Friday, August 12, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 122 minutes
Director/ Writer: David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Cara Delevingne, Joel Kinnaman

Suicide Squad is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed by Warner Bros in the United States and Roadshow Films in Australia.

If Suicide Squad was a school student, it's report card would read "Tried really hard". This is how I want to approach the film. David Ayer's contribution to the DC universe is deeply flawed and not the follow up to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that it should have been, but with a little knowledge about the background of the film and what happened prior to it's release, one can see what went wrong.

The premise for Suicide Squad is so exciting, especially for those who are fans of the DC comics. Villains are called upon to do good because the way US intelligence officer, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) see's it, no one cares if the bad guys get killed. She recruits deadly hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), crazy and loopy villainess Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), grief-stricken Diablo (Jay Hernandez, Occa assassin Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Killer Croc ( Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje). Waller and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman)lead them to battle a supernatural force from ancient times, the Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) who seems undeafeatable in her quest to take over the modern world. They must all work together to achieve the unthinkable, but nobody counted on Harley Quinn's boyfriend, the Joker (Jared Leto) interrupting the party to take his girl home.

Back in April, the news of Suicide Squad reshoots sent rumours flying that the cast and crew were back on set in an attempt to make the film more humorous and light-hearted. Director Ayer responded to this by tweeting:

David Ayer@DavidAyerMovies Apr 11
“reshoots for humor” is silly. When a studio loves your movie and asks what else you want, go for it!

And his intentions were reinforced with this tweet from August 6 after his film was released with incredible ticket sales:

David Ayer@DavidAyerMovies Aug 6
Thank you thank you thank you! To the folks making a success this weekend. It's just a fun Summer movie with a good heart.

Despite it's huge box-office figures during it's opening week, the film has been torn apart by critics. Much of the criticism is warranted, but for almost every part of the film that is criticised there is a reason why that decision was made by the makers. The finished product has come to prove that these creative decisions may not have been the right decisions as far as the critics and members of the public are concerned, but Ayer and his cast and crew evidently tried very hard to make it work and remained true to this vision.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Suicide Squad is that it is not the atmospheric, dark tale of these menacing villains that people were expecting and craving. DC films do traditionally have a dark, dramatic edge to them, especially those that exist in the world of Batman. While their fierce rival, Marvel is known for superhero films that are somewhat lighter and have a humorous edge that is expected and embraced.

David Ayer's tweets above indicate that what he was attempting was to grab a piece of what makes a Marvel film work and use it in his film. Suicide Squad makes the bad guys the good guys and seeks to humanize the villains in order to make them more relatable and likable, especially Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Diablo. It's almost an obvious storyline and concept for the film and it is here that the DC universe darkness is taken away and is replaced with empathy. With this switch, the film is automatically lightened and with that comes the reassuring freedom that it is okay to laugh and have fun with the bad guys.

Yet, it does feel as though this has been taken too far. Suicide Squad is trying so hard to make the audience have fun and you can even see how hard it is trying. If Ayer hadn't denied the rumours that reshoots had taken place to make it funnier, you could have believed them after having watched the film. However, with this information that Warner Bros gave the go-ahead for more of what Ayer wanted in the film, this is also obvious that what was wanted was as much of a heightened sense of fun for the audience as possible.

It cannot be denied even by the harshest critic that Suicide Squad does have it's moments where it is indeed fun, but in many instances they become too over the top and the amusement turns instead into a series of eye-rolls. Many of the attempts at humour are so obvious that they fall flat and some characters so stereotypical and exaggerated that they are cringe-worthy (especially Captain Boomerang, who is played by Australian Jai Courtney, but feels like a caricature of the stereotypical Australian). The soundtrack for Suicide Squad is extremely cluttered with a series of pop-rock anthems playing one after the other creating a sensory overload and annoyance with this bombardment. Such musical hits in a film should make the audience want to tap their feet and smile, not rolls their eyes and think "Not another one".

Although the screenplay does have a clear idea of where it is going and what it is saying, it is cliché and once again, far too obvious. How do you create a great villain when the whole film is about villains? Cara Delevingne does as well a job as she could with her character of Judy Moone who morphs into the Enchantress. While she is actually quite likable as Moone, Enchantress is not only a dull villain for the film, but is also an extremely overused type of enemy and is the female version of one in another superhero film from earlier this year, X-Men: Apocalypse. With such a cliché villain comes a disappointing cliché storyline and ending.

