Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Magnificent Seven is #1 at box office


For the weekend of September 23-25, 2016, The Magnificent Seven was a yet another hit for Denzel Washington, for Chris Pratt, for director Antoine Fuqua. It's also a nice Training Day reunion for Washington, Fuqua, and Ethan Hawke.

Storks didn't open as well as a September animated movie might hope, but its budget wasn't too big and it seems like the type of film that'll translate well overseas. Ice Age 5 ultimately was profitable thanks to overseas business.

Jason Bourne's on the verge of crossing $400 million worldwide.

More people saw the bad Ben-Hur remake than have seen Hell or High Water. Come on, people! You've got to see Hell or High Water. Don't be surprised if it's nominated for Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (Ben Foster) in a few months.



Opens September 30
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIARS with Eva Green and Asa Butterfield.
DEEPWATER HORIZON with Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell and John Malkovich.
MASTERMINDS with Zack Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven - Movie Review

Starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Byung-Hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer and Cam Gigandet.
Written by Nic Pizzolatto & Richard Wenk.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua.

★★★

Did we need this remake? No, but might as well have some fun with it.

It's a great story, told over and over, from the original Seven Samurai to the Yul Brenner/Steve McQueen classic to Three Amigos to A Bug's Life.  People in peril from someone powerful and evil seek help from outsiders.

This movie features the robber-baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), the hammiest mustache-twirling villain you're going to see this year, counting the animated movies. He's bought off the law to the point that he and his men can just shoot a few people in broad daylight and set fire to their church, and no one does anything. After her husband is killed, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) enlists the help of bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). The town scrapes together what possessions they have left so Chisolm can recruit who he needs to in order to kill Bogue. (And Chisolm's bounty hunter scenes reminded me a lot of Django Unchained.)

This is where the movie really picks up. We're given enough time to meet the recruits one by one and have enough time with them that we care whether all of them will survive the inevitable showdown. Faraday (Chris Pratt) is the wise-cracking gambler. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is the bandit. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) is the legendary Civil War sharpshooter, and Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee) is his knife-wielding companion. Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) is the expert mountain man. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is the Comanche who finds himself without a tribe.

The third act, after the Seven have fortified the town and trained the remaining citizens the best they could, is the money part of the movie. I loved the set-up and execution of the final half-hour battle.

It's not particularly deep, and I would argue it doesn't take itself too seriously. For a movie where almost 200 people get killed.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Emmy Winners for 2016


BEST TV DRAMA - Game of Thrones
BEST TV COMEDY - Veep
BEST TV LIMITED SERIES - The People vs. OJ Simpson

BEST TV DRAMA ACTOR - Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
BEST TV DRAMA ACTRESS - Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
BEST TV DRAMA SUPP. ACTOR - Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
BEST TV DRAMA SUPP. ACTRESS - Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

BEST TV COMEDY ACTOR - Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
BEST TV COMEDY ACTRESS - Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
BEST TV COMEDY SUPP. ACTOR - Louie Anderson, Baskets
BEST TV COMEDY SUPP. ACTRESS - Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live


BEST TV LIMITED SERIES ACTOR - Courtney B. Vance, The People vs. OJ Simpson
BEST TV LIMITED SERIES ACTRESS - Sarah Paulson, The People vs. OJ Simpson
BEST TV LIMITED SERIES SUPP. ACTOR - Sterling K. Brown, The People vs. OJ Simpson
BEST TV LIMITED SERIES SUPP. ACTRESS - Regina King, American Crime

BEST TV DRAMA GUEST ACTOR - Hank Azaria, Ray Donovan
BEST TV DRAMA GUEST ACTRESS - Margo Martindale, The Americans
BEST TV COMEDY GUEST ACTOR - Peter Scolari, Girls
BEST TV COMEDY GUEST ACTRESS - Tina Fey & Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live

