Suicide Squad – the two hour trailer.

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So let’s just get this out of the way: Suicide Squad is a complete and utter mess, it’s one of the most incoherently put together mainstream Hollywood movies I’ve ever seen, to the point where it feels like a two hour long trailer.

The plot is simple: Superman is dead (at least until the last ten minutes of next year’s first Justice League movie) and U.S. government official Amanda Waller comes up with a plan to put together a team of super powered bad guys in order to combat other super powered bad guys. One of the team, The Enchantress, a witch with a bad complexion but great dance moves (of which, more later) goes rogue, throws a lot of big, glowing CGI around and threatens to take over the world. Fighting ensues.

The real life plot of Suicide Squad goes (allegedly) like this: Warner Bros/DC hire screenwriter/director David Ayer (Training Day/Fury) to make what they touted as one of their “filmmaker driven” projects. During production of Suicide Squad, Zack Snyder’s Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is released to okay-ish box office but – and here lies what I suspect is the nub of this film’s (many) problems – a quite horrendous critical backlash.

Snyder’s film was labelled too dark, too grim, just too damn serious! According to industry scuttlebutt reshoots are ordered for Suicide Squad but, say the producers, these were always scheduled and weren’t done as a result of the drubbing meted out to BvS. Then things get stickier with the rumours that the film was given over to the guys who had cut Suicide Squad’s well received trailer with the remit to lighten it up, put in more jokes, make it more like… well, a Marvel film. Further, it seems that two cuts of the film existed – Ayer’s darker version and the trailer guys’ lighter version – and the decision was made to merge them.

What amount of this is true? Does it matter anyway? The short answer of course, is that none of the above would be of any interest if Suicide Squad had turned out well. But, dear reader, Suicide Squad has not turned out well.

The film seems to have been edited with a pair of blunt scissors by someone wearing thick rubber gloves and a blindfold. Cara Delevingne’s badder bad guy The Enchantress stands around doing interpretive dance moves to create… I still don’t know, a magic something or other… for almost an hour of the movie. Really, her character stands in one spot and (literally and figuratively) doesn’t go anywhere. Characters are introduced multiple times – the squad are introduced solidly three times in three concurrent scenes – each character is even given text-filled info screens and then we’re still treated to more introductory sequences!

After being introduced three times to Will Smith’s sharpshooter, Deadshot, we’re then given a scene, where Smith is handed a whole bunch of guns to fire at targets, that exists only to show us that… um, Deadshot is a sharpshooter. Just in case you didn’t get that before. Or before. Or before that.

In case all of this isn’t enough to hammer your poor eyes and brain into submission as to who you’re watching, each character gets a needle drop so painfully obvious it’s a wonder they don’t flash the lyrics onscreen just to really underline things. Incidentally, there should be an immediate ban on any filmmaker using The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil to underscore how bad a character is, punishable by exile to making wedding videos for the rest of their life.

Whole sequences are muddily constructed (wait… the Enchantress did what to her human alter ego in order to escape her earthly shell!? Who shot down that helicopter!?). One scene has Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn wave goodbye to the rest of her team as she heads up into a building in a glass elevator, get into a fight with some monsters between floors and then enjoy a supposed comedy beat as the elevator doors open high up in the building to reveal the team she’d left behind on the ground floor pointing guns at her. But there’s no explanation for how they got there before her – it’s not even laughed off as a joke, it’s just left hanging in a kind of awkward “Huh? What?” moment. This is a first day at film school level mistake, it’s unforgivable in a multi-million dollar movie.

Whatever went on in the background of the making of this film we may never know, but you should be under no misapprehension that this film has somehow completely lost its way in post-production. The astonishing thing is that no one at DC or Warner Bros was able to see what a mess had been created and that the film was allowed to go into release in this sorry state.

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What makes all this so frustrating is that somewhere in this mess is a good film. It’s really enjoyable that so much weird shit is just thrown headlong into the film without anyone batting an eyelid… superhumans, witches, swords possessed by souls, mutated crocodile men! This is fun stuff and the film’s willingness to embrace it all almost gives it a strong worldview.

Also, whatever the producers paid Will Smith and Margot Robbie, it wasn’t enough. These two scorch their way across the screen with good, old fashioned star power and share great chemistry. Both actors were obviously having a blast with their parts and it shows. Really, I could have watched two hours of just these two and they almost (…almost) make the film worth the price of admission.