The best part about the film is undoubtedly Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and this in itself is a reason to celebrate. This is Harley Quinn's first cinematic live-action venture and the film is undoubtedly hers. Robbie herself shines as she plays a role with a huge amount of character and all attention is on her in every scene she is in. Out of all the members of the squad, she has the most screen time and the most extensively covered backstory. This can be assumed as one of the things that Ayer decided the film needed to have more of after test-runs. Harley Quinn is the source of the large majority of laughs and really almost everything that comes out of her mouth is meant to be amusing. Luckily, she is such a great character that this isn't too much of a problem, but it is obvious that she appealed greatly to test audiences as she will larger audiences.

Along with Harley Quinn comes the Jared Leto portrayed Joker. The unfortunate thing for Leto and anybody who was ever going to sign on the play The Joker was that nothing could ever stop comparisons to Heath Ledger. Leto does what he can with the role and he does well under the circumstances. His character has the menace of Ledger's Joker, but the colour of Jack Nicholson's, which is the way he has been directed and it is just a shame that the role comes with embedded comparisons so that Leto cannot be praised in his own right.

Leto's case is not helped by the amount of editing his character has. Even before Leto confirmed that a great deal of the Joker's scenes did not appear in the final cut of the film, it is obvious. The Joker is one of the most popular villains in the DC universe and his role is edited so much that it feels as though he has only been included as he is Harley Quinn's boyfriend. According to Leto, there was enough footage shot of the Joker for he to have his own film and this is more than believable as so much is left unspoken of. Although there are no guarantees that the film would have been better with more Joker in it, it does suffer from it's obvious editing as no one should be able to acknowledge editing in the final product and this contributes to it's uneven execution and sloppy finish.

Suicide Squad tries and tries hard to be a spectacular film event. Unfortunately, the film which David Ayer wants it to be is not the film that audiences wanted it to be. Suicide Squad will owe it's staying power to the force that is Harley Quinn and falter because of it's over-exaggeration, sloppy creative choices and unwarranted editing,


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 114 minutes
Director: Paul Feig
Writers: Kate Dippold and Paul Feig (written by). Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (based on the 1984 Ghostbusters written by)
Cast: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong, Charles Dance

Ghostbusters is now showing everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Sony Pictures.

Just when I was becoming truly tired of watching and writing about unworthy remakes and sequels, along comes the 2016 revamp of Ghostbusters. Filmmakers take note...THIS is how you do a remake and THIS is how you make an empowering female driven film. While Ghostbusters on a whole may not be flawless, what it does right it does flawlessly and makes this a fun and worthy sister piece to the 1984 original.

In a matter of days, New York City has became a very spooky place to live. Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) abandoned her fascination in paranormal investigation to be taken seriously scientifically at Columbia University, but with this rise in ghostly activities across the city she is thrust back into exploring this strange world with her old friend, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and the eccentric Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Their team is complete with the addition of the street smart Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), and even though they are successful in their ventures, still struggle to be taken seriously and acknowledged for their hard work. However, the girls have their work cut out for them when they uncover evidence that a terrible event is about to tear the city apart and nobody believes their warnings.

Admit it, when you heard that there was going to be a Ghostbusters remake you weren't impressed, were you? You'd be forgiven too given the state of remade films today as they are normally made as a result of thinking "we can do better now" and/or lack of an original, but bankable idea for a screenplay. Many of these remakes are just modern versions of the original with no real point of differentiation that have movie lovers everywhere screaming 'What was the point of remaking that?!?!"

The 2016 Ghostbusters gives us a great in the remake. Paul Feig's film does something different to the original and is by no means a carbon copy of it's predecessor, yet still has some wonderful cameos and thrilling Easter Eggs to delight long time fans. Despite what could have easily been assumed, the film is not a carbon copy of the original with women thrown in to make it seem different. The screenplay written by Kate Dippold and Feig is a different story to what was previously told by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis with the only similarities feeling as though they are respectfully paying homage to the original. While Ghostbusters is completely and unsurprisingly far-fetched as well as quite silly, it has a self-awareness that makes this acceptable, highly enjoyable and wildly funny.

However, what is perhaps the greatest thing about Ghostbusters is that Feig knows the difference between a film with women in it and a female empowerment film. So many filmmakers believe that just having a female with an action woman's body and commanding manner of speaking empowers women and even as a society we are usually happy to settle for this. Yet, Ghostbusters is truly the ultimate female empowerment film.

Each of the characters portrayed by Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones have extremely admirable qualities...they are all very intelligent women who are comfortable with who they are and in a profession where they are being ridiculed and oppressed, but passionately believe in what they are doing so much that they are doing it either way. None of them are the traditional vision of an action woman, but they are all strong in mind and matter with their own distinguishable personality that makes them unique. Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon and Jones all give great performances of their well-rounded characters, but McKinnon and Jones shine the greatest. McKinnon's crazy but lovable Holtzmann provides many of the biggest laughs and Jones gives a standout performance as the down-to-earth Patty. Not surprisingly, any 'Saturday Night Live' fans will love the brand of comedy the girls bring to the screen.