BEST TV DRAMA DIRECTING - Game of Thrones
BEST TV DRAMA WRITING - Game of Thrones
BEST TV COMEDY DIRECTING - Transparent
BEST TV COMEDY WRITING - Master of None
BEST TV LIMITED SERIES DIRECTING - The Night Manager
BEST TV LIMITED SERIES WRITING - The People vs. OJ Simpson

BEST TV-MOVIE - Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
BEST REALITY COMPETITION - The Voice
BEST REALITY COMPETITION HOST - RuPaul, PuPaul's Drag Race
BEST REALITY STRUCTURED - Shark Tank
BEST REALITY UNSTRUCTURED - Born This Way

BEST VARIETY SERIES - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
BEST VARIETY SPECIAL - The Late Late Show Carpool Karaoke Special
BEST SPECIAL CLASS PROGRAM - Grease Live
BEST VARIETY WRITING - Patton Oswalt: Talking for Clapping
BEST VARIETY DIRECTING - Grease Live
BEST VARIETY SKETCH WRITING - Key & Peele

BEST DOCUMENTARY SPECIAL - What Happened, Miss Simone?
BEST DOCUMENTARY SERIES - Making a Murderer
BEST INFORMATIONAL SERIES - Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sully Is Still #1 at Box Office


For the weekend of September 16-18, 2016, Sully hung on strong and laid waste to all newcomers. A mere 37% drop is impressive, and it looks like this one will be one with long legs, even if The Magnificent Seven bumps it from the top spot next week.

Blair Witch had been tracking in the high teens last week but a slew of negative reviews may have killed its momentum. it only had a $5 million production budget, so it's still profitable. Hopes to relaunch the franchise might be dashed.

Bridget Jones's Baby opened just under what Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason opened to in 2004, so one wonders why this was greenlit in the first place.

Oliver Stone's Snowden was delayed multiple times and never gained the buzz it would need.



Opens September 23
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke.
STORKS with the voices of Andy Samberg, Kelsey Grammer and Keegan-Michael Key.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sully - Movie Review

Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O'Malley, Anna Gunn, Jamey Sheridan, Holt McCallany, Chris Bauer, Ann Cusack, Molly Hagan and Jerry Ferrara.
Written by Todd Komarnicki.
Directed by Clint Eastwood.

★★★½

The genius of this movie about an event where everyone survived is how it captures the emotions of the people involved who did not know everyone survives. Never in history has a passenger plane landed in a body of water and had no casualties. And so we can feel the heightened emotions of those involved.

Tom Hanks plays Capt. Sullenberger, and I'd never wondered if he'd had PTSD after the Miracle on the Hudson. The movie goes back and forth between that day but also the investigation afterwards, where Sully was actually criticized for not turning back and landing at La Guardia.

It's actually a perfect New York movie to put out over the 9/11 weekend. It's a story about how New York's finest all came together and had a happy ending on a story involving a plane. We feel the anxiety and fear of the passengers, and therefore feel their gratitude at the miracle of surviving.

Clint Eastwood had stumbles as a director recently but after American Sniper and now this, he's back at the top of his game.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sully is #1 at box office


For the weekend of September 9-11, 2016, Sully outperformed its tracking numbers and marks a return to success for Tom Hanks, his best opening ever outside the Toy Story and Da Vinci Code franchises. It's also the best opening ever for director Clint Eastwood (American Sniper opened in limited release before it expanded).

When the Bough Breaks was a decent opening for a movie with 0% RottenTomatoes ranking. The Wild Life had the worst animated trailer since Underdogs, and so it opened low. The Disappointments Room also had 0% RottenTomatoes score, and between it and Morgan bombing, I think horror fans are catching up on Don't Breathe and then waiting for Blair Witch next week.

Suicide Squad has made over $300 million domestic now. Pete's Dragon hit $70 million.