Viola Davis and Jai Courtney (as Amanda Waller and villain Captain Boomerang, respectively) do their best with the little they’re given, and Jay Hernandez (as fire summoner, El Diablo) impresses by bringing heart to an underwritten role. Joel Kinnerman (as Rick Flagg), unfortunately, feels miscast and Karen Fukuhara (as swordswoman, Katana) is a blank slate who drifts in and out of the film leaving no impression whatsoever.

In case you were wondering, Heath Ledger’s legacy remains completely undamaged by Jared Leto’s Joker, the character is horrible (and not in the way he should be) – blindingly obvious, grating, underwritten (again) and pretty redundant for much of the film. It’s such a gross misunderstanding of the character that I am now really hoping he doesn’t show up in Ben Affleck’s forthcoming Batman movie.

And despite all this I found myself enjoying parts of the film. But I’d no sooner find myself hitting a groove than some bizarre edit or incomprehensible plot point would just pull me out of the story all over again. It’s a shame. These actors are really working hard to give life to their characters and so much is undone by terrible committee meddling.

Warner Bros and DC really need to get their act together. This is a two for two strike out which shows a basic lack of faith in the core material and a lack of cohesive direction for their shared universe. Instead we’re left with an aimless mess that simply makes a lot of noise for two hours.

So, that was Suicide Squad the trailer. Now when do we get the movie…?

* With thanks to Ante Lundberg for the review title.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk – teaser trailer

Whether you love his work or hate it (and he does seem to raise a significant amount of ire with certain sections of film lovers), Christopher Nolan is one of the few modern directors with enough clout to ensure that the release of a new film is very much an event. So the release of the teaser trailer for his forthcoming film, Dunkirk, is definitely a cause for some people (the ones who don’t hate his work) to get excited.

And if the thought of Nolan taking on one of the most harrowing events of World War 2 doesn’t raise your enthusiasm for this (a last-ditch effort to evacuate 300,000 Allied troops who were surrounded by German forces), then perhaps the thought of seeing One Direction’s Harry Styles in a proper, grown up movie will have you rushing to the box office in a frantic sweat to buy a ticket. Those of us above the age of fourteen will just have to settle for the involvement of Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh.

Nolan and his director of photography on Interstellar, Hoyte van Hoytema, shot Dunkirk using 65 mm and IMAX film cameras, so this is sure to look astonishing. I can only hope that Nolan decides not to infuriate large portions of the cinema audience again with another wilfully muddy dialogue mix (as per Interstellar) so we can actually hear what characters are saying. Which is always nice, of course.

Dunkirk is set to be released on July 19, 2017.

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Apocalypse KONG – Skull Island trailer

King Kong is, somewhat bizarrely, the first film I remember seeing. I have vivid memories of watching these strange, flickering black and white images through the bars of my cot – which my Mum places at me being around just a year old! What can I say? I was obviously destined to be a Monster Kid of the 1960s.

So Kong has a special place in my affections, whether it’s the original 1933 masterpiece, the Dino De Laurentis/John Guillermin or Peter Jackson remakes or even the truly bizarro Japanese outings against Godzilla or Mechani-Kong (look it up, you’ll thank me).

I’m delighted to say this latest trailer has me very excited, mixing Apocalypse Now-style imagery with a fantastic, foreboding tone. And if Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. have their way (and if this film proves a big enough box office hit) we’ll see the mighty ape doing battle with the Gareth Edwards version of Godzilla in just a year or two!

Kong: Skull Island stomps into your local cinema  chased by Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, Toby Kebbell, Tom Wilkinson, Terry Notary, John Goodman and John C. Reilly, in March 2017.

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Trailer source: JoBlo on YouTube

“I’m putting together a team…” – the Justice League trailer arrives.

For anyone (like me) who thought that Batman vs Superman was pretty much a disaster of tone and character, the rumours appear to be true that Warner Bros took notice of the massive critical lambasting and have taken great pains to right their sinking DC ship into smoother waters.

Hot on the heels of the rather exciting Wonder Woman trailer , the San Diego Comic-Con has now seen the arrival of the first footage from DC’s all star team up, Justice League.

