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Sloppily edited and veering wildly in tone, 'Suicide Squad' is a
textbook example of what can go wrong when you try to change the mood
of a film halfway through making it. The darkened streets, depressed
characters, murderous senators and constant rain give it an especially
grim atmosphere. With David 'Fury' Ayer directing, it's clear this was
originally meant to be a brooding and cynical film, but every now and
then someone will drop a one-liner, or the soundtrack will liven up
with 'Ballroom Blitz.' It's almost as if they were verge of calling it
finished when someone in Corporate Headquarters decided the burgeoning
DC Movie Universe needed it's own 'Deadpool' and called for urgent
re-shoots to make it more fun.
If so, this was a dreadful mistake. The majority of 'Suicide Squad' is miserable, po-faced and moodier than a fair-weather Goth kid who just spent a weekend reading Nietzche and binging on Opeth albums. The titular squad are essentially a comic book version of The Dirty Dozen, a group of expendable assets brought together to do the Government's rotten jobs in a world where super-powered humans can demolish skyscrapers with their fists.
And almost all of them are completely depressed. Deadshot (Will Smith) for example, is a lethal assassin who's killed enough people to fill a football stadium but who really just wants to see his kid again. El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a heavily tattooed gang member who can summon fire from his fingertips but is tormented by the death of his family, while Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is the utterly humourless leader. Granted, in the mission against a crazed Sorceress that takes up most of the movie, he does have a lot to lose, but does he really need to spend so much time furrowing his brow and musing on whether they're doing the right thing?
The Government Agents who set up the team meanwhile are ruthlessly sadistic and motivated entirely by self-interest. They're corrupt, murderous and just as bad as the supposed villains. It's a horribly cynical view of the world, but it's not convincing. It's so completely devoid of hope and humanity that 'Suicide Squad' winds up feeling like it was written by depressed 4Chan members. The world is hell man, you snowflakes just don't get it.
But strangely, this shadowy and oppressive misery-marathon has the most upbeat and jovial soundtrack this side of 'Guardians Of The Galaxy.' Unlike Peter Quill's mix-tape however, the music here just does not work. None of the songs match what is happening on screen, they're just shoe-horned in haphazardly. Everybody likes 'Bohemian Rhapsody' right? Stick it over some of the prison scenes, 'no escape from reality' totally fits.
However, 'Suicide Squad' isn't entirely without merits and there are a couple of decent moments to be found. Some of the acting is pretty good too, Will Smith manages to be effortlessly watchable even when he's in a bad mood, while Jai Courtney actually manages to make his antipodean answer to Snake Plissken likable. Shame he's called 'Captain Boomerang' and has been saddled with a truly rubbish gimmick, he makes a good antihero when not playing square- jawed heroes.
If the film absolutely gets one thing right though, it's Harley Quinn. From the minute she first appears, sitting in a homemade hammock in the middle of an isolation block and flirting murderously with her guards, Margot Robie's performance is spot-on. She's equal parts psychotic and childish, as memorable as Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in 'The Dark Knight' and they couldn't have picked a better actress to play her. 'Suicide Squad' might be a long way from perfect, but it does create an instant icon and it's no surprise that 2016 saw legions of lookalikes turning up at Halloween parties.
As good as Robie is though, it's impossible to deny that 'Suicide Squad' is a bad film. It's a massive missed opportunity and can't make up it's mind if it wants to be free-wheeling comic anarchy or a deep, tormented soul. Imagine watching a dismal stand-up comedian who looks suspiciously similar to a wanted murderer for two hours and you'll get the idea. It's made enough money to fund a real super-villain however so a sequel is inevitable, let's hope it's better than this turgid effort.
Margot Robie really is good though.
Okay, so I sat down with 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' today after
hearing lots of good word of mouth and enjoying the trailer on Youtube.
About fifteen minutes in, I decided I loved it. There was a scene where
a Priest makes a catastrophically awful speech which was so funny I had
to pause the film so I could calm down and not miss the next few
That speech was made at a funeral for a character who's death was utterly heartbreaking.
