SUICIDE WATCH

EVEN A STRONG PERFORMNCE BY WILL SMITH CAN’T SAVE THE UNINSPIRING MESS THAT IS SUICIDE SQUAD

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, David Harbour, Jai Courtney, Adam Beach, Jay Hernandez, Karen Fukuhara, Cara Delevigne Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Viola Davis and Joel Kinnaman

Rated: PG

Studio: Warner Bros.

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 3 Mins.

To say that DC and Warner Bros. have a lot riding on Suicide Squad would be a gross understatement. Not only do they need the villain mash-up to bring in a king’s ransom at the box office, but they also need it to repair the damage done to their brand by the poor fan and critical response to last March’s Batman Vs. Superman. And while Suicide Squad will probably make a lot of money (during its first weekend, at least), it will most likely be a mixed bag as far as restoring the faith of a disillusioned and disappointed fan base.

Under the manipulative eye of Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the United States government has assembled a covert team of incarcerated super criminals to face meta-human threats above the pay grade of the conventional military. Lead by Waller’s hand picked special forces operative Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), criminals Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtenay), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and others are recruited with one simple understanding; success is rewarded with reduced sentences while failure or disobedience results in death.

The team is thrown into action after one of its potential members (the Enchantress, played by Cara Delevigne) escapes Waller’s clutches and takes an entire city hostage. Enchantress has grander designs and the entire planet soon finds itself in her vengeful crosshairs. Just to complicate things for the newly formed Suicide Squad further, the Joker is coming for his beloved Harley Quinn. And not even an extra-dimensional sorceress and her army of demons will stand in his way.

I wanted to enjoy this movie. I really, really did. I needed it to cleanse the sour taste BvS left on my pallet months ago. But this was easily one of the most boring action movies I’ve ever seen.

While most of the promotion for the film focused on Robbie’s Harley Quinn, Smith’s portrayal of Deadshot as an anti-hero in villain’s clothing was the strongest performance in the film (giving Smith his own stand alone movie might not be the worst idea in the world). Ben Affleck makes a few cameos as Batman that are effectively used to set up origin stories and seeing Smith and Affleck’s Dark Knight share a scene will give you geek shivers. Viola Davis does severe justice to Waller, a no-nonsense, ball-busting force of authority that never backs down. Leto’s Joker is entertaining but isn’t the acting tour de force that we’ve been sold and lacks the depth that Ledger brought to the character years ago.

But for every strong performance, there’s a turn that misses the mark. While Robbie has her moments as Harley Quinn, she has just as many moments where she seems lost or the film doesn’t know what to do with her. Squad goes out of its way to identify her as its comedic conscience early, and while a fair chunk of her jokes land, just as many don’t. Kinnaman is tragically miscast as Flagg because as hard as he tries, he just can’t match Smith’s screen presence or natural charisma. His inability to hold his own against Smith undermines the tension the movie tries so hard to establish between the two characters.

Suicide Squad’s pacing is as chaotic as it is inconsistent, a result of extensive reshoots and unprecedented editing (half the scenes and zippy one liners from the first trailer didn’t even make it into the final film). The plot synopsis at the top of this review is pretty much the entire story and the movie almost trips over itself trying to get the plot out of the way as soon (and as simple) as possible. Like everything else, the movie invests little effort in developing or establishing the villain. Technically Enchantress and her plan threaten the entire world, yet the stakes don’t feel that high. Despite the global threat, Suicide Squad unfolds on a much smaller scale than Avengers or Captain America: Winter Soldier. Squad would have worked far better if the threat had been smaller or more contained.

Perhaps its biggest flaw is the action. Or more accurately, the lack of action. For a super hero action movie, there isn’t a lot of it. Most of what it does have is predictable, stale and boring. There are a few beats during the climax that are almost captivating, but otherwise nothing in this movie is going to push your pulse any faster. There are a few chuckles but no moments of genuine humour, despite a number of serious attempts. Suicide Squad is a joyless exercise in how not to make a successful super hero movie and it lacks anything resembling intensity. When its at its very best its still only mediocre and never memorable.

How much of this is director David Ayer’s fault and how much is the result of reshoots ordered and shoehorned in following the embarrassing reaction to BvS earlier in the year remains to be seen. We may not know until the DVD release, but there were two very different visions of this movie; Ayers’ darker tone and the studio’s lighter one. Having the two of them forced together obscures the best part of both while letting their worst parts shine through.

