Thursday, August 11, 2016
Suicide Squad, Jason Bourne, Nine Lives, Life Animated Reviews
Dir. David Ayer
While we're already in "Phase Three" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warners' DC Films division has just barely learned to crawl with only three wittle movies under their belt, and there's so much fan-created hooplah over which studio is "better," you could almost replace the words 'DC' and 'Marvel' with 'Democrat' and 'Republican' in any given news story and the fervent passion between each side would be just as intense. Before it was even released Suicide Squad's generally negative critical response on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes caused a petition from unemployed mouth-breathers to shut the site down. Hopefully they don't come after my blog as well, because I also found Suicide Squad to be a bit of a mess.
The story itself takes a huge suspension of disbelief to get going: a no-nonsense intelligence officer, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), for fear of another "Superman" coming and destroying the world, assembles a task force of dangerous incarcerated super villains on death row to stop future cataclysmic threats. Included in this "Suicide Squad" is Deadshot (Will Smith), an expert marksman, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the childish and violent girlfriend of The Joker (Jared Leto), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a pyrokinetic tattooed gangster, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courney), an Australian thief wielding a sharpened boomerang, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man-eating brute with alligator skin, Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), an archaeologist who has a Jekyll and Hyde complex with the spirit of a 6000 year old witch, Katana (Karen Fukuhara), whose sword captures the souls of those it kills, and finally Slipknot (Adam Beach), who apparently just puches women in the face. This rag tag group is supposed to defend America? Good luck Ms. Waller!
Despite its cartoon logic pretending to be ultra serious (the Dark Knight method), I really enjoyed the tone and spirit of the characters that David Ayer brought to the film. Unlike the incredibly self-serious Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad has some humorous moments and when the Squad finally is set loose and allowed to wield their favorite weapons, there's a kind of playfulness that was missing from the other DC heroes presented thus far - Superman especially, who's typically the smiling "boy scout" helping cats out of trees in the comics, but in BvS brooded more than your average teenage goth queen. I also loved the individual character designs (Killer Croc's make-up effects are killer) and found the cast to fit perfectly into their roles. That being said, there definitely may have been too many characters here, especially seeing as they all had to be introduced (just describing them briefly here took up an entire paragraph).
Although I appreciate the direction Ayer and DC were trying to head in, that doesn't excuse the film from being a complete mess, both story and pace-wise. It would be enough of a stretch to expect the government to go along with Waller's plan to gather up the most dangerous criminals for their top secret missions, but her choices in villains also make little sense. The "real" bad guy of the movie is another supernatural entity, equal in power to Superman or General Zod - what in the heck could Harley Quinn do to stop that? Smack it with her hammer? Same goes for Killer Croc or even Deadshot (after all, Superman deflects bullets - even with his eye as seen in Superman Returns). These characters would fit more in a grounded reality (not unlike Netflix's Daredevil series), and placing them in the realm of magic feels out of place and unsatisfying.
The editing was also really choppy and felt like the result of studio meddling, as well as the fact that so much information needed to be packed into so short of a run time. The first 20 or so minutes of the film is spent introducing the characters one by one, and it takes so long to get to the initial conflict that by the time the final fight happens, you don't feel any sense of team-building whatsoever. At times whole sequences are rushed through, cut to the sounds of "Top Ten" pop hits that must have cost a fortune, and feel more like a music video than the actual, final cut of the movie (the Joker-Harley relationship gets the worst of this).
While many individual elements worked for me here - the characters, tone, and ballsy level of grittiness (the title alone is daringly dark) - Suicide Squad unfortunately never comes together into something cohesive. I hope if a sequel happens, Ayer and Co. find a better excuse to get the Squad together, and maybe give them more of a chance to breathe and create dynamic relationships before facing yet another big blue energy beam shooting directly into the sky.
Dir. Paul Greengrass
Let's collectively forget about Jeremy Renner - Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne! 9 years after portraying the amnesia-ridden super spy in The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon and director Paul Greengrass have re-teamed for another installment of the super-successful action franchise. And surely they had to have a really strong story that connects to today's world in a meaningful way for them to get back together right? Right?! Well, not quite. While Jason Bourne is the worst of the Damon Bourne films, has a very generic, uninspired plot, and in general feels like it exists just to make some summer cash, I can't say I didn't enjoy seeing Bourne kick some government-hired assassin asses again.
