Tag Archives: David Ayer

Failed Critics Podcast: Suicide Pod

joker suicide squad clay enos warner bros

Wearing skimpy clothes and carrying a baseball bat with a miserable face carved into it with a compass, Steve “Har-leaky Quim” Norman is not about to let your perception of his sexual promiscuity define him as he wanders in to lead this week’s podcast, all about DC’s latest entry to their extended movie universe: it’s David Ayer’s rogues-done-good ensemble actioner, Suicide Squad.

Taking pot-shots at the film with his uber-cool Nerf missile launcher strapped to his bogey-covered sleeve, Andrew “Deadsnot” Brooker lends a slightly-crusty hand on this week’s episode. As does Owen “The Inch-and-less” Hughes, possessed by the spirit of a stroppy old misanthropic witch, but you probably can’t tell that there’s anything different about him compared with any previous podcast appearance in fairness.

Suicide Squad gets a once over from the ragtag bunch of misfits spoiler-free, before a post-credits review that delves more deeply into some of the finer points of the plot, should you wish to listen to us prattle on even longer.

We also preview Hunter Johnson’s upcoming indie-horror 2 Jennifer – the sequel to James Cullen Bressack’s 2013 indie thriller To Jennifer – shot entirely on an iPhone, as well as Steve’s rewatch of iconic American TV series Homeland, plus a first watch of this year’s folk-horror The Witch. The Asylum doesn’t escape criticism on the pod either after releasing yet another entry in the unbelievably popular franchise, Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens.

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Suicide Squad

“That is a whole lot of pretty. And a whole lot of crazy.”

As I write this, it’s 3am on Suicide Squad release day. I’m absolutely exhausted and I’m in desperate need of sleep. The problem is, I’m fresh back from the midnight screening of my most anticipated movie of 2016 and I’m all hyped up on the pure adrenaline rush that I just saw.

I promise, I’ll try to be as coherent as possible.

The Skwad‘s story is a dead simple one. Seven or eight criminals, all varying degrees of nasty-bastard or crazy-nutbag have been brought together by the powers that be to form Task Force X: a literal suicide squad that the government can throw in at the deep end with complete deniability if something goes wrong.

And wouldn’t you know it? Just as they’ve wrapped up the back stories, along comes a shifty looking supernatural thing that means to destroy humanity and rule the world. Fitted with explosive low-jacks and threatened with imminent death, the squad are airlifted into Midway City. Their mission: traverse the ruined streets to rescue and evacuate a high value target, and take out the apocalyptic threat in the heart of the city.

Adding to their woes is world-famous psychopath and world creepy laugh champion, The Joker (Jared Leto). Caring little for the squad’s mission, the crazed maniac just wants to be on the same side of the prison walls as his sweetheart and Task Force X member Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). As such, he is inserting himself into the squad’s lives whether they want him their or not. It’s all fun and games if you’re a bad guy.

This is still early on in DC’s extended cinematic universe, but my biggest fear going in was that I’m not a comic book reader. I had the same issues when we started getting invested more in the MCU and I had no more than a passing acquaintance with some of these characters. It’s the same with DC. Outside of Batman, The Joker and the many and varied Batman villains from the films, the only knowledge I have of a lot of these characters comes from playing the Arkham video games and DC’s TV universe.

So when poor reviews (the only time I’ll mention those) poured in this week and director David Ayer – a real long-time favourite of mine – came out and gave the infuriating “I made it for the fans” quote, I was concerned that I was gonna be left out in the cold, not knowing what the hell was going on nor who anyone was.

Luckily, this wasn’t the case at all. In the opening minutes, we are introduced to the ragtag group of criminals in a way that you might expect from an Expendables movie or Borderlands video game. Each member of the team gets their own little over the top vignette to give us a look at who they are and why they’re here. And man, what an impressive cast we get.

A quick rundown I reckon, but you don’t need much more. Impressively, the film gives you everything you need and you came here for a review, not a bullet-pointed list.

Will Smith’s Deadshot is the most prominent character. The man that never misses is a killer-for-hire, but is easily manipulated into doing as he’s told by the powers that be; and man does that make Mr Smith mad! Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Jared Leto’s Joker are the King and Queen of Gotham City. With one of the pair of psychos in prison and the other trying to free them from the government’s clutches, their story (and their chemistry) is, as expected, a highlight of the film.

