Suicide Squad

August 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis
Directed by: David Ayer (“Fury”)
Written by: David Ayer (“Training Day”)

Love them, hate them, or merely shrug through them as they unspool twice a year, at least the Marvel films have one thing going for them: a cohesive vision. Sure, it’s not a romantic filmmaking one, like that of a gifted writer or visionary director, but at least there’s a house style in place that prevents their films from having to be saved (or salvaged) in the editing room. Three movies into DC Comics’ film slate—the closest thing Marvel has to a direct competitor, even though that’s not how movies work—and we’re still getting products that feel like they’re assembled out of hundreds of executives’ studio notes and test screening reactions rather than a decisions and imagery conjured up from a director’s heart and soul or words typed into Final Draft by a screenwriter. That’s why we have the option to choose from the theatrical and extended cuts of “Batman v Superman” on Blu-ray, and seemingly the reason why we’ve got this tonal mess plopping into theaters under the name “Suicide Squad.”

The premise is simple: in a post-Superman world, mysterious government hard-ass Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to put together her own super team of meta-humans to take up arms against whatever comes next that maybe isn’t as nice as Superman was. Thing is, Waller only has access to bad guys like super-sniper Deadshot (Will Smith), psychotic nymphet Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fire-conjuring homeboy Diablo (Jay Hernandez), an Aussie guy who throws boomerangs and drinks beers (Jai Courtney), some giant alligator guy (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and, uh, a guy that climbs ropes really well (Adam Beach).

Waller’s proposal is cut and dried: these villains have no choice but to fight for the government. If they don’t, they die by way of an explosive in their necks. And if they do, they’ll probably die anyway. After stilted introductions and some interruptions from The Joker (Jared Leto), the group is pressed into service fighting the real-life witch Enchantress (Cara Delevigne).

With an erratic tone and butchered-to-hell narrative flow that feel like panicked responses to the critical beating that “Batman v Superman” took from critics (well, I liked it fine) and a fair share of average fans, “Suicide Squad” feels icky with flop sweat, the embodiment of the phrase, “Oh shit, we’ve gotta fix this!” After initial (fun and funny!) trailers were well-received, the movie reportedly underwent reshoots to inject more humor into the proceedings, and the stitching together of disparate elements of director/writer David Ayer’s script and whatever giant pile of sentient studio notes denied a WGA credit kicked out is as obvious as Robbie’s ass is in the marketing materials. While you’ll sell plenty of Pop! Vinyl figures and might even power through to a box office hit on this, you blew it again, DC.

Ep. 44 – Ex Machina, The Age of Adaline, Kung Fu Killer, Adult Beginners, Jared Leto’s Joker, and a wrap up of all our events of the past week

April 26, 2015 by  
Filed under Podcast

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Click here to download the episode!

In this week’s episode of The CineSnob Podcast, the guys from review “Ex Machina,” “The Age of Adaline,” “Kung Fu Killer,” and “Adult Beginners.” They also discuss Jared Leto and David Ayer’s version of The Joker for “Suicide Squad” and recap their last week of movie-related events.

[0:00-19:19] Intro, Tommy Wiseau talk and Alamo Drafthouse events recap
[19:19-28:08] Jared Leto and David Ayer’s Joker for Suicide Squad officially revealed
[28:08-47:22] Ex Machina
[47:22-59:09] The Age of Adaline
[59:09-1:07:47] Kung Fu Killer
[1:07:47-1:19:15] Adult Beginners
[1:19:15-1:27:45] Teases for next week, giveaways and close

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To give your feedback, e-mail us at podcast [at] cinesnob [dot] net, or leave a voicemail at 920-FILM-210.


October 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia Labeouf, Logan Lerman
Directed by: David Ayer (“End of Watch”)
Written by: David Ayer (“End of Watch”)

In “Fury,” we are introduced to the crew of a World War II tank called Fury led by Staff Sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt). When they are sent on a mission that leaves them against all odds, they are forced with a decision to continue forth and make a stand or to get away. Like Ayer’s previous film “End of Watch,” it is gritty in its portrayal of violence and danger. Unlike “End of Watch,” however, it doesn’t quite build the relationships and deeper meaning that it sets out to.

In recent years, Pitt has shown himself to be a strong lead actor and that is evident in “Fury.” It certainly isn’t as meaty of a role as Billy Beane in “Moneyball” but Pitt is able to run away with his screen time as the man in charge of the tank. Most of the actors, in fact, elevate the material with their fine performances with Shia Labeouf and Jon Bernthal in particular standing out as well defined characters and performances. Logan Lerman’s character makes sense in context, but he remains the weakest performer in the cast adding little to the somewhat played out character type of the reluctant and innocent young soldier thrust into battle.

“Fury” does indeed shows the horrors of war, especially in scenes where they must indoctrinate Lerman’s character to his surroundings, but the general camaraderie of those within the tank feels undercooked and sold short. There is also the case of a severely underwritten screenplay from director and writer David Ayer. While his actors deliver the script deftly, nothing ever really scratches the surface beyond general war movie clichés. Most troubling is a section in the middle of the film where Pitt and Lerman commandeer a room in a building and attempt to create some level of a normal life. It is clear what Ayer is trying to attempt with this scene, but it goes on for what feels like about half an hour (and it may very well be) and never really pays off. It’s certainly an odd decision and use of time.

Where “Fury” is able to succeed is in its character designs on a very general level and in its action sequences. There are a few battle scenes (two in particular, one involving two tanks facing off against each other and one standoff) that are able to build tension and show the intensity of war. Unfortunately for the film, any time it attempts to dig below the surface, it comes up empty. Even when characters deviate from their archetypes, they seem sudden and unearned. It isn’t the kiss of death, as the characterizations, performances and action sequences are enough to make the film entertaining enough, but the film as a whole feels completely underdeveloped.

End of Watch

September 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick
Directed by: David Ayer (“Street Kings”)
Written by: David Ayer (“Training Day”)

Hollywood is no stranger to cop-centered entertainment. In comedy, there’s the buddy cop formula where often an uptight by-the-books cop is paired up with an nontraditional, sometimes buffoonish one and hilarity occasionally ensues. There’s also the story of the hard-nosed crooked police officer dipping into illegal activities such as last years “Rampart.” But beyond the reality trash-TV of “Cops,” you don’t often get a glimpse into not only into the daily routine of seemingly regular policemen, but the relationships and bonds that form within the brotherhood.

“End of Watch” follows LAPD officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) through their days as partners patrolling the streets of Los Angeles. One day, they discover something that places them in the middle of a life-threatening drug cartel and they must work together to protect each others lives.

The film features a pair of dynamite performances from Gyllenhaal and Pena, which without a doubt rank among the best of their respective careers. While the performances stand strongly on their own, their on-screen chemistry is as strong as any duo seen on the screen in the last few years. Throughout the entire film, it feels as if you are watching not only work partners, but legitimate best friends and brothers interact with each other. Not only do their dramatic scenes play off well, but Gyllenhaal and Pena are able to effortlessly joke around and goof off with one another. In fact, “End of Watch” is surprisingly funny, evoking buddy-cop style comedy in its most humorous moments.

A large section of the camera work of “End of Watch” comes from a handheld camera, under the explanation that Gyllenhaal’s character making a movie for a project in his film class. While the rationale might be a touch flimsy, the usage of this particular camera work adds a visceral and gritty dimension to the film, which makes it feel less gimmicky overall than a typical “found-footage” movie. Director David Ayer is also certainly not afraid to show graphic violence, including several scenes with disturbing imagery that is perhaps heightened in its impact by the intimate home-video quality of the cinematography.

Extremely raw and realistic, emotionally charged, tense and often funny, “End of Watch” is a wholly satisfying movie-going experience. It is able to overcome its lack of intricate plot by combining a unique visual presentation, a compelling and authentic day-in-the-life storytelling style, and two actors symbiotically elevating the quality of the material. Without question, “End of Watch” is a cut above most action cinema and one of the best cop movies in recent memory.

David Ayer – Street Kings

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

David Ayer’s writing and directing credits include “Training Day,” “Dark Blue,” “S.W.A.T.,” and “Harsh Times” – all dramas revolving around corrupt police officers. In his latest film, “Street Kings,” Keanu Reeves stars as a veteran LAPD cop who is implicated in the death of a fellow officer.

Via phone, Ayer spoke to me about making his first studio-financed film, what he’s learned about himself as a director over the last year, and why he loves making cop movies.

Based on your filmography as a screenwriter, your genre of choice seems to be the crime drama. Why did you decide to return to this type of film for your second outing as a director?

This is my first studio film as a director and I felt comfortable picking an arena that I really know. It made sense for me. It’s an L.A. movie. I know the city well. L.A. is like a character in the movie. It’s a world I trust myself to deliver on.

How “street smart” do you actually consider yourself to be?

I grew up in south central L.A. I was the only white boy in the neighborhood. I still have relatives down there. I’m always down there. I get the ghetto pass.

Since this was your first studio film, how much easier was it to make in terms of getting financial support?

There are a lot of resources, but at the end of the day it’s the money. Fox Searchlight is really filmmaker-friendly. They let me make the movie that I really wanted to make. Other mainline studios will sometimes go for a more commercial version, but Searchlight let me have my own viewpoint. We’re really not making a lot of movies like this these days – old school, hard-R cop movies.

