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Suicide Squad (2016)
Why Do They Keep Dropping The Ball?
So look, it's not as bad as BvS. For two reasons:
a) No pointless pseudo-philosophical claptrap about gods and mortals that doesn't actually mean anything
b) No Jesse Eisenberg doing his Joker-Without-Makeup bit
And there are good things in this film. There are good actors in it. There are no awful actors (hi Jesse!) in it. The idea is unusual and interesting. There's quite a lot of action.
But yet... it falls short of expectations. It's frustrating. Just when you want it to fly, it flounders. The key issue is that I really didn't care about anyone but Deadshot. Harley is fun, but her romance with Mr. J is under-written and unconvincing. So she really only comes across as nutty and wanton which is hard to care about.
To put this in perspective, I cared a lot more and actually liked Harley in the animated series. It's not Margot Robbie's fault. She's actually terrific and almost pulls it off. But to get her over the line she needed a more fleshed out relationship with the Joker. And a better Joker.
I'm not sure Jared Leto or the people who wrote this movie got the Joker - or why Harley needs him. In this movie, he never comes across as anything but a sadistic psycho - which he is - but in other incarnations he also has a brilliantly manipulative and devious side - appearing vulnerable or in need of help to suck in his victims just before he slips in the knife. It's not hard - we've seen it in previous versions of this character. But not here. Harley just loves him because she does. End of. Keep up. It's not very satisfying.
The plot is pretty flimsy, but I can get over that. Marvel have done flimsier but get away with it because they seem to understand how to make audiences care about characters.
I'm not saying DC are incapable of this. I really hope they up their game and learn a few lessons from Feige. But based on the three DCEU movies thus far, they'd better start studying his playbook hard. I know "Suicide Squad" and "BvS" made a lot of money but so do "Transformers" movies and "Suicide Squad" is closer in spirit to those sorts of films than Marvel right now.
The "Kirsten, I'm Sorry" Review
I admit it; I was one of the haters.
Don't get me wrong. I didn't post sexist comments on YouTube because a) I'm not a sexist and b) I have a life. But I was one of the people who looked at the trailer and thought, "Wow. There's a dud."
In my defence, it was a lifeless, laugh-free trailer.
A delightful surprise then, to find that Ghostbusters 2016 is actually really good fun. It's not absolutely hilarious but then again (whisper it) neither was the original - and I saw that at a packed cinema in 1984, and remember it well. It was always a film as much about the effects and the adventure as about the comedy.
What both films have in common is that they are fun adventure tales with wacky gizmos, special effects and charming leads. I've always loved Melissa McCarthy - surprisingly (and generously) she seems to have the more laid-back role here, ceding the comedy ground to Wiig, Jones and McKinnon. I've never really "got" Wiig before, but she's quite charming here, Leslie Jones is very funny but for me it was Kate McKinnon who stole the show - acting like a young (and slightly psycho) Eileen Brennan, she really is terrific and steals every scene she's in.
Liam Hemsworth has fun as the dumb secretary (although truth be told, he's a bit too self-conscious for comedy) and it was good to see the originals turn up in cameos. The plot and effects are perfectly adequate and keep things ticking over. And I really enjoyed Andy Garcia, turning in a Alex Baldwin-esque performance as the mayor.
So, New Ghostbusters, I'm sorry. Your trailer really did suck, but this film is good fun and a worthy remake. I'm a hater no more.
Get Angry. We Deserve Better.
I'm sick of reading apologetic reviews for this film of the "If you can just get through the bad stuff, the rest of it is AMAZING" ilk.
We shouldn't have to endure dialogue this bad, acting this awful and plotting this lazy to get to the good stuff. Let's take a few examples:
- Cavill has zero chemistry with Adams. None. The scene where he leaps into the bath with her is so awkward it's embarrassing.
- And why is Amy Adams in the bath anyway? It's hardly a playful scene - she's talking about death and responsibility. I can only think it's played that way for "Phwoar! Amy Adams in the bath!" reasons.
- People in this film don't "do" motivation. Superman turns on Batman for being a vigilante above the law. Which he is too. The public turns on Superman because of crimes they KNOW were committed by other people. Lex turns on Superman because... well, I'm still not sure about that.
