Film Review: Justice League

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Ezra Miller
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hr 1 min
Warner Brothers

Until this season, when the NFL allowed players to celebrate after touchdowns, many referred to the game as the No Fun League. That is also how many fans referred to the DC Comic film universe. Christopher Nolan’s ultra-dark Batman trilogy, not to mention Zack Snyder’s brooding “Man of Steel” and “Batman vs Superman” gave fans their favorite characters, usually having a bad day. While they were entertaining, they missed the one thing that has made the Marvel films so appreciated: humor. Earlier this year we got a brief breath of fresh air when Wonder Woman arrived in her own film. Things continue to look upward with the arrival of “Justice League.”

The film opens with a phone image of Superman (Henry Cavil), happily agreeing to answer some children’s questions. They bombard him with queries, which he smiles at. He is then asked, “What do you like best about Earth?”

Full of action and some much needed humor, “Justice League” is an entertaining two-hour roller coaster ride. With — SPOILER ALERT— Superman having died at the end of “Batman vs Superman,” the world in general, and Metropolis in particular, have became a haven for evil doers. Even Gotham City isn’t spared. One night, while on patrol, Batman (Affleck) comes across a mechanical monster that, when destroyed, leaves a pattern of marks, similar to marks found in Lex Luthor’s papers. As things go from worse to…whatever is worse than worse…Batman decides he needs to recruit other people to help save the world. Besides Wonder Woman (Gadot), he travels north to meet the strange Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and then hits the city to find the young and friendless Barry Allen (Miller). Finally he tracks down Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) a former athlete. Each of these people have a secret but also learn they have a common goal – to save the world.

It can’t be easy to run around on screen in your underwear, and part of the success of “Justice League” must be attributed to the actors who embody their roles completely. Affleck and Gadot have already built some chemistry with “Batman vs Superman,” and Momoa, Miller and Fisher blend easily with them as, respectively, Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg. Miller steals every scene he’s in as the teenage Scarlett Speedster, making him as appealing here as Tom Holland was this past summer in “Spider-man: Homecoming.” As the junk food loving Barry (due to his very high metabolism, he must constantly eat), Miller gives the character a heart, a soul and a proclivity for one liners.

Director Snyder took some time off from the production of the film after his daughter passed away in March. He was replaced by Joss Whedon, the director who gave us “The Avengers” among other films. Whedon shares a screenwriting credit here, and it looks like he may have been the perfect piece to solve Snyder’s dark puzzles. If you’re looking for excitement and a few laughs this weekend, look into joining the FUN “League!”

Film Review: “Live By Night”

Starring: Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller and Zoe Saldana
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 8 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

If you don’t include the 1930s and 40s, the list of good gangster films is pretty short. Off the top of my head, I consider “The Godfather” trilogy, “Goodfellas,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Road to Perdition” and “Miller’s Crossing” to be among the best of the genre. I’m guessing that Ben Affleck also agrees with my list as his latest directorial effort, “Live by Night,” samples a little bit of all of them.

After serving his country in World War I, Joe Couglin (Affleck, who not only directed the film but adapted it’s screenplay from a novel by Dennis Lehane) decides he’s not going to take orders from anyone any longer. Wanting to “sleep during the day and live by night,” he decides to pursue a life of crime with two pals from the neighborhood. He doesn’t want to be a gangster. He just wants to be.

Of course, things never go according to plan and Joe soon finds himself in love with the boss’ girl, Emma (Miller). The boss finds out and, after a pretty good beating, Joe lucks himself into the hospital, where he plots his revenge. A revenge that’s not best served cold but one that emanates from the sunny prohibition streets of Tampa.

Directed with an obvious love for the genre, “Live By Night” is a stylish – man did they know how to dress back then – film that overcomes some obvious errors with a first rate cast. Affleck does fine as Joe and I couldn’t help wondering, as I watched the film, if he wouldn’t be perfect if they ever did a bio pic about Gene Kelly. He has the chin and he can certainly wear the clothes. Miller also excels as a girl who seems to be hiding a secret. As Joe’s rum-running partner and later wife, Saldana rises above what could have been a stereotypical “black woman in the south” caricature and makes her Gabriella a strong and equal partner. Other notable performances are turned in by Chris Cooper, Brendan Gleeson and Chris Messina.

