Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I Can't Think of a Title...

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003): adapted from the Patrick O'Brian novels by Peter Weir and John Collee; directed by Peter Weir; starring Russell Crowe (Captain Jack Aubrey), Paul Bettany (Dr. Stephen Maturin), Billy Boyd (Coxswain Bonden), Lee Ingleby (Midshipman Hollom), and James D'Arcy (1st Lt. Pullings): Only the prohibitive expense of filming on water kept Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World from being the intended start of a series of adaptations of the naval adventures of Patrick O'Brian's Captain Jack Aubrey and Surgeon Stephen Maturin -- this movie was a hit, but not a big enough one. It's a bracing, detailed, and beautifully photographed and directed naval story set in the Napoleon era of the early 19th century. 

Russell Crowe's Aubrey pursues a much-more-powerful French ship across half the world, ending up near the Galapagos Islands. There, some comic business with Dr. Maturin nearly discovering evolution before Darwin reminds one a lot of some of the business in the film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

The naval battles win the day, giving one a sense of strategy and tactics on the high seas with only sails and oars to rely upon. Crowe and Paul Bettany shine as the two leads -- Crowe's beefiness seems perfectly suited to playing a hero of a bygone era. The supporting cast is fine all the way through. Are there any speaking parts (or indeed parts) for women in this movie? Well, no, not really. A female South Sea islander appears on screen for about ten seconds. Otherwise, manly men do manly things on the manly waves. Highly recommended.

Warcraft (2016): adapted from the video game by Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones; directed by Duncan Jones; starring Travis Fimmel (Lothar), Paula Patton (Garona), Ben Foster (Guardian Medivh), Dominic Cooper (Llane Wrynn), Toby Kebbell (Durotan), and Ben Schnetzer (Khadgar): Not the worst fantasy movie I've ever seen. The talented Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code, and son of David Bowie) stages some decent set-pieces and also manages to make the Orcs of Warcraft into compelling beings. What plotting the movie has, however, makes it resemble an assembly of cut-scenes. 

And the game-based musculature of the Orcs looks ridiculous, a problem no amount of CGI money could possibly fix. 

The truly striking problem lies in the casting of the human forces, though. While Paula Patton is fine as a human-sized female Orc and the motion-capture actors do decent work as the rest of the Orcs, the humans are not so fortunate. Never have a couple of mages, a king, and a mighty warrior seemed so lame. I mean, Ben Foster in the Gandalf/Saruman role of Guardian? Seriously? The best thing in the CGI is the giant griffin one character flies around on. Get that beast its own movie. Still, not nearly as annoying as those three godawful Hobbit movies. And hey, China likes it! Lightly recommended.

The Visit (2015): written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; starring Olivia DeJonge (Becca), Ed Oxenbould (Tyler), Deanna Dunagan (Nana), Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop), and Kathryn Hahn (Mom): A decent thriller from M. Night Shyamalan... with a twist! This movie only cost $5 million, which is why it was considered a financial success despite grossing almost exactly the same amount of money domestically as the universally reviled M. Night Shyamalan bomb The Happening, a.k.a. The One where Mark Wahlberg Runs Away from Wind. 

The Visit is blessedly short and gifted with four out of five decent actors in the main roles. The non-decent actor playing grandson Tyler isn't necessarily a bad actor -- he's just been burdened with a cutesy rapping obsession that probably looked a lot better on the page than it plays on screen. 

The plot is simple -- the two children of a mother estranged from her parents since before the kids were born go to visit the grandparents for a week, mostly against their mother's wishes. Meanwhile, Mom goes on a cruise with her new boyfriend. The oldest grandchild, the granddaughter, is filming everything because she's obsessed with film and hey, this is yet another 'found-footage' horror movie. Shyamalan wrings a few new shocks out of the first-person camera. Certainly not a great movie, but enjoyable. Recommended.

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