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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a skunk blast to the face for those of us looking for a fun superhero movie earlier this year. Well, Suicide Squad looked like a fine chance for DC Comics movies to get back on the right track. With David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch) at the helm, and a cast including Will Smith, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad had the potential to be a fun blast of movie mischief.

Sadly, Suicide Squad does nothing to improve the summer blockbuster season. In fact, it is the equivalent of a big, stinking torpedo of shit. After a first-half buildup that does a decent job of introducing bad-guy characters like Deadshot (Smith), Harley Quinn (Robbie) and The Joker (Leto), the movie becomes a spastic colon, resulting in that big turd referred above.

The script—if one could call it that—involves some nonsense with a government sort named Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembling a squad of villains to help in case a superhero goes bad. An alliance of bad guys is formed that includes Deadshot, Quinn, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and others. When a kooky villain called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) starts some sort of apocalyptic tornado in the middle of Gotham, the Suicide Squad launches into action.

I have no real idea what the Enchantress was up to with her blue-tornado dance show extravaganza; man, it’s weird and confusing. She’s busting moves on some sort of stage while carrying on strange conversations with those questioning her motives. The Squad has to fight mushy humanoid monsters on their way to the Enchantress, and it’s unspeakably odd … in a bad way.

At the core of this mess are potentially fun performances from Smith and, especially, Robbie. Actually, a movie that simply featured these two would’ve been more than enough. Other villains like Diablo, Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and Fantastic Mustache Man Pizza Pants (OK, I made that one up) don’t register and steal quality time from the characters that are interesting.

As for the much-hyped Joker: Jared Leto is reduced to a few preening moments; his part is nothing more than a glorified extended cameo. That marketing ploy that had you thinking the Joker was a leader of the Suicide Squad? It was a ruse. Much of his role consists of texts to Harley Quinn letting her know he’s on the way. Then he shows up, shows off his metal teeth and tattoos, and runs away laughing like an idiot.

Considering the power of some of Ayer’s past work, it’s surprising to witness such a mess. Perhaps this disaster is the result of studio meddling after the critical car crash that was Batman v Superman? Perhaps it’s because he never had a script worth shooting?

On the red carpet for this film’s premiere, Robbie and Smith both boasted that they signed on for the movie without seeing the script. They just wanted to work with Ayer. Well, I’m thinking Robbie and Smith should’ve gone against their instincts on this one. Demand a script the next time—and if that script involves a climax with somebody named the Enchantress delivering ponderous monologues while disco-dancing in front of a bright-blue dust devil, flanked by large humanoids with severe acne, run away … and run away fast.

Maybe there’s a three-hour cut of this thing somewhere that makes a little more sense. Or, based on the record-breaking opening weekend, maybe Warner Bros. knows by now that people will always shell out money for this crap, and quality is of no concern.

Suicide Squad is playing in a variety of formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Right in time for Halloween, writer-director David Ayer has come up with a genuine horror show in Fury, his take on a World War II tank crew trying to survive the last days of the war.

This film goes full-bore in showing the horrors of war—in fact, the very first scene depicts a brutal act of violence that proves Ayer is not playing games. His intention is to show the effects of war on a group of men who are clinging to the last threads of sanity after years of claustrophobic, blood-soaked terror inside a tank.

Brad Pitt leads the crew as Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a grizzled, scarred individual who behaves questionably as he treks across Nazi Germany. When he’s saddled with a new recruit, Norman (Logan Lerman), his behavior becomes a strange mix of paternal and completely unhinged.

Other members of the crew include Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). Ayer may have created each of these characters as odes to the John Wayne war movies of yore. However, that is where the common thread with bravado-filled old-timey war movies ends: There is nothing clichéd or old-timey about the way in which these characters are portrayed.

Much of the film takes place inside the tank, with a few breaks, most notably a scene in which Wardaddy introduces Logan to a nice German girl while he has some eggs. The carnage in the battle scenes is unrelenting. A sequence in which a group of U.S. tanks goes up against one superior German tank is as harrowing as moviemaking gets.

