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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Deadpool (2016)

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Fittingly, Deadpool has had an unconventional journey to the big screen. A Deadpool film has been talked about since 2000 when its rights, along with Captain America, Ant-Man and others, were sold to Artisan Entertainment. Artisan were taken over in 2003 and New Line Cinema stepped in, hiring David S. Goyer to write and direct in 2004 with Ryan Reynolds attached to star. As these things often do, shit fell apart and the project stagnated. The rights then went to 20th Century Fox. Cut to 2009 and “Deadpool” showed up in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, giving Reynolds the opportunity to finally wisecrack as Wade Wilson. Well, for about five minutes before he showed up at the end, his mouth sewn shut and the fun character arbitrarily changed into an angry, silent mutant with laser vision and swords in his arms. Fans were pissed. In the following years, a script for a solo Deadpool adventure leaked online, which garnered enough attention for Fox to stump up some money to film some test footage, which also leaked online. The reaction to what was leaked was incredibly positive. Fox took note and here we are. I don’t normally start reviews with film development talk, but I think it’s important to understand a) how long Ryan Reynolds has been attached to the project and b) how satisfying it must be for fans to have a nice, spurty release after over a decade of cinematic blue balls.

Mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He undergoes an experimental treatment to rid him of the disease. The treatment turns out to be a sinister plot to turn people into superpowered slaves. A man named Ajax (Ed Skrein) and his partner in crime Angel Dust (Gina Carano) inject Wilson with a serum that cures the cancer, gives him superhuman abilities, but leave him horribly scarred and disfigured. Not wanting to face his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Wilson fashions himself a red suit and goes on a personal rampage, determined to find those responsible and make them fix what was done to him.

Straight from the meta and genuinely amusing opening titles (including credits for “A British Villain” and being produced by “Some Asshats”) it’s clear that this is the Deadpool people have been waiting for. From there, the film is fast and funny with a furious gag rate. It’s bawdy, gross and sweary as anything, which is fucking refreshing. In complete contrast to the Origins version, nothing about this incarnation feels compromised. The trademark hyper-violence is also present and correct. Want to see someone slice off a man’s head and kick it like a football at someone else? This is your film, you weirdo.

Ryan Reynolds was born to play this character. The film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well with another person in the suit. Reynolds has always been well known, but aside from his early turn as Van Wilder, he’s not had a defining role that connected with audiences. Green Lantern was meant to change that, but we all know what happened there. Deadpool is that defining character for him. I’ve always liked the guy, even sat through dross like Blade: Trinity and R.I.P.D. purely because of him, but to see him throw himself into a role so completely is awesome. Now it’s officially a big hit, breaking all kinds of R-rated box office records, maybe this’ll exorcise a few of the demons. Shit, the film itself feels like it’s doing that at times, with digs at both Green Lantern and the Origins version of the character. Reynolds fucking crushes it as DP and it’s genuinely heartening to see him get a hit with a passion project 10+ years in the making.

The supporting cast are great too. Morena Baccarin does stellar work in the usually thankless girlfriend role. She gets some fun moments and gets to play a lovably mucky role. Despite some of the more outlandish elements, Wade and Vanessa’s relationship feels rather genuine and touching. They’re together because they’re both as fucked up as each other and it makes sense. Their “Four Yorkshiremen” inspired meet cute works a treat.TJ Miller is also a lot of fun as Wade’s confidante, getting nearly all the best lines. Karan Soni is affable as cab driver Dopinder and I loved the little back and forth between him and Mr. Pool. Ed Skrein and Gina Carano are decent enough presences, but neither get much to actually do.X-Men Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and the eyebrow-raising, eye-rolling Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) are also welcome additions.

Deadpool’s story is told in flashback, which thankfully negates that problem origin stories usually have of audience impatience for the lead to snap on the spandex and dole out street justice. It does make the thing slightly wonky though. You’ll feel some of the pre-mask stuff drag because it’s clear that’s not where the writing effort went. Obviously, the movie doesn’t want you to laugh at Wade’s diagnosis or anything, but a lot of the flashback scenes are rather inelegant tonal shifts and it leads to the feeling that the film’s pumping the fun brakes a little too hard. When the film is underway, it flies. The gags come thick and fast. It reminded me of something like Airplane! in a few bits. The jokes aren’t all great though. A good 40% didn’t hit their target, or at least didn’t for me. It’s a scattershot approach. Still, the subjective nature of comedy meant that different people in the audience were laughing at different moments. The only moments of silence when funnies were meant to be happening was during some of the more obscure U.S. pop culture gags. Considering its target audience, I’m not sure American audiences will get them either. I laughed, snorted and guffawed way more than I was expecting to and certainly more than I do at most pure modern “comedies”. The action was on point too. I especially loved ‘Pool getting the audience to mentally count down the rounds in his last clip.

