“Space Dogs: Adventure to the Moon”



When I saw that an animated film from Russia was playing at my local theater, curiosity got the best of me so I went to check it out. I have to say it’s one of the latest in a string of “what the hell did I just watch?” movies. If you’ve ever wanted to know what a Russian animated film is like, let me assure you that it’s pretty much what you’d expect. How this managed a theatrical release in the U.S. boggles the mind.

Believe it or not, this is an actual sequel to the 2010 film “Space Dogs.” Part II assumes the audience is already familiar with the characters because in the introductory scenes, there’s zero set up as to who these characters are and what their backgrounds were. There are obvious references to the earlier film which make this movie strange from the get-go. In this one, adorable pup Pushok sets out to find his missing cosmonaut dad. The pup travels to the White House (what?) and climbs onboard a U.S. rocket bound for the moon. When he arrives on the moon he finds his mom, dad, a loud and obnoxious monkey astronaut from Texas (double what?) and an abandoned baby alien. Told you this movie is crazy.

The film is poorly computer animated and most of it looks very cheap and uninviting. There are jerky movements and blurry backgrounds, and the lack of detail is very distracting. The animals have no personality in the way they are drawn; no richness to their fur and no contrast in their coloring. I can’t imagine how any child would fall in love with any of these characters. International copyright laws have also been thrown out the window because there’s a rat named Lenny who is a dead ringer for Remy from the Disney/Pixar film “Ratatouille.”

I saw the U.S. theatrical release so the entire thing was dubbed in English by D-list American actors who will do anything to pay the rent, including Ashlee Simpson, Phil LaMarr and Alicia Silverstone. This meant the dialogue didn’t match the mouth movements of the animation. Sometimes the dogs’ mouths were moving when nothing was being said, making for an amusing yet confusing ride (I would have much preferred to see it in Russian with English subtitles). The most unintentionally hilarious scene is a god-awful musical number (scored with some random, ghastly original American pop song) where dogs Belka and Strelka are “singing” and performing. The song lyrics make zero sense and half the time the dogs don’t even appear to be talking at all!

There was also this bizarre ending voiceover about how Russia and the United States agreed to work together in the space race in an act of international cooperation — it felt false and tacked on and couldn’t have been in the original foreign version (especially because earlier in the film there’s a reference to “the Americans” being behind a laser ray that’s stealing objects to place on the moon).

Was some of the script changed a bit to suit American audiences? I’m not sure. There is one particular line that makes me think the perhaps not. A pet cat is lamenting that his person now loves her new dog more than him, so his rabbit friend begins to freak out that she will tire of her pets and “sell us for medical experiments.”

If that ain’t Russian, I don’t know what is.

Matt was unavailable for review.




Philip Roth’s deeply personal novel “Indignation” gets the big screen treatment in this elegantly photographed, beautifully acted and richly directed film. This complex, coming-of-age character study explores weighty themes of morality, spirituality, sexuality and authority at a conservative Christian college in the 1950s.

Studious Jewish boy Marcus (the fantastically talented Logan Lerman) longs to flee his working class New Jersey home — and avoid the Korean war — by enrolling in college in Ohio. Dad Max (Danny Burstein) is a butcher and mom Esther (Linda Emond) runs the household. Marcus’ parents struggle with him leaving the nest (and possibly his Jewish cultural identity), especially his father. As expected, Marcus thrives in the university environment as far as classes go, but he encounters some big problems with the school’s religious policies. Marcus soon becomes infatuated with the lovely and polished (and seriously damaged) classmate Olivia (Sarah Gadon), a disturbed young woman who has spent time in a mental institution for alcohol addiction and a suicide attempt.

There are numerous deep themes that are explored here, and it’s truly a film based on sophisticated ideas not mindless drivel. Instead of big CGI monsters or over the top explosions, we get a wordy, talky, think piece that riffs on love, death and bad decisions, an exploration of how every step we take propels our lives into a certain trajectory that may or may not be filled with happiness, tragedy or pain.

