Margot Robbie

Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad

© Warner Bros.

© Warner Bros.

Earlier this year, DC Films started its serious attempt at creating an expanded universe to combat the one that rival Marvel Studios already has in place. They kicked things of with the critically-maligned Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in preparation for their upcoming Justice League films. I sat through that two-and-a-half hour slog, actually finding myself somewhat drawn to the storyline and to the characters we have seen portrayed on-screen time and again. I ultimately blasted the film for its climactic bait-and-switch which took away any possibility for DC to make a bold statement within the superhero film genre that would have stood in stark opposition to the seemingly happy-go-lucky Marvel fare we have seen over the past eight years. One of the key crosses that DC bears in the creation of its films is this idea that they must be the darker alternative to their more light-hearted counterpart. As a result, their films have lacked a true sense of fun and adventure, but the studio hoped their newest installment might be the one to break that dreary mold. 

Suicide Squad opens with Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), a military operative attempting to craft a plan for keeping America safe from future meta-human threats in the wake of Superman's death. She plans to assemble a team of dangerous criminals forced into taking high-risk missions on behalf of the government. The team, emotionally led by an elite hitman known as Deadshot (Will Smith) and a deranged psychiatrist named Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), must fall in line behind Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) as an ancient menace begins terrorizing Midway City in a plot that could spell doom for the entire world. The group of hardened and seedy individuals must then decide whether their own personal proclivities overpower the needs of the rest of the world before time runs out. 

Let's just cut to the chase: Suicide Squad is a terrible movie. I'll get more into the specifics in just a moment, but the film simply illustrates a summation of cataclysmic factors that generate one of the worst filmgoing experiences I have seen in quite some time. Below-par movies oftentimes manage to have some sort of silver lining or saving grace, but Suicide Squad earns the rare distinction of being an all-around stinker. Let's figure out just what fails, shall we? 

If a film can only be as strong as its screenplay, then Suicide Squad must have been made with particle board. I'll discuss the issues and concerns with the movie's cast and stylistic choices momentarily, but every aspect of the film ultimately suffers as a result of an abysmal script that simply doesn't allow the actors or the story any room to breathe. The film opens with an overly long introductory segment in which Viola Davis's character runs through the members of her brand new "bad guy" task force. These rapid-fire cut scenes play like the lineup introduction during an NFL broadcast, complete with a list of stats and misdemeanors for each and every character. Rather than allowing the audience to meet the characters organically over the course of the film, we are given a rush-cut of their personas and ideals right from the start in the hopes that skimming through these introductions will allow the main storyline to hold the film's focus. The film's opening feels sloppy and rushed, but I hoped that the lack of attention to these introductory moments might give way to a decent storyline filled with the lighthearted humor that a DC film so desperately needed. What we get instead, however, is a plot so ridiculously muddled that it seems as though the characters themselves can't keep it straight. 

The cast does its absolute best to elevate itself above the atrocities the screenplay presents them, but there's only so much an actor can do with awful material. Will Smith plays himself here, bringing a little bit of his personal flavor to the criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold character we have seen so many times before. Margot Robbie portrays a perfectly adequate Harleen Quinzel, and to her credit, she seems to be having the most fun with her character. Aside from the lack of true characterization, my biggest gripe with her performance lies in the fact that her accent slipped on more than one occasion throughout the film. As you may have heard, Jared Leto has infamously taken on the Joker persona, portraying the character on-screen for the first time since the passing of the late Heath Ledger. All of the marketing for Suicide Squad played as though the Joker would be a central figure throughout the film, but in the final cut, he's simply resigned to chasing after his honey bunny Harley. In the few scenes in which Leto actually appears, he hams it up, leaving his performance feeling over-the-top and borderline pretentious. Reports have surfaced that a number of his scenes were cut from the final film product, and perhaps a more fleshed-out Joker would have presented a stronger performance. As it currently stands, however, it feels more like piecemeal than anything else. We can round out the stars of the film with Viola Davis, who brings a seemingly strong character out of the muck. Her screen presence alone makes her a minor shine in the film, but everything else just leaves her star power dwarfed. 

