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Suicide Squad (2016)

la-la-ca-sneaks-suicide-squad-14-jpg-20160420

*spoiler-free*

Everyone who sees DC’s latest and greatest film will inevitably compare it to Marvel’s surprising hit Guardians of the Galaxy, which isn’t a completely unfair comparison; after all, both films take social misfits and team them together to fight evil, all with a jukebox playing in the background. Unfortunately, Suicide Squad does this so much less successfully, and it’s largely because of the film’s failure to create an engaging story and inability to make all of its characters interesting.

Suicide Squad opens with government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposing that a team of the world’s most dangerous criminals be assembled to fight the next superhuman threat, whatever that may be. The team – comprising of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Slipknot (Adam Beach), and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), along with good-guy Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) – is quickly called into action when a supernatural force attacks. With the threat of death looming over their heads for any disobedience, this team of bad guys must work together to do good for the first time in their lives.

THE GOOD

Viola Davis as Waller is probably the second-best part of this movie. Her hard determination to get her way, along with her willingness to do anything necessary for the task at hand, makes her a formidable character who you almost fear more than any of the so-called “bad guys” because you never know how far she’ll go to get what she wants done. Davis has an innate toughness that has always shone through in her acting – even as Aibileen in The Help – and she is able to show with little effort that she is not someone to be messed with. The best part of this movie, however, is Will Smith’s Deadshot. Smith is a fantastic actor, but the best role he plays is himself: goofy, full of attitude, but always grounded, and this movie thankfully gives him the chance to just be himself…and it’s so refreshing! He has many great one-liners here and clearly has a fun time on-screen, but he is also the one that brings the most emotion to the movie, which it sorely needs more of. Deadshot is driven by love for his daughter, and every moment that he spends showing that is both believable and brings tangible stakes to the task at hand.

THE DISAPPOINTING

Harley Quinn was the character I was most looking forward to here, and I was sure that she would be my favorite part…she’s just a fun character! Unfortunately, she was ultimately a let-down for me. Don’t get me wrong: Margot Robbie puts forth an admirable effort, and I certainly wouldn’t call her portrayal “bad,” but it’s Harley’s poor usage in the film that really disappoints me. Though she has her moments to show off – a scene when she takes down a couple of attackers in an elevator by herself comes to mind – her primary roles in this movie are to act as sex object first, Joker’s property second, and strong female character third. There are very few moments during her time on-screen when attention is not being drawn to her short shorts or how attractive she is in general. She is attractive, yes, but why does that have to be her main appeal? The scene in the elevator I mentioned is probably so good because there aren’t any men there to ogle her in that moment, but, sure enough, as soon as the fight is over we’re given a view of her backside as she strides through the crowd of men as they look on incredulously. Had Harley been given more opportunity to just show off how capable she is on her own, I would have liked her much more.

THE NOT-GOOD

Since I was just talking about Harley, I’ll go straight into what I believe was the worst part of this movie: Jared Leto’s Joker. Every promotional shot or trailer that featured this new, psychotic take on the character left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was open to being proven wrong – as I always am when I have preconceived notions – in the context of the movie. And no, this isn’t about comparing it to the late Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight (my review)…Leto’s Joker is, frankly, just bad. I don’t know how else to put it. The Joker has always been about his relationship and back-and-forth with Batman; he does what he does to antagonize the Caped Crusader. It felt strange in this movie to have his character be motivated by his need to rescue own Harley because that’s not who the Joker is. Every scene that has Leto in it suffers because of him, and the story as a whole suffers because his character is largely unnecessary to everything else that is going on.

All the other characters in this movie I have yet to mention are just flat. Uninteresting, unmotivated…just boring. Kinnaman’s Rick Flag finally starts showing some real emotion towards the end of the movie right when the other characters need motivation, but it’s a moment that doesn’t feel earned. Of Killer Croc’s ten total lines, maybe two of them are intelligible. El Diablo’s emotional backstory is not all that emotional either because he spends the whole movie moping in the corner – although, admittedly, his moment in the spotlight during the climax of the movie is pretty cool. The villain, though, who I won’t spoil here, is just a joke. A poor backstory leads to poor motivation, and by the time the climax of the film rolls around you know that our “heroes” are going to win, so there’s no threat or stakes at all to give the fight credibility.

