Suicide Squad


Wanna come out and play?

Wanna come out and play?

(2016) Superhero (Warner Brothers) Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Kenneth Choi, Alain Chanoine, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Common, Jim Parrack, David Harbour, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon. Directed by David Ayer

 

There are those who maintain that a hero is nothing without a memorable villain to oppose him. That’s largely true; what would James Bond be without Blofeld, Holmes without Moriarty or Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader? We usually see things from the hero’s point of view but rarely do we get a glimpse into the world of the super villain.

Following the events of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the American government is extremely nervous. What would happen, posits Amanda Waller (Davis) who works for a shadowy intelligence agency, if Superman had instead of saving the world decided to destroy it? Who would stop him? Waller has an idea, one that is magnificent in its simplicity and alarming at its utter amorality.

She “recruits” (i.e. forces) several super villains locked up in the Belle Reve black ops prison in the swamps of Louisiana to form up a team to take on certain situations which are essentially hopeless. Situations in which the superheroes that are out in public (which are essentially Batman (Affleck) and the Flash (Miller) at this point) shouldn’t be risked as they aren’t exactly expendable. These guys are exactly that. Waller knows that and at the same time, she knows they have nothing to lose by running. She has a solution that recalls The Running Man to a certain extent but absolutely doesn’t say anything particularly nice about the woman.

And who are these guys? For one, there’s Deadshot (Smith), an assassin for hire who never misses with any firearm you give him. Then there’s Harley Quinn (Robbie), the deranged ex-psychiatrist who is now the Joker’s (Leto) girlfriend but who is a formidable opponent of her own. Then there’s Diablo (Hernandez), a gang banger who can shoot flames in any direction but when his powers caused the death of his wife and son, is attempting to reform and has vowed to never use his powers again.

=Add to that list Killer Croc (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a horribly mutated man who is half man, half crocodile and eats people when he gets the chance. Then there’s Enchantress, a demonic spirit that has possessed archaeologist June Moon (Delevingne) and possesses incredible magic powers, Captain Boomerang (Courtney), an Aussie thief whose weapon of choice is a boomerang that he is absolutely deadly accurate with. Finally there’s Slipknot (Beach), whose ability to climb any surface makes him a useful scout.

Overseeing these representatives of the lunatic fringe is Captain Rick Flagg (Kinnaman), a Navy SEAL who just happens to be Professor Moon’s boyfriend – and who is himself tough as nails. Having his back is Katana (Fukuhara), a Japanese martial artist with an enchanted sword that captures the souls of its victims – which include her husband among their number. Katana is able to communicate with the spirits in the blade, including her late hubby.

They are battling a mystical opponent who wants to essentially open a rift in the dimension that will end civilization as we know it. The problem is that the Suicide Squad as they have come to be known as don’t really give a rat’s tush about civilization. If they can stop fighting amongst themselves, though, they might just come through of it alive. The odds are not good for either however.

Let’s be blunt to start out; the DC Extended Universe (what they call their cinematic division) has not had the kind of success that Marvel has and the critics have absolutely excoriated this movie. Now, I will be the first to say that DC’s cinematic path hasn’t caught on for a reason; in trying to duplicate the tone of the very successful Dark Knight trilogy of Christopher Nolan. You’ll notice that the Marvel cinematic universe is anything but.

But is this movie really that bad? I don’t think so…for one thing it’s entertaining as all get out. Ayers is a director who has a very fine eye and a well-developed story-telling sense. He also knows how important it is for there to be fun in the equation, and there’s lots of great by-play between the characters and a lot of humor injected into the script.

He also has a helluva cast. Smith, one of the biggest stars in the world, has rarely been better than he is here. Yes, his Deadshot is one of the more developed characters in the film, but Smith gets to play a villain who has some human qualities as well (he’s absolutely devoted to his daughter, played by Pierre-Dixon for one). He also shows the kind of leadership skills shown by Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers in the Marvel Universe. The DC Universe sorely needs that.

Robbie has almost as much time in the movie as Smith and her Harley Quinn took a different path to the silver screen; Harley Quinn didn’t initially come from the comic books but from the television animated shows. She went from there to the comic books which she became something of an icon, particularly to female comic book fangirls. Robbie fills the role well; while some have groused that the character has been overly sexualized here (including Robbie herself), she turns in an intense performance, particularly since she has to go up against Oscar winner Jared Leto as her boyfriend/abuser the Joker.

Leto has been very vocal in his disappointment about what the role turned out to be, and in all fairness the Joker was never supposed to be a central character here. However, it stands to reason that you can’t really have Harley Quinn with Mr. J; it doesn’t work. His take on the Joker is a lot different than that of Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Heath Ledger or even Cesar Romero. Not better, not worse, just different. I liked Leto’s Joker just fine; he’s supposed to be unpredictable and Leto certainly makes him that. He isn’t nearly as menacing as Ledger’s Joker, nor as twisted as Nicholson’s. However, this Joker is wilder, more untamed than either. It is a good interpretation.

There are a lot of special effects, particularly involving the mystical vortex thingy that the Big Bads are creating. There are an awful lot of trans-dimensional vortices in superhero movies as of late and as those sorts of things go, this one is no worse nor any better than most. It just isn’t all that impressive; neither are most of the practical effects. Also, there are moments when the plot gets a little bit, ahh, thick. I found it a touch confusing at times and perhaps more casual comic book fans might feel the same.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the heck out of the movie. These really aren’t the A-list of DC villains (although the Joker is present) but some of the mid-level guys. Quinn and Deadshot both look like slam-dunks coming back for more cinematic superhero goodness. And all things considered, this didn’t do the DC Extended Universe better; it might well be the best of the three that have appeared so far, at least in my book. However, it still isn’t slam dunk enough to really elevate the franchise into a place where I’m actually excited about it. Maybe Wonder Woman will bring that to the game.

REASONS TO GO: There is excellent interaction between an excellent cast. Smith is at his very best here. Brings some of DC’s lesser villains to light.
REASONS TO STAY: The special effects are unimpressive. The story is occasionally confusing.
FAMILY VALUES: As you’d expect, plenty of violence and superhero action, some sexually suggestive material and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Harley Quinn’s baseball bat was given to Kevin Smith to thank him for hosting the TV special Dawn of the Justice League shortly before this film came out.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/29/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Deadpool
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Gleason

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Mission to Mars


Mission to Mars

A little romantic skydancing never hurts a relationship.

(2000) Science Fiction (Touchstone) Gary Sinese, Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, Connie Nielsen, Jerry O’Connell, Peter Outerbridge Kavan Smith, Jill Teed, Elise Neal, Kim Delaney, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Robert Bailey Jr., Patricia Harras, Lynda Boyd, Jody Thompson, Lucia Walters Pamela Diaz. Directed by Brian De Palma

The human nature is to explore, to find out what lies beyond where we have already been; to ask questions and then find answers. We explore without; the world around us, and someday, the worlds beyond our own. We also explore within; who we are, where we come from and where we are going. Hey, it keeps us busy.

Mission to Mars looks at that aspect of ourselves. Set in 2020, it posits the first manned mission to the Red Planet. Tragedy dogs the mission even before it leaves; its commander, Jim McConnell (Sinese), withdraws following the death of his wife and co-commander of the mission.

At first, the mission seems fairly routine; to discover the feasibility of colonization. However, the new mission commander, Luke Graham (Cheadle) discovers an anomaly, one which quickly turns deadly. When it becomes clear to mission control that something has gone wrong at Mars Base, a rescue mission is mounted, led by Woody Blake (Robbins), his wife Terri (Nielsen) and mission specialist Phil Ohlmyer (O’Connell). Blake insists that McConnell accompany the team, as he is the one who wrote the mission plan for the original expedition, including a possible rescue situation, and knows more about Mars than any other astronaut. It takes some convincing of the still-grieving McConnell but he eventually realizes that he could save lives so he assents.

The rescue mission also meets with unexpected tragedy after a micrometeorite shower holes the ship. The rescue party has to use all their resourcefulness in order to make it to the planet. There, they find the object of their mission … and a puzzle for them to solve. It explains why the first mission had to die … and a whole lot more. Think of this as a junior 2001: A Space Odyssey with better special effects and a director who is more of a storyteller. That, perhaps, is the biggest problem with M2M; rather than leave the mystery pretty much unsolved, letting the audience come to its own conclusions as Stanley Kubrick did with his film, director Brian de Palma makes sure that everything is explained in nice, neat little packages. That takes away from the grandeur of the mystery, and leaves us feeling like Peggy Lee; is that all there is?

Visually, there are some stunning moments, particularly late in the movie during the Martian Head scene, and during a cataclysmic accident. Sinese and Robbins are solid actors who never disappoint; Sinese is particularly excellent, playing an astronaut for the first time since Apollo 13 and comporting himself as a complex man, switching between mourning his wife and achieving the dream they both shared. Cheadle is an actor whose stock in Hollywood was on the rise when this was made; for me it cemented his standing as an actor whose every role was worth seeking out, a place he occupies to this day.

It makes for an odd switch; I’m usually more forgiving of the excesses of sci-fi flicks than Da Queen, but she liked this movie better than I did. That it got a one-hanky recommendation from Da Queen is telling enough; that she found it thought-provoking should be recommendation enough for anyone. For my part, I give it a mild recommendation; certainly, it’s worth seeing for the scope of its vision as well as the performances of its solid cast. I also give the writers props for avoiding cliché characterization and action for its own sake.

Still, I’ve seen 2001, I’ve enjoyed 2001 (although I didn’t love 2001), but this ain’t 2001.

WHY RENT THIS: Some spectacular effects sequences. Solid performances from Sinese, Cheadle and Robbins.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Explains too much – a little more mystery would have gone a long way. Could have used more depth in characterization.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a bit of violence, some bad language and a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: There is a “hidden Mickey,” seen here when the Mars Explorer lines up with Mars, the rotating circular hub of the spacecraft and antenna dish form the iconic image of Mickey Mouse. Of course, Touchstone is a division of Disney, and “hidden Mickeys” are notoriously placed throughout all of the Disney theme parks as easter eggs for their guests.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There is an animatics to finished scene comparison that is fairly interesting. The making of featurette also shows the input of NASA into the finished film making it a little more interesting than most.

BOX OFICE PERFORMANCE: $111.0M on a $100M production budget; the movie’s ambitious budget outpaced it’s decent box office and so it was unprofitable during its theatrical release.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2001: A Space Odyssey (in case I didn’t make it clear in the review)

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Skyfall

17 Again


17 Again

Zac Efron and Leslie Mann have a future as professional ballroom dancers.

(New Line) Matthew Perry, Zac Effron, Leslie Mann, Michele Trachtenberg, Thomas Lennon, Sterling Knight, Hunter Parrish, Melora Hardin, Brian Doyle-Murray, Jim Gaffigan. Directed by Burr Steers

None of us are born perfect. It is part of the human experience that we at some point regret some of our actions – or inactions – from our youth. There isn’t one of us who has survived high school who don’t at some point think that they would do things differently had they to do it over again. Unfortunately, life grants us few do-overs.

Mike O’Donnell (Perry) had it all going for him in 1989. A high school basketball standout with college scholarships coming in, one of the most popular guys in school, especially with Scarlett (Mann) an adoring and gorgeous girlfriend. it all comes crashing down when he is forced to make a decision – one that has ramifications that will affect his entire future.

Twenty years later, life hasn’t gone exactly to plan for Mike. He and Scarlett (whom he married right out of high school) are in the process of an acrimonious divorce. His teenaged kids Alex (Knight) and Maggie (Trachtenberg) think he’s the world’s biggest loser, which is true for most teenaged kids when considering their dad, but after being passed over for a promotion he thought was in the bag, he wonders if they’re not right.

He is reduced to crashing at the pad of his only friend, Ned (Lennon), an uber-nerd in high school but a software billionaire now. After encountering a janitor (Doyle-Murray) who only Mike seems to see and who has the kind of knowing smile that indicates he has information privy only to him that would be very useful in solving your problems, Mike falls into a convenient vortex and emerges out the other end looking very much like Zac Efron.

In fact this is what Mike used to look like as a teenager in 1989 – Zac Efron, which seems quite a leap of faith for Matthew Perry but there you have it. However, this isn’t 1989 – it’s still 2009 and Mike still has the same problems. There’s no going back and fixing them, not in this body switch movie. Instead what he can do is make a difference in the life of his soon-to-be ex-wife and kids.

Of course, his kids aren’t living the lives he thought they were. Alex, who Mike thought was a basketball star like he was, is the very much picked-upon towel boy. Even though Alex is a talented player in his own right, he doesn’t have the self-confidence to try out. Maggie is dating an utter douchebag (Parrish) who is trying – without any success – to get into her pants, but she is slowly crumbling under the pressure.

In order to fit in, Mike prevails upon Ned to act as his legal guardian so that he might attend school. Ned becomes far more receptive to this idea when he falls head over heels for the comely but frosty principal (Hardin). Also, Mike’s wife has begun to notice this kid who looks exactly like the high school boy she fell in love with and develop feelings for him, feelings she believes to be inappropriate. For his part, Mike begins to see her as a person instead of as his wife; the revelation is a bit of an eye-opener for him.

But despite Mike’s good intentions, things begin to fall apart as they generally do in body switch movies and he becomes dangerously close to losing everything that matters the most to him. Can he make things right or is he destined to live his life over again, this time without the people he loves?

I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. After all, most of the body switch movies I’ve seen of late have been pretty much rehashes in one way or another of Big. Quite frankly, this one is too. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was how much I enjoyed this movie’s offbeat charm.

There are some genuine laughs here, mostly supplied by Lennon. I’ve seen him in a few movies and never really noticed him especially, but he nails this one and comes close to stealing the movie. However, Efron – whose High School Musical movies I’m not a big fan of – was surprisingly good. He has an effortless, winsome appeal that makes me think that he is going to have great longevity as a movie star instead of one of those cast-aside teen idols whose stock plummets the older he gets. I think Efron has the charisma to parlay his teen movie success into a great career. He may even have the acting chops as well.

Mann is, as always, a steady performer who can play bitchy and sweet equally well. She does both here, but it is her tender side that I remember more vividly. Trachtenberg, a refugee from the Buffyverse, is solid as the Goth daughter.

I found myself liking the movie and believing in the romances, which is a credit to the performers more than the script, which doesn’t really stray very far from the body switch formula. This isn’t a genre-definer by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entertaining enough to give it a mild recommendation. Check it out on cable if you haven’t seen it before, and if you have a teenaged daughter, prepare for a loud squeal when Efron takes off his shirt. If you are a teenaged daughter, warn your parents that they might hear one; it’s only polite.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly engaging, Efron, Perry, Mann and Lennon make this very watchable. A few actually funny moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ve probably seen this before and probably done better. Not very groundbreaking, not at all.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some swearing and teen sexuality but otherwise suitable for just about everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Zac Efron developed appendicitis during filming which began as a stomach ache. It grew painful enough that he had it checked out the day after filming wrapped and was rushed into surgery that very night. Therefore this marks the final filmed appearance of Zac Efron’s appendix.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Da Queen’s favorite, a way cool tell-all trivia track, can be selected to play during the film. Mostly useless factoids pop up every half a minute or so.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Love in the Time of Cholera