The remainder of the cast rests on a spectrum ranging from under-utilized to absolutely atrocious. Jay Henandez's Diablo just might be the film's best-written character, receiving an actual arc over the course of the story. In contrast, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's Killer Croc might receive the slightest amount of background information; all I gathered about the character was that he is some sort of mutated individual who now eats other humans for fun. Jai Courtney shows up and actually plays against type (in that his normal "type" is stoic and dull), but I never really got a sense of his character's motivations. Cara Delevingne plays both sides of the field, but that simply means she offers her awful performance to both the good guys and the bad guys in what culminates in the movie's worst performance. Joel Kinnaman, Kara Fukuhara, and Adam Beach round out the principal cast, but each proves to be either mediocre or forgettable. Again, most of the blame of this film must lie with the screenplay itself, but even so, this cast offers up a slew of poor performances. 

Suicide Squad also offers a number of peculiar stylistic choices that don't necessarily work with the end result. The cinematography can be characterized as colorfully murky, presenting a grimy world that still hopes to show some bright flash aimed at keeping viewers invested. Suicide Squad does take a step away from the full-on dreariness that Zack Snyder has crafted with his Superman entries, but this one never feels like it does quite enough to bring it completely out of that darker atmosphere. The musical choices also left me scratching my head. The film takes a page from the Guardians of the Galaxy playbook by offering a number of catchy and recognizable rock and pop songs meant to draw the viewers interest. Unlike its Marvel counterpart, however, these song selections are not used to enhance the film or add to the storyline; instead, they seem haphazardly placed simply as a veiled attempt at keeping the audience engaged. 

All of its flaws aside, Suicide Squad simply proves to be a slog of a film. I know that I have been an outspoken opponent of the superhero genre in general, and I know that I clearly do not fall into the key demographic for this realm of movies. In addition to the diehard comic book fans itching to see their favorite characters on-screen, studios mainly market these movies to adolescent boys looking for explosions and edgy - but not inappropriate - humor. I'm sure that plenty of people in that group enjoyed Suicide Squad, but I also saw a thirteen-year-old in a seat near me fall asleep halfway through the film. Suicide Squad is a boring, muddled mess of a movie, and all you DC fans deserve so much better. 

Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

© Paramount Pictures

© Paramount Pictures

Over the past ten to fifteen years, audiences have been subjected to a slew of films focused on the multiple wars in the Middle East. Some of these films, such as The Hurt Locker, have soared, but most of them have proven to be lackluster and forgettable. In addition, save for Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, most of these movies have centered on soldiers and their male perspective during the wartime efforts. Because of this incredible skew, it was a refreshing change of pace to see a female-centric film set in the midst of the War in Afghanistan that didn't necessarily rely on a soldier's point of view. 

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot follows Kim Baker (Tina Fey), a middle-aged copywriting desk jockey, who is thrust into the midst of the war in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11th attacks. The film chronicles a three-year time span during which she becomes accustomed to field duty in and around Kabul. Initially hesitant, she soon finds her stride as one of the more daring journalists who isn't afraid to jump into battle alongside soldiers in order to get the best possible footage. Baker maintains a friendly competition with Tanya (Margot Robbie) as well as a possible affection for a Scottish photographer named Iain (Martin Freeman). As a slew of military forces are re-stationed in Iraq, Kim and her colleagues find it increasingly difficult to find stories worthy of airtime back in the United States. 

When I first saw the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot trailers, I was certain that I would be seeing a more light-hearted approach to the war on terror. Some films in recent memory have opted for all-out comedy with less-than-stellar results, so I was a tad bit apprehensive about the possibility of this film going down that route. It sets a very different tone early, however, vying for a more dramatic approach that you wouldn't quite get from the early previews. Now that's not to say that this film is devoid of humor, and the attention to dramatic detail actually helps punch up some of the jokes that do flow steadily, if not as consistently as you might imagine. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa manage this balancing act well, taking a step in the right direction after their last film - 2015's Focus - seemed to miss the mark. 