Technically the film is quite faithful to the Tampa of the times and, as a Tampa native who once lived at Nebraska on 26th Street, I couldn’t help but swell with pride when I learned that Joe was selling his rum as far north as Nebraska and 27th Street. Not sure if I like rum – I’m not much of a drinker – but it’s nice to know that in the early 1930s I would have been able to have a drink every now and then!

Film Review: “The Accountant”

Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 8 mins
Warner Bros

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Christian Wolff seems like a normal child. Until you spend time with him. Currently he is sitting at a table, feverishly putting a puzzle together. Suddenly he panics – he only has 999 of the 1000 pieces. When the missing piece is found Chris completes the puzzle. As he inserts the final piece we see that he has completed the puzzle upside down – the image is face-down. All we see is the blank cardboard back. “Is this normal,” Chris’ father asks the man Chris has been brought to meet. His reply: “Define normal.”

A well-crafted thriller, “The Accountant” picks up 20-years after the puzzle incident with young Christian Wolff (Affleck) now a successful C.P.A. With his dented thermos, brought-from-home sandwich and pocket protector, he could be the nerdy guy next door. Except Christian has a secret. One that Ray King (Simmons), head of the US Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division has been trying to solve for years. King enlists the help of Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to discover why Wolff seems to be involved with some very high profile (read: non-law abiding) customers. Meanwhile, Wolff has been also asked to solve a problem. When a corporate accountant for a major robotics company suspects that someone is stealing from the company she asks Christian to take a look at the books, which may or may not have been cooked for years.

Smartly directed, with a nice twist in the story, “The Accountant” rests squarely on the shoulders of Ben Affleck. I love the fact that he is a mathematical savant, giving the audience a chance to wonder what could have happened to Will Hunting had he not followed Skylar to California. Affleck gives Wolff a quiet coolness, never raising his voice or getting agitated. Kendrick’s role is really secondary. She is here to attract Christian to the main plot line of the film, the going-ons at the robotics company. Affleck is aided by several great character actors, including John Lithgow, Jon Bernthal and Jeffrey Tambor. Director O’Connor, who helmed the underrated MMA film “Warrior,” keeps the film moving with strong pacing that never misses a beat.

Media Mikes 2016 Fall/Holiday Movie Preview

Labor Day has come and gone, and unless you’re dressing up as a ghost, you better not be wearing anything white! With the end of summer comes the beginning of fall and the start of Hollywood’s “Prestige Movie Push!”

We’ll take a look at what the studios hope are their best bets to fill the multiplexes and bring home the Oscars. Once again, a big thank you to our friends at Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) for some synopsis information. Opening dates noted are subject to change at the whim of the studios. Enjoy!

OCTOBER 7

THE 13th

Documentary
Directed by: Ava DuVernay

The director of “Selma” gives us an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.

OSCAR CHANCES: Will surely make the short list.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION

Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Nate Parker

Set against the antebellum South, the film follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself and his fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

OSCAR CHANCES: After last year’s #OSCARSOWHITE controversy, the early buzz on this film almost guaranteed a bounty of nominations. However, it was recently revealed that writer/director/star Nate Parker and his co-writer, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow college student in 1999. Though Parker was not found guilty and Celestin had his conviction overturned, their alleged victim committed suicide. Not sure how this news will affect the Academy voters.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett and Justin Theroux
Directed by: Tate Taylor

In the film, being compared to “Gone Girl,” a recently divorced woman
takes the train to work every day and imagines the lives of a young couple she
sees every day. Things get weird when the young wife disappears.

OSCAR CHANCES: Blunt is already getting raves for her performance.


OCTOBER 13

MASCOTS

Starring: Christopher Guest, Parker Posey and Jane Lynch
Directed by: Christopher Guest

Simply described as “a look into the world of competitive mascots,” this is the latest opus from the great Christopher Guest. Sadly, unless I missed it, this is the first of Guest’s films that does not include Eugene Levy.

OSCAR CHANCES: Possible screenplay nod.

