The Gotti and the Nought-y – those troublesome rotten tomatoes

Don’t know if you’ve kept up to date with the moviesphere recently, but there’s been a little bit of a stir about Gotti, the John Travolta starring mob flick which has garnered savage reviews. Travolta starring in a stinker is nothing new, but the intrigue comes with the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score. As some perceptive people pointed out, whilst the critic review score is at 0%, the user review score was at 78% (now dropped to 64%).

Alarm bells started ringing when the below tweet appeared from the movie’s Twitter account:

Considering the disproportionate number of user reviews and the multitude of newly created profiles that had given Gotti a rating, it looked like this was review manipulation as part of a marketing push for the movie. Rotten Tomatoes have refuted this, saying “We closely monitor our platforms and haven’t determined there to be any problems. All of the reviews were left by active accounts.” The whole “active accounts” thing strikes me as conveniently vague phrase. Plus, would they actually admit it if their site had been spammed by bots? Something ain’t adding up.

I fucking hate Rotten Tomatoes. In fact, let me rephrase that. I fucking hate how people use Rotten Tomatoes. Recent numbers have shown that 36% of American moviegoers check the site before seeing a movie, which is a significant portion of the audience. The trouble is that I feel that most of those people misinterpret the data.

It’s tempting to see the site’s patented Tomatometer score as the numeric value of the movie. If something gets a 90%, it must be a pretty damn good movie, right? Sort of. RT takes all the reviews, sorts them by “Fresh” or “Rotten” and comes up with a percentage. The score merely tells us the consensus between critics – how many agree that the movie is Fresh. That impressive looking 90% just means that 90% of critics gave it a passing grade i.e. 60% or over. You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t get this.

What the Tomatometer score absolutely isn’t for is to be wielded around like a cudgel, used to back up petty arguments online. If your point involves referring to the RT page as proof of a movie’s “objective quality”, then sorry mate, I’m going to go ahead and dismiss your opinion like the bullshit it is.

The RT system means that a solid three star movie can be treated similarly to a five star masterpiece or a two star can be lumped in with the one star no-hopers. The truth of movie reviewing is that there’s an awful lot of three star average/quite good movies out there. Well, Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t really account for that. If a critic gives an average review, they can either choose to put it in the Fresh or Rotten categories themselves or RT will choose for them. Due to this, there are many, many shades of grey being glossed over. The trouble with all this goes beyond misinterpretation. In my opinion, critical thinking and reviews shouldn’t be boiled down to a binary good/bad dichotomy.

So what’s this got to do with Gotti? Well, in a world where some people refuse to believe reviewers thanks to perceived “bias”,  have conspiracy theories about critics being paid off (grow up) and tend to think of them as elitist snobs, they’ll look to the user review score. User reviews are at the mercy of rabid fans anyway, often giving a 1 or 10 out of 10 because why wouldn’t they? There were some mumblings a while back about Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s user score, which had plummeted to lowly depths. Granted, with a film as divisive as The Last Jedi the score was going to be lower than the critic one, but many blamed bots for review bombing the movie. Like with Gotti, Rotten Tomatoes said the reviews weren’t due to bots and were genuine, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the (as of today 2348) pages of user ratings are full of angry people giving the movie the lowest scores possible. Quite why somebody would complain about biased opinions and turn to the user reviews is beyond me, but there we have it.

Rotten Tomatoes has been scoring high on my personal Skeev-O-Meter for a while and I think the Gotti nonsense is the latest in a long line of things wrong with a site that so many people use to dictate their moviegoing habits. RT can be a useful site, but only if you know what to look for. Outside of that, I wouldn’t trust them to hold my pint.

Look at the actual critic reviews and don’t take the front page at face value. If you want a more consumer advice type deal, telling you if a movie is worth seeing, find a critic/several critics whose opinions seem to line up with yours and see what they’re saying about it. I understand not wanting to waste time and money on some dumb film, but I feel that going to see any movie is a learning experience, no matter how bad the reviews. That being said, it’ll probably take me a long time to get around to seeing Gotti.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Jurassic World. In fact, I thought it was pretty shite.  I’m qualifying that off the bat because I know that I seem to be out of step with general audiences on this one. If you’re looking for the point of view of someone who loved the first Jurassic World movie and want to know how the sequel stacks up, then I shouldn’t be your port of call. Don’t let me rain on your prehistoric parade. If you do decide to read on, take the following with the titanosauria-sized doses of salt necessary. What I dislike about the movie may have you punching the air with glee and I wouldn’t want to take that away from you, even if that were possible. With that in mind, whilst I won’t ruin any big reveals or surprises, this review will have some mild SPOILERS, so be warned if you want to go in completely blind.