It looks like the task of salvaging DC’s movie universe falls on the shoulders of Wonder Woman, which is already generating serious buzz a year before its release. Can the Amazon Princess succeed where Man of Steel, Batman Vs. Superman and now Suicide Squad have failed? After this summer Warner Bros better have its fingers-and everything else-crossed that she can.

Shayne Kempton

BOURNE IS BACK

MATT DAMON IS BACK AND JASON BOUNE RETURNS TO FIND SOME ANSWERS

The world has changed a great deal since moviegoers first met Jason Bourne 14 years ago. Threats have become more insidious while espionage and fanaticism alike have moved increasingly deeper into cyberspace. The world’s most powerful nations have proven too slow in adapting their tactics and the conversation about the balance between personal freedom and the importance of public safety has become more complex and polarizing. Countries now find themselves justifying actions that would have appalled them years ago, all in the name of national security.

It’s this narrative that the most recent Bourne adventure, Jason Bourne, wades into. And no one can accuse the movies of not adapting to a changing global landscape.

Read More . . . 

BEYOND MEDIOCRE

STAR TREK BEYOND IS A HARMLESS PATCHWORK EFFORT THAT ISN’T HORRIBLE BUT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN THE MOVIE TO CELEBRATE TREK’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY

Director: Justin Lin

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Sophia Boutella, Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Anton Yelchin

Rated: PG

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 2 Hrs

There’s been a lot of attention focused on Star Trek recently. From the new series coming this January to the loss of Leonard Nimoy last year, to the tragic death of Anton Yeltsin a few months ago to the fact that 2016 is the franchise’s fiftieth birthday, Star Trek’s been on a lot of minds. You would this would be a perfect opportunity to release another strong entry in Trek’s lengthy and celebrated movie series. Not only to celebrate Trek’s long list of successes but to honour the memory of its recently departed family members as well.

Unfortunately, Star Trek Beyond is not that movie.

Read More . . .

GHOSTBUSTERS ANSWERS THE CALL

FORGET ALL THE HATE (AND THE TRAILERS), THE NEW GHOSTBUSTERS IS AN ENTERTAINING AND SATISFYING SUMMER RIDE

Perhaps the most hated movie of the century has arrived in theatres. The release date for Ghostbusters: Answer The Call has been Christmas in July for online haters and trolls and this movie has been mercilessly skewered the last year and a half (especially after Sony’s underwhelming trailers started to see the light of day). But if you can divorce yourself from your nostalgia for the original 1984 classic and accept that the world has changed over the last thirty years, you’ll likely leave the theatre both surprised and entertained.

Read More . . .

THE SECRET’S OUT

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS MAY NOT BE IN THE SAME LEAGUE AS DISNEY OR PIXAR, BUT THERE’S STILL PLENTY TO ENJOY

Director: Chris Renault

Starring: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress and Steve Coogan

Studio: Illumination/Universal

Rated: G

Running Time: 1 Hr, 30 Mins

A handful of heavyweights have risen to the top of the animation world over the years. Disney’s in house studio as well as their Pixar brand are easily the top dog (refer to the box office numbers of Zootopia and Finding Dory if you have any doubts) while studios like Dreamworks and Sony’s Blue Sky vie for second place. Universal’s animation division-Illumination Entertainment-is looking to challenge the status quo by building off the enormous success of their Despicable Me/Minions franchise and challenge Disney’s place on top of the animated food chain with the much-hyped Secret Life of Pets. While Pets falls a little short of that lofty goal, it’s still an amusing romp that’s more than worth the price of admission.

Video: Illumination Entertainment

Max (Louis C.K.) and his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) live the perfect life in New York. Katie adores Max and Max pretty much worships the ground Katie walks on. When Katie leaves everyday for work (her daily disappearance remains a complete mystery to Max, who tries every day to convince her to stay) Max dutifully waits by the door, eager for her return. While the other pets of the city spend their days partying, watching TV and raiding the refrigerator, Max pines away the hours until his beloved owner returns home.

But one day Katie returns with a new addition to their family-Duke (Eric Stonestreet), a hulking brute of a dog that’s all slobber and fur. Max’s exclusive place in Katie’s life is challenged and he immediately resolves to do everything in his power to get Duke out of their lives and back in the pound where Katie found him. Understandably Duke isn’t a fan of this and becomes determined to get Max out of the picture (strictly as self defense of course). As a result they both find themselves on the streets, trying to get home while on the run from New York Animal Control and Snowball (Kevin Hart), a psychotic rabbit that leads an army of abandoned pets called The Flushed that seek revenge on the human world.

