“SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Review

 

“SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Review

The year 2016 has proven to be a strange one for Warner Brothers Studios and fans of DC Comics. Their creation – the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise had released two films that proved to be box office hits, yet critical flops. One of those movies was the Zack Synder film, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. And the other was the summer film, “SUICIDE SQUAD”

Three years before the release of these two films, the DCEU franchise witnessed its kickoff with the release of “MAN OF STEEL”, another origin tale of Clark Kent aka Superman. Whereas “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN” seemed to be more of a direct sequel to the 2013 movie, the narrative for “SUICIDE SQUAD” seemed to be something of a reaction to Superman’s death in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”.

Written and directed by David Ayer, “SUICIDE SQUAD” began several months after the previous film. Amanda Waller, director of the Federal agency Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans (A.R.G.U.S.), convinces the Defense Department to allow her to assemble “Task Force X”, a team of dangerous criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison in Louisiana, to engage in high risk black ops missions. The criminals that she has selected are:

*Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot – an elite marksman and professional assassin, who has a warm relationship with his only daughter

*Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn – a former psychiatrist and crazed supervillain who is in a relationship with the psychotic gangster “the Joker”

*Chato Santana aka El Diablo – a former Los Angeles based gang member with a powerful pyrokinetic ability, who had turned himself in after accidentally killing his wife and children

*George “Digger” Harkness aka Captain Boomerang – an Australian-born thief with an unpredictable personality and a talent with deadly boomerangs and knives

*Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc – a supervillain who suffers from a skin condition that causes him to develop reptilian features and a powerful strength

*Dr. June Moone aka Enchantress – an archaeologist who is possessed by an ancient evil force that transforms her into a powerful sorceress

*Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot – a mercenary and assassin who specializes in tactical grappling and scaling

Waller assigns an Army Special Forces officer named Colonel Richard “Rick” Flagg to lead the squad into the field. He is assisted by a group of Navy SEALS led by GQ Edwards, and a widowed Japanese vigilante and martial arts expert named Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, who also happens to be a friend of Flagg’s. While Waller and Dr. Moore are in Midway City, the latter transforms into the Enchantress and manages to escape from the former’s control. The Enchantress then frees her brother Incubus from a South American artifact, allowing him to take control of a Midway City businessman’s body. While both the Enchantress and Incubus besiege the city, the former transforms many of its citizens into her monstrous minions and decides to build a mystical weapon to eradicate mankind. Meanwhile, Waller finally decides to deploy the squad to extract a high-profile mark from the besieged Midway and from possible capture by the Enchantress.

As I had earlier pointed out, the moment “SUICIDE SQUAD” hit the theaters, most of the critics trashed it. I must admit that I was baffled by their reactions. It is one thing to trash the DCEU’s earlier entry, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, even though I did not agree with their negative opinions. But “SUICIDE SQUAD” got trashed as well? Two DCEU movies in one year?

“SUICIDE SQUAD” was not perfect. One of the problems I had with the movie’s narrative is that the setting struck me as a bit constricted, considering its 123 minutes running time. At least two-thirds of the film was set during one night in the downtown area of a major city. Also, I never understood why Amanda Waller and Rick Flagg went out of their way to keep the identity of the high-profile mark that the squad had to rescue a secret. Even if they had revealed the truth to Deadshot and the squad’s other members, the latter would have been forced to go ahead with the rescue, due to the nano bombs injected into their necks that coerced the squad to cooperate.

Speaking of the nano bombs, I found myself thinking about the character portrayed by Adam Beach, Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot. I hate to say this, but David Ayer really wasted his role. Unlike the other members of the Suicide Squad, there were no glimpses of his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, his name was not even mentioned in the scene in which Amanda Waller introduced her scheme to create the squad. Nor was he seen in the sequence in which Waller and Flagg “recruited” the other members. Audiences knew nothing about Slipknot’s role in the film, until he made his first appearance at a military base, where the other squad members had gathered. So . . . what was the point of Slipknot’s role in the movie? Utilizing a scene from one of the comic books for “Suicide Squad” in which Captain Boomerang managed to convince Slipknot to join him in an escape attempt from the military, he was merely used as a plot device to show what would happen to the squad’s other members if they try to escape. Death by an explosion from an injected nano bomb. That is all.

Despite the above problems I had with this film, overall, I liked it very much. Okay, who am I kidding? Hell, I loved this movie! It was a hell of a ride and a lot of fun. And it did a great job in expanding the DCEU even more. Just as Zach Synder had connected “MAN OF STEEL” with “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, David Ayer did the same by connecting the latter with “SUICIDE SQUAD”. More importantly, he also connected this movie with one of the upcoming DCEU films, “JUSTICE LEAGUE” in one scene featuring Captain Boomerang getting arrested by Barry Allen aka the Flash in a flashback and in a post-credit scene featuring Amanda Waller and Bruce Wayne aka Batman. The latter scene proved to be a special connection between Waller’s failed attempt to make the Enchantress a part of the squad, her files on other meta humans like the Flash and Aquaman, and Bruce Wayne’s government contacts that would allow her to avoid any consequences from the whole Enchantress/Midway City debacle.

I also enjoyed how “SUICIDE SQUAD” began with the introduction of the squad’s “recruits”. While Amanda Waller narrated, the movie embarked upon a series of entertaining flashbacks that revealed the squad members’ talents, crimes and how they were captured. Naturally, my two favorite backstories were about Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Both of them revealed how their encounters with Batman led to their incarceration. I was surprised to see another member of the future Justice League of America, namely the Flash, in Captain Boomerang’s flashback.

