[Early Review] Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

161 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.

 

I’m a sucker for movies about making movies and Hollywood. I also adore the 1960s as a setting. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a film seemingly tailor-made for me, including having my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained) at the helm. So what did I think?

The year is 1969. The once-bankable film star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, The Revenant) is making his living by appearing in guest roles on various television series, usually as the villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino, Serpico, Paterno) doesn’t think these roles are helping his career, and he tries to push Dalton into doing Italian Spaghetti Westerns. Rick’s stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, Moneyball, Deadpool 2) is searching for work himself as Rick needs a double less and less, but he has a bad reputation in the industry. Rick’s concern over his career is causing him to have a personal crisis, but he is reinvigorated when he discovers that he is living next to director Roman Polanski and his new wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Mary Queen of Scots). All the while during this, out on the Spahn Movie Ranch, a cult is forming led by Charles Manson.

Many have come to the belief that Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a central element to the film. Her character, in fact, is a lot more like a looming presence that the 1960s and the free-love hippie culture are coming to an end very soon. She’s not featured as much as one might think in the film, and neither is Charles Manson, who barely has any dialogue whatsoever.

The stars of the film are DiCaprio and Pitt, and they are the two characters that are most engaging, and they are the two with the best chemistry in the film. Don’t kid yourself about this being a Manson family film because it isn’t, and that’s fine because the incredible Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are worth the price of admission alone. They are two fully-realized, equally flawed, and equally enthralling. These two are some of Tarantino’s best characters in his entire career, and both actors put their all into it.

The third big character in the film is Hollywood, and it is gorgeously shot. This is Tarantino’s love letter to a world that has changed and, for the most part, disappeared. It’s a rare glimpse into an aging has-been’s world as it begins to crumble and the stunt-double/driver/entourage/friend who tries to keep him in one piece, and without the amazing production design, costuming, and cinematography, the film wouldn’t work half as well.

The pacing is rather strong here as well. I didn’t notice the time flying by and I was surprised when the film had concluded because I didn’t think nearly three hours had gone by that quick. It’s a testament to the world that Tarantino puts to the screen, and it didn’t take me out of the film to see actors I knew from today playing actors I know from decades ago because each was so meticulously collected for the cast, and it’s an impressive damn cast.

If there’s a flaw with the film, it’s only that I’m somewhat divided on its conclusion. I will have to see it again to know for certain how I feel about it. I’m not going to get into any specifics but it is definitely an exciting finale to say the least.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a very strong Quentin Tarantino that’s more melancholic and thoughtful. He takes his time building the story and seemingly every sequence has a purpose in developing character or moving plot. This is a film that may divide audiences more than some of his previous outings, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about everything that takes place, but I loved the theatrical experience, the characters, and the world. Go see it as soon as you can…and don’t spoil it for others.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, click here.

Shazam! (2019)

Director: David F. Sandberg

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou

Screenplay: Henry Gayden

132 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action, language, and suggestive material.

 

After the success of Aquaman, it seems like the DCEU may finally be righting the ship with their cinematic universe, and now, only a few months later, the question remains as to whether or not they can actually bring a wacky character like Captain Marvel (no, not that one) to life. Well, I have the answers you seek.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel, Driven to Dance, TV’s Andi Mack) has been bounced from one foster home to another for years following his accidental separation from his mother as a child. He’s been given one last chance with a large foster family run by Victor and Rosa Vasquez. Billy, not one to settle, struggles with connecting to his new family, but while fleeing bullies after defending foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer, It, Beautiful Boy), Billy finds himself pulled out of the world, landing in a strange place where a mythical wizard (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond, Captain Marvel) informs Billy that he’s been chosen as the new champion, Shazam. After saying the word Shazam, Billy finds himself transformed into an older and much more powerful version of himself, and he doesn’t quite know how to fix it, but Freddy might.

It seems like the DCEU has finally adopted the MCU viewpoint of developing great stories that just so happen to include superheroes. The screenplay by Henry Gayden (Earth to Echo) is, first and foremost, a film about family, both the search for one and the power of finding one, and its themes permeate the story with subtle moments that use the Shazam lore to expose character and progress plot nicely. The emotional beats of the film ring true in a lot of ways, and it’s great to see representation like this on film.