So as a Jurassic World non-fan, what did I make of Fallen Kingdom? Eh- it was pretty much what I expected. Some elements were worse than the first one, some markedly better. First, a quick rundown. The site of the former Jurassic World, Isla Nublar, has been overrun by dinosaurs since the park ceased operations three years ago. The island’s supposedly dormant volcano has sprung back to life and it’s created an ethical conundrum – since humans brought the dinosaurs back from extinction, are we responsible for saving them? Former park director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is firmly in the #SavetheDinos camp, having become an activist for dinosaur rights and looking to spearhead a rescue mission to save the creatures from their doom and move them to a sanctuary island far away. She must re-team with velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who only signs on after finding out his most promising pupil, a raptor named Blue, is still alive and faces the same grisly fate.

Plotwise we’re in Lost World territory here. The basic idea of a sanctuary island away from the human world is explored in the 1997 sequel and it’s been dusted off for this one. It’s not the worst idea and it has to be said that it’s not like The Lost World is some unassailable classic that explored its ideas and themes to the fullest potential. Whilst the plotting is clumsy, it justifies going back to the island and getting involved in the dinosaur action, so that’s cool with me.

I was deeply underwhelmed by the pairing of Claire and Owen in the first movie and it has to be said that some effort has been made to flesh them out. Claire especially, who has gone from park director and stuffy business woman to activist, ditching her expensive high heels for more practical footwear (in case you don’t remember, Claire wearing high heels and tottering away from the T-Rex became a “thing” after the first movie was released).  I liked the fact that Claire took an active role in things and it made her more compelling as a character. It felt like her decisions were actually driving the plot instead of the other way around. Bryce Dallas Howard is still a great leading lady, but I keep feeling that she could be a lot more if the script allowed it.

Someone who also fits into the “hampered by the script” category is Chris Pratt. This is not the best use of your Pratt. He comes across as rather ill at ease with the badass ranger character he’s been lumbered with, only really managing to shine in the areas we already know he’s been effective in before. The man’s naturally likable, so having video footage of him training the adorably deadly baby Blue sells his relationship with the creature hard. I actually liked Blue this time round and the training vids were a big part of that.

There’s one short sequence where a tranquilized Owen has to lurch and flop himself away from some fast-approaching lava that was genuinely funny in a way that his dialogue wasn’t. As presumptuous as it may be,  I’m betting that the script said something like “OWEN struggles to get away from the oncoming lava flow” and whilst the physical slapstick and comedic reactions were always intended, it was an outline that enabled Pratt to run with it. My point being is that this was one moment the script couldn’t fuck up and it ends up being a great one because Pratt was allowed to do what he does. The lame written gags and bargain-basement action movie lines aren’t doing him any favours. I’m not saying Owen should be another wisecracking Star-Lord, but it does seem that they hired Pratt for a similar role (albeit with a more smoldering badass bent) and just suck at the execution.

I wasn’t completely convinced about the new blood. On the positive side, I liked Franklin (Justice Smith) and Dr. Zia (Daniella Pineda) . To be the sidekicks to the two clear leads is a tough job, but they both managed to hold their own and get a few good lines in. I will forever be a James Cromwell fan, so it was nice to see him as former Hammond business partner Sir Benjamin Lockwood – even if he actually doesn’t get to do all that much. Isabella Sermon also does well as Lockwood granddaughter Maisie, although I predict that her storyline will prove to be a contentious one. Don’t get your hopes up for Ian Malcolm’s return to the series either. His role is basically a glorified cameo that adds some series continuity but little else to proceedings.

The movie’s villains were a little too broad for my tastes. Toby Jones plays a scummy arms dealer who wants to sell weaponised dinos to the highest bidder and Ted Levine is the military jerk enlisted to accomplish that goal. Jones is at least having fun with his role, with ridiculous hair and teeth adding to his cartoonish villainy. Ted Levine on the other hand, a proven compelling and creepy bad guy, is boxed in as a mean army dude archetype seen in countless other movies. He has one weird and upsetting quirk, but outside of that, you could write his character on a napkin. Oh – there also a shadowy third baddie, which I won’t spoil here, but I’d imagine most of you will be able to guess who it is about five minutes after they’re introduced.

Fallen Kingdom is mostly a “meh”-worthy film with some great sequences peppered in. Director J.A. Bayona shows off his horror background with a genuinely unsettling opening sequence and a Nosferatu inspired scene in the third act that will no doubt be nightmare fuel for the kiddies in the audience. Dude has some serious visual chops and Fallen Kingdom has some truly fantastic and memorable imagery that will stick with you long after you leave the cinema. It’s tempting to say he’s too good for this material, but being a sucker for temptation I’ll say it anyway.

