Stars: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman
Release date: August 4th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes
Best part: Will Smith and Margot Robbie.
Worst part: Jared Leto’s Joker.
Nothing in modern cinema is more divisive and distressing than the DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel divided critics and audiences but made enough coin to kick off the franchise. However, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a laughable misfire and fundamental misunderstanding of the genre. The series relied on Suicide Squad to pick up the ball and continue running. Sadly, it hits the ground with a deafening thud.
Suicide Squad is a prime example of overwhelming potential obliterated by underwhelming execution. Writer/director David Ayer, despite being given 6 weeks for the screenplay, had reportedly made a cracking flick. However, after BvS’s disastrous critical response, the studio went into overdrive with reshoots and marketing schemes. DC’s latest misfire sees Ballbuster Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) dusting off a unique idea to combat the Metahuman threat kick started by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) task supervillains/Belle Reve Penitentiary inmates including hit man Deadshot (Will Smith), deranged chick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrotechnic ex-gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), monster Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and mercenary Slipknot (Adam Beach) with completing a deadly, government-sanctioned mission in Midway City.
Suicide Squad begins with several interesting concepts and fun moments. Ayer – whose previous efforts include WWII-thriller Fury and LA-gangland movies like End of Watch – is suited to its team-up premise. The movie hits a rollicking pace during the first third. Kooky character bios, flashbacks, narration and music cues deliver thrills and funnies. However, studio meddling quickly overruns Ayer’s lean-and-mean vision. Attempting Guardians of the Galaxy-style action-comedy, it’s light, breezy tone undercuts the ugly narrative and themes. The story jumps between past and present, warping an otherwise straightforward men-on-a-mission story. The tone lurches wildly from black comedy to action-thriller without relevance between scenes. Endless montages – Waller’s character introductions, getting the team together etc. – delay the mission itself. The mission, however, boils down to generic plot twists, a thin story structure, and an underwhelming villain. Dr June Moone/Enchantress(Cara Delevingne)’s plan, to resurrect her deity brother Incubus to take over the world, makes her 2016’s most uninspired antagonist.
Suicide Squad also disappoints fans of the Joker and DC’s broad range of superheroes. The famous antagonist appears randomly in flashbacks and action sequences. His and Quinn’s nasty relationship, worthy of its own feature, is wedged in. Jared Leto’s portrayal compares poorly to Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson’s. The broad, irritating mannerisms and ghetto bling/gangbanger style are baffling. Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash appear briefly to connect instalments. Ayer’s tough, brawny direction extends to the visual style; cramming fluoro colours, grimy exteriors and wacky costuming into every space. Ayer shoots and choreographs the action with textbook precision. His creation is partly salvaged by its actors’ raw enthusiasm. Robbie conquers Quinn’s first cinematic appearance. Smith, after several bland performances, is back to his charismatic best. Meanwhile, Davis, Courtney and Kinnaman succeed in underdeveloped roles.
Suicide Squad represents everything good, bad and ugly with Hollywood. The talented cast and filmmaker put 110% into every wild and wacky second. However, studio meddling and lack of depth make it one of 2016’s many ‘dark and gritty’ blockbuster disappointments.
Writers: Adam Cozard, Craig Brewer (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel)
Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz
Release date: July 7th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 110 minutes
Best part: Samuel L. Jackson.
Worst part: The inconsistent visual effects.
Dear Hollywood, no one on Earth was asking for a ‘dark and gritty’ reboot of Tarzan. In fact, everyone is sick of those words being the basis for every reboot, reimagining and rejigging from the past ten years. 2016 in film, so far, proves tinseltown is having a major identity crisis. Almost every sequel has bombed, the smaller genre flicks have gone gangbusters and we responded to Zac Efron’s comedies with a collective shrug. What an age we live in!
Like The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Legend of Tarzan brings an old-school franchise into the 21st Century. Sadly, it resembles the former – a bloated, out-of-touch product that should have stayed hidden. Based on acclaimed author Edgar Rice Burroughs famous stories, this reboot does start promisingly. After the Berlin Conference, the United Kingdom and Belgium divided up the Congo. The Belgian government is close to bankruptcy and left with a useless railroad and other infrastructure. King Leopold of Belgium II sends Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to claim mineral deposits including the diamonds of Opar, protected by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) and US envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convince John Clayton III/Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) to return to Africa and become Lord of the Apes once again.