Theirs isn’t the only exploited relationship here. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag is a decorated special forces colonel who is dragged in as Task Force X’s on-the-ground leader. Whether or not he agrees with them, he always follows his orders. In no small part because of his relationship with Dr June Moone. Cara Delavingne plays the good doctor, whose body is inhabited by the eons old Enchantress; a character deserving of her own horror movie she’s so spooky. Jay Hernandez gets to sink his teeth into Diablo, a pyrokinetic former gang member haunted by the deaths that he’s caused. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s reptilian Killer Croc is the muscle of the group. A sewer dwelling monster that seems almost unstoppable, Croc is a product of the way he’s been treated because of how he looks (absolutely NOT a political statement, I’m sure). Jai Courtney is almost unrecognisable as thief and killer Captain Boomerang; and Karen Fukuhara brings up the rear as Kitana, a deadly martial artist with a soul stealing sword and close friend of Rick Flag. Like I said, ragtag!

Running the show though, is Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller. A ruthless, heartless woman who can manipulate anyone to to what she wants. Compared to this vicious bitch, Task Force X are a Boy Scout troop.

This massive ensemble can lead to problems, especially for a film this early on in a universe that we are expected to invest in. Everyone has a backstory and only a small percentage of the cinema going audience are going to know it before the opening titles roll. It means you have to get me, a film lover but a comic book virgin, invested in your characters without sacrificing too much screen time or turning your film into a PowerPoint presentation. Thankfully, I think Ayer (who was also on writing duties for our anti-heroes) gets the balance just right. Mixing in an occasional flashback with a little dialogue-driven exposition during the lulls in action to make sure that by the time the credits roll, we are all caught up and more or less on an even footing with the comic book lovers that came with you to see the film.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have problems. In fact, I’m almost – ALMOST – feeling a little forgiving of Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice after watching Suicide Squad. The film has many of the same problems as its predecessor and I’m starting to think that a large part of it is studio interference and not just director incompetence. I mean, Bats Vs. Supes definitely suffers from having a rubbish director and, in my humble and slightly David Ayer fanboy opinion, the Squad doesn’t have that issue. But the film has been edited down into a bit of a mess. It’s not unwatchable, not by any stretch of the imagination, but there are very obviously bits missing and evidence of chopping and changing that messes with the film’s pace a little.

Luckily, a competent writer and director has led the charge for this film and he’s clearly taken a hands on role in the editing of this film so it’s not been shredded to within an inch of its life like the previous entry in the franchise has.

While I thought he was probably the weakest character in the film, Leto’s Joker was interesting to watch. He bounced almost incoherently between quiet psychopath and feral monster. Both iterations are fun to watch but he gets woefully little screen time to build the character. That said, it’s not his film. It’s his introduction to this Extended Universe and I am looking forward to seeing his character grow.

On the other side of that coin though, Harley Quinn is portrayed brilliantly by Robbie. In a role that could be easily overplayed and annoying (or worse, over-sexualised and used simply as teenage masturbatory material) she’s been written so well and portrayed so brilliantly that every flash of that typical hyper-sexualisation, that would be simply gross in most instances, is owned by Quinn. It’s her doing it and she’s not just the daft doll she pretends to be. Every overtly sexual act is empowering for her – and I bloody love her for that!

Everyone stands out though. Every character is fun to watch. Smith’s Deadshot is pretty much just Will Smith; wise-cracking, smart-talking and always cool to watch. Delavingne’s Enchantress is creepy and scary. I would love to see DC break the mould and do a full on horror film prequel for the 6000 year old witch. The same goes for everyone. Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Rick Flag; the whole bunch are fun to watch. I would love to see more of Kitana, but that’s my love of watching great martial arts on screen talking. And a part of me that thinks she needed just a little bit more screen time.

I would kill for some more Diablo. Jay Hernandez blew me away as the gang leader that is trying desperately to live in peace, regretting every life he’s snuffed out with his gift. His quiet and reserved demeanour, juxtaposed with what happens when he lets himself fight with his new team is a beautiful thing to watch and I will queue up for every single film that DC want to put this man in. He’s amazing.

The film is such a tremendous amount of fun, you just can’t help but smile your way through. It’s certainly helped by having one of the most fun “various artists” soundtracks this year. The music compliments the film brilliantly.

Ok, there is one jarring section at the beginning of the film where, and I didn’t realise this was even a thing, but the film somehow smash-cuts the bloody soundtrack together giving us three very different tracks in just a few minutes, one after the other. Overall, though, a very good effort on the licensed music front.

I still think DC has a long way to go to be able to solidify this Extended Universe they are trying for. In the hands of lesser filmmakers these films could fail miserably. Batman Vs. Superman is testament to that.

Like I said, Suicide Squad shares many of the same problems, but competent filmmaking helps a lot. However, you know what helps it more? The film is fun. It’s non-stop, guilty pleasure style action. Roll on the blu-ray release, it’ll take pride of place on my shelf right next to Punisher: War Zone.

Failed Critics Podcast: Episode 202 – AND IT’S LIVE!

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Firstly, thanks to everyone who joined in on our live broadcast of episode 202 on our YouTube channel on Monday. We’re considering it a success – whether it was or wasn’t isn’t really up to Steve Norman, Owen Hughes and Andrew Brooker to decide! But people chatted to us during the show, we received messages via Twitter, and the live stream didn’t crash once. Huzzah!

This week’s podcast is pretty much a rip of the YouTube video edited into a more audio-friendly format. Jingles have been edited in, whilst the majority the references to stuff that happened visually that wouldn’t have made sense on an audio only podcast have been edited out.

What has been left in is our chat about this week’s film news, including another new Netflix movie acquisition starring Will Smith, directed by David Ayer, plus a set-top box that could potentially change the way we view cinema releases forever.

We’ve also got our round up of what we’ve been watching. Steve talks us through the generic but decent action film London Has Fallen; Owen discusses the first five episodes of the second season of Daredevil; and Brooker does his homework ahead of Batman v Superman by re-watching Nolan’s trilogy plus Man of Steel. Our new release reviews saw the team take in the safe-for-work porcelain doll horror The Boy, Ben Wheatley’s latest weird class-war narrative High Rise, and the thematic sequel to 2008’s monster movie, 10 Cloverfield Lane.

There’s even room for our regular film quiz and Steve’s reaction to Pudsey the Dog: The Movie, his booby-prize for losing last week’s quiz. Oh, and Owen’s mad rapping skills. Wiki-wiki-wild wild west…

Join us again next week as things return to normal for a review of DC’s newest blockbuster.

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Watch the full un-edited live broadcast of the episode (with webcams an’ all) on our YouTube channel.

Fury

A very good war drama, replete with fantastically well shot action sequences and brilliant performances, that’s just shy of greatness.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

furyWar is hell. That much we know. According to the cast, who have stated many times during various interviews this past week or so, making a war film with (writer & director) David Ayer is also hell. Three months of strict training regimes, rehearsal after rehearsal after rehearsal, sitting inside a tin can for hours on end with the smell of another man’s body odour forever burnt into the inside of their nostrils; Ayer used all of his personal experiences of serving in the armed forces (on a submarine, no less) to convey as realistic an experience as possible. It was all worth it in the end though as it has resulted in a strong character driven drama with five fantastic performances.

Along with its gala screening closing the 2014 BFI London Film Festival and various previews around the UK on Sunday, and an already high box office taking in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this pop up on many peoples watch-lists in the coming few days, if it’s not there already. You’ve probably seen the trailer a hundred times. Or, at the very least, on more than one occasion you’ve had the annoyingly-still-handsome Brad Pitt’s face fly past you as it’s plastered all over the side of a bus. The marketing for this two and a bit hour movie has been relentless.

Shot mostly in Hertfordshire (and a bit in Oxfordshire) in the UK, the plot actually takes place in and around Berlin towards the end of the Second World War. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is the sergeant in command of a tank unit comprised of Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf). The four of them, along with their recently deceased comrade in arms have been together since the war began, fighting their way through Africa to Europe. Their close-knit group is about to have a spanner thrown in the works as they’re forced to recruit a new gunner, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who has no previous combat experience and appears to be reluctant to pull the trigger. As they march across Germany, capturing and killing the last of the Nazi soldiers, they’re bent, twisted and forced into the shape of something resembling a family.