Another aspect of “SUICIDE SQUAD” that I found interesting was how the squad’s members managed to form a well tight unit on their own, even when their ties to others were either disconnected like Deadshot’s to his daughter Zoe during his time in prison; questionable like Harley Quinn’s disturbed and abusive romance with the Joker; and in the case of three other members, non-existent. El Diablo has spent most of his time in prison mourning over the family he had killed and indulging in self-isolation. Killer Croc’s reptilian appearance has led him to be isolated and reviled by his fellow criminals and society at large. As for Captain Boomerang, he made it quite clear in a flashback when he double-crossed a colleague that he preferred to work alone. Despite these disparate situations, the squad learned to work together. More importantly, they even learned to work with Rick Flagg, Katana and the Navy SEALs, despite the distrust between the squad and their military watchdogs.

There had been a good deal of criticism from critics and some fans about how Ayer dealt with the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. Many seemed to believe that Ayer had whitewashed the abusive nature of their relationship. That is not the relationship I had seen on screen. It really was not that difficult for me to notice how the Joker seemed to be in control of their relationship. Flashbacks revealed how he had exploited her infatuation for him. I also noticed his disturbing penchant for infantilizing her at times. Even the wardrobe that Harley wore to Midway City seemed to indicate that the Joker regarded her as his possession – namely her “Daddy’s Lil Monster” T-shirt and “Puddin” choker:

And yet, I do not recall the Joker wearing any clothing or accessories hinting that he is Harley’s possession. Curious. In fact, the controlling nature of their relationship seemed indicative in other relationships in the movie. The Enchantress proved to be something of a control freak. Brimming with resentment over humanity for imprisoning her and her brother Incubus, the sorceress decides to mankind. And yet . . . she transformed many of Midway City’s citizens into her minions and seemed to be the dominant half of her relationship with Incubus. On the other hand, Amanda Waller seemed to be the “Queen of Control” in “SUICIDE SQUAD”. She uses her position as Director of A.R.G.U.S. to assume control of the criminals who form the squad. And to insure that they will cooperate, she has small nano bombs implanted in their necks. She also tried to use her possession of the Enchantress’ heart to control the latter. And she encouraged a romance between Rick Flagg and the Enchantress’ human identity, Dr. June Moone, to guarantee Flagg’s undivided cooperation.

What can I say about the cast? Personally, I thought the cast members were the best thing about “SUICIDE SQUAD”. I have not seen Will Smith in a really good movie since 2012’s “MEN IN BLACK III”. And I really enjoyed his entertaining, yet first-rate and ambiguous portrayal of sharpshooter Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot. Margot Robbie gave what has turned out to be a superb performance as the hilarious, yet somewhat insane Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn. Frankly, I think her performance was one of the best in the movie. Another performance that really impressed me came from Viola Davis, who nearly ruled above the others as the ruthless and diabolical Amanda Waller, Director of A.R.G.U.S. The ironic thing is that Waller’s character was not the movie’s main antagonist, yet Davis’ portrayal of her was so scary that she might as well have been.

Jay Hernandez was marvelous as the emotionally tortured Chato Santana aka El Diablo, whose guilt over his family’s deaths have led him to be reluctant to participate in the fight against the Enchantress. Karen Fukuhara was equally marvelous as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, the expert martial artist/swordswoman, who guarded Rick Flagg and mourned her dead husband with the intensity of El Diablo’s flames. Speaking of Rick Flagg, it is amazing that I have never noticed Joel Kinnaman before this movie. I was surprised to learn that he was not the first choice for the role, for I believe he fitted it like a perfectly well-tailored suit. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s role as Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc was not as big as I would have liked. But the British actor still managed to give a great performance as the isolated supervillain, who managed to maintain a healthy attitude about his own self-esteem . . . despite what others may have thought about him. The biggest surprise proved to be Jai Courtney’s portrayal of Australian criminal George “Digger” Harkness aka Captain Boomerang. I have seen Courtney portray a series of intense characters – both heroes and villains. I never knew that he had a talent for comedy. Because . . . dammit! The man was funny as hell.

I thought Jared Leto gave one of the most interesting and original portrayals of the D.C. Comics supervillain, the Joker, I have ever seen. It was . . . well, very dangerous, but in a very sexy way. A sexy Joker. I never thought I would ever say that about the famous villain. But Leto did give a rather sexy and entertaining performance. “SUICIDE SQUAD” also featured some solid supporting performances from the likes of Cara Delevingne as Dr. June Moone aka the Enchantress, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne aka Batman, David Harbour as a Federal official named Dexter Tolliver, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon as Zoe Lawton, Corina Calderon as Grace Santana, Scott Eastwood as Navy SEAL GQ Edwards, Common as a Gotham City criminal named Monster T and yes, even Adam Beach as Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot . . . despite his limited appearance.

Although I had a problem with director David Ayer’s use of the Slipknot character and other minor aspects of the narrative for “SUICIDE SQUAD”, I must admit that I enjoyed the movie a lot. Very much. In fact, it has become my favorite movie from the summer of 2016 and one of my favorite movies of the summer. Despite what other critics may have thought about it, I thought it was one hell of a film. I look forward to a sequel.