And essentially, that sums up why 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' works so well. It's a film that mixes bittersweet sentimentality with some genuinely funny moments. There are moments where you'll smile knowingly to yourself, moments where you'll chuckle politely and a few where your stomach muscles will hurt from guffawing so much. There are more laughs in this film than Adam Sandler has managed in the last ten years.
The film focuses on juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker as he goes into foster care at a farm house in the New Zealand bush. His new Aunt Bella adores him, while his new Uncle Hector just wants to be left in peace. Events conspire to cast Ricky and Hector into the wilderness together. One injured ankle and a few misunderstandings later, they're at the centre of a manhunt and have to flee because...well, because they didn't choose the Skuxx Life, the Skuxx Life chose them.
The end result is a film that's packed with quotable dialogue, a wealth of memorable characters and an infectious sense of humour. This is a movie where there are no cool or commanding personas, everyone is a little bit rubbish. There's an over-zealous child support worker who thinks she's a Terminator, a few Cops who are nowhere near as committed as they should be and a chatty teenage girl with a cheerfully idiotic dad.
Most of all though, there's the central duo. Julian Dennison's wayward thirteen year old and Sam Neil's exasperated old-timer make a wonderful lead duo. Neil makes a reluctant father figure, forever struggling against a world full of morons while Dennison's Haiku- writing teen is a great foil. They bicker constantly but inevitably, form a bond over time. But unlike so many similar themed films, their eventual friendship feels genuine. They look and behave like real people, rather than actors abiding by genre conventions. And that makes the experience all the more entertaining.
By the time they hook up with the scene-stealing "Psycho Sam," it's only too obvious why 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople' has been called one of 2016's best films. It's a warm, engaging and very, very funny jaunt through the forests down under, like an Antipodean 'First Blood' where everybody is just a little bit stupid. The scene where Dennison tries to make a hot water bottle with a camp fire is worth the price of admission alone.
Let's get this out of the way right now; 'Pompeii' is not a good film.
However, it is an entertaining one. Director Paul WS Anderson may have
been inspired by the writings of Roman Scholar Pliny The Younger, but
this not a cerebral movie by any means. The dialogue is hackneyed, the
story-line is predictable and the heroes are so preposterously good
looking they could have fallen out of a fragrance advert, but it's also
loads of rollicking good fun providing you switch your brain off.
Needless to say, it opens with a massacre. Young Brit Milo wakes up one night to find his hometown being attacked by a Roman Legion led by the boo-hiss Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). After seeing his entire family murdered in front of his eyes, Milo barely escapes only to walk right into the clutches of a slave-trading gang. Fast forward seventeen years and Milo, now looking like a ridiculously buffed-up Kit Harington has found himself working as a Gladiator. Well, forced to be one on pain of death anyway. Fate conspires to send him to the city of Pompeii where he catches the eye of Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of the local Governor and also falls afoul of Corvus who happens to be in the area. Soon, he's the hero of the arena and his defiance of Rome threatens to cause some major upheaval, until Mount Vesuvius erupts and causes an even bigger, fierier upheaval.
Now, if that sounds a bit like the plot to 'Gladiator' with a massive great volcano slung on the end, you'd be right. The lovers from different ends of the social spectrum plot is also reminiscent of 'Titanic' while the city-levelling final-act clearly owes a debt to '2012,' 'The Day After Tomorrow' and a dozen other disaster- films.
'Pompeii' isn't as good as any of them. It's a B-movie with a blockbuster budget and it's so preposterous it manages to ratchet up a bigger body count than 'Gladiator' even before the volcano starts to steam. As daft as it gets though, it's popcorn-munching fun every step of the way, especially when Sutherland is on screen speaking in a preposterous British accent and threatening to chew up the scenery. The fight scenes are very well done too, for while Anderson doesn't have the strongest back-catalogue he can handle an action sequence. The arena battles are bloody, there's a well-orchestrated chariot chase through a burning street and the destruction of the titular town is an eye-popping spectacle, especially when rocks start flying into ships and taking out temples.