Opens September 16
BLAIR WITCH with Callie Hernandez, James Allen McCune and Corbin Reid.
BRIDGET JONES'S BABY with Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey.
SNOWDEN with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley and Zachary Quinto.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Jared Hess to direct third Shanghai Noon movie


- Jared Hess (Masterminds, Napoleon Dynamite) will direct Shanghai Dawn, the third film in the Shanghai series that stars Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson. The first two were 2000's Shanghai Noon and 2003's Shanghai Knights.

- Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible 5) has joined The Greatest Showman on Earth, a musical about P.T. Barnum. It stars Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle WIlliams, and Zendaya.

- Gary Oldman is set to play Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, all about the Prime Minster when things weren't going so well for Great Britain during WWII. Lily James (Cinderella), Ben Mendelsohn, John Hurt and Kristen Scott Thomas co-star.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

CBS's Big Brother 18 - TV Review


This has been one of the lamer seasons in recent memory.

1. The cast skews too young - The original vision of the show was to have people from all walks of life living under one roof. The median age of the cast has been going down steadily, which means you're lucky to have more than two people over 30. This means the show is more concerned about showmances than engaging personalities. It also means they think Millennials will watch more if there's less variety in age.

2. Too many empty pretty people - Corey may have a nice body, I've been told, but the guy has no personality. He is boring boring boring. Then you have Paulie, who got in based on his brother's gameplay, but he wound up proving to be a misogynist bro. Every show needs a villain, but my goodness. As for the women, the ones with the most interesting personalities (Davonne, Bridgette) are out, although Natalie's the best of the remaining.

3. Too much diary room; not enough juicy footage - The show relies more and more on houseguests summarizing what happened in the diary room, rather than just showing us. BB17's Johnny Mac used this to his advantage, displaying a far different personality in the DR than outside. This time around? Ehhh, I'd say the best at it is Paul. But most of the HGs, I do not want to hear them gived coached summaries of what happened.

4. Too many opportunities to return - Victor won his way back into the house TWICE. There should only be one time someone can win their way back in, if there's an opportunity at all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Jane Got a Gun - Netflix Review

Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich, Boyd Holbrook and Rodrigo Santoro.
Written by Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis & Joel Edgerton.
Directed by Gavin O'Connor.

★★

This is one of those projects that went through many cast members and directors before it finally got made, and there were so many troubles surrounding this movie that it was ultimately dumped in theaters in January.

Natalie Portman plays Jane, a frontier woman who's hooked up with an outlaw on the run from his old gang. When he comes home shot up, Jane looks to hire a mercenary to help her defend her home before the gang inevitably shows up. And the only man she can think of for the job is her ex-fiance (Joel Edgerton).

Most of the movie then has us, the audience, waiting for the gang to show up so we can have our showdown. We get flashbacks here and there that explains backstory and previous relationships. The leader of the gang is a dangerous man named Bishop (Ewan McGregor, doing an unconvincing Southern accent).

The showdown comes at night, and there were times I couldn't tell what exactly was happening. I have a soft spot for Westerns, as they rarely are profitable these days, but this suffers from the same flaw as Slow West. Not enough story in the first two-thirds before we get to the third act.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Don't Breathe wins box office weekend again


For the weekend of September 2-4, 2016, all newcomers failed to entice, allowing Don't Breathe to remain the #1 movie. Its mere 40% drop is a good sign this suspense film will have long legs and manage to stay in multiplexes while the wave of September releases washes everything else out.

Pretty low drops for several films. Suicide Squad is well in the profiting range, having passed $672 million worldwide. Pete's Dragon and Kubo & the Two Strings have been two family films that have underperformed their budgets domestically and will need strong overseas showing to break even.

So about those new releases. No Manches Frida had a great opening for its amount of screens. It follows in the tradition of Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos, in that it looks like Lionsgate's plan is to release a Spanish language film on a few hundred screens in late August/early September, and so far, it's working.

The Light Betweens Oceans featured a solid cast with a heavy, emotional premise, and the marketing never gave it that "must see" feel. Just looked like a bummer. Morgan, meanwhile, flat-out bombed. I saw it opening night, and there were only eight people at my screening.

