Suicide Squad: Why I Can’t Believe this Film is Real

suicide squad

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Every year I think there is at least one or two superhero flicks that are so bad it’s insane it was made.  Last year it was Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Fantastic Four.  This year, it looks to be Suicide Squad.  After watching the newest trailer, I believe Warner Bros. thinks that we, as audience members, are stupid.  Below is the trailer and my take on what should be the worst movie of 2016.

  • First off, why the hell does it start off with “Bohemian Rhapsody”?  I love Queen, but why this song?  They could have at least chosen a lesser-known song or, I don’t know, create an original piece.  The laziness in this film becomes glaring from the get go.
  • Every comic book/action movie now has to look like it is the most epic film ever.  What happened to the Supermans and the Batmans, where they felt simply like a small-scope comic that came to life?  Now, everything is either dark, bloated beyond belief, and/or tongue-in-cheek.
  • Jeez, 19 seconds in and we get the cliché of clichés—someone saying they want to put a team together.  How many freaking times have I heard this one?  Anytime there’s an ensemble in a movie, somebody wants to assemble a team.  It’s fine that they want to do this, but we don’t need that exact scene in the film and those exact words.
  • The first time in the trailer that they have to remind us that they are bad guys…because we don’t know Harley Quinn is bad, and we forgot that we just saw them all in jail.
  • Will Smith just looks bored.  He used to be a charismatic actor, and now I don’t think he wants to act anymore.  Maybe he is trying to sabotage this movie?
  • Now the next cliché: they have to oversimplify every character by telling us, in a couple of words, what they do.  You know, it’s not that hard to go on the internet and look up who these people are.  Who’s the target audience of this film?  Everyone?
  • What the hell happened to Killer Croc?  He looks like a pile of poop that was thrown off a windshield.  I understand he is a part of Suicide Squad, but if he looks that terrible, why put him in the movie?
  • Harley Quinn is not funny at all.
  • Well, they are able to tell you the plot of this crap in five seconds—go somewhere bad to save the world or die.
  • Wow, Jared Leto is doing an embarrassingly poor Heath Ledger impression.  By the way, if you want to make Joker cool, actually make him crazy by telling real jokes that sound sadistic.
  • A montage of cool action!  Yes!  Actually, no.  If you want me to get excited about people killing other people, actually show them do it in camera.  Do not make it look digital and green-screened.
  • And the final shot to the nuts is that they have to tell us once again that they are bad guys.  Man, I almost forgot in two minutes; thanks for reminding me.
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What Happens When You Give the Fans Everything?

Batman-v-Superman

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

There was once a time when movies had boundaries, both in terms of time and money. With every day that passes, we see these boundaries fading with frequent updates on upcoming giant spectacles such as Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, and Avengers: Infinity War.  For me, superhero movies/action films have become so big that they have become uninteresting.  Below, I explain why the less-is-more approach works best in films, and how the more-is-more approach is slowly destroying blockbuster movies today.

1989

            When the 1989 film, Batman, was announced, many comic book fans were excited to see one of their favorite heroes on the big screen.  Then, Warner Bros. announced the star power behind it—Michael Keaton as Batman, and Jack Nicholson as The Joker.  You’re probably thinking, “That’s all?”.  Here’s the thing, a lot of the most successful movies had three stars at most.  Highlander had only Sean Connery; The Matrix merely had Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves; Goodfellas had Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro.  The reason more big name actors are not in these films because they would have cost too much money.  Batman (1989) cost roughly $30 million. With two massive stars and a few set pieces, it’s clear that there was not enough money for a third big actor. That is okay.  In fact, limiting a movie to three stars allows for more screen time for each character, and therefore allows for more character development. It’s not surprising then that Batman is considered by fans and critics to be the best of the four Batman movies from the 1980s and 1990s, and it is the most financially successful film of the four, with a gross of over $250 million.

When watching Batman, Joker and Batman have almost equal screen time, and you see a transformation in both characters.  Sure, there are smaller characters with goals, such as Vicki Vale and Knox, but it is clearly Keaton and Nicholson’s movie.  Now, look at 1995’s Batman Forever.  With $100 million this time round, Warner Bros. could make, or buy anything.  Sure enough, they casted Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, and Chris O’Donnell.  I re-watched this film recently, and I discovered that this film doesn’t actually have a main character.  Each character has only about ten to twenty minutes of development.  Hell, we see Riddler’s origin, Robin’s origin, Two Face’s origin, Nicole Kidman gives her back story, and Bruce Wayne retells his origin.  We received a bigger movie, and, while it was successful, it didn’t even crack $200 million.

