The Liner Notes

Suicide Squad (2016)



A controversial film closed out this year’s relatively lackluster Summer blockbuster season, Suicide Squad. The picture continues Warner Brothers’ and DC Entertainment’s concerning trend of divisive comic book movies (graphic cinema). Critics quickly, loudly and unabashedly panned the film as soon as the review embargo was lifted. Also, numerous “fans” were condemning the film with only seeing minutes of footage from the marketing campaign. Many wondered if this would hurt the film’s projected strong opening weekend….clearly it did not. Even with the steep decline in its second week, as every entertainment news outlet made 100% sure that everyone was made aware of, the film has surpassed a $600 million international box office gross and was number one at the box office three weeks in a row – definitely nothing to sneeze at for a film with several relatively unknown characters and having villains as protagonists. Does financial success equate to a picture being good? Absolutely not! Case and point: The Twilight Saga film series. Yet, it is worth noting that there are reasons for it being relatively successful and that audiences are still going and supporting the feature, despite the seemingly unwavering critical backlash.

The Suicide Squad, also known as Task Force X, originated in DC Comics’ The Brave and the Bold #25 (Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru) in 1959, but it wasn’t until writer John Ostrander reintroduced the comic in 1987 that the concept finally took hold (despite an almost 10 year publishing gap from the 90s to the 2000s). The revived Suicide Squad had the U.S. government employing and/or manipulating super villains to handle various covert missions that were considered suicide runs. Over the years, the members of the team have changed due to various reasons ranging from characters dying in the stories or a change in the creative team on the title. David Ayer, writer and director of the titular film, referenced Ostrander’s run, as well as the The New 52’s (2011 relaunch of DC Comics’ books) iteration of the squad that included Harley Quinn.

The film opens with a woman known as Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) meeting with military officials about reviving her Task Force X program, where she would use metahuman or highly-skilled criminals to protect America and its interests against otherworldly/superhuman threats, in the wake of Superman’s death. When one of Waller’s assets goes off the reservation, causes havoc in Midway City and, of course, threatens the world, she calls in her unlikely team…The premise is very much in-line with the source material.

As true to its origins and solid as the premise sounds, the actual plot of the film and its execution falls short in some aspects. The primary antagonists are Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), a woman (Dr. June Moone) who becomes possessed by an ancient deity and another pawn of Amanda Waller’s, and her brother, Incubus. “The Witch”, as Waller so affectionately calls her, yearns to free herself from under the bureaucrat’s thumb. Enchantress tells her brother that times have changed and that humanity now worships machines, so she decides to build a “machine” to exact her revenge in some skewed form of poetic justice. What is the “machine”? Why exact revenge on all of mankind and not just those who oppressed her? How does she know how to create the “machine”? All these questions and more are never addressed. It’s almost as if someone said, “It’s magic, so that explains everything. Don’t overthink it!” or “Comics had this type of villain before, so why shouldn’t it work in this movie?” Dr. June Moone had some interesting scenes, but not enough to really develop empathy for her dealing with her dark alternate persona. Even if the comics had generic villains as this, audiences today expect a level of depth from their bad guys onscreen. They want to see a conscious effort to stay away from the generic, moustache-twirling stereotypes and, honestly, isn’t that what Suicide Squad is about: portraying super villains in a different light and giving them proper intricacy? It’s sad to see that tenant poorly applied or rather seemingly ignored on the focal adversary of the film. Some will argue that the ultimate foe is Amanda Waller and that is a valid argument, but that still doesn’t excuse the mishandling of Enchantress. There are other issues with the magical character and how she interacts with the other members of the team in the third act that can basically be summed up to the choice to forego fresh storytelling in favor of typical genre conventions. Again, the central conflict and/or antagonist(s) are the weakest part of a DC Extended Universe (DCEU) film and ultimately hurt the picture overall(see Batman V Superman).

Another possible key plot hole is why Task Force X is sent to Midway City in the first place. It seems on the surface that they were sent to stop whatever caused the devastation in the city and as much is said by the military chairman who authorizes the squad to be sent in. When Waller gives her assignment to the Suicide Squad, she says it’s an extraction mission of a key person. Now, is this her undermining the military for her own ends and safety or is it just another plot hole? I choose to believe the former, but even if that truly is the case, it’s not made clear.