This is a minor point, but I thought that one of the things that all dinofans could agree on is the visceral appeal of somebody getting savaged by dinosaurs. The series has so many good ones, including the amazing T-Rex toilet death and Nedry’s demise in Jurassic Park, the raptor field sequence, the T-Rex tug-of-war and that bit where some mean dude gets mobbed by Compys in The Lost World and nothing from Jurassic Park III because I still hate that fucking movie and try my best not to think about it. I didn’t like the weirdly cruel death in Jurassic World, but it was at least memorable. In Fallen Kingdom, people just get munched. There are two notable deaths and one is weirdly bloodless and the other is just ripped off from The Lost World. I was genuinely disappointed in the levels of creative carnage on offer.

The story and the dialogue were disappointingly dumb, with some real eye-rolling moments, but this is a sequel to Jurassic World we’re talking about here. I’m not going to be rewatching it in a hurry but damn it, if I’m actually curious about the sequel teased at the end. It’ll be a real departure for the franchise can hopefully buck the series’ trend of rehashing old material . I think the sad realization for me is that I’m just not really a fan of these new Jurassic World movies. I love the original Jurassic Park, but the Jurassic franchise and I aren’t vibing any more. As I said, I’ll still see Jurassic World III, but I can’t say I’ve got high hopes for it.

Why Black Panther is a Big Deal

The eighteenth Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, Black Panther, recently opened globally to rave reviews. The hype train left the station months ago, with news of ticket pre-sales being through the roof, but it’s continued to gain momentum, breaking all sorts of box-office records and dominating the current pop cultural conversation. Make no bones about it, Black Panther is a big deal.

However, there seems to be a subset of moviegoers perplexed by the whole phenomenon. On one of my ill-advised clicks around YouTube, I stumbled across critic ralphthemoviemaker and his take on the Black Panther. My thoughts on his review aside, Ralph prefaces the whole thing with a piece to camera about how he doesn’t get the media circus surrounding the movie and how it should be “just another Marvel movie”. This isn’t a slight against the man or his channel, but it did irk me to see a bunch of comments echoing similar sentiments and the fact that the video is, at time of writing, #30 on the YouTube trending list.

I’m not going to pretend to know all the cultural ins and outs of this, nor that I’m the most qualified person to talk about the subject. However, here’s what I’ve been able to glean from reading relevant things- y’know- the thing you do when you want to find out something on the Internet. A quick Google of this very article’s title will give you a ton of results that can help to explain the situation.

Starting with the Marvel side of things first, Black Panther was introduced in Captain America: Civil War. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa had a strong introduction into the wider Marvel world and ended up stealing scenes, despite the fact that this was the movie that the ever-popular Spider-Man returned home after a terrible time with foster parents Sony. One of Marvel’s key strengths is in creating characters people actually like and want to see more of. Black Panther is every bit that and after a stonking debut and a tease of the futuristic Wakanda, audiences were more than set for the next chapter.

Let’s get that “not the first black superhero movie” stuff out of the way. As tons of sites armed with only the hottest of takes will inform you, Black Panther isn’t the first black superhero movie- not by a long shot. If we’re being pedantic, the first black superhero movie was 1977’s Abar, The First Black Superman. Then we have flicks like Spawn, Blankman, The Meteor Man, Steel, Hancock and the Blade trilogy. Oh, how there are enough sites needlessly reminding us that Blade was a thing. I certainly don’t need my memory jogged. The first two movies rock the shit. Blade: Trinity can fuck off.

As some of the smugger sites have pointed out, Black Panther isn’t even the first black hero in the MCU, with Nick Fury, Falcon, War Machine, Valkyrie and Heimdall begging to differ (and Luke Cage, but he isn’t in the movies). That’s great, but we can’t escape the fact that all these parts are supporting roles. Sam Wilson and James Rhodes are basically sidekicks for Captain America and Iron Man respectively. I love both heroes, but their secondary nature is baked into their characters. There are two moments in the movies that call attention to this. Remember Falcon’s line in Winter Soldier? “I do what he (Cap) does, just slower.” Then there’s also Rhodey failing to impress Thor and Tony Stark with a War Machine story in Age of Ultron

Here’s the crux of the matter. Black Panther is the first black lead superhero in this generation of superhero movies. The cast is packed full of black talent taking on substantial roles. It’s co-written and directed by Ryan Coogler, considered to be one of the best African-American directors to come up in recent years. Wesley Snipes’ Blade was awesome and was a proper step in the right direction, but a little thing like the MCU becoming the highest grossing movie franchise of all time has happened in the years since. Like it or not, Disney’s various branches are crushing at the box-office and driving current pop culture. Even the lowest grossing MCU movie, The Incredible Hulk, earned way more than the second and double what the first Blade made at the box office. These films are on a whole other level to where we were in the late ’90s/early 2000s. The landscape has changed. Granted, the first two Blades were R-rated, meaning a significantly smaller potential audience, but that leads me into my next point.

