Tag Archives: Review

Suicide Squad: A Hot Mess

Although visually interesting and sprinkled with a few great performances and some humor, the mess of Suicide Squad’s story overshadows everything else. It still manages to entertain, though, making it better than Batman v. Superman, but BvS set the bar pretty low.

While it will likely make lots of money for DC, Suicide Squad also does nothing to prove that DC can produce a good comic-book movie outside of Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Secret government person Amanda Waller wants to build a team to combat a potential future meta-human threat (i.e. What if the next “superman” wasn’t on our side). Instead of looking for potential “good guys” (because that relates to a different upcoming DC movie), Waller decides to use villains, including other meta-humans. Ultimately, she argues, the villains are expendable – if something goes south, they’ll throw the team under the bus.

Harley Quinn and Deadshot get the longest introductions since they both involve scenes with the Batman (Batfleck) and the Joker. The other members of the squad get shorter intros: Killer Croc, Diablo, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Colonel Rick Flag, a bad-ass best-of-the-best soldier is recruited to lead them. Oh, and Katana and Slipknot show up about an hour into the movie with no explanation. 

So after about 30-40 minutes setting up the Squad, someone realizes there should be a villain in the film, and that’s where things go completely off the rails. 

The villain, via a series of badly edited scenes, quickly sets up in Midway City? (because it can’t be Gotham or Metropolis?) and establishes that it’s going to do something very bad to the city (and the world?) and that the military is powerless to stop them. 

So, the Squad is activated. Each member of the team has a small explosive implanted in their necks that can be remotely detonated by Flag/Waller to ensure that they follow orders. Instead of pursuing the villain, Waller sends the team in to retrieve a high-value target in the city and escort them to safety.

So, yeah, although the squad was formed to combat evil meta-humans, and there’s a clear meta-human threat, the squad is sent on an entirely different mission. 

Of course, the squad ultimately winds up confronting the villain, but by that happens, you’ve given up on watching a cohesive story and are just rolling with what happens on screen. There’s a subplot with Joker in order give Jared Leto’s Joker some additional screen time, but outside of the flashbacks to establish Harley Quinn’s story, the entire Joker arc feels unnecessary and tacked on. 

The weirdest thing about the squad? There’s virtually no conflict amongst the team. They all go along with the orders they’re given, and despite that none of these characters were meant to be team players and are thrown together into this situation, they all work together with almost no conflict between each other. 

And, there’s something odd about the music choices. It’s not that the songs are bad, but they never feel like they’re played at the right moments. It feels like the choice to use classic rock songs was a deliberate attempt to try give the movie a “Guardians of the Galaxy vibe” without understanding how or why the music worked in that film.

As far as the cast goes, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn steals every scene she’s in. Viola Davis is excellent as the cool and fierce Amanda Waller. 

Will Smith is fine as Deadshot, with one exception. He’s given the Deadshot mask as part of his costume, but it seems like he’s got a clause in his contract that the audience must see his face on film 95% of the time. He puts the mask on twice in the film, and neither case makes any sense. Arrow’s version of Deadshot didn’t have the mask at all, so Smith would have been fine without it.

Jared Leto’s Joker is… fine, I guess. Trying to do something different from Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight, Leto’s version is more of a crazed, tattooed gangster. He does bring some nice touches to the character, though.

Katana matches her comic-book version. Boomerang is kind of the comic relief of the film. Croc doesn’t have much screen time, but the look doesn’t feel quite right. Croc should have been much bigger, either via a suit or digital effects. Diablo looks great when he transforms.

And the Enchantress – She’s probably the worst part of the film. The initial set up is interesting by setting up the dual personas, and the transformation from June Moone to the Enchantress is pretty good. I don’t think it’s just Cara Delevingne’s performance; the entire arc around this character was so badly written that every scene with her in it disrupts the flow of the movie.

There are already stories out that state the studio got involved late in the project after the dismal reviews from BvS and even paid for some reshoots to add some levity to this film. I read one article that went as far as to say there were actually two different versions of the movie being put together at one point – David Ayer’s version, and the studio’s. 