As for the characters, the actors, for the most part, nailed the performances. There was much controversy over Jared Leto portraying the Joker and Margot Robbie as his maniacal counterpart, Harley Quinn, and understandably so. The Joker is in the film maybe 10 minutes, which was a smart choice. This isn’t his or Batman’s film, the focus should not be on them. Now, having them interact with the members of the squad is important because it allows the film to organically connect to the DCEU and actually expand it in ways the Batman v Superman couldn’t quite pull-off well. Leto’s Joker was met with much disdain over his gaudy appearance, which included: numerous tattoos, a grill and ‘gangster-esque’ outfit. As loud as his appearance is, the performance presents a very reserved, sly Joker. It’s this dichotomy that makes him fascinating when he’s onscreen and, honestly, all the physical attributes people were complaining about don’t matter because Jared transfixes viewers with his facial expressions, mannerisms and voice. Margot Robbie delivers another absorbing performance as the first live-action Harley. She nails her line deliveries as she calls the Joker by his pet names and even utilizes her background as a psychiatrist in a couple scenes.

Now, my biggest concern was Will Smith as Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot. Smith tends to turn in performances where he isn’t really acting, but is just being himself as the character he’s supposed to be portraying. Looking at films such as Bad BoysIndependence Day or Wild Wild West, it’s easy to see similarities in his performances. Showing that charm and spitting out one-liners did help him achieve star status and I do enjoy him when he does do that, at times, but that’s not who Lawton is and not what this film called for. Also, sharing the screen with a large ensemble cast is new territory for him. He does ‘Will Smith’ some scenes, but there are several where he is dead-on Deadshot. When he shuts down Enchantress’ minions in the street, Smith closes in with precision and showcases how deadly the skilled assassin is and when he dons the mask…forget about it! It’s the character come to life. The surprise performance is Jay Hernandez as Chato Santana aka El Diablo. There has been some controversy as to finally having a Latin character in a tentpole film like this and having him be a gangbanger. As a Latino, I’ll say that characterization is a gross oversimplification of the character in the film and an insult to Hernandez’s work. The film introduces him clearly as a man in repentance for his past crimes and no longer wishing to tap into his abilities. Right then and there, the stereotype is broken! As film the progresses, he actually has a true character arc, which was a welcome surprise, but it makes sense in the overall mechanics of the plot and structure of the movie. The true standout performance, though, belongs to Viola Davis who brilliantly embodied Amanda Waller . The minute she was cast, I knew that she would be perfect for the role and Davis did not disappoint. Now, the character is nowhere near as flamboyant or colorful as say Killer Croc or Joker, but she is intense. Viola exudes the commanding, methodical and ruthless persona that Waller is known for. Through her various incarnations over the years, including: the various DC animated series, the comics or Arrow; these qualities are never lost in translation and Suicide Squad is no exception. Also, Waller-centric stories tend to follow a specific format where she hatches a dangerous plan that she believes is the right or just course of action, but it, of course, backfires on her and the true heroes have to come in clean up her mess. Either Ayer did his homework or just understood Amanda Waller and knew how to use her in the narrative appropriately. Regardless, it was impressive and surprising.

The downside to having so many talented actors bring these larger than life characters to the big screen extremely well is that there is a time limit on the film. Unfortunately, the big name actors, with the exception of Jay Hernandez, are given the most screen time. Characters like Katana (Karen Fukuhara), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and the comedic charm of the film, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), just aren’t given the attention they deserve. That imbalance becomes painfully evident when there are such amazing scenes as Katana speaking to her husband’s soul, which is trapped within her sword, Soultaker. It was a throwaway moment, but it spoke volumes of the character. It didn’t have to be in the final cut, but it is and I thank Ayer for doing that. Moments like that are pitch-perfect and show why this movie works on some level. Sadly, it is a fleeting scene and there only a few other beats or lines throughout that shine a light on the character. Killer Croc had interesting bits early on in the picture that hinted at possible character depth, but he ends up being reduced to a stereotype. Similar cases happen to the other “secondary” characters. The scene that was most egregious about showing the disproportionate attention to the characters was when Enchantress shows the squad visions of their idealized lives. Deadshot’s, Harley’s, Rick Flagg’s and El Diablo’s are shown, but Capt. Boomerang’s and Katana’s weren’t…and they were in the same room as the rest of the team.

