Suicide Squad – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

The events of “Suicide Squad” come in the aftermath of the finale of the previous film in the DC movie universe, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” As it opens, we find various villains from the DC comics wasting away time in prison. They won’t remain their long, however. Amanda Waller, one of the higher-ups in the U.S. government program A.R.G.U.S., has designs to put together a group of expendable metahumans and super criminals. This group would theoretically be designed to fight back if the next Superman turns out to be a bad guy (and do the dirty work of the government in the meantime).

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Waller finds a great deal of resistance to the idea, but the task force is fast tracked when Midway City suddenly finds itself under threat.

Can these killers and misfits work together under duress to defeat the threat? Can they actually ever be controlled? What aren’t they being told? What will happen when they find out?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

The film is very much a comic book film, with kooky characters, powers, abilities, and raucous action. It is aimed at people who enjoyed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” while also trying to widen the net to a larger audience by including more humor and “edginess.” DC fans generally will enjoy seeing characters they know from the comics and animated series on the big screen. What awaits to be seen is if they will enjoy the way the characters are portrayed, and the story that they have been placed in.

The film is designed to be more humorous and fun than “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and it is made to be a summer blockbuster. People who are looking for more in-depth character studies, or interesting themes, should probably look elsewhere.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

There are some people who will absolutely hate this movie. They have some good reasons for their hatred. “Suicide Squad” has many flaws. It has choppy editing and storytelling, with poor flow between scenes. It has an inconsistent tone that flits between humorous, lighthearted action and over the top drama. It has occasional characterization missteps, and often underutilizes characters, like Jared Leto’s Joker, and there is some wasted potential from the core concept.

All of those flaws pale in comparison to the poorly conceived plot and unfortunately chosen villain. The nature of the villain, the evil plan, and the story’s very basic and stereotypical plot all undermine the film and its promise. This film could have crafted a distinct identity for itself, and the trailers made it seem like it was going to do that, but in the end it is just another typical superhero film, with the exception that the “heroes” are bad guys.

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Still, there are things to like in the film. While there are design missteps, I mostly looks terrific with well-made costumes, and an interesting and distinct visual flare. The soundtrack is terrific, and while the tracks do not always pair well with what is happening on screen, when they do it just feels right. The cast is great, and each actor is well selected to play their part. The performances are spot-on from all of them, but especially Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

There is a lot of crap to sift through to get to the good bits. I would never say that this is a great film, but did I have a good time at the theater? Yes, I did. It may not be a film to go gaga over as I had hoped, but it is worth a rental. It is an enjoyable enough movie to watch. More than anything, however, it is fun to see these characters on screen. I enjoyed “Suicide Squad,” despite the myriad valid reasons why it is an objectively weak movie, so in the end it is really just a…

Guilty Pleasure

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

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Star Trek Beyond – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

In Star Trek Beyond, the follow up to the J. J. Abrams reboot Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness, Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise are three years into their five-year mission, and we get to catch up with the goings on the ship, their interpersonal connections and struggles, and their general daily lives. Kirk in particular struggles to find the meaning and purpose in their mission, and what role he truly wishes to play in Starfleet.

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He is not the only one among his crew pondering their place and role on the Enterprise, but before any of them find resolution, an escape pod emerges from a Nebula close to the star base Yorktown, with an inhabitant calling for help in rescuing her stranded ship.

Having the necessary technology to withstand the Nebula’s harsh environment, the Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission. However things are not as they seem, and the Enterprise and her crew are flying in to danger. What awaits for them in the Nebula? Will they be cunning, able, and united enough to face that danger?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

Of course fans of the J.J. Abrams reboot will find a lot to love here. This film has the same charismatic cast, the same energy, the same humor, and they all live up to the standard of the previous films very well. This film has a great deal of action, both in space and on the ground. It has great interpersonal drama, character building, and character interaction. It will appeal to fans of the genre, of the franchise, and of action films in general.

Interestingly, I feel that this film will also appeal to fans of the classic Star Trek series perhaps more than the first two did. This film does not have the same wonky elements like red matter from the first film, ridiculously close planets, or magic blood. But more importantly, this film strives to include broader themes and philosophical underpinnings that felt largely absent from the previous films, even though they get a bit of a bad rap in that regard.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

Star Trek Beyond manages to both avoid the weaknesses of the previous films and continue the good elements that made those two a blast to watch. It is clever, with an excellent script, witty dialogue, and a strong plot that has its own identity and purpose. The same excellent cast returns with some great new additions, and their acting is fantastic across the board, even when particular characters are not given much to do.