“Indignation” is a thinking person’s movie. Many of the glimpses we get into the lives of these characters are nothing more than mere flashes that only scratch the surface of their wounded psyches. (As with most literary adaptations, there’s a lot of information presented and the film at times feels crowded). Marcus’ mother longs to divorce her mentally abusive husband who is slowly losing his mind, Marcus’ roommates Flusser (Ben Rosenfield) and Foxman (Philip Ettinger) each have some unspoken societal struggles, and something is deeply troubling about Olivia’s relationship with her own father. Nothing is spelled out for viewers; those who pay attention will be rewarded. How refreshing it is to see a smart movie made for smart audiences.

My major criticism of the movie is that at times it feels a little too much like a stage play, which in turn makes it tedious in parts. At other times the stagy feel actually works to make the film better. Case in point: the most compelling portion of the film is a quietly ferocious extended scene of Marcus and Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) going head to head in a believer vs. atheist intellectual power struggle. This is the most intense part of the movie and it’s also the best. I was completely and utterly engrossed and found myself sitting forward in my seat.

Moviegoers need to encourage Hollywood to make more movies like this one, so please vote with your wallet and go see it. Your brain will thank you.


In the 1990s, there was a trend in movies and television that featured would-be philosophers with an expansive vocabulary who practiced the art of verbal sparring. At the time, I found the trend annoying. Particularly vexing was the fad of precocious children and teens who apparently saw themselves as the reincarnation of Immanuel Kant and used a lexicon that was completely inauthentic to the time and the person. Examples were everywhere, from movies like “Reality Bites” and “Clerks” to television shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and, at times, even “Beavis and Butthead.”

And then the 2000s happened.

At some point after the close of the millennium, there was a noticeable shift in pop culture away from these amateur Aristotles and towards our society’s apparently endless fascination with watching celebrities, competition shows, and disastrous personalities destroy themselves in front of our eyes. Our societal journey towards the future predicted by “Idiocracy” has sped up to a breakneck pace, and if the success of the Trump campaign is any indication, the brake lines have been severed. In the midst of this, I’ve actually found myself nostalgic for the movies of the 90s.

To keep the analogy going, “Indignation” is like an emergency off-ramp on the highway to cultural idiocy. It’s about a teenager from New Jersey who leaves home for a small college in Ohio. While he’s away at school, young Marcus (Logan Lerman) finds himself in the midst of a series of new trials that have nothing to do with his academics: his roommates are loud, insensitive guys who don’t really care about Marcus but have no respect for his privacy; the Dean of Students (Tracy Letts) won’t respect Marcus’s wish to focus on his studies to the exclusion of a social life; an avowed atheist and cultural Jew, he is nevertheless required to attend Catholic services at the school once a week; and the girl he is dating (Sarah Gadon) is moving too fast for his comfort.

The story is familiar to anyone who traveled far away from home to start their life as an adult. While we may not all be cut from the same cloth as Marcus, he’s a sympathetic character who it’s impossible not to respect. He is highly intelligent and respects logic above all, and it’s when those around him don’t share his worldview that things become difficult. Marcus may not have his peers figured out, but he knows exactly who he is. So when Dean Caudwell begins challenging Marcus and his values, they lead to some epic verbal battles where the two butt heads.

And it’s in these verbal sparring matches that “Indignation” really shines. The two scenes featuring Caudwell and Marcus are easily two of the best scenes on film this year. These encounters are much more exciting than any scene from any action movie of 2016; I was much more invested in these confrontations than any civil war between Iron Man and Captain America. Why have we (apparently) collectively forgotten the thrill of a good debate? Why don’t we value the matching of wits over physical strength and athletic prowess? When did the rivalry of Holmes and Moriarty become less interesting to us than Jason Bourne versus some secret agent guy?

I loved “Indignation” for what it is, and what it’s not. It’s a potent reminder of how we can be entertained without explosions or superpowers.

DVD Roundup: August

Want to know which movies we recommend and which movies you should skip? Check out our newest feature, the DVD Roundup. Each month we’ll be posting a handy review recap of movies that will be released for home viewing. Simply click on the film’s title to read our original reviews and to see the star rating for each movie. Movies that we split on will have the star ratings averaged to find the appropriate category. All films below have scheduled DVD release dates from August 1 – August 31, 2016.

“The Nice Guys”

Highly Recommended

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Worthy Rentals

“God’s Not Dead 2”

You Can Do Better

“Ratchet & Clank”

Skip It


“Pete’s Dragon”



The classic story of an orphaned boy and his best friend, a dragon named Elliot, is reimagined in “Pete’s Dragon,” a surprisingly dull and drab adventure movie from “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” director David Lowery. This boring “E.T” ripoff never really gets off the ground and very little happens during its short 103 minute runtime. What should’ve been a compelling story about the relationship between a boy and his dragon is sorely underdeveloped and the premise entirely wasted.

