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Dark Horse, Puerto Ricans in Paris, Warcraft, The Conjuring 2, and more

New movies opening this week

Team Durotan!
Team Durotan!
Movie

Warcraft **

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Well now, looky here — a fantasy story, heavy on the CGI and based on an existing (video game) property — that somehow doesn’t feel like brand management, fan service, or even boilerplate hackwork. Instead, you’ve got a complicated, unexpected hero in the orc chieftan Durotan, who starts having second thoughts about conquering the world of humans after he discovers rot at the top of the orcish chain of command. (Even a marauding barbarian should pause where magic is concerned, even when that magic is employed to revive his stillborn son.) Of course, our natural sympathies are with humanity under siege — the brave king, the dashing knight, the youthful sorcerer — but there are hard choices on both sides, choices that involve real costs. Less real: the strange hyper-crisp, super-saturated depiction of armor, fur, skin, and greenery. But if it feels slightly fake, it’s gorgeously so, like the too-red blood of old horror films. There are plenty of flaws — an overabundance of storylines chief among them, followed by the occasional slip into silly action and/or overdone effects — but what fun to discover some virtues to set against them. Directed by Duncan Jones.

Find showtimes

Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson did not like the based-on-a-video-game fantasy pic Warcraft. I know this because of the headline: “Game Turned Movie Warcraft Fails on Every Single Level.”

But his review is actually kinder than that. Viz: “This cold open is bracing and tense and cleverly filmed, which raised my hopes for the rest of the film...Admirably, the film — written by Jones and Charles Leavitt — aims for deadly serious high fantasy, a tricky genre that hinges on a decidedly un-cool earnestness. It’s a grand idea...Here’s a movie that — despite its based-on-a-video-game origins in corporate synergy — feels genuinely uncynical...The battles are there, the zooming flights on some sort of griffin thing are there, the glowing magic spells and eye-popping landscapes are all there. (At times, the film looks genuinely lovely.)”

In the end, he decides that all these good bits don't manage to add up to anything good. I can see his point. It's a clunky film, hampered by its indebtedness to its sprawling source material. And most critics agree with him about its overall failure. But to me, the strong parts were so strong that I forgave a lot of faults. The handling of the orc hero alone was enough to make me sit up and smile. That's the critical horse race.

Lots of other more obviously good stuff opening this week as well. Scott had good things to say about the class warfare documentary Dark Horse, the Luis Guzman vehicle Puerto Ricans in Paris, and even the political refugee drama-thriller (driller?) Dheepan. Only the dragshow entry Viva disappointed.

On the sequel front, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Conjuring 2 and unsurprised by how little I enjoyed Now You See Me 2.

There may be a few straggler reviews showing up in the comments, but other than that, cheers and happy weekend to you.

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Natural San Diego, September 21-28
Team Durotan!
Team Durotan!
Movie

Warcraft **

thumbnail

Well now, looky here — a fantasy story, heavy on the CGI and based on an existing (video game) property — that somehow doesn’t feel like brand management, fan service, or even boilerplate hackwork. Instead, you’ve got a complicated, unexpected hero in the orc chieftan Durotan, who starts having second thoughts about conquering the world of humans after he discovers rot at the top of the orcish chain of command. (Even a marauding barbarian should pause where magic is concerned, even when that magic is employed to revive his stillborn son.) Of course, our natural sympathies are with humanity under siege — the brave king, the dashing knight, the youthful sorcerer — but there are hard choices on both sides, choices that involve real costs. Less real: the strange hyper-crisp, super-saturated depiction of armor, fur, skin, and greenery. But if it feels slightly fake, it’s gorgeously so, like the too-red blood of old horror films. There are plenty of flaws — an overabundance of storylines chief among them, followed by the occasional slip into silly action and/or overdone effects — but what fun to discover some virtues to set against them. Directed by Duncan Jones.

Find showtimes

Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson did not like the based-on-a-video-game fantasy pic Warcraft. I know this because of the headline: “Game Turned Movie Warcraft Fails on Every Single Level.”

But his review is actually kinder than that. Viz: “This cold open is bracing and tense and cleverly filmed, which raised my hopes for the rest of the film...Admirably, the film — written by Jones and Charles Leavitt — aims for deadly serious high fantasy, a tricky genre that hinges on a decidedly un-cool earnestness. It’s a grand idea...Here’s a movie that — despite its based-on-a-video-game origins in corporate synergy — feels genuinely uncynical...The battles are there, the zooming flights on some sort of griffin thing are there, the glowing magic spells and eye-popping landscapes are all there. (At times, the film looks genuinely lovely.)”

In the end, he decides that all these good bits don't manage to add up to anything good. I can see his point. It's a clunky film, hampered by its indebtedness to its sprawling source material. And most critics agree with him about its overall failure. But to me, the strong parts were so strong that I forgave a lot of faults. The handling of the orc hero alone was enough to make me sit up and smile. That's the critical horse race.

Lots of other more obviously good stuff opening this week as well. Scott had good things to say about the class warfare documentary Dark Horse, the Luis Guzman vehicle Puerto Ricans in Paris, and even the political refugee drama-thriller (driller?) Dheepan. Only the dragshow entry Viva disappointed.

On the sequel front, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Conjuring 2 and unsurprised by how little I enjoyed Now You See Me 2.

There may be a few straggler reviews showing up in the comments, but other than that, cheers and happy weekend to you.

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