- Batman, the World's Greatest Detective - acts like an idiot for most of the film. Despite all evidence pointing at Lex, he allows himself to be manipulated into fighting Superman. Why didn't he use his detection skills on "Who sent those notes?" and "Who blew up the Senator?" and "Hey, why does Lex want all that Kryptonite anyway?"
- Batman is also kind of a sadist. No, I'm not complaining about the Bat-brand, I can live with that. But he takes his time toying with Superman. I'm not sure why. Again, motivation issues.
- I don't actually have a massive problem with Superman & Batman killing people. Although you have to admit, it makes you wonder how Lex & The Joker are still alive. But this movie doesn't care about plot holes. I believe there's actually a plot "black hole" at the centre of this film, sucking in all logic.
- Mmm! I'm not sure I can entirely blame - mmm! - Jesse Eisenberg for Lex. I mean how can you deliver lines as embarrassingly bad as these without sounding like a complete idiot? Yet no character in the film ever comments on the fact that he acts like the guy on the bus you see muttering to himself. It can't be his wealth. I know Lex is a billionaire, but then again so is Donald Drumpf and people call him crazy all the time.
- Plus "crazy" isn't the same as "scary". There's no menace, no sense of malevolent power in Lex. He's just an irritant. Someone to move the plot forward for no good reason other than to fulfil the promise in the title. Again, not Eisenberg's fault but why did they write him this way, instead of the power-obsessed, morally bankrupt businessman we've seen in Lex before? We didn't need Less-Interesting-Joker-Lex.
- The arrogance of the film reminds me a little of "Prometheus" - another film that attempted to address big issues, but had no idea what to do with them. There's no philosophy here, no intelligence - having characters rant and rave about gods and mortals doesn't give them a coherent philosophy or moral outlook. In "The Dark Knight" The Joker had an actual philosophy - a corrupted viewpoint that ran counter to Batman's. Here, I can't tell what anyone stands for. What does Lex even want?
How much of this mess can be blamed on Snyder is debatable - I think the bulk of the blame should be placed on Goyer & Terrio who should never be allowed to write anything ever again, including greetings on birthday cards. However, I will say that if Snyder were a half- competent director surely he should have binned this script and brought in someone else.
As for the film, I know it's made a lot of money which is actually a terrible shame. It means all of those responsible will feel it's acceptable to produce something this bad, so long as it has a big budget and impressive CGI (see also: Transformers).
For me, it just isn't good enough, with this budget and these actors we deserved something better. With these iconic characters to finally show together on the big screen, we deserved something astonishing. The film-makers should be embarrassed.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
An Exceptional Surprise
I'm not a huge fan of mockumentaries. They've been so overdone. Ditto vampire films. I've also not really into "Flight of the Conchords" so when this went on, I was only half paying it any attention.
I'm telling you all this so you'll understand when I say I loved this. I wasn't expecting to, but I found myself recommending it to everyone who would listen. Now it's your turn.
If you enjoy Eddie Izzard monologues, then imagine one come to life. In this film you'll get to see how vampires do the vacuuming, how vampires eat chips and why vampires put newspaper down when entertaining a guest.
All the cast look like they are having great fun, and I loved Rhys Darby as a very responsible werewolf, making sure all the members of his pack are wearing stretchy pants on the night of the full moon.
Deducting one point for lack of originality, but other than that I can't fault this. Terrific fun.
Those feeling bereft after Jon Stewart left The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert toned it down for The Late Show may find some solace in this (sadly only) weekly show from Samantha Bee.
Her filmed pieces are still the strongest (she was always my favourite Daily Show correspondent) but she turns in a fiery performance as host of the show too. She rivals Jon Stewart in ferocity against political stupidity, but she's less nuanced and jokey than Stewart was. As the title of her show suggests, she's full-on angry and there's venom in her jibes. This may turns some viewers off, but I applaud her bravery.
The show this reminded me of most was "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell". I hope it sticks around for longer, it's a real breath of fresh air and great to see a woman in amongst the dude-dominated TV schedules.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Another Case of Tarantino Bloat
Just as with "Inglorious Basterds" I can't help but be frustrated by "The Hateful Eight". It's like I can almost see a good 90 minute film in here, struggling to get out. Unfortunately, it's buried under a 3 hour bloatfest.