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“BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (2016) Review

“BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (2016) Review

Following on the heels of the success of 2013’s “MAN OF STEEL”, I had expected the Warner Brothers Studios to follow up with another movie about Superman, starring Henry Cavill. To my surprise, the studio had announced another movie featuring Superman, only the comic book character would be sharing top billing with another from the pages of D.C. Comics.

Warner Brothers surprised me with the announcement that their next comic book movie would feature Superman aka Clark Kent co-starring with none other than Batman aka millionaire Bruce Wayne. And the latter would be portrayed by Ben Affleck. Needless to say, I was not pleased by this announcement. I saw it as a personal insult to Cavill, who had really impressed me as the Man of Steel. And I felt that Warner Brothers could have given Affleck his own stand-alone film about the Caped Crusader, before rushing into some attempt to rush into a “Justice League of America” situation, similar to the one featuring the Avengers for Marvel Films and the Disney Studios. About a week before “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” was due to be released in movie theaters, I read a series of reviews that literally bashed the film. Now, I have never been a major fan of director Zack Synder in the past. And I was pleased that he did not go overboard with the angst factor in “MAN OF STEEL” as he has done with his previous films. But after reading so many negative reviews . . . well, I did not expect to like this movie. However, I had to see it just to satisfy my curiousity.

“BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” began during the last events of “MAN OF STEEL”. It began with billionaire Bruce Wayne aka Batman arrival in Metropolis to assist Wayne Enterprises employees caught up with the city’s citizens in the destruction caused by Superman’s battle against fellow Kryptonian General Zod. Unfortunately for Bruce, one of his top executives is killed and the legs of another employee named Wallace Keefe are permanently damaged from falling debris. Due to these events, Bruce begins to view Superman as a destructive threat to Earth and desires to find a way to bring down the Man of Steel. Nearly two years later, Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane is visiting a North African country to interview a political figure believed to be a terrorist. However, her interview is cut short when the men who had accompanied her kill the terrorist’s men and many local villagers. Superman aka Clark Kent manages to rescue her from the terrorist, but Lois ends up feeling very disturbed by the event. But she is not the only one. Many people, including a Kentucky senator named June Finch blame Superman for the incident and like Bruce, begin to view him as a threat. Many are unaware that Metropolis’ top billionaire, Lex Luthor, was behind the incident in Northern Africa. Like Bruce, he began to view Superman as a threat . . . but to his own plans and his sense of worth. Unlike Bruce, he commences upon a plan to exploit the distrust of Senator Finch and others to bring down Superman and other meta-humans of whom he has become aware.

When I first learned that Warner Brothers had decided to follow up “MAN OF STEEL” with a movie in which Superman was to share top billing with Batman, I was not thrilled. In fact, I had hoped they would do a second Superman movie. And while the movie was being shot, I was more than determined not to like this film. Reading the movie’s negative reviews made me believe that disliking it would come very easy to me. And then . . . lo and behold! I ended up leaving the theater with a positive view about the film.

Mind you, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” was not perfect in my eyes. I had two problems with it – one major and the other minor. My minor problem with “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN” has a lot to do with my virulent dislike of Snyder’s 2009 movie, “THE WATCHMEN”. The director utilized a device that he had carried over from the 2009 movie – namely the use of graffiti in some scenes. I thought he had overused it in “THE WATCHMEN” and continued to do so in this film. And the graffiti only brought back unpleasant memories of the 2009 film.

My major complaint against “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” has to do with the relationship between Batman and Lex Luthor. In one scene during the film’s last half hour, Luthor revealed to Clark that he had created situations not only to slowly direct public opinion against the latter, but also Bruce Wayne, whom he knew to be Batman. Luthor figured that Batman would go after the Man of Steel and the latter would eventually kill the former. I must admit that I found this very confusing, considering that the movie never hinted that Luthor was interested in killing Bruce in the movie’s first half. In fact, the Luthor Corp. files that Bruce had uploaded and Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman had stolen did not even contain any information on Batman. I had assumed that Luthor only became interested in killing Batman . . . after the latter had stolen the Kryptonite his people had discovered in the Indian Ocean and destroyed a LexCorp lab. And the movie that I had seen in a theater seemed to verify my assumption. Like I said . . . confusing!

So . . . what did I like about “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”? Well, the story. Okay, I really enjoyed it. I liked the fact that the movie eventually promised what its title had hinted . . . a conflict between Superman and Batman that eventually led to the promise of the Justice League of America. And screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer presented this development with a very emotional and complex tale. What I found particularly interesting is that nearly everything in this tale is a direct result of the events from “MAN OF STEEL”. This was especially the case for both Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor’s hostility toward Superman. In fact, Luthor used the dead body of General Zod (courtesy of the U.S. government) to not only study Kryptonian physiology, but also create the monster Doomsday, which would prove to be a threat in the movie’s final action sequence.

The movie also featured some excellent emotional development for the main characters. Again, this seemed to be the case for Clark Kent’s growing despair from the public and the government’s reactions to the events in Northern Africa; his disapproval toward Batman’s more violent vigilante activities; the latter’s anger towards the events from “MAN OF STEEL” and the heady mixture of paranoia and ego that drove Lex Luthor to investigate other meta-humans and plot against Superman.

