Mute (2018): This is no “Blade Runner”

Netflix is the new Blockbuster in more ways than one. Any place where you have a concentration of films you have copycats and crap ripping off much better films. “Mute” is a film that rips from the world of “Blade Runner,” but doesn’t have anything to say on its own. This film was awful, and one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in a while.

The film was directed and co-written by Duncan Jones (the director behind the “Warcraft” film) and Michael Robert Johnson.

The story follows Leo, an Amish immigrant to Germany, who has lost his vocal cords after an accident. When his girlfriend, Naadirah, goes missing he investigates her hidden life as the dark underbelly of dystopian Berlin is revealed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – This is a beautiful looking film. The neon colors and the future tech are great. The neon lights bring out the dark mystery of the environment and how shady most of the people in this world are. Gary Shaw, cinematographer, is the only person who truly did well with this film as the film’s cinematography is one of the few things about the film that works.

The Idea of the Story – I am a fan of noirs and mysteries and this is both of those things, as well as Sci-Fi. Like “Blade Runner,” we are learning about this broken world and how each person relates to one another as the mystery of Naadirah’s disappearance is slowly revealed. That is the idea anyway, nothing else works.

The Cons:

The Characters – The characters are all terrible people. Even Leo is shown to be as dark as those around him as he is willing to do anything to others ,and only cares about his girlfriend and that is it. Naadirah is manipulative and using those around her. And the antagonist, Cactus, and his friend, Duck, are creeps who don’t have arcs. They just exist as a threat to Leo, as they are doctors for the mob and Cactus killed Naadirah.

The Story – The story is crap. How Leo discovers each bit of the puzzle and how deep Naadirah was in with the gangs is a muddled mess. What story is here involves Cactus trying to escape with his daughter as he keeps having to do more jobs for the mob, and Leo gets closer to finding out that he is the killer. It sucks and the fact that Leo adopts Cactus’s daughter as his own after killing him has no real lead-up or payoff. However, Cactus and his friend give Leo vocal cords so he can speak, so that is a thing… I guess. It just happens. God I hated this story.

This is the worst film I’ve seen this year, thus far. It is a film that failed to develop characters, and unlike “Blade Runner,” had no deeper point. It took a cool idea of a mute protagonist and wasted it. What made hate this movie more than I usually would was the world is presented beautifully and I am a fan of Sci-Fi Noirs. I was ready to explore this world and find interesting characters. In the end I learned nothing about the world and the characters were some of the worst written in film.

Final Score: 3 / 10 Nothing worked except the cinematography.

 

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Warcraft (2016): A Few Great Characters Can’t Save This Adaptation

Warcraft Film

    The game series “Warcraft” is one I have a history with dating all the way back to Warcraft II and it’s expansions. They were my introductions to this universe even though I think Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne is the best storytelling to come out of the series. At the end of the day, all the Warcraft books I read about the First and Second War didn’t draw me in the way the Scourge, Forsaken, Illdari and Night Elves did in Warcraft III, and World of Warcraft was always something I played more casually the few times I did. What bearing does all this have on the review outside of history? Metzen was starting from one of the more weaker places in the lore (Humans were always the most boring faction) so going in it was starting out weak, I wish we’d gotten “Rise of the Horde” as far stories go, that had drama and Orcs are the strongest part of this film….and there are a lot of human characters, making the film enjoyable but weak.

    “Warcraft” was directed by Duncan Jones who was a co-writer along with Charles Leavitt with Chris Metzen and produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Charles Roven, Alex Gartner and Stuart Fenegan.

    The story involves the arrival of the Orcs on Azeroth who plan on bringing their forces through the Portal as their world is dying. Lead by the evil Orcish Warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) as Durotan (Toby Kebbell) must work with humanity when he realizes what Gul’dan’s magic did to his world and will do to this one.

The Pros: The World – The universe of Warcraft is one that is fascinating…there different planets, different fantasy races and politics between them. Sadly we don’t see much of the politics in this one, but the factions are still present and you feel the size of the world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is just like the Warcraft cinematics. Simon Duggan really did a great job of transferring Blizzard’s style to film.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack also feels like the Warcraft games, which is a plus. The games have always had a beautiful soundtrack that captures the epic fantasy feel of the world. Ramin Djawadi did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters who work, work really well…those who don’t show the flaws in some of the writing that has come out of the books and games and the universe as a whole. I’ll get into what I mean later.

Blackhand – Blackhand is played by Clancy Brown with his usual large and vocal presence. He truly is perfecfr for this role and does a fantastic job as Warchief of the Horde, sadly his role underutilized (just like Ogrim) and he doesn’t survive past this film. Lothar kills him in honorable combat so the orcs let Lothar go free. Poor Felled up Blackhand goes out way too fast.