It feels like the release was a mishmash of both versions, and it shows. Still, it could have been a LOT worse (for that, see last year’s Fantastic Four). 

There are a few great performances (Smith, Davis, and Robbie) in the film and, despite grinding to a halt story-wise halfway through, the movie does succeed in limping to the end and is, if nothing else, at least entertaining to watch. 

Unfortunately, DC still hasn’t managed to find the right combination of elements to produce a comic-book movie that matches the success or coherence of any of the Marvel films. It’s unfortunate, too, because I could have easily seen Suicide Squad capturing a lot of the elements from both Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool and create a distinct movie franchise. 

The Martian

TLDR: Go see it! Then, go buy the book, and read it!

I’ve seen a couple of reviews compare the Martian to Cast Away, and although the premise may be similar, the comparison doesn’t really do the story justice.

Based on Andy Weir’s first novel, the movie tells the story of Mark Watney. Watney is part of a series of manned missions to Mars called Ares, but when a massive storm forces the team of astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet, Watney is struck by debris and tossed out of sight of the others. The electronics in his suit fail, making the others assume the worst. Because of the risk to their own lives, they have no other choice but to leave Mars, assuming that Watney died on the surface.

Only, (spoilers!), he didn’t die. Watney survived, but now he’s the only man on Mars, with no communications, 50 million miles away from Earth, and the next manned mission to the planet won’t arrive for another four years.

The movie is both a story of survival as Watney tries to solve the problems he’s facing on the desolate Martian landscape as well as the drama faced by both NASA and the other members of the Ares crew learn that Watney is alive and was left behind on Mars and struggle to find a way to rescue him.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney, and he does an amazing job in portraying both the humor and the emotional roller coaster Watney experiences as he fights to endure on Mars. The film balances everything well between both Mars and Earth, so viewers aren’t simply watching one man struggle to survive. They do a great job of handling the problem-solving scenes, setting up the problem, then watching as Watney or Watney and NASA work through the task at hand.

The cinematography of the vast, wide shots of the Martian landscape are gorgeous even though they serve to remind us of just how isolated Watney is.

Despite the smooth pacing of most of the movie, the film feels a bit rushed towards the end – as if someone was trying to keep the film from stretching out for three hours (which it may have if they didn’t speed things up). A couple of tense scenes from the end of the book are lost here, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story. As it is, the film clocks in at 2:14.

My only quibbles about the film are that the film ignores the fact that in the book Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. I always felt his expertise in both disciplines helped the character to survive. The film also leaves out some of the best lines from the book (which is why you should really read the book, too)

The movie is a very tense but enjoyable experience. Be forewarned, if you’re someone who gets emotional watching films, you may want to bring some tissues.

Godzilla – What you’d expect

Much like last year’s Pacific Rim, if you walk into Godzilla looking for an Oscar-worthy performance (well, unless it’s from Godzilla himself), please move along. There’s nothing for you to see here.

But…

If you’re looking for a decent popcorn movie that’s all about giant freakin’ monsters stomping around our world while we helplessly watch with a bit of an “arrogance of man” message, then Godzilla is your movie. It’s not a great flick, but it’s a good movie that follows more in the tradition of the original movies and makes up for that 1998 disaster of a flick by the same name.

For me, the most depressing thing about this movie was the opening scene. It’s a flashback to 1999 (which, I think, is the second summer movie that has a 90s flashback – Spider-Man 2 being the other). I saw the “1999” title and sat there thinking, “1999? That wasn’t that long ago” …before quietly doing the math in my head. 

The flashback introduces an incident in Japan where a mysterious series of earthquakes takes out a nuclear reactor as well as sets up our main characters. The main character, Ford, is a boy at this point, and his parents work at the reactor.

Flash-forward to present-day, and Ford is an adult and a demolitions expert in the Navy who has just returned home to his wife and son in San Francisco.

He has to race to Japan to bail out his father, who, after losing their mother in the accident, has become a conspiracy theorist chasing a theory that the accident at the plant was not a natural occurrence. He believed something caused those quakes and the government has been covering it up ever since. 