For a movie heavy on action, it featured some interesting dramatic moments. My favorites included Clark’s clashes with Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White over investigating Batman’s activities in Gotham City; the first meeting between Clark, Bruce and Diana Prince at a party held by Luthor in Metropolis; Bruce’s lingering anger over what happened in “MAN OF STEEL”; Luthor’s clashes with Senator Finch over his plans to deal with Superman; Clark’s conversations with his adoptive mother Martha Kent about his activities as Superman and with the ghost of his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent; Lois Lane confrontation with Luthor before the final action began; and also, Diana and Bruce’s comments on the public’s fickle attitude toward Superman. The movie also featured further development of the relationship between Clark and Lois, which culminated in a very charming and sexy moment in a bathtub. I thought Sndyer handled these scenes very well, which is not surprising. He has always managed to get great performances from his actors . . . even in his movies that I dislike.

However, first and foremost, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” is a comic book hero film . . . an action-adventure film. And Snyder was certainly in his element as a director. This especially seemed to be the case in those scenes that featured Lois and Superman’s adventures in northern Africa, Bruce’s dreams about leading a group of rebels against Superman, Batman’s attempt to steal the kryptonite from Luthor, his rescue of Martha from Luthor’s henchmen, and the attempt to rescue both Metropolis and Gotham from Luthor’s newly created monster, Doomsday.

However, one half of the movie’s title is called “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”. Many movie fans and critics had dismissed the idea of an effective battle between the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader. So did I. After all, Batman was not really a meta-human – someone with super abilities – merely a highly trained costumed crime fighter. The movie made me realize that many of us had forgotten that Bruce Wayne also had brains. Through his investigation of a Russian weapon-trafficker named Anatoli Knyazev, he learned that Luthor was not only investigating meta-humans, but had found a possible weapon against Superman. Kryptonite. By creating weapons from the kryptonite he had stolen from Luthor Corp. and a powered exoskeleton suit, Batman was able to put up a good fight against the Man of Steel. And surprisingly, their battle proved to be very effective to me . . . even if many still believe otherwise.

The other half of the movie’s title was “DAWN OF JUSTICE”, which hinted the beginning of the Justice League of America aka the Super Friends. I found it interesting that Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor’s reactions to the events from “MAN OF STEEL” not only led to their fear of Superman and attempts to find a way to destroy the latter, but also to hints of the forthcoming creation of the Justice League of America. It all centered around Luthor’s investigation of other meta-humans and the files Bruce and Diana had found within Luthor Corp.’s computer mainframe. The file not only contained information and video clips on Diana’s past as Wonder Woman during World War I, but also on Barry Allen aka the Flash, Arthur Curry aka Aquaman and Victor Stone aka Cyborg. But it was that one scene in which Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman finally decided to form a team to battle the monster Doomsday . . .

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. . . that led to memories of the old ABC animated series, “SUPER FRIENDS” and its theme song going through my mind. It was a wonderful moment for me.

There was one aspect of “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” that left a heavy imprint on my mind was the fickleness of human nature. We humans are a fickle, controlling and very selfish specie. Snyder and screenwriters Terrio and Goyer really did an excellent job in portraying those aspects of our nature through the character of Superman. I found it interesting that many viewed Superman as a savior or angel. This was apparent in the statues raised in his honor and this almost selfish demand that he serve as their savior and nothing else. I can recall one moment in which victims of a flood had left the symbol on his costume painted on their roof to attract his attention. On the other hand, there were many others viewed him as a real threat against humanity . . . even after he had saved them from General Zod’s plans in “MAN OF STEEL”. Both Bruce and Senator Finch blamed Superman for the destruction that had occurred in Metropolis nearly two years ago, conveniently forgetting that it was Zod’s arrival on Earth that had led to that destruction. I came away with the feeling that people like Bruce, Senator Finch and Wayne Enterprises employee Wallace Keefe used Superman as a scapegoat, since the latter ended up being the last Kryptonian left standing. I do not find this surprising for using others as scapegoats is a very human thing to do. After the Congress bombing, even those who had seen Superman as a savior began to think otherwise. They did not come to this conclusion via any investigation on their parts. Superman was the last person standing and ergo, became “Suspect Number One” . . . just as he had become following Zod’s death. No wonder Clark had fallen into despair and walked away for a while. And no wonder Diana had such contempt toward the public’s renewed good opinion of Superman following the battle against Doomsday.

I have been talking about the plot so much that I forgot about other aspects of “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” – namely its technical and artistic effects. I might as well start with Patrick Tatopoulos’ production design. Tatopoulos did not have to create an alien world or a setting from the past. But I was impressed by his duel designs for not only the cities of Metropolis and Gotham, but also the northern African town at the movie’s beginning, Washington D.C. and the damage caused by Doomsday in the two fictional cities. He had ample support from the art direction and visual effects teams. I was surprised that Zack Snyder did not use Larry Fong as cinematographer for “MAN OF STEEL”. Because the latter had worked with Snyder on both “300” and “THE WATCHMEN”. In a way, Fong’s style, which struck me as sleek, rich in color and slightly dark, reminded me of Wally Pfister’s work for many of Christopher Nolan’s films. I have noticed that a good of Han Zimmer’s movie scores have seemed a little heavy-handed lately. And it certainly seemed to be the case for “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. But there were moments when that heavy-handedness seemed to mesh rather well with certain scenes, especially during those that hinted the future Justice League of America and the battle against Doomsday.