The action is thrilling and interesting, both conceptually and visually, and it feels impact full and meaningful. The humor is fun and never detracts from the plot, though, to be fair, one moment goes so over-the-top ridiculous and epic that I could see some killjoys feeling it ruined the seriousness of the scene. Some people just need to learn to have fun.

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What struck me most while watching this film were the intellectual elements that felt missing or muted in the previous two films. That is, this film has themes that apply to our current world situation, even if they are a bit simplistic in their examination. It was a pleasure to think about the ways in which the villain embodies a number of the problems in our current social landscape, and how his problems with the Federation and his conflict with Kirk speak to the rifts in our society. That wasn’t a line of thought that I’d felt compelled into after watching the other two films. It is refreshing.

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While no single moment met the heights of the first Abrams film, and while the villain isn’t as intimidating and powerful as Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Khan from the second, Star Trek Beyond has the most consistently good quality across the whole run time, and beyond that, it is the most “Star Trek” of all three. As of right now, Star Trek Beyond is my favorite of the trilogy, and there is no doubt that it is…

4.5-5 Rating - Awesome!

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Ghostbusters (2016) – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

This 2016 reboot of the beloved franchise, “Ghostbusters,” sees the successful Dr. Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, haunted by a paranormal studies book she had written years ago with her one-time friend, Dr. Abby Yates, played by Melissa McCarthy. The book, which she had thought was never released, threatens to undermine her serious career and reputation, so she searches out Dr. Yates to force her to cease its publication.

Instead, when she is reunited with Yates and her wonderfully weird assistant Dr. Jillian Holtzman, played by Kate McKinnon, they are all sucked into an investigation of a paranormal event. When footage of their investigation hits the internet, Gilbert’s career is over, so she joins Yates and Holtzman in forming a paranormal investigation group, the “Department of the Metaphysical Examination,” based out of an upper room above a bad chinese restaurant.

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From there, the “Ghostbusters,” as they come to be known, develop technology for dealing with the spirits they meet. They recruit the amazingly unintelligent receptionist Kevin Beckman, played by Chris Hemsworth, as well as a fourth Ghostbuster, Leslie Jones. They go about their work while struggling for recognition from a disbelieving public. All the while, a terrible danger arises that threatens the entire city with destruction. Only the Ghostbusters are equipped to handle this threat, yet they do not fully understand the scope of the villain’s plans. Can they figure out what is going on in time to stop the oncoming ghostly apocalypse?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

This movie was directed by Paul Feig, and it is a movie that I believes falls very much in line with his skills and sensibilities. That is to say, if you enjoy the humor of his movies, you will probably enjoy this film. If you are not a Feig fan, you will probably not like this movie. It is a comedy first and foremost. If you are going into this movie looking for supernatural thrills, it’s not really for you. If you’re looking for intense, well conceived and choreographed action set pieces, this film is not for you. This film is a Feig show, through and through.

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Also, do not be confused by the title. This film is not aimed at the diehard fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. It doesn’t have the same style, the same humor, and it avoids most of the same aesthetics except for the basic outfits and the look of the car. There is certainly some “Ghostbusters” flavoring in the mix, and the plot is very similar to both of the previous films, but this movie has a very distinct and different feel and chemistry. If you go in expecting a tonal successor to the original, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

This film is at its best when the characters are talking and interacting with one another. Importantly, the characters are unique to themselves – they are not stand-ins for the original 80s group. There is great chemistry between the leads, and their personalities and senses of humor riff well off of one another.

The film is really quite funny. The jokes are mostly hits, even though there are definite misses too. At least it isn’t full of fart and vomit jokes, like the trailers implied. It isn’t exactly high-brow, but I didn’t have to roll my eyes more than once, and I found myself chuckling quite a bit. I think I even laughed out loud once or twice.

However, there are plenty of serious flaws. While the designs of the ghosts aren’t bad (in fact in some places it is as strong as the original), the CGI-heavy nature of the final battle goes over the top and the film suffers for it. The plot follows most of the same beats as the original two, and the villain is the cheesiest out of all three films. I will say that while the bad guy is pretty lame in the first half of the film, he does get much better in the second half.

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The worst offenders, however, were the terrible pacing, editing, and cinematography. The editing is choppy, the framing is plain and uninteresting, and the pacing is lethargic when it needed to be active and too quick when it needed to slow down, with poor transitions between the two. Combine this all with the fact that the action scenes in the film were poorly staged and it just robs the story of the energy and intensity it needed in the climax of the movie.

