Tag Archives: Viola Davis

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

 


Ender’s Game (2013)

 Enders-Game

Has there been an excess of book-to-film adaptations this year, or is it just that I’m attending most of them this year? In any case, I’m not complaining…adaptations of books give me good excuses to set aside the time to read the original book. I had no knowledge of the existence of Orson Scott Card’s 1985 science fiction classic Ender’s Game until I heard word of this film being made. The trailers for the film sparked my interest a bit, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy the book when I finally picked it up to read it a couple of weeks before the film’s release…I loved it. So, naturally, I was excited for the film, like I always am for adaptations of my favorite books, and, like so many other book-to-film adaptations this year, the filmmakers did a great job.

Ender’s Game takes place in the unspecified future, sometime after the second invasion of an alien species (called “buggers” or “Formics”) nearly destroys human life on Earth. In anticipation of an imminent third invasion and convinced the humans’ victory in the second invasion was only due to luck, the International Fleet turns to the youth of the world as the next generation of great commanders. Enter Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a genius child who possesses the potential of being the greatest commander that the IF has ever seen. Ender must complete both Battle and Command School in order to lead the fleet against the Formics before time runs out and the human race is wiped out.

This year has also been a good year for casting in these book-to-film adaptations, and this film is no exception: Asa Butterfield is a brilliant Ender Wiggin. He perfectly portrays all facets of the character – focus, determination, despair, vulnerability. He successfully holds his own against veteran actor Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, a feat not easily matched by other actors at Butterfield’s age. Speaking of Harrison Ford, I have one word to say regarding his performance: FINALLY! It has been quite a long time since I last saw Ford in a role that I thought he did really well with, but I think that he really brought a lot to the character here. He is firm and, to a point, ruthless, but cracks appear when his decisions are held up to the light, which is exactly the way it should be. The role of Major Anderson is gender-flopped from the book, but it works with the aid of Viola Davis, who brings compassion to the character in light of Ender’s situation and the pressures placed upon him. Sir Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, the commander who defeated the Formics in the second invasion, plays the character with the appropriate level of fierceness – he’s pretty much just the way I imagined him in the book, which is always a nice touch.

I have two minor quibbles in regards to casting – not that I think they were bad choices, but that I think there were better options available. Hailee Steinfeld plays the character of Petra as she written admirably, but the way she is written in the film contrasts with how I remember her being described in the book; I pictured a tougher female character, one who wasn’t afraid to throw a few punches at her male peers or curse with the others. In the film, however, she’s almost completely opposite – while she remains a highly capable shooter in the battle room, her character seems much more timid here, watered down so that she may be seen as a potential love interest for Ender. Now, this idea is only hinted at in the film, which I’m thankful for, but it’s still hinted at in a couple of scenes. My other minor complaint is with the choice of Moises Arias as Bonzo Madrid, the commander of Salamander Army in Battle School and antagonist to Ender. Arias plays the character fine as far as his attitude and general demeanor, but he’s also tiny, which, in my opinion, makes him much less of a threat. I don’t remember how his size was described in the book or if it was even mentioned at all, but the fact that Ender looked down on him bothered me because it seemed to lessen the extent of their very important rivalry. (Also, I must admit, the fact that he played a character in Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana TV show might have made it difficult for me to take him seriously as well…)

One of the best aspects of the film is how it brings the locations of the film to life so beautifully; the exterior design of the Battle School is awe-inspiring, and the Battle Room and the battles between armies that take place inside help us to visualize some of the more active scenes in the book, scenes that almost require the visual aid in order to experience them fully. The design of the simulator at Command School is similar, despite the fact that it deviates a bit from the description given in the book. The way it is presented absorbs you fully into the environment, allowing you to experience the incredible interaction that Ender feels while operating and directing the fleet…these are the types of scenes that were designed to be seen on the big screen. The mind game sequences on Ender’s tablet are truncated quite a bit for time’s sake, but they still work really well in setting up the ending of the film.

The ideas of necessary (?) violence and the morality of what the IF is doing here are brought into question here, as they are in the book, though they are admittedly more diluted here. Is it right to force these kids into violence with each other, even if it turns them into more efficient military commanders? Do Colonel Graff, Mazer Rackham, and the rest of the IF have the right to withhold important information and/or the truth from Ender during the course of his training even if it means that he saves the world from a third invasion? These are hard-hitting questions with serious implications, and they are presented well in the context of the film, especially when Ender confronts Graff face-to-face at the conclusion of the final battle at Command School.

My only real complaint for this film is that there isn’t enough…of anything! I can justify all of the creative liberties taken with the author’s story, so that isn’t the problem. The problem is that in the Battle School, we only really are able to see a battle and a half before Ender is shipped off to Command School, where we see brief snippets of two or three battles before being treated to the final battle. These sequences are the coolest in the film, but they are so brief that we don’t get much of a feel for Ender’s military genius aside from the fact that we’re told by Graff and others that Ender is a military genius. In the book, we witness Ender’s growth as he faces opponent after opponent in the battle room, and, no matter the odds, he always wins! We know he’s a military genius, but the trick is to show us being one rather than simply telling us. I’m also slightly disappointed by the fact that Ender’s siblings’ roles are reduced so significantly; I didn’t need their entire subplot, but the issue here is that it is Ender’s relationship with his siblings and how his personality differs from theirs that makes him who we is, so we are missing a huge chunk of Ender’s personality since we are missing that aspect.