Pets takes some time to get going, spending a good chunk establishing the characters, back story and premise. But when it does get going, it’s a roller coaster of laughs, sight gags and inside jokes. The animators perfectly captured the spirit of the characters and embedded them into their animal likenesses. Whether through body language or facial expressions, the visual imagery sells the character side of story.

Unlike some other animation studios, Illumination cast its voice actors from TV, keeping the budget reasonable (Pets estimated budget is around 75 million compared to the average Pixar budget, which easily surpass the 100 million dollar mark). But that doesn’t subtract from the impact the voices have at all. Albert Brooks is fantastic as Tiberius, the domesticated hawk that constantly wrestles with his predatory instincts while trying to make friends. Louis C.K. does a more then decent job as Max, really selling the conviction of the little terrier’s love for his master and his contempt for his new rival. You can truly tell that Kevin Hart had a blast as Snowball, the sociopathic, murder crazed bunny out for blood. But Jenny Slater steals the show as Gidget, the demur, polished toy poodle with eyes for Max and an addiction to Mexican soap operas. Gidget is the real star of the movie, going from prim and proper, long distance admirer to a pet-of-action, leading the search party for Max who eventually becomes a fierce engine of hand-to-hand combat. And Slater brings her to life with nothing short of perfection.

Pets plot is essentially Toy Story recycled. But instead of toys coming to life when their owners aren’t around, household pets reveal their true selves once their humans have departed for the day. The former favourite has to deal with the strange newcomer but soon they have to join forces to get home safe. Pets succeeds because while the writers borrowed the storyline from another movie, they heavily invested in creating a world of talking pets and vengeful bunnies, and then allowed their characters to explore the comedic boundaries. The jokes (and there lots of them) write themselves.

Unlike Pixar though, Pets doesn’t yank on any heartstrings, though considering the subject matter that’s probably a wise decision (few things are more devastating, especially for a child, then the loss of a pet). It flirts with a little genuine emotion before quickly returning to the jokes. That’s why it fails to reach the same territory as Pixar. Make no mistake, there’s pretty much the same amount of laughs for both kids and adults, but Pixar has perfected the recipe of brilliant visuals, comedy and just the right amount of pathos, while Pets prefers to focus on the laughs.

Pets even opens with an animated short-a new Minions adventure-but it doesn’t have the same presence that Pixar or Disney animated shorts do. It was amusing but not really memorable.

The Secret Life of Pets is a great family movie nonetheless. The kids will love it and the parents will love taking them. It’s a visual roller coaster ride full of laughs and you may never look at a poodle or a bunny the same way ever again. It’s the fun family movie that reminds us why summer is movie season. And while it falls a little short of Pixar, don’t be surprised if Illumination is soon challenging the creators of Toy Story, The Incredibles and Finding Dory for animation’s top spot soon (they’re already hyping their Christmas release Sing). Pets may even have a sequel in it too. If Max and company get into this much hijinks just welcoming a new dog, imagine what could result if one day Katie brought home a husband?

Shayne Kempton

 

BOX OFFICE ROUNDUP: DORY REIGNS SUPREME

If Pixar decides to make a third installment in the Finding Nemo franchise, they should consider making the main characters piranhas, because they’re devouring everything in their path. Not only did Finding Dory defend its title as current weekend box office champion against three new high profile releases, but it also became the first movie to rule the box three weekends in a row since Zootopia (also a Disney property) did it last March. Dory added over 41 million to its domestic coffers over the holiday weekend and has now grossed over 372 million since its release three weeks ago. It’s well on its way to becoming the highest grossing movie of the year and will have no problem becoming Disney’s fourth billion dollar title of 2016 (it’s already made 538 million world wide). It has equaled Batman Vs Superman’s entire North American gross in just three weeks, it will likely pass Captain America: Civil War in a week or two and still has plenty of steam heading into July. And none of this takes into account all the Finding Dory merchandise currently flying off store shelves (just in time for summer vacation) or the fortune the home release will inevitably make when it hits DVD and Blu-Ray players next fall. If someone isn’t making a documentary titled “The Power of Pixar” yet, they should be.

One of those new releases, The Legend of Tarzan, opened in second with a healthy 38.1 million debut. But Warner Bros is already keeping a close eye on the weekly ticker tape considering Tarzan’s pricey 180 million dollar production budget. The Purge 3 was this weekend’s big winner, opening in third place with just over 30 million in ticket sales. Universal’s third (and final?) entry in the hyper violent film series tripled its ten million dollar budget in just its first weekend and it should prove interesting too see what kind of legs the action flick (which slyly paraphrased its tag line Keep America Great from Donald Trump’s xenophobic presidential campaign) has moving forward.

