Archive for the ‘Marvel’ Category

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After the aggressively awful Batman v Superman and the frustratingly mediocre Man of Steel, it is no exaggeration to say that the DC cinematic universe is in *desperate* need of a hit.

The traditional marque superheroes have failed, and so the executives at Warner Brothers, like the D.C. bureaucrats in Suicide Squad, have placed their remaining hope for salvation in a ragtag group of quirky villains.

It’s a novel plan, full of cinematic possibilities. But while Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and their criminal pals are able to save the day in fiction, in real life their efforts fall with a resounding thud.

Suicide Squad starts with a pseudo spoiler for those of you who didn’t see but still might care about the plot of BvS. Superman is Dead (don’t worry, he won’t be for long), but the potential threat of otherworldly and/or superhuman threats against mankind remains. So the U.S. Government, at the behest of Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller, greenlights a project called Task Force X, a team of beyond-maximum-security convicted criminals compelled to fight for good in exchange for 1) having time cut from their sentences and 2) not having their heads blown off by small explosives injected into their spine.

That team is introduced in a clunky and overly-long sequence of flashbacks that comprises Squad’s first act. We see the capture of sniper-for-hire Deadshot and psychiatrist-turned-cuckoo-bird Harley Quinn by Batman, the creation of The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) courtesy of a spelunking trip gone awry and a cameo Flash (Ezra Miller, borrowed from the upcoming Justice League film) who zips in to apprehend Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) a baddie who likes boomerangs.

Oh and there’s a crocodile man, an unrecognizable Jay Hernandez shooting fire from his hands and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) who is the lone “good” guy on the team and mostly gives googly eyes at Delevingne between scowling sessions.

If you’ve seen the trailers, which are far better than the full film, then you know and have seen all this. But once those machinations are out of the way, Suicide Squad finds itself all dressed up with nowhere to go. Luckily writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury) isn’t beyond dumping a metric ton of plot contrivances to move things along. No sooner has the squad been formed before the Enchantress goes rogue, resurrecting her discount-Sauron brother, launching some sort of doomsday machine and creating an army of generic, blob-soldiers to provide bloodless, PG-13 approved fodder for Deadshot’s bullets, Quinn’s baseball bat and Boomerang’s boomerangs.

Many superhero films struggle in the villain department — think Malekith from Thor 2 or Doomsday from the aforementioned garbage pit that was BvS — but the Enchantress is given particularly little to work with. Beyond the blob army, which have all the menace of a walking pile of mud, her villainy is largely confined to waving her arms in front of a wall of green screen phantasmagoria that is wreaking havoc around the world, largely offscreen.

But this movie is still 2+ hours long, which means that once assembled, our plucky antiheroes have a good 90 minutes to wander around a decimated city, occasionally punching things and making futile attempts at edgy humor while the incoherent plot barrels through superfluous beats and a veritable slew of flashbacks that do little more than set the stage for movies still to come. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, Suicide Squad is more occupied with the ghosts of other stories than the immediate tasks at hand.

But isn’t the Joker in this? Not really. Jared Leto, as promised, delivers an original take on the clown prince of Gotham but his sub-plot is entirely peripheral. The clown has, maybe, 30 seconds of screen time not shown in the promotional materials, which is spent trying to reconnect with his lady-love Quinn.

For her part, Robbie is the only main character who got the memo to have a little fun. She’s a rare spot of energy in the dour proceedings, but is still cobbled by wooden dialogue and an absence of anything resembling character development.

In each minute, you can feel Ayer straining to break free and lean into the madness of Suicide Squad, only to be crushed by the market demands for a “safe” superhero film. Give the movie a better villain, 30 fewer minutes of screen time and a the go-ahead for R Rated content that would actually jive with how wicked these characters are supposed to be and you might have something worth seeing.

Instead, we have yet another DC hodgepodge of competing interests, and a director tasked with handling too many irons in a fire. It entertains in a shallow, innocuous way that avoids the discomfort of the Zach Snyder flagship films, but the worst offense is who completely it squanders what could have been, and was promised to be, something fresh and original.

Grade: C

*Suicide Squad opens nationwide on Friday, August 5.

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Putting together a top 10 movies list is never easy. There’s always too many films and a nagging sense of betrayal as I’m forced to drop titles from the running, let alone the hair-splitting agony of figuring out which film to christen as the ultimate champion for the year. I try to alleviate this with my honorable mentions, which helps, but there’s always at least one more movie I want to recognize.

So a few years back I started naming an 11th best film, an honor reserved for a big-budget, mainstream, popcorn film that excels above the too-frequent mindless bilge produced by the Hollywood tentpole machine. Sometimes there is no such film, but this year it was an obvious choice.

Without further ado, the 11th best film of 2014 was…

4222808-captainamericaCaptain America: The Winter Soldier

To criticize comic book adaptations of being formulaic is the lowest of hanging fruit, but the genre rivals romantic comedies for their paint-by-numbers predictability. 1. Introduce hero doing something heroic. 2. Introduce love interest. 3. Introduce villain being evil. 4. Send hero after villain. 5. Place love interest in peril. 6. Introduce complication that suggests hero will fail/villain will succeed. 7. Have hero and villain punch each other really hard. 8. Hero emerges triumphant, saves love interest. 9. Sunset, ride off into.

The first Captain America followed this pattern, giving us the milquetoast Steve Rogers who, after an injection of magic juice, went on a two hour Nazi-punching campaign. Spoiler alert, I guess, but the ending had villain Red Skull vanishing into a ball of magic space light while Rogers plunged into the arctic so that we could fast forward to the movie we really wanted to see, The Avengers. It didn’t exactly leave me chomping at the bit for more of the star-spangled Cap.