There are so many scenes throughout Suicide Squad that make any self-respecting DC Comics fan tear up with joy. Aside from the aforementioned scenes with Katana and Deadshot, the prologue introducing the squad members and how they arrived at the military containment facility known as Belle Reeve is full of comic pages brought to perfect cinematic life. Batman confronting Floyd Lawton and saying “I don’t want do this in front of your daughter”, Harley playing possum then trying to stab Batman voraciously as he draws near, or a certain speedster capturing Boomerang – all of this DC movie magic was within the first 10 minutes of the film! Also, laden throughout the picture are plenty of easter eggs that aren’t just tongue-in-cheek, but serve a purpose to the plot. Most are, as they say, “deep-cuts” that show that this was a labor of love, even if it ended going through the studio machine. Recent articles have said that the DCEU films are directed at the hardcore fans who can catch all the nuances and references, whereas Marvel Studios makes theirs for all to digest and enjoy. Suicide Squad specifically makes it a point to introduce all of the characters to the uninitiated audience, so that argument is moot. The explanation is more that the fans want to see these characters that they know and love, so they go and support it, even if it isn’t the strongest movie.

For the most part, the soundtrack is used well, where the lyrics or tone of the song accompany what’s unfolding in the images. Yet, there are some scenes where it overpowers the content on screen rather than compliment it. Now, Steven Price’s score is wonderful. His score has shades of Danny Elfman with a touch of Henry Jackman. Suicide Squad seems to have the same issue, but nowhere to the extent, that Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby had. The score perfectly suited the tone and nature of the picture, but the soundtrack seemed very incongruent a times. Squad’s song choices were a bit off-kilter, but perhaps that was the point – the characters are unorthodox so why shouldn’t the form match the content. The editing and cinematography was predominantly textbook (it’s a beautiful picture), with the exception of some of the Harley flashbacks and Enchantress dream scenes, so maybe the off-kilter theory doesn’t have much basis to stand on. This is all just speculation at this point, but for this movie to merit this kind of thought…it does warrant a certain level of notice.

Now as critical and harsh as all this may sound at times, I honestly did really enjoy the movie. It’s a step in the right direction for the DCEU, even if it’s just a baby step. Some will absolutely disregard the film on these criticisms alone, but those are only a few aspects of the whole, which so many seem forget. Take the good with the bad, as they say. It will be very difficult for some to leave their preconceived or even misguided notions/opinions of the film at the door, it took me years to be able to that, but graphic cinema is, at its most basic core, pure escapism. Sure, the movies can serve as allegories and have subtext at times that are worth discussing/analyzing, but their primary purpose, and their source medium’s as well, is entertainment. We live in the Golden Age of the Geek, why waste one’s time and breath being negative? I encourage moviegoers to just enjoy the experience of a comic book movie. It can be an extremely liberating and rewarding experience, if people just open themselves to it. Go check out Suicide Squad and formulate an informed opinion about the picture



Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)



Marvel Studios has kicked this film out of the park and into the stratosphere!! The slate of films released in Phase Two have been decent, but unimpressive following Marvel’s The Avengers.(Thor: The Dark World being the main example!) Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not what anyone is expecting! It not only completely changes the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but the tone of their films altogether.

What Marvel Studios has done to date is make genre pictures: entertaining, heart-felt comic book films. This is the first time where they try to break the mold,  transcend the genre and succeed. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo frame this story in an espionage thriller and it suits the material perfectly.  A serious threat appears in the form of an assassin known as the Winter Soldier, but as anyone knows, the most dangerous enemy is the one you don’t see… Captain America really shows how brutal and intense he can be throughout this picture. We’ve seen Steve Rogers battle aliens and Red Skull, but  having him face off against normal people really demonstrates his deadly abilities…and those sequences are awesome. Black Widow and Sam Wilson aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are also given proper action screen time to show off their talents.  Although, sometimes the action can be hard to follow due to the choice to shoot the film in the  cinema verite style.

There are several elements I love about this film. This is by far the most character/dialog-centric movie from Marvel Studios. Steve is still a man out of time and trying to cope with it. There is a beautifully touching scene early on that if you don’t shed a tear, you are not human. Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson is introduced in this installment, but the great thing is that he is actually given a strong backstory and depth. Natasha Romanov is back in action and, continuing what Joss Whedon did in The Avengers, more insight is given to her past and her personality in general. It was such a treat to finally see Scarlett Johansson really show off her acting chops in a Marvel picture. Despite this being the most dramatic and serious Marvel film, there is a perfect balance with humorous rapport amongst the characters. This is what keeps the movie from falling into the unenjoyable column; well that and the stunning fight sequences. Make sure to pay close attention to everything spoken in this film! There are name drops and easter eggs that hint at what is to come in the MCU.