The story, of a bounty hunter trapped in a cabin with his $10,000 dollar captive (brilliantly played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) has some promise. Despite some claims, it is not really a whodunnit in the sense that there is no way of figuring out who's doing what. It's more of a character piece, allowing the actors to explore attitudes in America following the cataclysm of the Civil War.
And it's here where the movie shines as Tarantino rips the scab off the problem with race relations in the US from slavery to Black Lives Matter and makes us look at it. However, it's not exactly succinct - or even coherent. It's just grim, mean-spirited rhetoric that goes on and on and on long past the time when the point was made.
The actors are good, the direction is excellent but oh dear god that script needs a pair of shears taking to it. Why brevity continues to elude Tarantino is a mystery to me as his first, best movie came in at a brisk 100 minutes. He really needs to work on a low budget again.
The Visit (2015)
Grimm in a Good Way
I can understand the mix of love & hate for this film. There are some really jarring and disappointing things about it, which may prevent enjoyment of the film as a whole.
My primary issue with the film is that is is yet another found footage film. Worse, it lazily doesn't even try to answer the problem with that genre - the "why are they still filming this?" issue. It's particularly noticeable in the scenes where Becca is in jeopardy - yet still filming herself in the mirror rather than looking for danger. Is she supposed to be THAT self-obsessed?
If you're able to get past that, and a number of other parts of the story where the characters behave completely illogically (JUST RUN AWAAAYY!!!) for plot purposes then you might be able to enjoy the film. For the most part I liked it for the creepy atmosphere and the way is slowly ramps up the tension. Also, it's one of the few movies I've seen to take the real issue of dementia and just push it a little further to take it into the realms of horror. Of course it doesn't match the classic "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" which this film could have done to take a few lessons from.
On the whole, I'd say I enjoyed it more than I didn't enjoy it. Yes, the child actors sound like 30 year olds but they are likable for the most part. Agreed the rapping is cringeworthy but I think it's supposed to be (at least I hope so). MNS has said he intended the film to be more of a comedy than a horror, so if you are a horror fan you should expect him to back away from true horror and more toward "tension" in the final act. But it IS pretty tense, and I have to give all concerned credit for that.
As for the pointless "We've all learned something from this, and everything is fine" conclusion (no PTSD here!) you could honestly skip this section of the film altogether and not feel cheated.
Dark Shadows (2012)
In Defence of the Dark
Having just read page after page of negative reviews, I thought it necessary to add this -
DARK SHADOWS IS A LOT OF FUN!
It's a campy, affectionate adaptation of a hammy horror soap from the 1970's. Granted, Johnny Depp is not Jonathan Frid, and the script never even attempts to give him that role. His Barnabbas is not the tortured monster of Dan Curtis' series, but a fish-out-of-water 18th century dude having trouble coping with 70's grooviness. Fans of the TV show may consider this a cop-out, but there's still a lot to enjoy.
The supporting cast is uniformly fun - from Michelle Pfeiffer pulling faces at the camera to Johnny Lee Miller as the stuffy, twitchy Roger. The romance between Vicky & Barnabbas is hardly present in the film, but that's because Eva Green dominates as Angeline - and she's absolutely terrific as a demented, lovestruck witch.
I think a big part of the issue people have with this film is that they were expecting a bit more darkness and a lot less froth from Burton. So try this - pretend you are going to see "Robert Zemeckis' Dark Shadows" instead. It'll give you a better idea of what to expect and if you just let go of your preconceptions you'll find yourself giggling through this as much as I did.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Taxi To The Revisionist Side
So let's deal with the torture first, because that seems to be what everyone is talking about. The scenes depicted in this movie should not be shocking to anyone who has been watching the news for the past 8 years. If anything they are quite mild compared to what you might see in an average episode of "Criminal Minds". What some have found shocking is the claim that it was torture that "found" Osama. Again, this has been in the news for over a year now - but there are things to consider -
a) Kathryn Bigelow's movie is based upon the CIA version of events so take from that what you like. b) The US has been more successful in taking out al Qaeda targets after torture was removed as an option than it was under Bush/Cheney. (Google it if you don't believe me). c) We see a successful interrogation at Bagram. We don't see any interrogations of innocent dudes who also ended up tied to the ceiling there (see documentary "Taxi To The Dark Side").