Cut to Japan, Ford bails his father out. Dad (played by Bryan Cranston) is determined to retrieve data disks from their old home, which has been quarantined because of the radiation from the reactor, because it will give him the definitive proof about his theory.

For no apparent reason, Ford goes with his dad, and that kicks off the wild ride of the plot involving the humans. 

Every aspect of the human story is pretty forgettable. Ford goes to help his dad, then spends the rest of the movie trying to get home to his family. Along the way, he continually manages to be dragged into the conflict with the monsters. Ford could have handed the story off to another couple of characters and we could have followed them from point B to C. They could hand the story off to other characters to go from points C to D, and it wouldn’t have mattered.

The plot isn’t anything you haven’t heard of before: Stupid humans unwittingly awaken something they have no hope of controlling or understanding. Big monster starts leaving a trail of destruction. Although presumed dead (because the humans awoke something else back in the 50s and then immediately tried to kill it), Godzilla suddenly shows up and is now somehow aware of and in pursuit of the “bad” monster.

The big difference is that instead of tearing up Tokyo or New York, the big battle ends up heading for San Francisco. So, at least ,in one sense, we at least get to see massive destruction of a different city. 

There are a few scenes that dwell on the arrogance of man and argue that despite our bumbling of mankind to destroy our world, nature will find a way to restore the balance. 

Ironically, in a summer full of super-hero movies, Godzilla really plays out a lot like another super-hero movie…

Because Godzilla’s the hero Gotham… er, San Francisco deserves, but not the one it needs right now…and so we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector…a dark grayish green knight.”

I kid, but let’s face it – We’re here to watch giant freakin’ monsters duke it out – and they do. Sort of. 

That’s probably the most disappointing part of the movie. Just as we start to see the big fight scenes between Godzilla and the bad guys, the director decides that’s a good time to cut over to see what Ford or the other characters are doing. 

 The creature itself is also back to the one we know from our childhood and not the oddball super-big yet somehow also super-stealthy creature from the 1998 version.   This Godzilla isn’t all that concerned about all of the military hardware following or attacking him. 

Overall, though, it’s still a decent homage to the original movies from the 60s. Like Pacific Rim, it’s a fun flick to see in IMAX. Like disaster movies? Like giant monster movies? Godzilla is your movie. 

 

The “Amazing” Spider-Man 2 Review

 Okay, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 had some great scenes in it. Every fight scene with the web head doing his thing, swinging through the city, fighting the bad guys while making wisecracks and just plain having fun was amazing. The first confrontation with Electro had a great bit that really gave us a feel for what Spidey’s spider-sense does. 

There’s a couple of nice scenes with Spider-Man and a little nerdy kid. 

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry on-screen and are annoyingly cute to watch even though the are-we-or-aren’t-we-dating story drags on for far too long. 

It’s a good summer popcorn movie that could probably have been shorter if that was the original intent of the producers. It seemed like the producers of the movie were too focused on the long game – meaning – they’re dying to transform Spider-Man into a mega multi-movie universe along the lines of what Marvel Studios has done with the Avengers. (Spider-Man’s movie rights are owned by Sony – and they let you know it throughout the film) 

At the end of the day, though, you have a few great scenes wrapped up in a mess of a 2hr, 22min film that milks the love story as long as it can yet rushes to introduce villains, transform them via the most ridiculous means, and turn them against Spider-Man with very little back story. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that the bad guys will likely be back in the sequels. 

While it may be a great idea to create a multi-movie franchise like Marvel Studios, if the first movie(s) aren’t very good, why on earth would audiences bother going to the sequels? After this film, I have little desire to see a “Sinister-Six” movie. (The next “Spider-Man” movie is going to focus on the villains – and will come out before an Amazing Spider-Man 3)

The movie has the elements there, and if they were shaken up and re-assembled in a different order, you might have wound up with a better overall story.

Case in point – There was a scene between Harry and Peter in the trailers where Harry showed Peter that OSCORP had Peter under surveillance, and it was cut from the movie. There was another cut scene from the trailers between Harry and Norman Osborn where they’re discussing Peter where Harry says “What about Peter?” to which Norman replies “Not everyone gets to have a happy ending.”

