Review of “Destroyer”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) has a great number of regrets, starting with an undercover operation she worked with an FBI agent named Chris (Sebastian Stan). Seventeen years earlier, she and Chris infiltrated a gang of bank robbers led by the charismatic Silas (Toby Kebbell) just as they are preparing a big job that could net them millions of dollars. In the present, Det. Bell arrives at the scene of a murder being worked by city detectives. They tell her it’s out of her jurisdiction, but she checks out the body and sees three oval tattoos on the victims’ neck and hundred-dollar bills stained with purple dye scattered around the body. Erin knows something about the case, but she’s not sharing the information with her colleagues. Erin’s memories about her time with the gang, with Chris, with Silas, with Silas’ girlfriend Petra (Tatiana Maslany) and the decisions at the time that have ruled her life since come flooding back as she considers what her next move must be.

“Destroyer” is a dark, dark movie. It doesn’t waste time with characters that are either black or white and focuses on all the varying shades of grey, most of the on the darker end, that make up the inhabitants of Los Angeles populating this universe. It’s a film that plays with perceptions, time and morality and is anchored by a breathtaking performance from Nicole Kidman who at times is unrecognizable. The glamourous Kidman disappears under layers of grime and time to become the title character in “Destroyer.”

Kidman’s performance is what makes “Destroyer” a great film as there are some issues with the characters and the plot. While no character, besides Erin, has a huge amount of screen time, Toby Kebbell’s Silas is a ghost that haunts scenes despite not being seen. Silas is shown in flashbacks as a messianic figure, able to control his followers and make them do things against their better judgement. I would have liked to see more of Silas, but at the same time, I don’t think the character would have worked as the all-knowing, all-seeing villain he is portrayed to be if he appeared in bigger chunks of the film. Silas comes off as a Manson-type leader, able to get his crew to take stupid chances and punishing anyone that lies to or betrays him, but we never see his tactics, only his long dark hair, penetrating stare and too calm demeanor. Silas instills loyalty and fear in his crew, even nearly two decades after they last saw each other. Why? The movie never answers that question.

The non-linear narrative also distracts from the storytelling. The film jumps back and forth in time so much, the only way you can tell what part of the story you are in is by what Kidman’s Erin looks like. The past has her looking recognizable, while the present shows Erin as if she’s been sandblasted. While we get all the details about the story in these scenes, it makes it difficult to keep up and easy to miss important plot points. An event late in the film makes all this jumping around make more sense and provides something of an “ah-ha” moment. Still, all the time jumps create some confusion.

“Destroyer” is rated R for language throughout, violence, some sexual content and brief drug use. There are a couple of beatings shown with blood coming from facial injuries along with one beating causing vomit. There are also some bullet wounds shown in a couple of shootings. A game of Russian Roulette is shown as well. A powder is shown being snorted. There is an uncomfortable sex scene that involves no nudity but is just gross. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Nicole Kidman turns “Destroyer” from a standard, dark crime drama into an event. Her performance is both painful and mesmerizing as a cop haunted by a past she can’t live with and a future she doesn’t care about. Every bad decision is etched on her face and her efforts to make things as right as she can are likely to fail. It is a story of greed and envy, and the road to Hell and redemption. I can’t say you’ll love “Destroyer,” but I bet you won’t be able to forget it.

“Destroyer” gets five stars.

This week, I’ll be reviewing Liam Neeson in “Cold Pursuit” for

Other movies coming out this week are:

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part—

The Prodigy—

What Men Want—

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Review of “Warcraft”

The orc world of Draenor is almost dead. Orc leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) plans on using a form of magic called fel to open a portal to another world full of life called Azeroth. Fel requires energy be drained from living creatures and plants to power it so Gul’dan gathers up the last remaining life on Draenor to open the portal and send a raiding party to gather up more life to sacrifice so the rest of his horde can be brought through later. One of his soldiers, Durotan (Toby Kebbell) brings along his warrior wife Draka (Anna Galvin) who is close to giving birth. During the journey through the portal, Draka goes into labor and delivers a stillborn child after arriving in Azeroth. Gul’dan removes the life force from a deer and imbues the child with fel, bringing it to life. The orc raiders begin attacking villages and collecting prisoners to sacrifice to the fel. Military commander Anduin Lothar is informed of the raids and looks over some of the dead villagers. He discovers a mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) is at the barracks that hasn’t identified himself. Khadgar believes there’s something more going on than raiders attacking the villagers and Lothar allows him to examine one of the bodies. One corpse expels a green mist when Khadgar looks him over. Khadgar knows it is the fel and urges the Guardian be called in. Medivh (Ben Foster), the Guardian of Tirisfal, is entrusted to keep all the realms of Azeroth safe with his magic. King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), once he is informed of Khadgar’s concerns, approves summoning Medivh. Lothar informs Medivh about the threat while Khadgar waits in the library. While there, he notices a shadowy figure in front of a particular book. As he approaches, the figure disappears but Khadgar puts the book in his bag. Medivh, Lothar and Khadgar go to King Wrynn where Medivh explains how dangerous the fel is and how the orcs must be stopped. King Wrynn sends a scouting team to who is attacking the kingdom but they are ambushed by orcs and several are killed. Medivh uses a spell to force the fel out of those orcs who are infected by it and they die. Durotan isn’t infected and he and some other orcs escape. A half-breed orc named Garona (Paula Patton), treated as a slave by the orcs, is captured. Durotan realizes the fel is what killed Draenor and he believes the only way the orc can survive is to kill Gul’dan. Garona is offered her freedom in exchange for loyalty to King Wrynn and is sent on a mission with Lothar and others to spy on the orcs. Durotan finds Garona and offers to meet with King Wrynn to form an alliance to defeat Gul’dan.