You wrote and directed “Harsh Times” last year but are only directing “Street Kings.” Is it hard to let go of the writing credit and watch someone else take that responsibility or do you welcome the break?

It was interesting to work with another writer. It does take a lot of load off your shoulders. I want to direct and want to get my career as a director going. I’m comfortable as a writer. I’m established and know what I’m doing there. It was nice to be able to have a writer help me out. Part of my job as a director is to make sure the actors have everything in the script they need to do their jobs and make them connected to the material. A lot of what I did was fine tuning for Forest [Whitaker] and Keanu [Reeves] and Hugh Laurie.

Have you learned what kind of director you are in only two films?

I’m really hands on as a director. The director’s job is to communicate [to the actor] what you want and where you want them to be. It’s tough because as a director you’re the only guy who knows what the movie is. I’m really involved. I find the more feedback you can give an actor, the better they do.

Keanu Reeves’ character in this film reminded me of Russell Crowe’s from “L.A. Confidential” maybe because James Ellroy wrote both. What did you want to get from Keanu’s character to make it different from other leading roles you’ve written and directed?

I wanted a guy with soul. I wanted someone who was good at heart but did bad things and justified what he did for the greater good.

In “Street Kings” you get to direct your first Academy Award winning actor in Forest Whitaker. How exciting was it for you to get him cast in this film and what was he like to work with?

It was great to work with Forest. I really chased him hard [for the role]. I wanted him to understand why his character was so unique. I really needed him. I needed someone we could believe could be the [police] chief or the mayor and someone who has this political charisma. Not every actor can pull that off. Forest certainly can. Once he walked in, it was definitely a great day for me.

With your love for the cop drama, I’m wondering if you ever wanted to be a police officer sometime in your life.

I entertained the idea after I got out of the military, but I guess I wasn’t ready for that lifestyle. I think I am drawn to it because there’s drama. You’re out there on the streets dealing with people in the worst moments of their lives. There’s always drama in conflict.

Street Kings

April 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie
Directed by: David Ayer (“Harsh Times”)
Written by: James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential”), Kurt Wimmer (“Ultraviolet”), Jaime Moss (debut)

If the name David Ayer is anywhere in a film’s credits, it would probably be safe to say the theme of the movie is going to revolve around corrupt cops. In his new film “Street Kings,” the director hands over the writing responsibilities (even after he did such a great job with 2005’s “Harsh Times”) to a trio of screenwriters who fail to understand the meaning of multilayered characters.

In the last seven years as a writer, Ayer has given us “Training Day,” “Dark Blue,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Harsh Times,” the last of which he was credited as both a screenwriter and first-time director. Now, in his sophomore film, Ayer’s lands some solid punches with the boys in blue, but doesn’t give us enough depth from the main and supporting characters. In “Training Day,” he transformed Denzel Washington into a crooked LAPD detective, a role which landed him his second Academy Award of his career. He also gave us an incredibly unique character study with Christian Bale as an ex-Ranger turned police officer in “Harsh Times,” one of the most overlooked performances of that year.

In “Street Kings,” the story follows LAPD vice detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves, who has come along way in the acting department since hamming it up most of his career), a trigger-happy cop whose on the right side of the law, but likes to do his job more like a renegade instead of a police officer. Think Russell Crowe’s Bud White in “L.A. Confidential,” which was also written by James Ellroy. Basically, he’s the jury, judge, and executioner.

When Tom uses his brute techniques to wipe out a couple of Korean kidnappers, he is thrust into the L.A. limelight as a heroic cop moving up in the ranks. Although his commanding officer Capt. Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) likes the way he does his job, others, like Tom’s former partner Terrance Washington (Terry Crews), let internal affairs know there’s a guy on the force that isn’t exactly on the up and up. Now internal affairs officer Capt. James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) is watching Tom’s every move, which, of course, makes Tom want to confront his ex-partner for ratting him out.

During the confrontation, which takes place in a local convenient store, Tom and Terrance find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time as they are ambushed by two masked gunmen who fill Officer Washington’s body with machine-gun ammo before Tom even knows what’s happening. But with the history between the two officers, Tom isn’t in the most ideal place, especially with Capt. Biggs asking questions.

Capt. Wander and the rest of the department, however, quickly step in to clean up the mess. “We can’t afford to lose you,” Wander tells Tom. “You’re the tip of the spear. Who’s going to hold back the animals?” Thus, corruption begets corruption and so on as Tom attempts to steer clear of Capt. Biggs and search for Terrance’s killers.

Unintentionally funny at times, “Street Kings” is a complex story with unrefined characters. With an entire cast basically playing bad or dishonest cops, there’s no real sense of conflict even between the cops and the thugs in the ghetto. And what fun can be had when everyone is on the same team? Even with semiautomatics, the story sputters in the film’s final anticlimactic act and quickly turns from complex to comical.