Sunday, 7 August 2016

Suicide Squad

I read every bad review about this film before walking into the cinema and I was still disappointed.

My expectations could not have been lower and yet, Suicide Squad still failed to make a mark. Written and directed by David Ayer, the latest DC instalment lacked purpose, depth and excitement. In fact, I would go as far as saying that every bullet missed the target on this one. I found myself bored throughout many of the action scenes, silent during moments of 'humour' and unimpressed with forced relationships.


Ayer was, in many ways, restricted by studio execs and brand managers who insisted upon a certain product - even if it was a lesser one! One particular problem with the creation of this film seemed to be the deadlines. Ayer was given a release date and had to write, shoot and edit before that time. Sounds like any other film, yes, but Ayer wanted time to develop the film and was not given the chance to. In fact, two different versions of the film were screened for test audiences and Ayer's more developed version was not favoured by the studio. One of the other shackles attached to Ayer and Suicide Squad was the demand for a PG13/15 rating. With a film centred on bad guys with an attitude, it was frustrating that the rating was so low. Perhaps an R/18 rating would have been better suited to allow Ayer to explore his characters in more seedy depth. Many of the aspects of what make these characters great are only brushed upon because too much violence, language or sexually explicit scenes would hike the age rating. Although Deadpool was problematic for several reasons, it was an enjoyable ADULT film that still dominated the market despite excluding the young up and coming comic fans.

Whilst Deadshot and Harley Quinn had potential in the film there simply wasn't enough to carry the rest of the cast. Cara Delevingne, for example, should never have been cast as Dr Moon/Enchantress. She should never have made the move into acting in the first place. Hiding the fact she cannot do accents behind an ancient language and subtitles was one thing, but Ayer could not hide her basic inability to act. The audience are supposed to be in awe of this character in both of her physical states but whenever she was on screen it was cringe worthy watching her sway her hips or flail into the arms of her soldier boyfriend. Speaking of the soldier, Captain Flag, Joel Kinnaman was a pleasant replacement for early drop out Tom Hardy. He was an underdeveloped character but did his best in the screen time allotted to him. Being an underdeveloped character in Suicide Squad is like being a hipster in a trendy cafe. They are fucking everywhere. The audience is force fed snapshot origin stories at the very beginning of the film and are occasionally given additional flashbacks as the story progresses. But other than that, the characters are dropped into the DC universe, as the fans currently know it, and left to fend for themselves. Even the Joker, a character we all know and love, was new and improved but without any context. At the end of Suicide Squad, the only characters I would be happy having origin stories would be Deadshot and Harley Quinn but that is more to do with the performances than the writing.

Ultimately a film with great potential to slingshot DC back into my good books, after the fall of Batman - thanks Affleck, was a disappointment from the ground up. I thoroughly blame the restrictions on Ayer and the time scale in which the film needed to be made. Perhaps after the afore mentioned success of bad-guy-good-guy Deadpool, it felt as if Suicide Squad was rushed in order to jump on the band wagon. If we'd had individual origin stories for the main troupe beforehand then perhaps the time in this film could have been better utilised. I cannot help but wonder how much better the film would have been had the first 20 minutes of rambling character description been replaced with more content. I'm sure the film will still top box offices around the world but whether it, with the amount of negativity from critics and fans, will make back it's initial investment is still up in the air. 

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Jason Bourne

Jason is back and so is Damon! 

The saga continues as Jason Bourne returns to our cinemas bigger than ever. Directed by Paul Greengrass (best name ever) who has directed three of the five Bourne films, the 2016 instalment is set 10 years after the events of Bourne Ultimatum. The jump in time was perhaps an attempt to pretend that Bourne Legacy with Jeremy Renner never happened - which I think many fans of the franchise would agree is the perfect way of reviving the film. The film follows Jason as he pieces together who he was/is and how he became an Operation Treadstone assassin. Once discovering the CIA killed his father, Bourne seeks revenge and begins to hunt down the CIA director, Robert Dewey. Meanwhile, as an additional subplot, the CIA are attempting to monitor the public through a new form of social media. 
The return of Matt Damon as Bourne, and in his first film since the critically acclaimed The Martian, is certainly one way to ensure a blockbuster hit this Summer. Although Matt looks a lot older than he did when he first appeared as Bourne, who can forget fresh faced Damon?, he carried himself well and certainly proved that stunts are not off the table for him yet! He was joined by several cast members from previous films including Tommy Lee Jones and Julia Stiles along with a slew of new faces. One of the breakout stars of 2015, Alicia Vikander, does exceptionally well as Heather Lee - head of the CIA Cyber Ops Division. Although at times it's hard to believe the character would make the decisions she does, Vikander portrays her well. Staying stern and emotionless throughout as she attempts to ascertain Bourne without killing him.  