 

OCTOBER 14

THE ACCOUNTANT

Starring: Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons and Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

A forensic accountant un-cooks the books for illicit clients. What I like about the trailer is that Affleck seems to be a young genius. Maybe this is his chance to play Will Hunting?

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe.


KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?

Starring: Kevin Hart
Directed by: Leslie Small and Tim Story

Kevin Hart performs his comedy in front of 50,000 fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: No.


OCTOBER 21

AMERICAN PASTORAL

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning and Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Ewan McGregor

In 1968, a hardworking man, who’s been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family. Based on the novel by Philip Roth.

OSCAR CHANCES: Adapted screenplay?

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE

Starring: John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Karen Gillan
Directed by: Ti West

A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody cross-hairs of revenge. Ethan Hawke’s second western this season and John Travolta in a cowboy hat for the first time since “Urban Cowboy.” Yee-hah!

OSCAR CHANCES: Sadly Western’s very rarely get recognized.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Director Zwick has helmed three of my favorite films (“About Last Night,” “Glory” and “Legends of the Fall” but only has an Oscar for co-producing “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s about time this man was recognized, though I don’t think it’s going to be for a Jack Reacher film.

A MONSTER CALLS

Starring: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by: J.A. Bayona

A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

TYLER PERRY’S BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN

Starring: Tyler Perry
Directed by: Tyler Perry

Madea winds up in the middle of mayhem when she spends a haunted Halloween fending off killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and zombies while keeping a watchful eye on a group of misbehaving teens. I’m scared.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m going to go out on a limb and say “no”

OCTOBER 28

INFERNO

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Ron Howard

When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot. The second Felicity Jones film in as many weeks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Sorry, Tom, but your nomination this year is coming from “Sully”

 

NOVEMBER 4

BLEED FOR THIS

Starring: Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Ben Younger

The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash, which left him not knowing if he’d ever walk again, made one of sport’s most incredible comebacks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Robert DeNiro and Hillary Swank won Oscars for portraying boxers so never say never. Hell, Stallone got nominated…TWICE!

DOCTOR STRANGE

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by: Scott Derrickson

A neurosurgeon with a destroyed career sets out to repair his hands only to find himself protecting the world from inter-dimensional threats.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

HACKSAW RIDGE

Starring: Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington
Directed by: Mel Gibson

WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Mel doesn’t appear in this one but his dead-ringer son, Milo, does.

OSCAR CHANCES: Gibson (Mel, not Milo) already has an Oscar for directing so you never know. I’m sure people have forgotten what all of the hub-bub was about concerning him a few years ago.

LOVING

Starring: Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Back in the dark ages, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. Apparently they had nothing better to do in Virginia at the time.

OSCAR CHANCES: Acting, picture.

TROLLS

Starring the voices of: Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake
Directed by: Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn

Remember those little plastic things with long hair that you used to put on the end of your pencil? When I was a kid we called them Kewpies but apparently they are Trolls and they have their own movie. Good for them!

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe best hairstyling?

NOVEMBER 11

ARRIVAL

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

OSCAR CHANCES: Picture, director, acting.

SHUT IN

Starring: Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay
Directed by: Farren Blackburn

A heart-pounding thriller about a widowed child psychologist who lives in an isolated existence in rural New England. Caught in a deadly winter storm, she must find a way to rescue a young boy before he disappears forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Unsure, but young Mr. Tremblay should have been nominated last year for “Room.”

USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE

Starring: Nicolas Cage and Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles

The harrowing true story of the crew of the USS Indianapolis, who were stranded in the Philippine Sea for five days after delivering the atomic weapons that would eventually end WWII. If you saw “Jaws,” this is the tale that Quint tells. Other “Jaws” related facts: this was the original idea for “Jaws 2.” Also: Mario Van Peebles starred in “Jaws the Revenge.”

OSCAR CHANCES: To me it looks like a “made for TV” movie. How about Emmy chances?


NOVEMBER 18

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

Starring: Hailiee Steinfeld, Blake Jenner and Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig

High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother. Is that weird? When I was in high-school I wanted to date my best friend’s older sister. Hopefully Stevie Nicks got some money from this.