But Winter Soldier was no phoned-in creation of redundancy. It took the loose threads left by The Avengers, namely the super-secret spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D and pulled while the connective fabric of the Marvel Cinematic Universe unraveled. The result was a comic book movie that was more political thriller than rock ’em sock ’em cacophony, complete with a who-can-we-trust paranoia and a ripped-from-the-headlines criticism of the modern security state.

After TWS, nothing in the MCU feels the same. Promos and chatter suggest the remaining films of Marvel’s phase 2 and some of Phase 3 (including the next Captain American installment) will continue and expand on the fissures created by Steve Rogers’ second outing. The result is an invigorated curiosity in the behemoth multi-film extravaganza that is The Avengers that makes me look at the never-ending slate of new films with cautious optimism, rather than creeping boredom.

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We’re just a few weeks away from 2015 which means it’s Year-End-List season. I’m still fine-tuning my Top 10 Movies but as always there’s more great films than I know what to do with and it behooves me to give credit where credit was due.

What’s interesting about 2014 is that there’s been a lot of great films, but they’ve mostly been front-loaded to the Summer and Fall seasons. Instead of the usual gluttony of Oscar contenders dropping like a tidal wave in December, most of the late releases have been overlooked by the critics academies and professional publications that have already made their selections.

There’s still some buzzy films out there I have yet to see before sticking a fork in my Top 10, but I would not surprised if the temporary list I made a month ago stays largely intact (the Top 5 is all but locked in. No spoilers).

But until then, here’s a few other movies that didn’t quite make the cut, but deserve to be seen.

*Note: The term “Best” in the following categories actually means “Best that isn’t on my Top 10 list”

13917-3Best Rom-Com: Obvious Child

Obvious Child is a classic story of boy meets girl, girl has an abortion. The movie generated some controversy – largely from people who hadn’t seen it – because it dared to go against the Hollywood norm of carrying unwanted pregnancies to term (see: Juno, Knocked Up, Junior, etc.).

But the movie isn’t really a movie about an abortion. It’s a star-making one-woman vehicle for the hilarious Jenny Slate, populated by light and breezy supporting characters who fill the screen with humor and pathos. Instead of most rom-coms that take a small issue and blow it up to absurd proportions, Obvious Child takes a big, BIG, issue, shrinks it down and sets it slightly off to the side.

lego_aBest Cartoon: The Lego Movie

Longtime readers of Wood’s Stock will remember that I don’t really do cartoons. But even my hollow tin chest felt a tiny heartbeat during this nostalgia fest that perfectly captured the nonsensical Lego wonderlands of of my 1990s childhood. This is the only setting where we will ever get Batman and Gandalf in the same movie. Enjoy it while it lasts.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Movie-Review-Image-5Best Superhero(es): X-Men: Days of Future Past

We have officially entered the point of diminishing returns for comic book adaptations. By and large, the climax hinges on who can punch the hardest (see: Thor: The Dark World, Man of Steel, etc.) and the movie is spend chasing down a All Powerful Thing That Will End Everything Because Movies (see: all of Marvel phase 2).

All of that helps make the geek-stravaganza in DOFP so satisfying, because if watching an army of adaptable robots fight a rebellion of mutants with ice, teleportation, magnet, telekinetic and super speed powers doesn’t entertain then why do we even go to the movies? I can see a family drama on the stage, but I need cinema to bring fantasy to life (see: Spider-man: Turn off the Dark).

Fed-Up-MovieBest Documentary: Fed Up

There were a lot of very informative docs this year, but I always give bonus points to a film that either changes the way you think about a subject or the changes the way you live your life. I saw Fed Up in January at the Sundance Film Festival and I’m still checking the nutritional labels of the food I buy at the grocery store.

For all the talk about the obesity epidemic, Fed Up paints a clear villain attacking U.S. waistlines: sugar. Kill sugar and we win the war, and sugary sodas are the tobacco of the 21st century.

You may not agree with that assessment, and there’s valid data to suggest the problem isn’t that simple, but good luck watching Fed Up and not thinking twice about that extra large coke the next time you go to McDonald’s.

One-I-Love_-The_web_1Best Head Trip/Best Indie: The One I Love

I can’t even describe what makes The One I Love great without giving away it’s twisty, head-scratching plot, suffice to say that Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass give fascinating, multi-faceted performances as a couple whose flame is waning.

It’s amazing what the film is able to do with what is essentially two characters. Ted Danson makes a brief appearance as the couple’s psychiatrist before they head out for a romantic trip, then spend the rest of the film bottled up in isolation with only the ebb and flow of their emotional well being to keep them company. Also, a WTF third act twist that pulls the rug out and sets it on fire.

o-THE-FAULT-IN-OUR-STARS-facebookBest YA: The Fault in Our Stars

I wasn’t as enamored with TFIOS, book or film, as most, but I still have to acknowledge quality when I see it. John Green has crafted an interesting look at young love that sidesteps most pratfalls and offers some genuine insight into humanity. Sure, the male lead is unbelievably perfect and sure, the stakes leave a little to be desired but it’s hard to not crack a smile with lines like this: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep; slowly, and then all at once.”

john_wick2The 2014 Wood’s Stock Balls To The Wall Award: John Wick

You could argue that John Wick is just a mindless shoot-em-up, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. The plot is as bare bones as bones get: a retired assassin sets out on a revenge rampage after his beloved dog is killed. There’s no grand speeches. There’s no scenery chewing. There’s just John Wick, a silent, brooding Keanu Reeves, doling out cold justice against a veritable legion of underworld toughs.

And yet John Wick’s bloodbath isn’t a cacophonous onslaught. It’s operatic action sequences are filled with a certain, ineffable beauty and it engages in world building that evokes the suave of old black and white noir. It is not a franchise film, but I would love to see a few more corners of the John Wick universe.

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