Ben Affleck became the eighth actor to portray Bruce Wayne aka Batman on screen (television or movie) and the public had not reacted well to the news of his casting. I found this astounding, considering that Affleck is a first-rate actor, who had previous experience portraying a costume hero when he played Matt Murdock aka Daredevil in the 2003 movie about the character. Affleck did an excellent job in portraying the paranoid aspects of Wayne’s nature in a very intense and at times, slightly scary manner. Henry Cavill was equally effective in his continuing portrayal of Clark Kent aka Superman. The loneliness that seemed to mark his performance in “MAN OF STEEL” seemed to have been replaced by satisfaction in Clark’s relationship with Lois Lane, intense determination to investigate Batman’s activities and frustration with Perry White’s unwillingness to allow him to embark on that investigation. My favorite scene with Cavill involved Clark’s quarrel with Perry about investigating Batman. And my favorite Cavill moment was the “What the fuck is wrong with you?” expression he gave Luthor when the latter introduced him to the Doomsday monster. But following the Congress bombing, that old despair and loneliness returned in full force. When I first heard about this movie, I thought Amy Adams’ role would be reduced from what it was in “MAN OF STEEL”. Thankfully, my fears were abated, for not only did Lois continue to play a major role in this DC Comics universe, she also played a major role in exposing Luthor’s plans and eliminating Batman’s anger toward Superman. Being the consummate actress that she is, Adams did a superb job in conveying not only Lois’ emotional vulnerability regarding Clark and what happened in northern Africa, but also her intelligence and determination to discover the truth.

The movie also featured an exceptional performance from Jesse Eisenberg as main villain, Lex Luthor. Not only was his movie exceptional, but also rather surprising. It was not that I thought him incapable of portraying a villain, but I just could not see him as Lex Luthor. I was wrong. He gave a fantastic performance. It seemed both subtle and overly dramatic at the same time . . . in a good way. He made Luthor seem very eccentric . . . again, in a good way. Diane Lane returned to portray Clark’s adoptive mother, Martha Kent. Her portrayal of Martha struck me as rather unusual. In other comic book hero movies, maternal types like Martha tend to give speeches to the main hero in order to motivate them in serving the public. What I liked about Lane’s Martha is that she was more concerned about Clark’s well being and happiness than him fulfilling some destiny as a hero or savior. It may seem selfish, but it also seemed very real to me.

Gal Gadot became the first actress to portray Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman in a very long time. Ever since Lynda Carter ended her run with the ABC/CBS series in 1979, Hollywood seemed reluctant to bring the Amazonian Princess back to the screen. Thankfully, Warner Brothers, Snyder and Nolan ended that dry run by hiring Gadot for the role. And she was perfect . . . spot on. I never thought another actress could do justice to the role – except for Marvel alumni Jamie Alexander from “THOR”. But Gadot was perfect and I look forward to seeing her solo movie. Jeremy Irons, to my utmost surprise, became DC Comics’ new Alfred Pennyworth. His portrayal seemed so different from past performances – a little less of a servant and more of a companion for Bruce. More importantly, I really enjoyed the sardonic wit that Irons had infused into the character. But he was not the only one. Laurence Fishburne returned as Clark and Lois’ boss, Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White. In “MAN OF STEEL”, Fishburne had infused a touch of dry wit into his portrayal. In this movie, that wit was in full force and even more sharper – especially in the actor’s scenes with Cavill. I really enjoyed his presence in this film. The movie also featured some excellent supporting performances from the likes of Holly Hunter, who gave a wonderfully sarcastic speech to Luthor in her portrayal of Senator June Finch; Harry Lennix, who returned as former General now Secretary Calvin Swanwick; Scoot McNairy, who portrayed Wallace Keefe, the Wayne Enterprises employee who had been crippled during Superman’s battle with General Zod; and Kevin Costner, who returned with a poignant performance as the ghostly figure of Clark’s adoptive father, Jonathan Kent.

To this day, I am flabbergasted by the media’s negative campaign against “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. I do not understand it . . . period. I could have understood if the movie had drawn some criticism. But this unrelenting criticism struck me as unreal . . . especially after I had seen the film. But you know what? I realize that I should not care. I saw the movie twice and I enjoyed what I had seen. Yes, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (what a mouthful!) had some flaws. What movie does not? But overall, I was very pleased by this film. I like to think that I understood what director Zack Snyder, along with screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer were trying to say. And I enjoyed the performances of the cast led by Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill very much. More importantly, I am glad that the cinematic version of the Justice League of America has finally commenced. Regardless of the opinions of others, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” more than satisfied me. It has become one of my favorite movies of 2016.

Favorite Films Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in the decade of the 1950s:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1950s

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1. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Curtis Hanson directed this outstanding adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 novel about three Los Angeles police detectives drawn into a case involving a diner massacre. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Oscar winner Kim Basinger starred.

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2. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical about a pair of teenage star-crossed lovers in the 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

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3. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) – Francis Ford Coppola directed his Oscar winning sequel to the 1972 Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel. Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Oscar winner Robert De Niro starred.

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4. “Quiz Show” (1994) – Robert Redford directed this intriguing adaptation of Richard Goodwin’s 1968 memoir, “Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties”, about the game show scandals of the late 1950s. Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow and John Tuturro starred.

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5. “The Mirror Crack’d (1980) – Angela Landsbury starred as Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie also starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Edward Fox.

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6. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” (2008) – Harrison Ford returned for the fourth time as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones in this adventurous tale in which he is drawn into the search for artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie was produced by him and George Lucas.