It all builds up to a final sequence during which the tank breaks down, and Wardaddy decides he isn’t going to run away, even though a large group of enemy soldiers is approaching. The crew decides to fight it out alongside their leader. I have to believe that many allied soldiers made similar decisions while taking the Nazis down 70 years ago. Not every battle was planned, and the odds were often stacked against them.

Ayer presents a scenario that’s crazy, yet realistic in many ways. No movie could authentically depict the real-life horrors of World War II; however, Ayer and company go to great lengths to show what happens when a nightmare becomes something hellish.

Pitt is just a few degrees removed from his Aldo Raine in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It’s as if Aldo finished scalping Christoph Waltz, shaved his mustache and joined a tank battalion—at least it is regarding Pitt’s aesthetic and the accent he employs. However, unlike Aldo Raine, Wardaddy is totally lacking in humor. This is a truly powerful characterization from an actor who rarely missteps.

The tabloids had a field day with the weird stuff LaBeouf did while making this movie, including pulling out a tooth (Nicolas Cage-style), refusing to shower and generally acting strange. Well, whatever weirdness he put the cast and crew through resulted in his best screen work to date. As the preacher of the crew, LaBeouf is quite moving as a man who keeps his faith and finds immense joy in reciting scripture. This performance should give him a chance to get his once-promising career back on track.

Peña (who worked with Ayer on End of Watch) is terrific, as usual, as are Lerman and Bernthal. Bernthal, like Pitt, calls upon a past character (the jerk he played on The Walking Dead) for inspiration.

Stay away from Fury if you can’t handle onscreen gore. As I said before, this one is vicious right out of the gate, and it remains vicious through its 134-minute running time.

As action films go, it’s a real winner. As war films go, it’s one to be remembered. As horror films go, I doubt you’ll see anything scarier this month.

Fury is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t catch a break. He’s looking good, and he’s delivering nice “Arnie” performances—in films with scripts that make Commando look like Citizen Kane.

In Sabotage, he plays a drug-enforcement agent who, along with his team of ragtag miscreants, tries to steal money from a drug cartel. When the money gets stolen, each of them starts to get picked off, one by one, in increasingly grisly fashion.

The film suffers from poor casting. Olivia Williams, who is British, cannot sell an American accent, even when she’s chewing gum. Mireille Enos is unintentionally hilarious as an undercover DEA agent who can’t shake the drugs off the job. Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway and Terrence Howard all put on their tough faces, replete with heavy sneering and scowling. In the end, you get a bunch of characters you could care less about in a movie with a plot that is far too convoluted.

Arnie soldiers through for director David Ayer, who did the very-good End of Watch—but can’t ride the wave of goodwill that film created into this one. It’s sloppy, clichéd and not worth your time.

Sabotage is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

This riveting cop thriller, released on DVD and Blu-Ray today (Tuesday, Jan. 22), features strong work from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as Los Angeles cops who get themselves in a lot of trouble with a drug cartel.

End of Watch was written and directed by David Ayer, who is no stranger to cop dramas. He wrote Training Day and directed Street Kings, another film about the LAPD. He also directed Christian Bale—quite well, I might add—in Harsh Times. End of Watch proves to be his greatest achievement to date.

I was a little worried this was going to be a found-footage film (a genre I have come to hate) when Gyllenhaal’s character started filming stuff for a project. A little bit of his footage works its way into the film, but this is mostly a straightforward narrative without that particular gimmick.

The supporting cast includes Anna Kendrick as Janet, Gyllenhaal’s gal pal, while America Ferrera is good as a fellow officer. There’s also Frank Grillo, so good in last year’s The Grey, as another officer.

Universal tried to build some Oscar buzz for Gyllenhaal and Peña, but the effort failed to get them any nominations. The campaign made sense, though, because these guys elevate End of Watch beyond a decent thriller, making it into something quite memorable.

Up next for Ayer? A movie called Ten, another drug-cartel/cop thriller starring some dude named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Looks like Ayer is sticking close to home with his topics in the future.

Special Features: Ayer provides a good commentary. You also get five behind-the-scenes featurettes and some deleted scenes. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing