Thursday, August 25, 2016

War Dogs (2016)

Neither a comedy, nor a serious crime-drama, War Dogs struggles to find its identity. It's an entertaining movie, and will make you think about the reality behind the not-too-distant history. Overall, it's worth the price of admission.

War Dogs is based on the true story of two nobodies in their 20s who end up winning a 300 million dollar contract with the government. Of course this was out of their depths, but surprisingly they managed to somewhat handle the situation. This being a true story, you should expect some measure of comeuppance for the lead characters at the end.

The director of the movie, Todd Phillips, has made a reputation with comedies such as the Hangover trilogy (2009-13), Old School (2003) and Road Trip (2000). His directorial skills transferred to this movie as well, and made the pacing and visuals of the movie pretty good. I don't know if it's the director or the screenwriters who should be blamed, but War Dogs suffers from an identity crisis. It is not a comedy in a true sense - contrary to what the trailers will lead you to believe. It is not a serious drama with a strong social commentary either. It's just somewhere in between the two. There are a few chuckles throughout the movie - all owed to Jonah Hill's great performance. You'll also leave the movie theatre thinking about the ridiculousness of government workings and how these two schmucks ended up handling a 300-million dollar contract. If this movie was made by someone like Oliver Stone, I'm quite sure the tone of the movie would lean more towards the latter (i.e., crime drama) and would have had a much stronger effect on the audience.

Speaking of Oliver Stone, War Dogs makes abundant references to one of Stone's earlier works. I'm talking about Scarface (directed by Brian DePalma with a screenplay by Oliver Stone). From the poster of the movie, to set designs and mannerisms, War Dogs strives to be like Scarface. Of course this causes some laughs and maybe shows how out of depth the characters are, as they are just two kids trying to act like Tony Montana.

I briefly mentioned how great Jonah Hill's performance was. He was the only comedic factor about the movie, and at the same time he managed to be menacing when needed. Miles Teller on the other hand, played the same obnoxious person that he has played in Whiplash (2014) and Fantastic Four (2015). Bradley Cooper also had a cameo role that could have been played by almost any A-list celebrity. His presence in a non-Hangover Todd Phillips movie was appreciated though.

Overall, War Dogs is an entertaining movie and even just for the sake of it's real-life true story, it deserves to be seen. I'd give it 7.5/10.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Warcraft (2016)

Film adaptation of the famous video game franchise had a convoluted story and looked cartoonish. The box office numbers show a strong correlation with the games' popularity and the movie's sales in certain regions. So if you're not a fan of the games, maybe you should skip this one!

The Warcraft games belong to the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) genre, and I have never been a fan of them. However, I am a fan of medieval fantasies like Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. Given this background, I could not connect with the film at all. I tried hard and failed to remember the character names, and to figure out which side I should root for. I was so lost that I looked up the plot summary on Wikipedia halfway through the movie...

I could tell that the production team spent a lot of time and money on the effects. They, however, looked more like an animated feature than a video game - let a lone a movie! A few of the battle scenes were somewhat interesting though... The actors also seemed invested in their roles and did the best they could. In particular, I think Vikings' Travis Fimmel did a commendable job!

If you've never played the game, save your time and money and watch something else!
For me, it was a 2/10!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Grinder (2015-16)

Grinder was a hilarious new sitcom that, unfortunately, was cancelled to soon! A new intellectual property of this calibre somewhat reminded me of the Arrested Development... The short run of this show - all 22 episodes of it - should be cherished!

Writing a review for a comedy is difficult - mostly because sense of humour is truly subjective; this makes judging a comedy significantly harder than a drama. The writing of the show, particularly the double entendres, was consistently good throughout the season. The two leads, Rob Lowe and Fred Savage, have great chemistry with each other. Rob Lowe's deadpan delivery cracked me up almost every time. He plays the titular character, Mitchard Grinder, who is a smart yet oblivious character-actor trying to transfer what he learned on TV to real life. His younger brother, Stewart Sanderson, is a small town lawyer who is the polar opposite of Rob Lowe's character. These two play off of each other brilliantly. The rest of the cast are interesting too, but of course do not shine as bright as Rob Lowe and Fred Savage.

The writers need to be commended as well. They played the long game - somewhat similar to the Arrested Development. There were simple plot points that payed off after 5-6 episodes, which made the payoff more gratifying.

Seeing this brilliant show cancelled is really upsetting. I sincerely hope that Netflix or Amazon would pick it up for more seasons. Even if they don't, this single season is self-contained. I would give it a 9/10.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Get Down (2016)

Baz Luhrmann strikes again! The Get Down (Part 1) is a musical collage, and also a history lesson in the genres of Hip Hop and Disco. The show is cast well, the characters are likeable, the story is engaging, and the music is exhilarating!

I wish Baz Luhrmann produced more movies and tv shows. The man has a unique taste in music. Quoting Kinda Funny's Nick Scarpino, Baz Luhrmann's films are like two-hour music videos! Luhrmann mixes songs that I never thought would go that well together and creates a dialogue with the lyrics! I loved Moulin Rouge (2001), The Great Gatsby (2013), and the 2009 Academy Awards ceremony in which Lurhmann directed the medleys performed by Hugh Jackman. Luhrmann knows what appeals to the common person; not just ears, but also eyes. All his movies are beautiful. He simply creates the most beautiful visual and musical collages!

The Get Down's heart and soul is Justice Smith who plays Ezekiel 'Books' Figuero. Justice Smith sold me on Hip Hop (even though I was not a fan), and his delivery of those beautiful lyrics pulled at my heartstrings! Besides Zeke, the show also tells the story of Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore) and Mylene Cruz (Herizen Guardiola) - the former is a DJ and the latter is an aspiring disco singer. The cast is round by other fantastic characters that can certainly pull their weight!

Baz Luhrmann directed the first episode and defined the identity of the show. The pilot (at 90 minutes) stands above the rest, simply because of Luhrmann's direction. My only gripe is with the first third of the pilot, because it was musically busy - there was a new song playing in almost 10-second intervals... Although slightly overwhelming, the music meshed together perfectly. One third through, the episode became almost flawless. I remember not being able to sit down during the last 15-20 minutes of the pilot - it was that exciting!

The directors who helmed the remainder of the season could not replicate the ethereal quality of the pilot directed by Lurhmann, but they still did a fantastic job and delivered a more grounded vision.

To wrap up, I loved the music, visuals, story, and characters. I cannot think of any element that could have been improved. And this all comes from someone who was not a fan of hip hop or disco! Maybe it was the Luhrmann-factor! Anyhow, I give it a 10/10.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Suicide Squad (2016)

DCEU's latest entry is a hit! Most of the actors are perfectly cast, action is great, pacing is smooth, and the soundtrack is phenomenal! The villain is the weak point of the movie, but thinking objectively, that was one of the only options that the writers had (in order to have such violent action scenes - more on this below).

David Ayer is a unique filmmaker and has a distinct taste. He also knows how to get the best performance from his actors (e.g., Christian Bale in Harsh Times!). He failed in getting a good performance out of Cara Delevinge though! Delevinge's Enchantress is written and acted poorly. There is a two-second sequence in which she does a weird voodoo dance; this sequence is probably the most awful thing that I have seen on screen in the last decade.

Delevinge's acting aside, the character is shallow with ridiculous motivations. She summons her brother (which according to Wikipedia is called Incubus - but I don't remember that name being mentioned in the movie), and they want to disarm every country on earth. Task Force X is called to deal with this supernatural event, and also act as scapegoats for the government in case things go wrong.

In the comics, Task Force X is usually sent to deal with more earthly threats, such as foreign dictators or street gangs. The magical threat of Enchantress and Incubus, is within the expertise of Justice League Dark whose members have included characters such Constantine, Etrigan, Zatana, Frankenstein, and Swamp Thing, who all have magical powers.

I'd give a free pass to the movie for using a mystical villain just for one reason, and that is for rating. Let me elaborate: In the movie, Enchantress and Incubus used their magic to create undead zombies and sent them after the Suicide Squad. Since our squad was dealing with zombies, they were allowed to decapitate them, line head-shots after head-shots, and and still get a PG-13 rating for the movie. If the Squad was sent to topple a foreign dictator with such excessive force, the film would have become as violent as a Rambo or Expendables movie with an R-rating; thus, limiting the chance of recovering its huge production and marketing cost at the box office (of course Deadpool is the counter example to this argument - but that is a conversation for another time).

The rest of the characters are cast perfectly. Margot Robbie stole the show as Harley Quinn with amazing lines and her flawless delivery. Robbie's performance is so good that many fans will hear her voice in their heads when they read the comics - I, however, still hear Arleen Sorkin's voice from the Batman: The Animated Series... The film also provided the ultimate fan service by showing Harley in her Batman: TAS costume, recreating the beautiful cover drawn by Alex Ross.