The Winter Soldier ties really close with its previous film; there are poetic nods abound. Having the past events influence the present is a strong theme in this movie. The story definitely shifts the storyline of the MCU  and expands it just as Iron Man 2 did in Phase One, but questions about the past are also addressed. All these aspects enrich the plot and provide complexity, which is rarely seen in these films. Also, despite being drastically different from the plot of the comic storyline, there are lines and moments right off the panels from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s work.  Marvel knows how to please hardcore fans and the general audiences alike.

One quick note; composer Henry Jackman, who masterfully scored X-Men: First Class, does a fantastic job on this soundtrack. He created a wonderfully haunting theme for the Winter Soldier, similar to Hans Zimmer’s Joker theme. He also implemented cues from Alan Silvestri’s music from First Avenger, which was a welcome surprise.

I could go on and on about this film, but then I’d start to get into some serious spoiler territory. This is arguably the best film the Studio has put out, most definitely in Phase Two, so go see it!!  Kids may not like this one, considering the weighty tone of the picture, but everyone else will. The 3-D is pointless, so no need to shell out the extra money for that. Oh and as always, stay until the very last credits rolls!! We’ll see Cap next in Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron!!

Man of Steel (2013)


You’ll believe a man can fly!

As with many of you, I was so excited to see this much-needed filmic update of Superman. People seem to be on the fence about the movie or just don’t care for it. Director Zack Snyder working with David Goyer and Christopher Nolan (comic book film dream team) has given modern audiences a modern Man of Steel. There is a reason why the Man of Tomorrow has survived for 75 years.

Several roles in this film had tough shoes to fill. Henry Cavill presents a very different, but welcome, take on Clark Kent/Kal-El(Superman); a man trying to find himself and his place in this world. Some fans will argue that Kal-El they see in this film is not a true representation of the character. I beg to differ. In this story, he is on his way to becoming the Superman we are familiar with, so we must allow for a little latitude. Cavill allows us to empathize and see his life through his eyes, not an easy task by any means. Clark’s Kryptonian and Earth father (Russell Crowe & Kevin Costner respectively) have emotionally grounding performances, which help form Kal’s path in life. Then there is the film’s primary antagonist, General Zod (a commanding Michael Shannon). In this take of the character we are given more substance and reasoning for his motives to visit Earth. All performances were top-notch.

The visuals were phenomenal! We know Zack Snyder is known for his visual flair and he delivers ten-fold. He gives the granddaddy of superheroes the proper visual representation and scope he deserves. You can feel the passion and zeal he has for this character and his story throughout. Now, Snyder is known for his action and again he delivers. Some may argue it’s too much and it’s trying to match The Avengers. That’s bogus. Snyder uses these sequences to show how dangerous beings with such strength and abilities can be in our world. As well as showcasing the toll and focus it takes to use these superhuman abilities. As for the scenes on Krytpon, I could go on for hours. They were beautiful and inventive. All the special effects work was some of the best I’ve seen to date, if not the best.

The only negatives I left the film with were how they handled Kal’s secret identity and keeping it secret, there were definitely some plot holes in that department. The other is that they wrapped up the film a little too quickly for my taste.  This film is a true blockbuster and the Superman film we’ve needed for many years, GO SEE IT!! There is no need to see it in 3-D, but as I’ve said before, see it in IMAX if you can.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)


“Shall we begin?” I honestly don’t where to start with this review…I was totally enthralled with this film from start to finish. JJ Abrams exceeded my already high expectations for this much anticipated sequel. From the casting, to the writing, to the photography and even the 3D; everything was handled with precision and care.

I will keep this review as spoiler free as best I can because I want everyone to have the best viewing experience possible. We join the crew of the USS Enterprise mid-mission at the start of the movie. The end result of this mission causes major conflict between Capt Kirk (Chris Pine) and Starfleet, but more importantly with his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto). During all this, we are introduced to the enigmatic Commander John Harrison (a spell-binding Benedict Cumberbatch) who clearly has a deep vendetta against Starfleet. Kirk and his crew go on a mission to find Harrison and…this is where I’ll stop. If I go any further I will surely give something away.