We have to be able to relate to our heroes on some level in order to care about them. We all have different ways into a character, and our favourites tend to reflect an aspect we either possess or aspire to in some way, especially when we’re children. It’s no different with Black Panther. There’s going to be an entire generation of kids who are attracted to the movies because the big badass hero looks like them.  I honestly don’t see how this could be anything but a positive thing.

Representation is important to a lot of people. As a straight white dude, shit’s been catered to me for decades, so I’m on the inside of the bubble attempting to look out. Diversity in movies, tv shows and video games has become a recurring issue and it’s mattering to a growing number of people. Most reasonable folk see no problem with an added number of movie characters of all skin tones, genders, sexualities etc. Variety is the spice of life after all and redressing the balance of years of movies featuring straight white dudes doing shit doesn’t strike me as a bad idea in the slightest.

Black Panther isn’t just representative. It’s a celebration of African culture on a scale that we don’t normally see. Yes, Wakanda is fictional, but many of the movie’s fantastical costumes, designs and customs are drawn from real cultural sources. Some of the movie’s more predominant themes are about black identity, oppression and heritage and it’s great that a movie as big as this can have these kinds of discussions. You can be as cynical as you want, but this is clearly striking a chord with people if videos like this one, showing a bunch of South African moviegoers joyfully dancing after seeing the movie, exist.

Box office takings dominate most movie news and the fact that Black Panther, a movie with a predominantly black cast and crew, is doing so well globally is cause for celebration too. Other studios are going to take note of all the attention Black Panther is getting (and more importantly) the money it’s making and may shift focus into creating more diverse movies in general. It certainly puts paid to the Hollywood myth that black movies don’t travel, so we can expect to see less of that reasoning in the future.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the whole thing and there are way more qualified people than me out there talking about this. This is all basic stuff, but if YouTube videos, Facebook comments and the like are to be believed there are a lot of people who are confused by it. In an age when you can literally type a question into a search engine and get all the information you could ever want in order to formulate your own answer, this just seems like willful ignorance to me. Plus, I think if you have an audience, you owe them the most informed take possible on whatever you’re talking about.

I really enjoyed the movie too, by the way, but after all the things the movie has achieved and will accomplish, that just seems like an added bonus at this point.

 

Wakanda Forever!

On those Wonder Woman screenings…

You may have heard there’s been a little bit of a hullaballoo over Wonder Woman, the latest film in the ongoing DCEU. U.S. cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse announced that they will be holding special women-only screenings for the movie. As you may expect, some people flipped their shit and now it’s a big news story that just about every twat with a blog (yo) has to comment on.

If any of you are aware of comedian Richard Herring’s annual Twitter tradition, this reaction will be painfully familiar. On the Facebook post announcing the screenings, there were many grouchy comments asking when the men’s only screenings were. It’s as predictable and punctual as the German tide. This is all kinds of ridiculous, but let’s break down the actual non-issue for the thickies at the back:

a) It’s fitting. Alamo Drafthouse are known for theming their movie nights and an all-female screening is perfect. Wonder Woman is a princess of Themyscira – a utopian land populated entirely by women. It’s a fun idea. Sure, I personally wouldn’t have been able to take part, but fuck it. Not everything should cater to my needs, nor should I expect it to.

b) She was designed as a feminist icon. It’s part of the character. Wonder Woman has usually been portrayed as Superman’s equal. She’s maintained that through decades of shifting societal attitudes. If you’re a woman who takes an active interest in feminism and who likes comics, why wouldn’t you want to go to a screening with your friends and be surrounded by like-minded people?

Especially a screening of a movie that is a cultural victory for women. It’s the first “proper” solo female superhero movie of this new generation of movies (Supergirl, Elektra and Catwoman don’t really count as they were pre-shared universe explosion) and it’s also directed by a woman, namely Patty Jenkins. This shit doesn’t happen often I can see why some would want to celebrate it.

c) There will be thousands of other screenings of the movie, why the hell does it matter that one of the screenings on one night has restrictions?  It’s not even a preview of the movie. The screenings take place three days after its release. Eager fans going to midnight screenings or early showings in the first few days will have already seen it before the event takes place.

d) In regards to the men’s only screening question – is there any movie that actually warrants a male-only audience? It’d be fitting for Sausage Party, but even a lads-em-up like The Expendables, doesn’t deserve an exclusive audience.

Looking at it cynically, it’s a marketing gimmick. A damn successful one at that as it’s now an international news story and the screenings have sold out. People never like to feel like someone’s got one over on them, yet they play into the hands of outrage every time. Whenever swamp troll Katie Hopkins posts something vile, people rush to the page to read the thing they know they’re going to get angry about. The Daily Fail is counting on it. They must be making an absolute mint off her bilious shite. I think Hopkins should be called out, don’t get me wrong. I just think the approach is rather self-defeating. It’s funny how the ones who want to shut this shit down end up signal-boosting it farther than could have ever been imagined.