With something as tongue-in-cheek and audience winking as Deadpool, it’s hard to determine what is parody and what’s not. Is the thinly-sketched plot a commentary on current movie trends? Is the fact that we only have action sequences in generic locations like a highway, a warehouse and a junkyard part of the joke? Who knows. The plot is an excuse to showcase Deadpool’s character anyway, but it would have been nice to have some stronger villains or some more interesting locations.

I had a blast with Deadpool. It’s a lot of fun and whilst many jokes didn’t hit, the ones that did hit big time. I felt good supporting it too. Whilst it is a big studio release with a very strong marketing arm, it’s still a moderately budgeted R-rated flick, something which is still a rarity in the current movie climate. More please.

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The Hateful Eight (2016)

I’ve been a Tarantino fan for many years. I feel it’s necessary to qualify that bias straight of of the gate. Sometimes Tarantino fans can get carried away stumbling over themselves to call his latest film a masterpiece or something similar, whilst ignoring any legitimate flaws. As loath as I am to use the word, it happens with most “fandoms”, but Tarantino disciples can be pretty bullheaded in their defence of their chosen one. This may explain the mixed critical reaction to QT’s latest, The Hateful Eight, which is both the most Tarantino-ist film that ever Quentined, but also the least like his usual work.

The Hateful Eight follows a bounty hunter, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as they travel through a blizzard so that Ruth can claim the bounty on Domergue’s head. They take refuge in a remote cabin to wait out the storm and find it occupied with several more colourful and likely untrustworthy characters.

As opposed to the roaring rampages of revenge we’ve been used to, The Hateful Eight is like an extended Agatha Christie mystery. The film spends most of the runtime in the same cold looking cabin  and uses the interplay between the characters as the set dressing. There’s a wonderful creeping tension as allegiances are made and broken based on new information coming to light about the characters. It also reminded me strongly of The Thing, another Kurt Russell film. One of the criticisms (that I can’t disagree with) of Tarantino is that he stitches films together out of stand-alone scenes and sequences. Hateful Eight is a lot more like a conventional, logical story played out in front of us. It would make a fantastic stage play, something which Tarantino says he’s working on.

The Hateful Eight is in no rush to tell its story. Clocking in at just over three hours, the pace is leisurely and may frustrate some. The whole thing is rather indulgent and I can see how people have been turned off by the trudging pace. However, I must admit that I was absorbed by the whole thing. I’m a mark for Tarantino’s writing and to hear quality dialogue spoken by actors I respect and admire like Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell was a treat. As the story progresses, we do move into vintage violent territory, but by that point, I feel it has been earned. The film has been amping the tension up and it’s rather satisfying to see the balloons burst after a long time inflating.

The film is split into chapters and I agree with the detractors that one entire chapter could have been taken out and the story would have still made sense. However, I feel it makes it more of an experience, considering you’ve been in the same seat for three hours. I am aware that I’m in the minority on this one. I watch deleted scenes and director’s cuts. The Hateful Eight feels like an extended director’s cut of a film I’ve never seen the theatrical version of. It’s a little baggy narratively, but it contains more juicy dialogue and character beats for me to gorge myself on.

Do I really need to comment on the cast? They’re all seasoned actors, most of which have appeared in previous QT films, and they’re all brilliant. The title isn’t wrong either – all the characters are terrible, loathsome human beings and the cruelty on display may be too much for some people. To a twisted husk like me, it was magic. This kind of Sam L. Jackson is my favourite kind of Sam L. Jackson – quiet and reserved, but a hat drop away from being all bulgy eyed and intense. Also, the film serves as a great reminder of how good Tim Roth is. His character, Oswaldo Mobray, was easily my favourite, coming off like a cross between Christoph Waltz and Tim Curry. Newcomers to Tarantino’s collection like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum also do stellar work. I really hope to see them in future projects.