The film is directed by Zack Snyder (presumably now on a much tighter leash from the studio), with a screenplay by Chris Terrio, and features an ensemble cast that includes Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons,J. K. Simmons, Amber Heard, and Willem Dafoe. In Justice League, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg assemble a team to face the catastrophic threat of Steppenwolf and his army of Parademons.

This first footage appears far lighter in tone than the utterly grimdark, miserabilist tone poem that was Batman vs Superman, so it’s fingers crossed that Warner Bros really have learned their lesson!

Justice League arrives in theatres on November 17, 2017.

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She’s a wonder – the Wonder Woman trailer is here!


Created by the American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston and originally drawn by H. G. Peter, Wonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941 and first cover-dated on Sensation Comics #1, January 1942.

Over the decades the character’s role as an international diplomatic heroine fighting for justice, love, peace, and gender equality has led to Wonder Woman being widely hailed as a feminist icon.

On screen however she has fared less well, with the most memorable portrayal to date coming in the form of the high camp antics of Lynda Carter in the 1970s TV series.

So hopes are riding high (not least of which in this writer, as a self-professed Wonder Woman geek) that the latest incarnation from Warner Bros. will do the character justice.

The movie, due to hit our screens on on November 17, 2017, directed by the always interesting Patty (‘Monster’) Jenkins, and starring Gal Gadot as the demigoddess, and warrior princess of the Amazons of Themyscira, alongside Chris Pine, Lucy Davis, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Danny Huston, Ewen Bremner, Saïd Taghmaoui, Elena Anaya and David Thewlis. That’s a heck of a cast and a lot of great talent surrounding the first big screen outing for one of DC Comics’ most preeminent characters.

This first trailer (just released for the San Diego Comic Con 2016) bodes well and looks like a lot of fun, so here’s hoping the film successfully gives us the true feminist hero we deserve.

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The Legend of Tarzan – Me Tarzan, You Entertained

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The Legend of Tarzan is the latest screen version of the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912. With a cast headed up by Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz, and directed by David Yates (who will forever be in my good books for helming the classic BBC serial, State of Play, and more famously headed up the final four Harry Potter films), this take on Tarzan has a lot of production wattage.

It also feels like a genuine attempt to transfer Burroughs’ Tarzan to the screen, complete with (thankfully) a cultured, sophisticated lead character (as opposed to the more frequently featured noble savage) and much of the background material from the books, while updating things slightly for a modern sensibility (including some far too contemporary sounding dialogue, unfortunately).

The story sees Tarzan, Lord John Clayton III, having left Africa behind almost a decade previously, now living in Victorian England with his wife, Jane. The two become involved in a plot set in motion by Leon Rom, a treacherous envoy for King Leopold of Belgium, to lure the jungle lord back to the Congo. Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds which will pay for an army to take over the continent.

Skarsgård makes a fine John Clayton/Tarzan, gifting him with a quiet intelligence and a restrained fierceness, Robbie continues to impress, giving us a feisty, admirable Jane Porter Clayton, while Samuel L. Jackson tones down many of his usual Samuel L. Jackson-isms for a character that always stays just the right side of comic relief. Christoph Waltz, as Rom, is far too talented to be anything other than entertaining, but his character lacks some truly defining dialogue and moments to make him rise above the actor’s increasingly familiar toolbox of tricks.

Yates strives for a Tarzan film that falls between the mythic grandeur of 1984’s Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (phew) and the gung ho nature of the 1930s-40s MGM Johnny Weissmuller films, and mostly succeeds. Unfortunately, the script, while perfectly serviceable, feels two or three polish drafts away from anything truly memorable – dialogue works but never sparkles or shines.

The film is also highly inconsistent in some of its production values. Many edits are inelegant, with some clumsy transitions. Sometimes the CGI work is wonderful – such as a small but sweet moment where Tarzan bonds with some lions, and sometimes it’s almost wilfully bad – the wildebeests seen in the trailer or a shot near the climax of a rowboat approaching the camera, which has it practically floating through nothing.