Bad Moms crossed the $100 million mark.



Opens September 9
SULLY with Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney and Anna Gunn.
WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS with Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall.
THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM with Kate Beckinsale and Lucas Till.
THE WILD LIFE with the voices of Jeff Doucette and Sandy Fox.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Morgan - Movie Review

Starring Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones, Rose Leslie, Boyd Holbrook, Paul Giamatti, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Yare, Chris Sullivan, Vinette Robinson and Brian Cox.
Written by Seth Owen.
Directed by Luke Scott.

★★

It is the great misfortune of Morgan that a better version of it came out last year. That would be Ex Machina.

This movie is about an artificial intelligence that has grown in five years to look like a teenage girl. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) had an incident with one of her doctors - she stabbed her in the eye - and so now Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) from "Corporate" has been brought in to determine if Morgan should be terminated, or if it's safe to keep her going.

Lee is the outsider who comes to the secluded study facility. Everyone has their job, and it's clear the staff is fond of Morgan. I enjoyed settling in with this cast. It's a good bunch of actors. I knew from the trailer where this movie was going to go, but I found it really unfortunate that it took some really dumb decisions by someone allegedly smart people to get us into the violent second half.

The movie's directed by Ridley's son Luke Scott, and while there's beauty to some of his shots, this felt like a conventional debut for him. I thought the atmospheric build was nice, but the emotional tension didn't work for me in the third act. It felt like the movie was going through its "this is how these type of movies need to climax" motions.

I enjoyed Taylor-Joy (The Witch) as Morgan. Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones' Ygritte) was interesting using an American accent. But yeah, hunt down and watch Ex Machina.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Don't Breathe is #1 at box office


For the weekend of August 26-28, 2016, Don't Breathe let out the final gasp of summer by being an actual decent thriller. Assuming it does the same rapid drop of most horror movies, it should match Lights Out's domestic gross.

Mechanic: Resurrection failed to justify its existence. I can't help but think if Tommy Lee Jones looks at this and Criminal and goes "Where did I go wrong?" At least he also had Jason Bourne.

On fewer screens, Southside with You appeased Obama fans who wanted to see a light romantic movie about his first date with Michelle. Hands of Stone sank; Edgar Ramirez is a good actor but he isn't a star.

Family films that had strong holdovers were Kubo & the Two Strings and Pete's Dragon.



Opens September 2
MORGAN with Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy, Toby Jones and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS with Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hell or High Water - Movie Review

Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Burningham, Kevin Rankin, Marin Ireland and Dale Dickey.
Written by Taylor Sheridan.
Directed by David Mackenzie.

★★★★

The Wolf of Wall Street. The Big Short. 99 Homes. All inspired by true events, and those events would bleed into Hell or High Water, where rural north Texas feels the weight of poverty and greed.

The movie is about two pairs of men, and both could have their own film, and I'd be happy following either one. It's a credit to the filmmakers that there is no scene wasted.

One one side, there are the cops. Jeff Bridges is the crusty old marshal who's about to retire, and Gil Burningham (Twilight) is his Native-American partner who puts up with all of his race jokes. When a couple small banks are robbed, this is their chance at cracking one last big case.

On the other side are the robbers. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers in dire straits. Their mother has just died and the bank is about to foreclose on her ranch unless they come up with the cash to pay off her reverse mortgage and back taxes by the end of the week.

This isn't a glossy production. This movie feels lived in. The mud caked on their cars feels earned. The small parts and extras look like real people. And the four main characters are all outstanding. I would argue this is Chris Pine's best performance to date.

Don't Breathe - Movie Review

Starring Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Stephen Lang and Daniel Zovatto.
Written by Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues.
Directed by Fede Alvarez.

★★★

I love the way this movie is set up. We get about fifteen minutes to establish the lives and personalities of the three Detroit burglars. There's Rocky, played by Evil Dead's Jane Levy, who wants to save up enough money to move with her daughter to California. There's her boyfriend Money, played by It Follows' Daniel Zovatto, who wants to go with her but also just loves robbing and breaking stuff. And there's Alex, played by Goosebumps' Dylan Minnette, who has a crush on Rocky.