If you insist on judging this film strictly against the ‘84 original, this film can’t be anything but a massive disappointment. It doesn’t match that film’s originality or humor, and I doubt any movie could – the original is one of the great comedies of all time. When judged on its own merits, however, this film is very fun. It is a basic popcorn-munching summer blockbuster worth seeing at matinee price. Don’t get me wrong, “Ghostbusters” (2016) is not great, but neither is it a train wreck. In fact, I might even pick it up if I found it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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Black Orchid Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Black Orchid, by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, begins with a twist that, while not entirely novel in comic books, is still shocking, especially as an opening scene – the death of the title character. In this graphic novel, Neil Gaiman is tasked with taking the titular niche DC Comics character, giving her an origin story and completely revamping her in the process.

Susan Linden, the Black Orchid, is a super-heroine who is captured and brutally murdered by a henchman of Lex Luthor. Unbeknownst to her murderers, elsewhere, a strange purple woman – a plant and human hybrid – is birthed from a large bulb in a secretive greenhouse lab. She is confused and curious, carrying the scattered and tattered remnants of Susan’s memories.

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This strange new woman immediately meets Doctor Philip Sylvian, her creator. He begins to tell her more about herself, and her former self. How much of her is Susan, and how much of her is new? She begins a journey of self-discovery to learn more about herself – who and what she really is – in a journey that echoes those of the ancient Greek myths. At the same time, dark forces from Susan’s past, the previous Susans’ pasts, learn of her and seek to do her harm.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

It may be written by the same author as Sandman, and it may star a superhero – or the shadow of one, but I think that the first and foremost audience who would enjoy Black Orchid would be fans of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing (of course fans of Sandman would most likely enjoy it too!). Many of the themes and aesthetics are the same, and without spoiling too much, there are story connections between the characters of both books.

For readers completely new to the comic landscape of DC, this is a very dense read that might very well be too opaque. That is not to say that the uninitiated cannot find the story interesting, but there are references to characters and places that mean much more if you know what they are and what they represent.

For both familiar readers and new readers, an appreciation for dream-like and murky storytelling and the art is necessary. This is not a plot, nor is there a character, that builds off of action and excitement. Instead, the appeal is in the surrealism, the grim noir elements, and the dark wonder and atmosphere that Neil Gaiman creates.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

One of the hallmarks of Neil Gaiman as a writer is the way he manages to blur the lines between the mundane or the ridiculous, and the mythic. In Black Orchid, he does that very thing yet again. He takes a fairly campy side character in the DC universe and reinvents them in such a way as to make it feel as at home in Greek myth as it is among the tights and capes of modern superheroes, perhaps even more so. The story borrows elements of Frankenstein, mixes it with noir, and lays the mixture out across a journey not unlike those taken by epic heroes like Odysseus and Orpheus. It’s a strange, but somehow seamless blend. I know we’re talking about the author of Sandman and the artist who produced that work’s iconic covers, but I hope it’s not too on the nose to say that the whole thing feels like a dream.

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That isn’t to say that this is anywhere near as good as that seminal work. Sandman’s ideas and imagery felt more complete and fleshed out. Both Black Orchid and Sandman had intelligence and wit behind them, but Sandman felt like it had more heart and love for its characters and world, whereas Black Orchid felt much more cynical of humanity in general.

Black Orchid’s strengths lie in the atmosphere of the plot and the beautiful murkiness of the art. It lies with the core ideas and mythic tropes. It does not lie in emotional investment with its characters, or relatability. This isn’t a story meant to make you cry or laugh. It isn’t a story meant to take you on a rollercoaster of emotions and thrills, nor is it a story to make you think about heartfelt reality. Instead, it is a story that works its way under your skin and makes you feel both uncomfortably grim and yet full of wonder. Not a childlike wonder, but rather the kind of wonder one one feels when they are lost in a beautiful jungle – the kind of wonder one gets when staring into the eyes of a tiger. It is a dangerous wonder.

While Black Orchid never had a moment that made me truly fall in love with it, I find myself appreciating it more and more as I think back over its artistry. There is no doubt Black Orchid is worth buying at full price.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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The BFG – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

A young girl named Sophie lives at an orphanage, where she spends her nights dodging the matron so she can read late into the night hours. One night at 3 a.m., which she dubs the “witching hour,” she witnesses a giant in a cloak down the street. The giant sees her looking at him, grabs her, and takes her off to giant country where she finds that this giant isn’t so bad after all. As their friendship grows she learns about his work catching and shaping dreams which he then gives to sleeping humans. She names him the BFG, which is short for “Big Friendly Giant.”