2001

So what about a film that actually succeeded at making an ensemble movie, such as The Fellowship of the Ring?  Easy, the director Peter Jackson knew the overarching story belonged to Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee.  How many scenes feature different characters that don’t involve those two?  Not many; only the scenes with Gandalf and Saruman exclude them.  However, by that point we have had six scenes with Frodo to establish his character.  If a movie tries to focus on too many characters, it will fail.  That is why I think The Dark Knight is better than The Dark Knight Rises.  Supporting characters are necessary, in order to help (support) the main character in achieve their goals, which is why The Fellowship of the Ring also has characters such as Aragorn and Gandalf.

Another thing Fellowship did superbly is it took thirty minutes to set up the universe before the action starts.  Sure, it has that awesome action set piece at the beginning, but it is there to enhance the story, and is so brief that it gives the audience a sample of what is to come.  Action scenes in these bigger movies such as The Avengers and Age of Ultron happen so often, and for such a long period of time, that they are merely for looks and fan service, and not to advance the story in a significant way, or to excite you after waiting for 30-plus minutes of character and plot development.

2012

When The Avengers came out, people were blown away by it.  But when you look at the movie as a whole, was it really that great?  Even in ensemble films, there is a central character to the film, but I couldn’t figure out who that was in this movie.  I guess Iron Man is, because he makes the most jokes throughout the film, and gets the final joke at the end.  For these last four years, we have received everything, and nothing at the same time from Marvel.  When The Dark Knight came out, they promised you a grounded Batman vs. Joker movie.  That is what you got. If you don’t like that style, then that is not the movie’s fault.  When a Jackie Chan movie came out, he promised unique fight scenes and crazy stunts.  If you didn’t like that, then why are you watching martial art films?  The Avengers promised The Avengers, and you really didn’t get that.  Instead, you got to see them fighting for no apparent reason, face a sucky villain, and constantly joke around with each other.  No one’s character developed, most criminally being Captain America, who is supposed to be dealing with the pain of being viciously ripped from the love of his life.  A lot of fans may think they are getting everything by seeing a bunch of famous characters team up, but here’s the reality: the more characters/stars you put in a movie, the more the story worsens.  There is a reason that Burton’s Batman is talked about over 25 years later, while 3-year-old Avengers has been thrown to the ground for the subsequent Marvel films that promise everything under the sun (action, jokes, references to other Marvel movies, action, jokes, appearances from other Marvel characters, action, jokes, and a post-credits scene that sets up the next movie).  Sure, Burton’s Batman is very different, but he gave you a couple of good sips, not the whole bottle.  What does the magician do?  He never gives his trick away.  So why do movies now give everything away?  Easy, it’s because they have nothing to offer. They just want your money.

Taken, An Action Movie?

taken

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Since 2009’s Taken, Liam Neeson has become this generation’s action star.  Interestingly, it is the first and only good action film that Neeson has done (unless you count The Grey).  Taken was released in January, a month infamous for where new movies go to die.  But, it blew away all expectations by wowing critics and audiences, and making a pile of money.  When the movie came out, everyone was talking about it.  Even today, seven years later, I hear or see people talking about or making fun of the famous monologue that begins with “I don’t know who you are”.  The success of Taken created a wave in the action genre, inspiring numerous replicas and two sequels of its own (all of which we will not talk about today).  Despite its influence on the action genre, I argue that Taken is not such an action film, but is instead a suspense thriller.

            To make an action movie good, you have to have memorable set pieces and action sequences.  T2 would not be what it is without its amazing action scenes.  I could never re-watch Bruce Lee fights if he was not amazing at fighting.  In the case of Taken, though, the most exciting scenes are not the fight scenes.  In fact, because of how poor the editing is in such scenes, it is obvious that Neeson is not the one fighting.  Also, the action itself is very slow.  I noticed this in the final fight.  The main villain and Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) move very slow for trained agents.

Let’s look at The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones.  In the film, Ford is framed and chased for murdering his wife.  While on the run from the authorities, he searches for the murderer.  The action scenes, although realistic, are not what make this movie intriguing today.  It is the characters and the chase itself.  Throughout the film, I am on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what happens next.  Taken is about an agent who has 96 hours to find his daughter before she is lost forever.  At the midpoint of the film, the police start chasing him after the chaos he causes in Paris.  After Mills’ daughter is kidnapped, the suspense continues to grow.  My favorite scene in the film is when Mills is at his friend’s house for dinner.  Beforehand, we saw Mills and his friend interact, and the friend seemed off.  What we see in this scene is the climax of their relationship.