When they first break into the blind man's house, the camera swoops and swerves all over the layout, pausing on certain spots like "This will be important!" Hm, that's the room where his tools are, and I see a big hammer in the middle. That will come up later. I see the Blind Man (Avatar's Stephen Lang) has a gun strapped under his bed. No way that's staying there the whole movie.

Money releases some kind of sleeping gas in the Blind Man's room so they can move freely through the rest of his house to find where he keeps his cash. They have a lead that he has upwards of $300,000 stashed somewhere. It's a good final score so that this can be the last house they rob.

Ah, but the Blind Man wakes up and gets out of his bedroom before the gas can knock him out. So while the burglars are quiet and try to avoid him, he knows someone's there and he locks his house down like a fortress until he can find them.

The title captures perfectly what this movie is. The tension builds in excruciating fashion as the characters hold their breath and keep still, trying to not to signal to the Blind Man, who naturally has very good hearing, where they might be.

It has twists and turns. (You know there's something in that basement!) It has a couple contrivance problems. (Why would a loner blind man have working lightbulbs in all of his lamps?) It's really a showcase for two of its actors.

Jane Levy, who charmed in Suburgatory, is the sympathetic Final Girl here, and she showed that she should be getting some of the same offers Emma Stone is getting. Stephen Lang, who once upon a time was known for playing schlubs in movies like Manhunter, has really found second life as a buff, angry character actor, but his Blind Man here is no ordinary psycho. His backstory manages to draw some sympathy, even if many of his choices on this day and those leading up to it don't.

It's worth it in the theaters, to be surrounded by fellow movie-goers who are also holding their breath.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Suicide Squad #1 for third week

For the weekend of August 19-21, 2016, Suicide Squad held on again to be the #1 film. It's still on course to break even, but since China's decided to not allow it shown, it probably won't be able to get much more than $675 million worldwide. Profitable, yes. But if it had just been a better movie...

Of the new films, War Dogs came out on top. Despite terrific reviews, Kubo & the Two Strings couldn't find its audience. The most expensive newcomer was Ben-Hur, but without a star on the poster, it never really found a marketing hook to justify its existence.

Hell or High Water expanded and had the best per-screen average in the top 30.

Summer is slowing down and some of the big-budget movies are in trouble. Ghostbusters and Star Trek Beyond have not caught on overseas, and both could still wind up being money-losers. Ice Age: Collision Course, however, is going to break even because of its overseas business, even though it won't get to $65 million domestic.



Opens August 26
DON'T BREATHE with Dylan Minnette, Jane Levy and Stephen Lang.
MECHANIC: RESURRECTION with Jason Statham and Tommy Lee Jones.
HANDS OF STONE with Robert DeNiro, Edgar Ramirez and John Turturro.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sausage Party - Movie Review


Starring the voices of Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, David Krumholtz, Danny McBride, James Franco, Nick Kroll and Paul Rudd.
Written by Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg.
Directed by Greg Tiernan & Conrad Vernon.

★★★

Sausage Party is the raunchiest animated movie since South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. It's a spoof of VeggieTales and the Pixar canon that anthromorphizes everything from toys to cars. Beneath all the subversive humor is a direct attack on religion.

Seth Rogen voices a sausage named Frank who is in love with a bun named named Brenda (Kristen Wiig). They're packaged next to each other on a shelf in a grocery store called Shopwells. Each morning, all of the groceries join in a song that celebrates the Gods, aka the humans that shop there. It is the belief of the food that when they are selected by the Gods, they will go to Great Beyond, aka out the front door, where they will live in an eternity of joy and sexual fulfillment.

But when a jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned, he comes back with horrible tales. The Gods are monsters who plan to consume them. There is no happiness in the Great Beyond; there is only death.