Beyond all that, Shazam! is a ton of fun. The tone of Big as a superhero film is perfect, and it weaves seamlessly into the darker material surrounding Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, TV’s Deep State). The film takes its source material seriously while pointing fun at what would happen if a teenager all of a sudden gained superhuman powers. This is a movie that is perfectly encapsulated within its trailers, as opposed to a tonally troubling film like Suicide Squad which was sold on one tone and struggled to find one in the finished product.

Zachary Levi (Blood Fest, TV’s Chuck), who plays the heroic older Billy/Shazam, is a kinetic and magical onscreen presence. He consistently shines as a superheroic version of a teenager, and he’s believable in the role, something many performers before have struggled with. I bought into the whole thing quite well. His interactions with Jack Dylan Grazer were pitch-perfect.

Mark Strong is mostly great as Dr. Sivana, but the one problem with his arc is that he is another DC villain who falls prey to the DCEU villain problem. It took Marvel some time to dig out of this as well, and Dr. Sivana is a step in the right direction, but parts of his villainy devolve into CG monster territory.

Shazam! had a tall order after its first few trailer gave us a feel for the tone of the film. I was excited but apprehensive because I’ve been hurt before by DCEU films like Suicide Squad which sold one tone but ultimately gave me a different one. Thankfully, David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation) has done it again by crafting a film wholly different than any of the others he has been known for. Shazam! is aided by powerful turns from its entire principal cast, and it mostly dodges many of the pitfalls that its predecessors have fallen into. This is a fun and exciting superhero movie unique to its character and story and well worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out (2013), click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

The Suicide Squad Losing Will Smith?

The DCEU has been having a rough go of keeping their stars. Now with confirmation of Ben Affleck’s official exit as Batman and Henry Cavill in an on-again-off-again return status as the Man of Steel, Variety is reporting that Will Smith, who played Deadshot in Suicide Squad back in 2016, may not be returning as the infamous DC assassin and villain.

It should be noted that this has not been confirmed, so we will judge this as a rumor for now, but their sources say that the split was amicable.

It’s been discussed quite extensively that James Gunn, recently fired by Marvel/Disney only to be taken on for the new installment, is planning on shaking up the team and rebooting this portion of the DC Universe with the new film, so it was a bit up in the air who, if anyone, would be returning to the franchise this next time around.

If this is indeed true, I will be saddened but hopeful that we will see Smith return in some form in the future. Smith and Margot Robbie were the two best characters in Suicide Squad, so losing him is tough. That being said, in James Gunn I trust, at least as far as making kick-ass movies goes.

The DCEU is gaining steam following the success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and the future is looking brighter as long as they can keep some stars attached.

So what do you think? Are you sad to lose Will Smith or are you thinking Good Riddance? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Justice League (2017)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons

Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon

120 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

 

It took me over a year to finally watch Justice League. I picked up the film last year, and I just didn’t have the nerve to see it. After all the craziness going on behind the scenes, it felt as though this film just got destroyed by problem after problem. I read some reports from early set visits on Justice League, and the overall mood was quite good. Then, the problems began. Not all of these can be blamed on any one particular person. Director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch) had to step away from the film after the sudden death of a family member, a move I will never blame him for. So as far as the finished film goes, how does Justice League fair?

It’s been some time since the death of Superman (Henry Cavill, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible – Fallout) at the hands of Doomsday, and the world has mostly moved on. But Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, Argo, The Accountant) cannot. He is haunted by the power he witnessed by the enemy due to a dream he witness of winged creatures and an Armageddon in the potentially near-future. His mission is to build a team of protectors. With Diana Prince (Gal Gadot, Furious 7, Ralph Breaks the Internet) already joined up, they focus on recruiting Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa, Conan the Barbarian, Braven), Barry Allen (Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher, TV’s True Detective) to the cause. Bruce and Diana find their mission ever more difficult with the arrival of Steppenwolf, a military officer from Apokolips, in search of the mythical Mother Boxes, three cubes capable of immense power.