So my feeling is, if you go in accepting the movie as unexpurgated truth, you're a bit daft. But then I'd say that about all movies anyway. Moving on.
As drama, it is semi-successful. The issue here is that the subject matter is pretty dry for the first 3/4 of the story. People mostly sit in rooms discussing leads, politics and techniques. In an attempt to humanise the story and draw us in, we are given the character of Maya to follow. She's a young CIA agent who becomes obsessed with finding Abu Ahmed, Bin Laden's courier. But is he still alive? Does he even exist? He's so shadowy her superiors think not and we follow her frustration over the years as other leads are followed to no avail.
I think the reason this part of the movie felt a bit dry to me was that essentially it was covering documentary territory and the character of Maya is so one-note (driven and dedicated) that it's hard to find an emotional foothold in the film.
Compare it to the more emotive "Argo" and it's nowhere near as compelling. But then we reach the last act. The assault on Osama's compound. It's brilliantly staged and, given that we know how it ends, incredibly tense. The whole audience was holding their breath the whole way.
So I was glad I saw "Zero Dark Thirty". It is a good film and worth seeing. Is it "Best Film Oscar" material? I think so - but for me "Argo" & "The Sessions" are much more satisfying films.
The Sessions (2012)
Refreshing, Honest and Most of All Funny
Mark O'Brien developed polio at the age of six. The disease ravaged his body, leaving him with little control over his muscles. But he didn't let it stop him. He travels about on a motorised gurney which allows him to attend college and earn his degree, and from there he earns a living as a writer and poet.
We find this out about him in the first two minutes of the movie.
At the age of 38, Mark goes through a number of experiences that lead him to believe he is missing out on something. Sex. After falling in love with his carer (she handles it badly) and writing a series of articles on sex and the disabled, he decides that he has been a virgin long enough. But as a committed Catholic he discusses it with his priest first. He gets an unexpected response -
Mark engages the services of a professional sex surrogate. Cheryl works at the referral of a sex therapist, and helps disabled people gain confidence to the point where they can have full sexual relationships by having six sex sessions with them. No more than six.
It's an awkward situation and Mark is terrified. But Cheryl is thoughtful and kind and if her manner is somewhat clinical she is also understanding and patient. She finds herself not hindered so much by Mark's condition, but by the guilt that plagues him. Not about sex outside of marriage, but that someone like him could deserve any sort of love at all.
How the two get through this is by turns, sad, touching and really REALLY funny. I am not exaggerating if I tell you that this is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time and way better than some of the actual comedies I've sat through recently. And it wasn't just me. The crowd was HOWLING at some of the lines. Mark is a funny dude (brilliantly played by John Hawkes) William H Macy can be funny just by raising an eyebrow, and the frank discussions of sex are refreshingly blunt and to the point.
But this isn't actually a film about sex. It's a film about love. And while Cheryl and Mark might try to separate the two and have a therapist/client relationship, feelings cannot help but develop. Because sex isn't purely a physical act. While you might never weep with joy over a fish supper or whoop with ecstasy over a bacon roll, you just can't sleep with someone and not feel connected. It's an issue. Cheryl worries about Mark's "transferance", but she needs to worry about her own feelings - and the feelings of her husband too.
"The Sessions" is the best film I've seen in a long long time. The screenplay (adapted from O'Brien's own article) is very real - after a while the characters feel like people you've come to know and like. The direction is honest and straightforward - no manipulation, no dressing things up - almost like they've plonked the cameras down in someone's home and left them running. And the acting is bloody superb. I never really liked Helen Hunt before, but she gives a fantastic performance here. There's been a lot of writing about the fact that she's in the nip for a lot of the film - but it's not Hollywood Nip. It's Real Life Nip, where people walk around in their keks before bed and slip off for a wee without bothering to put pants back on.
Do yourself a favour and go and see this. It's up against Zero Dark Twenty and Lincoln at the Oscars, but I really hope it walks off with everything.