The film revolves around Tina Fey's character and, to a certain extent, the movie lives and dies on her ability to delve into the dramatic. To this point, I can't remember ever seeing Fey perform in a dramatic role nor have I ever heard her use the extensive profanity that she utters throughout the course of the film. Suffice to say it came as a bit of a shock. Although the film doesn't necessarily ask much of her in the dramatic sense, she still manages to hold quite a presence from start to finish. While her supporting cast mostly outperforms her, I think most of that stems from the reality that they are playing more unique characters. The essence of Fey's Baker is one that we have seen time and again: she's stuck in an office job and feels as though her life is stagnant so she decides to take a plunge into something extreme that could be construed as an adventure. Think Walter Mitty using war as a backdrop to find meaning and spirit in life. That's Fey's character in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

The film's two standouts are Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman, both of whom are given tastier roles in which they can actually sink their teeth. Robbie plays the star female journalist who has already made a name for herself in Kabul, but she too has started to feel the effects the Iraq War has wrought on her ability to produce newsworthy content. Her self-confidence plays wonderfully opposite Fey's early apprehension, and the two form an unlikely bond and strong chemistry from the film's opening moments. Freeman plays the aforementioned Scottish photographer (named Iain) who starts the film as a lewd and lovable playboy working his way through the westernized women of Kabul. As time progresses, we watch as he and Fey begin to develop a stronger chemistry and relationship that in any other film might feel forced and contrived but works her because the two have an incredible repartee. A few other recognizable faces pop up from time to time. Billy Bob Thornton plays a Marine corporal who slowly comes around on Fey's ability as a reporter and investigative journalist. He plays a fine character, albeit one rife with Southern and militaristic stereotype. Alfred Molina also makes a supporting appearance as the newly-elected Attorney General of Iraq in one of the more miscast roles I've seen in some time. Rather than portraying a powerful and confident politician, we merely watch him as he goofily pines over Kim Baker in the hopes of garnering her affection. 

What keeps this film from being a knockout hit is its relatively predictable storyline and its inability to pack a punch. In the first act, we see Baker as she begins to learn the world of field journalism in the midst of war, and we essentially follow her on that journey. The second act shows her delving into issues you might not normally hear broadcast from a war zone, including an attention the rights and plights of women in the region. I really enjoyed that the film was looking in a different direction, and it seemed as though it was trying to offer a female-centric view on the wars in the Middle East. The final act, however sees that aspect of the narrative unravel in favor of a predictable storyline that blends romance with the wartime effort. Baker's attempts at exploring the travesties against women fall by the wayside as she focuses on her relationship with Iain while still trying to search for something worthy of her station's news broadcast back home. Had the film continued onward with what it sets up in the second act, I think we might have been looking at a groundbreaking film that dared to take a deeper look at some unmentioned aspects of recent history; instead, the final act lacks the punch needed to bring everything home, so I left the film feeling a tad bit underwhelmed as the credits rolled. 

Ultimately, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is an above-average war flick that's going to keep you invested. It's hindered by some typical and rote decisions from the story's perspective, but there's enough there for most audiences to enjoy. I can't say that the film quite lives up to its phonetic pun of a title; there weren't any moments where I was truly shocked by the goings-on of the film, but I still find the title to be clever and original. WTF is worth your time, but only if you have the time to spare. 

The Shaunies, 2015

Below you can find the list of nominees and winners (in bold) for the 2015 Shaunie Awards! If you want to listen to the full announcement, check out the podcast episode featuring special co-host Keith Jenks and many special guests along the way. Enjoy!