The biggest problem with “Pete’s Dragon” is that it’s far too much like Disney’s live action remake of “The Jungle Book.” There’s an annoying kid who is raised in the woods by a kindly animal. Instead of sweeping shots of the jungle we get sweeping shots of the Pacific Northwest (that a dragon and child could live in the woods and never be discovered by anyone for over 6 years is so unbelievable it’s ridiculous). There’s a thinly veiled environmental subplot about forest conservation and a distasteful, not-so-subtle suggestion that traditional families are what’s best for wayward kids.

The horrific opening sequence sets an ominous tone that’s really quite dark and is sure to frighten some kids. The scary then suddenly jolts to happy, ending just as quickly as it begins. These massive tonal shifts continue to plague the film and make for a confusing ride. Elliot is green and fuzzy and cute and adorable for the majority of the story, acting like a silly and friendly puppy, but then there’s a disturbingly intense scene of him breathing fire and trying to kill the townspeople. It’s an exercise in the unpleasant.

The actors don’t help things either. Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace, a friendly forest ranger who takes the child under her wing. Why Howard is a star is beyond me, she is one of the most annoying and least talented actors in recent history. I’m not trying to specifically pick on her because there are plenty of ho-hum performances from the rest of the cast. Little Pete himself (Oakes Fegley) is annoyingly precocious, Karl Urban‘s character Gavin plays like a goofy evil hunter type, and the great Robert Redford (Meacham) is given little to do as a kindly elderly storyteller who rambles on and on about the “magic” in the woods.

Speaking of magic, that’s precisely what this film lacks. There’s simply nothing magical about it.


As a child of the 70s and 80s, I remember the 1977 “Pete’s Dragon” movie fondly. Mind you, I can’t tell you anything other than that it had a boy named Pete and that he had a dragon friend named Elliot, but I remember loving it. I especially remember my “Pete’s Dragon” lunchbox (damn I loved that lunchbox) and the matching Thermos inside.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Coasting on this nostalgia I enthusiastically saw “The Jungle Book” earlier this year and that same sense of historical connection drove me to see this remake, too. And (unlike that movie) I liked “Pete’s Dragon” because it felt authentic without being forced.

This version of “Pete’s Dragon,” like the original, takes place during some time in the late 70s / early 80s, a time that the world was bigger and there was more of a sense of community tied to the place where you lived. Pete is an orphaned boy who has lived in the woods for the last six years with his friend Elliot, who is a dragon. Pete and Elliot’s world gets smaller when a local company encroaches on their space by clear-cutting the forest around them. The locals learn about Elliot and seek to capture him, threatening to split the pair and civilize Pete.

The story of “Pete’s Dragon” is a fundamentally simple one about a boy and his best friend. The film is at its best when it’s reminding us of the strong bond between humans and animals and the importance of that relationship. Although Elliot is a computer-generated character, he feels lifelike because he acts like an animal that is of our world; his mannerisms and actions have an authentic quality that bring a realism that gives the story weight and infuse it with a sense of wonder that affects both the characters and the narrative. Director David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) takes Elliot seriously, and the film asks us to do the same.

It is this earnest treatment of the fantastic that makes the movie interesting, and it’s the clash of the fanciful dragon with the real world that both creates the drama and drives the picture. “Pete’s Dragon” is a good family film because it teaches respect for animals and the environment at the same time that it entertains. While far from perfect, it’s good enough to recommend.


“Florence Foster Jenkins”



“Florence Foster Jenkins” is a mediocre attempt at a biopic from director Stephen Frears (“Philomena,” “The Queen“), something that’s truly surprising given that this is precisely the type of material he excels at bringing to the screen. The true story of an American socialite and music lover tries to be an all-around crowd pleaser but instead gives off a contradictory vibe.

Florence (Meryl Streep) is a wealthy patron and benefactor of the musical arts in the 1940s in New York City. She fancies herself an amateur soprano and is well known in certain circles for her flamboyant performances, extravagant costumes, and incredibly awful singing. It’s pretty cool that a film was made about her and she’s definitely one of those historical figures with whom all musicians and music lovers should familiarize themselves.