            Like Clint Eastwood, Neeson kills as an action star.  The best part about him is how he holds himself.  Throughout the film, Mills is confident in what he is doing, never losing his cool.  The best example of his character’s collectedness is when he is on the phone with his daughter, moments before she is taken.  In the scene, Mills calmly tells his daughter to hide, and that she is going to be kidnapped.  From that point on I knew the movie was going to do the unexpected.  Not only is he a well-trained agent, but even in the most emotional moments of his life Mills remains calm.  He is even calm when shooting his friend’s wife in the leg.  These two scenes alone give the movie replay value, in my opinion.

Taken might not be a great action film, but I think it is an amazing thriller.  With scenes such as the ones I just discussed, and the scene when he finally meets the main villain, Marco, the movie is downright intense.  Although I believe Marco was defeated in the film too early and we didn’t get as big of a payoff as what we should have, Taken is one of the few “action” films today that has broken the generic action film trend.  The fight scenes are few and far between, and it has engaging set ups to its exciting moments.  Most of all, what makes this movie unique is its lack of pre-release hype.  Nobody expected the film to be such a big deal.  It was word-of-mouth that led to the movie’s success.  Director Pierre Morel and his team crafted a top-notch thriller, and its thrills and absence of over-hype are great examples of what more movies in general should have.

Rating:

7.5 Out of 10

+ Liam Neeson is amazing in this role

+ Great Suspense

-The action scenes are not impressive

-No main villain that you care to see die

Do Weak Villains Make for Weak Heroes?

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Mr.T.jpg

For the last couple of weeks, a lot of people have been criticizing Rey, the main protagonist in The Force Awakens, for being perfect.  While I agree, I think we are missing the big picture—Kylo Ren.  In any great story we always want to see the hero defy all odds and win.  That’s why it is so engaging to watch Luke fight Vader, Rocky face Apollo Creed, and Neo beat Mr. Smith.  Luke, Rocky, and Neo are all characters who achieve goals that no one believed that anyone could.  In order for the protagonist to be at a disadvantage, obviously, the antagonist has to be a convincing threat.  That said, we should also criticize Ren.  Why?  Well, if all of the other characters are laughable and/or fools (example: Ren’s tantrums), it doesn’t make for a convincing hero.  What if Obi Wan Kenobi was a stumbling drunk in Episode IV, instead of a guide for Luke?  What if Han Solo missed Greedo, then realized that he fired in the wrong direction?  What if Luke was already more capable than any of the other good guys (like how Rey was)?  Audiences would have attacked Luke for being a whiny character who inexplicably found the ability to blow up the death star.  Why?  Because you need supporting and main characters to strengthen the lead character.  Look at The Matrix.  Neo is a very bland character, but Mr. Smith is such a powerful antagonist that it makes sense that Neo has to become stronger and actually make a difference in the story.  Luckily, there are strong supporting characters, such as Morpheus and Trinity, to strengthen Neo.

What if Kylo Ren did not speak in the first thirty minutes?  The audience would become impatient to the point that when he finally would do something, it would make them pay attention.  Instead, the coolest thing happens with him in the first five minutes.  After that, it was downhill for him.  The same was for Red Skull in Captain America: First Avenger.  In the comics, not only is Red Skull stronger, but also smarter and has a loyal army behind him.  How does Steve Rogers defeat such a force?  Well, in the movie, Red Skull’s forces are weak, and the heroes are clearly much better.  No scene in the film shows the heroes lose.  Why should we care, then?  If Morpheus, Trinity, and Neo could defeat the agents each time, then there would be no movie.  The Empire Strikes Back is basically an entire movie about the good guys losing.  It’s also consistently considered by Star Wars fans to be the best of all seven films.  Coincidence?

The perfect example of the main hero being beaten is RoboCop.  From the first minute RoboCop is born, he is roaming Detroit City kicking the crap out of the villains.  But, in RoboCop’s previous life as Alex Murphy, he was blown away by Clarence Boddicker and his men, in a scene that demonstrated the power of Clarence as a villain.  Both characters were set up for the final fight.  Although RoboCop is virtually immune to bullets, he has his weaknesses.  Clarence has access to military weaponry, and is not scared at all of RoboCop.  Granted, he could be on cocaine at this point, but who knows with him.

