So the final entry in the superhero arms race for the summer (but not the year, we still have Dr. Strange) is finally out. Most critics seemed to hate it, no surprise, many hardcore DC fans seem to hate it, no surprise but many people also seem to like it so the reaction is definitely mixed. It is making money though which is all that really affects anything at the end of the day.
Some of the negative reactions have also been hilariously extreme. A few are already proclaiming Jared Leto as the worst Joker ever. This is all amusing... but little else.
Before we proceed, let me make one thing clear: I liked Suicide Squad.
Now to all the haters out there, one question: “What did you expect?”
That's my general question to any movie anyone dislikes, “In your mind, what movie were you expecting to see?”
I could tell from the comic-con trailer what the movie was going to be: a nineties action movie featuring a handful of C and D-list comic book characters. Surprise surprise that's what the movie turned out to be.
My favorite complaint might be that the film lacked “story” or lacked “plot.” Yes it does, just like ninety-nine percent of the other films released every year. Maybe I should add that my expectations for movies these last few years have lowered considerably, if I want to watch an interesting, well-crafted film, I usually have to go back to the fifties and sixties. Modern movies seem to be plagued by a host of flaws but that's a subject for another day.
Does the movie have problems? Yes and as more information has surfaced, the reason has become more and more apparent, as Suicide Squad seems to been edited to near death with second guesses and reversed decisions. It is disheartening but this is the film we have going forward, like it or not, so what is it we have to work with?
Well... Alfre Woodard was excellent as Amanda Waller.
Margot Robbie KILLED IT as Harley Quinn. Despite the terrible costuming and the reduxed origin, she was the same Harley Quinn we all remember from the animated series (albeit an R-rated version).
Will Smith played Will Smith pretending to be a cold callous hitman. Pretty much what you would expect. The best Deadshot remains the version seen on Arrow but Will Smith at least proves he can still win an audience over.
But in this case, I think the rest of the cast managed to put themselves over with the audience. I expect fans have been made for these nobody's and as usual DC won't know how to capitalize on it.
Diablo is the perfect example of how a good actor and a good director can take a nothing DC character and turn them into a fan favorite. What movies and animated series often seem to do is tap into the potential of characters their source medium often ignore.
Katana was also excellent.
Killer Croc turned out better than anyone could have expected.
Joel Kinnaman. . . well, he won me over but they could have definitely made Flagg a much cooler character.
Enchantress, some cool moments, an intriguing concept but ultimately a weak villain with a weak villain scheme. All true but I still haven't forgiven Marvel for Malekith in Thor: The Dark World so I don't see the big difference.
Slipknot, I don't care about the character but Adam Beach deserves so much better than this.
We finally have an answer to the question: How do we get a good performance out of Jai Courtney? Let him use his accent! What an idea! There was a definite lack in boomerang action which considering that's the character's shtick, is disappointing. Oddly though, he may have been the funniest character in this film.
Scott Eastwood was good.
Now... was Jared Leto a failure as the Joker?
Let's preface this a little, Joker is a character with a seventy-year history and a lot of different variations depending on the tone and objective of each story. From the moment the first pictures were leaked out, I knew this was not going to be my ideal version of Joker or even an ideal Joker, PERIOD. So my expectations lowered, all I really demanded was a version that didn't contradict the core values of the character, which in this case spans all the way from Cesar Romero's trickster to Scott Snyder's vicious maniac. That's a very broad canvass.
So where does this version fit?
Well it is a little soon to judge, because unlike all of the other cinematic versions, Joker is NOT the central villain of the story and never shares the screen with Batman so this version is already operating at a disadvantage. Even so, calling this the least of all the movie interpretations of the Joker is still a pretty high mark to reach and with a another movie or two, Jared Leto may yet surprise all of us.
Even so, if people don't have issues with the performance, they do have issues with how the Joker is utilized by the script, namely his obsessive, single-minded pursuit of Harley Quinn, which to put it mildly, is quite different from what we're used to seeing.
Frankly this doesn't bother me at all. For a first movie, an introduction to these two before we see them in a Batman film, why not?
If it were any other villain would it bother anyone? If they were to give Loki a girlfriend he seemed obsessed with would anyone care? No, the audience wouldn't and you all know that, because Loki is a sympathetic villain (at least in the MCU), while Joker is a monster.
I do agree that as a villain, even an embodiment of evil, Joker should not be humanized by a relationship or anything that contradicts the fact that Joker is a selfish, soulless monster. That's why Harley Quinn's existence has always been problematic for Joker. To maintain his persona, they've tried to emphasize that Joker is always about manipulating and abusing Harley never loving her. The problem is, comics are a neverending story, characters can never really change, resolutions can never be reached and consequences are none existent. Harley Quinn is also a popular character, so the implications of her co-dependent personality cannot be expressed, everyone assumes she's never beyond redemption no matter how many mass homicides she's an accessory to or how much she sacrifices for the clown she's chosen.
There's another factor I have yet to see anyone articulate, which is the consequences of Harley Quinn's New 52 origin. DC was, as usual, so eager to change things they never asked themselves what the far reaching implications of those change would be, Harley Quinn being the perfect case in point. While her origin remained essentially the same, there was one critical addition, featured in this movie: Harley's bath in the same chemical mix as Joker. This is not insignificant.
Joker, from his origin to his quirks, has always been unique within the DC universe, a one-of-a-kind happenstance in even this bizarre reality. One could argue that what truly drives Joker is not simply psychopathology but a very real alienation: there is no one else on earth like him. Recreating the exact circumstances of his creation, making it apparent that anyone can be made into the Joker breaks that mold. Think about it, if Joker is some kind twisted psychopathic Adam and he created his own twisted version of Eve, why wouldn't he be loyal to the only other one of his own kind?
This also means that all of DC's attempts to spinoff Harley into a character completely independent of Joker is not only counter-intuitive but simply doomed to fail.
Even disputing this point, there is another one to consider, centered on the film itself. This is only the third film in the DC cinematic universe, the first one to feature the Joker and the first film to introduce Harley Quinn to the mainstream audience. You want to introduce the Joker/Harley dynamic and break them up all in the same film? A non-Batman film at that?
That's bad long-term strategy.
Whatever mistakes DC continues to make, I think keeping Joker and Harley together for now was not one of them.
As for the complaint that Joker should have been the main villain... didn't you want the Suicide Squad to survive?
So what flaws does the film Suicide Squad have?
Well it's obviously patched together in a way that doesn't allow for the smoothest pacing.
It overdoes it a little with it's barrage of songs.
The action suffers from being only good, without any real sequences that exceed that.
I would hate to be a city in the DC universe, every film destroys a new one. In that respect, suddenly a real estate scheming Lex Luthor makes sense.
The stakes of the story are repetitive of other superhero films, too grand and too vague to really impact the audience.
Is it a bad film? In terms of filmcraft, yes. Yet it's still entertaining, could have been much worse and I'm actually a little bit excited to see a sequel, if they can work the bugs out this time.
Thank You for Reading. Please Comment, Please Favorite, Please Share.
Distraction and discouragement are the anti-work ethic. Sadly they are my only true actions of consistency, which is why I have allowed the entire summer to pass with hardly a word.
Not all is dark however, as I have managed to actually write and publish on the Amazon Kindle a short, simple story that no one wants to read let alone hate.
Such accomplishments befuddle the mind.
So to make up for my failures in fiction writing and Journal writing, I've been gathering my thoughts to write a little about Suicide Squad and the final results of the summer season, unfortunately that shall have to be for the next entry, because after last weekend my mind can't seem to focus, food has lost it's taste, walking down the street I'm startled by the wind and remain wary, my mind is full of Stranger Things than normal. . . .
Okay that's not true my mind has always been strange but I haven't felt this amped in almost two years. As I'm sure you have all figured out by now, I'm all abuzz like everyone else over the latest binge watch phenomenon: Stranger Things.
If you haven't seen the series because you don't have NetFlix, you have my sympathy, if you simply haven't gotten around to it yet just save us all a lot of time and watch it right now, leave this page and come back after you have viewed the entire series, go on I'll wait.
Still here? Need more? Fine, all you need to know about this series is that it is dripping with the spirit of the Eighties, not just in spectacular attention to detail with the sets, props and costuming but also in the very Tropes given new life and strength in this story. If you're a film buff, you will recognize beats and callbacks to many of the best loved films from this decade: E.T., The Thing, The Goonies, Poltergeist, Alien and pretty much everything else. Yet, though none of it could be called original (a useless term anyway) the writing is so good, all of it feels fresh and if not “new” than Renewed.
All you really need to know is a boy riding his bike home on a dark road past a government installation goes missing. What happened to him? His mother, desperate to find him seems to be slipping ever closer to insanity. The Sheriff, burned out and anxious to forget the world, begins discovering darker things in the shadows than he ever imagined. Does the mysterious girl who stumbles into the lives of the boy's three friends have something to do with this or is it the shadowy figure stalking their horny teenage siblings?
Honestly I've already given away too much now, if any of this appeals to you GO WATCH THIS SHOW.
Now that we've got that out of the way
This show is such an amazingly welcome breath of fresh air to our current environment it's staggering. Which seems strange considering how steeped the series is in nostalgia but that's part of the genius of having the story set in the early eighties. Despite the attitude of cynicism, the eighties were very much an optimistic time when the qualities of friendship and courage had regained some of their previous value. All of this of course existed under the shadow of the Cold War, economic recession and spiraling random violence. Despite all of this darkness, people persevered and the decade ended with far more stability, prosperity and hope than anyone could have thought possible.
In today's anxious times such hope is difficult to rekindle. Perhaps nostalgic reminders are a necessary jumpstart.
People forget that the Eighties themselves were very nostalgic, though mostly confining their nostalgia to television with revivals of favorite television series like Perry Mason, The Man from Uncle, The Twilight Zone, Gunsmoke etc. As well as the various remakes of old classics including The Thing, Invaders from Mars, The Blob etc.
Even one the most Iconic film series of the decade was a nostalgic return to the roots of old time adventure films: Indiana Jones.
None of this would matter of course if the actors, the cinematographers, the editors, the grips, the electrical engineers and everyone else weren't good and they're not, they are superb.
A shout out has to be given to showrunners The Duffer Brothers and the various directors for their direction of the child actors. Child actors are of course notoriously held as the worst part of many films but unless you're a fanatic hater of all child actors, that criticism can't be leveled here. They manage to avoid the most common mistake and let the kids act and talk like kids or at least the way we remember kids from films like The Monster Squad etc. Even better, the kids are allowed to be human, to even be unlikable at times, rendering them as three-dimensional characters rather than just simple archetypes. This also extends to the actress of the mysterious girl, who has to do a lot of heavy lifting with some very intense, even heartbreaking scenes. If this had been shortened down to a film, they could easily have carried the entire storyline themselves but unfortunately there still have to be adults dragging the pace down....
While David Harbour (who seems to be in everything these days) as Sheriff Hopper is excellent and Matthew Modine is creepy, the real stunner is Winona Ryder. After a few years where it seemed like she'd vanished, she latched onto our hearts as Spock's mom in the rebooted Star Trek, since then reappearing in films here and there but nothing particularly indelible. . . until now. She absolutely kills it as Joyce Byers, the frantic mother who has to find her boy. Who would've thought that Lydia Deetz would turn out to be the ultimate movie mom?
As for the “Teens” well there is really only one thing to say:
If I had to identify serious flaws in this story, no I couldn't do it, the most I can do is nitpick a couple of little things.
1: Matthew Modine's Dr. Brenner could have used some more dialogue. He didn't need any monologues or anything but just a little bit more to make him a real character as opposed to this vague shadow.
2: Slight Spoiler Warning but I wish the ending could've been a little more integrated together. I wish our three sets of heroes were united into one ending rather than the separate ones we get. I don't know how you would do it but if you could, it would arguably be more elegant.
3: Again a little Spoiler-ish but as much as I loved the kids, at the end they were totally useless to the deadly situation. What was the point of the quest, if the whole party couldn't measure up and slay the Demagorgon together?
Those minor quibbles are really non-factors of course because Stranger Things is the most enjoyable show I've seen since Gurren Lagann and far less likely to send you into a hallucinatory seizure. It will be perfect fodder for Halloween as well as fit right into an Eighties movie marathon, which will have to do until Season Two arrives.
I can't wait!
