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January 29th, 2017

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) ***

I wasn’t quite sure how and if Suicide Squad was going to work. As it turns out, it’s essentially The Avengers, but with supervillains instead of superheroes. In fact, the big stumbling block about it is the fact that it hews a little too closely to The Avengers formula.

For starters, the team is brought together by an African-American recruiter who works for a secret government agency and doesn’t take shit from anyone. For another, they are sent after a team member’s brother. They also have to close a giant portal that resembles a big light show to stop the bad(der) guys from bringing about the end of the world. Also, the villain’s minions were nothing more than faceless fodder for our heroes (err… villains) to easily punch, kick, and shoot. (There are some sequences that feel like a live-action video game.)

That’s right; it’s another blow-up-the-world-killing-machine-in-the-nick-of-time movie.

The good news is that nearly all of the characters are engaging, appealing, and entertaining. Will Smith brings his trademark swagger to the role of the assassin, Deadshot. Margot Robbie, who was amazing in The Wolf of Wall Street, continues to ooze sex appeal as the Joker’s sultry psychotic girlfriend, Harley Quinn. Jai Courtney has a few unhinged moments as Captain Boomerang, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje gets some laughs as Killer Croc, Cara Delevingne rivals Robbie in the hotness department as the sexy Enchantress, and Jay Hernandez offers moments of unexpected depth as the brooding Diablo.

Just about everyone who saw this before me told me they were disappointed by the lack of Joker (Jared Leto) in the movie. I thought he was in it just enough. It was cool that he was either in the minds of the characters or lurking in the background waiting to strike. As for Leto’s performance, I think he handled it rather well. Some might not like his “gangsta” get-up or all the tattoos, but for me, that’s all superficial. He really nails the psychotic tendencies of the character. Take for instance the scene where he offers a henchman (Common) a roll in the hay with his beloved Harley Quinn. The guy knows as soon as the offer is made he’s dead meat because The Joker will kill him if he accepts (because he wants to sleep with her) or declines (because turning her down would seem like an insult; like she’s not pretty enough). For me, that was a quintessential Joker moment.

Leto is especially good in his scenes with Robbie. Since she’s his love interest, she brings out a side of him that we haven’t seen from the character in films before, a romantic (albeit demented) side. The scene in which he asks her to jump willingly in a vat of chemicals for him is one of the oddest declarations of love I’ve seen in a movie in some time.

The early scenes are the best. The character introductions are a lot of fun. Usually, whenever a title card accompanies a character introduction, it’s cause for eye-rolling, but director David (Fury) Ayer varies them up in such a way that they don’t seem like a cheap shortcut. Once the team is assembled, there is some good back-and-forth between the characters, and there is just enough heart there for you to care about them (even if they are bad guys).

I really loved the characters. I just hope that next time they are given an actual movie to inhabit. Once they are turned loose on the city, the film devolves into scene after scene of them fighting shit monsters. (Seriously, they look like shit; literally and figuratively.) Once Enchantress goes rogue and joins up with her brother, the whole thing pretty much goes on autopilot. Plus, the CGI for her brother is fucking terrible. He looks like the bastard child of The Lawnmower Man and something out of The Mummy Returns. Still, Enchantress is really hot in these scenes, even if she does look like a Vegas showgirl from Hell.

Even though the movie heavily relies on clichés leftover from The Avengers, there was one cool way I liked how it aped the Marvel mold. There are a couple of cool cameos by a few superheroes that give the audience a nice peek at the extended DC universe. If anything, it makes you yearn to see them properly going toe to toe with the villains in another movie. (I sincerely hope Ben Affleck goes up against Leto in the near future.)

Ayer handles the action rather well. Even though the fights get repetitive, his staging is competent and he only occasionally relies on shaky-cam nonsense to capture all the fisticuffs. (Too bad the CGI in the finale is pretty shitty.) He also does a good job at balancing the various personalities of the eclectic cast and gives each team member their own moments to shine.

Leto gets the best line of the movie when he tells Robbie, “I’ve got some grape soda and a bearskin rug just waiting!”

The Resident Evil saga has varied wildly in terms of quality on a film-by-film basis. Heck, The Final (excuse me while I laugh uncontrollably at the notion that this will be the “final” installment) Chapter fluctuates in quality on a scene-to-scene basis. For every awesome sequence of zombie carnage, there is at least one humdrum shootout foiled by shaky-cam camerawork and ADHD editing. Still, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter more often than not delivers the goods.

I maintain that whatever its faults, any movie that begins with Milla Jovovich in a Humvee playing a game of chicken with a mutant dragon is a good movie.

This also has to be the LOUDEST movie on record. I can only imagine what it will sound like at home. If you have a quality sound system, chances are you’re going to blow out your speakers, or your windows, whatever comes first.

It sets a Hollywood record for the most number of jump scares in a horror flick too. There’s at least four in the first scene alone. Because of the heightened sound quality, each scare is punctuated with a piercing noise that sounds like a cross between nails on a chalkboard, two rusted battleships scraping against each other, and Godzilla taking a shit. (That is to say that, yes, I did jump a time or two; mostly because of the deafening sound.)

The film sets another record for the amount of vehicles the heroine loses, crashes, or falls off of. I counted three in the first act alone. Thank goodness cars and motorcycles are so easy to find after the Apocalypse.

The plot is the same as all the other ones. This time though, Milla is finally going to go to Raccoon City/enter the Hive/take down the Umbrella Corporation for good this time. Fingers crossed. Probably not.

In fact, the movie plays like a Resident Evil greatest hits mix tape. You like zombie dogs? Well this time there are hundreds of them. Remember the laser beam room? Well, you get another badass fight in it. You enjoy long detailed briefings by a little proper British girl who acts as the Hive’s security system? You’re gonna have a field day with this one.