“Warcraft” is based on a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG for short) that at one time had about 12 million active subscribers but the last available information from late 2015 put the number at 5.5 million. Blizzard Entertainment, the company that created the game, obviously would like to both build up the number of users and generate income in other ways from the property hence a movie. The game of Warcraft would seem to be fertile ground for a genre film with the various realms, clans and magic wielders to work with. Since a movie has an end and the game doesn’t, it requires a story be crafted that can weave all the threads into a watchable and entertaining whole and that’s the problem with “Warcraft.”

The script certainly has a great deal of world building in it. We are introduced to several characters, fantastical creatures and magic in the first few minutes. As the movie continues, more characters, backstories and political intrigue is added to the mix. There is a great deal of information to process in “Warcraft” but none of it really adds up to become an interesting story. The little there is merely in place to set up a sequel and possibly several more films. It’s like the screenwriters decided to put off figuring out a good story for the next installment. If this movie was free then I’d be more forgiving but since I had to pay, I prefer having something far more interesting and engaging to watch.

While “Warcraft” is mostly visually interesting the orcs, who get almost as much screen time as the humans, don’t quite measure up to the quality of other CGI/mo-cap characters like those in the “Planet of the Apes” reboot and the most recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” films. They have a decided “video game” look about them as if the digital artists didn’t quite have time to add all the final touches. All the scenes involving the orcs, especially when they are in large numbers, look flat like they are pictures cut out and glued to the screen. The interaction between the digital orcs and live-action actors also looks a bit odd in a couple of battle scenes. It appears the actors weren’t exactly sure where the orcs would be and don’t react to them until they are struck by their weapons. It was rather obvious in the battle that occurs in the woods.

None of the actors are particularly memorable in their roles. Of course, all the orcs are buried under CGI makeup so judging their performances is more difficult. The humans are all very serious in their characters with the only one showing much in the way of life is Travis Fimmel as Lothar. He gets to be a bit playful at times, especially with Khadgar; but he also must deal with the tongue tangling names of the various characters and realms and try to keep a straight face while doing it. He is also saddled with a somewhat inappropriate romance that flares up at a noticeably inopportune time. That bit of story really lands with a thud and could have easily been left out.

“Warcraft” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence. The orcs wield massive hammers and axes that likely kill any human with one blow. There is very little human blood and not much orc. We see an orc limb cut off and several orcs and humans are run through with swords. There is one human death that is particularly enjoyed by the orc that kills him. Foul language is not an issue.

There are a great many moving parts to the story of “Warcraft.” There are alliances, betrayals, governmental squabbling, jealousy, love, magic and much more. Sadly, it doesn’t add up to a coherent story with much of interest to say. “Warcraft” is what “Back to the Future II” was accused of being: A very long trailer for the next installment. While there are some interesting visuals of magic being used and fantastical flying creatures like gryphons and massive eagles used as transportation, all the pretty pictures aren’t enough to overcome the lack of story and the feeling that “Warcraft” is incomplete.

“Warcraft” gets one star out of five.

This week there’s a fish out of water story along with a fish in the water story. I’ll see and review at least one of these films:

Central Intelligence—

Finding Dory—

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Review of “Fantastic Four”

A troubled past doesn’t guarantee failure. Films like “Titanic,” “Jaws” and perhaps most famously “Apocalypse Now” are just a few films that were created in turbulent environments. Whether the trouble was a conflict between the cast and the director, the director and the studio, between cast members or some other configuration, good work still came from what could have potentially been a disaster; however, some productions, like “Alien 3,” “Cop Out” and “Waterworld” are doomed to failure when egos and power struggles get in the way of making an enjoyable bit of entertainment. The latter appears to be what happened to Fox Studios’ “Fantastic Four” reboot.