The only possible issue is in the scenario where a group goes to the cinema on a whim and is turned away. I could see how that could be frustrating, but how many people does that actually affect? It’s probably even less than the number a usual multiplex would inconvenience because Alamo is more of an upmarket chain with tailored dining experiences and a strictly enforced no-talking policy.  It’s not exactly the local fleapit.

If Alamo did a ladies-only screening of one of the Fifty Shades movies, no-one would give a shit. However, because this is based on a comic book and is therefore part of a scene that the vocal minority believe to be a boys’ club, it’s become an issue. These are the same people who got annoyed when Jane Foster became Thor and the new Iron Man was actually Ironheart- a fresh suit piloted by black engineering student Riri Williams.

Granted, this is one of the things that will be forgotten about in a week, but it’s still a brief light shone on some of the persistent problems that dog the comic book and movie industries and their wider fandoms. Damn near everything with the merest hint of feminism or race threatens to blow up into a Ghostbusters 2K16-sized fiasco and it’s exhausting.

So yeah, I’ll be seeing Wonder Woman soon and I’ll post my review here. As this stuff involves both comics and movies, I figured I’d stick my oar in and actually update my site for a friggin’ change.

Suicide Squad (2016)

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Something’s rotten at Warner Bros. It’s hard to exactly nail down what it is, but we’re now three films into the so-called “DC Extended Universe” and something ain’t working. Whilst Batman v Superman sucked harder than a Dyson with bills to pay, there were high hopes that Suicide Squad would be the much-needed course correction for the DCEU. After all, if WB is making supposedly heroic figures into selfish arseholes, perhaps centring an entire movie around self-centred villains was the next logical step. The Squad trailers were a bunch of fun and it had legit movie fella David Ayer writing and directing. However, as you know if you’ve spent any time on the net recently, Suicide Squad has garnered some nasty critical reviews akin to Batman v Superman‘s hefty sack of bile. Warner Bros. seem locked in to their Justice League path now and it’s depressing that they can’t seem to translate some of the genuinely great and enduring DC characters to the big screen. Suicide Squad may have broken several box office records, but this shit ain’t going to fly forever. People simply don’t want to see bad films and when the tills stop ringing- and they will- it’s going to be a sudden and harsh winter for the Woeful Boobs.

Following the events of Batman v Superman, the world is a different place. Humanity has been made aware of “metahumans” like Supes and no-nonsense government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of the baddest imprisoned villains around to fight these newer, bigger threats in exchange for time off their sentences. The team includes expert marksman Deadshot (Will Smith), insane Joker squeeze Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), crocodilian cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), ancient witch Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and fiery gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). Military man Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is given the unenviable task of leading the gang of misfits. Not to mention the fact that a certain green-haired loon (Jared Leto) has plans to get his girl back and throw a spanner into the works.

Almost nothing in Suicide Squad works. It’s a jumbled mess. Story arcs are confused, flashbacks are inserted without proper care, motivations are botched and the whole thing seems to be edited and spliced together with an axe and some Blu-Tack. The main story is generic as hell and leads to a hackneyed final act complete with a giant laser shooting into the sky and an unconvincing CGI villain. It’s all over the place. Deadshot is introduced into the film multiple times. There’s also a truly baffling bit where Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang does just that, selfishly leaving the squad only to be part of the heroic slow motion walking line-up shot in the very next scene. And no, it’s not intentional. That would be giving it all far too much credit. The film is littered with these things and they’re a symptom of a far bigger problem.

The movie has been passed around and fiddled with more times than your mum. There were reshoots to apparently make the whole thing lighter in tone and the staples holding all the pages of notes together aren’t just visible, they make up the majority of the movie. WB is scared. Man of Steel shafted their shared universe plans from the get-go and Bats v Supes did nothing but compound the issues. They tried to change what kind of film Suicide Squad was as they booted it out of the door. They’re being reactionary instead of proactive. Hate to say it, but at times it feels Marvel-lite.

This panicked meddling really affects what’s on the screen. There are two “big reveals” that will elicit shrugs from the audience. One of them is especially bad, revealing information we’ve known from the start and didn’t know that certain people weren’t privy to it. Entire characters are lost in the mix. God only knows who Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is meant to be. We’re told he’s a military hero, but in practice he’s ineffectual and looks like a strung-out junkie. Also, the less said about Cara Delevingne the better. At no point did I think of her as anything other than a model trying to act. Her third act performance and weird gyrations have to be seen to be believed. I get the feeling that Killer Croc was meant to have a bigger part. I dug him a fair bit, but he’s barely given anything to do.