The movie focuses so much on OSCORP that it seems a shame that those two bits were cut from the film because it could have helped build up this larger epic conflict between OSCORP and the Parker(s). 

(BEGIN SPOILER) – Skip this section if you don’t want to know anything about the movie.

So, imagine how this would work —

Harry comes back to visit his dying father. His father reveals his legacy and fills him in on the research that he was doing with Richard Parker and that Peter may be the “key” to Harry’s survival.

After Norman dies, Harry is going though his father’s “Special Projects” files and stumbles across the research into the radioactive spiders. He also sees that Peter has been under surveillance and finds a video diary entry from Norman discussing his belief (but can’t prove) that Peter may be Spider-Man. 

Now, Harry has motivation to start hanging out with Peter again in order to rebuild their friendship. Show several quick scenes of them together (not the same sequence – make it clear that it’s different dates). 

Later, they have the conversation in OSCORP that we see in the trailer where Harry is showing Peter the surveillance footage while Harry quietly watches Peter and wonders if his father was right about the idea that Peter is Spider-Man. 

This would occur before Harry asks Peter to help him locate Spider-Man because he may be the key to saving Harry’s life.

(END SPOILER)

Anyway… 

Although The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has some great moments in it, they’re not enough to overcome the weakness of the overall story. It’s a decent popcorn summer movie, but it could have been better or at the very least mercifully shorter.

——————————–

This is a great FAQ (WARNING: SPOILERS!) that jokes about a lot of the good and bad elements of the film. It’s written by Rob Bricken who wrote another ingenious FAQ last year about Star Trek: Into Darkness.

http://io9.com/the-amazing-spider-man-2-the-amazing-spoiler-faq-1572405038

Paper Towns – An Angsty Teen Story Reminiscent of John Hughes

Somehow, I’ve learned well after the fact, I’ve managed to pick up a couple of audiobooks that are considered “teenage” books. I haven’t written a review yet about the other one (Among Others), but this one, Paper Towns, was pretty good.

If you’re a child of the 80s, you’ll fondly (or maybe not so much) remember the teen movies by John Hughes: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful. All of these movies revolved around high school and dealt with the various stereotypes and cliques in school and breaking outside those circles.

John Green’s Paper Towns reminds me of those movies. It’s a quick and entertaining read that captures the same teenage angst that those movies did even though the subject matter of a runaway teen may be a bit darker than those movies ever were. 

The story opens by introducing us to two childhood friends: Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman. They live across the street from another in Orlando and spent a lot of time together. At nine, they go to the park and stumble across the corpse of a man who has committed suicide. We see how the discovery affects both characters: Quentin is freaked out; Margo is fascinated by it. She becomes something of a young detective and learns more about the person, which she then shares with “Q” later.

The story jumps ahead to their senior year of high school, just weeks away from prom and graduation. Quentin and Margo have had little to do with one another over the years. Quentin ends up with more of the nerdy band geek crowd, while Margo has become popular. She’s more than just popular by the “in” crowd. Everyone has heard of or encountered her, and Margo Roth Spiegelman has become almost a legendary persona. 

One night Margo suddenly shows up at his window. She needs a partner-in-crime to assist her as she goes on a one-night spree of nasty pranks to get back at her so-called friends and her now ex-boyfriend, who Margo had just learned was cheating on her with one of her best friends. 

Quentin hesitates, but he goes along anyway. The all-night adventure re-ignites their friendship as well as Quentin’s crush on Margo. 

Exhausted, Quentin goes to school the next day and suffers through it, hoping that Margo will be there and hopeful that everything between them has changed. Margo doesn’t show up for school. 

He eventually learns that Margo has run away. It’s not the first time that she’s done it, though. Margo always leaves clues to her family about where she has gone, and she always returns a few days later.

This time, however, Margo doesn’t come back. After a few days, her parents file a report, and Quentin has to face questions from both Margo’s parents and the police. 

As the police look through her room, they pull down Margo’s window shade. Quentin discovers that Margo has put a Woodie Guthrie poster on the back of her shade, facing his window. Quentin believes this is a clue she has intentionally left for him to find. 