Tarzan – despite leading multiple films, books, serials etc. – came from a more ‘innocent’ era in the Western world. This version attempts an elaborate balancing act between classic action-adventure and revisionist perspective. It’s a refreshing premise; throwing us into a world already aware of Tarzan’s existence. Screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer manufacture false drama from the outset. The first act spins its wheels as the Tarzan rejects the offer, mulls it over with wife Jane (Margot Robbie), and agrees to tag along. From there, the movie leaps between plot-holes and overused plot-points. Its colonialist overtones are wholly uncomfortable, with every scene showing this impressive white man coming to native Africa’s rescue.
Despite mediocre results, director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Deathly Hallows Part 2) swings for the fences. The director juggles Tarzan’s backstory (his parents’ deaths, an upbringing helped by apes, reason for leaving etc.) at inopportune moments with narration and flashbacks. His vision forcefully compares the Belgian Congo and American Civil War’s atrocities. The mix of fictional aura and historical events calls Hollywood’s racial politics into question. Yates’ visual style distorts every frame with anachronisms, confusing camerawork and sepia tone, while the action sequences and CGI are shoddily handled. Worse still, bland performances by Skarsgard, Robbie and Waltz are inexcusable. Jackson, thankfully, provides some much-needed levity and charisma.
The Legend of Tarzan, like the many animals in starring roles, is a fascinating but destructive creation. Despite the cute comedic timing and aim-high attitude, this reboot/reimagining/whatever proves a worthwhile director, cast and budget can falter spectacularly.
Writers: Robert Carlock (screenplay), Kim Barker (memoir)
Stars: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina
Release date: May 12th, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 112 minutes
Best part: The fun performances.
Worst part: The bizarre sense of humour.
Since sitcom 30 Rock‘s ultra-successful run came to its fitting conclusion, actress and writer Tina Fey has splashed out on intriguing big and small screen projects. Despite mixed critical and commercial success, the Saturday Night Live alumni is commendable for breaking down boundaries for women in Hollywood. With that said, I still can’t recommend her latest gamble Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
This war-dramedy covers the shockingly true events from American international journalist Kim Barker’s memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It begins with a swift, cutting dissection of life for white journalists stuck in Middle-Eastern countries. A loud, debaucherous party halted by a bombing in downtown Kabul during Operation Enduring Freedom. The story then jumps three years backwards. Kim (Fey), covering fluff pieces and writing transcripts for newsreaders, becomes fatigued by the desk-jockey lifestyle in New York. Called up by her superiors, she jumps at the opportunity to report breaking news stories on the other side of the globe. Struggling to balance her war correspondent role and long-distance relationship with Chris (Josh Charles), Kim delves into Kabul’s hypnotic environment.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a cornucopia of interesting and groundbreaking concepts at hand. True, the idea of following woman in a man’s world has been tried and tested (Zero Dark Thirty). However, the movie aptly attempts to compare the world’s view of feminism today with that of 13 years ago. Also, a story about 21st Century journalism’s ever-transitioning trajectory is always intriguing (The Newsroom). Sadly, it cannot decide what it wants to do with, or say about, such weighty subject matter. Robert Carlock’s screenplay aims for a dark, deeply personal struggle of job stress and life adjustment. However, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa – known for genre-bending comedies including I Love You, PhillipMorris, Crazy Stupid Love, and Focus – vie for a blunt, blackly comedic jaunt.
The movie turns into a confused and jumbled mix of war-docudrama and quirky dramedy tropes. Stretched out over an exhaustive 112 minutes, Kim’s interactions with bouncy Australian correspondent Tanya (Margot Robbie), Scottish photojournalist Iain (Martin Freeman), and guide Fahim (Christopher Abbott) play out perfunctorily. Its unique third-act plot twists and biting allure don’t make up for its jarring tonal shifts and lack of depth. Ficarra and Requa’s peculiar sense of humour tars every character with the same brush. The duo’s penchant for out-of-place gross-out gags and unlikable personalities overshadows its arresting premise. Even the US Marines, led by grizzled commander General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), are offensive stereotypes.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot makes a mockery of its war-torn setting, depicting all Afghan citizens as irritable and antagonistic. Worse still, vital Afghan characters including shady government figure Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) are played by British and american actors. Like with Bad Neighbours 2, the drama and comedy rely on the cast’s inherent charisma and commitment. Fey is one of Hollywood’s most likeable performers, with her trademark sarcastic wit elevating the movie’s most trite moments. Robbie relies on her gorgeous allure, struggling to emote through a patchy British accent. Freeman, coming off several blockbusters, fits comfortably back into his quaint, nice-guy persona. Thornton and Molina are charming despite questionable roles.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot marks the dramedy at its most obnoxious and mundane. Fusing your average war-docudrama with a run-of-the-mill Fey project, the movie combines several great tastes that don’t go well together.