As is to be expected, this is far and away Streep’s movie. She’s as reliable as ever and has a ton of fun with this role; she’s simply delightful to watch. Ditto for co-star Hugh Grant, perfectly cast as Florence’s husband St. Clair Bayfield (she’s his sugar mama, but the actors play it as a believeable love story). As Florence screeches and rehearses for her opera performance at Carnegie Hall, St. Clair goes to great lengths to prevent her from making the soul-crushing discovery that she has an appalling singing voice.

While the film is designed to be a crowd pleaser (especially among older folks; your mom and grandma will probably love it), I found it to be draggy and long drawn out, particularly the extended scenes of Florence singing her screeching operatic solos. These scenes of waaaay off-key singing go on far too long and actually started to make me feel embarrassed for her as well as myself. At first I started to giggle because of how god-awful her singing is, and it felt like the filmmakers were encouraging the audience to laugh and point. Then in the very next scene, the film semi-shames the audience for laughing. This confusing shift made me feel quite flustered and eventually disengaged from the story. The ending gets more than a little heavy handed and is bogged down with overt symbolism that feels more like a manipulative way to wrangle tears out of the crowd than an artistic choice by Frears.

Florence is a mildly interesting historical figure that I’d never heard of before seeing this film and I very much enjoyed researching her. I applaud Florence’s real-life efforts to keep a vibrant music scene brewing in New York City and we could all learn from her plucky self-confidence and gutsy determination. Much like its main subject, this film plays like a sincere passion project –yet in the end, it’s mediocre and just can’t carry the tune.


A wealthy socialite is a patron of the arts in New York. She loves music, but isn’t satisfied by just listening — she wants to sing, in front of an audience. But no one has the heart to tell the kind woman that she can’t carry a tune.

So goes the true story of “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a woman who played Carnegie Hall in the 1940s in spite of the fact that she was a terrible singer. Florence (Meryl Streep) is a kind-hearted woman who does much for everyone else, most of all her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant). St. Clair supports his wife  and does everything he can to support her in achieving her unrealistic dream, including hiring a famous conductor as a vocal coach and concert pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) to accompany her. For, as St. Clair tells Cosme, “without loyalty, you have nothing.”

“Florence” is an interesting story with universally appealing themes about love, loyalty, and friendship. But there isn’t much to it. If not for the prowess and pedigree of Streep, I’m not sure it would be noticed much at all. She does a decent enough job (as we all expect her to), but with the exception of a moment here or there, we never really get a sense for who Florence is as a person. She’s more or less just a collection of attributes without much substance; I feel like I could have learned just as much about her by watching a 10-minute episode of “Drunk History.” By comparison, Hugh Grant imbues St. Clair with emotional weight in a nicely understated performance; in his case, we do get a glimpse behind the curtain. While it’s not an award-worthy performance, Grant definitively demonstrates that he has left his pleasant-but-one-note rom-com days behind him.

Plenty of folks will enjoy this movie well enough, but it’s hard to recommend to a broad audience. I’m sure I’ll forget about it by the end of the year and you will, too.

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”



Quirky films must be well executed in order to work, and luckily the rabidly original “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” based on Barry Crump’s book “Wild Pork and Watercress,” meets the challenge. Taika Waititi (if you haven’t yet seen his brilliant films “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Eagle vs Shark,” rent them now) is back at the directorial helm with this farcical tale of a 60 year old curmudgeon and a wayward 13 year old foster kid. Waititi’s kooky sense of humor shines throughout this very funny (and oddly touching) coming of age film.

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a haiku spouting, hip-hop loving foster kid who ends up at the rural mountain home of rugged Hec (Sam Neill) and kindly Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Child services agent Paula (Rachel House) even calls Ricky a “very bad egg” when she drops him off at his latest in a long line of unsuccessful foster homes. When a tragedy strikes, Ricky fakes his own death, sets off into the woods, and gets lost. When Hec comes to his rescue, there’s an accident and the pair find themselves stuck in the wilds for several weeks. A huge misunderstanding ensues and the duo become outlaws on the run, being chased by everyone from incompetent cops, child services, rogue game hunters, a lunatic survivalist, and finally the army.

The handsome New Zealand wilderness is beautifully shot and gorgeously framed, and the look and style of this film is incredibly polished for such a small production. Waititi has as much of an expert eye for visual flair as he does for goofy, irreverent humor. Some of the jokes are just plain unsettling (there’s a running joke about “child molesterers” — not a typo — that comes across as more unpleasant than amusing), but for every awkward and squirmy wisecrack there’s a comedy goldmine (the cameo by Waititi as a local preacher is one of the funniest scenes in years). The pitch-perfect comic timing and deadpan banter between Ricky and Hec is what makes the movie quite the enjoyable ride.

Make no mistake: this is a very oddball movie, but it’s also loaded with universal themes that everyone can relate to. It’s outlandish and peculiar, but also provides a poignant exploration of grief, loneliness and what it means to be a family.

Matt was unavailable for review.Save

“Get A Job”



Whiny millennials take note: movies like “Get A Job” are a big part of why you are often viewed as an annoyance by the rest of society! This vapid, lazy movie feels like an extended bitch session about how hard it is to find a job after college. Too bad the film doesn’t actually show the legitimate struggles and instead loses focus with its unrealistic plot, short attention span, and poor editing. It’s obvious this movie was made for those with extremely short attention spans.

Not only does it feel like huge chunks of the story are missing, but the dreadful excuses for ‘jokes’ are mostly a string of horribly unfunny embarrassments (you won’t believe the awkward, desperate attempt at humor from Alison Brie as the office’s sexual harasser; it’s not amusing, it’s just gross).

Even more of a shame is the great talent that is squandered in this awful junk. To be fair, this movie was filmed way back in 2012, long before the careers of stars Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick and Bryan Cranston really took off. The accomplished Marcia Gay Harden, John Cho, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (the only funny element of the entire movie), Brandon T. Jackson (the butt of several gross-out jokes), and John C. McGinley also lend their talents to this unclever mess.

I think I may be angry at the movie simply for its complete and utter waste of such a talented cast.


Anna Kendrick, Miles Teller, Bryan Cranston, Brandon T. Jackson, Marcia Gay Harden, Alison Brie… with a cast like this, it’s hard NOT to wonder why “Get a Job” didn’t get a wide theatrical release. And then you start watching the movie. Mystery solved: it’s not good.

“Get a Job” starts out with a good premise, as narrated by Teller’s character Will. He opens by repeating what has been often observed: having grown up in a world where achievement and failure are celebrated equally by their parents and schools, where there are no winners or losers, and everyone is a unique snowflake to be nurtured and supported at all costs, Millennials are ill-equipped for the workforce and the realities of having to earn a living. The film then follows Will, his friends and girlfriend as they each look for jobs and attempt to integrate into the working world.

Sounds promising, right?

The problem is that the rest of the movie doesn’t follow this announced premise at all. Sure, the recent college grads struggle to get jobs and then find themselves at the bottom of their respective totem poles, but their trials and tribulations aren’t any different from how it was for any other generation. How they deal with it isn’t really any different, either. If anything, the film actually reaffirms their own inflated Millennial views of self-worth as most of them get much more attention and find much more early success than what really happens in the real world.

In other words, it not only fails to pay off on its premise, but it’s also fraudulent.

The only story line with resonance belongs to Cranston: as Roger Davis, a middle-aged man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and achieved some success with a C-level job, he (who in the movie is Will’s dad) is suddenly downsized. Roger has to deal with his new reality and trying to find a job in a market where he must compete with people who are younger and more tech-savvy. Although Roger and his storyline are sympathetic, it is nothing new and not good enough to make this movie worth recommending.




“Anthropoid” reminded me so much of the (far superior) basement scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” that I kept hoping Hugo Stiglitz would show up and get the ball rolling to save me from this exercise in extreme dullness. The problem with “Anthropoid” is that there’s not anything really happening until the film’s final 10 minutes. The rest of the monotonous two hours are spent doing a whole lot of nothing. When I tell you the plot, you’ll think it sounds great. Unfortunately, it’s not.

The film tells the fascinating true story of Operation Anthropoid, a secret mission by the Czechoslovakian government to assassinate Nazi SS officer Reinard Heydrich (the third in command behind Hitler and Himmler). This story focuses on two soldiers, Josef (Cillian Murphy) and Jan (Jamie Dornan), who parachute into their homeland to execute the plan. This historical incident should’ve made a kick-ass war picture but instead it’s just lame.

