Tag Archives: Ben Affleck

Odd Squad

‘Suicide Squad’ is a crazy, colorful, over-stuffed mess

SUICIDE SQUAD

Suicide Squad
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis & Jared Leto
Directed by David Ayer
PG-13

The superhero summer gets a jolt of anarchy as a group of “metahuman” oddballs and outlaws commandeer the screen.

Based on obscure characters created by DC Comics, the Suicide Squad is a motley crew of death-row supervillains corralled by the government to combat threats too dangerous or deadly for ordinary defenses—like the “next” Superman, who might not be so people-friendly, or the slinky sorceress (Cara Delevingne) now building a doomsday machine to annihilate humanity—in exchange for lightened sentences.

Think The Dirty Dozen meets Guardians of the Galaxy, with a twist of Ghostbusters.

Will Smith

Will Smith

Will Smith is Deadshot, the world’s most lethal assassin. Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, a psychiatrist turned psycho by her bonkers boyfriend, the Joker (Jared Leto). There’s also Aussie kleptomaniac Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), hulking human reptile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, buried beneath a ton of rubbery prosthetics) and pyrotechnic homeboy El Diablo (a heavily tattooed Jay Hernandez).

Viola Davis is the iron-fisted black-ops recruiter in charge of the squad. Karen Fukuhara plays Katana, a samurai whose sword contains the souls of everyone its ever slain. Joel Kinnaman is elite soldier Col. Rick Flag, who has a special—though convoluted—tie to the Enchantress, the ancient, newly resurrected witch trying to destroy the world. Even Batman (Ben Affleck) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) drop in for cameos, as if they’ve casually wandered over from another movie.

Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie

Everyone has a backstory and a rockin’ theme song. Harley gets a reworked version of the old Leslie Gore hit “You Don’t Own Me,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s swampy “Fortunate Son” plays for Killer Croc, and as Diablo’s flames flicker in the night sky, we hear War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”

Writer-director David Ayer—who also directed the Brad Pitt WWII tank flick Fury and wrote Training Day, for which Denzel Washington won an Oscar—has a lot on his plate. Ultimately, the huge cast, unwieldy story and muddled, sometimes downright cheesy special effects become just too much—for him, and us—and everything crashes, smashes, mashes and finally collapses into a big, boom-y blob.

Jared Leto

Jared Leto

There are some things, however, to like about Suicide Squad. Leto’s cackling Joker is an unhinged kick; you never know what he’s going to do, how far he’ll go or where. It’s good to see Smith in a semi-supporting role where he can lay back in an ensemble but still unload some great quips. Davis is deliciously ambiguous as a high-ranking agent who’ll do whatever it takes to do a dirty job. Robbie seems to be having fun as the wacko Harley, but her hyper-sexy shorty shorts, fishnet stockings, stiletto boots and smeared baby-doll makeup look like they came from a stripper’s closet—or a fanboy’s heated ComicCon dream—instead of a wacko supervillain’s lair.

In the end, the movie is a hot mess—but a loud, star-packed, proudly trashy one. At one point, Harley and the Joker jump into an industrial vat of paint, then make out, rolling around and laughing like the nut jobs they are in the swirls of blue, red, yellow and green. That’s pretty good snapshot of Suicide Squad as a whole: Stuffed full of everything, including itself, it’s mad, mucky and yucky and doesn’t make a lot of sense—but hey, look at all those crazy colors!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Superhero Smackdown

Batman and Superman duke it out in jam-packed double-bill epic

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Starring Ben Affleck & Henry Cavill

Directed by Zack Snyder

PG-13

In this corner, Gotham’s grim reaper—the Dark Knight! Opposite him, in blue tights and red shorts—the Kryptonion clobberer!

Two of pop culture’s most iconic superheroes face off in the year’s first comic-book-inspired double bill, director Zack Snder’s meaty, muscular epic in which Henry Cavill reprises his Superman role from Man of Steel (2013) and Ben Affleck capably becomes the latest actor to answer the big-screen Bat-Signal.

But why are two “good guys” fighting each other? What has brought them to this?

In this worlds-collide combo platter, people have mostly learned to put up with Batman’s fly-by-night vigilante crime fighting, even though he seems to care even less about “due process” than ever (especially when dealing with scumbags like human traffickers). With Superman, on the other hand, the honeymoon is over. People know he swoops in and saves people—but they’ve begun to question the heavy toll of his heroics, the death and destruction that often follow in his sonic-boom wake. And they’re worried about his true motives, his “alien” status (he did come from another planet, after all) and what he could do with all that power if he ever decided to use it against them.