So yeah, not a good film in the strictest sense but decent enough to kill a Sunday afternoon with. Kit Harington doesn't have the gravitas of Russell Crowe but he's an easy hero to cheer on. His love story with Browning isn't really a love story at all and is closer to a randy teenager lusting after a bad-boy football Captain, but Sutherland's ridiculous villain steals every scene he's in. Loads of people are going to hate this and you can pick holes in it with no trouble at all, but if you want a good old-fashioned Hollywood matinée film and don't want to think too much, 'Pompeii' is great. Well, not great, but you know.
You know you've got a proper Western when there's an enormous amount of
camera time spent on sweating faces grimacing in the sunlight. And
Antoine Fuqua's 'Magnificent Seven' remake is full of them. It's a film
that's very much a love letter to the classic era of frontier cinema,
full of cigar chomping heroes, boo-hiss villains and tense stand- offs
in deserted towns. Heck, the first time Denzel Washington appears is
when he walks into a saloon and everyone in there - including the piano
player - stops and stares as he enters the room. Then he orders a neat
whiskey and guns down the barman.
Set a few years after the civil war, Washington is Chisholm, a US Warrant Officer recruited by Haley Bennett's widower to save her town from a dastardly villain (Peter Saarsgard in suitably psychotic, sleepy eyed form). Initially reluctant, he soon caves in and sets about gathering a band of misfits to help him, including Chris Pratt's 19th Century Han Solo, Ethan Hawke's Confederate veteran with PTSD and Martin Sensmeier's tribe-less Native warrior. After the requisite introductory scenes, they shoot their way into the town and twenty- two corpses later, are helping the locals prep for the inevitable backlash.
And that's it essentially. There's lots of scenes of ditch digging, rifle training and manly bonding, all culminating in a huge shootout against an army of bad guys. It's a hail of bullets that Peckinpah would be proud of and a spectacular finish to an incredibly bloody movie, with someone getting shot, stabbed, set on fire or filled with arrows every few minutes. It's masses of fun and way more conservative than the diverse cast may initially suggest; this is a film where bad guys get shot. No ifs, no buts, no "let's try to understand their point of view," if you're a villain you'll be lucky to walk away with only an ear being shot off.
And speaking of diversity, do you know how much the film suffers for including a Mexican, an Irishman and a Native American in the ensemble? Not in the slightest. All the complaints about political correctness fall away to nothing when a film is this entertaining and besides, the West was a diverse place anyway. Google "how many cowboys were black" if you need to but trust us, this film rocks. It's a heroes versus villains adventure romp and the action sequences are terrific. If it reminds a few people that America was founded on immigration then hooray, if not who cares? It's two hours of solid entertainment and a rare example of an exemplary remake. Washington looks bad ass on a horse as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Remember that bit in 'Wedding Crashers' where Owen Wilson chats up a
bridesmaid by talking about the theory that humans only use ten percent
of their brain power? Well that same idea is the basis for 'Lucy,' a
sci fi action movie from veteran French director Luc Besson. Sadly the
results are a bit more mixed than Wilson's pulling technique but it's
entertaining enough to lose an evening with. Scarlett Johansson stars
as the titular character, a young woman who gets tricked by a sleazy
boyfriend into carrying out a one-off job for a Thailand crime
syndicate that quickly goes wrong. Forced into becoming a drug mule,
she soon gets a packet of an experimental new drug stitched into her
stomach and forced to smuggle it into Paris. But then it starts
With the drugs zapping around her bloodstream, Lucy discovers her powers expanding and sets off on a globe trotting mission of revenge and discovery. And for the first two thirds, it's a blast. Starting off like 'Taken' in the Far East, Lucy destroys every scumbag and low life in her way, casually gunning them down and pulling a bullet out of her shoulder without even blinking. She forces a terrified surgical team to operate on her at gunpoint, tortures a gang boss and as her mind expands, becomes a high powered super genius. Imagine if Black Widow were crossed with Liam Neeson and was powerful enough to wipe out the entire Marvel Universe with a wave of her hand and you'll get the idea.
As the film reaches its final sprint though, 'Lucy' loses traction. Hooking up with Morgan Freeman's University Professor and trying to use her full potential to its best effect, the film turns into a weird mish--mash of overblown science fiction and Terrence Mallick overtones. Lucy gains the power to travel through time and across the cosmos while at the same time constructing a futuristic super computer with her mind, all without leaving a swivel chair in Freeman's lab. You'll spend ages waiting for the trippy images to stop and for Johansson to stand up and start punching gangsters through walls again, but it never happens. Instead, the climactic action scenes are left to the French Police Force, led by Amr Waked's "in-over-his-head" Captain.