This is an extraordinary true tale that, if in the hands of a better director and storyteller, could have been one of the best World War II era movies in ages. There’s far too much talking and staring and hiding and plotting, and the overuse of shaky cam doesn’t fit with the material and is distracting. The film is set in the gorgeous city of Prague but instead all we get are ponderous scenes in dusty basements and lots of quiet hiding in houses. There’s also an uncomfortably long epilogue (told only with words flashed on the screen) that reveals the ultimate conclusion of the Operation.

The film did inspire me to research more about the history behind it. When a movie educates me about something, I always view that as a win. But an interesting glimpse of history doesn’t make this thriller any less dull.


Prior to the start of World War II, Hitler occupied Czechoslovakia without ever firing a shot, having reached an agreement with other European countries that was supposed to avoid all-out war. Some of the Czech government fled the country, along with a contingent of military forces. Hitler placed SS General Reinhard Heydrich — the Third Reich’s third-in-command and architect of the Final Solution — in charge of the country. He butchered thousands of Czechs during his occupation of the country.

To respond, the displaced Czech government devised Operation Anthropoid. The goal of the operation was simple, although the means were not: assassinate Heydrich. “Anthropoid” is based on the story of that effort.

Sounds fascinating, right? As interesting as the story is, the movie is not. The story of the primary Czech operatives Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) moves incredibly slowly and not much happens until the third act. For the most part, we see Gabcik, Kubis, and their compatriots hiding, plotting, and hiding some more. And not much else.

When we finally get to the assassination attempt, the story starts to move more quickly. But when we finally get to a showdown and shootout between the Czech rebels and the Nazis, the action is filmed poorly in Paul Greengrass-style shaky cam. This filming style is particularly poorly suited to historical action, where the frenetic style is a distraction that detracts from most of the natural drama. Director Sean Ellis (who made the enjoyable 2006 indie “Cashback“) lacks confidence and a voice of his own — instead assembling the film with a hodgepodge of styles that don’t serve the story.

And the acting isn’t much better. When you’re dealing with Nazis as the bad guys, anyone standing in opposition is immediately sympathetic. But these actors and this director never earn anything more than that positional sympathy; we learn virtually nothing about these characters or their background or what makes them tick. Not getting to know the characters ultimately hurts the film and makes the climax little more than an exercise in finding a conclusion.

Put simply, it’s difficult to watch “Anthropoid” without wanting to check your watch. Students of history would be better served reading a book about the operation, which almost certainly has to be more exciting than this movie.

“Suicide Squad”



I’m at a loss at what to write about “Suicide Squad.” Here’s one of those weird movies where I know I didn’t like it but I’m not really sure what it is I didn’t like about it. This only happens once in a blue moon, and the amount of disconnect I had with this film is shocking. Everything about this movie falls flat.

This movie could have and should have been so much better! Take director David Ayer, one of the finest working today (and one of the Screen Zealots’ Deities). He has a phenomenal flair for the visual arts, yet his style doesn’t mesh with a superhero movie like this. Either that or his work was ripped apart by the studio, which is what I suspect because there are chunks of the movie that feel like they were made by him and then other parts that feel workshopped to death. You can catch glimpses of Ayer’s vision here and there, but something feels creatively restrained about the whole film.

Making this an even greater failure is that these fantastic DC Comics villains are wasted. These characters are fascinating and are begging to be in a film worthy of their evil deeds. The story just scratches the surface when it could’ve dug far deeper. The satisfying opening vignettes that show the brief origin stories of each character are by far the most compelling aspect of the film, and the entire vehicle needed much, much more of this. The gang is introduced with a bang that quickly fizzles out due to poor writing and paper-thin character development.

While Will Smith (Deadshot) and Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn) hold the film together, I really wanted to see more of Jared Leto‘s deranged Joker and Jay Hernandez‘s emotionally damaged Diablo. The rest of the supporting actors just get lost like debris in a landslide of messiness, but I really, really loved the multicultural cast (it’s great when a big deal isn’t made about having a Latino or African-American or Asian actor).

