingly funny. K-2SO steals the show as the new droid in town, striking a balance between 3PO’s single mindedness and R2’s resourcefulness, whilst adding certain idiosyncrasies that make his comic delivery work a treat. Some of the attempts at levity don’t always land on both feet, but in a war-torn, moody film, it comes as a welcome relief.

The thing I liked the most about this film is its willingness to get its hands dirty when it mattered. This is a civil war and you can’t help but feel the desperate hope that many of the characters cling onto to give their cause purpose. This is taken perhaps slightly too far in places I will admit, but things feel real, dirty and dangerous in worlds under occupation. If you’re a fan of Nazi metaphors for the Empire then some of this will be right up your alley.

Darth Vader is in it for a bit, which is cool. It kind of works as well.

What I disliked…

Some strange decisions were clearly made in the final edits of this film. I understand that there were several re-shoots, which leaves the film slightly underdeveloped in places. Two of the main quotes “I rebel” and “what will you do if they find you?” I don’t think are even in the movie, which shows how many decisions were made post-filming.

Whether you agree with characters having a CGI makeover instead of being recast or not, they have way too much screen time to make it not distracting. Although the performances were good, the characters we are introduced to are really underwhelming. The Force Awakens had such strong characters and Abrams extracted such emotive performances from his actors that it makes Rogue One feel like nothing more than a great looking, enjoyable, but ultimately lacking action film. It’s sort of like the difference between Jurassic Park and Jurassic World.

First act in particular was a bit bumpy and slow. Really could have done with a stronger opening scene that threw the viewer down the Star Wars rabbit hole, leaving you breathless and hoping for more. Instead, we are introduced early on to some characters we know nothing about, delivering plot exposition and little more.

There is this weirdly pointless scene with a tentacle monster. It was like Rogue One was trying to have its own Rathtar.

Shapstik Verdict: Although Rogue One gives us some of the most visually stunning, funny and exciting action in any Star Wars film, I couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed. This isn’t because I am a massive Star Wars fan because I felt the same way about Godzilla. This is more about a lack of characters, urgency and a distinct drop in the visceral, smooth storytelling that Force Awakens delivered. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing scenes here and I was grinning like a Cheshire cat when an AT-ST stomped its way around the corner to blast some rebel scum. I’ll be watching this again and again and will be queuing up to buy it on Blu-ray. But then I did the same with Attack of the Clones, and that’s a pile of Bantha Fodder. 7/10

Living Doll? A 60 second review of The Boy (2016)

“Be good to him and he will be good to you.”

I know what you’re thinking: not another scary-doll-horror movie. But things are not always what they seem in The Boy, and you might find your expectations make the eventual twists somewhat surprising. This might stop the movie from being completely unwatchable, but it is still far off the pace in what is currently a good time for horror.

From director William Brent Bell, comes the story of Greta, played by The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohen, a young american woman who is invited to nanny Brahms, the child of two very creepy villagers in a remote part of the English countryside. The catch is, the child turns out to be a lifeless doll, or so it seems. Even though this would make most people twirl their finger around their ear and jump back across the pond, Greta apparently needs the money, so she takes the job and the movie rolls on…

What I liked…

There is something mysterious about the movie, especially in the first hour, that kept me interested. It is no doubt one of Director William Brent Bell’s better films, and Lauren Cohen holds her own in a mostly one-sided conversation with a doll. This is despite some really awkward dialogue and even more awkward flirting with Malcolm, the local gardener.

Where the film eventually ends up. What you expect to happen doesn’t always play out, and the film uses dream sequences to distract you from the reality of the situation, to deliver a hell of a twist.  I won’t give anything away, but I recommend seeing the film through to the end even if you are struggling past the hour mark.

What I disliked…

The characters are clumsily drawn out and their backstories often become a pointless distraction from an essentially decent idea for a movie. The stereotyped hick ex-boyfriend, the backward talking old couple playing the pronoun game with the uninitiated. It’s all rather predictable.

Full of jump scares, whose tired overuse never fails to clench the jaws of horror critics. It isn’t that they don’t really work, it’s just that they serve no purpose other than putting the button on a scene to make paranoid directors feel better.

The tepid camerawork fails to drive up the tension when it matters and Bell doesn’t seem wiling to let the horror do the talking for the characters. There are so many similar angles found in the scenes with the doll the viewer becomes quickly desensitised to the mystery involved.

Shapstik Verdict

No doubt a poor film with some rather slow paced and predictable scenes, cartoonish acting and poor character development. Despite that though, it has enough going on that makes it worth watching through till the end. There is also a certain duality to The Boy which will either infuriate or satisfy. Either way, it is still a missed opportunity in a movie that had the potential to become a horror-doll classic under the guide of better writers and directors. 4/10