A Terrible Swing and a Miss
War Dogs (2016): Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America's allies in Afghanistan.
2016 is officially the year of missed opportunities for cinema. From lackluster sequels to sequels that were good with bad marketing strategies to now, original ideas that simply can't deliver the message they are trying to convey. War Dogs had a great chance to be a scathing story on the early days of the messy Bush/Cheney invasion of Iraq. It had a chance to be a scathing story on the ridiculous systems put in place by Cheney and the Pentagon that created these low balling arms dealers. But instead, what do we get? A bro tale of two white dudes taking on the system. Because ya! We've never seen that before! This was a story that was tossed underhand to freaking Mickey Mantle, and then Mickey Mantle just swung right through it.
Now there are a ton of problems with this film, which I'll get to, but first let's talk about what I liked. Despite telling this story in a terrible way, the story itself is still fascinating. I did not know that there was a procurement system like this in play during the middle and later half of the Iraq War that the government used for its arms deals in Iraq. This pretense is hugely fascinating, and I definitely want to do more research on this now because of this film. But, like I said, this was the underhand pitch that we got, but where we should've gotten this, we got this. The other good part of this film is Bradley Cooper. Even though his character makes NO SENSE and I don't even think exists in real life at all, and if he is I'm pretty sure he's of a different ethnicity which means this is another example of whitewashing, it's still nice to see Bradley Cooper be, well, not terrible for a change. Cooper received my worst actor of 2015 award, (which you can revisit here) but he seems to have taken that to heart (ha) and has turned it around, at least a bit, here in War Dogs. But, he's only barely in this film, and pretty much everything else here falls flat on its face.
Alright, so, where to begin? Yes! This film is so. On. The. Nose. From a Miles Teller vioce over that goes throughout the ENTIRE film and explains EVERYTHING to us to the freaking musical selections, it was as if this film was trying to explain its story to a bunch of 2 year olds. Oh! So the musical selections. I kind of let this go with Suicide Squad, also made by Warner Brothers, but WB seems to have this idea that all you need to do with your musical selections nowadays is just have a bunch of pop music in your film that people recognize and you're good. There is absolutely ZERO thought process behind any of these musical selections, and they are all extremely on the nose. Like having our first shots of the American military be with "Fortunate Son" playing in the background. Because we've NEVER heard that song play behind our military before in a film, right? Guys. Seriously. Take a page out of Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell's playbook when it comes to effectively using pop music in your film. It's not THAT hard it just requires going a bit more deeper than surface level. It was just so cliched! Basically, this film falls flat on its face because of an absolutely abysmal script. I still don't know how to classify this film. Is it a comedy? A satire? A drama? An action film? I HAVE NO IDEA. Are we supposed to hate our two frat bro "heroes" who want to take the power back and stick it to the man and have immense success until it all falls apart? I have no idea. Heck I barely even understood that sentence. Kind of like this film.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I thought this film sucked. This was director Todd Phillips first foray out of comedies and into a "drama" (which is what I've decided to call it) and, after watching this, all I can say is "Wow. Go back to making comedies please." Because this is a story that should've been in Oscar talk for this year, but instead it's going to likely find itself on a list it does not want to be on later this year. What a wasted opportunity.
In other news, MAN has it been a TERRIBLE year for Warner Brothers.....
The Critique: A home run premise squandered, War Dogs leaves much to be desired in nearly every department and will likely find itself labeled as one of the worst films of 2016.
The Recommendation: You yearn for me to say: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE
The Verdict: 2/10 Garbage
Did that really just happen?
Sausage Party (2016): A sausage strives to discover the truth about his existence.
Well said, IMDB. So I'm writing this review nearly 24 hours after I saw this film, and I still have NO idea what I just saw. Honestly, I'm pretty torn about this one. On the one hand, this film is absolutely crazy. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and co. do NOT hold back at all with this effort. This film is definitely one of the most vulgar films I have ever seen, and it's pretty much just one sex joke after another. But there are some pretty well thought-out underlying themes to our current society which I can appreciate, and there was a lot of care that went into the making of this film, which is better than most comedies nowadays. But, on the other hand, it's just one sex joke after another and the comedy, while somewhat funny in just how outrageous it is, is still pretty lazy. I think this is how we will sum up this film: if you like other Rogen-Goldberg comedies (Superbad, This is the End, Neighbors, The Interview) you will like this film. If you don't, well then you'll hate every second of its brief 89 minute runtime. So, let's jump into it, shall we?
First off, the good. The animation here is noooooot terrible. For a crew that has no experience in the world of animation, they hold their own pretty well on this front. I liked the colors of the film, and the filter we had going back and forth between what people see and what the food sees was quite clever. I also appreciated the fact that they went for it. This film is as hard an R as you can find, and the filmmakers clearly didn't hold anything back. I can respect a film that simply owns its pretense versus tries to be anything more. There was also some great musical moments throughout the film, including a dance number to open the entire thing, (that's actually relevant to the rest of the film) and a sequence involving Meat Loaf that just might find it's way into my favorite movie moments of 2016. The voice acting is excellent, with the stars (in my mind at least) being David Krumholtz and Edward Norton who are both totally unrecognizable as Lavash and Sammy, respectively. But Kristen Wiig (who has had a seriously underrated summer in film) and Seth Rogen are pretty good too. But overall, the most important part of a comedy is is it funny? And the answer here is yes. Kind of. The second act leaves a lot to be desired, but the third act comes back with a vengeance in several completely ridiculous sequences that had me and the rest of the theater rolling on the floor laughing. Man they should make an acronym out of that.....
But, honestly the best part of this film was it's underlying themes. Surrounding all the vulgarity was a surprisingly powerful statement on modern-day religion that featured several different characters in this film. While you can definitely say that these guys could've made these themes a bit clearer and not resolved them the way they did, I really respect Rogen/Goldberg and co. for actually trying to make their vulgar comedy about something. While it's not as.....prevalent as it was in 2014's This is the End (which I believe was the peak for Rogen/Goldberg comedies) it's still far more obvious than other films like Neighbors and The Interview, which were JUST stupid for the sake of being stupid.
That said, this film is still stupid. I definitely felt like I lost some brain cells watching it, and I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to watch it again without a group of friends. The "story" that holds it all together can barely even qualify as such, and when I wasn't laughing man was this thing dull. But, fortunately it kept me laughing for most of the film, and ultimately slides in as a good film as far as comedies go. And, in such a terrible summer blockbuster season filled with sequels and disappointments, this is definitely one of the best things I've seen over the last few months so it's like a breath of fresh air. Ultimately, I'd say go see it, especially if you like Rogen/Goldberg humor, just.....don't expect the world because you are not going to get it.
The Critique: A film that owns its premise, Sausage Party is a vulgar and perverted tale done surprisingly well with underlying tones on modern religion that will make you never look at food the same way again.
The Recommendation: Fans of Rogen/Goldberg comedies will enjoy this, and maybe if you're looking for something vulgar and have 90 minutes to kill it's not the worst thing in the world, but there isn't much appeal beyond that.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
I have no idea what I'm doing
Jason Bourne (2016): The CIA's most dangerous former operative is drawn out of hiding to uncover more explosive truths about his past.
SPOILER ALERT: This movie sucks. There. I said it. Sorry for ruining a good thing, but I really REALLY did not like this film. It's messy, had me constantly questioning what was going on at any given moment, and had the (in)famous Paul Greengrass cinematography I despise so much. (So much I actually had a discussion on it which you can check out here) Everyone in this film is sleepwalking throughout it, even Matt Damon, who has always been good about trying in everything he does. Well, it really feels like no one is trying here, including Alicia Vikander which makes me really sad. Vikander was my favorite actress of 2015, and this is her first big role in 2016 and boy is it disappointing. (Man 2016 has not been great for either Vikander or Oscar Isaac, who stared as Apocalypse in the lackluster X-Men film) Ultimately, Jason Bourne is incoherent and incomprehensible with just too many quick! Locate him in a Berlin! *bangs on keyboard for a few seconds* There he is! Now get our agents to with 5 feet of him! *bangs on keyboard a few more seconds* Done! Engage! type moments. The film is a big stupid action movie but it is trying to hard to be something more, and it's ridiculously grand statements about what we can do with technology nowadays and what our intelligence community is capable of just made this film, well, bad in my eyes.
You know....I probably shouldn't be as harsh on this film as I am trying to be. I think at the end of the day, it's trying to appeal to an older generation, as well as trying to appeal to the staunch privacy advocates out there. I think if you ask one of those two demographics what they thought about this film, they'd say it was fine. Maybe even decently good. But there's just too much sleepwalking from the cast (Matt Damon apparently went through quite the physical transformation to play this character but that transformation did not resonate at all) and too much of the Greengrass cinematography, which can basically be summed up as shaky cam: hardcore edition.
Honestly, what good is there to highlight in this film? Ummmmm oh! Tommy Lee Jones is in it! America's favorite grandpa (don't tell him I said that) is restrained for most of it, but pretty much the best moment in the film for me came when Tommy Lee Jones was finally Tommy Lee Jones and threw some sass into a few of his lines. But, beyond that? I don't know man. I honestly got nothing. Ultimately, this film falls into the shadow of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for 2016 being a late summer blockbuster that is targeted towards the older generation. Only difference is 2015's late summer blockbuster was actually good (it made my best films of 2015 which you can check out here) and just misread the target audience. That said, no way are they gonna let this franchise die, so you can look forward to another disgruntled review when they try (again) to revive this long dead franchise in 2019.
The Critique: Lackluster in nearly every way, Jason Bourne is another disappointing addition to a franchise that should have been allowed to die ten years ago.
The Recommendation: Are you a baby boomer or a privacy advocate? Then this film is for you. Everyone else? Just watch the original Bourne Identity again.