Writer: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (autobiography)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey
Release date: January 23rd, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 180 minutes
Best part: Scorsese’s direction.
Worst part: The slightly exasperating run-time.
In reality and fiction, the 21stcentury has delivered several influential and controversial moments, personalities, and conundrums. So far, this century has crafted polarised communities, disgraced political figures, and bizarre celebrities. Despite the past 13 years’ pros and cons, what separates this century from previous ones? It’s simple – the world has significantly expanded. Before I continue divulging into this pressing debate, I’ll link my point back to this century’s cinematic efforts. I’ll do so because, in this case, it matters. Anti-hero characters deliver brutally vile personas and enviable traits.
Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street reach out and grasp optimistic and enthusiastic filmgoers. Throwing punches, they remind us that heroes and villains control reality. In both realms, people continually fend for themselves. In The Wolf of Wall Street, the characters learn life’s greatest secrets and keep them to themselves. Though most anti-hero stories are fantastical and disarming, we turn to them for inspiration, escapism, and suspense. Blurring the line between reality and fantasy, the movie relishes in absurdities and overarching messages. Tying into modern media’s obsession with controversy and attentiveness, this docudrama examines the 21stcentury’s unique perspectives and promising artistic trends. Reflecting cultural, economic, and social desires, the movie succinctly and engagingly analyses the American Dream’s true power and potential. Unbelievably, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story. The movie chronicles stockbroker-turned-motivational-speaker Jordan Belfort’s rise to power and fall from prominence. Based on Belfort’s best-selling memoir, the movie examines his life story’s unconscionable twists and turns. The movie begins by listing this businessman’s enviable possessions. Comparing elaborate mansions to gorgeous wives and illicit drugs, Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is living proof that money does buy happiness. Living the dream, Belfort believes his explicit lifestyle will never end.
The movie jumps back several years, and Belfort is a fresh-faced go-getter. Arriving in New York City via bus, the humble and optimistic youngster strives for stock-market success. On his first day, he becomes infinitely entranced by Wall Street’s immense chaos. Becoming head stockbroker Mark Hanna(Matthew McConaughey)’s protege, Belfort re-structures his pristine image. After a stock-market crash, he applies for a Long Island boiler room dealing specifically in penny stocks. Wowing his co-workers, Belfort becomes an ambitious and zany hotshot. Befriending Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort ambitiously builds penny stock company Stratton Oakmont, Inc. Over time, Belfort, like DiCaprio himself, develops a debaucherous and enviable lifestyle. Despite the company’s blissful ascension in the corporate world, its party-hungry and grotesque stockbrokers threaten to destroy Belfort’s emphatic image. Unquestionably, DiCaprio’s infatuation with the material is gleefully ironic and playful. With DiCaprio being a relentless womaniser and acting titan, Wolf of Wall Street‘s Meta shades ring alarmingly true. DiCaprio’s involvement, defined by a bidding war over the rights, injects tangibility and gravitas into the uncompromising narrative. Eventually, Belfort, despite being married, befriends and seduces Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie). Despite the extravagant lifestyle and conquering business, Belfort’s overwhelming existence hits several obstacles. Fortunately, thanks to a raucous opening scene, this perplexing docudrama immediately kicks into gear. We, as hyper-aware filmgoers, witness wealthy actors playing destructive and stupefying characters. This relentless black comedy elevates 2013’s anti-hero trend (American Hustle, Spring Breakers, Pain & Gain). Thanks to its blind-siding tendencies and attention to detail, The Wolf of Wall Street delivers intriguing surprises, laugh-out-loud lines, and baffling set-pieces.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, & John Bernthal.
