Thursday, July 21, 2016

Double Review: "Warcraft" and "The BFG"

 A BOGO-special taking a look at two of the summer's most CGI-bloated box office duds!

By: Jimbo X

While Warcraft and The BFG obviously have their dissimilarities, the two thematically divergent films are kindred spirits in at least one regard: they are without question two of the biggest financial flops of the 2016 summer movie parade.

Having cost a colossal $160 million to make, Warcraft only managed to gross a paltry $46 million at the domestic box office. While the film did go on to make a shit ton of money overseas (somehow, the flick made a good $220 million off Chinese moviegoers alone), the film is still expected to be tallied up as a $15 million loss for upstart Legendary Pictures. Meanwhile, Steve Spielberg's The BFG utterly tanked at U.S. cineplexes, taking in barely $47 million as of mid-July; factoring in the even more abysmal international box office take, the film's weak $64 million global gross makes the Roald Dahl adaptation a disastrous $80 million production to profit loss for Disney. Factor in the capital squandered on advertising, marketing, licensing and other promotional expenditures and the House of Mouse's losings have to be in excess of $100 million, with the total revenue shortfall probably closer to $200 million. 

As to why the two films tanked with the U.S moviegoing throng, it's pretty damned obvious. In a cinematic universe ruled by Marvel superheroes and legacy Pixar and princess characters, it's pretty hard for even established properties (like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Independence Day and Ghostbusters) to gain a foothold in the virtually Disney-monopolized market. Sure, some original I.P.'s like Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets have had their fair share of success at the cineplex, but by and large, today's theater-goers are only interested in tried and true spectacles. With so much digital entertainment, effectively for free, within our palms at all times, you have REALLY got to promise us some quality bang and boom to get us drop $20 on a movie ticket. And yeah, asking people to shell out a $50 bill to watch a gigantic British pedophile stuff a whiny third grader inside fictitious vegetables and\or PlayStation3-quality animated trolls and orcs throw each other around in front of a generic CGI matte painting for two hours ain't exactly going to get kids, tweets and teens clamoring to head out to the movie houses.  

As such, I feel as if it is my civic duty to watch these underperforming films that American society soundly rejected, so future generations can know why we, as a collective body, just didn't give a shit. Pour yourself a tall glass of Pitch Black Mountain Dew for low culture refreshment and put on some Steve Reich to drown out the white static of modernity - it's time to observe and dissect the biggest movie misfires of the summer...

Director: Duncan Jones

First things first, I don’t know anything about World of Warcraft. I’ve never played it and I’ve never watched anybody play it. My girlfriend, however, was really hardcore into it when she was in college, though, and one time we went into a GameStop and she ran into one of her old WoW friends and they spent a good 20 minutes talking about expansion packs and saying things about “boomkins” and I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. They might as well have been speaking about quadratic equations in Cantonese. Backwards.

So, yes, I’ve no clue what a World of Warcraft movie is supposed to be like, although from the first 10 minutes alone, I felt as if this flick could technically be an adaptation of at least a dozen or so other video games that drew their inspiration from the first three Lord of the Rings movies, too. Something tells me they could have just as easily called this one The Elder Scrolls: The Movie or Golden Axe: The Motion Picture, and nobody would’ve been the wiser.

As for the core story, it begins with this cave troll laughing about stuff with his pregnant cave troll wife. But you see, the master cave troll is all evil and stuff and wants to invade an alternate reality planet for – well, whatever evil cave trolls need, I suppose – so he opens up this glowing green interdimensional portal and a whole platoon of cave trolls drop down in the middle of a generic high fantasy kingdom where white people and like, two actors who are kinda' tan are locked in a forever war against a bunch of green-skinned goblins or something along those lines. From there, we are introduced to a million bajillion subplots involving a million bajillion characters (including some guys who LITERALLY look like hipsters plucked out of a Renaissance Faire) and eventually the humans learn to coexist with the cave trolls and they team up to fight the green goblins. Oh, and in between, there’s a lot of PG-13 Game of Thrones-style political intrigue and this one half human/half cave troll woman who looks just like Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy who becomes a divinely chosen warrior or something and there’s another subplot about a baby cave troll being sent down a river like Moses and oh yeah, about 15 or 20 scenes where there are a whole bunch of really, really unconvincing CGI fireballs flying around everywhere. Whoops, I almost left out the part where the dwarves with handlebar mustaches show up. Well, uh, that happens, too, I guess.

I know that description sounds really rushed and predictable and anticlimactic, but that’s how the movie actually plays out. If you’ve seen any kind of fantasy movie over the last 20 years, trust me, you’ve already seen Warcraft. There isn’t a single original idea or fresh take on anything; I mean, at least GOT tries to mix up the pot a little with a lot of gratuitous gore and people having sex with their own brothers.

If you thought The Hobbit movies were watered-down, completely needless, CGI-laden messes, Warcraft makes ‘em look like wildly innovative New Hollywood-era artistic triumphs. I wouldn’t say Warcraft is Uwe Boll quality – although the Bollster has indeed made a few movies I actually enjoyed, it perhaps should be noted – but it feels just as flavorless as utter crap like In the Name of the King. I swear, I’ve seen this movie before, as if the entire film is nothing more than slight variations of sequences copied and pasted from other features. And in virtually ever instance, executed far, far less effectively, too.

Really, Warcraft is the absolute worst kind of bad movie. Unlike something like Batman v. Superman, the Robocop remake or Pixels, Warcraft is a film that never gives you any glimmers of hope before the disappointment kicks in. And unlike the last two Twilight movies or that atrocious Evil Dead remake, you can’t marvel at how it manages to get increasingly terrible. Rather, Warcraft is a movie that you KNOW is going to suck a few seconds in, and it maintains that general suckiness throughout its runtime. It never gets any better, it never gets any worse, it just sucks in a horribly static vacuum until the end credits roll.