Frank and Brenda escape their packaging and set out to find the truth, but the longer they search, the more doubtful Frank becomes, and the more fearful Brenda becomes that she is angering the Gods.

The movie is full of stereotypes and has fun with them. Frank and Brenda are joined by a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton) and a Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz), and they bicker about occupied aisle space. The lavash also dreams of being drenched in the Great Beyond in 77 bottles of virgin olive oil. The German sauerkraut screams about exterminating the juice. And so on.

The movie is filled to the brim with dirty jokes, many of which are funny. In fact, it's remarkable how freeing animation is for Rogen's pot-obsessed humor.

As for the atheist argument, let's just say Rogen does it in a funnier, less ham-fisted way than Ricky Gervais or Bill Maher are capable of. The movie winds up being a celebration of hedonism before it ultimately disappears up its own butt.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Suicide Squad Stays #1 at Box Office


For the weekend of August 12-14, 2016, Suicide Squad easily held on to the top spot. After breaking the August opening-weekend box-office record, its 67% drop was to be expected. Its worldwide gross is now past $465 million, and this is before opening in lucrative countries like China, India, Germany and Japan. (For comparison, China alone was responsible for $190 million of Captain America: Civil War's $1.15 billion).

Sausage Party's tracking grew the closer it came, and when the overwhelmingly positive reviews came in, its success was assured. It also only had a $19 million production budget, which just makes me wonder why it took $105 million to make Ice Age 5.

Pete's Dragon opened to okay business, but it'll need good word-of-mouth and strong overseas performance to make a profit, and Disney could use some better news after Alice Through the Looking Glass and The BFG flopped. (Don't weep for them just yet. They also had Zootopia, The Jungle Book, CA:CW, and Finding Dory).

Florence Foster Jenkins joins Ricki & the Flash as an example that late summer Meryl Streep is no longer as bankable as she'd been in years past (with titles like Mamma Mia!, Julie & Julia and Hope Springs).

On fewer screens, Anthropoid wasn't able to garner much interest. It may look like a sci-fi title, but it's about the two men who carried out the assassination of SS Nazi monster Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. It stars Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) and Jamie Dornan (Battlestar Galactica).

Hell or High Water came out of nowhere for the highest per-screen average of over $18,000 on 32 screens for a $592,000 total. It's a modern-day Western starring Jeff Bridges as a sheriff on the trail of two bank robbers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster). Expect it to expand in the next week or so.



Opens August 19
KUBO & THE TWO STRINGS with the voices of Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey.
WAR DOGS with Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Bradley Cooper, Ana de Armas and Shaun Toub.
BEN-HUR with Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell and Ayelet Zurer.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad - Movie Review

Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevinge, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Adam Beach, Karen Fukuhara, David Harbour, Common, Jim Parrack and Ben Affleck.
Written & Directed by David Ayer.

★★

Suicide Squad has so much potential, so many directions you could go with it, and yet this is probably the most frustrating movie of the year.

Let me start with what I liked.

1. Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. Robbie's a movie star, and she has as much fun as possible as Quinn. The character has expanded leaps and bounds since she was first introduced on Batman: The Animated Series.

2. Jay Hernandez's El Diablo. Not only does he have one of the better archs in the movie, but there's a sad soulfulness to the way Hernandez plays him. Right now he might be best known as the guy from Hostel but this should be a career-booster for him.

3. Jared Leto's Joker. Joker's part isn't as big as one might think from the trailers, and because he's the freakin' JOKER, but I liked Leto's take. Joker's sexier, more gangster, and serpentine. I look forward to seeing more of him in future DC movies. Plus he and Quinn had real chemistry.

4. Viola Davis's Amanda Waller. It's nice to have an actress like Davis in this role, where she can give ten minutes of expository dialogue and have it not bother you. Plus she's as mean as anyone else.

5. The first half hour. We get introduced to these characters through Waller's expository dialogue, with title cards and theme songs that get us right in the mood. Thirty minutes in, I'm going "This is a movie I can really get on board with." And then it slowly slips away.