You all probably remember how emotionally powerful the prologue is in the first film, right? Well that same gravitas is throughout this film. I’ll admit it, I teared up more than once…ok fine…I cried. This is all due to the work of the screenwriters (Orci & Kurtzman), who wrote the 2009 film along with fellow Bad Robot alum Damon Lindelof, and the actors. The performances are top notch and when you have such a strong actor as Benedict Cumberbatch stealing the show, you can tell that he elevates the rest of the cast to match his presence. The other welcome addition to the cast was Robocop himself, Peter Weller. I had no idea he was in it and seeing him on the big screen was quite a treat.  This film focuses on two major themes (there are others obviously), relationships (specifically the crew of the Enterprise) and hubris. With this type of film and it being a sequel to a huge box-office and critical success, the impulse to make it bigger and better would have been the logical choice. Instead, the creative team pulls it back and focuses on the characters. The first film gave us the introduction into this universe, now they the freedom to show who these characters are and how they will evolve throughout their journey(s).

That’s not to say that it’s all character driven, the scope is more expansive this time as well. We are taken to other territories in the universe that Trek fans will know very well. The action sequences will knock your socks off and take you an awesome ride. I do want to note that the 3D in this film is excellent. I have seen 3D film after 3D film and they are terrible. The post-conversion process done on this is consistent and adds atmosphere and depth to the film. It doesn’t distract you from what is going on, it immerses you. I was so impressed.

I could ramble on about how I loved this film (blows Iron Man 3 out of the water), but you should go experience it for yourself! I do recommend that if you can, go see it in IMAX because there were key scenes shot on the IMAX film format. If you can’t, at least see it in 3D-it is actually worth the money.  Trek fans will have PLENTY of fan service in this movie and even those who aren’t will still enjoy this amazing filmic frontier! Live long and prosper.

SKYFALL (2012)

“Where the Hell have you been?” This is precisely what I was thinking after seeing Skyfall, the latest installment in the James Bond film franchise. Now, I’m by no means a Bond aficionado, but I consider this to be the best of all the Bond films I have seen. 2006’s Bond reboot, Casino Royale, thoroughly impressed me and was so looking forward to the sequel. Quantum of Solace, although following the storyline started in the previous film, was a poor follow-up. Skyfall, handled with such appreciation and precision by its director Sam Mendes, was the Bond film I had been waiting for.

When we first see Bond in the prologue, I thought to myself, “Man, Craig definitely looks older compared to when he was in Casino Royale. I mean, he is 44 years old, how is he going to look in the other two Bond movies he’s contracted to do.” This is actually one of the key themes of this film. James and M (Dame Judi Dench), both are facing the wall of mortality and whether or not they are still pertinent in this brave new world.  Just as Bruce Wayne struggled in The Dark Knight, the question is posed, he can’t possibly do this forever, can he?  Skyfall explores this notion, allowing us to see Bond fall from espionage pedestal he’s held for so long and see him as a man struggling to complete his duty to queen and country. Now, this story is as much about M as it is Bond, not only is she going through a similar crisis as Bond, but the shadowy, yet flamboyant villain (Javier Bardem) is connected to her. It was nice to see Dench come behind the desk and get in the trenches to show off her acting chops.

I have to say, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about this film. To be honest nothing comes to mind at the moment. The story is taught and character-centric, where the inevitable action sequences are in service to progressing the story and not just there for the sake of needing to wake-up the audience. The flow of the film is very taught, after intense or action scenes, we are given a moment of reflection to digest what we experienced. The shots used are beautiful and wonderfully composed. Shooting on location in Turkey, England, China, etc, allows for a richer palette and gives the audience a sense of grandeur that you don’t get from shooting in a studio.  Even the Bond title sequence and theme song, were well done and hold as one of the best of all 23 films, in my opinion. What was also intriguing and refreshing about this film was that we actually delve into James Bond’s youth, his secret origin, if you will.

Now, everyone knows that what makes a hero great are the rogues he must overcome. This case is no different, Javier Bardem taps into a colorfully disturbed man who has fallen from grace and wants retribution.  What usually makes a villain so potent is that they have similarities with the protagonist or are a distorted reflection of them. Bardem’s Raol Silva and Bond are two sides of the same coin and that makes for a powerful conflict. Bardem knows how to play a villain, what can I say. It’s an amazing performance that left me waiting for each scene he would appear in.  Of course, Craig is on top of his game since he’s under a good director. There is also a wonderful supporting cast that includes a Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney. Oh and there is the introduction of Ben Whishaw as Q.