Crimson Peak
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road
Mike Gioulakis, It Follows
Robert Richardson, The Hateful Eight

Andrew Cedar, Charlie Puth, Justin Franks, & Wiz Khalifa, "See You Again," Furious 7
Brian Wilson & Scott Montgomery, "One Kind of Love," Love & Mercy
Eminem, "Phenomenal," Southpaw
James Ford Murphy, "Lava," Lava
Robert Florczak, "N'chi Ya Nani (Whose Land Is This?)," Roar

Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Michael Brook, Brooklyn
Michael Giacchino, Inside Out
Richard Vreeland, It Follows
Stephen Rennicks, Room

Ben Whishaw, Paddington
James Spader, Avengers: Age of Ultron
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anomalisa
Lewis Black, Inside Out
Ryan Reynolds, The Voices

Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation
Elias Schwarz, Goodnight Mommy
Imogene Wolodarsky, Infinitely Polar Bear
Jacob Tremblay, Room
Milo Parker, Mr. Holmes

Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Joel Edgerton, The Gift
John Maclean, Slow West
Maya Forbes, Infinitely Polar Bear
S. Craig Zahler, Bone Tomahawk

The Big Short
The Hateful Eight
The Stanford Prison Experiment
Straight Outta Compton

Greta Gerwig, Mistress America
Helen Mirren, Trumbo
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Mya Taylor, Tangerine
Susanne Wuest, Goodnight Mommy

Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Brie Larson, Room
Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine
Margot Robbie, Z for Zachariah
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Ian McKellen, Mr. Holmes
Jason Segel, The End of the Tour
Johnny Depp, Black Mass
Mark Ruffalo, Infinitely Polar Bear
Paul Dano, Love & Mercy

Adam McKay & Charles Randolph, The Big Short
Alex Garland, Ex Machina
Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa
Drew Goddard, The Martian
Emma Donoghue, Room

Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Kornél Mundruczó, White God
Lenny Abrahamson, Room

Beasts of No Nation
The Big Short
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road

The Shaunies, 2013

Below is a list of the nominees and winners (in bold) for the 2013 Shaunie Awards. Enjoy!

Man of Steel
Pacific Rim
Star Trek Into Darkness

Anthony Dod Mantle, Rush
Barry Ackroyd, Captain Phillips
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Frank G. DeMarco & Peter Zuccarini, All Is Lost
Roger Deakins, Prisoners

Karen O. & Spike Jonze, "The Moon Song," Her
Keith Stanfield, "So You Know What It's Like," Short Term 12
Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, "Let It Go," Frozen
Nicholas Britell, "My Lord, Sunshine," 12 Years a Slave
Pharrell Williams, "Happy," Despicable Me 2

Alexandre Desplat, Philomena
David Wingo, Mud
Joel P. West, Short Term 12
Mark Orton, Nebraska
Nikolaj Egelund, The Hunt

Bill Nighy, The World's End
Charlie Day, Monsters University
Ed Harris, Gravity
Josh Gad, Frozen
Scarlett Johansson, Her

Annika Wedderkopp, The Hunt
Jackson Nicoll, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Kaitlyn Dever, Short Term 12
Liam James, The Way, Way Back
Nick Robinson, The Kings of Summer

Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen, This Is the End
Fede Alvarez, Evil Dead
Lake Bell, In a World...
Matt Johnson, The Dirties
Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station

12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Short Term 12
This Is the End

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
June Squibb, Nebraska
Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street
Reese Witherspoon, Mud

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey, Mud
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

Amy Adams, American Hustle
Brie Larson, Short Term 12
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Judi Dench, Philomena

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

Bob Nelson, Nebraska
David O. Russell & Eric Warren Singer, American Hustle
Destin Daniel Cretton, Short Term 12
Spike Jonze, Her
Thomas Vinterberg & Tobias Lindholm, The Hunt

Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
David O. Russel, American Hustle
Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips
Spike Jonze, Her
Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt

American Hustle
The Hunt
Short Term 12