All the expected fun of watching an anti-Avengers struggle to be the good guys is blown out of an airlock. A bit of bite would have been welcome and some dark humour would have gone a long way, but the final product feels compromised and toothless. In terms of being funny, the quips and gags they’ve gone with are seriously poor and wouldn’t be out of place in a third-rate sitcom. It may make some of the theatre donkeys bray in their seats, but it ain’t going to tickle the funny bones of many others. There’s a real level of desperation to Suicide Squad that leaks and drips out of every pore. The licensed soundtrack full of famous, on-the-nose choices like Black Sabbath’s Paranoid , AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky seems to exist solely to cover up the awkward tonal shifts and fool the audience into feeling some semblance of fun. It’s messy, scrappy and more than a mite cynical.

Oh- just as a side note, let’s also talk about how a woman getting thumped in the face is the literal punchline of two jokes in the film. One perpetrated by Batfleck himself. Yes, they’re bad guys and there’s more context to each of them, but there’s no escaping the fact that the film wants you to laugh at both instances.

We’re going to have to mention him, so let’s chit-chat about Jared Leto’s Joker. He featured heavily in the marketing, but is only in the film briefly. He has no impact on the story whatsoever. You could take out all of his scenes and not only would you get a tighter story, the film would make just as much sense as it already does. I’m not sure what Leto’s going for with his performance but he’s pretty terrible. He’s all tics and no presence. I actually don’t mind his look (the “damaged” forehead tattoo is still as eye-rolling as ever though), but in terms of personality, he doesn’t have any. I’m always down for new interpretations of famous characters, but this isn’t any kind of recognisable take on the Clown Prince of Crime. Plus, his trademark cackle sounds like a cawing crow that’s low on batteries. All those stories of Leto going “proper method” and sending his co-stars inappropriate gifts like used condoms and a live rat are even more embarrassing now.

Despite all this, I didn’t leave Suicide Squad with white knuckles and gritted teeth like I did with Batman v Superman. It’s such a mess, yet there are a few saving graces. For starters, I was never bored. Some of the cast manage elevate the material to near-acceptable levels. Will Smith is on form. He’s reliably good and his talent and charisma actually make something of the poorly sketched Deadshot. Deadshot’s story has been reworked to make him more of a sympathetic character with a young daughter and Smith sells the fuck out of it. There’s a moment that shows Deadshot being captured by Batman (Ben Affleck) that really shone for me. It was equivalent to some of the cool Marvel cameos/crossovers and it was a brief glimpse of sunlight before we plunged face first and open-mouthed into the sewers again. Also, Margot Robbie is great. They’ve completely bungled the long-awaited movie debut of Harley Quinn, but Robbie does well in the role nonetheless. She’s a legitimate movie star and deserves more than this wanking shit. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo was surprisingly fleshed out and of all the Squadders he gets one of the only complete story arcs. Viola Davis is also suitably scary as Amanda Waller. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in future films.

I wanted to like Suicide Squad so much, but it turned out to be a frustrating ol’ time. There is a good movie in there somewhere, but the combination of studio meddling and bullshit ideas has almost completely buried it. Would I recommend it? Probably not. Some of the movie’s cheap tricks will work on the majority of people out there, but it’s a hollow experience. I sort of, kinda liked it I think, but it’s a like so qualified with caveats and provisos it’s barely worth mentioning. Even though they went about it poorly, at least it looks like WB have learned that grimdark isn’t the only flavour out there, which I choose to see as a positive step for the future of the DCEU. Save us Wonder Woman, you’re our only hope.

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Ghostbusters (2016)

No film has had so much stacked against it pre-release like the new Ghostbusters. The online hate for it reached legendary levels of festering bile. The first trailer became the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube, every new snippet of info was greeted by out-and-out hostility and frankly, it’s been exhausting to watch. The trouble is, the hate has become part of the whole package and it’s almost mandatory to mention it in some capacity.

Remaking something like Ghostbusters is a dumb move. The original film is a lightning-in-a-bottle classic that had just the right amount of cool ideas, unique chemistry between the leads and witty, quotable humour. Even the makers of the original couldn’t recapture the magic. The best they could do was the rehash sequel Ghostbusters II. However, in this movie climate where there’s an increasing numbers of suits who don’t know movies in charge, things are going to be remade and you may as well roll with it. I hate the situation, but you have to be realistic about these things.

So now we have Ghostbusters 2k16. I’ve been on board with the women Ghostbusters thing since it was announced, because I’m not a complete shitheel. It was the best pick of bad ideas. I’ve seen many fans angry that the movie isn’t the “passing of the torch” Ghostbusters 3 they’ve been fan-ficcing for years, but fuck them. I can’t think of anything more lame and pedestrian than that idea. It’s irritating that the main conversation about this has turned to classic shitty sexism and whether you choose to see it or not is practically a political statement. Maybe we could have had a discussion about Hollywood remaking beloved properties at some point, but surely even the most ardent arguers hanging out at the shallow end of the anti-Busters pool have to admit that the pool’s now overcrowded, has been pissed in by the “bitches ain’t shit” brigade and now everybody’s eyes are stinging.