And that really is the key word to describe the main theme of Ayer’s movie. It’s about family. As much as the film carries with it messages about the horrors of war, about the trauma inflicted on those who participated in one of the most horrendous events in modern history, ultimately what’s being conveyed is how people can find solace in the unlikeliest of places. Almost every war film made has to deal with the concept of good versus evil and how to presents this; either with anti-war messages such as those in the immediate post-war era of the 50s; or glorifying and honouring those who served with propaganda films funded by the military and government; or even just stating things in as matter-of-fact manner possible. It’s as pronounced as it’s ever going to be with a World War II based film, with the allies on one side (the good) and the axis on the other (the evil). However, the good here is clearly defined by the warmth and sometimes brutally honest home that the group find together in their heavily-armoured mobile-weapon, an M4A3E8 Sherman tank. It’s not in Ayer’s interests to educate you about right and wrong.

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As others have mentioned (including Carole in her LFF diary article), Fury hinges on the performances of its main cast. If they had failed to convince you to see the characters as a family, with all their camaraderie, banter and friction that comes with it, then nothing else around that would’ve worked at all. As it happens, Pitt really gets into and perfectly suits his position as the father of the dysfunctional family, whilst his relationship with the youngest member (Lerman) grows naturally throughout. Peña and Bernthal add a little humour to their roles that is so desperately required in juxtaposition to the bleakness and grim realities of war. A big surprise for many is the multi-layered performance from Shia LaBeouf as the man of faith. Not me, I hasten to add. I’ve been a fan since his role in Lawless. Probably even more so since he started to go a bit crazy. The main point is that they all work as well as individual, well-rounded and realistic characters who develop and grow over the course of the runtime, as much as they all work well together. There’s a certain tenderness displayed during the quieter moments that allows the viewer to see these men as human beings rather than just soldiers doing their job.

If it sounds like I’m gushing too much, then that’s just me avoiding the issue of one or two criticisms I have. Let’s get them out of the way!

What is there left, really, for world war films to tell us? Hasn’t it all been done before? World War II dramas from a soldiers perspective are so few and far between these days. Excluding Inglorious Basterds, which I hasten to call a World War movie, pictures like Band of Brothers, Letters from Iwo Jima, and of course Saving Private Ryan, these are all approximately a decade old now. Surely all that this tells us is that this particular well has run dry. In many respects, Fury is absolutely nothing new. However, this doesn’t seem like much of a criticism in and of itself. Who cares how original it is, if it’s actually done well enough, right? There’s enough here for it to feel worthwhile telling this story, even if there isn’t a whole lot to learn about that’s not been seen previously.

Saying all that, if you’re going into this expecting to see Saving Private Ryan, only newer and flashier, then you won’t be too disappointed. It’s absolutely not a sweeping war epic with bloody battles on the beaches of Normandy. There are many, many bloody battles as they traverse Germany, but they are on a somewhat smaller scale. What is similar to Spielberg’s iconic movie is that there are plenty of exceptionally well shot action scenes. Battles between soldiers and tanks that take place in tiny rubble covered streets, or large open fields, or narrow country roads, they all command respect for their meticulous design and unwaveringly brutal execution. As Wardaddy leans out of the top of his tank, leading his men into fight after fight, not a single one disappoints. Despite the brooding family drama, you’re never far from the next ricocheting shell or flashing tracer round. One particular tank-on-tank clash is simply sublime. It’s intense, exciting and even harrowing at times.fury 3

At two and a bit hours long, the pace isn’t fast enough for it to zip by unnoticed, but it’s not a chore to sit through by any stretch of the imagination. The dialogue did induce a cringe or two on occasion, as if it was written for a melodrama but acted like a deeply serious Carl Theodor Dreyer film. However, mostly, the script and performances went hand in hand. Whether the team are sitting around a dinner table or cooped up in a tank on the brink of what may be their last stand, regardless of whether or not the dialogue can be occasionally cheesy, you’re guaranteed to be totally engrossed in what they are saying to one another.