It's been 10 years since Bourne walked away from the agency that turned him into a deadly weapon, and he's essentially turned into an off-the-grid nomad, sustaining himself via underground fight club matches. However, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) hopes to draw him out using the help of an expert hacker, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who believes he's getting help from former operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles). While she tracks them both down, Bourne becomes embroiled in yet another government conspiracy, this time involving a social networking platform called Deep Dream that will potentially allow "Big Brother" to watch us at all times. As if that plot has never been explored in a spy film before.
I'll admit that the main plot is pretty bad and generic (we don't learn what Deep Dream even is), and considering the length of time between films, Jason Bourne definitely has potential to disappoint fans who've amped this comeback up in their heads for all that time, but Damon still makes for an interesting Bourne, the supporting cast - including a badass assassin played by Vincent Cassell - are likewise fun to watch, and there are two stand-out action set-pieces that, despite being victim to Greengrass's notorious shaky-cam, to me were as exciting as any other chase sequence in the franchise. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but if you're looking for generic summer spy thrills (which really was my expectation going in), I think you'll leave the theater satisfied - if a bit dizzy. (Seriously Paul...stop shaking that damn camera. We're in a dialogue scene, not a cyclone!)
Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld
As a "cat person," all the marketing for Nine Lives had to do to get me into the theater was show that a cat was in the film. Based on that logic alone, Nine Lives did not disappoint. The story about a workoholic father (Kevin Spacey) learning to love his family again by having his soul trapped inside a cat may sound like a forgotten direct-to-home video 90's flick, but there's a cat in it. The production may look shoddy, with terrible green screens and backgrounds that look like the crew had trouble procuring enough extras, but there's a cat in it. The jokes may land with a thud every time the music or a pause in the dialogue indicates one should laugh, BUT...there is a really awesome, totally watchable, YouTube-worthy cat front and center for most of the movie, and I'll be damned if I said I didn't have fun watching this.
Tom Brand (Kevin Spacey) is a billionaire whose business lifestyle takes him away from his loving wife (Jennifer Garner) and daughter (Malina Weissman). Needing a present for her 11th birthday - his daughter's, not his wife's, have to be clear there - he buys her a cat from a mysterious pet store run by Christopher Walken, who looks like he just wandered onto set one day. Through a series of unfortunate events, Tom becomes trapped in the body of the cat, and Walken tells him that he has one week to reconnect with his family or else he'll forever be trapped in the body of "Mr. Fuzzypants."
Although definitely inferior to another low budget talking cat flick, Grumpy Cat's Christmas Special - which is not a joke, I seriously love that movie, and not in a hipster ironic way - Nine Lives does boast "guilty pleasure" status. The cat itself was cute as hell, and I have to give kudos to the production team for mostly using a real cat unless it was physically impossible (the CGI one looked decent as well). Considering the sheer impossibility to "train" a cat, it's mind boggling to me how the cat trainers got Mr. Fuzzypants to "act" for the camera; it's no surprise to me that they get top billing in the end credits. I also found the actors charming; the jokes may stink worse than 5-day old cat litter, but you get a sense that everyone knows the kind of movie they're in, and are just going with it - there's one shot of Christopher Walken dancing that needs to be GIF'ed. The little kid actress isn't annoying either, and it's nice to see a family film that for once doesn't employ shrill, screaming Minions and/or ADHD editing. Should this movie have been released in theaters? Probably not. But if you look at Nine Lives in the "TV movie" realm, it's mindless, cute, adorable (and at times ridiculous) fun that fellow cat lovers should enjoy.
Dir. Roger Ross Williams
Like one of my "Top Ten" movies last year, The Wolfpack, Life Animated explores the true power of movies and how they can change and help people's lives. This story follows a young man named Owen Suskind, who at the age of three ceased to speak, withdrawing into autism with seemingly no way out. Taking its toll on his family, almost four years went by with no progress, until one day Owen's father donned a puppet - the wisecracking bird from Aladdin - and asked Owen a question, to which he replied dialogue from the film. From there Owen and his family found that he was able to comprehend the world around him through Disney animated films, and this documentary details his incredible journey of how he and his family managed to use these movies as a gateway for Owen to live a relatively stable life as an adult.
Interspersed with beautifully hand-drawn (seemingly, at least) animation from visual effects outfit Mac Guff, Life, Animated is a heart-wrenching, beautiful, and ultimately hopeful tale that not only explores the power of film, but also the importance and necessity of family to cognitive development. That being said, I can see the cynics out there, claiming that this movie is nothing more than "capitalist" marketing from Disney, meant as an elaborate ploy to get them to appear like they are some kind of charity instead of a mega-conglomerate - and to them I simply say: you should gently remove your head out of your own ass, as it doesn't belong there.