As the cult favourite, Donnie Darko, re-enters Australian cinemas this week to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary, we rewind back with this vintage FilmInk article tracking the early career of its star, Jake Gyllenhaal.
Do a quick google search on “Warcraft movie” and you’ll see dozens, if not hundreds, of scathing reviews, snarky opinion pieces, and lazy comparisons to that blazing cinematic diaper pile, Battlefield Earth. The good news is that this comparison isn’t even vaguely apt, as Warcraft is leagues better than that baffling John Travolta-starring stinker from 2000. The bad news, however, is that for all its good intentions, Warcraft is still a bit of a mess.
Optimistically titled Warcraft: The Beginning, the story tells of humankind’s first interaction with the race of Orcs. The Orc homeworld, Draenor, is dying, and glowing eyed, magic orc Hitler, Gul’dan (Daniel Wu), is leading the Horde into the peaceful world of Azeroth through a portal powered by the Fel, a kind of soul-sucking death magic. Interestingly, we start the movie with orc chieftain of the Frostwolf clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), who is clearly having doubts about his mission. Durotan is easily the most sympathetic and interesting character in Warcraft: a refugee with a pregnant mate who just wants to find a home for his family. This promising opening is soon squandered, however, when the action cuts to the humans.
The human stories involve Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), a dishy knight who serves King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper). As the orc threat becomes apparent, they need to recruit the services of mage-who-looks-like-a-shonky-weed-dealer, Medivh (Ben Foster). Add to this a half Orc/half human character, Garona (Paula Patton), and Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), a young mage on a secret quest, and you’ve got a full slate of confused subplots, leaden expository dialogue, and a dizzying amount of lore to take in. In trying to pay sufficient homage to Blizzard Entertainment’s 22-year-old game franchise, director, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code), has simply bitten off more than he can chew. It’s a pity too, because the Orc characters and story is sporadically interesting and imbued with an unlikely amount of pathos, given the strange and cartoony appearance of the Orcs themselves.
For all its (many) flaws, however, Warcraft at least attempts to tell a story and convey emotion. It’s stymied by a number of fairly bad casting choices; Paula Patton in particular is never convincing, and an overstuffed script kills any real sense of adventure or narrative flow. However, it should be noted: the hundreds of Warcraft fans attending the preview screening whooped, cheered and chanted along with the action on screen, so perhaps this film is simply a (very expensive) niche effort. For the Warcraft faithful, this is likely a treat: a big budget, lovingly crafted homage to the games that they’ve spent hundreds of hours playing, replete with bulk fan-service and in-jokes. For the rest of us, however, Warcraft often feels like an overlong, albeit pretty, unskippable cut scene.
With the great Gillian Armstrong set to interview The Dressmaker director, Jocelyn Moorhouse, on stage as part of Sydney’s Vivid Festival, we name-check a collection of our favourite Australian female filmmakers.
Talented Aussie director, James Wan (Saw, Insidious), gave horror fans a treat with 2013’s The Conjuring. Despite a somewhat familiar screenplay, Wan teased out a tense and engaging horror narrative that delivered bulk scares and creepy imagery. The good news about The Conjuring 2 is that Wan once again provides about 90 minutes’ worth of slick, memorable horror. The bad news, however, is that The Conjuring 2’s running time is 134 minutes.
The Conjuring 2, once again, opens with terminally square but good-hearted paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), as they experience the horrors of The Amityville House in an effective opening sequence that admittedly feels like a rehash of a scene from Insidious. The action then switches to Enfield, a borough in North London, where the Hodgson family are being beset by what appears to be an evil force, and single mother-of-four, Peggy (Frances O’Connor), is at her breaking point. Daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) is experiencing vivid visions and unusually mobile furniture, and could be suffering from demonic possession. Naturally few believe the Hodgsons, so it’s up to the Warrens to once again save the day. Eventually.
One of the problems with TheConjuring 2 is that it essentially repeats the same beats of the first film, but takes so much longer to do so. In taking on the “true story” of the so-called Enfield Poltergeist, we spend an unnecessary amount of time faffing around with the Hodgsons who, to be frank, are kind of dull. Madison Wolfe is effective as Janet, but Frances O’Connor’s take on the mum, Peggy, sounds like she’s about half a minute away from offering to “sweep your chimney for a ha’penny” or burst into a lesser known song from My Fair Lady. The rest of the family are pretty forgettable, and sections spent with them tend to drag.
The Warrens fare a little better, however, but again we know that they’re going to end up in Enfield, so every scene of them fighting against this inevitability feels like filler. That’s not to say that there aren’t creepy moments along the way – there are plenty. Wan fills the screen with evil nuns, creepy children’s toys, effective nightmare sequences, loud noises, and a “Crooked Man” monster that is oddly endearing albeit a little goofy.
The problem is that at 134 minutes, the film is outrageously overlong, and the third act climax, when it finally arrives, feels like more of a relief than the logical conclusion to the story. The Conjuring 2 has stellar moments of horror, and effectively homages numerous genre classics like The Exorcist and Evil Dead 2, but it’s simply too long to sustain the earnest and often silly ghost story at its core.
The prominence of Indigenous filmmaking in Australia continues to grow with the premiere of Songlines on Screen on NITV this Sunday, June 12. Songlines are an integral part of Aboriginal belief systems – a kind of complex combination of story, music, geography, history and myth. A co-production between NITV and Screen Australia, Songlines on Screen takes some of those stories ...