You don’t have to be a Bond fan to like this movie, although there are plenty of nods and references that wink to that audience. I could prattle on about how good this movie is, but why take my word for it- GO SEE IT! Part of me wishes that this was Craig’s swan song to Bond. It’s such a strong focus on death, past and future for Bond and the people within his inner circle that I couldn’t see how this could go on for two more films…then came the ending. People even remotely familiar with Bond will be excited or curious to see what the next installment will bring.  To think this film came about from a drunken conversation between Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes…

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

“The Legend Ends”

Most of you know that I am a self proclaimed Batman fanatic, so I am of the disposition to like this film. Just like most of you, I have been eagerly anticipating the final installment in The Dark Knight Trilogy wondering how the opus that is The Dark Knight could be matched or even topped.  This is a mindset that must be left at the door. You must consider this film on its own merit, just as the previous two have. Now, with this said…the film, in my humble opinion, topped The Dark Knight in several ways. As a whole, I consider this in the pantheon of great film trilogies.

Early reviews have had some negative things to say about the film. One being that the exposition is crammed with new characters and too information. There is a lot of information to take in, meaning you HAVE to pay attention as soon as the first frame rolls. The Dark Knight had a lot of story to absorb in the first hour, but no one complained about that, did they? Being that there is a lot to understand, it may need multiple viewings, but it’s not required by any means. Also, Bane has caused a lot controversy with his voice and being able to compare to Ledger’s anarchic Joker. The voice can be hard to discern at times, but it did not take me out of the experience. You can’t focus on trying to figure out what he’s saying or you may miss something. If you don’t understand one of his lines, the visuals or another line from an actor will help make sense of if it. Bane is an excellent adversary to pit against Bruce/Batman. Nolan has said that Batman has not been matched physically or tactically before and Bane fills that 100%. The fight sequences between them (shot gorgeously in IMAX) are stellar and mesmerizing. Perhaps Tom Hardy’s performance is not as groundbreaking as Ledger’s, but you should not expect it to. His physical performance and presence are excitedly chilling. Bane fits and serves this story and that is what is key.

My only big quibble is the first scene between John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). John Blake reveals some information to Bruce that almost seems out of left field, but it really doesn’t necessitate one to dwell on it much.

I could go on and on about the positives of this EPIC film. There is not a single bad performance throughout it. Most notably are two new cast members added to the ensemble. Anne Hathaway brought a new wonderfully enthralling take on Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the rookie optimistic cop wishes the viewer to have the best outcome possible for the story.  Of course the veterans actors: Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and, lest we forget, Christian Bale show their A game in this finale. In terms of scope, scale and action, this tops The Dark Knight. It is masterfully shot and put together to make a fitting swan song to Christopher Nolan’s Batverse.

What I love best about this film is that it ties everything together perfectly that was set up in the first two films. Nothing was retconned or ignored. If possible, watch the first two films first. It makes the experience much richer. They do have flashbacks for those who don’t, so don’t worry.  Also, there is plenty of fan service throughout the movie! People may not like or appreciate this film as much as I did, but that’s going to boil down to personal tastes and preferences. This is a good film, which is something I don’t say often. It absolutely merits a theater viewing and in IMAX, if you are able (over an hour of it was shot on IMAX cameras).  I hope you enjoy what I consider the best film of the summer! It is the film we deserved and needed.

If you’d like to know more about what I thought shoot me a message!

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

One of my personal favorite subgenres is the espionage thriller. When I heard a film adaption of John Le Carre’s novel was in the works with Gary Oldman leading an amazing ensemble cast, I was sold. The film focuses on events in 1973-1974 in Britain during the Cold War. The head of British Intelligence (the “Circus”), Control (a solemnly sharp John Hurt), sends a trusted field agent to Budapest to retrieve intelligence on a mole in the Circus who is leaking intel to the Russians. The operation is comprised, which forces Control to retire, along with his right-hand man George Smiley (Gary Oldman).  A year passes, Control passes away and Smiley is called back out of retirement by the very government who forced him into it to discover the mole, who is apparently at the top levels of the Circus.  Then ensues the true intrigue, betrayal, suspicions and any other term you’d like to use because this film has it all.