OSCAR CHANCES: Nada

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jon Voight and Ezra Miller
Directed by: David Yates

The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards 70 years before Harry Potter reads his book in school. Even though Harry Potter and his pals are less than 20 years old it seems like they’ve been around forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, music (the great James Newton Howard)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Starring: Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Affleck and Williams have been nominated in the past so I’m not ruling anything out.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Starring: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Tom Ford

An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. November is Amy Adams month.

OSCAR CHANCES: Across the board


NOVEMBER 23

ALLIED

Starring: Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war. Cotillard isn’t married so maybe we can look forward to reading about “Bradarion” soon.

OSCAR CHANCES: Pitt, Cotilliard and Zemeckis have been there before.

BAD SANTA 2

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Tony Cox
Directed by: Mark Waters

Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie teams up once again with his angry little sidekick, Marcus, to knock off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve.

OSCAR CHANCES: I thought Billy Bob deserved a nod for the first film but I’m going to say no.

MOANA

Starring the voices of: Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk and Nicole Scherzinger
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams

A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated feature, original song

RULES DON’T APPLY

Starring: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins and Ed Harris
Directed by: Warren Beatty

An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for. Beatty has been wanting to do a Howard Hughes-based film since the 1970s. Not sure if this is what he had in mind back then but, after a 15-year absence, it’s great to see him both in front of and behind the camera.

OSCAR CHANCES: Only two people have been nominated in the same year for acting, directing, writing and producing the best picture: Orson Welles and Warren Beatty. And Beatty did it TWICE!


NOVEMBER 25

LION

Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Garth Davis

A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

OSCAR CHANCES: Many


DECEMBER 2

LA LA LAND

Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
Directed by: Damien Chazelle

From the creator of “Whiplash” comes a film about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. And it’s a musical!

OSCAR CHANCES: Early film festival buzz say’s this may be the film to watch (both on screen and at awards time!)


DECEMBER 9

MISS SLOANE

Starring: Jessica Chastain
Directed by: John Madden

An ambitious lobbyist faces off against the powerful gun lobby in an attempt to pass gun control legislation.

OSCAR CHANCES: Actress. Madden directed the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love.”

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Starring: Jason Bateman and Jennifer Anniston
Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand.

OSCAR CHANCES: Zip

DECEMBER 16

COLLATERAL BEAUTY

Starring: Will Smith and Keira Knightley
Directed by: David Frankel

A tragic event sends a New York ad man on a downward spiral.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’ve already had to apologize to Will Smith twice for doubting he’d get nominated for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” There won’t be a third. Good luck Will.

FENCES

Starring: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis
Directed by: Denzel Washington

An African American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Based on the August Wilson play.

OSCAR CHANCES: YES!

THE FOUNDER

Starring: Michael Keaton and Patrick Wilson
Directed by: John Lee Hancock

The story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. You may look at your next hamburger differently. Keaton is said to be so good that they pulled the film from it’s original release date.

OSCAR CHANCES: Keaton

A KIND OF MURDER

Starring: Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel
Directed by: Andy Goddard

In 1960s New York, Walter Stackhouse is a successful architect married to the beautiful Clara who leads a seemingly perfect life. But his fascination with an unsolved murder leads him into a spiral of chaos as he is forced to play cat-and-mouse with a clever killer and an overambitious detective, while at the same time lusting after another woman. This will be a day of decisions for Patrick Wilson fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: Don’t see any

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Starring: Felicity Jones, Jimmy Smits and Warwick Davis
Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Or, as I like to call it, “Episode 6.5” The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans to the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow. Holy crap! The Death Star, Leia’s family, Darth Vader AND Wicket the Ewok? I’m already in line!

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, make up.

DECEMBER 21

20th CENTURY WOMEN

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Laura Wiggins
Directed by: Mike Mills

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.

OSCAR CHANCES: Can anyone tell me why Annette Bening hasn’t won an Oscar yet? Didn’t think so. Keep your fingers crossed.

ASSASSINS CREED

Starring: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Justin Kurzel

When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society. This synopsis seems so crazy considering the cast. I wonder if the two leads made the same mistake Bill Murray did when he thought “Garfield” had been written by one of the Coen brothers!