Characters aside, the story and editing are a jumbled mess. The first fifteen minutes or so had me optimistic because it introduces some cool stylistic choices that would have been great had they been featured throughout the rest of the film without being overused, but alas, they disappear without a trace by the 30-minute mark. The fight scenes are basically the same thing regurgigated three times. (For the record, I thought that the climax of the film was overall pretty fun!) The jukebox I mentioned earlier? It seems broken because it changes songs every two minutes; no joke, there are probably 6 songs featured in the first 5 minutes of the movie, and it doesn’t slow down after that. The money that went into music rights would have been better spent on a good musical score, which, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to composer Steven Price’s usual quality.

*rant ahead*

The goal of The Cinescope Podcast is to talk about my favorite movies, and, in general, I aim to be as positive as I can when watching because liking things is more fun than hating them. That being said, I can’t and won’t overlook flaws for the sake of positivity; yes, Suicide Squad does do some things well, however few, and I would argue that it’s not as bad as others might have you believe (RottenTomatoes.com gives it a 26% approval rating, which I think is unfairly low), but the truth of the matter is that it is far from being a good film. Too many issues plague the plot, the editing, the music, and the majority of the characters for me to recommend this movie for everyone.

However, I know some people who did enjoy this movie for what it is, and that does not make them wrong. In fact, that makes them happier because they enjoyed this movie more than I did. So while I may not personally recommend this movie, you need to be the judge for yourself. Movie critics – including myself – do not exist to tell you that you should not see a movie; we love movies just as much as you do. We exist to share our opinions and to generate discussion, so if you feel like seeing a movie because you think you might like it, do it. You be the judge. We’re all critics because we all evaluate what we consume. So go out there, watch movies, and tell us what you think!

-Chad

DOES NOT RECOMMEND

*unless you want to go see it, in which case, do it!

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content, and language

 


Oscar Predictions 2013

2012 was a fantastic year for film, and, for the first time, I’ve seen a majority of the nominated films, including all nine Best Picture nominees, all five Best Animated Feature nominees, all five Best Live Action Short Film nominees, and all five Best Animated Short Film nominees. I also own and have listened through all five nominated Best Original Scores. Needless to say, I feel relatively prepared enough to type out my own predictions list for this year’s Academy Awards, with a little help from various other people’s lists in the technical area. Just to clarify, though: this does not necessarily reflect my personal favorites (otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen Mychael Danna’s score to Life of Pi for Best Original Score), but it instead shows what I actually think will win.

I’ll give commentary for the first six awards and will simply list the rest.

-Chad

P.S. If something is linked, it’s a link to my personal review of that material, if you’re interested in reading.

Best Picture: Argo

When I first decided that I was going to type up one of these, I argued with myself for a long time over whether or not Argo would win the Oscar for Best Picture, but now I’m almost positive. In the entire history of the Academy Awards, there have only been three instances ever when the winner of the Best Picture Award did not also win the Best Director Award, so, since Ben Affleck isn’t nominated for Best Director, I was leaning more toward Lincoln/Spielberg for the Best Picture/Director awards, but Argo has gotten enough steam built up behind it to snatch the Oscar, and rightfully so.

Best Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Had he been nominated, I think that Ben Affleck would have won this award for directing what is sure to win Best Picture, Argo, but, since he’s not, Spielberg seems to be the best choice. He has a long history of bringing us excellent films, and Lincoln was no exception. However, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Ang Lee received the award for directing Life of Pi, but I don’t expect that’ll happen.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

I wasn’t able to see The Master, but of the other four nominees there is no doubt that all four actors did fantastic jobs in their respective roles, but I think that Day-Lewis will take the cake after his incredible portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s latest film. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t get the award, but, if I had to make a second guess, it’d be for Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook

I may have this one completely wrong, as Jessica Chastain also seems to be a popular pick for her role in Zero Dark Thirty (which I don’t agree with), but I think that Lawrence was the definitely the best of those nominated. I must admit to not having seeing The Impossible, but I’m pretty sure that the winner will be either Lawrence or Chastain, and my hope is for Lawrence.