I’m not usually a guy for high expectations with blockbuster fare. I personally find that smaller films can have just as much impact as larger ones in the blockbuster landscape. For example, Ant-Man is a fairly low-stakes superhero film when compared to something like Avengers: Infinity War (sorry for making my point with MCU films here). The one area where this thinking doesn’t count is the team-up films. When you have a film like Justice League, it needs to be big. It needs to have those memorable set pieces. Justice League’s biggest problem is that it’s forgettable. I just watched a night or two ago and I have trouble placing most of the action. Not much of the set pieces register in my mind. That’s a problem. This should be the one that reminds fans that the DCEU has stumbled in the past but they’re making up for it here and into the future. Snyder’s departure from the film didn’t cause this problem. Warner Bros did.

In response to criticism, Warner Bros stated that Justice League would have a shorter run time. At least, that’s the statement. At no point in any of the DCEU films, outside of Man of Steel, was the run time every really an issue for me. They are lengthy films but the DCEU always kind of branded itself with an epic quality maybe even more so than the MCU was. Warner Bros responded to criticism that wasn’t really there and shorted the run time, allowing for more butts in seats to see this movie. They responded to criticism that the films are too dark. Again, not an issue that I encountered outside of the brooding Man of Steel, but I just think they respond to any criticism big or small and it damages their plan.

I found Justice League, at the time I watched it, to be more enjoyable than anticipated. I feel like it sets up the team dynamic pretty nicely, and I like where it set the trajectory of future installments of the DCEU, but as a film, it also suffers some of the problems of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where it completes some arcs we’ve seen started and starts some new arcs but the meat of the film is missing. This is especially apparent with the portrayal of Steppenwolf, performed through Mo-Cap by Ciaran Hinds, a tremendously gifted actor. Steppenwolf’s scenes were altered and sliced up, turning a potentially frightening villain into a flat, one-dimensional CG target. It kind of makes Justice League seem like another example of Suicide Squad, a film with great heroes on a flimsy mission.

I really enjoyed the few moments of interaction between members of the Justice League themselves. I just wish we had more of them. For example, Superman is on the front cover and appeared in the trailers, so it’s safe to say he’s in the movie. He’s been through a lot in this cinematic universe, and I feel like he needs screentime to really showcase it. I would liken his struggle closer to Tony Stark’s from Iron Man 3. He’s been through some shit, but he never gets the time for us to connect with him. They could have utilized Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Arrival, Enchanted) to connect us to this higher being, but they choose not to.

Ben Affleck is yet again at the top of his game here with Bruce Wayne and Batman. I’ve been saying for a long time now that he’s the best part of the DCEU and I stand by that claim. It’s a shame he’s been brunted with all these problems that have soured his experience because he’s a damn capable actor/director/writer who really could have spear-headed this whole world, but alas, that’s the way it goes.

Gal Gadot is also quite well-suited for her character. She plays Diana with a sense for saving and protecting, and it doesn’t come off all that cliché or silly. She gets more to do here than she did in Batman v Superman coming off her solo film with such high praise.

The real standout for me was Jason Momoa’s turn as Arthur Curry. He played Aquaman in such a different way than I had planned given what little the audience has to go on so far. I didn’t expect to see such a pessimistic asshole interpretation, but it’s all done in jest with an understanding of his place within the team, and I loved every scene with him as they all brimmed with fun.

I think the plotting of Justice League wasn’t wrong from the beginning, though. I remember hearing word from some of the involved crew that the film was initially to open with the large-scale battle for the Mother Boxes and a Lord of the Rings-style opening narration to set up the mysticism around these items. That intrigued me, the idea that DC was perhaps treating this film like an epic in the style of Lord of the Rings was very exciting. The finished film opens with a live-video of Superman that really just doesn’t sit well.

Justice League stumbles a lot throughout, and it had a rocky road leading to its release (can you say Mustache-gate?), but it isn’t the worst thing to come from the DCEU, and maybe that’s its biggest sin. This should have been IT. This should have been the one to really knock it out of the park. Instead, it’s mildly forgettable and very simplistic. It makes me sad because, while I still enjoyed it, there’s issues abound and I really want the DCEU to survive and thrive. This just isn’t doing it.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

For my review of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, click here.

For my review of Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, click here.

 

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[#2018oscardeathrace] I, Tonya (2017)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Jullianne Nicholson, Bobby Canavale

Screenplay: Steven Rogers

120 mins. Rated R for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Margot Robbie) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Allison Janney) [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing [Pending]

 

Passion for a project can do amazing things. Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, Goodbye Christopher Robin) cared so deeply for I, Tonya that she was able to push the film forward and, arguably, is why the film is nominated for Oscars. Originally, it was going to take the limited approach which would have made it ineligible for Academy Award consideration. But Robbie knew there was something to this film, and so she fought for it. Is it worth it?

I, Tonya tells the true-ish story of Tonya Harding (Robbie), her romantic relationship, or lack thereof, with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, Captain America: Civil War, Logan Lucky), and her family life with mother LaVona (Allison Janney, The Help, TV’s Mom) stretching from early life to the events surrounding the violent assault of Nancy Kerrigan.

The strongest elements of I, Tonya are its performances, specifically Robbie, Stan, and Janney. This trifecta makes the film wholly likable and erases some of its flaws. Robbie and Janney are worthy of their Oscar nominations, and Stan is rightly left off the supporting actor race because there are just better performances for 2017. Janney is going to win this one, though. Her darkly disturbed take on LaVona is one of the best of the decade.

Steven Rogers (Hope Floats, Love the Coopers) churned out a screenplay that ended up on the Black List and rightfully so. His usage of fourth-wall breaks is really cool. The only flaw is that I would’ve wanted to see more. It’s a technique that feels underused. It would have been better to use it more or not at all. I  also love that he uses faux documentary footage to tell the story, and seeing the three stars talk right to the audience is a lot of fun. His usage of the unreliable narrator here is really solid.

I, Tonya has a few glaring flaws, but it’s a lot more fun than most other character pieces in 2017. I was thrilled and astounded all throughout the film. It proves that Margot Robbie is so much more than her looks. She is driven, skilled, and entertaining and I, Tonya is just a step on her path to success in her career. See I, Tonya.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[Batman Day] [Editorial] The Batfleck Situation

Hey goat herd,

I’ve been pretty busy as of late so I don’t have a new Batman movie review for you today.

I did, however, want to take a few minutes to discuss the controversy surrounding Ben Affleck’s future in the DCEU. So I’ll start with this…

I love Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the Dark Knight. I think he was the best of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie had a lot of issues but not a single one stems from Affleck’s acting performance. I think it’s absolute bullshit all the hate he got for taking the role. He’s a lifelong fan of Batman, and the way fans have treated him is unjust and cruel. I really wish he could find joy in the role again.

Now, I’ve heard a lot about whether or not Affleck will continue as The Batman, and I personally believe he isn’t done with the role yet. For starters, Justice League is the second film of his three-picture contract (I’m pretty sure his cameo in Suicide Squad had nothing to do with his contract). So he has one Batman standalone left. Now, yes, Warner Bros. and DC may choose to release him from his contract early, but I don’t think they are ready to give up on him yet. And money talks. Maybe Warner Bros. drops a big stack of cash on him and he accepts. I refuse to believe that his engagement with the role has dwindled so quickly.

But what do you think? Is Ben Affleck the Batman we need? Who else could take on the Caped Crusader in his absence? Let me know/drop a comment below. Happy Batman day.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Sleepless (2017)

Director: Baran bo Odar

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Dermot Mulroney, David Harbour, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Gabrielle Union, Scoot McNairy

Screenplay: Andrea Berloff

95 mins. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.

 

Sleepless is the story of Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Baby Driver), a corrupt cop who steals a cocaine shipment from Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Dirty Grandpa). When Rubino’s men assault Vincent and kidnap his son, the crooked cop needs to retrieve the coke and return it. Matters are further complicated by Internal Affairs agents Bryant (Michelle Monaghan, Source Code, Mission: Impossible III) and Dennison (David Harbour, Suicide Squad, TV’s Stranger Things). Now, time is not on Vincent’s side as he navigates the city in order to save his son and keep his cover from being blown.

It’s hard to defend a movie when its star can’t even find good in it. Jamie Foxx has come out numerous times refusing to give any merit to Sleepless, and he’s right. There isn’t anything good here, including Foxx’s performance. He is one-note, unlikable, and uninteresting.

That’s not all. I didn’t really like anyone in the film. Mulroney and Scoot McNairy (12 Years a Slave, TV’s Halt and Catch Fire) are both flat villains, not given enough room to play. The Internal Affairs agents are both fools for not being able to put together that Vincent has been crooked. There just isn’t anything good in this remake of the foreign language Sleepless Night.

Director Baran bo Odar (Who Am I, The Silence) has delivered a hollow husk of a thriller that is neither thrilling nor redeemable. The screenplay, from Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton, Blood Father) trips over itself, falling into cliché. The final twist does nothing to the plot or the characters worth speaking about.

Sleepless is, not surprisingly, bad. It starts with a premise not all that good and underwhelms sluggishly to its end. This is a forgettable experience. I’d certainly like to forget it.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[Harry Potter Day] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell

Screenplay: J.K. Rowling

133 mins. Rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Costume Design
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

 

Today, to honor the 19th Anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts, we look back at the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that exists in the Wizarding World Cinematic Universe (yep, that happened) but takes place decades before Harry Potter was even born.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything, Jupiter Ascending) has arrived in 1926 New York with a mysterious case full of amazing and exotic creatures, but when a tiny mix-up with aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, TV’s Secrets and Lies, Kung Fu Panda) causes several of his fantastic beasts to be released upon the No-Maj (America’s term for Muggles) society. Now, it is up to Newt, Kowalski, and ex-auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) to retrieve the missing creatures before they are discovered by the non-magical citizens of New York City.

There are many things to love about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I have to start with the performances. Eddie Redmayne absolutely disappears within his role as Newt and becomes the magi-zoologist with apparent ease, and his foil in Kowalski is expertly lovable and comedic due to Fogler’s performance. I was also blown away by Ezra Miller’s (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Suicide Squad) work as Credence Barebone, the adopted son of a religious zealot being manipulated by the sinister Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell, Phone Booth, Solace). There’s also some nice supporting work from Samantha Morton (TV’s Harlots, John Carter), Jon Voight (TV’s Ray Donovan, Mission: Impossible), and Ron Perlman (TV’s Hand of God, Hellboy).

The collaboration between screenwriter J.K. Rowling and director David Yates (The Legend of Tarzan, The Girl in the Café), who has now directed five films in this franchise, is electric to say the least. Yates has an understanding of how to treat the fans, and Rowling’s decision to use creatures hinted at in the books and previous films to further enhance the experience is something to dazzle at. For me, getting to see an actual Bowtruckle and Nifler, two creatures mentioned in novels but never put to film, was very exciting.

I also would like to point out the excellent score in the film, courtesy of James Newton Howard. Howard is one of my favorite working film composers, and his work here is some of his best. When you compare the score of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to, say, something like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it is clear to see where one score outdid the other. Howard’s music entices us with callbacks to the original music, and when it does, it’s pitch perfect, but at the same time, he creates a plethora of new music to further guide this franchise into the future.

As for issues, I felt like the New Salem Philanthropic Society felt a little rushed in their exposition. I would like to know more about them but they don’t get the full exposition needed to really consider them a threat. The same thing with Jon Voight’s character, Henry Shaw, and the secondary plot thread with him doesn’t really go anywhere. Finally, as for the twist (if you can call it that), it’s a little easy to spot, and I feel like there was a better way to do what was done at the end of the film. Thankfully, these problems only affect secondary characters and our main characters are more or less unaffected by them.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an exquisite and sophisticated return to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thanks to some clever callbacks to creatures and major plot points of the franchise like the Deathly Hallows, the film feels new but also honors what came before. It’s a clever film that will have something for everyone, as long as they are a Harry Potter fan. I don’t think this new entry will win over any new fans, but anyone who has taken the ride this long shouldn’t have any trouble going around again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, click here.

Suicide Squad (2016)

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Director: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevigne

Screenplay: David Ayer

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.