OSCAR CHANCES: Fassbender elevates everything he’s in so I’m not saying no!

PASSENGERS

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt
Directed by: Morten Tyldum

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. It’s so weird to see Lawrence in a movie at the end of the year NOT directed by David O. Russell. Oh well, there’s always next year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, technical stuff

PATRIOTS DAY

Starring: Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Peter Berg

An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Sounds better than what I thought it was – knowing Wahlberg is a huge New England Patriot fan I thought it was about a day with Tom Brady. The third film by Wahlberg and director Berg and second this year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Oh yes.

SING

Starring the voices of: Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Garth Jennings

A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated film….maybe.

DECEMBER 25

GOLD

Starring: Matthew McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan

An unlikely pair venture to the Indonesian jungle in search of gold. When he was outrageously thin in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” McConaughey still looked good. In this one he’s bald and….dammit!

OSCAR CHANCES: No sir.

WHY HIM?

Starring: James Franco and Bryan Cranston
Directed by: John Hamburg.

A dad forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend. Based on a story by Jonah Hill. Somebody needed money.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m ashamed that I have to include those words with this film.

DECEMBER 28

PATERSON

Starring: Adam Driver
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet.

OSCAR CHANCES: Love Jarmusch. Maybe a witting nod.

Film Review: “Suicide Squad”

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie
Directed By: David Ayer
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 130 minutes
Warner Bros.

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

The Suicide Squad is a generally unheard force in the DC Universe. They’re a group of underdog villains attempting to do good, drawing comparisons from some that this is Warner Bros. attempt at their own version of “Guardians of the Galaxy”. While the comparison is fair, “Suicide Squad” is a far more sinister beast. While Marvel’s Peter Quill and Rocket Raccoon are likable thieves and thugs, the members of the Suicide Squad are a terrifying ragtag bunch of assassins, murderers and sociopaths.

The Suicide Squad is made up of the smooth talking Deadshot (Smith), Joker’s squeeze Harley Quinn (Robbie), the beer drinking Boomerang (Jai Courtney), the gang banger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and the hulking monster Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They’re all led by the self-righteous Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman). The founder of this group is Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who may as well be the villain of the movie. She’s an unsympathetic, calculating, and murderous government official who abides by her own rules.

Her basis for creating the Suicide Squad is so that the U.S. military has an controllable force that can stop the next Superman (spoilers if you didn’t see the disappointing “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice”). Waller has a working knowledge of nearly every villain on the planet, and seemingly every superhero, which gives pause as to why she thinks this would ever be a good idea. Despite the rather large nature of the cast working under Waller’s character, director and writer David Ayer wisely chose to focus the movie’s attention on the best actors, Davis, Smith and Robbie.

While the media lead-up to “Suicide Squad” has been about Leto’s disturbing antics off-screen, his on-screen Joker portrayal is underwhelming. It’s not because it comes on the heels of Ledger’s performance back in 2008, but because I still can’t imagine the Joker having the patience to get a tattoo or ever concerning himself with fashionable bling-bling. Despite the disappointment of Leto’s Joker, Robbie wows as the stunning lover of Mr. J, Harley Quinn. While we’ve never had a theatrical version of the Clown Prince of Crime’s murderous hunny, Robbie has set the bar, and it’s pretty damn high.

Robbie displays a natural ability to blend Quinn’s flirtatious, deadly, and juvenile nature seamlessly. She manages to convey her as a trashy, demented high school cheerleader most of the time, while displaying a softer, human side to the villain in brief glances. Matching her scene-by-scene is Smith, who’s back to his action movie roots as the assassin that never misses, Deadshot. Both of them provide most of the back story and emotional depth amongst the Suicide Squad, and rightfully so.

El Diablo has a heart breaking backstory, but Hernandez isn’t a strong enough actor or given enough dialogue to feed into his tragic past. Killer Croc is simply a grunting brute covered in scales and Boomerang is the wisecracking comic relief, minus the comic relief. The movie also finds time to wedge in Ben Affleck’s Batman, Ezra Miller’s Flash, and a brief nod to the future “Justice League” movie. Sometimes it’s a visual buffet that finds the right balance without making you too nauseous, as long as you know what the hell the movie’s talking about.

