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Warcraft (Blu-ray)

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warcraft-blu-ray-coverStarring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell

Directed by Duncan Jones

Distributed by Universal Pictures


I had actually been avoiding seeing this movie. I’ve been a Warcraft fan since Orcs & Humans. I’ve played all the strategy games through, and even did my time in WoW. My most recent addiction is Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, which I comfortably dump at least two hours into daily. Overall, there’s no telling just how much time and money I’ve sunk into the lands of Azeroth (and the Outlands). So this film should be perfect for me, right?

Well, as much as I love the series, I’ve never been a huge fan of the constant World of Warcraft retcon. Back in my day, orcs were green, and everyone was just fine with it. With each new expansion, they kept trying to extend the lore at the expense of the core story. Now we have brown orcs, red orcs, green orcs, space goats, and pandas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we have to take a story about interdimensional orcs fighting an eternal war against mankind seriously. I’m just saying that there’s a long history of messing with the Warcraft lore, and I wasn’t exactly excited to see how they continued that tradition in the film.

But hey, if Universal wants to send me the movie, I’ll watch it. I was aware that this was a telling of the events from the first game, but with the retcon of recent lore. Whatever, as long as there aren’t too many space goats, I’ll be fine.

I’m pleased to say that this is probably the best retelling of the Warcraft lore since Warcraft 3 made The Horde stop being the bad guys. The film had two hours to introduce a world, explain the events of the first game, find a way to include all of the newer plot elements, and still have time to make us care about the characters. And by golly, it seems like Duncan Jones did it.

First off, the visuals in the film are stunning. It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten to the point that CGI characters can look this good. The amount of subtle nuance in these 700 pound monsters is incredible. When you have real actors fighting CGI monsters, it can come off looking really goofy, but that never even crossed my mind while watching. It never feels like real actors interacting with cartoons.

It’s not just the CGI that impressed me. Warcraft really nails the look and feel of the games. This is a world where everything is exaggerated. Shields are the size of people, swords are five feet long, orcs ride on giant wolves, and wizards fling magic all over the place. It’s deliberately cartoony. How they translated that into the real world was magnificent. The oversized trees of Elwynn Forest were immediately recognizable, and the layout of the inn took me right back to the Hillsbrad Foothills. It would be really easy to make it all look just slightly overdone, a little too goofy, but for me it never crossed that threshold.

If I were to pick the weakest part of Warcraft, it would be the uneven characters. There are simply too many people to really care about them all. King Llane in particular felt hollow, as we just didn’t get enough time with him to figure out what kind of a leader he was. I also wish that key characters got more screentime, such as Orgrim Doomhammer. He’s an absolutely massive part of the lore, but was more of Durotan’s sidekick in the film. Other than that, there were some really strong performances by Travis Fimmel as Anduin Lothar and Ben Schnetzer as Khadgar. Seeing these legendary characters brought to life and done so well was a treat.

The plot also felt rushed in places. When Garona eventually has to do her thing (that I won’t say because it would be a big spoiler), it comes off as random and out of character. To be fair, it was also pretty poorly explained in the game. The worst part was the final fight between Blackhand and Lothar. The whole movie builds up to this epic showdown, and it’s over in two seconds. Did they just run out of money? With a budget of $100 million, I doubt it.

What’s amazing to me was how little I cared about the plot changes. I’m a massive lore nerd, so I’m exactly the kind of person that would get miffed by the slightest alteration. They did change some stuff in Warcraft, but it was all in the service of making the overall film better. Of the things they did change, almost none of it compromised the integrity of the narrative. If you’re going to have to change things to adapt a video game into a film, this is how you do it.

I said almost none of it, because there was one change that really bugged me. This is my paragraph to nerd rage a bit. In the film Warcraft, Anduin Lothar is the one who takes down Blackhand. In the game, it was Orgrim Doomhammer. This is a massive change. In the game, Doomhammer takes down Blackhand to wrest control of The Horde away from Gul’dan and the Shadow Council. It’s a turning point for The Horde, reasserting the warrior rule and purging the corruption from the highest ranks. In the film, they changed it to Lothar because he was grumpy that Blackhand killed his son. It just doesn’t have the same impact. I understand how it was in service of making the film have a more complete arc, but it’s a big change to the integrity of the world.

As a fan, it was great to see this world I’ve spent so much time with come to life. What was even more fun was getting to nerd out about it for the rest of the night to my girlfriend. She’s never played a Warcraft game, and after the movie wanted to know more. It was special for me to see that same spark of interest in her that grew in me all those years ago. There’s something magical about Warcraft, a rich wonder that has drawn so many people in for decades. It’s not a perfect film, but that wonder is alive here.

Speaking of wonder, with all of the great visuals on display, it was almost impossible that the special features wouldn’t be at least interesting. There’s plenty of that here, with an excellent series of vignettes titled “The World of Warcraft on Film.” I’m always a fan of alternate endings and stuff, but really for me the mark of a good special feature is that it helps you appreciate the movie more. I have to say, after watching what exactly it took to bring this all to life, I’m deeply impressed. I had no idea how much I cared about costume design until I learned about the level of detail that went into crafting all of the armor and outfits.

A special feature I liked on a more personal level was “The Fandom of Warcraft.” Honestly, I’m not one to reminisce, but seeing the earnest display of love for a series I used to be so involved in really brought me back. It took me right back to my days in S.T.R.I.K.E., my teenage guild that raided the likes of Icecrown Citadel and Black Temple on the server Coilfang. “The Fandom of Warcraft” didn’t really add to the film, but it was a nice, warm moment that fans like me will surely be able to relate to.

Other than that, we have some pretty stock deleted scenes, a gag reel, and filler. The only really bad feature is the “Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood” motion comic. The voice acting was terrible, and plot total nonsense. It’s supposed to give you some insight into the events leading up to the film, but it really just sucked.

Special Features:

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Gag Reel
  • The Fandom of Warcraft
  • ILM: Behind the Magic of Warcraft
  • Warcraft: Bonds of Brotherhood Motion Comic
  • The World of Warcraft on Film: Talent, VFX, Stunts, and More
  • Warcraft: The Madame Tussauds Experience
  • Warcraft Teaser 2013
  • Film
  • Special Features
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User Rating 3.31 (16 votes)
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Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product

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DesolationStarring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols

Directed by Sam Patton


I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.

The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.

So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”

As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.

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User Rating 2.87 (15 votes)
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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside

Directed by Eitan Gafny

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.

Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.

Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.

The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.

So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.

Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.

The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.

Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.

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User Rating 3.24 (21 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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User Rating 3.58 (19 votes)
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