The Hateful Eight is perhaps not as fun or as accessible as previous films like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. However, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It felt like a proper cinema experience. I loved the fact that Hateful Eight had an intermission built into the film itself. It’s little old-school touches such as that that makes me a fan of the man and his work.  I’m not sure where it fits in with the other seven QT titles just yet, but I’m looking forward to repeat viewings to find out.

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Jurassic World (2015)

“After some consideration, I have decided not to endorse your park.”

Jurassic World hits home media today and the dinosaur-flavoured hubbub that engulfed my Twitter and Facebook feeds reminded me I never shared my thoughts on the film on this site. The original review was done for the lovely people at OnboardOnline, where the majority of my new content can be found.

Jurassic World (2015)

Like many others, I consider Jurassic Park to be a formative film in shaping both my future film tastes and blockbuster expectations. To expect a new release to live up to that, despite it selling itself on that very goodwill. is unfair. I wasn’t anticipating a masterpiece or anything like that, I just wanted to kick back and have fun with it. There’s always at least one big film per year where my opinion differs so greatly from the critical consensus that it causes me to have a small existential crisis. Last year it was the still a load-of-old-toss Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Why did it have to be Jurassic World this year?

Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the original disastrous realisation of John Hammond’s vision. Jurassic World is a fully-functional theme park that has been attracting visitors for a decade. Dinosaurs and the concept of a prehistoric park are as commonplace as visiting the zoo. We follow two brothers, sulky teen Zach (Nick Robinson) and excitable youth Gray (Ty Simpkins) as they prepare to visit Isla Nublar and their park operations manager aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Visitor numbers have been in decline and the park’s lab scientists have cooked up a bigger, louder and scarier hybrid dinosaur they dub “Indominus Rex” in an attempt to boost ticket sales. Predictably, this proves to be a terrible idea and the double-tough I-Rex escapes, endangering the lives of thousands of park patrons and staff alike. Claire enlists the help of ex-Navy man turned dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to find the Indominus Rex in the park’s vast lands before any lives are threatened.

I liked the first half hour or so of the film. Seeing a fully functional Jurassic Park is a treat and there’s an appropriate sense of awe when we see sights like the gigantic crocodile-like Mosasaurus leaping out of its aquarium and gobbling a suspended shark whole. There were nice little details that sold Jurassic World as a fun place to visit. Despite being for children, I could easily spend hours in the dinosaur petting zoo alone were it real. John Williams’ iconic theme also went a long way to sell the majesty of it all. However, once we started to get into the main plot, the wheels started to fall off.

The story is the sticking point. The dialogue is flat and the characterisation is confused. Tinkering with genetics with no thought for the ramifications is a series hallmark, but having a wicked smart hybrid dinosaur with superpowers was a stretch too far for me. I don’t think it would have been so bad if the film didn’t use the I-Rex’s abilities so lazily and only to move characters from one setpiece to the next. It has a camouflage ability that it uses precisely once for example. The I-Rex is portrayed as more of a scheming serial killer than a dangerous beast. Midway through the film, it digs a tracking device out of its flesh because it apparently remembers it being planted and knows what it is. It’s funny how my disbelief can be extended beyond creating dinosaurs but comes to a sudden stop when a dino uses a tracking device to ambush a bunch of soldiers. The film is schizophrenic in its approach, dedicating time to explain how the creatures are just animals, but then treating them as legit characters. One scene shows a bunch of slaughtered brontosauruses and Grady remarks that the I-Rex is “killing for sport” like it’s an example of how smart and evil it is. Surely that’s just animal behaviour? If a fox goes on a rampage in a henhouse it doesn’t make it the Jack the Ripper of the countryside.

The film was in development hell for over a decade and it shows. The script has so many different fingerprints on it it’d probably be sticky to the touch. Being a JP supernerd, I know that the film is stapled together from all kinds of sources. Some elements are from the original Michael Crichton novel and others are from the crappy original leaked script that boasted terrible ideas like dinosaur/human hybrids. There are even some pieced from previous films’ deleted scenes, including a sequence involving a helicopter and flying Pteranodons originally scripted for The Lost World. It feels like a connect-the-dots puzzle done simultaneously by four people who hate each other.