It's a frustrating finish to a movie that starts off so well but credit where it's due, 'Lucy' at least attempts to be something more than a stereotypical action movie. Plus, Johansson is terrific and manages to make the character's transformation from petrified backpacker to unstoppable force of nature compulsively watchable. The 2001 aping finale, the Dinosaurs and the hint that Lucy might actually be God are too much, but at least it's not another 'Taken' rip off.
Despite being one of the better films hiding among the titles on
Netflix, 'The Eternal Zero' doesn't seem to have attracted much
attention in the west. Given that it's a film that casts a sympathetic
look at Japan's kamikaze pilots though that's not exactly surprising.
It's already been subject to a wealth of controversy by critics in
Japan and abroad, especially as there's one pivotal scene that compares
them (favourably) to modern day suicide bombers.
This is a shame because at it's heart, 'The Eternal Zero' is a defiantly anti-war movie and a genuinely moving one. Beginning at a funeral, it focuses on siblings Kentaro and Keiko Oishi and their quest to find out more about the Grandfather they never knew. They soon discover that their relative Kyuzo Miyabe was a fighter pilot that died in a kamikaze attack on an aircraft carrier but throughout the war, he was almost universally hated by his fellow pilots. They meet with several veterans who all accuse Miyabe of cowardice for avoiding combat at any cost and after being shouted at by several angry old men, are understandably keen to throw in the towel. Then they decide to go for one last interview and things start to get more complex.
From there, the film unfolds Citizen Kane-style through interviews and flashbacks. It turns out Oishi was in truth a brilliant pilot, but one who also desperately wanted to live and return home to his wife. This made him thoroughly unpopular in a culture which at the time venerated the honourable sacrifice, but it also makes him something of a cypher character. Nobody in their right mind would want to smash themselves into a warship in a burning jet plane after all, so how does someone come to be persuaded to do that? And could it happen to any of us or was it something that only Imperial Japan could convince it's people to do?
What follows is a moving story of courage disguised as cowardice and a man who firmly believed in life at all cost rather than pointless deaths. There's a few brilliant scenes where characters juggle certain death against uncertain life, not least where Oishi convinces a fellow pilot not to turn back for a suicide run, only to wind up suffering an even worse fate because of it.
On a technical level too the film does a great job in recreating aerial combat through CGI (a practical necessity given the lack of functioning Zeros nowadays). The focus isn't on the combat though and anyone expecting constant dogfights will be disappointed. The Battle of Midway scene for example ends all too soon and often, we see the aftermath of battle rather than the battle itself. It makes up for it though in the human drama and when Oishi finds himself flying escort to his own students and has to watch them squander their lives pointlessly, it's both visually impressive and moving.
Anyone who still harbours resentment for the Japanese and their actions during WW2 however will still hate this movie. There's no mention of the atrocities of Nanking or the mistreatment of POWs for example, but then they're not the focus of the film. This is about impressionable young men being brainwashed into throwing their lives away and their ancestors struggling to come to terms with it. In that sense, Kentaro and Keiko are representative of modern Japan itself; they don't have to approve of their own history in order to sympathise with it. This is a great film, but it'll provoke a heated argument or two, a fact which it foreshadows in a night out that goes disastrously wrong.
'Jurassic World' is one of those movies which is a lot more enjoyable
if you don't think about it too much. If you convince yourself to
ignore the plot holes, the woman who sprints in high heels and the
complete absence of Jeff Goldblum, it's loads of fun. It's two hours of
popcorn munching spectacle, full of Dinosaurs ripping people apart and
pulse pounding set pieces. It's not as good as the original, but it
surpasses both 'Lost World' and 'Jurassic Park III' to stand as the
superior JP sequel. You'll be riveted to the screen constantly and
it'll only be a day or two later that you realise how many cracks there
Set twenty years on from the original, 'Jurassic World' sees John Hammond's dream as a reality. The park is now fully functional and incredibly successful, with attractions ranging from gyroscopic tours through fields of herbivores to the childish joy of riding a baby Triceratops.
