Posts Tagged ‘will smith’

maxresdefault

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

best-actors.jpg

For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated only white actors and actresses for its annual Oscar awards.

It’s difficult for me to write about diversity. As a Caucasian male, anything I would say inevitably comes across as the unholy union of white-splaining and man-splaining, or White Man-splaining, the Fox News of film criticism.

But this morning’s announcement of the 2016 Oscar nominations, as well as the ensuing and justified criticism that the awards, once again, are whitewashed, made me think thoughts. And despite my better judgement I’m inclined to share those thoughts, as succinctly as possible, in both defense and condemnation of The Academy.

Obviously, this entire post can be summarily dismissed by asking me to “Check my privilege;” I acknowledge that. But I’m also just a human being who 1) loves movies 2) thinks the industry should and must do better to be more inclusive of race and gender and 3) likes to see talent, in all its forms, recognized.

Here we go:

  1. The membership of the Academy is glaringly, inexcusably white and male. Steps have been made in recent years to address this, but considerably more needs to be done, and soon.
  2. BUT – and this is the main stick in my craw this morning – the Academy doesn’t *make* movies. Individual members of the Academy may write scripts, cast actors and hire directors, but the Academy, as a body, merely evaluates the films that have been made.
  3. For that reason, the *primary* blame for the lack of diversity in film lies with the studios, which produce the films that are then considered for awards by The Academy and other bodies.
  4. And I think most of us can agree that intentionally setting slots aside for diversity nominations, an Affirmative Action of sorts, or nominating films and actors solely to appease a hashtag, without regard to quality, would not be an appropriate solution to systemic under-representation in film.
  5. [Pause to Check My Privilege: I’m told I have a “shitlord” level of privilege with a score of 170]
  6. AS SUCH, the question we need to ask is what actors of color, who turned in awards-worthy performances this year,  were overlooked in favor of their white counterparts. But that is a highly subjective conversation, with many different opinions, and Academy nominations are based on a balloting system with the same weaknesses for majority rule as democratic politics. (#AmericaLovesCrap).
  7. Arguments have been made in favor or Idris Elba, for “Beasts of No Nation”, and Michael B. Jordan, for “Creed”. In my humble opinion, I would have liked to see Will Smith nominated for his turn in “Concussion” instead of Bryan Cranston for “Trumbo”.
  8. That said, it’s easy to see why an Academy of mostly 63-year-old men from the film industry would recognize “Trumbo”, a biopic about the Hollywood Blacklist of the late 1940s. Many Academy veterans entered their professions in the shadow of the Blacklist, and likely had personal relationships with the individuals targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
  9. Alternatively, I thought “Carol” was mind-numbingly boring, and would have no issue removing Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara from the actress categories. But that too is problematic, because my first choices to replace them would be Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron.
  10. [Checking privilege once more: still a shitlord]
  11. Point being, even if the demographics of the Academy membership were reversed tomorrow, that would not necessarily change the actors cast, directors hired, and films produced by the studios.
  12. NOW you might say, as my girlfriend did this morning, that I’m presenting a circular argument. Studios want to make award-winning films, and if the institutions administering those awards were more diverse, the studios would tailor their slate to that reality.
  13. Agreed, absolutely, which is why considerably more needs to be done, and soon, to increase diversity among the membership of the Academy.
  14. BUT that line of thinking ignores the role that audiences play in shaping the films produced in Hollywood. All those shiny statuettes won’t keep the lights on if no one buys a ticket.
  15. Last year, when #OscarsSoWhite was launched, Selma was overlooked in the acting and directing categories. That snub was the linchpin in most arguments about the whitewashed voting by academy members.
  16. But let us consider: Selma made $51 million at the domestic box office, putting it at 61st place for the year, behind the indie-Christian “God’s Not Dead,” the laughably race-inapropriate “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “The Fault In Our Stars,” about two white kids with health insurance who get cancer, fall in love, and die (more or less).
  17.  “Selma” made one-fifth the box office of “Maleficient,” which was a terrible movie.  A “Maleficient” sequel is already in the works.
  18. The point? Hollywood makes more of what makes money.
  19. None of this absolves studio executives, who seem hell-bent against acknowledging that films with a diverse cast can make obscene amounts of money. It doesn’t absolve the Academy, either, for its glacial attempts at modernization.
  20. That’s why its good to keep the pressure on, drawing attention to the excellent films and actors that deserve recognition for their work.
  21. But in criticizing (deservedly) the biases of the Academy voters, we also need to remember the limitations placed on them by the output of the studio system, and the role that filmgoers play by continuing to vote with their dollars for loud, useless, dreck.