This particular work has been adapted previously into a BBC miniseries with Alec Guinness in the lead as Smiley. This would allow for the novel to be fully fleshed out on-screen.  I had some reservations that elements would be lost in translation, considering the film is only two hours long.  Instead, what this did was force the viewer to focus on every word spoken and the images presented. There are many things conveyed not only through dialogue, via photographs and the facial cues/gestures of the actors. If you don’t immerse yourself and focus on what you’re watching then you won’t receive the full entertainment experience this film has to offer.

Usually, in espionage films there will be a few to a handful of actors who give solid performances to keep us interested to the end of the movie. In the case of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, none the fantastic actors were wasted. Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberpatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and of course Gary Oldman-need I say more.  Oldman portrays George Smiley as a poised, methodical gentleman. A simple look from him gave me the impression that he was man with years of experience and pain.  Mr. Oldman has had many amazing performances over the years, but I believe this role and his role as Commissioner Jim Gordon show his experience and talent as an actor to date.

If you’re looking for an action movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy is not for you. We are prominently stationed in interior settings. Now, don’t misunderstand me, there will be murder and intense imagery, but no giant explosions. Due to the fact that a lot of information and detail was shown, this is a film I would gladly pay again to see, so I can catch subtleties I may have missed before as I was taking it all in. If you like a well crafted game of cat and mouse, thrillers or just like any of the afore mentioned actors then Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy will surprise you.

“The Dark Knight Rises” Prologue

This is the most anticipated film of 2012, for me, anyways. I was extremely lucky to see a special press screening of the first six minutes of the film. Just as we were gifted with a taste of the Joker in 2008 before seeing “I Am Legend”, we were given the introduction to the mysterious villain, Bane, this time around. I won’t spoil the scene (For specific details, feel free to message/e-mail me), except that it seemed reminiscent of when Batman retrieved Lau from Hong Kong in “The Dark Knight”.  You can absolutely draw conclusions based on this scene that some of the sequences Nolan attempted in “Inception” will be fully implemented in this film. Nolan has said that due to Bane wearing a mask, the key to Tom Hardy’s performance is through his eyes. I paid special attention and I was impressed; his glare and stare gave insight into his power of intimidation and menace. Sadly, we didn’t see Bane engage in any hand-to-hand combat, but  we were able to hear his voice. Oddly enough, he sounded like a rugged Sean Connery; deep and eerie, which I dug. Some of his dialog towards the end of the sequence was difficult to understand. This would be my main criticism of what I witnessed, but I’m hoping this will be corrected in the final mix (I spoke to a rep asking for impressions and comments-gave him my five cents). It seems that a piece of Hans Zimmer score was placed in it and was as intense and empowering as his work on the previous two films, especically with the inclusion of the chants we heard in the teaser trailer. We saw Gordon giving what seems to be a memorial speech for Harvey Dent, as well. Then a quick succession of shots showed us Hathaway in full Catwoman garb, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the Batwing, shots of major action sequences and Bane walking away with a cracked Bat mask and throwing it on the ground. END. Needless to say, it’s going to be a long seven months to see this (make sure you see it in IMAX!).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (2011)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is the end of one of, if not, the most successful film franchises in cinema history. Although to most, it is the end of an era because they have grown with the actors in the film, as well as the books. Now, I’ll be up front, I have not read any of the books (pause, shake your head in disappointment), but I have seen every film and like most of you, have grown attached to the films.  Some I have deeply enjoyed, others seemed like duds to me. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is the former.

The film picks up right where Part I left off. Harry and crew mourn momentarily for Dobby and then venture off to find the final four Horcruxes. The journey brings them back to where it all began-Hogwarts. It is here where the cinematic battle between good and evil commences.  Of course, Harry and Voldemort have their long-awaited final battle, which no one should miss a second of. There is no lag in the film; the first part gave us the exposition necessary to enjoy the ride of the final installment.  Even when we are shown Snape’s memories, it is presented in a well-paced fashion.

Now, don’t think it all action and empowerment, which it delivers 100%. It is dark and deeply emotional, of all the films this is the one that truly evoked an emotional response, and by emotional response, I mean I cried.  Key emotional sequences/scenes to note are Snape’s memories, when Harry speaks with his family before facing Voldemort and when he realizes his final duty and he sees al the wounded in one of Hogwarts halls. David Yates, the director, conveyed the gravity of the dire situation the wizard world was in.  Comedy was kept to a minimum, which was much appreciated and the moments to catch our breathe in the film were refreshing.  We were children when we started these films and now we are adults, I’m glad the film treated the material as such.