The cast are fine and elevate the material somewhat. The trouble is that the characters are stock. Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady is an all-purpose badass who is never wrong and has no character flaws. He has no real arc and it was hard to get involved. Claire has a bit of character development, but it’s a shallow turn from stuffy businesswoman to slightly tough maternal figure. Her arc seems to be just accepting that Owen Grady is awesome and coming around to his way of thinking. The gender politics on display prove that dinos aren’t the only lumbering prehistoric beasts present. Having said that, it didn’t strike me as intentional, it feels like it was arrived at accidentally. It was just some knocked-together filler inbetween the film’s tentpole sequences.

Vincent D’Onofrio shows up as military man Hoskins, who has the crazy idea of weaponising trained Velociraptors. He does his best with what he’s given, but there’s no escaping the fact that he’s a weak villain. There’s one moment where Owen punches Hoskins for no apparent reason other than because the film has arbitrarily decided at this juncture that he’s the bad guy. It’s completely unjustified and like many of the relationships between characters, it just seems assumed. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are alright, although again it’s like their personalities have just been copied and pasted from a list of character archetypes. The cardboard characters led to a lack of involvement on my part and as such, I didn’t care whether somebody lived or died.

I kinda liked the reflexive approach the film takes. Both the park and the film itself are trying to make dinosaurs exciting again to audiences. The film has some truly meta moments when talking about product sponsorships and a heavy reliance on focus groups. It’s two-faced, however. It will slag off commercialisation with one side of its mouth and then have a sleek car driving sequence which resembles a Mercedes advert. Jurassic World wears its Spielberg love on its sleeve, but the numerous references to the original film started to grate on me after a while and reminded me of all the ways the film wasn’t Jurassic Park. Both the Jurassic World park and film are giving the audience what they think they want- wall-to-wall dinosaur action and references to the only good film in the series. These are both hollow joys, however, when the story groundwork hasn’t been done properly.

You can’t move for dinosaurs in this film. In one way, this is fantastic as we get to see some interesting and unique looking species. However, it also smacks of pandering to the short attention spans of young teens. It’s more of an action film than anything else and that saddens me. Some of the sequences are really well done and we get some great humans vs. dinosaur and dino on dino action. The body count in this film is significantly higher than in previous entries and to me, that outlines the problem. Every death in Jurassic Park meant something because we got to know the characters. None of Jurassic World‘s deaths really mean anything. Also, what it the point in having a park full of squishy, bite-sized humans and only having one sequence where flat-out carnage happens? The only semi-memorable death in this one actually struck me as needlessly nasty and karmically unwarranted. With this line, I’ve realised I’ve turned into my parents as we had this same issue with the original film 22 years ago, but people with young children eager to see it may want to hold fire on a viewing. It’s pretty damn violent in places and I can’t imagine the kiddies being too happy when the cuddlier, less toothy herbivore dinosaurs start kicking the bucket.

I started to get on board with the film’s goofier charms towards the end, but by then it was too late. I was mentally checked out and deflated. It’s probably the best of the sequels, but that’s not saying much. I really wanted to like the film, but the unfocused script lets it down with stupid contrivances, inconsistent motivations and huge logic leaps. If they wanted to (needlessly) prove that dinosaurs are exciting again, they’ve done their job, now they just need to work on making it all mean something deeper than just colour and noise for the already in-production sequel.

Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Chore

Fantastic Snore

Fantastic Bore

Pigshit Sandwich

Fantastic Four (2015)

So, as you may have heard, Fantastic Four has bombed pretty damn hard and received a critical mauling in the press. Naturally, I felt the need to check it out. So I did. Incredible story, I know.

Fantastic Four tells the story of a gang of young scientists who crack the secret of interdimensional travel. Genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), his best friend/muscle Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), weirdo loner Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and tearaway Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) end up teleporting across dimensions to a new and dangerous planet. Bad science stuff happens and Victor doesn’t make it back. The accident gives Richards, Grimm and both Storms (Kate Mara’s Susan Storm is caught in the explosion when our heroes return) superhuman abilities.