The characters are what make “Suicide Squad”, not the story, which clearly came second. When David Ayer needs to introduce the characters, he establishes a pecking order and focuses on the most relatable. As for the plot, it’s a mess involving the mysterious Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), who’s never explained, possibly angering those unfamiliar with comic books, and maybe even those familiar with them. The exact reasoning behind the Suicide Squad’s pact is a little iffy and the movie doesn’t find a satisfying conclusion after the bombastic finale.

“Suicide Squad” is a wham-bam action punch with enough exuberant and unique performances to help overshadow the lacking plot structure. You’ll be talking about Robbie’s Harley Quinn more than you will about Leto’s Joker. And that’s not a bad thing when DC is trying to establish some girl power. If DC wants to start working on a solo Deadshot or Harley Quinn movie, go ahead and buy my tickets right now.

Film Review “Gone Girl”

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens
Directed By: David Fincher
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 149 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

It’s the most wonderful time of the year here in New York. Everything’s pumpkin flavored, the tourist crowd is momentarily lighter and last Friday David Fincher’s diabolical new thriller, Gone Girl, kicked off the 2014 New York Film Fest starting the ‘Oscar Season’ in earnest. Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name is a genuine roller coaster of a film in the best sense of the word. With it’s time-bending structure, strong cast, yellow tinged scenes and another powerful Trent Reznor score, Gone Girl has everything we’ve come to expect from the director of The Social Network and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, while offering its own set of shocks.

Gone Girl begins as Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) contemplates violently opening the back of his wife Amy’s head. What’s going on in there? Turns out it’s a valid question, albeit phrased threateningly by Nick, as Amy (Rosamund Pike) vanishes on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary. Amidst signs of a struggle. Unsurprisingly a gorgeous blond, on whom it turns out a beloved children’s book series is based no less, the disappearance of “Amazing Amy” kicks into gear the type of journalistic circus we’ve seen play out countless times in American media. The prayer vigils and self-righteous angry moms come out in full force and Amy’s parents crop up with a website uncomfortably quickly for such a sudden loss don’t you think?

Amidst the chaos is Nick who, like many husbands I would guess in this situation, isn’t PR savvy. As such any fleeting smile of Nick’s is immortalized in a selfie and plastered on every TV screen in the country as proof that he is surely a sociopath. But whether or not he is is something much of the film hinges on and watching Nick being trained how to appear not guilty while we’re also not quite sure of his innocence is a fascinating line that Affleck and Fincher tread together.

By all accounts Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn had a monster of a book to adapt in Flynn’s popular novel and what’s stunning is not just how well the adaptation works but on how many levels it successfully operates on. We begin with a compelling love story that evolves into a dissection of marriage in all its facets, a thrilling possible-murder mystery, a scathing indictment of American national media and…well to go much further I’d wade into spoiler territory and honestly, this film is best experienced without them. People usually say the book is better, or read the book first, but if you’ve made it to the film’s release as I had, save the visit to the library till afterwards when you’ll be dying to find out more anyway.

What I will say is that the massive supporting cast is uniformly incredible from Casey Wilson as the Dunne’s busybody neighbor to Missi Pyle’s vicious TV ditz Ellen Abbott. Poor Pyle, how much Nancy Grace did she have to subject herself to? I shudder to think. Carrie Coon too as Nick’s sister Margo deserves praise for having the difficult task of balancing her love of her brother with a seemingly endless parade of damning information. Her Margo along with lead investigator Detective Boney (played by Kim Dickens) give the audience some desperately needed level-heads to rely on on the constantly shifting field Fincher constructs.

But the main attractions here are Affleck and Pike. The evolution these two must go through from well-integrated flashbacks of their romance to the harsher recent times is as believable as it is chilling. I would say this isn’t the best ‘date movie’ for couples, but then hopefully that’s not what one looks for in the director of Se7en. Pike in particular has the difficult task of selling much of Amy’s story in voice-overs from her journal but she completely owns it. Amy’s actual fate too allows Pike to turn in a jaw dropping performance that even those familiar with her career so far, will find themselves seeing her in a whole new light.