Read Full Post »

will_smith.0.0.png

According to ‘Concussion,’ when real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) first decided to publish his discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, he expected the National Football League to be relieved and take action against the degenerative disease driving so many of their retired players to depression, dementia and early deaths.

And when the NFL does what anyone would expect a billion-dollar corporation built on the backs of human crash test dummies to do — reject and ridicule Omalu’s findings — the good doctor is lovingly chided for his naivete.

“You’re going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week,” he’s told by his mentor, played by Albert Brooks.

The exchange holds an interesting parallel to the movie itself, which is to be released on Christmas in what is, no doubt, a play at awards-season attention, but which coincidentally occurs at the zenith of the college football season, with the NFL’s super bowl just around the corner. Not only is Smith’s latest film competing with Star Wars for the eyeballs of film-goers, it also needs to convince football fans (of whom there are many) to pay the admission price and watch a movie about how their favorite sport is recklessly killing people.

It’s not easy task, but ‘Concussion’ handles the challenge with surprising grace. Smith is charming and heartbreaking as Omalu, an extensively educated Nigerian medical examiner whose own personal American Dream is slowly shattered by the ambivalence of our country’s institutions. His journey begins in a Pittsburgh coroner’s office, where the death of a former Steeler’s center collides with Omalu’s natural curiosity, creating the spark that ignites the doctor’s drive to discover the unseen malice that lie in the thousands of blows to the head that players experience during their careers.

Surrounding Smith are Brooks, Omalu’s guide and cheerleader, Alec Baldwin, a former NFL team doctor racked with guilt and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the love interest that helps humanize the lead character.

While directed and performed well, the segments of the film concerned with Omalu’s personal life are its weakest. ‘Concussion’ is at its best when it’s at its most outraged, describing the science behind CTE and tangentially showing the former players who are spiraling out of control. Each one of those deaths is a tragedy of its own, and in making extra room for an immigrant love story ‘Concussion’ does a slight disservice to the real lives lost that spurred Omalu’s work.

But the occasional flaws in the film are little in the face of its strengths, particularly the clarity of Omalu’s case against the league and the ugly but unsurprising steps the NFL took to avoid the blame when now-expendable players lose themselves in a fog of the mind. Far from giving the NFL a pass, ‘Concussion’ relentless points a finger at the league, but a more focused script may elevated the power of the story to a knockout blow.

Grade: B+

*Concussion opens nationwide on Friday, December 25.

 

Read Full Post »

focus-movie-trailer-starring-wil

Once upon a time, Will Smith could do no wrong. He’d release a movie, like clockwork, on July 4th, rake in beaucoup bucks, then turn around one year later and do it all again.

Then Seven Pounds Happened, followed by the objectively “successful” but ultimately disappointing Men In Black 3 and finally the toxic After Earth, in which Smith literally played a character with no emotion.

Two years later, Smith is back in a starring role as con man Nicky in Focus, in which he talks a big game and makes doe eyes at Margot Robbie (can you blame him?). The story finds Smith taking Robbie’s Jess under his wing, teaching her the art of the con and introducing her to the life of a gentleman thief.

Problem is, Smith still hasn’t shaken his half-asleep stone face of After Earth. Once the personification of charm, he trudges through Focus with dead eyes, tucked behind a series of lifeless expressions. As a result, his chemistry with Robbie is nonexistant, and his protagonist Nicky is off-putting and unsympathetic.

It’s a shame too, because outside of his performance Focus is a not-unpleasant flick. It takes the classic “big con” storyline and subverts it just enough to tell a fresh story without getting lost in the weeds. The film even winks at the tropes, with Smith’s character calling “the big con” a fantasy before extolling the virtues of a numbers game and settling into a plot that is more about romance than sleight of hand.

After an initiation in New Orleans, Nicky and Jess part ways. Years later, Nicky is hired to work his magic in the world of competitive racing only to find that his employer is Jess’ new beau. There’s a hint of Ocean’s 11, with Nicky forced to choose between the job and the girl, and the inevitable reveals in Act III manage to be unexpected, albeit slightly anticlimactic.

A more game Smith could have elevated the story, but even with the star’s B-game performance Focus is a satisfactory February release that offers enough tricks to pass the time.

Grade: B-

*Focus premieres nationwide on Friday, Feb. 27.

Read Full Post »