In fact, this is a film SO formulaic you pretty much have to invent your own secretive meaning to the movie to avoid falling asleep. Personally, I tried to read the thing as a furtive allegory about the current state of U.S. race relations, with the cave trolls representing marginalized blacks, the green goblins representing Islamofascists and the white people representing … well, take a guess. And even then, I had to pluck a couple of nose hairs out from falling into an involuntary nap.

That ought to give you a clue as to how “entertaining” the movie is on the whole, folks - whatever yo do, don’t say I didn’t warn ‘ya.

My Score:

One and a Half Tofu Dogs out of Four.

Director: Steven Spielberg

We’ve already mulled the possibility that Big Steve is actually a paedo, and The BFG doesn’t do him any favors in refuting the hearsay. Folks, I am not making this up: the whole premise of the movie is that a gigantic elderly creepy dude kidnaps an orphan in a burlap sack and whisks her away to be his child bride in the remote environs of northern England. Of course, they don’t come right out and say that she’s a child bride, but I think we can all pick up on the horrible, horrible subtext therein.

Yeah, I know that The BFG is a heartbroken father’s paean to his deceased daughter, but the execution here is just all sorts of unnerving. Throughout the film, our Lilliputian antagonist – who, hey, already lost both her birth parents! – is threatened, taunted, tortured and put in so much general peril that one has to wonder if she’s literally an Abrahamic scapegoat or something. Sorry, but I’m not entirely sure how much “wonder” and “whimsy” I’m supposed to cull from a movie in which a 20 foot tall Limey almost chews a third grader to death, or a young girl risks severe concussions – if not long-term brain damage – while being used as a football in a pick-up rugby game between a gaggle of three story tall ruffians.

Whereas the cinematic adaptations of Roald’s Willy Wonka merely implied a dark underbelly, Steve’s CGI-strewn spectacle makes the unpleasantness front and center for the audience. While the titular character, by and large, is posited as neutral, his older brothers – strangely, they never speak of their mother, and there appears to be no female giants anywhere – are horror incarnate. Imagine the absolute nastiest old person you’ve ever encountered – the kind of salty, snarling senior sort whose lawn you wouldn’t dare think of setting foot on – and make him 30-feet-tall. Oh, and make his diet consist primarily of the blood and bones of children. Well, there’s a good half dozen beings JUST LIKE them included in the movie. Like I said, sheer whimsy, no?

Of course, you can’t have a Spielberg movie – yes, even ones about soldiers having their intestines scrambled on Omaha Beach or concentration camp children having to hide in dookie buckets from S.S. officers – without that signature Spielbergian glow,” and here it comes in the form of this really, really abstract subplot about the BFG bottling “dreams” for the young 'uns. Naturally, this entails a voyage to some faraway metaphysical realm with a bunch of nondescript flashing lights everywhere. Did I mention the film was made with 3D firmly in mind, so the glowing junk keeps flying out at you to give the illusion that stuff’s happening on screen that isn’t just an excuse to employ the faux-dimensional gimmick? Well … that’s the truth, Ruth

The last quarter of the film just goes flying completely off the rails. OK, so up until then, we have this really awkward yarn about a humongous kid-stealing country bumpkin and his child slave he won’t let go and he’s taken it upon himself to stuff her inside these nasty-looking vegetables that you can just tell smell like turds so she won’t get eaten by his hardhearted, cannibalistic brethren. Not exactly your most routine plot in children's cinema, to be sure, but believe it or not, that’s the relatively staid part of the movie. From there, the BFG manages to infiltrate the dreams of the Queen of England, Freddy Krueger-style, so she becomes aware of just how mean and evil and dangerous his brothers are. And yes, this does entail a cameo from Prince Charles and Princess Diana, even though they don’t look anything like their real world counterparts. Oh, and there’s a joke about Reagan being senile, too, but you’ll miss it if you aren’t paying real close attention.

Which brings us to one of the weirdest moments I’ve ever had inside a movie theater (yes, even weirder than that one time when I went out with this fat goth chick I met at Denny’s and she started jerking me off during G-Force) – a nearly 10-minute long sequence in which the giant, the Queen and her pet corgis drink a magical elixir that makes them cut atomic farts on one another. For 10 minutes, people. No, it actually happens. I swear, for once, I don’t have to make anything up – what’s on the screen is WAY weirder than anything I could’ve dreamed up in jest.

And from there, we conclude with the British army (surely, under the decree of Margaret Thatcher) leading an all-out assault on the other giants, whom are promptly captured in nets and swooped off to a remote island  (the Falklands, perhaps?) with only a couple of turd plant seeds to subsist on until they die. And everybody – the kidnapped orphan, the giant who just killed literally his entire species and the monarchy as a whole – lived happily ever after.

yeah, I have no clue why the positive word of mouth didn’t spread like wildfire, either. It’s certainly a better movie than Warcraft, but it’s still one of the most perplexingly underwhelming (and unpleasant) kid-targeted wannabe blockbusters to come along in quite some time. It may not be Spielberg’s worst, and it may not be the worst of the summer, but it should be clear as day to everybody why this one turned out to be such a colossal financial failure. Sorry, Hollywood, but there are some ideas – even when the biggest of big names are attached to them – that are just too out there for anyone to find palatable … especially when you’re trying to sell turd plants and pedophilia to elementary schoolers.

My Score:

Two Tofu Dogs out of Four.


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