The hero is only as good as the villain.  That has stuck with me for many years.  Whenever I see a movie about good versus evil, I get excited.  But most recent movies don’t have the heroes and/or villains who do a good enough job to excite me.  Even though I don’t like The Winter Soldier movie, the titular character did a good job of being a threat, until the point where he’s revealed to be a complex villain.  Once you find out he’s a tragic character who is under someone else’s control, he is suddenly a weaker villain.  Now, let’s compare Winter Soldier to the Terminator in the first one.  The T-800 does cool things throughout the movie, but what makes him scary is how Kyle Reese describes him to Sarah Connor.  The mystery (plus the dread-inducing music) behind the T-800 made him effective.

Hopefully, we will soon begin to see more films that break the trend of “hey kids, let’s watch the perfect good guys beat up the non-threatening villain!”.

Ip Man 3: What to Expect

 

ipman3

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Over the last few weeks, we have been shown footage from the latest and final movie in the Ip Man series starring Donnie Yen.  As someone who was a non-believer of the first one until seeing it, I feel that the newest one forgets what made the original so awesome.  A good rule in action movies is to never do a sequel that is very similar to the first one, because lightning does not strike twice in the same place.  Just look at the sequels for Die Hard, Rambo, Taken, and Police Story.  None of those movies broke new ground in the franchise.  The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, and Terminator 2 did; that’s why they are such memorable sequels.  While Ip Man 2 was a good film, it changed nothing about the franchise.  Ip man still is amazing at fighting, everyone is still out to get him, and he must again engage in the one fight that will change the world.  I will admit that the final fight in the second one is better in terms of quality, but its context didn’t have the same impact as the first one due to lack of character development for the main villain.

What about the latest one?  In many ways it is the most star-studded with Donnie Yen, Mike Tyson, Yuen Woo Pien directing it, and the character Bruce Lee being in the film.  At first, I was stoked about what the film could have to offer; then, I watched the trailers.  Nothing makes sense.   For some reason, Ip Man looks to be fighting a bunch of people at once, for the third time.  All this tells me is that the filmmakers are once again trying to recapture the magic of the amazing ten-on-one fight scene in the first one.  The second one suffered from weaker choreography, largely because of the overuse of CGI.  Judging from a certain clip that I’ll get to momentarily, the overuse of CGI looks to be a problem with Ip Man 3 as well.  I have the impression that the movie doesn’t have the realistic punch it needs to make an impact.  Donnie Yen is an amazing martial artist and a great actor, so why use special effects?

In the latest clip, Ip Man finally meets Bruce Lee!  When the first movie came out, I was excited to see a portrayal of my idol as a youngster receiving his formative training.  Boy, did this clip kill all of my excitement.  Not only does the person who is playing teenage Bruce Lee look like a grown man, but he also mimics all of Lee’s mannerisms.  If you’ve seen Big Boss or Green Hornet, you would know that Lee didn’t develop a lot of his famous mannerisms until his later films.  To me, it doesn’t seem like an accurate depiction, but instead just a tribute to him.  And, the aforementioned cringeworthy CGI of him kicking water and cigarettes has also greatly lowered my expectations.  With Sammo Hung not returning from the first two to choreograph the fights for this third film, let’s hope that what we’ve heard and seen is the worst.

Star Wars Episode VII: A New Reboot

 

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Lukevaderesb

When I was little, I loved to watch the original Star Wars trilogy over and over.  I tried so hard to know the films by heart.  Later, Star Wars recaptured my heart with books such as Heir to Empire, video games such as Battlefront and Knights of the Old Republic, and television series like both iterations of The Clone Wars.  So when the new film came out, and everyone was saying, “This is the return of Star Wars!” I knew I had to see it.  The film reminded me of how fantastic Star Wars can be, but only because it missed the mark…by several miles.  You read that right; Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is not an excellent, or even a good film.  It was very mediocre.  Below are my points for how The Force Awakens is a depressing movie to watch.

Action! Action! Action!

Star-Wars-7-Character-Guide-Finn-Rey

The last ninety minutes of The Force Awakens felt like the last thirty minutes of Attack of the Clones.  Instead of explaining things that need to be explained, the filmmakers show another pointless action scene.  The first thirty minutes is actually good because they try to set up the movie, but once we get onboard the Falcon, we wave bye-bye to context.  One after another, the action sequences pile up to a numbing number.

It’s funny to me that everyone makes fun of martial arts films because they have dialogue that leads up to a fight scene.  What they don’t understand is that non-action scenes are supposed to explain who characters are, what they want, and the reasons for their actions.  That way, when the action sequence arrives, it’s a payoff for the build-up.  But when a 2-hour movie has umpteen action sequences, with only a handful of non-action scenes that generally trade exposition for nostalgia and jokes, no payoff is occurring; instead, we’re just watching vague outlines of good and bad people trying to kill each other.

Pretty much anything Star Wars-related is a universe builder, not a 2-hour-long action spectacle.  Even the prequel trilogy got that right.

No one is taking it seriously.

HanSoloChewbacca

In the original trilogy, every character is a serious character.  Sure, there are funny moments with each one, but no one says anything that is out of character.  Remember Yoda?  He started off as a crazy person.  Then, when Luke realized he was a Jedi master, Yoda’s personality changed from funny to serious.  In turn, the audience knew to take him seriously.  In The Force Awakens, you had Han Solo, the old fart who forgets stuff. He misplaces the Millennium Falcon and doesn’t know that Chewbacca’s bowcaster is awesome. Finn is the most worthless character ever, and is the butt of all jokes. Chewbacca is turned into the injury-prone suitor to the yellow Yoda. The main antagonist, Kylo Ren, is fully grown man who’s still stuck in the terrible 2’s. Then, there’s the main protagonist, Rey, who is perfect (because apparently having little-to-no struggle with figuring out the Force and beating the main bad guy—not once but twice—is what makes for an interesting protagonist).  When a movie spends more time making jokes, references, and force-feeding us action than telling a story, it’s impossible for me to take the movie seriously.

Plot Holes

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For some odd reason, any film before and after the original triliogy makes no sense.  Every movie has plot holes or “movie magic” in them, but it becomes distracting when there are contradictions in the narrative and characters.  First off, Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber appears in The Force Awakens, even though the saber floats away in The Empire Strikes Back.  Who found it?  When, where, and how was it found?  Second off, Force-newbie,Rey, is better than Force-veteran, Kylo Ren, at using the Force, yet he wants to be her mentor.  On that note, how did Kylo Ren destroy the Jedi?  If he killed all of the Jedi, it makes no sense that he couldn’t hold his own against Rey.  Another example is how Finn was able to defend himself against Ren when he couldn’t hold his own against a Stormtrooper. It makes no sense!  The list goes on.  Why does Artoo Detoo wait till the end of the movie to turn on and show everyone the map to Luke’s location?  And, how does the Resistance know how to blow up Death Star 3.0?  In Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, it is explained to the audience how the Rebels found out about the Death Star plans, and how to blow it up.  That way, the ensuing space battle made 100% sense.

Kylo Ren

Kylo Ren

When is the last time a whiny main villain was awesome?  Never, unless you count Cobra Commander (who is known for losing, which is not a good thing to be remembered for).  Kylo Ren, for the first twenty minutes, is fine.  But, even during that time, the movie tries too hard to make him cool by stopping a laser bullet.  You know what Vader did to be cool in his introduction?  He walked.  Even Darth Maul just had to lift his head, and Boba Fett just looked around.  All of these characters became favorites.  Once Ren starts acting like a baby, I stopped caring about him.  I don’t care if he is “conflicted.” His immaturity and wannabe-but-just-isn’t-Darth Vader schtick makes him non-threatening.  When Darth Maul returned in The Clone Wars, he was very sad to look at, but that’s because he was chopped in half and abandoned for ten years.  You actually know why he is like that.  Vader didn’t first start off broken either.  It took three movies to explain why he is the way he is.  The Force Awakens tries to cram what would be six hypothetical hours of character development into two hours for Ren’s actual character development, if we follow the same logic.  By the time it becomes a staple for him to get upset, it starts becoming a comedic part of the film.

The Magic Scene is Missing

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Every memorable movie has that one scene or moment that wants you to come back for more.  The “set of skills” monologue from Taken, “Do you feel lucky?” from Dirty Harry, and Kirk yelling “Khan!” in The Wrath of Khan.  All of these movies will be remembered forever because their most memorable moments either fully represent the movie, or are simply cool.  So how is a movie good when it either copies a much better film, or doesn’t do anything that the world is talking about?  Everyone is talking about the comeback of Star Wars, saying something to the tune of, “This is the first movie in 32 years to get it right!”  You know what other movie had ungodly amounts of hype, and was adored by fans upon release?  The Phantom Menace.  Anyone who knows their Star Wars knows what happened after the smoke cleared—everyone realized what a letdown it actually is, and it became popular to make fun of the movie and outright dislike it.