**SPOILERS** The action sequences, of which there were many, were amazing. Fast paced and full of destruction - that's the kind of scenes I want to see in a Bourne film! Particularly the final car chase scene which sees Bourne tracking down the CIA's Asset with the purpose of killing him in revenge for killing his father. The Asset, driving a swat vehicle, rams through traffic in a straight line which sees cars being crushed and blown out of the way. It was an incredible moment to watch. I think that a huge part of this film's success will be how straight forward it is. Yes, we jump back and forth several times throughout in terms of who the 'bad guy' is but when you consider the film as a whole - it was a true action blockbuster. Unlike many modern action films, Bourne didn't attempt to genre blend. There were no cheesy jokes or forced moments of comic relief. It was hard, gripping and intense. Our hero was not a true hero. He's a trained killer, and part time street fighter, who will use his skill base to get what he wants. There is no heart of gold in Bourne. He's focused on revenge and will continue to fight back against the corporation that made him. I was so happy to finally see an action film that didn't try to force likeability or empathy. The writers got straight to the point from the outset and it made for a fast paced but fantastically structured film. 

For fans of the previous films - you will not be disappointed. I would recommend that those new to Bourne watch the first three films (don't bother with Bourne Legacy) before watching the new one. Although flashbacks (new, not in previous films) are slotted in throughout Jason Bourne to help new audiences grasp the plot, having prior knowledge of the films and of Jason's past will help enhance the experience and enjoyment of this film. It's not often I find myself wishing for the next instalment before the end credits role, but there is something about this character and these films that always leave me wanting more. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Zoolander 2

Another old(er) film! This month I've felt like catching up on blockbusters I may have missed in 2015/early 2016. As they say, it may be an oldy but it's a goody! 

15 years after the smash hit Zoolander graced our cinema screens with it's satirical portrayal of models and the fashion world, the title character is back. Zoolander 2 follows a worn out Derek Zoolander after the death of Matilda, the collapse of his centre for illiterate children and the loss of custody of his son, Derek Jr. Interpol are investigating the confusing assassinations of several of the worlds biggest celebrities, who in their final captured moments point to Zoolander as a clue. Hansel and Zoolander are reunited by mutual pal Billy Zane - not the first celebrity cameo and not the last either - and are recruited by Valentina, an Interpol agent, to help investigate the suspicious murders. From this point on, the film becomes increasingly more ridiculous. A theme amongst the films I have reviewed this month!

With Zoolander, I feel that the attention is focused on the celebrity cameos above all else. And, to be honest, it appears this film was made, not to make another stellar Zoolander film but, in a bid to let celebrities act a little silly for a change. It is bizarre seeing respected actors like Benedict Cumberbatch as characters like All. But, I suppose that is part of the allure. The entire film felt like an odd fancy dress party, hosted by Ben Stiller, where the dress code was 'insane'. The weirdest part of it all was seeing Susan Boyle. Why was she even on a list of suggested names for this film? Because it's weird. Nothing about the film flowed like the original and the excessive and unnecessary cameos overshadowed every other aspect of the film. The cameos are, however, the perfect camouflage for a film that genuinely lacks substance. Perhaps studio executives, producers and directors alike, should reconsider flooding their film with famous faces when attempting to revive a franchise. 

Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell were reunited and it really did feel so good while it lasted. The three clearly work well together and do make for some seriously funny moments. I simply wish the film was better written to include more of the original films charm. The whole plot was a twisted, Zoolander take on The DaVinci Code. With secret groups of fashion icons conspiring to kill the descendant of lesser known Steve from the Adam and Eve tale as several 'rock stars', I am using this term loosely as Justin Bieber is involved, aim to protect the chosen one (Zoolanders son - woops spoilers).

Yet again, a film I'm happy to have skipped in the theatres to view at home for free. It's truly a sad moment when you realise films like this are funded over special and profound indie projects. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Pixels

Released in the summer of 2015, Pixels was welcomed by a wave of negative reviews. Despite grossing close to $250 million in the box office, critics made it very clear that Adam Sandler's gamer flick was one you could afford to miss. The 2015 film is based on a French short, by the same name, from 2010 by Patrick Jean. And it seems a lot of the original wonder of the short is lost in the longer, Hollywood edition. Pixels reboot was directed by Chris Columbus, of Harry Potter and Mrs Doubtfire fame, and is packed with a star studded cast that would be expected in a film produced by and starring Adam Sandler. 

I feel like this film raises questions deeper than intended - if any moral or message was ever deliberately planned at all! In particular, this film has made me consider Sandler's position in Hollywood and his ability to draw in the masses with sub-par films. Why is it, an actor/comedian is continuously making bank with films that would drown had any other lead been attached? I'm a self confessed fan of some of his earlier work, 50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer and The Longest Yard will continue to be some of my lazy Sunday viewing faves. But since 2011, Sandler's work has taken a steep dive into boring and repetitive territory. With the exception of the first Hotel Transylvania film which was surprising and a great addition to Sony Pictures repertoire. 


So, how did the film hold up? Well, the core concept is great. Who hasn't thought about alien invaders being actual... Alien Invaders?! But beyond that, the film was average. Whilst being incredibly funny at parts, the entire film fell victim to Sandler's old habits. Several forced jokes and scenarios could have been left of the cutting room floor without hindering the plot. But I would be lying if I said I didn't chuckle consistently throughout. For a film with little substance it was unsurprisingly easy to watch. The 'action' scenes were tame and lack lustre as blood and fear are hard to translate into pixels. But this film is certainly not aimed at the film goers of the 21st century who are left bored without excessive violence so the pixel replacements are fitting. The utter ridiculousness of it all is Pixels saving grace. A foolish president, tech savy aliens and a technical engineer hero apparently is a recipe for pleasant home viewing. But with films like this in the past I have always stated that, although enjoyable on a very basic level, I'm so happy I did not pay money to watch this in the cinema.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Overshadowed by Domestic Abuse claims, Alice Through the Looking Glass is bombing, both nationally and internationally. And at this juncture, there is very little Johnny Depp will be able to do to win back fans and draw in an audience for the second installment of this wacky tale. But accusations aside, how does the film stand on its own? Well, the answer is: It stands on two very shaky legs. The first leg being Depp, and his tired interpretation of yet another character that looks and acts like a vast majority of Depp's other roles. The second leg is new director James Bobin. Replacing Tim Burton, Bobin is essentially trying to revive a film that many were happy to see die.

Alice Through The Looking Glass comes six years after its predecessor and follows Alice as she re-enters Underland after leaving three years before. She's met by a large portion of the film's characters and they inform her of the Madhatters extreme behaviour and his belief that his family may still be alive. As with his increase in madness the Hatter's health deteriorates, so Alice sets out to convince Time himself to rework history and save the Hatter's family. This obviously leads to a convoluted journey where Alice tries to right the wrongs in Underland. The tale is more of a clustered mess than Burtons despite both screenplays having been written by the same writer, Linda Woolverton. Woolverton's other works include the animated Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Mulan along with live action hits like Maleficent.

Beyond the film's core story lines of Hatter and his family; the warring siblings; and Alice's race against time, there were some interesting plot points scattered throughout the film. One of these was seen in Alice's return to the real world shortly before the films climax. Institutionalized with 'female hysteria', Alice is restrained by a male doctor who says he can cure her of her illness. As most people know, Hysteria was originally associated with women and their wild emotional capacity. Thought for years to be the answer to many women who suffered from legitimate mental disorders like postpartum depression. 

Hysteria, as a result, is often used in examples of the changing position of women in society. Once considered so emotionally capable that they must be ill, women are now running companies and families simultaneously. The reason why this interests me is because of the film's overall approach to gender norms and the role of the strong independent woman. It seems entirely fitting that someone of Alice's disposition, in such a time period, would have been considered hysterical. Yet, when young Alice is in Underland she is saving not only men but women too.

The film was as visually stunning as the first, with the usual overuse of CGI in scenes that don't always need digital enhancement, but overall Alice's new adventure fell flat. One of my big pet peeves is when a film uses time travel to, basically, start again - I'm looking at you X-Men. And whilst Underland ended up in sweeter circumstances than the beginning of the film, it felt like the last two hours might as well have not happened. Honestly, what's the point? If your film lacks substance and needs to be carried by few interjected feminist trope in order to pass as noteworthy, then you're not doing it right. I think that Depp's personal issues have ended up being a great excuse for a film that would have flopped regardless.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Eye in the Sky

Gavin Hood, director of Enders Game and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, brings us Eye in the Sky. A film about the application of drones during combat and the ethical fallout of such weaponry. Filmed in South Africa, Eye in the Sky focuses on the local people who are effected by terrorism, and the counterstrikes from Western intelligence agencies. The film premiered at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival and had it's international release in April of 2016. 