As a fan of zombie movies in general, I have always been a bit perplexed by this series as the zombies are often dropped in favor of mutant squid-faces and/or biomechanical monsters. If you love zombies as much as I do, then you’ll probably flip over The Final Chapter. It contains without a doubt some of the finest mass zombie hordes ever projected on the silver screen.

Director Paul W.S. (Resident Evil 1, 4, and 5) Anderson delivers on the gore. Heads are lopped off, hands are hacked off, and hips get hand-grenaded off. Unfortunately, his action scenes aren’t as crisp as his previous Resident Evil outings. He favors shaky-cam Bourne-style action rather than the Matrix-y brand he brought to Afterlife and Retribution. The handing of the action isn’t enough to derail the movie, but it does hold it back from achieving its full badass potential.

Still, he does give us some inventive moments along the way. My favorite bit was when Milla went to kill the villain using an icepick, broken whiskey decanter, and a fountain pen. Then the film rewinds itself and we see it was just a part of the bad guy’s “Threat Detector” where he views each possible scenario and predicts her likelihood for success. It’s a neat scene that plays with the audience’s expectations and I wish Anderson had a few more moments like this up his sleeve. (Although there is a shot in which the camera goes through a zombie dog’s ribcage that is quite beautiful.)

I don’t want to get political. However, I thought I’d point this out. This is the second big action sequel (after XXX 3) that has come out after Trump was elected President. It portrays Washington D.C. as a wasteland that’s been totally decimated by a zombie plague. Make of that what you will.

The 3-D isn’t the best of the series. Most of the effects occur in the second half, so if you’re patient you will be rewarded with a fair amount of 3-D moments. My favorite effect might be the scene in which Milla jumps on a zip line, hurtles toward the screen, and almost hops right into your lap. Folks, this is the kind of shit the technology was made for.

Full 3-D stats:

• 3-D gun barrels (multiple)
• 3-D hand
• 3-D zip-lining Milla
• 3-D ejected gun clip
• 3-D threat calculator

NINE LIVES (2016) * ½

My daughter talked me into watching this. I told her I really didn’t feel like it. Then she said, “But daddy, it stars several famous internet cats”. I mean how can anyone turn THAT down? I guess I don’t have to tell you that she loved every minute of it.

It’s funny to me that now, whenever my daughter sees Kevin Spacey in a movie, she’s going to recognize him as “The Guy Who Turned into a Cat in Nine Lives” and not, well, I don’t know, Verbal Kint, Lex Luthor, or John Doe.

Basically, Nine Lives has the same plot of 18 Again, except that instead of George Burns being in a coma for most of the movie while his body is trapped in Charlie Schlatter, it’s Kevin Spacey who’s in the coma while his body is trapped in a cat.

I guess you can’t fault Spacey for trying to cash a paycheck. I mean, his agent pretty much got him the same deal Jason Lee got in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel when he spent most of his time in a hospital bed while only doing precious few scenes with CGI talking animals. The difference in this one is that instead of spending most of his time in a hospital bed, Spacey actually plays the CGI talking animal too. Even a great actor like Spacey can’t do much with the horrible dialogue that seems like it was taken straight out of a meme. (“Nailed it!”)

Nine Lives also features some of the worst CGI I’ve ever seen. I’m not talking about the scenes of the cat trying to drink Scotch, write its name with a ball-point pen, or trying to walk around on its hind legs. I’m talking about the shots of Spacey parachuting onto the top of his building. It looked awful.

There are virtually no laughs here. Except if you’re a seven-year-old girl. That is to say, your kids will probably love it. You, not so much.

If you want to watch a talking cat movie starring a famous internet cat, that actually contains a laugh or two, check out Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever instead.

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DOC (1971) ** ½

Hollywood has long held a fascination with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Scores of movies have been made of their exploits. If you can’t already tell by the title, this one focuses more on Doc than Wyatt. It’s an interesting approach, but it ultimately doesn’t quite work.

Most of the film concentrates on the relationship between Doc (Stacy Keach) and his prostitute girlfriend Kate (Faye Dunaway). There are genuine sparks between the pair, and whenever they are front and center together, the flick is fun to watch. It’s when Wyatt Earp (Ghostbuster 2’s Harris Yulin) enters the picture that things begin to go sour, both for their relationship and the movie itself.

Since this is a ‘70s western, the filmmakers were out to do a little revisionist history. They portray Wyatt as a cold, calculating man full of pride and brimming with vengeance who may or not be using Doc for his own gain. Doc and Earp’s relationship is contentious at best and downright heated at worst. Heck, in some ways, Wyatt is almost like the villain of the piece. While I admire the fact that the filmmakers were trying to do something different, they pretty much shoot themselves in the foot by limiting the interaction between Doc and Wyatt.

When it comes time for the finale, the whole thing ends with a fizzle. The big showdown at the OK Corral should be a bombastic event that unites the two men. Instead, it just more or less happens because, well, it’s a Wyatt Earp movie. Even then, it doesn’t feel like an organic part of the story. It’s just shoehorned in there to appease western fans. I mean, one minute Doc and Wyatt are at each other’s throats and the next they’re fighting alongside one another. It just doesn’t ring true, even if it was inevitable.

Keach does a fine job as Doc, but it is Dunaway who steals the movie. She is simply stunning in this. She almost singlehandedly salvages the whole affair. She’s also sassy as hell. I liked the scene where Wyatt’s pious wife tries to make her go to church and she says, “You can make sure that when I’m on my knees, I won’t be praying.”

It’s Keach who gets the best line of the movie when he tells a gunfighter: “You can reach for it if you want to cowboy, but if you do you're gonna wind up with two assholes, and one of them is going to be right between your eyes!”

AKA: Doc Holliday.

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