Despite these caveats, The Legend of Tarzan moves at an admirably classical pace, it treads around issues of colonialism with broad but well defined strokes (even if, in real life the Belgians ruled the Congo for another 70 years), is well cast and handsomely mounted, and it mostly looks wonderful, with sweeping vistas of plains and deep, emerald forests. It deserves plaudits for not insulting the audience with yet another origin story (though Tarzan’s backstory is present in the form of flashbacks), and there’s good chemistry between the two leads. It gave me a genuine chill of delight to hear an updated version of the classic Weissmuller Tarzan yell (though it would have been nice to actually see him do it, rather than just hear it – a result of post-production tweaks, perhaps) and definitely left me wanting to spend more time with these versions of the characters for further adventures.

While somewhat frustrating, this is still an entertaining and enjoyable Tarzan film for a modern blockbuster audience, proving the one hundred and twelve year old character is still the one, true king of the swingers. Next time he just needs to swing a little higher.

What The Devils is Wrong with Warner Bros.?

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It’s easy to understand why Warner Bros would allow Ken Russell to film a lavish adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s book, The Devils of Loudon. It’s less easy to understand why the studio that produced the film seems so reluctant for audiences to see it today.

Russell rode the incredible wave of British film directors that still impresses today, along with the likes of Nicolas Roeg, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson. So, coming fresh off the success of Russell’s adaptation of D H Lawrence’s Women in Love for United Artists in 1969, with critical praise, good box office and an Academy Award (for Best Actress, Glenda Jackson), Warner Bros were keen to climb on-board the Russell train. When Russell pitched the idea to make his screenplay – originally written for U.A. before they pulled out of the project, based partly on Huxley’s book from 1952 and partly on the 1960 play The Devils by John Whiting – the studio agreed to give the project the greenlight.

The book, play and Russell’s film, all dramatise real life events that took place in Loudon, France, in the 17th century. Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII were attempting to stem the power of Protestant towns such as Loudon, and found themselves in conflict with the town’s very earthly priest, Father Grandier, and decided to turn to their advantage a series of supernatural possessions which seemingly afflicted the town’s Ursuline convent, presided over by the sexually obsessed Sister Jeanne des Anges.

Russell delivered a bold, profound and outrageous movie, with astonishing set design from Derek Jarman, a dissonant score from Peter Maxwell Davies and blistering performances from stars Oliver Reed, as Grandier, and Vanessa Redgrave, as Sister Jeanne.

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The studio’s love affair with film and director ended harshly. Both the British Board of Film Censors and Warner Bros. itself demanded heavy cuts for its sexual, violent and religious content before granting an ‘X’ certificate in the UK and further drastic cuts were inflicted by the studio for the film’s release in the USA. The publicity for its American release clearly showed the studio’s discomfort over the film, defensively exclaiming, “The Devils is not a film for everyone” on posters and in trailers. This severely truncated edit would be the only version deemed acceptable by the studio for the following decades, at least in the countries where it wasn’t already banned. In fact, the film has not received an official release on home video in the U.S.A. since a VHS issue in 1995.

In 2002, journalist/broadcaster Mark Kermode (who cites as influence an important article by Tim Lucas detailing the various cuts imposed on then extant home video versions of The Devils, from the September 1996 issue of  Video Watchdog magazine) uncovered footage cut from the film that had long been considered lost, including the infamous Rape of Christ sequence (in which the hysterical nuns sexually assault a statue of Christ), and in 2004 a restoration of the film reinstated much of this footage. Over the next few years, this fullest, uncensored version ever assembled since Russell’s original cut in 1971 was shown to great acclaim on many occasions at public screenings around the world, with the hope that Warner Bros would respond to the call for an official release.

After much negotiation with Warner Bros., the British Film Institute was allowed to release a disc of The Devils in 2012. Despite having access to the 2004 restoration however, Warner Bros refused to hand over any original film materials for a new high definition transfer and instead presented the BFI with a digi-beta tape of the original British X certificate version, meaning they could only release the 1971 cut and only on DVD.

Hell on Earth: The Desecration and Resurrection of The Devils, the Paul Joyce documentary presented by Mark Kermode that had screened on the UK’s Channel 4 in 2002 complete with the Rape of Christ sequence, was included on the disc’s supplementary features. Warner Bros refused permission for the sequence to be used at all on the disc and so even the documentary had to be cut. The uncut version of the documentary remains viewable on YouTube as of this writing, and despite being hobbled by Warner Bros, the features-packed disc remains an essential purchase. These bizarre restrictions certainly raise the questions of why Warner Bros would not furnish the BFI with appropriate materials, and why the studio still considers the Rape of Christ sequence off limits.