This kicks off Quentin’s quest to find Margo. He follows a number of clues with his best friends, Ben and Radar, to the point where it becomes an obsession. Quentin even wonders at one point if Margo has committed suicide and intended Quentin to find her body, just like they found the body of the man when they were kids. 

In his quest, Quentin realizes how little he really knows Margo. In fact, he learns that almost no one really knows her. Margo has created a persona, a “paper girl” that everyone sees, but she’s kept her true self concealed. While everyone else is focused on prom, finals and graduation, Quentin struggles to understand the “real” Margo, hoping that by understanding her, he’ll find her. The quest also forces Quentin to push himself well outside of his comfort zones: lying to his parents, skipping classes, etc. 

Just before graduation, Quentin finally comes across a clue that he’s certain that will lead them to Margo, and that she’s alive. He skips graduation and makes a last second cross-country road trip with his best friends and one of Margo’s friends – who has joined the group in their search. 

The story focuses on Quentin and Margo. While we learn about Quentin’s friends, Ben and Radar, and Lacey, one of Margo’s popular friends, they’re really not much more than stereotypical characters (Radar – the computer geek; Ben, the funny sidekick, and Lacey – the hot and otherwise unobtainable popular girl).

We never really learn enough about Margo to understand why she turned out the way she did, which to me weakened her character. As much as Margo complains about being a “paper-girl” living in a “paper-town” and the desire to escape where she can be “real.” the character has made every effort to keep everyone in her life at arm’s length. She seems to want someone to know the “real” her, but she prevents anyone from getting close.

Green does a good job of keeping the story pretty light-hearted, even when it seems like that Margo may be dead, or at least, gone for good. For most of the other characters and even the other kids at school, life quickly moves on. 

The only major complaint I had about the story besides understanding a bit more about Margo would have been to cut a chunk out of the middle. There’s a part to the story where the main character spends a little too much time not seeing the next clue even though the author has pointed it out to the reader.

I would have also liked to read/heard an epilogue, where the author tells us (via Quentin) where everyone ended up 10 years later. It’s not a deal breaker though.

It’s still a very entertaining story as these high school seniors deal with their last weeks in school and how much things will change in just a few months. It’s about enjoying time with friends, but also understanding that those friends will be moving in different directions and that you have to let them go.

Paper Towns is probably the closest book I’ve read that captures that same spirit of teenage angst that John Hughes did so brilliantly in his movies. 

 

Star Trek: Into Darkness Review

The challenge with saying anything about Star Trek Into Darkness is to say anything about it without giving away any spoilers. 

Overall, I think if you look at the movie with the re-boot of the series in 2009, Into Darkness is a great summer action movie. The movies capture the spirit of the characters in the original series and re-creates the dynamics (and creates some new ones) between the main characters.

It was cool to see Uhura get something to do in the movie, but it would be nice to see a woman with more of a commanding role in one of these films. I think it would be fun to have Kirk have to deal with a female captain that’s almost a mirror reflection of himself. 

Benedict Cumberbatch was a great addition to the movie cast as well. I thought he was excellent in the BBC’s recent Sherlock series, and he’s a great presence in this movie. 

The story, though, is still part of the re-boot, and this one focuses on building the friendship between Kirk and Spock. It also calls to question whether Kirk is really ready for the responsibility of “the chair” – being captain of Starfleet’s flagship vessel. 

Although fascinating, seeing the “origin” part of that story between Kirk and Spock is a bit hard to imagine. If you’ve been any fan of the Star Trek series at all, these characters and their relationships have long been established in our heads. 

Yes, the movie has a few glitches (technical and story-wise) and one scene you may either really enjoy or find super cringeworthy (I fell into the latter group). For the most part, they aren’t a major distraction to the overall story.

Die-hard Trek fans may pick apart aspects of the story and the technology with regards to how things don’t fit in with the original canon. I can easily understand how that can be disturbing to fans. I used to watch Smallville and had to spend a lot of time just shaking my head as the show’s producers played drastically fast and loose with Superman’s canon. 

If there’s one nagging thing that still bugs me in these new Trek films is all the freakin’ lens flare. To heck with 3D or IMAX or whatever, let me pay for a version of the movie with 70% less flare. 