In a rare misstep, Disney’s other family friendly summer release, The BFG, opened fourth with a disappointing 19.5 million. The big budget BFG seemed to have everything going for it; based on the popular Roald Dahl book (and released on the hundredth anniversary of his birth, a fact Disney made sure to play up in the film’s promotion), it was directed by Steven Spielberg (his first Disney title) and had the full weight of the Disney hype machine behind it. Lukewarm reviews, a narrow target audience (seriously, this one was just for the kids) and a weekend full of competition combined to kill BFG’s prospects and the race is now on to see which will be the bigger Disney bomb; BFG or last April’s Alice Through The Looking Glass.

Speaking of disappointments, Independence Day: Resurgence took a near 60 percent hit to it’s weekend performance, tumbling from second place to fifth and only adding 16.5 million to it’s total. Resurgence came with a 165 million price tag (before promotional spending) and at its current pace it will be lucky to hit 100 million in domestic gross (it currently sits at just over 72). It will need a crazy overseas performance just to break even, which is currently looking unlikely. At best, 20th Century Fox is now looking to minimize the bath they’re going to take on this tent pole release.

Central Intelligence continued its strong run, holding down sixth spot with 12.3 million. Intelligence has made Fox over 95 million since it’s June 17th release and the Dwayne Johnson/Kevin Hart buddy movie should have no problem hitting the 100 million milestone later this week, effectively doubling its production budget. And speaking of doubling budgets, the Blake Lively thriller The Shallows, which was made on the cheap for 17 million, made a cool nine million in it’s second weekend of release, bringing it’s total performance to over 35 million. Not a bad July 4th present for Sony.

Civil War period piece The Free State of Jones failed to capitalize on the July 4th weekend, falling to eighth spot with 4.1 million. The Matthew McConaughey vehicle has been a disappointment since it’s release last week, earning a total 15.2 million despite a 50 million dollar budget. Jones might hold on to a spot in the top ten for another week but is likely to be relegated to a box office memory by the time Ghostbusters hits theatres July 15th. This will be the second big write off studio STX is forced to make this year after Hardcore Henry bombed last March.

A pair of sequels rounded out the top ten, with The Conjuring 2 scaring up another 3.85 million. The latest title in the James Waan/Warner Bros. horrorverse has totalled 95.2 million on North American shores and all but guarantees a third Conjuring, not to mention an already announced spin off featuring the movie’s demonic protagonist, a la Annabelle. But while that sequel is doing gangbusters at the box office, Now You See Me 2 sits on the exact opposite side of the spectrum. The Lionsgate sequel only managed another 2.95 million in what is likely its last weekend in the top ten, brining its domestic total to a little over 53 million. Lionsgate needed Now You See Me to be a success after the disappointing performance of Allegiant last March and the appalling bomb Gods of Egypt last February. The combined losses on those three titles (and the absence of any more Hunger Games movies) may have severe consecequences for the studios future.

Also worth mentioning is Warner Bros. romantic drama Me Before You. The adaptation of JoJo Moyes bestselling book has not been without controversey but it has proven to be fairly resilient. Five weeks after release, it has grossed over 53 million at North American box offices on a humble 2o million dollar budget. Could some of the controversy have  translated into box office dollars? If so, perhaps that may bode well for Sony’s incredibly maligned Ghostbusters remake.

Next weekend presents a rematch of last summer’s animated Battle Royal. Can Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory fend off Universal/Illumination’s Secret Lives of Pets and hold the title for a fourth week in row? Or will Pets succeed where others have failed and be the movie to finally put Dory down? Last year’s battle between the two animated giants was definitely one for the books. Pixar’s Inside Out was yet another blockbuster but couldn’t handle the juggernaut that was Illumination’s Minions. Round two should be a blast.

 

Shayne Kempton

SOME WILD FUN

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN PLAYS IT SAFE AND CHOOSES MEDIOCRITY OVER BOLDNESS, BUT IT’S STILL A MILDLY ENTERTAINING (IF UNREMARKABLE) ACTION MOVIE

Director: David Yates

Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Christoph Waltz, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou and Samuel L. Jackson,

Rated: PG

Studio: Warner Bros.

Running Time: 1 Hr, 49 Mins

Sometimes you get a movie that is so bad it’s bearable. Other times you get one that’s so tongue in cheek that it’s almost good. And sometimes you get a movie that despite taking itself seriously, seems to settle for mediocrity instead of swinging for the fences. The Legend of Tarzan falls into the last category.