Jared Leto's Joker is great too. Leto does not redefine the character the same way that Heath Ledger did, but he still makes Joker his own. Ledger's Joker was a more calculated villain who had a cause - which was to act as an agent of chaos and prove a point about human values (or lack thereof). Jared Leto's Joker, however, is a self-serving, sadistic, psychopathic gangster who is impossible to predict. I cannot wait to see his chemistry with Ben Affleck's Batman in future entries in the DCEU.

Speaking of, Batfleck makes an appearance (as we had seen in the trailers), and proves again that he is the best Batman that we have seen on screen yet! Batfleck had a great scene with Will Smith's Deadshot. I wanted to see a whole movie only with these two characters... Coming back to Suicide Squad's cast, I was extremely happy with Will Smith's performance. His Deadshot was understated and simply the heart of the movie. Deadshot had a good chemistry with Joel Kinnaman's Rick Flag too. Kinnaman's performance was best when he was dealing with Deadshot - in other scenes, however, he was weak. Perhaps it was Delevinge who brought him down...

Rounding out the cast: Hats of to Viola Davis for her portrayal of Amanda "The Wall" Waller. She was strong and menacing in an effortless way. Davis' performance was on par with C.C.H. Pounder's from the Justice League show. The last shoutout goes to Jay Hernandez and Jai Courtney; their characters (El Diablo and Captain Boomerang respectively) were not well-developed, but they still managed to bring them to life and make them memorable.

To wrap up, I do not think the choice of villain was the most appropriate one for this Squad, but it gave the filmmakers the perfect sandbox to play with their toys (or characters) in it. The movie made me interested in almost every character, and I cannot wait to see them again in the sequel or other movies in the DCEU. For entertainment value, and also being so faithful to the root of these characters, I'd give it a 10/10.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Jason Bourne (2016)

Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass returned and delivered another chapter in Jason Bourne's story that looked and felt identical to the previous ones, beat by beat - which is not necessarily a bad thing!

The latest entry in the franchise looks like the "greatest hits" album of older musicians. It repeats the best parts of the previous entries without adding much to the legacy of the franchise. The fight choreography is amazing, the car chases are thrilling, and the pacing is engaging, yet it is a rehash of what Bourne had done before.

The first entry, Bourne Identity (2002), broke the mold of the spy genre with its nitty-gritty atmosphere. It changed the game to the extent that the producers of the Bond franchise decided to reboot the series and discard the rich 40-year history of their already perfect legacy. My frustrations with this decision to make Bond a faceless brut, although besides the point in the current review, have been documented in my reviews of Spectre and Skyfall.

Going back to Bourne, I had higher expectations from this movie. After almost a decade from the last entry, Bourne Ultimatum (2007), I thought it would change the game once again - but it didn't! The movie is still great, raises your adrenaline levels, and makes you lose track of time, but it just doesn't rise up to the challenge.

The other issue that I had with Jason Bourne (2016) was using personal issues as a storytelling device. Here, Bourne (or better say, David Webb) realizes that his father was responsible for the inception of the Treadstone program, but he was against using his own son as a recruit. Thus, the agency sends an assassin (or "asset" according to the Bourne lingo) to eliminate him. Later on, during the Bourne Ultimatum events, the same "asset" is captured due to revelations made by Bourne. Now, defying all the odds, the very same "asset" is back and assigned to tail Bourne. Both of these highly trained agents (i.e., Bourne and the "asset") have personal vendettas against each other; Bourne wants to avenge his dad, and the "asset" wants to punish Bourne for the years that he spent in captivity.

I really miss the good old days of the genre where an agents was simply assigned on a mission to go save the world, without having any personal stakes in the matter. The old James Bond franchise was like this. The objectives in the current Mission Impossible movies are also impersonal. But I see the trend of making things personal to the protagonist in the more recent movies; in Spectre, James Bond had to fight his evil step-brother, who also claimed responsibility for the events of the three previous movies. And now, Bourne is back to avenge his dad.

My last issue with Jason Bourne (2016) is the cinematography. After Paul Greengrass took over the franchise with Bourne Supremacy (2004), he brought the shaky handheld camera to the franchise. In more action-oriented sequences (e.g., hand-to-hand combats and car chases) that may give a sense of immersion to the audience. But in a regular conversation, or when a character is reading something from a computer screen, the shaky shots do nothing but make the audience dizzy and sick!

The tropes of the shaky camera, "asset", and Bourne trying to piece back memories of his past are old news, but for the entertainment value, I'd give it 7.5/10.