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This pleasant time doesn’t last forever, however, as her presence draws the attention of other, stupider, meaner,  man-eating giants. What’s more, these evil giants have been stealing away children from the human world to eat. Can she and the BFG survive their viciousness? Who can they turn to for help? Can they put an end to these monsters’ murderous ways?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

The film is very definitely aimed at children. The plot and characters are all structured like an old-fashioned fairy tale. Adults can quite easily find the story cute, and the visuals are very good, but aside from that they will find little to chew on. At the very least, the humor isn’t nearly as offensive as that of movies like “Minions” or the “Ice Age” series.

I am concerned for the film’s success because of how out of step the film is from modern tastes in kids’ films.

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It moves much more slowly, it has much less slapstick humor, and it has far more moments and visuals that build their appeal on wonder and enjoyment of friendship than the chaos that defines current sensibilities. I think many modern kids would be bored, quite frankly, and that’s a shame. In the end, it’s really a film that appeals to those who have a sense of nostalgia for the way children’s stories used to be told, and it doesn’t offer much to anyone else.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

While I never read this particular book as a child (I wasn’t exposed to much Roald Dahl) it reminds me a great deal of many of the books I did read. Like those books, plot logic doesn’t really matter, and character growth doesn’t really matter, instead, “The BFG” relies on relationships and experiencing the weird or wonderful. In that, it succeeds very well. The relationship between Sophie and the BFG is the heart of the film.

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However, the fact that “The BFG” succeeds in this manner comes with the downsides as well as the upsides of those goals. The plot of the film isn’t very satisfying. The BFG’s reasons for bringing Sophie to giant country at the beginning of the film don’t make much sense and is clearly an excuse for the story to happen the way it does. The protagonists have very little agency throughout the film. Bad things happen to Sophie and the BFG, but their response is mostly to either take it on the chin or find someone else who can solve the problem for them. When the solution comes at the end of the book, it doesn’t feel satisfying or earned. It’s really mostly played for laughs.

“The BFG” is very simply a fairy tale. The audience is meant to take pleasure in the wonder of seeing a giant, or watching the dancing lights of the dreams, or to wonder at the speed and heights that the BFG can go. They are to smile at the sight of a ship in the giant’s house, and wish that they could climb around the nooks and crannies of his workshop. They are meant to chuckle at the strange sounding words that the BFG speaks, and grimace at the disgustingness of the snozzcumbers.

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It’s not particularly important to watch Sophie grow and overcome challenges. It’s not important to put together a complex plot to defeat the giants. It’s far more important to enjoy the times Sophie spends chatting with the BFG. It’s nice, but it’s not for everyone.

If you were thinking about watching “The BFG,” I would say there is no reason not to. “The BFG” is a perfectly pleasant and harmless movie, but it also doesn’t do much for me, personally. While it’s great for kids, and I could easily see reading the book and watching the film with my own future children, right now I’d only buy “The BFG” if I found it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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Independence Day: Resurgence – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Twenty years after the events of the previous film, in which humanity defeated an alien invasion against enormous odds, people have begun to work together across the globe. Earth prepares itself to fend off any more attacks. They have rebuilt – stronger and more unified than ever before.

Everyone is mostly at peace, and involved in their regular lives. Old and new characters alike are going about their days, either continuing to study the aliens, like David Levinson, piloting a fighter jet and captaining a squad like Dylan Dubrow-Hiller, or working as a space tug boat pilot like Jake Morrison, etc.  

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On the moon, a new defense emplacement is being deployed, and humanity prepares to celebrate the anniversary of their victory over the aliens on July 4.

That peace and confidence is shattered with the arrival of an alien ship over the moon. As it turns out, humanity was not ready enough. Can the people of earth come through against incredible odds to once again defeat an imperial alien power that far surpasses their own?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“Independence Day: Resurgence” is a popcorn-munching sci-fi blockbuster, full of spectacle, destruction, action, and very basic characters. People expecting more from their film going experience than an exciting and visuals-heavy bit of summer fun should look elsewhere.

This is a Roland Emmerich film. It carries all of the hallmarks of his films, and however you feel about those tropes will define your ability to enjoy this film. He loves destruction and big epic action sequences. He loves plots stuffed with characters that are thin and melodramatic. He loves spectacle, and will throw logic and realism right out of the window if it doesn’t serve his vision. This film is a very Roland Emmerich film.

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I don’t believe it is absolutely necessary to have seen the first film to get into this one. “Independence Day,” as a franchise, has never been particularly lore heavy. The aliens are enigmatic and the characters from the first movie were never very deep to begin with, however fun they might have been. Some of the most memorable characters are dead, such as Will-Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller, and I think only one character from the previous film has more screen time in this follow up than their original appearance. Because of all that, while it would be beneficial to see the first film(as is true of almost all sequels), it is not necessary.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Independence Day” is not a great film. The plot is basic and has flaws. The aliens’ motivations make no sense. The characters are thin and archetypal at best, cliched at worst. Forget logic or realism. There is no greater message or theme. There is nothing about this movie that would elevate it to the status of a great film.

However, this film never pretends to do anything else. It was always meant to be a “B” movie with a big budget. It follows in its predecessor’s footprints, which was also all about spectacle and action over depth and logic. This is the franchise where a 90s era Mac computer virus took down an alien mother ship, after all.  

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While it doesn’t live up to the first film, as the script lacks its charismatic one-liners and rah-rah speeches, this movie is still a rollicking good time. It’s got classic disaster pic tropes. It has wacky characters, cheesy moments, melodramatic characters. It has a top-notch visual effects team that makes for a visually interesting, if very familiar world, with wonderful action set pieces. It’s flashy, and most importantly, it’s fun.

If you go into the theater expecting something artistically powerful… then I don’t know why you’re going to this movie, really. It’s not for you. Did you even see the first one? But if, like me, you went in knowing what you were in for, and craving a little bit of light-hearted brainless entertainment, then I think you’ll leave with a smile on your face. I may not be able to call this movie “Great,” but for me there is no doubt about it, “Independence Day: Resurgence” is a…

Guilty Pleasure

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Finding Dory – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Well before a small clownfish with a stub-fin was lost and found again, Dory was a tiny baby Blue Tang fish suffering from the mental disability of short-term memory loss. Despite her condition, she was well loved by her parents, and had a fairly happy life. However, a terrible accident separated Dory from her parents. Though she tried to find them, she slowly lost her memories of them until they were only vague impressions in the back of her mind.

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The primary events of “Finding Dory” take place one full year after the events of “Finding Nemo,” the previous film in this series by Pixar studios. Dory is living as best she can with Marlin and Nemo, and while the clownfish have affection for her, it’s also clear that everyone also has to tolerate her and her condition. One day, however, an incident sparks memories of her parents and the name of the place they used to live. With this revelation, Dory sets out with a determined Nemo and a reluctant Marlin to find her parents on the far side of the ocean.

On the way, they will run into challenges to overcome. They will see many new faces, as well as a couple cameos from familiar ones. Dory’s memory and determination will be put to the test, as will Marlin and Nemo’s trust in Dory. Will Dory be able to find her parents after all this time?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“Finding Dory” comes from the same patented Pixar mix of humor and touching sadness that permeates all of their work. If you are a fan of the first film, “Finding Nemo,” then this film was definitely made for you. The relationships between Dory, Nemo, and Marlin all make more sense when you have the first film in mind, and Dory’s behavior and character is odd even with that background. I’m not certain how a given person’s perspectives on the film would change if that person was a newcomer to the series and they only had this film to get to know Dory. That said, the humor and silliness is actually aimed at a slightly lower aged audience than the first film, so if you’re sensitive to ridiculousness, then this film might be a little less appealing to you than the first.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Finding Dory” is funny, adventurous, and heartfelt. It is visually stunning. Pixar’s artists are masters of their craft. The music flows smoothly with the events of the film, and the voice actors all do a wonderful job of bringing their characters to life.

The plot, though borrowing heavily from the first film, is still enjoyable and easy to follow. The characters are mostly well defined and all have their charms. The dialogue is fairly natural, though it doesn’t have quite the level of wit I hope for from the studio that also made the Toy Story franchise. Most importantly for me, Pixar tends to tackle themes and ideas that are flat-out avoided by most other studios, and Finding Dory is no exception.

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All that said, “Finding Dory” is not a perfect film. It really does borrow too heavily from “Finding Nemo,” and while familiarity doesn’t mean lesser quality, it can mean that there isn’t the same sense of wonder and newness that comes from seeing a brand new world for the first time. The side characters are either interesting, or funny, and sometimes both, but they aren’t given enough time to really shine, and it feels like we only get to know them in passing. For all it is a cartoon, it increased the level of ridiculous action to a point that stretched my suspension of disbelief based off of the previous film. These are nitpicks, but it does mean that this film isn’t quite joining the ranks of the Pixar classics.

Though I think it’s worth noting that it does not reach the same heights as the first film, “Finding Nemo,” much less “Toy Story” or “Inside Out”, “Finding Dory” still has much of Pixar’s typical polish and care. It manages to raise itself head and shoulders above Pixar’s lesser offerings, like “Cars 2.” While it may be a “B” tier film for Pixar, than makes it an “A+” tier from most other animation studios, and because of that, when “Finding Dory” comes out…

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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