Khadgar – Khadgar goes from comedic relief to a smart magician. I like that he is humorous as he has had that aspect in some of the games he appears in. His being an outsider and being given up by his folks to be a Kirin Tor mage is really cool too, especially his rejection out of the order. He reminded me a lot of Sam from “Game of Thrones.”

Garona – Garona is a good character and the only female character who actually felt like she had agency beyond telling the guys they are doing a great job. She even got a romance with the hero and got to kill the King and be the double agent among the orcs working for peace between their races. I wish we could have got more of her backstory as we see she’s a slave and half her heritage (Draenie) was used to open the Dark Portal. Hopefully they’ll do more with her next film if they make one, she’s a hell of a lot more interesting than Lothar.

Gul’dan – Daniel Wu is awesome! It is wonderful seeing Gul’dan in all his badassery on screen. He is great here and the only competent villain as his people are so afraid of him that they follow him and he wins every fight he gets into. This guy is pumped so full of fel energy that he can take anything. He also is still living at the end (like in the games at this point in the timeline) so curious what they’ll change about him. I really want a “Rise of the Horde” story so we can see Ner’zhul (one of the best orcs and Gul’dan’s mentor).

Durotan – Toby Kebbell is the closest thing to an interesting protagonist. In him we see an honorable soldier just trying to look out for his people, and faced wit the fact that his entire race is dying out and all they have is the new world of Azeroth. He dies fighting Gul’dan in a pretty awesome fight.

Okay: King Llane – The King is kind of bland but at least he’s given something to do and notices the orcs aren’t all bad given his friendship with Garona. In the games he’s a non-presense too. I really don’t care about Stormwind in the lore and see them as a lore sink (was always a Horde player in WoW). He dies so that Garona can be accepted into the Horde as a hero.

Ogrim Doomhammer – Doomhammer is a Frostwolf in this rather than a member of the Blackhand clan. In this he betrays Durotan but leaves the Horde after he sees how the Fel is turning his people into demons and that Gul’dan has no honor. He is the one carrying on the Frostwolf legacy in this after the death of Durotan and Draka.

Medivh – Medivh is bland, he is supposed to be crazy but he doesn’t feel there. This character felt invisible and we never get any good interactions with characters except a strange scene with Garona. He dies fighting for Stormwind though after the Demon is beat.

The Ending – The orc ending isn’t bad (would have like Blackhand to survive) and I felt Garona becoming the heroic champion was really cool. The human side is just bland though. Maybe this will work as a movie series, but it felt unfinished.

The Cons: Lothar – Guy has a son who he has no chemistry with (he doesn’t have chemistry with anyone). He acts a cool and distant and it comes off as forced. He is Action Hero Man*TM and it hurts the story since he’s the main character.

Draka – She makes sure Go’el (hate that name, Thrall in the games) is freed on the river and eventually picked up by humans. She exists only as mate and not much else. The games also had this problem too. Draka deserves better.

The Queen – The Queen is just kind of there. She shows kindness to Garona and maybe befriends her but she feels like a non-entity. She is scenery…

Women as Scenery – Both Draka and the Queen, who besides Garona are the any female characters with any presence feel like non-entities. They exist as plot devices and I wish had been written as actual characters.

 The Demon/Sargares? -This guy posses Medivh to open the Dark Portal (like in the game), and in this he’s beaten like a little punk. Khadgar drops his own golem on him. At least in the books it was a more epic fight and in WoW he’s an actual raid. This is supposed to be the guy pulling everyone’s strings.

    Weak villains that aren’t orcs (that Demon who was  weak Sargares if it was him) and bland human heroes kept this from being a great B movie. The orcs were awesome as they are in lore and the film really should have been about them. The only things we get that are interesting from the humans are Khagdar as comedic relief and Garona making friends with the humans. Outside of that they are bland and uninteresting. I hope they make more of these films though, there is so much lore in Warcraft and the Rise of Illidan or Fall of Arthas would make an amazing story on the bigscreen and would work within time limit of a film. This film is still okay, but I’d only watch it for the orc scenes.

Final Score: 6.2 / 10

Moon (2009): A Sci. Fi. Exploration of Self and Identity

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This is a great film, which is saying something considering that it is mostly a one person performance with the only real addition being Kevin Spacey as the voice of the robot GERDY. In that way this film could have easily been a flop. It takes an amazing actor, of which I discovered Sam Rockwell is, to carry a film beyond cinematography and music.

“Moon” was directed by Duncan Jones, who also wrote the story. The screenplay was by Nathan Parker and the producers were Stuart Fenegan and Trudie Styler.

This review does contain SPOILERS, so be warned. The point of this movie is in the twist and the reveal so I can’t review this movie and do it justice without talking about that reveal.

The story involves the character of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) who has been living for years on the Lunar Base run by the corporation of Lunar Industries who provides an alternate fuel source of Helium-3 which is mined from the base that Sam and the robot GERDY run. Sam’s contract is almost up and he can return home to his wife and daughter. The story unfolds from there as all is not as it appears to be on the station.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a man alone with a robot mining resources on the Moon is very cool and very high concept science fiction. It gets even more high concept when we learn this has been going on for years and that the person who we think is just one person is in fact many and has been many clones of the same individual, with slight different genetic variations.

The Tone – The tone of the film is dark and introspective, you can feel claustrophobic sometimes in certain scenes and and Sam Rockwell’s performance is so subtle that it’s easy to see the things from the characters’ points of view and what each of them is going through and what it means on an individual level as well as the societal level of some of the messages explored.

The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack is also very introspective and does a great job capturing the desolation of the moon, and the hope or despair characters feel. It’s Clint Mansell so I wouldn’t expect any less. The guy is a genius and one of my favorite composers.

The Cinematography – Visually, this film is stunning. It feels like one is actually on the moon during it and the base feels lived in and real, with an element threat to it and leaves you guessing at certain times as the mystery unfolds.

Sam1 – I’m going to call the first Sam we meet, Sam1, he is similar to the past Sam’s but some of the things that set him apart are an extreme attachment to the family he believes he has, a love of life as seen by his caring and talking his plants and in how when he is sick he chooses to help Sam2 escape, partially because he knows he himself is dying but also because he’s grown fond of the one other connection on the station who isn’t GERTY or false memories. He is the most attached to those memories and breaks down after GERTY tells him the memories are implanted and when he talks to “his” daughter and hear’s his own voice, the voice of the original Sam calling to her on the other line. It is at that point he gives up, knowing he is already dying and wants to give Sam2 a chance. He has Sam2 bring him back to where he crashed which is what happened when Sam2 was activated since Sam1 was believed to be dead.

Sam2 – Sam2 is more of a jock in personality. He’s more aggressive, is usually working out and active and is less likely to take GERTY’s advice to rest. He is also more suspicious as he is the one who discovers Sam1 trapped and learns that central is sending a team to kill them so that word doesn’t get out about the Clone program. He is also empathetic though and he is the one trying to help Sam1 get out until Sam1 convinces him to let him die and that he should be the one who escapes and tells the world what’s going on.

GERTY – GERTY is a pretty awesome AI voiced by Kevin Spacey. His whole programming is to protect Sam until Sam fulfills his contract. We learn that his applies to all Sams that are created and he even goes as far as to let Sam2 who escapes to wipe his memory so that he can escape the Moon safely without being killed by the forces Lunar Corporation sent. We never know if he makes choices beyond his programming or if he is just like Baymax fulfilling his programming but his letting Sam2 wipe his memory when he didn’t have to showed that there was more going on. He chose, even if it was within the parameters of his programming to save Sam and help him escape. If that doesn’t make him sentient, than he is at least getting there or near sentient. Also, he has a great design as he has a screen that moves around the station and communicates in emoticon faces as well as having lots of arms to help with the work the station needs or helping the Sams recover and do tasks.

Sam Rockwell – Sam Rockwell plays so many different versions of Sam Bell in this film, and in all he does a great job. Sam1 and Sam2 get the most exploration but we see others when Sam1 pulls up the video of the past clones and history on the station after GERTY accesses the memory banks with the password. Sam is truly a master at the craft as every person he was felt like a unique individual, yet similar enough that you knew they were clones. This is something that very few actors can pull off and after this film I have to consider Rockwell to be one of the best.

The Message – The core point that this film captures is that we are more than our memories. We are our choices and personality and as long as we are aware of our own existance and striving for survival we are worthy of life. The movie ends with Sam2 revealing the Lunar Corporations wrongs to the world (all the past Sams who have died and been used to the Corporations own ends) and it ends with people having the discussion the movie begins. Is a clone as much of a human being worthy of rights as any other human being? I believe and the movie believes that the answer is, “Yes.” No human should be used like a slave, we see the human cost of people getting cheap energy.

Okay: Sam’s Wife and Daughter – These two never felt like wholly realized characters. I think part of this might be purposeful as the Clones are having old memories related to the wife and we don’t have enough time to talk with the daughter to really get to know her. I’m not putting this as a con as it helps the clones separate themselves from the original person they were cloned from. It is the fact that they can’t connect that helps them create their own identity beyond the memories of another.

This is an amazing film and one of my favorites. Clint Mansell’s soundtrack and the cinematography create beautiful scenes and Kevin Spacey’s and especially Sam Rockwell’s performances are so deep and layered that it is hard not appreciate how great they are as actors. Their characters are real and the struggles matter as well as giving us a great “So what?” No one deserves to be slave and we shouldn’t create slaves through cloning. If sentient life is created it deserves just as much respect as us, as it is us, just born different. If you like a dark film, that ends with hope and has an amazing point…check this film out. I know this film has me interested in any other work Duncan Jones has done.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. Near perfect, only thing that brings it down are the side human characters who don’t feel like real people.