I loved this film. It’s a great adaptation of a fantastic book, and, despite the fact that I had some minor disappointments with what made it into the film and with what was significantly reduced, it is well-cast and well-told, and the musical score by Steve Jablonsky, who I’m not normally fond of (he is most known for his work on Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy), is his best work yet. Ender’s Game manages to take the themes and questions presented in the book and mostly keep them intact, albeit a bit watered down. I can’t imagine a fan of the book disliking this film because it so vividly and admirably brings Ender Wiggin and his story to the big screen.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for some violence, sci-fi action and thematic material


Prisoners (2013)

Prisoners

Not all films are fun, nor should they be. Prisoners is not a fun film, but it’s a good one, and it asks a simple question: how far would you go for your children?

Kelley Dover (Hugh Jackman) is a religious man who loves his family deeply, swearing to always keep them safe and out of harm’s way. However, after a Thanksgiving dinner with neighbor Franklin Birch’s (Terrence Howard) family, Dover’s daughter and Birch’s daughter both go missing, presumably kidnapped. Evidence seems to point to a RV that had been parked in the neighborhood earlier that day, but when Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds and questions the young man driving it, Alex Jones (Paul Dano), he discovers that his low IQ would have made it highly unlikely for him to have orchestrated the kidnapping of two girls. Still convinced that this man is his daughter’s kidnapper, Dover decides to take justice into his own hands, kidnapping Alex and torturing him for information on the whereabouts of his daughter. What lengths will he go to in order to retrieve his missing daughter? And will Detective Loki discover the truth before it’s too late?

This film’s biggest strength is in its lead actors: Hugh Jackman especially plays a compelling character, a man whose morals are deeply rooted in his faith in God, but his love and dedication to his family cause him to make questionable choices. Is it right to kidnap? To torture? What about if your daughter’s life depended on it? That third question is what makes his character so intriguing because he makes us ask it of ourselves as well. Howard’s character is equally as interesting because he has the chance to put Dover’s actions to an end, to tell him that what he’s doing is wrong and should be stopped…but what if what Dover is doing brings his daughter back to him? Both are fathers who possess a strong love for their families, a love so strong that it serves as the driving force behind their actions because what they’re doing may end up protecting the ones they love most. It’s tragic watching desperation carve away at the morals of these two fathers, but it’s almost difficult to hold them at fault because the intent behind their actions. Gyllenhaal’s character is strong as well, with him playing the role of the standard detective; it’s almost as if there are two films going on at the same time – the standard one in which the detective searches for clues to solve the mystery of the missing children and the other in which the fathers of the missing children take matters into their own hands. Switching between these two stories is both thrilling in sobering as more of the truth is uncovered…the truth about the kidnapping and the truth about what lengths a father will go to for his family.

Much of this film is highly atmospheric, with darkness being used often, possibly to convey the darkness enveloping the soul of Jackman’s character. The musical score by Jóhann Jóhannsson adds to this, bringing a level of uneasiness to every scene, though the use of silence here is notable for heightening the tension in a scene as well. The film is disturbing on many levels, almost difficult to watch, but it’s always engrossing, even during the incredibly violent scenes. This level of violence is certainly never tolerable, but you should be glad to know that it is never glorified – it is always seen as wrong, even through the eyes of Jackman’s character, and Howard’s character serves as the visible moral compass.

This film is difficult to watch at times. Its characters are morally questionable. But it’s always absorbing, and, more than asking us whether Kelley Dover has gone too far, it asks us how far we would go. Prisoners is intriguing cinema offering a fascinating look into compelling characters and into ourselves.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for disturbing violent content including torture, and language throughout


The Help (2011) – Thomas Newman

I saw The Help in theaters back in September ’11 and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read the book that it was based on earlier this summer, by Kathryn Stockett. I also purchased Thomas Newman’s score to the film to listen to as I read. In addition to being good reading music, it’s a really great film score.

Thomas Newman is the master of small, light, and fun film scores, and The Help, despite being a film about a serious subject, is all of these; though I’m a huge fan of John Williams, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino, who all use really big orchestral sounds in their scores, it’s refreshing to inject yourself with some Thomas Newman every once in a while. “Upside-Down Cake” and “Deviled Eggs” are light and playful, “Them Fools” and “Amen” are light and beautiful, and “Celia Digs” and “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)” are light and emotional.

Of course, you could argue that every single track on this album is emotionalEach track twangs on the heartstrings of the listener, which is no small feat for small orchestration. Tracks like “Jim Crow”, which features an aggressive acoustic guitar riff, blend in to the setting of the film, giving everything a Southern vibe that brings the message all too close to home.

I own several Thomas Newman scores, and none of them disappoint, including The Help. Newman’s score should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award, but, since it is less-theme based (though there are a few beautiful themes floating around throughout), it didn’t stand a chance against Williams, Shore, and Bource. That being said, if you’re at all a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this. Also, if you’re not a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Aibilene”      3:07
2. “Them Fools”      2:49
3. “Upside-Down Cake”      1:22
4. “Mississippi”      3:49
5. “Heart Palpitations”      1:43
6. “The Help”     2:18
7. “Jim Crow”      1:45
8. “Skeeter”      1:03
9. “Miss Hilly”      1:13
10. “Write That Down”      1:37
11. “Bottom Of The List”      3:23
12. “Deviled Eggs”      2:03
13. “First White Baby”      2:00
14. “Celia Digs”      2:06
15. “November 22”      1:11
16. “Not To Die”      1:28
17. “My Son”      2:50
18. “Trash On The Road”      1:37
19. “The Terrible Awful”      2:56
20. “Constantine”      4:08
21. “Gripping Testimonials”      1:32
22. “Sugar”      1:49
23. “Amen”      3:06
24. “Mile High Meringue”      2:00
25. “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)”      6:29

Total Length: app. 60 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad