Tag Archives: Margot Robbie

Suicide Squad (2016)

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I’ll be honest: Suicide Squad was probably my least anticipated blockbuster of the year. The trailers didn’t inspire me and expectations dropped even further after the disappointing mixed bag that was Batman v Superman. And so I’ll also give credit where it is due: I actually quite liked Suicide Squad.

Written and directed by David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch, Fury), Suicide Squad is officially the third film in the DC cinematic universe after Man of Steel and BvS. It is an ambitious project that tries to subvert the superhero ensemble genre by making the protagonists a bunch of “bad guys” who have to save the world. It is essentially a bizarro Avengers of sorts, with Viola Davis  playing Amanda Waller, a government official who decides to bring together a group of the world’s most dangerous criminals, some of whom are “metahumans”, to take down a new threat that has become seemingly unstoppable in the aftermath of BvS (no spoilers for those who haven’t seen it). It essentially the Nick Fury role played by Samuel Jackson in the Marvel cinematic universe.

There’s the hired assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), crazy babe Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), powerful ancient witch Enchantress (Carla Delevigne), Aussie bandit Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), firestarter El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and wall climber Slipknot (Adam Beach). Tasked with babysitting the so-called “Suicide Squad” is hero soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), along with his sword-wielding Japanese friend Katana (Karen Fukuhara).

That’s already a lot of characters and a lot of stars, but there’s still more. There’s Jared Leto as supervillain The Joker, Common as a gangster, Scott Eastwood as a lieutenant, and Ike Barinholtz as a sleazy prison guard. That doesn’t even take into account cameos from a couple of from Justice League members.

Despite the plethora of characters, Ayers does a fairly good job in introducing us to all of them and in trying to give each their chance to shine, including the use of an assortment of flashback sequences to reveal back stories for key characters. Of course, no one really gets enough time to become a fully rounded character, but I think it was about as good as you could get considering the running time is only 123 minutes. Even had they extended the film to 3 hours it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

Perhaps burned by the reception to BvSSuicide Squad had a lot more lighter moments and humorous dialogue where audiences could laugh and relax — predominantly thanks to Harley Quinn. There are still plenty of serious/emotional scenes, and even some scary sequences that would be unsuitable for children, but the film is decidedly not as dark or gritty as Ayers’ previous films.

And the performances are very good all around. I had been one of those people who felt Will Smith’s days as a box office A-lister were long behind him, but this movie shows he’s still got the charisma and presence to carry a film. He doesn’t need to do it here, but he’s arguably the best thing about the movie. I had also thought his character, Deadshot, seemed kinda lame, though I was wrong about that too. The film definitely frames his special abilities in the best possible light so that he can be one of the most impactful members of the squad.

The other standouts for me were of course Margot Robbie, who dominates just about every scene she is in as the sexy but nutty Harley Quinn, Viola Davis, who gets a lot of meat to chew in this film, and Joel Kinnaman, who adds a groundedness to all the mayhem and super abilities. He’s proven with this performance and in House of Cards that he is a fantastic actor who deserves bigger, more challenging roles in the future.

And now, the negatives. Truth is, the film doesn’t make much sense at all from a story standpoint. I can’t go into it too much, but even the very reason why the Suicide Squad was set up in the first place, and who was chosen to be a part of it, doesn’t quite add up. Many of the members of the squad — especially the non-metahumans with the exception of Deadshot — don’t really belong there. Captain Boomerang, in particular, basically offers nothing. It’s one of those movies where you have to put logic aside and go with the flow, because some of these metahumans are so powerful that contrivances have to be forced into the plot to balance out the field for the ordinary humans. Logic aside, and while the editing is far near perfect, Suicide Squad is still a more coherent film than BvS.

Another complaint I have — and it’s the same problem many had with BvSˆ– is that the characters bonded too quickly and too easily. I understand that Ayers had to create camaraderie in the squad, but it was jarring to hear them speak of each other in corny terms after a handful of interactions in literally just a few hours of time together.

The final issue I had with the film was Jared Leto’s tattooed, mobster version of the Joker. Some people may love it, but I hated it. My problem is less with Leto’s portrayal and more with the way the character was written and presented. I didn’t find him creepy or scary, and I could tell that’s exactly what they were going for. If Jack Nicholson’s Joker was iconic and Heath Ledger’s was legendary, then Jared Leto’s Joke is “meh”. It’s almost as though he tried too hard and it backfired.

Ultimately, Suicide Squad is not in the same league as any of the Avengers movies or Civil War, and it’s several notches below X-Men: Apocalypse. However, those movies did have the advantage of not having to introduce their core characters for the first time, whereas for Suicide Squad had a whole bunch of characters most regular moviegoers would not have even heard of. It is not great by any means, but at least it delivers good popcorn fun and some solid action sequences.  I personally thought it was better-made and more entertaining on the whole than BvS.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Z for Zachariah (2015)

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I may have read Z for Zachariah when I was in high school. I can’t remember if I did, but it’s a great title you never forget once you’ve seen it.

Then I heard last year that they were making a film adaptation starring Australia’s own Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, and Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (let’s face it, should be Oscar-winner, bloody McConaughey), and thought it would be one of 2015’s big blockbusters. Instead, the film kind of disappeared off the radar and got a limited release late last month.

My initial reaction is that the film must have sucked balls, but as it turns out, Z for Zachariah is actually quite a compelling post-apocalyptic drama that was probably always fated to appeal to a small segment of the market.

From what I understand, the first half or so of the film follows the book quite closely. Margot Robbie plays Ann, a religious young woman who survives what appears to have been a nuclear holocaust due to the fortunate positioning of her family’s farm. Then one day a man, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), appears and changes everything.

The second half of the film is said to deviate from Robert C. O’Brien’s 1974 novel in that it introduces a new character played by Chris Pine. As a result the story takes a completely different direction and becomes dominated by a different set of themes.

It’s understandable why the film has been so low-key, as it plays out at a pace that will be challenging to a lot of audiences. It’s one of those contemplative dramas, where the interactions are more subtle and invites viewers to read between the lines and draw their own conclusions. At its core, this is a film about basic, fundamental human emotions and instincts, and how feelings can be magnified to dangerous levels in a confined setting. I’m sure everyone has a relatable experience where you spend a lot of time with a person or a small group of people and develop strong feelings toward them, but when you look back upon it later on or from a step back you wonder why it ever had such a powerful effect on you.

I found the slow speed of the film to be fine — there is a constant tension that continues to grow beneath the surface that made me uneasy and curious as to what would happen next. It’s quite impressive how director Craig Zobel — who last directed the superb 2012 film Compliance (my review here), which is also about the nature of human interactions — manages to create such an effective drama using this very simple story with so few characters.

Chiwetel Ejifor is really awesome in this, as you would expect, and he stands out among the trio of actors. Both Pine and Robbie are very good too (though I noticed Robbie’s Aussie accent leaking through a few times), which is a big reason why the film works despite its pace and occasional uneven tone.

Admittedly, Z for Zachariah is not for everyone, but people who enjoy slow-burning dramas that explore the many layers of human nature might find it a surprisingly captivating experience.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Focus (2015)

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If it feels like it’s been ages since Will Smith has been in a movie, it’s probably because it has been. The Fresh Prince’s last genuine feature film (if you discount basically cameos in Winter’s Tale and Anchorman 2) is the abysmal After Earth, which practically destroyed his son Jaden’s acting future and put a severe dent in his own.

And so I found it interesting that Smith went for a project like Focus, which is a departure from his typical sci-fi blockbusters (Independence Day, MIB, Hancock, I Robot, I am Legend) and melodramatic “acting” efforts (Six Degrees of Separation, The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds). The closest things on his resume is probably Hitch, made 10 years ago, which has a consistent vibe and has him playing a similar sort of character.

In Focus, Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a con man who takes a beautiful young woman (Margot Robbie) under his wing to learn the tricks of the trade. They scam people, they make money, they have fun. Naturally, there is an attraction between the two, which is a no-no for their line of work. It’s one of those films where you’re supposed to be constantly unsure of the characters’ motivations and just who is playing whom.

Focus relies on the chemistry between the two leads, which is apparently so good that the gossip mags had a field day with all the affair rumors when the film was being made. Smith and Robbie are nice to look at and do make a good team, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like Smith’s character, who came across as too familiar to distinguish from his other roles. It’s always the same  — the “I’m so cool and suave and deadpan” and “I’m always in perfect control and never get rattled by anything” demeanour Smith has been crafting since his Fresh Prince days and perfected through Bay Boys, Independence Day, MIB, Wild Wild West and so forth. The act can be funny and all, but I found myself getting tired of it in this film.

There’s not a lot of depth in Focus, though I admit it had some fun and exciting moments as the stakes kept being raised higher and higher.  Fans of plot twists will also probably get a kick out of the movie because there are plenty of twists and turns all the way through. The problem I had with it was that rather than being shocked again and again, I became prepared for every twist that came my way and grew suspicious each time the plot took another turn. Most of all, underneath all of that, I carried the feeling that everything was going to be just fine in the end, so it kind of rendered all the twists superfluous anyway.

In the end, I found Focus to be forgettable experience. It may be slick and stylish but it wasn’t particularly funny and was only sporadically entertaining. The ending was also predictable and not as clever as it should have been. Chalk this one up as a DVD rental.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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I had no idea The Wolf of Wall Street was a comedy until it won the Best Motion Picture in the Musical or Comedy category at the recent Golden Globes. Leo DiCaprio plus Martin Scorcese usually equal serious, violent, gritty flicks like The Departed or Gangs of New York, but this time, they’ve teamed up to give us one of the funniest movies of the year, an epic black comedy with a bite that goes right down to the bone. Oh, and it’s a supposed true story based on a memoir of the same name.

It’s 1987. Leo plays Jordan Belfort, a handsome, charismatic and ambitious young man with a natural gift for sales. Give him anything and he will sell it. After taking a few life lessons on Wall Street from his boss, played by Matthew McConaughey (in a small but hilarious and memorable role), Belfort grabs a few mates and branches out to start his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, which is more or less a scam — but one that will make them loads and loads and loads of money.

The Wolf of Wall Street is without a doubt a polarizing film. It has earned the dubious distinction of the motion picture with the most “F bombs” in cinematic history, topping the list with 569 times (or 3.18 times per minute!). It is also full of debauchery and morally corrupt behaviour, including but not limited to fraud, alcohol abuse, drug-taking, extra-marital relations, mass orgies, beating off in public and tossing midgets around for office amusement. I can understand why a lot of people have been turned off this film and accuse it of glamourising the excess it depicts and painting douchebags like Belfort as heroes while completely ignoring the pain and suffering of his victims. On the other hand, the cast and crew of the film will argue otherwise, saying that it is a cautionary tale about excess. It’s a valid debate, and at the end of the day, it is up to the individual viewer to decide what the message of the movie is — for them.

For me, the underlying message is not a big deal. The Wolf of Wall Street is just a really really funny movie that I enjoyed immensely. The film’s comedic tone is pitch black; seeped in satire. The pace is frenetic and the dialogue is edgy and razor sharp — and more often than not incredibly and unapologetically politically incorrect. I’m sure some critics have already labelled it misogynistic. But importantly, it does not come across as mean-spirited. It’s just a bunch of smug, self-righteous dickheads who think they are smarter than everyone else boasting about their success through excess. They’re certainly not likable but they’re also not so unlikable that you find their antics unfunny. It comes as no surprise why so many people back in the late 80s and early 90s wanted to work for them and be like them.

Much of the credit goes to Scorsese’s masterful direction and the witty screenplay adaptation from Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos). Excess in itself is not funny. Debauchery in itself is not funny. F bombs in themselves are not funny. Doing stupid things after getting drunk and getting high in itself is not funny. That’s why I thought Project X was one of the worst movies ever made, Get Him to the Greek was really bad, and The Hangover was overrated. But put it in the hands of Scorsese and Winter and get talented actors like Leo to act it out, and all of a sudden it becomes freaking hilarious.  They key, I think, is that the characters are not in on the jokes. They are dead serious about the stupid things they do and do it with such bravado and conviction — which is why we, the audience, can find the humour in it.

Granted, you probably need to be in the right mood for a lot of the jokes (the scene where the discuss hiring midgets for office amusement is a prime example), though if you are, you might get stomach cramps from laughing so hard. That sequence where Leo and Jonah Hill take these precious banned prescription drugs to get high is, in my opinion, an all-time classic.

Leo won Best Actor — Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes and is one of the favourites to capture his first Oscar next month. I’m not sure if he will win with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in 12 Years a Slave blowing everyone’s socks off, including mine, but if he does it will be a deserving victory. Leo has had some wonderful performances in the past, though I don’t think anyone ever expected his comedic chops to be this strong. Here he was utterly convincing as the Wolf of Wall Street, a narcissistic smooth talker and salesman, a little naive when he had to be at the beginning, electrifying when giving motivational speeches to excited crowds, and downright pitiful when he hit rock bottom — and he did it all with a stoic straight face. I was particularly impressed with the passion, energy and extent to which he was willing to go to embarrass himself, which is completely at odds with the heartthrob Leo we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

The supporting cast was also excellent. I’ve said many times that I don’t care much for Jonah Hill or Matthew McConaughey, but even I can’t deny that both guys were awesome in this. The rest of Leo’s founding partners in his scam, including The Walking Dead alumnus Jon Bernthal, were also solid, as was Kyle Chandler as the smuggish FBI agent determined to bring the Wolf down. Like everyone else, my eyebrows were raised when the smoking Margot Robbie came on screen as Leo’s future second wife — little did I know she’s yet another Aussie from Neighbours! Anyway, she’s got a great future ahead of her. And I haven’t even mentioned a bunch of other big names, such as Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau and Jean Dujardin.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an acquired taste. At 3 hours it is of course too long, but not by as much as you might think. There’s too much golden material for this to be a  2-hour film, but I think a 15-20 trim could have been beneficial as the film becomes more serious and less funny as it nears its conclusion. There were times when I almost felt like I should dislike the film on principle because of all the nasty people doing nasty things in it. The story is messy (though I think by design), dirty and just plain wrong on so many levels, and it makes you guilty for laughing at some of the jokes. But in the end, I loved it. I think it’s one of the best movies of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5