Honorable mentions to Will Smith's Deadshot and Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang. I kinda liked Killer Croc too.

So what didn't I like? I'll have to get into some spoilers to explain it.

There are some basic problems with the story that I can't believe weren't halted in development.

1. The main villains. The "Big Bad" the Squad is sent after is not the Joker. And the Joker is not part of the Squad. The Joker is on the edges of the movie, working toward getting Quinn freed while she's engaged in this mission. No, the villains are ancient spirits that can possess people. They are the Enchantress and her brother Incubus. Enchantress happens to possess Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevinge, out of her league), who is the girlfriend of Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Waller's right-hand man, and the guy in charge of the Squad while they're on their mission. Incubus barely registers. He's like Apocalypse from the recent X-Men movie, except he has maybe three lines.

Once brother and sister are reunited, Enchantress declares that she is going to build a machine to destroy humanity. Her machine apparently takes all night to build and it involves shooting lightning into the sky while garbage swirls around it. We've seen this too many times in blockbusters lately. Avengers and X-Men: Apocalypse come to mind. Even Ghostbusters had the same kind of sky-portal gigantic chaos type ending.

Enchantress also has the ability to turn people into these oddly-defined CG-creatures that are there for the Squad to kill in various ways. The entire concept of them was a bad idea. They make it feel like we're stuck in a video game, just killing random monsters along the way.

2. Too many characters. Slipknot is barely in the movie. And Katana is such an afterthought they would have been better off cutting her out completely. ("Oh yeah, by the way, her sword stores the souls of everyone she kills." "Huh.") Also, if only the Squad can go on such a dangerous mission, then why does Flag also have about 10 regular soldiers come too, one being Scott Eastwood? Why not send 20 soldiers and don't release these villains? Or just have Flag and the villains because this mission is too dangerous otherwise. This means the most interesting characters don't get enough to do. Courtney's having a lot of fun as Boomerang, but his skill set doesn't seem to come in handy for this mission.

3. The mission. Like I said, after the Squad's assembled, it kicks into video-game mode. They enter the city, they come across the CG foot-soldiers, they go deeper into the city. They kill more. There's a "surprise" rescue mission thrown in there which didn't make any sense when you think about it, and then they finally set their sights on Sky Laser Beacon to go defeat the ancient siblings. The movie's strength is its characters, but rarely in the last two-thirds do these characters get a chance to just stretch their legs and be.

4. Basic logistical choices. The climactic moment for Killer Croc is when he swims beneath the building in order to plant a strategic bomb, but even then he only leads some other swimming soldiers under the building, and one of the soldiers is the one who actually sets the bomb. Why not have Croc do it by himself? As for Diablo, when he takes his final form I thought "So this whole time, he could have done that?" Each Squad member has an explosive implanted in their neck so they can be killed if they try to escape, but apparently Diablo could have left at any time, no problem.

And then there's Enchantress. At one point she takes on four Squad members with two swords, and after some fighting, she just says "Enough!" and uses her powers to disarm them all. So why not start with that? If she's so powerful, why would she ever need to swing a sword?

5. Ham-handed choices. We know that Deadshot loves his daughter. But they go to that well so many times it started to generate groans rather than tug heartstrings. The dialogue every few minutes keeps emphasizing. "We're bad guys!" "Remember, we're the bad guys!" Show, don't tell. Also, they go for slo-mo at the wrong times.

6. The PG-13 rating. This movie felt held back by its rating. It should have been an R-rated crime movie. But before Deadpool, studios understandably thought they couldn't do that with superhero movies. (See the box office receipts of The Punisher.)

7. Death by committee. You can really tell this movie was meddled with by several people. Rewrites and reshoots resulting in an ultimate mess.

So between Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, the DC Universe has two financially successful movies that bombed with critics. The next one on their release slate is Wonder Woman. Even more pressure is now put on that movie to be good.