Obviously, director Martin Scorsese is responsible for the movie’s significant quality. Scorsese is, unquestionably, modern Hollywood’s greatest director. As an A-list celebrity and film aficionado, Scorsese is a commendable individual. Beyond these traits, his multi-layered and memorable filmography is worth flicking through. Scorsese’s works – whether they’re stone cold classics (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver), moody dramas (Bringing out the Dead), thrillers (Cape Fear), or charming adventure flicks (Hugo) – continually bolster cinema’s reputation. Here, Scorsese returns to his effervescent best. Scorsese, striving for laughs and exhilarating moments, returns to the crime-drama and black comedy genres. Reminiscent of Goodfellas, Mean Streets, and Casino, The Wolf of Wall Street celebrates ludicrous behaviour, temptation, brotherhood, and honour. Despite his characters’ disgusting behaviour, Scorsese insistently examines the anti-hero mindset. Separating traditional and modern anti-hero tropes, the movie never displays the victim’s perspective. Despite Scorsese’s impressive aura, his 21stcentury efforts are startlingly hit (The Departed, The Aviator) and miss (Gangs of New York, Shutter Island). Ably balancing appropriateness and accuracy, this exhilarating dramedy fuses visual stimulus, relevance, and edge. Receiving criticism for The Wolf of Wall Street‘s moral and ethical dexterity, Scorsese’s attention to detail, nuanced style, and confronting perspectives outweigh the movie’s ethical conundrums. Scorsese deliberates on the economic downturn, US government, and capitalism. Here, consequences are obliterated by Belfort’s greed, mean-spiritedness, and manipulative persona. Ably handling Belfort’s memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street unflinchingly depicts a horrifying, relentless, and thought-provoking story. The movie’s non-linear structure provides intensifying titbits and intricacies. Driven by temptation, greed, and malice, Stratton Oakmont is history’s most exciting, debilitating, and deplorable workplace.
“The year I turned 26, as the head of my own brokerage firm, I made $49 million, which really pissed me off because it was three shy of a million a week.” (Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), The Wolf of Wall Street).
Finding loopholes and creating pump-and-dump scams, Belfort and co. endlessly revel in the rewards. With money pouring in, shirtless marching bands and dirty hookers become essential to the office space on an average Tuesday. Excavating Belfort’s vicious lifestyle, Terence Winter(Boardwalk Empire co-creator)’s eclectic screenplay provides laughs, shocking moments, and heart-breaking turns. Here, Winter updates the rise-and-fall narrative for a new generation. Fortunately, the story balances exhilarating highs and crushing lows despite Belfort’s exasperating existence. Soon enough, The FBI becomes essential to this baffling story. Separating fact from fiction, the FBI slaps the movie’s blissfully ecstatic audience. Scorsese’s New York is more concentrated than Belfort’s disarming concoctions – depicting the Big Apple as a gleefully unapologetic hellhole. Breaking ethical and performative boundaries, the cast also elevates itself above the material. DiCaprio delivers a career defining performance as this dangerous and charming lead character. Stretching his comedic muscles, DiCaprio’s dexterous charisma and unique physical structure provide several memorable moments. As the all-encompassing leader hooked on Quaaludes, his thundering speeches and one-liners ring throughout the cineplex. Hill, with oily skin, phosphorescent teeth, and sickening enthusiasm, excels as Belfort’s psychopathic sidekick. With an insatiable appetite for cocaine, hookers, and goldfish, Azoff becomes a disastrous and darkly comic enabler. McConaughey exceeds expectations in his all-too-brief role. Robbie is revelatory and frightening as Beflort’s audacious second wife. In addition, Jean Dujardin, Ethan Suplee, Joanna Lumley, Jon Bernthal, P.J. Byrne, and Cristin Milioti deliver ingenious highlights in small roles. Surprisingly, directors Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze, and Jon Favreau also elevate valuable sequences.
The Wolf of Wall Street, beyond the gut-wrenching imagery and commendable nuances, proves that big-shot directors, writers, and actors can obsess over and produce overwhelming excess. With Belfort’s story wrought with ambivalent characters, temptations, and hefty consequences, Scorsese, Winter, and DiCaprio throw brutal punches and learn from one another. Despite the egregious 3-hour run-time, this visceral farce becomes Scorsese’s best effort since The Departed. He is, undoubtedly, the greatest veteran director working today.
Verdict: An absurd, kinetic, and entertaining docudrama.