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7. “Champagne For One: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001)” – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred as Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in this television adaptation of Rex Stout’s 1958 novel. The two-part movie was part of A&E Channel’s “A NERO WOLFE MYSTERY” series.

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8. “Hollywoodland” (2006) – Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck starred in this intriguing tale about a private detective’s investigation into the life and death of actor George Reeves. Allen Coulter.

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9. “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) – Oscar nominee Michelle Williams starred as Marilyn Monroe in this adaptation of Colin Clark’s two books about his brief relationship with the actress. Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie co-starred Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Redmayne as Clark.

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10. “Boycott” (2001) – Jeffrey Wright starred as Dr. Martin Luther King in this television adaptation of Stewart Burns’ book,“Daybreak of Freedom”, about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Directed by Clark Johnson, the movie co-starred Terrence Howard and C.C.H. Pounder.

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Honorable Mention: “Mulholland Falls” (1996) – Nick Nolte starred in this entertaining noir drama about a married Los Angeles Police detective investigating the murder of a high-priced prostitute, with whom he had an affair. The movie was directed by Lee Tamahori.

“ARGO” (2012) Review

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“ARGO” (2012) Review

Ben Affleck must be at a lucky point in his career. His third directorial effort had recently been released in theaters and became a commercial and critical hit . . . like his two previous films. The movie also won several awards, including the top prize – the Academy Awards Best Picture of 2012.  And Affleck never struck me as the type who would direct and star in a film about the CIA rescuing American diplomats from the Middle East, let alone co-produce it. But he did and the result is the movie, “ARGO”

“ARGO” began in early November 1979, when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran and took most of the civilian and military staff hostage in retaliation for American offering refuge for the deposed Shah of Iran. At least six staff diplomats managed to get out of the embassy and seek refuge at the home of Canada’s ambassador, Ken Taylor. With the six diplomats’ situation kept secret, the C.I.A. assigns one of their operatives, one Tony Mendez, to find a way to get the diplomats out of Iran before they could be discovered. After dismissing several proposals, Mendez creates a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting “exotic” locations in Iran for a science-fiction film.

Mendez and his C.I.A. supervisor Jack O’Donnell, contact John Chambers, a Hollywood make-up artist who has previously crafted disguises for the C.I.A., in addition to his work in the “PLANET OF THE APES” film series. Chambers puts them in touch with a film producer named Lester Siegel. Mendez, Chambers and Siegel set up a fake film studio and successfully establish the pretense of developing Argo, a“science fantasy” in the style of “STAR WARS” in order to lend credibility to the cover story. Meanwhile, the escapees grow frantic inside the ambassador’s residence. Shredded documentation from the American embassy is being reassembled, providing the militants with evidence that there are embassy personnel unaccounted for.

I am going to cut to the chase. I enjoyed “ARGO” very much. What am I saying? I really enjoyed this movie. So far, it is one of the better ones I have seen this year. Once again, Affleck knocked it out of the ballpark with a first-rate thriller that gave audiences a peek into the efforts of the C.I.A. to save those six diplomats who managed to get captured by the militants. Affleck, along with screenwriter Chris Terrio, did an excellent job in setting up the entire story from beginning to end.

One of the movie’s gem scenes featured the actual storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. It is quite obvious that Affleck, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, used a hand-held camera style to film this particular sequence. And although I am not a fan of this particular style, I must say that it suited this particular sequence very well, projecting an effective sense of chaos and panic.“ARGO” featured other memorable scenes, including Mendez’s efforts to recruit both Chambers and Siegel for his mission, a tense encounter between Taylor’s Iranian maid and intelligence officers looking for the diplomats, the humor-filled setup of the Argo Operation in Hollywood, frustrating moments in which Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan came close to shutting down Mendez’s operation, the final escape from Iran by air and a nail-biting sequence in which the same group hit the streets of Tehran for a “location scouting mission” in order to maintain their cover.

There is so much about this movie that I enjoyed that it would take an essay for me to explain in great detail. I do not have the patience for such a project, but I do have to comment on the movie’s technical aspects. Not only did Rodrigo Prieto did an excellent job in re-creating the violence and confusion of the American embassy takeover, he also captured the muted glamour and insanity of Hollywood with vivid color. I could see that a great deal of his work benefited from some outstanding editing from William Goldenberg. In fact, I really have to hand it to Sharon Seymour and her production designing team for their re-creation of the 1979-1980 period in American and Iranian history. Seymour and her team were ably assisted by Peter Borck
and Deniz Göktürk’s art direction, along with Jacqueline West’s realistic looking costume designs.

But “ARGO” would have never worked by Affleck’s outstanding direction and the talented actors and actresses that were part of the cast. Not only was I impressed by Affleck’s direction, but also his subtle performance as C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez, who did not need guns and fighting skills to accomplish his task – merely brains and nerves of steel. John Goodman was marvelous as the witty and slightly cynical make-up artist, John Chambers. He also had great chemistry with both Affleck and Alan Arkin, who portrayed the sardonic and prickly Hollywood producer, Lester Siegel. I was not that kind to Bryan Cranston in my review of “TOTAL RECALL”. But it was great to see his magic again, in his fiery and funny portrayal of Mendez’s C.I.A. supervisor, Jack O’Donnell.