Lecturer Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) works at a prestigious university and is horrified to discover that a book she co-wrote years ago with former friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) about the paranormal is available online, threatening her respectability and putting her chance of tenure in danger. She confronts Abby at a ramshackle college and learns that both Abby and her genius lab partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) have made big advances in ghost detecting technology. The trio end up teaming and manage to document a genuine ghostly encounter, setting them on a path to supernatural investigation and entrapment. Along the way, our team meet NYC Metro worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and enlist her help to uncover a big supernatural plot that has “apocalyptic” written all over it.

The story’s solid enough, if a little by-the-numbers. It’s basically a remix of the first film’s story with the same basic beats. The Ghostbusters have to start their business and become successful amidst scepticism before heroically coming together to fight a potentially world-ending threat at the end. It plays things a little too safe. It’s mostly a remake and similar scenes are to be expected, but the way it kept stubbornly shackling itself to the original was disappointing and I was urging it to knock it off. Having said all that, I enjoyed the cameos and I felt the brief Harold Ramis shout-out was a deft and touching tribute. If this movie does get a sequel, I’ll be excited to see it. Nobody would be dumb enough to remake Ghostbusters II as it is and they’ll have to do something wholly original. Don’t get me wrong, the story we’re given is decent enough and passable, but I want more from this franchise.

The main villain, Rowan (Neil Casey), is exactly the sort of character you’d expect to be posting negative Ghostbusters forum diatribes in real life. He’s an angry loner with a fascination with the occult and a desire to bring about the end of the world. I get what they’ve done and it’s a cute idea, but it doesn’t make him particularly interesting.

The film’s biggest successes come down to the cast. I liked all of the new ‘Busters. Melissa McCarthy tones it down around 11 notches from her usual level, playing it more like her character in Spy, and it works. Kristen Wiig is mostly the straight-woman but she affords Erin a warmth and affability that is not as easy as she makes it look. Like many people, thanks to the terrible trailers I was worried that Leslie Jones’ character was going to be a walking, yelling stereotype.  There are elements of that, and the “hysterical screeching and slapping” scene hasn’t got any less unfunny, but Patty’s portrayed as just as smart as our scientists, just in a different field. Jones was great in the role too. Chris Hemsworth completely gives himself over to the role of exceptionally dim but hunky receptionist Kevin. The Kevin stuff is really silly, but Hemsworth makes it work. He’s got some serious comedic chops.

Hold the phone though, because I haven’t talked about Kate McKinnon yet. She owns this film. Holtzmann’s most obvious counterpart in the ’84 team is Egon, but she takes it in a whole new direction. She’s zany, unhinged and slightly dangerous. I normally hate quirky characters, but there’s something about Holtzmann. I get the feeling her presence may be divisive, but damn, I loved her.

I really enjoyed the first two thirds of the film. The opening was suitably spooky and I loved the way the team slowly formed. The characters bouncing off each other was great and at times, really funny. The movie isn’t as funny as it should be, but there are some great one-liners and gags here. I started chuckling during the beginning, when it was mentioned that a creepy old estate was built with an “Irish-proof fence” and there was always something to keep me amused. There was a real sense of energy and fun that kept it all bouncing along nicely. The humour here isn’t the dry, sardonic humour of the original, but it’s funny nonetheless. One of the scenes that had me laughing the most was a meta-moment when the gang check out some of the dudebro comments left on a ghostly encounter they uploaded to YouTube.

I don’t know what the big deal was with people calling out the special effects for being rubbish. I loved the look of the ghosts, especially the earlier, more humanoid ones. The colourful glowing reminded me of the library ghost in the first film. I was a big fan of the gadgets too. The proton packs got a nice upgrade and I liked their take on the traps. Whilst I wish they’d saved some of the wackier gadgets like the “Ghostchipper” and Holtzmann’s dual proton pistols for a sequel and had waited until the team were more established, this small gripe doesn’t take too much away from the entertainment factor.

Then we get to the third act. Christ, what a mishmash of ideas. It doesn’t manage to spoil what’s come before and it does have its moments, but it simply doesn’t work. Times Square is turned into a grotty ’70s version for some arbitrary reason. There are tons of ghosts from all time periods thrown in and apparently the proton packs and devices now “kill” ghosts instead of trapping them. That shit wouldn’t have flown if professional weirdo and true believer Dan Aykroyd was in charge of scripting. There’s also a huge, synchronised dance sequence that was clearly cut from the final act and plays over the credits instead.  It’s obvious that the finale had been written, rewritten, filmed and cut many times over before they settled on the underwhelming one in the finished product.