The screenplay allows for a reversal of the usual gender stereotypes found in film, especially considering it is the girls saving the boys. The role of the secretary, Kevin played by Chris Hemsworth is the perfect example of this reversal. A secretary is traditionally a female occupation, but here we have an attractive, but incredibly dumb and goofy male who is splendidly portrayed by Hemsworth who must've had a ball during filming. Another worthy point to make is that all the girls are single and while it is great that this shows that a woman doesn't need a man, the best thing about each of the girls being single is that it isn't even a matter that is talked about in the film because it isn't an issue whether they are attached or should be the case in real life too.

Ghostbusters is exactly what film goers have been needing and craving in 2016. With the tidal wave of remakes and sequels flowing through cinemas in recent times, Ghostbusters proves that you can really do something great with a remake and make it memorable and loved in it's own right.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 110 minutes
Director: David Yates
Writers: Edgar Rice Burroughs (based on the 'Tarzan' stories created by), Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad (screenplay)
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou

The Legend of Tarzan is now showing in cinemas everywhere and is distributed in Australia by Roadshow Films.

Bringing 'Tarzan' back to the realm of live action in 2016 is not even half a bad idea. It is actually a concept that is easy to get excited about when you consider how much could be done with it. However, it takes only five minutes to realise that that is all The Legend of Tarzan is and is instead exceptionally dull, flawed and overly cliché.

In what is an attempt to be unique and original with a story that has been told many times, The Legend of Tarzan is essentially a sequel to the more traditional Tarzan tale and takes place in the years following the "Tarzan meets Jane" fiasco. Tarzan (as played by Alexander Skarsgard), now known as John Clayton, has brushed up to become quite the civilised English gentleman with his American bride, Jane (Margot Robbie) at his side. He is coaxed back to Africa under the instruction of Belgian King Leopold to see what he has done for the countey and is accompanied by both Jane and American, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). When they arrive, they find a new enemy in Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who is ruthlessly ripping through tribal villages with no guilt and has his eye set firmly on Tarzan.

While it is admirable that screenwriters Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad have tried to do an original take on Tarzan, there is nothing unique in the fact that it is merely a sequel being released at a time when cinemas are literally flooded with origin stories and sequels. It has been a significant amount of time since the last live-action Tarzan film so it can be presumed that the idea for the film came from that lightbulb moment of "Imagine what we could do with that story now!"

Visually, yes. There was a lot that could be done with The Legend of Tarzan and it does not disappoint in this department. The production design is very impressive and the CGI of the African animals and scenery is superb. This is where the excitement and intrigue exists with the film as the story is hardly suspenseful nor action-packed and very predictable. Of course the argument is that Tarzan films and television shows are supposed to have an acceptable level of tackiness and are not supposed to be taken too seriously, but with anything that isn't supposed to be taken too seriously you expect a level of enjoyment and a bit of fun. The Legend of Tarzan doesn't have any of this. It is a Tarzan film that is perfect in so far as capturing the atmosphere of the Congo, but doesn't succeed in capturing the sense of adventure in the way a Tarzan adaptation should.

The Legend of Tarzan is not just a new story about Tarzan, but the revealing of Tarzan as a new man. Alexander Skarsgard's Tarzan is a lot more civilised than the jungle man of old and the animalistic side of his personality is barely existant. He is a man caught between two worlds, but in the situation he finds himself in in this film, you would expect fragments of the man he used to be to come through in his behavior. Physically is a different matter. This isn't just in relation to his physique and his unnatural male model poses that were undoubtedly the basis for him being cast in the role, but he progresses in stature from a very well-to-do man to the King of the Jungle just fine,

It is Margot Robbie's Jane who has a bigger personality than Tarzan himself and has the fire that you would hope her husband would have. As well as Robbie does do performance wise, Jane is a little too contemporary for the film's time period. She is being presented as a cross between a strong woman and a damsel in distress, but with a less than refined accent and vocabulary that was not typical of the time. The fact that in her final close up you can see that Jane has pierced ears, when ear piercing did not come into fashion until the 1920's does not help this case either.

Samuel L. Jackson adds some humour to the film in a role that is again very contemporary, but probably more accepted than Jane. His addition to the cast makes things a bit more entertaining and animated, even if his character is quite Tarantino-esque minus the swearing. Christoph Waltz is fine as the villain Leon Rom, but sadly isn't too much of a stretch from the characters he has been playing of late.

The Legend of Tarzan proves to be nothing more than an exciting idea that cannot carry the excitement through to it's execution.