According to the people in charge however, this isn't enough and the growing public apathy towards the scientific marvel of 'de- extinction' has seen attendance figures drop. In an effort to keep the crowds flocking in, Dr Henry Wu and his boffins have created an entirely new species - the Indominus Rex. This all new reptilian monster is a mass of teeth and claws that has been bred for the specific purpose of being a total nightmare. Wonder if that'll get out? Surprise, it does!
From the initial security guard-shredding breakout, 'Jurassic World' plonks an escalating series of action scenes on top of each other as the Indominus goes on the war path. In true sequel style, the fights are bigger, the body-count higher and while there's nothing to match the tension masterclass of the original's Raptors in the kitchen scene, it's still eye-popping escapism of the highest order. Thought the Rex fighting the Spinosaurus in 'Jurassic Park 3' was cool? You ain't seen nothing yet.
Where it falls down though is the characters. Sure, Chris Pratt is effortlessly engaging and Irrfan Khan's upbeat billionaire is a worthy successor to John Hammond, but it's obvious that this script has been written and re-written too many times for anyone else to remain consistent. Bryce Dallas Howard has a good stab as the ice- queen turned worried aunt, but that doesn't explain why she would interrupt a frantic search for her nephews to coo over a dying Brachiosaur. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson meanwhile are likable enough as the kids in peril, but Vincent D'onofrio's military nut has blatantly had a few scenes cut to speed up the running time.
It's not the fault of the actors but the numerous alterations to the story during the years in development has left them behaving irrationally, while one plot strand especially has a "oh, just throw a Raptor at it" feel to it. Plus, the solution to the Indominus Rex problem isn't really a solution at all and it'll be clear to anyone that spends more than ten seconds thinking it over that they've solved nothing.
When it comes to pure spectacle though, 'Jurassic World' is going to be a tough one to beat in 2015. The new 'Star Wars' has a fight on its hands if it hopes to beat the Pterosaur swarm, the Mosasaurus leaping from the water and the Raptors taking on the army. In terms of pure visual appeal, this can go toe-to-toe with the likes of 'Pacific Rim' any day and despite the weak script, there's more delights to be had here than in four 'Transformers' movies.
Definitely needs more Goldblum though.
The problem with 'Tracks' isn't that it's badly acted. It isn't, as Mia
Wasikowska is excellent as outback explorer Robyn Davidson. It's not
that it's poorly shot because it isn't, as the cinematography perfectly
captures the harsh beauty of the Australian desert. It also has no
problems with direction or editing or sound quality, in fact everything
is in place for it to be a perfectly decent film.
Except for one thing; the story. Focusing on a young woman's largely solitary nine month trek, 'Tracks' is a film that suffers from similar problems to 'On The Road' and 'Into The Wild' before it. For while there's nothing wrong with going out into the world on a prolonged sabbatical to "find yourself," it's hard to find a reason to care about what is essentially a film version of someone's holiday photos.
Which is a real shame because as I've said, Wasikowska is terrific. She's a reserved and cautious lead, perfectly happy walking through miles of snake-infested wilderness with no shoes on but shying away from any real human connection. The film is almost entirely her show, told through facial reactions and body language and she manages to be empathetic throughout, even if she is a bit prickly around other human beings.
In fact, out of the remaining characters, only Adam Driver's sporadic appearances as her photographer have any meat on them. His and Robyn's growing relationship is one of the small triumphs here, evolving from reluctant business partners through on again/off again lovers and finally a genuine friendship. Everyone else, from surly farmers to concerned parents barely gets a look in.
As good as the performances are however, it's very difficult to make a film about an extended stroll invigorating. Robyn only has one goal and that's getting to the end of a journey we already know she completes and aside from a few faintly hallucinogenic moments (was that motorcyclist really there?), it all starts to feel a bit too much like watching someone's gap year unfold.