I think my disconnect comes from the fact that the entire thing feels like two very different movies that have been juxtaposed together. The movie tries to be artsy and moderately succeeds, but it also tries to be action-packed and also partially succeeds. By playing to the art crowd it turns off the blow ’em up action audiences, and vice versa. “Suicide Squad” is caught in a loop that it can’t escape. Everything about this film, from the direction to the soundtrack to the costumes to the acting to the Batman (Ben Affleck) cameo, feels like it’s simply just trying too hard to be liked by everybody.

My one word of advice to the studio heads over at Warner Brothers: slow it down, guys. You’ve already lost the superhero movie race to Marvel, so stop trying so desperately to catch up. Nobody likes nor wants to be around that guy.


David Ayer is one of the best directors working today. In 2012’s “End of Watch,” he crafted a powerful story of the bond between partnered police officers that was a refreshing change about the good women and men in blue who risk their lives to keep us safe. In 2014’s “Fury” (#3 on my list of the best films of 2014) we followed a World War II tank crew that risked everything to defend their fellow soldiers. The best of Ayer’s movies are about the bond between men and women who fight together and would willingly die for one another; it was because of this pedigree that I was fairly excited to see his newest film, “Suicide Squad.”

I generally enjoy comic book films, but I don’t read comic books. My familiarity with the DC universe is limited to what I’ve seen in movies and in Saturday morning cartoons. That is to say that I really only know the heroes and some of the big villains (like the Joker). I’m not sure whether my lack of familiarity was a good or bad thing when it comes to Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Croc and the rest.

“Suicide Squad” feels like a movie with an identity crisis. These are villains. They’re supposed to be bad, right? But none of them really ever do anything bad. The studio, Warner Brothers, seems to have been walking a bit of a tightrope here: not wanting to alienate audiences by showing the members of the titular squad actually doing something villainous, instead we’re subjected to what feels like watered-down versions of these characters. Other than the Joker (who’s barely in it), none of them feel dangerous or edgy. So what we end up getting is a milquetoast band of bandits that are basically low-rent versions of the Avengers.

So when the heroes are bad guys, who are the antagonists? The government, it turns out. Them, and some kind of weird demon-sorcerers with questionable motivations that want to blow up the world, I guess. Having the government be the antagonist is at least interesting, but those demon witch things are just plain dumb.

I really was hoping for a more edgy take. The trailer hinted at a movie that we didn’t get. I was hoping that the studio would go all in and make more of an effort to show the world from the villains’ point of view, a world where Batman is the bad guy and the law of the streets is the only law that matters. Alas, that’s not what we got.

Compared to Ayer’s other recent films, it’s hard to not suspect that this is not the “Suicide Squad” movie he sent out to make. He’s best at telling stories of brothers (and sisters)-in-arms who risk life and limb fighting alongside one another. Those broad themes of loyalty, friendship, honor and duty are present in virtually every one of his other films. We don’t get that here, and it’s a shame. What we do get is a mediocre, middle-of-the-road picture that takes no risks and tries too hard to please too many people. As a result, while it’s not a complete failure it IS completely forgettable.

“The Family Fang”



Jason Bateman‘s latest directorial (and acting) effort is the off-putting, draggy “The Family Fang,” a just so/so movie based on the 2011 Kevin Wilson novel. It’s a cool story that unfortunately doesn’t translate well to the screen. The movie looks and feels ugly, and it’s not much more than an exercise in the ‘blah.’

Baxter (Bateman) and his sister Annie (Nicole Kidman) grew up in a very bizarre household, often finding themselves pawns in the elaborate public hoaxes of their performance art parents Camille and Caleb (Kathryn Hahn / Maryann Plunkett and Jason Butler Harner / Christopher Walken). When mom and dad go missing and a car is found covered in blood, the pair reunite to unravel the truth: was it really foul play or is it just another deception?

The major problem with this movie is that it simply can’t decide on what it wants to be and as a result, it comes across as a half-hearted mess. Is it a comedy? A crime thriller? A family drama? There’s just no focus and the film suffers for it. These kids are now messed up adults, but their dysfunction is no laughing matter. Likewise, the humor provides lots of great set-ups that ultimately yield zero payoffs. None of the performances stand out (Hahn, Walken and Bateman are just being themselves, and Kidman is as unpleasantly cold as ever).

This inconsistent movie doesn’t seem to have anything profound nor important to say and as a result, I just didn’t care.

Matt was unavailable for review.