As a child, Reed Richards (played as an adult by Miles Teller) dreamed of building a matter transporter…and he actually succeeded thanks to parts provided by his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) from his family’s junk and salvage yard. Reed considers Ben his best friend and good luck charm. Reed is discovered at a high school science fair by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) and invited to attend is institute of gifted young people in the Baxter Tower in New York City. Ben stays home to work in the family business. Dr. Storm also has a son named Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) who is a brilliant mechanic that prefers to spend his time tinkering with his car and running in illegal street races than in a lab. A crash that totals his car forces him to work for his father in the lab. Dr. Storm is working on an interdimensional transporter and believes Reed can push his research over the edge. The project was started by Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), a brilliant but troubled scientist who has some less than pleasant history with Dr. Storm and they no longer work together. Dr. Storm gets his funding from a shadowy board of directors with ties to the government led by Harvey Elder (Tim Blake Nelson). With Reed on board and Victor back in the fold largely because he loves Sue, the interdimensional transporter is perfected. Elder wants to turn the project over the NASA and the government but Dr. Storm wants to keep the project in house and under his control. After a few rounds of drinks, Reed, Victor and Johnny decide to take the transporter for a test spin on their own and Reed calls Ben because he was there for the earliest experiments in the garage and wants his good luck charm to come along. Ben agrees and they are soon teleported to another dimension. It’s a barren world with storm clouds overhead and pools of glowing green liquid. Victor puts his hand in the fluid and can feel the energy coursing through it; but it also causes a chain reaction that is causing the ground beneath their feet to come apart. Victor is engulfed in green flames and falls down a cliff. The others run to the transporter pod to go home where Sue is trying to initiate the return sequence. Fire engulfs Johnny, Ben is encased in rock, Reed is bathed in unknown energy and Sue is hit with a blast from the other dimension when the pod reappears. Each is endowed with unique powers and abilities.

While far from being a great movie “Fantastic Four” isn’t as bad as the Rotten Tomatoes score of 9% might imply. The introduction to the group, their transformation and dealing with their powers is actually pretty good. You get a good idea of the personality of each main player and the conflict between Victor and Reed gets an understandable foundation. It is the part of the story where the four put their powers to use where the train goes off the rails.

The whole structure of the film feels flimsy and unfinished. The set up to what should be the super showdown is incredibly long when compared to the finale which feels like it plays out in about 10 minutes, if that. What appears to have been planned as a two hour plus film is over in an hour-40. While many comic book movies are too long, “Fantastic Four” isn’t long enough as we are shown huge amounts of history and preparation leading to an ending that is anti-climactic. Granted, I think everyone knows the good guys are always going to win in the end of a superhero movie but it shouldn’t feel like the kind of role-playing game I used to participate in as a child with my friends when, after one of us had been shot with the death ray or whatever the evil scheme entailed, we popped right up, saved the damsel in distress and put the villain in his place.

“Fantastic Four” director Josh Trank made an impressive debut with his first studio film “Chronicle.” The story of three high school kids who gain powers from a mysterious alien artifact was a low-budget, found-footage gem. The story was great, the effects were good and the whole thing worked together for a wonderfully enjoyable time at the movies. That film got him the “Fantastic Four” gig but something happened that turned what should have been a dream into a nightmare. Trank can be heard on the Kevin Smith podcast “Fatman on Batman” giving a thorough history of his early life, how he became a filmmaker and the process of making “Fantastic Four.” It takes, coincidentally, four episodes to tell the whole story. Nowhere in those four episodes, about six hours of content, does Trank complain about the making of “Fantastic Four” or Fox executives; however, on Thursday, August 6, Trank tweeted the following: “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.” Trank quickly deleted the tweet but it was of course screen captured. While vague, this tweet seems to be saying the film was interfered with by Fox executives and turned into something other than his original vision. There is of course another side to the story that suggests Trank may have been in over his head and/or was difficult to work with. The truth lies somewhere in the middle with enough blame to go around for both sides. The product of this middle ground is a movie with an odd structure, average at best special effects, a villain that doesn’t make much sense, has odd motivations for his evil plan and a story that starts out fine then turns into a mess at the conclusion.

“Fantastic Four” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and language. We see a couple of characters engulfed in flames. One character causes people’s heads to kind of explode. We see a splash of blood on the wall behind them. There is a fight where giant boulders are used as weapons. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Josh Trank’s tweet, the troubled production and the poor box office showing of “Fantastic Four” may put the director in movie jail for a period of time. Movie jail is when filmmakers can’t get a job after what is perceived to be a failure on their part. Trank will likely survive just fine in the wilderness of independent filmmaking where he can be fully in charge of the production with little to no interference. But that leaves us to wonder just what kind of “Fantastic Four” the director had in mind. Will we ever see it? Will there ever be an entertaining version of Marvel’s first super team that isn’t a cartoon? Are Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Woman, The Human Torch and The Thing just too tough a nut to crack? Should Fox make a deal with Marvel like Sony did with Spider-Man and share the movie rights? Speculating about all this is far more entertaining than watching the movie, as this “Fantastic Four” may actually be worse than the dayglow colored version we got a decade ago.

“Fantastic Four” gets one star out of five.

The music that spoke to one generation and frightened another and a TV to film crossover open in theatres this week. I’ll see and review at least one of these.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.—

Straight Outta Compton—

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