(Hold on... was that hope in those words? Naw....)
Thank You for Reading, Please Favorite, Watch and Share with members of your Party....
In the current year of the superhero boom, there are five horses in the race:
Deadpool. The oddball.
Batman V Superman. The new favorite.
Captain America: Civil War. The established favorite.
X-Men: Apocalypse. The dark horse.
Suicide Squad. The longshot.
Well, that's how it looked anyway. Now Deadpool is in the lead and as for Batman V Superman? It looks like it should just concede the race to Civil War, because good or bad it's a mess. The pacing is all over the place, everyone else thinks it was slow and boring, I thought it was too fast paced and convoluted. Entire scenes exist in this film for no reason other than as an excuse for Zach Snyder to put dark, CGI visuals on the screen, some of which could have used a touch more rendering. Character motivations range from flimsy to non-existant, questions and themes are raised but never explored. The movie's not all bad of course and when it is good, it's just about perfect.
What's Good (Spoilers):
Five: Granny's Peach Tea or that awkward moment when you realize you've been played. Zach Snyder is not known for subtlety but this was the rare moment when he managed to use it almost perfectly.
Four: With one obvious exception, the casting for this film was excellent. Henry Cavill is a solid Superman waiting for a better movie, along with Amy Adams who had nothing to do in this movie. Jeremy Irons put all of his training as a British actor into being an excellent Alfred. Surprise surprise, it turned out Ben Affleck actually was Batman this entire time. Laurence Fishburne had some of the best lines in the movie but the best line of the movie was owned by Diane Lane who was wonderful. Michael Shannon as Zod was great and it was nice to see Nuclear Man return after all these years to play the role he was born for: Doomsday!
As for the elephant in the room: even Jesse Eisenberg was great... I just don't know who the hell he was playing because it wasn't Lex Luthor. (and don't feed me the 'Son of Lex Luthor' garbage, Eisenberg was on a completely different planet from the rest of the cast and you know it)
Three: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Was Wonder Woman absolutely necessary to this film? No, but that wasn't the point. The point was to see if the character could actually work on camera. That was the question Hollywood has been asking for almost forty years. What is the result? Well, the haters are still going to hate and it doesn't matter. Ladies and gentlemen... we finally have ourselves a Wonder Woman!
Two: Batman to the Rescue. The biggest weakness with every version of Batman up to now has been the fight scenes. Neither Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher showed any particular creativity with any of Batman's fights in their films. Christopher Nolan was a definite improvement but he also hampered himself with his insistence on “realism.” This scene was not only a perfect, unfiltered translation of Frank Miller's brutal merciless Batman to the screen, but from a fight perspective it felt like we were looking at the real Batman for the first time. A man who fights small armies with nothing more than his bare hands and a few gadgets.
One: The simple problem with this film is that for every good thing within it, there is something else equally terrible in it. The film never quite sinks so low that it's Bad but it's best parts also don't quite raise it to Good either, it inhabits this weird stasis between the two. However, there is one moment of absolute genius in this film, especially if your a DC fan. Whether it's the comics, the movies or the animated series, what marks any of them as a milestone within this mythology is when they bring out something new, a fresh definitive angle on the old material or just as often draw out something old that no one ever saw before. It also sums up the movie quite nicely that it involved the title fight but was not the fight itself, which incidentally was so predictable it verged on boring. If I ever realized Batman and Superman's mothers shared the same name... I completely forgot about it, because the revelation shocked me. And yes, it was believable that hearing that name would make Batman hesitate, anyone who's read the comics or seen the movies should know that. If Batman has one nerve you can hit every time and expect a reaction, it is his parents. The true power of the scene though, in context, is that it organically reveals a connection between these two characters and forces them to admit their humanity.
Which is the only thing that would stop Batman from killing Superman.
I hate to credit Zach Snyder for anything but in this case I have too: pure genius.
(Wouldn't surprise me a bit though if it was Christopher Nolan's idea!)
To conclude, as a comic book film, it's entertaining and if that's all you want you will be satisfied but it feels like the movie was aiming just a little bit higher and fell awfully, awfully short.
Thank You for Reading.
Well 2016 is off to a bad start.
So far in the space of a week, we've lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Dan 'Grizzly Adams' Haggerty (all to cancer no less), Celine Dion's husband and it looks like we are about to lose Glen Campbell.
Plus all of the other bad news, innocent lives lost and we're only just a month into the new year!
Superman needs to reverse time again, we need a do-over because this is more ridiculous than Lex Luthor's real estate schemes.
Now that's the ugly real world news, the unimportant ugly news is that I just viewed my first Quentin Tarantino movie, The Hateful Eight and I must say I do think the film achieved it's goal, because right now I am feeling very, very hateful.
Allow me to be candid, I've always avoided Tarantino's films, because frankly they never appealed to me, they were never the “type” of movie I enjoy watching. I have gotten a taste of his style in films like From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City, which was fair enough warning but I was willing to give this one a chance, maybe prove my assumptions wrong, mainly because it's was supposed to be in my favorite genre: the Western, which is hard to come by these days. It also has a great cast, none of whom turn in a bad performance, with Kurt Russell being the main selling point as far as I was concerned. Seeing a new movie filmed in old school 70mm was also too tempting to ignore.
Sadly, none of that made for a satisfying experience... though to be fair, I had to wait in line forty minutes and missed the first twenty or thirty minutes of the movie but none of that had anything to do with what actually annoyed me in the rest of the film I saw.
If you don't want spoilers you're reading the wrong post because I'm not here to sell you on seeing this movie, so I don't care about ruining it.
They killed Kurt Russell.
I admit the flick had already lost me by then but with Russell's stage exit the story lost all redeeming value to me. Now, I've seen Kurt Russell die before so it might still have been acceptable except the manner of his demise seemed unnecessarily cruel for the only character in the story with any redemptive qualities to him. I will readily admit this amounts to no more than a personal peeve rather than a serious flaw, even I must agree that the script is well written.
Because it's very much an ensemble piece, it's difficult for the audience to isolate who the protagonist is but I'm betting most of us gravitated toward Russell's bounty hunter John Ruth for no other reason than he is literally chained to the macguffin of the plot: Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the $10,000 dollar price on her head.
So with his death, the entire status quo is shifted and the tension should ratchet up to horror film levels because now we don't know if there is a “hero” to this. Of course anyone expecting a hero in a Tarantino film is bound to be disappointed anyway....
Which is the problem, how can the tension go up if we don't care what happens to any of these people and why should we care when you have worked so hard to make them so despicable. Again I'll admit, some people may care anyway, despite all of the gross inhumanity seen on screen but I bet most of us won't.
I will admit that Walton Goggins surprised me. He's been wonderful in everything he's been in (from Justified to Predators) but I expected his part to be rather small but no, he showed he can hold the screen with heavyweights like Bruce Dern and Samuel L. Jackson. Sadly I still don't think he will ever quite attain star status in the Hollywood system but he remains the man who always manages to steal the movie (Alan Rickman was like that too).
Another thing the film gets right is it's sense of the post-civil war era. The props, the costumes, the dialogue feels rather close to that time, though obviously in Tarantino's juiced-up style not 100% accurate. And unlike other modern westerns, like the Coen Brothers overrated True Grit, it doesn't simplify everyone into black and white racists. When a key piece of dialogue hinges on how a black woman with a white husband can show prejudice toward “Mexicans”, you're at least hinting at how Very Complex race relations were in 19th century America.
The film is also beautifully shot, although with the majority of the film being set indoors, the 70mm seems an oddly wasted gimmick, in fact, it makes many of the scenes feel like a large open set and robs them of any feeling of claustrophobia. Again, perhaps a minor quibble.
“Wait a minute, I thought you hated this movie?”
Well, you have to understand, I don't like bashing films, even bad films and I definitely feel no desire to watch a movie for the sheer purpose of hating it (that's why I'm not a critic). I'm also very cautious about attacking movies, because many of my favorite films have suffered such treatment from both the critics an the audience. Frankly, I can see the craftsmenship, the hard work, even the talent behind movies like this.
This is the mistake critics make every single time: because the film (or book) offended their sensibilities, they assumed it possessed no craftsmenship at all, that it was badly made, except it's almost always the opposite, the filmmakers (or writers) used every proven method in the craft, they just used it to offend your sensibilities.
So attacking the maker's skill and talent is pointless, instead what should be asked is the simple question, “Why is this here?” or to rephrase it slightly, “What is the intention behind this?” Once you start scoring direct hits with this artillery, then things start falling into place and like any mystery you put the clues together to form the answer.
Almost every story, good or bad, presents a philosophical statement about the world, according to the storyteller's point of view. Pretty much every story does this by presenting a question at the beginning of the story and an answer at the end of the story.
(All of Brad Bird's movies are a perfect example of this, Ratatouille begins with this simple question: Is it true that 'anyone can cook'? The rest of the story then attempts to answer that question and by answering the question it projects meaning, a philosophical meaning that varies for each person but the story answer remains unchanged)
Since I missed the beginning of the story, I'm not quite sure what question the movie was trying to answer, my theory is that it was trying to ask a question about justice but specifically what question is it?
What is Justice? (probably too vague)
Is there a difference between “Legal” justice and “Frontier” justice? (this is the obvious one, maybe too obvious)
Can cruelty be justice? (That one give Tarantino too much credit)
When people are this evil does it matter what kind of justice they ultimately receive?
I'm probably wrong, but I'll go with the last one.
Is one of those the question or did Quentin Tarantino just want to rape the audience?
I think he wanted to rape the audience. Worse He wanted us to pay him for the privilege of being raped by Samuel L. Jackson. Don't try and argue that it's just entertainment or it was just a lie told by Jackson or that was not Tarantino's intention, nope that won't work with me. We go to movies for the experience, to see things we will never see (the ancient past or fantastical worlds), do things we will never do (car chases, gunfights etc), to live them as close as we can. And Tarantino put it on the screen for everyone to experience. This is why rape is always problematic for movies, if done explicitly you're essentially asking the audience to live through a rape experience or worse be the rapist. Either way, you are still violating the audience.
Still it's hardly the first rape I've ever seen in a movie and I doubt it's the first man rape ever put on screen, so what is the big deal?
Why is it here and what is the intention behind this?
The problem is that the rape isn't committed by one of the villains. As stated before there are no “heroes” in this story, there is just bad guys and other bad guys who end up dead. The most heinous and evil act portrayed in this film was committed by one of the two characters you are supposed to be “rooting” for by the end of the story.
To snobs, elitists and intellectuals that's fine entertainment, to me it's just disgusting.
Proof of how disgusting the intentions of the scene are, is in how pointless it is. It adds nothing to the overall plot other than offering a dramatic close to the act. Remove it and nothing is really lost to the rest of the story.
Since the truth of Jackson's story is left ambiguous, the only insight it can offer us into his character is how warped he is. Even if it's nothing more than a lie (which I think it is) that still leaves us with Jackson murdering an old man. This scene has been played out in dozens of Westerns, where a character is goaded and pushed into a fight he's going to lose but it's always done by the villain (Jack Wilson in Shane). The hero only does it as a karmic way of turning the tables on the villain (again, see Shane). The Western is not being reinvented here, it's being twisted to fit Tarantino's lurid sensibilities.
Even if his story is true, think about the implications: Jackson tortured, raped, then murdered a man not out of anything he had even done but what his father had done. He may have been scum but he wasn't even being punished for his own crimes! Doesn't that alone invalidate whatever “justice” is served at the end of the story?
And if one argues this one stand-alone scene is meant to represent the point of the main story in miniature, then all it reveals is the very ugly low impulse this film is about feeding: to watch other humans commit shocking acts of inhumanity, which is the definition of Exploitation Cinema, Tarantino's closest love. People contend that Tarantino is a movie fan who makes movies for movie fans. I'm sure he thinks that is what he's doing but I don't see it that way. What I see is a talented artist lifting up the lowest form of cinema (just slightly above pornography) and dressing it up in the disguise of one of the most respected of genres (the western or the war film etc.) all to the accolades of a lot of people who should know better.
So Tarantino joins the list of artists (Cormac McCarthy, Alan Moore) I will concede have a high degree of craftsmanship, but who's work I find hollow and repugnant.
Wow, that felt good getting that off my chest, now I can sit back and enjoy watching this flick die slowly in agony at the box office.
To everyone who read up to this point I honestly say Thank You.
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