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained

I’ve changed my mind about four times while trying to write this because both Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz in Django Unchained and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln were fantastic and are deserving of the Oscar. However, I do believe that Waltz’s performance shines just a bit brighter than Jones’, putting him at least slightly ahead in my book.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables

I am almost completely confident that Anne Hathaway will win this award. While Sally Field was a great Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacki Weaver did a fine job in Silver Linings Playbook (I haven’t seen The Master or The Sessions, but I’m sure that Amy Adams and Helen Hunt were great as well), but I think that Hathaway’s stunning performance of the classic “I Dreamed a Dream” is reason enough to justify her receiving the Oscar.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke for Amour

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio for Argo

Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

Best Documentary – Feature: Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary – Short Subject: Open Heart

Best Live Action Short Film: Curfew

Best Animated Short Film: Paperman

Best Original Score: Mychael Danna for Life of Pi

Best Original Song: Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth for “Skyfall”

Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

Best Production Design: Les Misérables

Best CinematographyLife of Pi

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Misérables

Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina

Best Film Editing: Argo

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi


Argo (2012) – Alexandre Desplat

Alexandre Desplat is a composer who I haven’t been familiar with for long, but it’s no secret that I really enjoy his film scores especially those of the past couple of years (see my reviews of his scores to The King’s Speech and Rise of the Guardians). His score for last year’s Ben Affleck film, Argo, is no exception…it’s nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score.

Desplat’s music has always been characterized by a beauty unparalleled by his contemporaries. This beauty is apparent from the very first track, “Argo,” which opens with a lovely solo on the ney (a flute-like instrument known for its use in Middle Eastern music), backed by soft, harmonious strings and an ominous drone on the tonic, leading to a faster-paced melody on an oud (a guitar-like instrument that also features in Middle Eastern music), with a sort of anxious undertone. This background anxiety is present throughout most of the score, which is fitting due to the fact that anxiety is a large part of the action in the film. Anxiety is not the only emotion expressed in this score, though; we also hear longing (such as in the track “Missing Home”), despair (“Sweatshop”), and relief (“Cleared Iranian Airspace”)…Desplat’s talent for emulating emotion through his music is evident.

One of my favorite parts of this score is that Desplat composes differently depending on the setting of the action on screen. For example, throughout most of the soundtrack we are treated to a style of music that brings to mind the Middle Eastern culture, which makes sense because most of the story takes place in Iran…this is why such instruments as the previously mentioned ney and oud are used so prominently. However, in “The Mission,” we hear a completely different style more reminiscent of traditional American film scores, with a sweeping string orchestra and quite typical harmonies. This theme is later heard in the track “Cleared Iranian Airspace,” but the genius of it all is that neither of these tracks are completely “American”…”The Mission” ends with the return of the ney, hinting at the journey that the main character will soon be taking, and “Cleared Iranian Airspace” starts with dissonance, representing the tension of the situation, eventually clearing out into the American-style theme mentioned before.

Parts of Argo sound similar to some of Desplat’s previous compositions, though not in a way that is frustrating (I’m looking at you two, Zimmer and Elfman!). The main instance of similarity (that I heard) is in the track “Held Up by Guards,” which sounds faintly like a theme from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, heard here in “Showdown.” Like I said, they don’t sound exactly alike, but definitely noticeable (to me, at least). Also worth noting is the fact that both the scores to Argo and Life of Pi (composed by Mychael Danna), which is also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, feature beatboxing (Argo – “Hotel Messages”Life of Pi – “Piscine Molitor Patel”), which isn’t typical of usual film scores. However, it works well in both cases.