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad. And it gets a 3/10 pretty much just for Tommy Lee Jones.
It's disappointingly fine
Suicide Squad (2016): A secret government agency recruits a group of imprisoned supervillains to execute dangerous black ops missions in exchange for clemency, which inevitably leads to chaos.
Ahhhhh the classic "how do you review this" dilemma. How do you review a film when it can be summed up in two classic words: it's fine. Ultimately, anything I say about Suicide Squad can be summed up with those two words. But that's not what we were expecting, right? After that first trailer with "Bohemian Rhapsody" underneath it, which I enjoyed so much it actually inspired me to create a new category in my end-of-year review highlighting some of the best trailers, (Which you can revisit here) I was excited that we were finally going to get the DC film we deserved. Personally, I love the Suicide Squad: I love the concept, and the actors they cast to play the Suicide Squad (besides Jai Courtney) were all great selections. Even Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje manages to earn my "best unrecognizable performance of 2016" as Killer Croc, beating out two superstars in Oscar Isaac and Idris Elba. And that's not to mention Margot Robbie, who KILLS IT as Harley Quinn, quickly creating a new timeless superstar synonymous with a character. Fox has Hugh Jackman, Disney has Robert Downey Jr., and now Warner Brothers has Margot Robbie. They've definitely struck gold here. So where did this film go wrong?
Let's start with the classic trope I have against DC Films, which again rears its ugly head here: the tone. Once again, the tone to this film is far too dreary, with most of it occurring (of course) at night and, just overall not being as fun as it should be. Hey, Warner Brothers, did you see Guardians of the Galaxy? That's how you can do a fun comic book film with a cast of misfits. And hey, when the final action sequence occurs, is it shot in the day or at night? During the day! SERIOUSLY WARNER BROTHERS. I get Zack Snyder shoots all his films at night, but this is really starting to bother me. I like to see what's going on. Either shoot during the day, or figure out how to improve your lighting because it's been atrocious ever since Man of Steel. Go watch The Dark Knight again! That final big action sequence is shot at night, but at least there they have some decent lighting I mean come on. Next up is the music. Look. I love pop culture selections in my movies. It's one of favorite things about Martin Scorsese. But here.....it's as if someone in corporate was like "the kids love dat music, so let's give them a 50 song soundtrack!" Seriously the movie opens and with the first 15 minutes we are treated to about 10 different song selections. It's overwhelming, and it made me do something I never thought I'd do during a film: tune out the music. But overall, my biggest fault with this film is just that it's not as much fun as it should be. It should've been easy to make this film as good, if not better, than Guardians of the Galaxy. But the pacing is all over the place and the tone (both literally and figuratively) is just too dark. Hopefully they'll get this right with Wonder Woman, because my patience is really starting to wear thin with DC films.
That aside, there are some improvements made here. Most notably, with the cinematography. The cinematography with Batman V. Superman was ATROCIOUS. We're talking laughably bad. But the exchange of shaky cam for slow-motion, while going from one cliche to another, is a welcome one. Though I am absolutely damning with feint praise here. Additionally, you have Margot Robbie. I know I said it earlier, but let me say it again: Margot Robbie CARRIES this film. She picks it up with her bare hands and does EVERYTHING she can to make it better. The rest of the cast is good, (I actually very much enjoyed Will Smith as Deadshot) besides Jai Courtney, but it's Robbie who's the star here. I hope we get a big-budget Harley Quinn movie at some point.
Finally, you may have noticed there's one thing I haven't really addressed at all here, even though I thought going into this film it would be the thing I talked about the most: The Joker. For those who don't know, I believe Heath Ledger's Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight is the single best performance by an actor I have ever seen on film. So it goes without saying Jared Leto had some big shoes to fill. But if anyone could pull off The Joker, it was him. After all, Jared Leto is ACTUALLY crazy so playing The Joker should be easy, right? Well, this was perhaps the most disappointing part of Suicide Squad: Jared Leto was......fine. Nothing more, and nothing less. He really wasn't given a whole lot of time to develop his character, and his writing left a LOT to be desired, but Leto really did not step into the shoes of The Joker as much as I thought he would.
So, ultimately, that's what I have to say about a film that can be described by two words. While there's a lot of potential squandered here, Suicide Squad doesn't completely fall on its face, and thanks to several great performances, especially Margot Robbie, it manages to keep its head above water, barely. While I was expecting so much more, I can't say this is the worst DC film I have ever seen, which at the end of the day is an accomplishment. Well done, Warner Brothers. You have officially achieved mediocrity.
The Critique: Painfully mediocre, Suicide Squad squanders its vast potential with poor pacing, lighting, and musical choices, despite a spectacular performance from Margot Robbie.
The Recommendation: Margot Robbie is worth the cost of admission, but I really hope Warner Brothers identifies this and creates a Harley Quinn standalone film, so for now I'll say Redbox it.
The Verdict: 5/10 Average
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