Even Batman—and his billionaire/socialite/playboy alter ego, Bruce Wayne—thinks we’d be better off without Superman. Spurred by a dastardly plot twist, an even bigger crisis and a rising global tide of public opinion, the fight, as they say, is on.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) menaces Lois Lane (Amy Adams)

Jesse Eisenburg has a fidgety ball as Lex Luthor, a refreshingly younger version of the iconic DC über-villain and perennial pot-stirrer. Amy Adams returns as Daily Planet star reporter Lois Lane, Superman/Clark Kent’s love interest (their bathtub scene is surely one of the sexiest rub-a-dub moments in any superhero flick). Holly Hunter is a U.S. senator who supports the Man of Steel. Jeremy Irons is the “new” Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s hi-tech butler.

Gal Godot—from the Fast & Furious franchise—debuts as Wonder Woman in a blatant plug for future D.C. movies, including her own spinoff (next summer) and two Justice League flicks stretching into 2019. (You’ll also see quick cameos by a couple of other new, upcoming DC characters.) Anderson Cooper, Soledad O’Brien, Nancy Grace, Charlie Rose and Neil deGrasse Tyson play themselves, as talking heads talking about Superman.

It’s long (two and a half hours), jam-packed, sometimes overly so, mostly humorless and generally a bit grim. But at least it’s not all crash-boom-bam. The solid script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer often steers into think-tank territory—about gods and demons, politics and paranoia—and Synder (who directed Man of Steel and also steered Sucker Punch, 300 and Watchmen) pumps up the religious allegory and symbolism that have always been part of the Superman mythos.

And of course, there’s the Big Event itself, the “greatest gladiator match in the history of the world,” as Lex Luthor calls it, the sprawling slugfest when the Bat and the Son of Krypton actually come to blows—before their superhero smackdown is eclipsed by an even bigger call to arms. It’s big, all right, epic and operatic. Who wins? I certainly won’t spoil it.

Except to say the real winners will be viewers who keep eyes totally glued to the screen for the split second just before the screen goes dark and the credits roll.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Gone But Not Forgotten

Best-selling novel comes to screen with creepy, cold precision

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Gone Girl

Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike

Directed by David Fincher

 One of the most anticipated movies of the year opens with a close-up shot of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) running the blonde hair of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) through his fingers and musing, “What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other?”

Those three questions set the stage for almost everything else that follows, as director David Fincher brings author Gillian Flynn’s wildly successful 2009 best-seller, a shocking mystery sizzler about one marriage’s dark descent into mayhem and madness, to the screen.

Gone Girl begins with Amy’s disappearance, on the morning of her and Nick’s fifth wedding anniversary, in what looks like a home invasion and abduction. But was it? Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect, clues begin to pile up, suspicions mount, secrets are revealed—and things start to feel like they’re not what they seem to be.

DF-05063_05054_COMP5_rgbFincher unspools the mystery with the same cool narrative precision he demonstrated in Fight Club, The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. He toggles back and forth between past and present, and presents he-said/she-said versions of Nick and Amy’s story through flashbacks and cutaways to Amy writing in her journal—which later becomes a key piece of evidence, and another strand in the plot’s tangled web.

The casting is first-rate. Affleck adeptly balances Nick’s jock-ish “homecoming king” likeability with the deep, troubling doubts that swirl around his character and his motives. Although she’s appeared in numerous other movies, this is absolutely Pike’s breakthrough; Amy is a complex, complicated character, one that you’ll remember long after the movie is over—and so will, in all likelihood, voters for next year’s Academy Awards. Tyler Perry is terrific as the big-city, top-dollar defense attorney Nick hires to take his case. TV and Broadway actress Carrie Coon brings both heat and heart to the role of Nick’s twin sister, drawn into the vortex of small-town news gone national. Neil Patrick Harris and Scoot McNairy appear as two of Amy’s old flames, both of whom may have gotten a little too close to the fire. Sela Ward and Missi Pyle play TV mavens who fan the media feeding frenzy.

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Tyler Perry is terrific as a top-dollar defense attorney.

The tone of the movie—the look, the pace and the music (by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor) mirrors the material: Dark, creepy, ominous, unsettling, cold. If you’re one of the six million people who’ve read Flynn’s book, you’ll know where everything’s headed (mostly) before it gets there. But if you haven’t, you’ll be swept away in the masterfully crafted brew of mind-bending misdirection, outright lies, psychotic scheming, and detailed criminal procedural that will keep you guessing right up until the end.

This isn’t a snuggle-up movie by a long shot, and its bleak view of marriage—and what might be going on beneath its seemingly placid surface—won’t send date-night couples home feeling warm and fuzzy. In an early scene, Nick and his sister play an old board game from their childhood, The Game of Life, as they discuss Nick’s upcoming anniversary—which, as he’s about to discover, won’t play out quite the way he’s planned.

In Gone Girl’s game of life, there aren’t any winners, only players playing each other in a toxic, brilliantly twisted endurance match from which no one emerges unscathed.

-Neil Pond, Parade & American Profile magazines

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