The actors deliver solid performances to match the stakes the film wants to us to buy into. Daniel Radcliffe has really come into his own and shows his acting chops when facing off with Ralph Fiennes. Perhaps what really sold me on the film was the cinematography and use of music and sound.  Yates used many off-kilter shots and odd close-ups that made the film stand out immensely. In terms of music, it wasn’t overused, as it tends to be for such big blockbuster films. Instead, certain intentionally emotional scenes are quiet and the camera just sits. I was able to feel the full intensity of these moments and fully involve me in the picture. Now, the 3-D is poorly used; only in Voldemort’s death was it really implemented.

I could probably go on a bit more, but what it boils down to is this: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is the blockbuster to see this summer (to date). It is a worthy farewell to the franchise and gives us the closure we deserve. Do yourself a favor and go see it!

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon, where do I begin. The trailers and articles I have read and seen seemed to promote outstanding visuals and the best use of 3D since Avatar.  The picture does have excellent visuals and fantastic action sequences. There are a handful of scenes towards the end that make use of 3D that are on par or exceed Avatar’s use, but I was left questioning why wasn’t this used throughout the entire film effectively and not just a few scenes.

Dark of the Moon revolves around the idea that the space race in the sixties was in response to a Cybertronian ship, piloted by the former leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime (a commanding Leonard Nimoy), crash landing on the moon.  (SPOILER ALERT) Apparently, Sentinel made a deal with Megatron that they would meet up and rebuild Cybertron on Earth with his teleportation pillars. Optimus and the other Autobots are betrayed by Sentinel Prime and must face off against an army of Decepticons to save the world. They have basically rewritten the story to fit their own needs; if you all remember, Megatron came to Earth in search of the Allspark to revive their race, not Sentinel Prime and the teleportation pillars. At least Revenge of the Fallen coincided with the first film.  Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is Sam Witwicky’s (Shia Lebeouf) struggle with finding meaning in mediocrity. He has saved the world twice, but he struggles to find a job of worth. Sam believes he should be in a position where he makes a difference, where he matters. At a time where it’s hard for college graduates to find careers/jobs, I found this to be very poignant.

Megan Fox is out of the picture! They have inserted the new eye candy…err, I mean, actress, Rosie Huntington-Whitely as Carly. I found her to be a better fit than Fox. I only wish she had been there since the first film because the supposed close relationship her and Sam have falls flat on its face, I just don’t buy it.  They spent the whole second film focusing on how Mikaela and Sam loved each other, but couldn’t verbalize it and their explanation for her leaving was that she didn’t love him for who he really was…they could have done better.

Michal Bay said that they learned from the mistakes of Revenge of the Fallen (i.e.: racist Autobots, too comedic, plot holes) and that was a bunch of B.S. Yes, the twins are gone, but what do the replace them with…An Asian Autobot, with all the racial stereotypes. Oh and apparently Cybertronians are capable of having HAIR- the Asian Autobot, the new pet Autobot and some Decepticons have what seem to be dreadlocks. Seriously?! I could go along with creating new transformers, but taking those kinds of liberties just irks me.  If you thought Fallen had plot holes, this one has them left and right. There is the aforementioned above and also they were never quite clear, unless I missed it, about how Earth and Cybertron where to merge. Also, where did all these Decepticons come from?? That was the reason the Decepticons were invading earth in the second picture because they needed energon to breed more of their race, yet there are numerous ships and Decepticons on call, right…

Bay did include the human element more than the second, but there was far too much humor that it was almost too slapstick. Even when there were dire stakes towards the end, they were still crackin’ jokes. The first film focused on the seriousness of the events occurring; they didn’t let the audience take time to escape the tone with a laugh or two. That is what made it so effective. I did like seeing John Turturro and Frances McDormand (two Coen Brothers alumns) together on screen.

I felt nothing throughout the film-no excitement, sadness, nor anger. Films should evoke some emotion and the first picture was the only one in the trilogy to do this. It is the best Transformers film. Now remember, I don’t consider my opinion to be the final say on a film. Many just want to see giant robots fighting and killing each and there’s plenty of that.  I may dislike this film, but it’s going to make millions, with or without my endorsement. What I want to convey is that I felt that I wasted my money. I watched the first film the day before and loved it all over again. I say save your money and go buy the first Transformers film, if you don’t already have it.