Video: Warner Bros. Pictures

The man once called Tarzan is now Jonathan Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard), a civilized Englishman who has taken his place as the Lord of Greystoke, heir to his family’s title and fortune. Eight years removed from the jungles of the Congo, he and Jane (Margot Robbie) make their home in a palatial London mansion, complete with servants and attendants. While his exploits as Tarzan are the stuff of serial novels, his celebrity makes him uncomfortable and he shuns it as often as he can. But he soon receives an invitation to return to the Congo from Leon Brom (Christoph Waltz), the envoy who has been running the near bankrupt Belgian colony. The British government, eager to enter into a partnership with Belgium, urges the former King of the Jungle to accept the offer, and after some soul searching (and a shouting match with Jane, who jumps at the chance to return to the jungle where she and Tarzan met) and a conversation with concerned America envoy William “George” Washington (Samuel L. Jackson), Tarzan reluctantly returns to the wilds of Africa.

But once there he discovers that his invitation was a cover for an agreement between Brom and tribal chief Mbongo (Djimon Honshou) to deliver Tarzan to the vengeful chief’s clutches in return for unimaginable riches and the means to turn the entire Congo into a slave colony. Brom kills indiscriminately, takes Jane and many of their friends prisoner and Tarzan soon finds himself racing against time to save his wife and loved ones while preventing the Congo from becoming a nightmarish slave nation.

Fist off, Tarzan is not exactly a good movie. Nor is it a tongue in cheek self parody the way Huntsman: The Winter War was (deliberate or not). Tarzan does take itself seriously (sometimes to its own detriment) and tries really hard to be a grown up movie. And in fairness, if you turn your head just so and squint your eyes just enough, you can catch glimpses of its potential. While this movie may be a groaner where you spend a lot of time rolling your eyes you might not be able to help smiling at the same time.

Without a doubt, the best part of the movie is Robbie as Jane. Hardly a damsel in distress, this Jane is defiant and independent. It’s unfortunate that she is still relegated to a supporting player who, despite not being your stereotypical female action lead, still needs rescuing. Considering the strength of Robbie’s spirited performance, it’s a shame director David Yates and the film’s producers didn’t boldly seize the opportunity to make her the lead (now that would have been a real re-imagining) and you can almost see Harley Quinn, the female anti-hero she will be playing in next month’s Suicide Squad, bubbling just beneath the surface. Jackson is effective as the comic relief and the every man that grounds the action next to Tarzan’s seeming superhuman heroics and Skarsgard is better than expected as Clayton/Tarzan, bringing more depth to the role then just long hair and a set of abs.

Waltz does his job as the cold hearted and ruthless Brom, a man who balances human suffering against profit on a spreadsheet. He follows no fanatical ideology, just his single-minded pursuit of wealth and national pride, no matter the human toll, and is a perfect embodiment of unchecked colonial greed and the unimaginable misery that resulted from empire building. Hollywood seems to have run out of ways to use Waltz though. As his debut in Inglorious Basterds proved, he can play a wicked villain, insidious, charming and thoroughly ruthless. Yet his last few roles seem uninterested in exploring his acting mettle. He gets the job done here, but Brom could have been a much deeper, much more malevolent presence. But Yates seems content to settle for barely despicable from one of the most versatile and underrated character actors in Hollywood right now instead of outright chilling villainy. It’s another choice that Tarzan makes that keeps it from exceeding mild mediocrity.

And while the story is pretty straight forward (hoping to minimize mistakes), it isn’t without its potholes. When Tarzan returns to the jungle after an eight-year absence, wandering the streets of London for the better part of a decade, he resumes his vine swinging, tree jumping and cliff diving antics without hesitation or regret. He’s beyond an Olympic level athlete and his physical prowess returns to him without missing a heartbeat. Apparently eight years in cold, rainy London didn’t leave the slightest bit of rust. He encounters animals that are not only are still alive but have powerful memories of him. And seriously, how do people raised in the jungle by apes who then spend their adult lives in Britain, the world capital of bad oral hygiene, have perfect teeth? Even the natives and gorillas have immaculate chompers. Apparently there’s good work to be had or dentists in the jungle.

Tarzan has plenty of warts and it plays it safe, ignoring it’ own possibility in favour of being a mildly amusing little action film. It spends most of its time just trying to stay out of its own way and explore it’s own potential. In fact The Legend of Tarzan is the movie that 2013’s The Lone Ranger could have been; a decent action movie that respects its iconic hero. Tarzan may not be good, but it isn’t horrible and it’s definitely worth checking out on half price Tuesday.

Shayne Kempton