This is a suspenseful drama reminiscent of many other war films from the last decade, but Hood sets his aside by taking a step back. Unlike other films of this hard to define genre, Eye in the Sky seems to capture, like the all seeing eye, the action across several continents whilst closely focusing on our mission in Kenya simultaneously. Helen Mirren stars as our woman in charge, Col. Katherine Powell, overseeing operation EGRET. Her mission turns from capture to kill and Alan Rickman, Gen. Frank Benson, agrees. But as they wait for final approval, many characters, including Aaron Paul's Steve Watts, begin to question the change and the potential fall out from an unprovoked attack that will cause civilian casualties. 

The film's editing by Megan Gill is of particular note. Most of the film's well executed tense moments are built by Gill's style. This allowed the film to fully dive into it's 'Thriller' sub genre and keep audiences engaged throughout. Her talents were of course magnified by Haris Zambarloukos' camera work. Creating dimension and contrast through his focus on cold, dark interiors with the bright sun and exteriors.

Rickman's second last feature and it was certainly an excellent performance. His partnership with Mirren on screen was a delight and seemingly the perfect match. The two embodied their characters wholeheartedly which shows clear commitment to the film, their director and their craft. Aaron Paul's appearance in this film was surprising. I haven't given him much thought since the season finale of Breaking Bad in 2013. However, once I was over the initial shock of seeing him again, I was pleasantly overwhelmed by his emotional performance. It seemed like Paul was at the brink of tears throughout his entire time on screen, but it wasn't out of place. I had clearly forgotten how emotive his face is and how brilliant he can be on screen in the right role. 

Overall, I felt like this film was reasonably paced and an appropriate length - any longer and it would have been exhausting. Eye in the Sky undoubtedly raises a lot of questions about the processes and chain of command behind any and all strikes. And whether or not decisions can or should be made by government officials any lower than the Prime Minister and the President themselves. Personally, with a utilitarian view on life, my decision in this scenario would have been made much quicker. But that wouldn't have made an interesting film now would it?

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Captain America: Civil War

As I have mentioned in my previous post, I've been working my way towards a deadline this week. That deadline was at 13:40 today as I entered the cinema to watch Captain America: Civil War. I've been catching up on the Captain's last two films to make sure I had all of my Steve Rogers facts straight. With a solid base of knowledge from these films and The Avengers films, I became increasingly more excited about Civil War's release. Other than this knowledge and the new film's trailer - I had no other information about Civil War or its contents. I avoided pre-release spoilers and only watched the film's first trailer.


So as it turns out, Captain America: Civil War is about a new law that changes the way superheroes are viewed, treated and accepted in society. As a result, a rift between The Avengers and their extended friends is made. With Captain America at the head of one side and Tony Stark/Iron Man at the head of the other, the disagreement is heated and becomes personal. The Captain believes that superheroes should be able to continue their work without restraint but Stark agrees with the government in that there was an oversight and that The Avengers should be held more accountable for their actions. Released internationally on the 27th of April, the film was released here in the UK today - April 29th. So I cannot comment on the film's success on opening weekend or it's initial feedback from critics and general audiences. Although, I'm pretty sure fan's will enjoy this one and wont be disappointed.

I've said before that I enjoy the crossover within the Marvel Universe. I feel that the constant appearance of other Marvel characters adds cohesion and helps reinforce the idea that they are all in the same Universe. So I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of Black Widow, Falcon, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Ant-Man among many others. The most notable guest in this film was the first appearance of Marvel's Spiderman. I've been waiting patiently to see how Spiderman would be represented in this new Universe and how they (the big bosses down at Disney) would handle his crossover. It's weird to me that they've just 'bought' Spiderman, but hey! it's Disney - they can do whatever they want! However, Spiderman in this film, played by Tom Holland, provided a huge portion of this film's comedy gold moments. His time on screen was limited to one of the major fight scenes between the divided Avenger team. He's an adorable character who has lots of questions. Regularly interrupting the flow of action to praise his opposition. 

This film will clearly go down in the Marvel Universe as very important in the progression of many storylines. In fact, before the next Avengers film is released, many will have to go back and view this film if they haven't already. With the Sokovia Accords and the current status of Captain America and Iron Man's relationship this film has pushed several character storylines forward immensely. The film ends with hints towards a Spiderman film and perhaps a Black Panther one too. I look forward to the former but the latter doesn't interest me. In fact, when the Black Panther first appeared on screen (to fight Bucky whom he believed killed his father during the Sokovia Accords signing), I thought it was Cat Woman. Yes, I realise Cat Woman is DC not Marvel but there was a lot going on on screen and I think I was overwhelmed with love for Bucky who was trying so hard to disappear. 

Anyway, the film was great. The story was interesting and although it didn't have the same shocking twists that the other Captain America film's have had, the plot was still interesting and kept audiences fully engaged throughout. Surely by Monday morning we'll hear that this film has broken opening weekend records and is on it's way to breaking the bank!