The biggest compliment that I can pay Fury is to say that you definitely do get a sense of that family atmosphere between the quintet that Ayer wanted to instil. These men, these soldiers, they are entirely believable and Ayer has shown that if you can put a bit of personality into a World War film, then there is still something worth watching in the genre yet.

Fury is released in cinemas nationwide from tomorrow, Wednesday 22nd October 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2014 Preview

It’s that time of year again – the bathroom light has to go on in the morning, loads of good American TV shows start again, and Christmas tat is starting to appear in the shops. Yes, autumn is on the way, and with it comes the 58th London Film Festival.

by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)

lff14My initial reaction to this year’s line-up – once I had grumbled about the member’s launch being a day later than the press launch, rendering it invalid for the most part – was how many big names are missing. No room for The Theory of Everything, St Vincent (the film, not the singer), or The Equalizer; all making their Toronto debuts this week. But scratching beneath the surface yields some treasure.

First up, let’s deal with the obvious contenders. I am looking forward to Foxcatcher very much – directed by Bennett Miller of Capote and Moneyball, the film stars Steve Carrell in a rare serious role alongside Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Loosely based on a true story, the film follows the struggle between two wrestling champion brothers (Tatum and Ruffalo) which takes a sinister turn with the arrival of a mysterious benefactor (Carrell). Foxcatcher received stellar notices when it premiered in Cannes earlier this year and has also been prominently mentioned in early Oscar buzz. Other big hitters include The Imitation Game, the long-awaited Alan Turing biopic which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the tortured mathematical genius, and Fury, a World War 2 film from David Ayer (End of Watch) starring Brad Pitt. These open and close the festival respectively, and will be shown at cinemas across the country in tandem with their gala screenings. Mr Turner features an already award-winning performance by Timothy Spall as the titular JMW Turner, and LFF also hosts the directorial debut of Jon Stewart – Rosewater is the story of an Iranian journalist covering the country’s political unrest in 2009 who gets on the wrong side of the establishment.

Gala screenings I am looking forward to include The Salvation, a Danish western (!) starring Mads Mikkelsen and, bizarrely, Eric Cantona; Whiplash, a story about the relationship between a musical prodigy and his virtuoso teacher which is audaciously structured like a thriller; and The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, a wuxia starring Fan Bingbing as a witch fighting to free people from tyranny during the end of the Ming Dynasty.

the immitation game

In the official competition, the film that stands out is Dearest – the story of a couple whose lives are turned upside down when their son goes missing. One of the most eagerly anticipated films in the first feature competition is ’71, set in the streets of Belfast during the titular year and starring Jack O’Connell (Starred Up) as a wet behind the ears squaddie dispatched to keep the peace.

The documentary strand has yielded some interesting prospects. There are familiar subjects in Hockey: A Life in Pictures, National Gallery, and The Possibilities Are Endless (the story of Edwyn Collins after his stroke), and a step into the unknown with In The Basement – a film about what Austrians do – yes! – in their basements. The love strand has one particular film of interest to me – Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a couple forced to leave their apartment separately. This film has gathered some notoriety in the States for being rated R for no apparent reason, apart from its central relationship being a homosexual one.night bus

1001 Grams is an intriguing-looking slice of dark humour, and Night Bus explores the sometimes intimate, sometimes scary, but always intriguing world of the London night bus (shout out to route N1). A Hard Day is described as a neo-noir slice of Korean cinema, following a policeman who is having a really bad day. The follow-up to Monsters, Monsters: Dark Continent, had more creatures in the trailer than in the whole of the previous film put together, so that bodes well. There are also restored classic films scattered throughout the programme, from Orwell’s Animal Farm to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Guys and Dolls. And of course, the legendary shorts programmes are back, spanning all strands and giving you plenty of bang for your buck.

So although at first glance the line-up looks a bit light, a proper dissection of the schedule reveals that there is something for everyone here. The beauty of LFF has always lain in taking a chance and seeing something you would never normally buy a ticket for. I think this year will see a return to that essence for many people.

We will of course be bringing you reviews and diary entries during the festival itself, so don’t forget to check back between 8-19 October 2014 for more articles! You can find a full line up of what’s showing at the LFF 2014 on the BFI website.