 

I’m not the first person to say that the DCEU has had a rough time of it trying to build a shared universe of films. After Green Lantern failed to ignite the franchise, Man of Steel hit with mixed reviews, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice got destroyed by fans and critics alike. Then, Suicide Squad was released to…drumroll, please…negative reviews. It hasn’t been easy for DC. Now, it took me some time to get to Suicide Squad just out of pure frustration with the film but I had some interesting views on it.

suicidesquad2016g

After the death of Superman, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, The Help), an intelligence operative, puts forth a plan to assemble a team, Task Force X, led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman, TV’s The Killing, Child 44). When Flag’s girlfriend June Moone (Cara Delevigne, Paper Towns, Pan) is overtaken by a supernatural evil entity called The Enchantress who wishes to unleash a hellish future upon the Earth, Task Force X is called to action to stop her. The team, consisting of Deadshot (Will Smith, Men in Black, Concussion), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Legend of Tarzan), and other criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison, assemble to save the day…and plan their escape.

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I was extremely hesitant to the idea that Will Smith was the central focus of all the members of the Suicide Squad. I didn’t like the idea of the entire movie forming around Smith, who hasn’t been able to carry an action film in some time. After seeing the performance, I take it back. Will Smith’s Deadshot is the most accessible character, a man doing bad things for the best intentions. His arc is one of the more interesting and successfully engaging in the film.

As for Harley Quinn, Margot Robbie owns the scenes that feature her. Robbie’s was one of the more anticipated for the film and another extremely workable and engaging performance. As for her relationship with The Joker (Jared Leto, Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club), it isn’t one that people should pine for. Everyone seems to think that Harley Quinn is a strong empowered woman when really, she is the furthest from, at least in this film. Harley Quinn is broken, insisting that she belongs to The Joker, her Puddin’, and that she would do anything for him. The Joker’s master manipulation is what turned her into what she is: an obedient, sexually exploited, pet. Now, an interesting character indeed, but nothing that women should look to for empowerment.

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Let’s talk about The Joker while we are here, and one of the major problems of the film. Now, I must say that Jared Leto is absolutely amazing in the film, and for the time we see him, I left wanting more, and there’s a reason for that. Leto’s performance takes mere hints from Heath Ledger’s The Dark Knight portrayal and Jack Nicholson’s Batman incarnation, as well as Cesar Romero’s Batman: The Movie from the 1960s. But Leto took a step further, going full method. Stories from the set of dead pigs being shipped as gifts are only scraping the surface of where he takes the character. So what’s not to like? The major problem with The Joker in the movie? He isn’t in it. He barely appears, which would be fine, but the fact that he was cut mostly from the film is a slap in the face to the great work Leto provides. Jared Leto created enemies on set with his batshit work, and there’s nothing to show for it. And it isn’t just him. The entire film suffers in the same way that Batman v Superman does. It feels like a collection of great scenes that don’t fit together. You get the sense that Suicide Squad was gutted even before hearing it confirmed.

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The rest of Task Force X? There is some pretty solid work from Jai Courtney (Divergent, Terminator Genisys) as Captain Boomerang and Adelwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Trumbo) as Killer Croc (another horribly slashed character who just isn’t given enough to do). Jay Hernandez (Hostel, Bad Moms) does the best he can, but his character just isn’t that well written.

Lastly, we touch on The Enchantress. Cara Delevigne does the best she can, but her villain has no motivation. I spent half the movie just trying to figure out what damn machine she is building, what she is trying to accomplish, and exactly what her minions were. They kind of looked like poop demons covered in hot tar and became mindless drones.

Something very fascinating that the DCEU is attempting to do with this shared universe is how connected it is. Batman v Superman is a direct sequel to Man of Steel, and Suicide Squad inciting incident revolves around a key moment from BvS. I enjoy that each film heavily influences the others.

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The tone of Suicide Squad isn’t perfect, but the film is a lot of fun to watch, which makes up for a lot of the shortcomings around it. I enjoyed it for the most part, but I cannot deny the glaring issues in pacing, editing, and writing that stared me in the face the entire time. For me, however, at least the DCEU is going in the right direction. I found myself liking BvS more than Man of Steel, and Suicide Squad was an increase in quality as well. Issues, yes, there are plenty, but Wonder Woman looks poised to take the quality a further notch up the scale, so overall, at least Suicide Squad was fun. Right?

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

#SpoilerAlert: did anyone else see Harley Quinn’s rap sheet at the beginning says she assisted in the death of Robin? What was that all about?

 

 

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, click here.

For my review of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, click here.

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