“ARGO” also featured some wonderful supporting performances as well. Kyle Chandler made two brief, but very memorable appearances and President Jimmy Carter’s foul-mouthed Chief of Staff, Hamilton “Ham” Jordan. It is a pity that his role was not longer. I was also impressed by those who portrayed the besieged diplomats – the always entertaining Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishé. Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane were especially memorable as a paranoid Joe Stafford and the hilariously sarcastic Lee Schatz. Victor Garber gave solid support as Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who gave the diplomats refuge. And Sheila Vand was marvelous in the tense scenes that featured the Taylors’ Iranian housekeeper, Sahar. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton and Philip Baker Hall.

Naturally, “ARGO” is not a perfect movie. Not all of it is historically accurate. This was very obvious in one shot that featured a dilapidated HOLLYWOOD sign that overlooks the Los Angeles Basin. The sign was restored to its former glory in November 1978, 14 to 15 months before Tony Mendez’s arrival in Southern California. And I found Mendez and the diplomats’ encounter with the Iranian airport security guards and escape from the country somewhat contrived and manipulative.

Flawed or not, I cannot deny that I found “ARGO” to be one of the most satisfying movies of the year. I enjoyed it that much, thanks to a first-rate script by Chris Terrio, superb direction by Affleck and an excellent cast that included John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin. In the end, “ARGO” strikes me as another triumph for Affleck and his two co-producers, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.

“THE TOWN” (2010) Review

“THE TOWN” (2010) Review

I have never seen “GONE BABY GONE”, Ben Affleck’s debut as a movie director. But after seeing his second directorial effort, “THE TOWN”, I now find myself feeling determined to see it. Why? I believe that Affleck just might have a possible future as a successful movie director. 

Based upon Chuck Hogan’s 2007 novel called “Prince of Thieves”“THE TOWN” turned out to be an interesting crime drama about a working-class Bostonian from the Charlestown neighborhood named Doug MacRay (Affleck), who also happened to be part of a gang of brutal bank robbers. Their robbery of a Cambridge bank at the beginning of the movie allowed him to become acquainted with Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), one of the bank’s managers. Doug and his fellow bank robbers (Jeremy Renner, Slaine and Owen Burke) also attracted the attention of one Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), a ruthless FBI agent bent upon capturing or killing them.

I have never read Hogan’s novel. But I must admit that I really enjoyed Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard’s adaptation of it. One aspect of the movie that impressed me was its balanced mixture of action, romance and psychological drama. In fact, I found myself surprised that as the film’s director, Afflect managed to utilize all of these different aspects of the story and keep the pacing from becoming uneven. Another aspect of the movie turned out to be Robert Elswit’s photography. His sharp colors and focus gave Boston – including its old sections – a colorful look that made me longed to pack my belongings and move to the East Coast. Dylan Tichenor’s editing perfectly emphasized the movie’s action sequences without resorting to the dizzying camera work and quick cuts that seemed to have pervaded many action films in the past three to five years.

There were some aspects of “THE TOWN” that I found questionable. The movie never explained the military-style haircuts worn by the four bank robbers. The script revealed that the MacRay character had spent some time in the military, but never made it clear when that happened. Nor did the script ever revealed the background of MacRay’s friends, especially his best friend James “Jem” Coughlin (Renner). And as much as I admire Jon Hamm as an actor, his attempt at a Boston accent sucked. Although he only made an attempt in one scene, Affleck should have reshot that scene with Hamm’s natural accent. Speaking of accents, there were moments when I found the cast’s use of Boston slang rather incomprehensible. I certainly look forward to the movie’s DVD release . . . and close captions.

Unlike his directorial debut “GONE BABY GONE”, Ben Affleck did not remain behind the camera. He also portrayed the main character, Doug MacRay. And he did an excellent job in portraying the complex bank robber torn between his life of crime, the woman he fell in love with and the lies he told to maintain their relationship. I have always enjoyed Affleck’s ability to portray complex characters. It seems a pity that many film critics and moviegoers seemed incapable of appreciating his talents as an actor. Although I have been aware of Rebecca Hall since “VICKY BARCELONA”, I must admit that I have not found her recent roles very interesting. I almost came to the same conclusion about her role as bank manager Claire Keesey . . . until the moment when she discovered the truth about Doug’s crimes. At that moment, Hall breathed life into the role, transforming her from what would be conceived as a nice woman, into a character that proved to be just as complex as the others.

Jon Hamm took time off from his hit television series, “MAD MEN” to portray F.B.I. Special Agent Adam Frawley, a character completely different from his 1960s ad man. And being the top notch actor he has always been, Hamm did a superb job in conveying his character’s ruthless determination to stop the bank robbers by any means necessary. Recent Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner portrayed an equally ruthless character, Charlestown bank robber, James “Jem” Coughlin, with great depth, complexity and first-rate acting. What made Renner’s performance so interesting to me was his character’s ruthless determination to maintain the status quo in his personal life – which included keeping MacRay in his life and in his sister’s life. Speaking of the latter, Blake Lively gave an outstanding performance as Krista Coughlin, Jem’s younger sister. Lively’s excellent performance easily conveyed her character’s weariness and desperate longing for MacRay to be in her life and to escape the economic and social trap of Charlestown.