On the plus side though, unlike the heroine of the sort-of-similar 'Eat, Pray, Love,' Robyn isn't a nauseating self-obsessed egomaniac indulging in a year long pity party and instead is a resourceful and likable lead. There's a lot to admire in 'Tracks,' but it's difficult to enjoy in the traditional sense. Watch it on Netflix but don't buy the DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Coming off like a post-Columbine version of 'The Omen,' Lynne Ramsay's
'We Need To Talk About Kevin' is an absolute tour-de-force of a film.
Based on the novel of the same name, it's a dark, engaging and riveting
experience and definitely not one to watch if you're currently
expecting children. With a career-best performance from Tilda Swinton,
plus a deeply unsettling Ezra Miller dripping malice throughout, it'll
make you terrified of ankle biters all over again. But this time,
there's no supernatural terrors to be found, Kevin is simply evil to
Told largely in flashbacks, the film revolves around tormented mother Eva Khatchadourian (Swinton) and her unhinged son (Miller). Shunned by the community and dealing with an unspoken tragedy, Eva is clearly traumatised and it soon becomes clear that Miller's incarcerated teenager has done something very bad indeed. You'll figure out what that was long before the film tells you, but as the story of Kevin's birth and upbringing unfolds, it's almost impossible to look away.
What follows is essentially a battle of wits as a mother locks horns with a son who right from the moment he's born, seems to inexplicably hate her. There's a couple of excellent performances from child actors Rock Duer and Jasper Newell that manage to make a pre-pubescent boy one of the most detestable villains in recent years and when he reaches his teenage years, Kevin grows ever more malicious. He commits heinous acts against his little sister, her pet hamster and he treats the entire world around him with bored contempt. All that is except for his dad (John C. Reilly in a relatively thankless role). To him, Kevin is a smiling, upbeat lad and his persistent refusal to accept anything is wrong drives a wedge into his and Eva's relationship.
What's especially impressive though is that even without showing any real violence, the movie is still horrific to watch. The gore is hinted at through several subtle images, a sandwich oozing with raspberry jam, splashes of red paint on a porch and one especially nasty scene where Kevin chews on a lychee. This is a film where not a single shot is wasted and it all builds up to an inevitably grim finale.
Despite this however, there's still a few rare glimpses of warmth to be found. There's one moment where Eva nurses her poorly offspring and the look of joy on her face when he snuggles into her is all the more devastating for how brief it is, while the closing confrontation offers a rare glimpse of humanity behind his surly mask. Watching this final scene is a bit like letting out a breath you've held in for an hour and a half, but even as the relief that the film has reached an end hits, you'll immediately want to go on the Internet and register your approval. You'll be staring at the screen through the gaps in your fingers for this one, brilliant film.
There's an episode of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" called "The
Nightman Cometh" where one of the characters makes a misguided attempt
at seducing a woman by writing a musical. The show revolves around a
young boy who gets his soul stolen and dragged off to another dimension
by the titular Nightman, a Demon with slick black hair and cats eyes
who hides in the shadows. It's not very well written, poorly acted and
inevitably, winds up being a total disaster.
Why is this relevant you may ask?
Well because the plot to 'Insidious' is remarkably similar. Sure, it's not a musical and the acting is generally rather good, but the story of a young boy dropping into an inexplicable coma during the night because of a Demon with slick black hair and cats eyes dragging him off to another dimension is uncomfortably close to Charlie Kelly's ham- fisted calamity.
That being said, if you're not familiar with said comedy you might still find 'Insidious' intriguing, but only if you've not seen any horror films before. It does a pretty good job of setting up the tension in the early going, but soon loses it's way once you realise that it doesn't have many original ideas. It might not be about a haunted house, but aside from the fact there's one point where the protagonists move, it sure plays out like one. Considering the Demons spend most of the film doing little more than the occasional cackling or running past an open door, it's also hard to feel scared by them.
In fairness though, 'Insidious' isn't awful. The early scenes work quite well, the interplay between Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson does make them seem like a convincing married couple and the two bickering paranormal researchers are actually quite entertaining. However, it just feels like it was put together by a committee who wanted bits of 'The Amityville Horror' and 'Poltergeist' stitched together. By the time the finale comes round you'll be humming a song about the Dayman, fighter of the Nightman, guardian of the sun, master of Karate and friendship for everyone.
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