It’s tempting to stop the review there and mention all the problems I have with the whole direction of the film. They’re big goddamn problems too. However, this is the product that’s been delivered to cinemas, so I won’t shit up good ol’ criticism with my lacklustre fan fiction-y ideas of what I wanted the film to be. Whilst an origin story, especially one that takes as long as this one does, is definitely not needed, I can appreciate it on some level. I had a problem with the Muppet Babies version of the team, but the cast did enough to convince me it wasn’t the worst idea. I liked Miles Teller as Reed Richards. He’s not the old-school father figure that he is in the comics, but he’s affable enough. The narrative concentrates on him and he’s actually fleshed out rather well. I was sceptical about Jamie Bell’s apparent miscasting as The Thing, but he does decent work as Ben Grimm. Again, he’s not the comic book version, but I could get on board with him as Reed’s designated protector. Less of a success is the rest of the cast. As you may have gleaned from the plot summary, Sue Storm is largely pushed to the side. She’s not even part of the expedition, which is baffling to me. I think Kate Mara did alright with what little we saw of her, but the film isn’t interested in her, so her impact on the film is minimal. Fuck, the Jessica Alba version of Sue Storm was better sketched than this AND had a more convincing wig.

I really expected Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm to be the breakout character. Disappointingly, he was weirdly subdued. Jordan is a great actor but it feels like the film hasn’t got time for much fun with him and his powers. He doesn’t strike me as the impulsive hothead he should be. Doom is another story. I could dig where they went with him. I rolled my eyes just as hard as everyone else did when leaked info pointed to Von Doom being an angry bedroom hacker. In practice, I could appreciate the idea of taking an angry computer nerd with strong opinions on the government and corporations and giving him a scary amount of power. Kebbell even manages to be fairly effective in the face of slapdash writing and leaden dialogue.

My problems with the characters sum up my opinion on the film as a whole. I can see what they’re doing and can appreciate it to a point but the whole thing is schizophrenic. It’s like a PG-13 edgy science-fiction film that has to be a superhero film under duress. Up until the gang get their powers, there is some solid characterisation on display. After the incident, it just becomes a jumble of hackneyed bullshit and rudderless CGI. There were bits past this point I enjoyed, but I liked them in a vacuum, free from the incoherent mess around them. For instance, I liked the weird body horror elements when the four wake up and find themselves in terrifying personal predicaments. I loved the hell out of a horror-like segment where the enraged Doom wakes up and starts exploding peoples’ heads Scanners style whilst walking down a corridor. These feel like glimmers of better and rougher drafts that somehow made it into the finished film.

I don’t have a problem with origin stories. When people say they do, I feel it’s akin to saying you don’t like books because you read some bad ones once. Some of the greatest and most enduring stories in human history are about the birth of heroes, so it seems weird to me that they’re usually the least compelling in a series. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, there are ways to ensure your precious franchise starter doesn’t suck straight out of the gate. Fantastic Four unfortunately ignores all of them and as such has to be chucked on the ever growing pile of shitty reboots with overambitious sequel plans. The film is a stapled-together mess. There are some genuinely inventive and decent ideas in the script, but it’s all neutralised thanks to having to conform to the superhero norms. Josh Trank was probably the wrong man for the job. He’s talented as hell, but this one reeks of studio interference and meddling. That’s not to say he’s completely blameless but the fact of the matter is that I don’t know what went down behind the scenes. However, it seems likely that Fox execs saw the darker, more interesting scenes like the David Cronenberg-esque awakenings and freaked out, beating the creative team over the head with demographic charts until it was deemed “safe” enough for public consumption.

I really wish I could punch this film’s third act in the face. It’s honestly like the film has stopped trying. It’s all just colours and noise. For valiantly hanging on in there, all the remaining audience are treated to is cringeworthy dialogue and a complete pixelfuck of a conclusion that threatens more terrible films. By the end I was pissed off. It’s not because I saw a bad film –  I see ’em all the time. What angered me was the fact that this version of Fantastic Four could have conceivably worked. It wasn’t a great adaptation, but it had a fresh angle of attack. it just failed at knowing what to do when it got there.

Fantastic Four is pretty damn bad. It definitely doesn’t deserve the horrifying 8% it currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes though. It’s more of an interesting failure than a full-on trainwreck. However, I can’t recommend it in good conscience. It’s a mostly banal retread of the same old shit we’ve seen before and we should and do expect more from our superhero epics. Here’s hoping this causes a massive rethink at Fox HQ and we get an actual F4 film next time.