All in all, I liked GB 2K16. It’s not the runaway success I’d hoped for and the big finale is a swing and a miss, but I left with a smile on my face. I want to see more of these new ‘Busters, which I would count as a win for the movie. Sorry Ghostbros, it’s pretty good.

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The Do-Over (2016)

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It’s safe to say I’m not an Adam Sandler fan. I can see the appeal of his earlier work and he was great in Punch Drunk Love, but that just serves to make his period of completely not trying, using movies as an excuse for paid exotic excursions with his buddies and his whorish fellating of corporate sponsorship all the more offensive. Movies like Jack and Jill and The Ridiculous Six are barely films. They’re lazy, cynical products stuffed with ugly humour. I can’t resent people finding them funny too much as humour is completely subjective, but I do resent the way in which Sandler’s riding on a wave of unearned nostalgia for his particular brand of “entertainment” with effort going into all the wrong areas.

The Do-Over is Sandler’s second Netflix project. Sandler plays Max Kessler, an FBI agent who finds his high school BFF, Charlie (David Spade) in a bad place in his life. Charlie’s a meek and submissive bank manager for a bank inside a supermarket, married to a woman who belittles and cheats on him and father to two young punks who have no respect for him whatsoever. Max swoops in and takes Charlie on a yacht, reminding him of all the good times they had. Max drugs Charlie and blows up the yacht, ostensibly killing them. The pair then assume the identities of two dead men and Max gives Charlie a chance to have a fresh start. However, the lives the men have assumed carry life baggage with them and they soon find themselves embroiled in a big plot that has heavily armed men pursuing them across the globe.

The Do-Over‘s construction is more involved than I initially gave it credit for. It functions like a standard comedy script and there are actually set up jokes that pay off or are called back to later in the film. It even has twists based around new information coming to light. Now, granted- 90% of films should have these things as the bare minimum, but I was surprised that a modern Sandler film even bothered with genre conventions at all. The inexcusable Jack and Jill just existed, with one scene happening, finishing and then another starting, with no real reason why and no flow between skits whatsoever. The Do-Over actually has some elements of proper storytelling to it and whilst the bar is set so low crabs could trip on it, I have to call out good things when I see them. For instance, David Spade actually puts in a comedy character performance, with the nebbish Charlie being a fair distance away from the usual smarmy, insufferable scrotes Spade usually plays.

Is it funny? Nope. I’m sure there are people out there who wet themselves every time Sandler cracks a gag, but I ain’t one of them. Like with the structure, I could see how certain things could be funny, but the film had me rolling my eyes, sighing and checking how long was left throughout. Not one joke or gag worked and most of them had concerning things to say about Sandler’s outlook on life.

Y’see, I may have vaguely praised The Do-Over a bit, but that doesn’t stop it from being truly awful in a whole bunch of ways. Sandler’s character of Max is an awesome badass, who is meant to be the hero of the piece. Apart from providing us with the hilarious spectacle of having scenes where he’s all serious and shoots guns, Sandler seems to be playing an idealised version of himself, complete with little to no flaws and leaving all the pratfalling and looking dumb to Spade. There’s always been an off-putting sense of ego to his work and the character of Max is a complete monument to that. It may have writers, directors and all the other filmmaking things, but Sandler owns all the toys and he’s not going to bother with anything that doesn’t make him look good or conform to his seemingly depressed, misogynistic and angry world view.

Gender politics and Happy Madison productions have never seen eye-to-eye. Women do not come across well in The Do-Over. All the women are either crazy bitches, nymphomaniacs or both. Paula Patton (who can do so much better than this toss) is the standard “hot one” with a relatively normal personality. That is until the film decides to (SPOILER I guess, but get real) reveal that she’s been a crazy bitch all along and was manipulating our poor innocent males with her feminine charms. There’s one eyebrow-raising scene when Charlie fights her, thumping her whilst screaming about being tired of being lied to and screwed over by women. The message of the film, as gossamer thin as it is, seems to be an asinine “bros before hoes” kind of deal and instead of it making me laugh, it just bugged me how a powerful and influential 49 year old man has the sensibilities of a dumb 13 year old kid. With great power, there must also come great responsibility. Why do people always forget about the responsibility part?

So I hated every turgid second of The Do-Over. I know you won’t believe me, but I do try and keep an open mind and I’m always delighted when low expectations are met with a surprisingly good product. People will tell you to turn your brain off, that it’s a typical Sandler movie and that critics just wanted to hate it, but that’s more troubling than anything else. I can imagine liking it, but feeling so passionately about it that you defend and make excuses for it? That’s straight-up alien behaviour and you may want to have a word with yourself.

If you’re a Sandler fan, you don’t need me to tell you what I think. However, if you’re opposed or indifferent to Sandler’s nonsense and you’re absent-mindedly browsing Netflix and see the thumbnail, please don’t bother. It’ll only hurt.

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