But, here’s the interesting perspective that I read about – and it may or may not help you going into the movie.

Remember – this is a continuation of the 2009 re-boot of the Star Trek movie universe. That movie involved a time-travel plot, and because of the actions in the first movie, the timeline for this version of Star Trek has and will continue to change as repercussions from elements of history changing in the previous movie.

Basically – This ain’t your father’s Star Trek. It’s hard, but try to set aside the history  from the original TV series and original movies before you see Into Darkness.

I didn’t do that, and it kind of affected my perspective on the movie.

I’ll have to go see it again with that in mind now to see if I enjoy the movie more with that in mind.

Bottom line. Give Into Darkness a chance. It’s a very entertaining movie.

Review: The Raven Boys

Even though the target audience is young adult, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys is an entertaining supernatural story that captures all of the teen angst you’d expect, but is still engaging for readers of all ages.

The story centers around Blue Sargent, a 16-year girl from a small town in Virginia. She’s part of a family of local psychics, but unlike her family, she’s not a psychic. Instead, she’s more of a psychic “energizer bunny” that boosts the abilities of the others.

Instead of feeling shunned by her “freakish” family, Blue embraces her difference and really doesn’t care about what other people think of her. Blue stays away from boys because they were trouble, and she especially avoids the boys from Aglionby Academy, “because they were bastards.” Aglionby is a nearby prep school for the privileged, and the boys who go there are called “raven boys” after the school’s mascot. We see her distaste for these rich boys early on in the story. While working as a waitress (one of her part-time jobs) at the local pizza joint, one of the boys offers to pay for her time just to so she’ll talk to one of his buddies.

During an annual ritual at a cemetery where Blue and one of her family watch the spirits of the future dead, Blue sees a spirit for the first time. She’s able to converse with the spirit, and learns his name is Gansey. While still trying to understand why she saw the spirit, things get crazier as she learns days later that Gansey has made an appointment for a session with her psychic family. Blue discovers than Gansey is the same boy who approached her at the restaurant, and his buddies are part of the that group.

She discovers that there’s more to Gansey and his prep-school buddies. They’re on a quest to find a mythological sleeping king and believe that ley lines (lines of concentrated mystic energy) are the key to finding him. Supposedly, whoever awakens the king will be granted a great favor. Despite warnings to stay away from the boys, Blue joins in on the quest and she’s quickly accepted as part of the group.

The boys themselves are a bit of a mismatched group with very different backgrounds, but all are drawn into Gansey’s quest to find the king. The reader is drawn in as well as we learn more about the family backgrounds of Blue and the boys, more about the quest, and Gansey’s obsession with finding the king. Although each is helping Gansey with his quest, they are all on their own quest to understand who they are and their place in the world.

The supernatural aspect of the story revolves around spirits, psychic visions, rituals, and ley lines and is designed to be very vague and intangible. There are no vampires or werewolves in this story which is also a nice change of pace.

There’s also not a lot of romance, either. Blue does find herself attracted to a couple of the boys in the group, it doesn’t become a central part of the story – which, after reading the whiny characters from the Twilight books, is a welcome change.

Despite having some nice effects involving one of the magical locations they eventually find, the deliberate fuzziness of what is happening, magically speaking, gets in the way of the story – especially at the climax. You’ll read through the climax and the aftermath and still be left wondering what exactly happened.

The other unfortunate aspect involves the antagonist. The reader learns and suspects who the antagonist is early on in the story, but he really doesn’t do anything to elevate the stakes for Gansey, Blue and others until very late. In fact, one of the pivotal scenes in the book the antagonist’s arrival is purely coincidental. I wish the antagonist had been more active in elevating the stakes – or at least put pressure on the others that someone is taking an active interest in their quest. That way, once the main characters learn of his identity, the stakes would be even higher.

Outside of that, I found the story to be very enjoyable. After reading the Twilight series years ago, it’s a nice relief to find a young-adult series with a strong-minded female lead character as well as Gansey and his cohorts. Despite the vagueness of the supernatural aspects of the story, I’m looking forward to picking up the next story in the series to see what happens next.