Alexandre Desplat is one of the best composers of our day, a fact supported by his fantastic score for an equally fantastic film, Argo…it certainly deserves its nomination for Best Original Score at this year’s Academy Awards. Will it win? I’m not sure, but with his top-notch emulations of emotion and beauty and his appropriate usage of Middle Eastern music to reflect the setting of the film, Desplat’s score for Argo is one of the best of 2012.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “Argo”     3:38

2. “A Spy In Tehran”     4:18

3. “Scent of Death”     3:26

4. “The Mission”     2:08

5. “Hotel Messages”     2:04

6. “Held Up By Guards”     5:32

7. “The Business Card”     2:56

8. “Breaking Through the Gates”     3:51

9. “Tony Grills the Six”     3:30

10. “The Six Are Missing”     3:22

11. “Sweatshop”     1:32

12. “Drive to the Airport”     3:45

13. “Missing Home”     3:00

14. “Istanbul (The Blue Mosque)”     2:18

15. “Bazaar”     3:46

16. “Cleared Iranian Airspace”     6:02

17. “Hace Tuto Guagua” (performed by Familion)     3:40

Total Length: app. 59 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. Read my review of this film here!


Argo (2012)

When I first heard of Argo, I had no interest in seeing it. Sure, it was getting great critical reviews, but I didn’t know anything about it except that Ben Affleck directed it and starred in it. I don’t watch much television, so I never saw a trailer that would spark my interest, but this past week, after seeing it nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, I finally decided that I should take my time to find it and watch it. Luckily, the theater in my hometown holds on to movies for a while, so I was able to catch a showing this morning. The only Ben Affleck movie that I can recall seeing is 2003’s Daredevil, which I’ve since forgotten (for a good reason), but Argo succeeds where Daredevil didn’t: for starters, Argo is actually good. In fact, it’s downright excellent.

For those who don’t know, Argo tells the true story of CIA technical operations officer Tony Mendez (Affleck) and his mission to exfiltrate six American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Iran by pretending to be a Canadian film crew. As Bryan Cranston’s character – Mendez’s supervisor, Jack O’Donnell – says in the best line in the film, “this is the best bad idea we have…by far.” Yes, the idea sounds ludicrous, but in the film’s execution it comes across as possibly the only thing that could save the hostages from certain death. Ben Affleck plays his role with a hard determination; he knows that so much hinges on this ruse and that so much could go wrong, but his resolve as Mendez shines through. Cranston does an admirable job, as do both John Goodman as John Chambers, a Hollywood makeup artist with a history of helping the CIA with disguises, and Alan Arkin as film producer Lester Siegel…though I’m not sure I would say that Arkin is deserving of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role.

There isn’t a lot of character development in this film, but it isn’t non-existent. One of the hostages is reluctant to participate in the deception, but he eventually realizes that Mendez is putting his own life at risk by trying to save theirs, so he participates and eventually helps to convince the radicals that they are who they say they are. Mendez himself changes a little bit, with the ending visit to his estranged wife and son suggesting that his visit to Iran has helped him to realize the importance of family and of being there for his son. 

My favorite moment of the film takes place during a reading of the script for the fake movie that Mendez is pretending to make; as he stands at the table with the fake cast and listens to them read through the script, we are shown everything that is currently happening in Iran with the hostages…the people dying, the demands being made by the Iranians, the hostages pent up in the the home of the Canadian ambassador. It’s a juxtaposition of the fake story that Mendez and team have created and the reality that the hostages are experiencing on the other side of the world. It’s a powerful moment in the film, and, to me, it really showed the importance of the success of this mission…failure wasn’t an option.

Argo is not thought-provoking so much as it is just a great story; it’s a dark caper (the real-life event is referred to as the “Canadian Caper”) that manages to be simultaneously intense and humorous, bringing laughs at one moment and an anxious chill up your spine at the next. Fueled by the smart script that relies more on storytelling than on action and by Alexandre Desplat’s score (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, though I’m not sure if it’s better than Williams’ score for Lincoln), Argo is one of the best films of 2012.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for language and some violent images

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Alexandre Desplat, here!