Veteran actors Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite gave brief, yet top-notch performances in “THE TOWN”. What I found ironic about their appearances was that their characters had something to say to Affleck’s MacRay about his mother. Cooper portrayed Stephen MacRay, Doug’s jailbird father, who was serving a life-long prison term for robbery and murder. Postlethwaite portrayed Fergie the Florist, an Irish-born florist and crime boss that provided robbery jobs for MacRay and his crew. As I had stated earlier, both characters had something to say about the late Mrs. MacRay. Whereas Mr. MacRay’s memories were filled with cynicism and resignation, Fergie spoke of Doug’s mother with a great deal of malice and contempt. And both Cooper and Postlethwaite were superb in their roles.

Despite a few quibbles I might have about “THE TOWN”, I must admit that I enjoyed it very much. The movie turned out to be a first-rate adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s novel with an excellent script, exciting action sequences and superb acting by a well-picked cast. Because of “THE TOWN”, I look forward to more directing endeavors by Ben Affleck.

“STATE OF PLAY” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the 2009 political thriller, “STATE OF PLAY”, starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck:

“STATE OF PLAY” (2009) Review

Aside from the Liam Neeson thriller, ”TAKEN”, I must admit that I never found the movies released during the first three months of 2009 that impressive. They were not been terrible. But I did harbor this feeling that I had been wallowing in a sea of mediocrity during those months. Thankfully, this feeling ended when I saw the political thriller directed by Kevin Macdonald called, ”STATE OF PLAY”.

Based upon the critically acclaimed 2003 British miniseries of the same name,”STATE OF PLAY” was about a Washington D.C. newspaper’s investigation into the death of a young congressional aide named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) and centers around the relationship between leading journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) and his old friend Robert Collins (Ben Affleck), a U.S. congressman on the fast track and Baker’s employer. When Congressman Collins learns of his aide’s death, he asks his old friend, McAffrey to investigate her death when it is labeled as a suicide. McAffrey and a blogger with his newspaper named Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) not only learn that Baker was Congressman Collins’ mistress, but there might be a connection between her death and the private military company that the congressman was investigating.

I have heard a few proclaim that the original British miniseries is superior to this version.  I have seen the miniseries and it is pretty damn good, but I must admit that I found this version of ”STATE OF PLAY” to be just as impressive.  Kevin Macdonald’s solid direction screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan, and Billy Ray created a tight thriller filled with interesting glimpses into the press and Washington politics.  This film never became critically acclaimed as the British miniseries (even if it deserved to be), but it was an excellent, well-acted movie filled with first-rate performances. And its story – unlike previous movies I have recently watched – did not end on a disappointing note. The movie ended with an unexpected twist that surprised me.

Russell Crowe led the cast, portraying Washington Globe journalist, Cal McAffrey. I would not consider his role as interesting as the Ed Hoffman character from ”BODY OF LIES”, Bud White in ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”, Jeffrey Wigand in ”THE INSIDER”or his Oscar winning role in ”GLADIATOR” – Maximus Decimus Meridius. His Cal McAffrey is on the surface, an affable, yet slightly jaded reporter who becomes a relentless truth-seeker when pursuing a special story. In the case of Sonia Baker, McAffrey’s relentless investigation seemed rooted in his desire to extract his friend Collins from the gossip slingers over the latter’s affair with the aide and focus upon bringing down the private military company being investigated by Collins. Crowe is at turns relaxed and at the same time, intense and single-minded in his pursuit of journalistic truth.

Several years ago, I had found myself thinking that if there was ever a remake of the 1950 classic, ”SUNSET BOULEVARD”, who could portray the doomed Hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis. The first person that immediately came to my mind was Ben Affleck. Actress Nancy Olson once described William Holden at the time that particular movie was filmed as the typical handsome Hollywood leading actor . . . but with a touch of corruption that made his Joe Gillis so memorable. Frankly, I could say the same about Affleck. I saw him display this same trait in movies like ”BOUNCE”and ”HOLLYWOODLAND”. And I could see it in his performance as Congressman Robert Collins. Affleck managed to skillfully project Collins not only as a dedicated crusader who is determined to bring down the private military company with a congressional investigation, but also a flawed man who became sexually attracted to his beautiful aide, while struggling to control his anger at the knowledge of his wife Anne’s (Robin Wright Penn) past affair with McAffrey.

The rest of the cast included Rachel McAdams’ solid portrayal of a popular blogger turned junior political reporter named Della Frye, who finds herself in the midst of the career-making story and mentored by McAffrey. Helen Mirren’s Washington Globeeditor Cameron Lynne is wonderfully splashy and strong, without being over-the-top. I could say the same for Jason Bateman’s performance as a bisexual fetish club promoter named Dominic Foy, who has the information that McAffrey and Frye need. Michael Berresse portrayed a mysterious hitman named Robert Bingham and he does a pretty good job. However, I must admit that I found his performance as a sociopath a little over-the-top . . . especially in his last scene. Although not as memorable as some of the other supporting cast, both Harry Lennix as a Washington D.C. cop and Jeff Daniels as Affleck’s congressional mentor gave solid support to the movie. And there is Robin Wright Penn, who portrayed the congressman’s wife, Anne Collins. Penn gave a complex performance as the politician’s wife who is not only hurt and betrayed by her husband’s infidelity, but wracked with guilt over her own past indiscretion with McAffrey, along with desire for him.

If you are expecting ”STATE OF PLAY” to be the next ”ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” or ”SEVEN DAYS IN MAY”, you are going to be slightly disappointed. I have seen a few political films of slightly better quality.  But I can honestly say that I still found ”STATE OF PLAY” to be a first-rate, entertaining movie filled with intelligence, humor and a strong and steady cast.