In May of 2013 I screened the X certificate cut of The Devils to a full house at my own Dave’s Movie & Music Nights in Volda, Norway and I’m proud to say that in over four years of screenings I have never seen an audience quite so affected by a film. Afterwards people stayed in their chairs, wanting to process what they had just seen, eager to discuss it. Certainly, they were shocked by the film, but they were also astonished, moved and stimulated by it. And this rather, is the point here: The Devils is not a film you can watch passively, love it or hate it this is a film which invites (…actually, demands) a reaction from the audience. Once viewed, it will not easily be forgotten. Can we ask more from a film?

Not long after the screening, while discussing the film with Russell’s last wife, Lisi Tribble (who had written a beautiful and personal introduction for me to read to attendees) the idea was hatched between us to start a campaign to help secure a release of the restored, uncensored director’s cut.

With Mrs Russell’s blessing and active participation, we have managed to get a number of high profile organisations, culture sites, directors, producers and writers to support the campaign on social media, tweeting and retweeting the hashtag #FreeTheDevils and generally voicing their wish for the film to be released. The campaign page on Facebook, Free Ken Russell’s The Devils, now has almost four and a half thousand followers.

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In October 2015, a high profile screening of a beautiful 35mm print of The Devils took place at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, as part of Beyond Fest, to a sold out and hugely appreciative audience who were treated to an introduction and Q & A session by director and campaign supporter, Bernard Rose (Candyman, Immortal Beloved, etc.).

Rose is hardly alone in his love for The Devils; Guillermo Del Toro has spoken publicly and forcefully on many occasions on his lack of comprehension at Warner’s stonewalling. At a 2014 masterclass given by Del Toro in Toronto, the director said of the film’s lack of availability, “It’s not an accident. It’s not because of lack of demand. It’s a true act of censorship. It’s extremely blatant,”

While the film is challenging and divisive, it also inspires great passion in those who see the sincerity and anger of the film’s themes, and the humour and boundless creativity at work.

With a film that clearly inspires such depth of feeling and such a vocal following, why then does Warner Bros make such harsh demands on the few home video releases it receives? Why do they not recognise the commercial possibilities in a respectful release? If it is true they hold their film in such disregard, why not license it out to a boutique label such as Criterion or Arrow to release?

Of course there are many films still awaiting release on home video in any form, but The Devils is not some half-forgotten B film with a handful of cult movie fans clamouring for its release, it is instead a prestige production from one of cinema’s most controversial and acclaimed directors. It seems bewildering that Russell’s film has received such spotty releases around the world, and remains virtually invisible in the USA.

Rumours persist that one or a number of Warner Bros executives were deeply offended by the film and its message in 1971, and that this remains at the core of the film’s relative lack of visibility over the years. If there is any truth to these rumours, that offense must have been powerful indeed, as few of the same executives still work at the studio. Of course, American culture still faces a great deal of resistance from its deeply fundamentalist states, so it is almost certain that Warner Bros is fearful of religious and moral opposition if they were seen to support Russell’s film, but this fact alone cannot account for their attitude.

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The strange truth is that Warner Bros has yet to make any kind of definitive public response or statement on the years of calls for the film to be released on home cinema in a manner accorded to its status. This silence naturally raises many questions on the reasoning behind Russell’s film receiving such poor treatment. For a studio to neglect a forgotten gem is hard enough to understand in this age of multiple digital platforms, but to wilfully ignore a bona fide classic that has such strong support is unforgivable.

When so many movies that hit the multiplexes today are bland, morally vacuous or assembled by corporate committees to sell lunchboxes and toys, Russell’s film should be lauded, now more than ever, as the extraordinary and extraordinarily powerful, fiercely intelligent and boundary breaking piece of work it is. The studio that made The Devils should not be ashamed of their production, but instead should celebrate it with the release of a prestige presentation in an optimum format.

It is time for Warner Bros to do right by their long neglected masterpiece, to show due respect to this wildest, most savage, outrageous and courageous work by one of cinema’s true and much missed original voices.

Written by Dave King

* This article originally appeared (in a slightly modified version) in Z filmtidsskrift magazine #1 (2016), translated into Norwegian by Ingrid Rommetveit, and the issue editor was Helene Aalborg