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Old School Review: “Good Morning” (1959)

Written by Kôgo Noda and Yasujirô Ozu and directed by Ozu, “Good Morning” is a comedic drama following two young boys who wage a war of silence against their parents to persuade them to buy a Television set so they can watch Sumo wrestling. This is the most charming of Ozu’s films that I have seen thus far (three and counting), and still yet the film manages to insert powerful, but subtle, musings on the intricacies of communication and intent. The film is focused on a small Tokyo suburb of families living in close proximity with each other and it cleverly bounces between the language barriers and misunderstandings of a few groups of the residents. First, and most focused on, are the two brothers Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu) and Minoru (Sitara Koji). On their morning walks to school they and a few other boys from the neighborhood have perfected a game in which they press a finger against each other’s forehead to instigate a fart, which gives way to laughter and affirmation in the group. Funnily enough, one poor kid keeps failing this intestinal test and, well, he begins and ends the film with a walk of shame back to his parents to get a change of pants.

The mothers and wives of the suburb turn a simple misunderstanding into a series of gossip and rumors because their collective dues haven’t been paid accordingly. They all attest to have paid on time, surely, there was a simple issue along the way, but on the other hand the chairwoman, Mrs Haraguchi (Haruko Sugimura) who collects the dues, has just bought a new washing machine. As the film progresses, Mrs Hayashi (Kuniko Miyake) the mother of Isamu and Minoru, wanted to solve the issue quickly- she seems to be easily put on edge by financial stress– but Mrs Haraguchi hears about the allegation of a new washing machine bought illegally with the dues and confronts Mrs Hayashi (who didn’t even start the rumor) to assure her that this did not happen. Ironically, later when Isamu and Minoru go on a strike of silence to get their parents to buy a TV, they apply this silence to all adults and Mrs Haraguchi assumes this slight was instigated by Mrs Hayashi for the misunderstanding, and quickly informs the other women that Mrs Hayashi holds grudges. This whole incident, by the way, is finally uncovered when Mrs Haraguchi discovers that the dues were given to her mother (Eiko Miyoshi), a comedic old woman who had simply forgotten about receiving them. The grandmother is often found praying, and blatantly complaining about her ingrate of a daughter- yet another Ozu familiarity in the comedy and tragedy of generational family affairs.

The fathers and husbands of the suburb also have their own issues with communication as well. The father of Isamu and Minoru (Chishū Ryū) must mediate and absolve his sons squabbling, after they loudly resist he bellows that “You talk too much for boys your age”. Minoru (the eldest) responds that adults are even worse because adults always engage in pointless niceties like “good morning”, “good evening” and refuse to say exactly what they mean. Which is how Isamu and Minoru come to their silent strike. Their father also has a scene with an older acquaintance in a bar who had found no solace in retirement, only the slow walk toward death. They try to communicate between one’s drunken rambling and the other’s botched attempt to cheer him up- but in doing so realizes his own encroaching retirement. It is this acquaintance, happier with a new job near the end of the film selling electronics, that Isamu and Minoru’s parents buy a TV from to celebrate his new job- to the joy of the silent little warriors.

Final Score: 2 brothers and a few rumors

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Old School Review: “Tokyo Story” (1953)

Written by Kôgo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu, and directed by Ozu, “Tokyo Story” is seemingly a simple family drama about an older couple traveling to visit their children and grandchildren in Tokyo. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking such of an arthouse film, but you’d be wrong in this case. In essence that is the skeleton of the film, yes, but beneath the initial layer lies a story about family and how time can erode once strong connections. It is about how parents can lose their place in their family’s hierarchy. How work and modernization can manipulate and destroy family in subtle ways. Mostly though, it is about the bittersweet heartbreak of growing old and losing touch with those closest to you.

When Shukichi (Chishu Ryu), the grandfather, and Tomi (Chiyeko Higashiyama) the grandmother, arrive in Tokyo they’re welcomed by a busy family. They spend the first few days with their oldest son Koichi (So Yamamura) a doctor in a small local clinic. He is married to Fumiko (Kuniko Miyake), and they have two sons. After meeting their grandchildren and hanging out about the house (Not many adults have the time away from work to take them sightseeing) they head to Koichi’s sister, Shige’s (Haruko Sugimura) home. Shige is also married and runs a beauty salon in the first floor of their abode. The family members mean well, and make several attempts to entertain their elders, sightseeing some and buying them treats (though Shige protests at her husband for buying such expensive cakes- they eat most of them before presenting the gift). At a lack of finding things for Shukichi and Tomi to do the married couples recruit Noriko (Setsuko Hara) their widowed daughter-in-law who hasn’t yet remarried since the war. Noriko is more than happy to help, even though she isn’t a blood relative and has the least stature among the adult children of Shukichi and Tomi.

They try not to burden any of the family while they are in Tokyo, but it becomes clear after some time that they are simply too busy to accommodate them. After a failed trip to a resort spa outside of Tokyo, paid for by Shige’s family, Shukichi and Tomi decide to head home. They linger about for a bit, trying not to offend anyone for having left the spa early, which isn’t why they came to Tokyo in the first place. After a night out with Shkichi’s old village friends now residing in Tokyo, and Tomi having a profound evening with Noriko- they depart for home. Shortly after having returned home, Tomi falls gravely ill and the children begin to make the journey home for their dying mother. It is a beautiful and tragic sequence of scenes for the last half hour of the film, Shukichi veiling his grief with blank expressions and the children all commingling their grief and true feelings about their parents- it’s a lot, and if you can make it through the end with dry eyes, I honestly don’t know what would move you to tears in cinema.

The story, however, is only one slice of what makes this film so memorable and potent. Yasujiro Ozu’s technique behind the camera accounts for much of the dreamlike quality of the film. His cinematography and framing choices seem unique in how he utilizes them. He doesn’t always adhere to the eyeline rule, characters can seem as if they aren’t looking at each other as they speak, but he cares not. His style doesn’t sacrifice spacial or auditory understanding in the least, it enhances it. Ozu often frames two people sitting side by side, facing away from the camera, which gives the audience an almost ghostly viewpoint of the dialogue. It’s in this pairing of those faraway, unconcerned, shots of conversation with his low angle mid-shots of the actors directly facing the camera that Ozu’s style emerges as one both heavily invested in what his characters have to say, but also of the world they inhabit. Many scenes are bookended with “pillow shots” (relating to a similar technique in Japanese poetry); beautiful compositions of elaborate cityscapes, simple architecture, trains chugging along, or boats cruising along the coast in the background that bind the characters to their place and time so beautifully.

Inherently relatable and elegantly true to life, “Tokyo Story” was a joy to discover. I cannot recommend it enough, I found it (as with most older films lately) on the Criterion Channel, and with it a new filmography to plumb. Test new waters, take a chance and maybe you’ll find a new favorite film or filmmaker, I know I have.

Final Score: 4 adult children, 2 grandchildren, and 1 heartbroken old man..

*To further inform you on the humble perfection of this film, I’ve linked Roger Ebert’s review of the film below:

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-tokyo-story-1953

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Review: Justice League

SPOILER WARNING: In order to have more a free form discussion on the film I will be removing all restrictions to give a more complete picture of my perspective.

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Written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon and directed by Zack Snyder, “Justice League” is the superhero movie culmination of the DC film universe (so far). Going into this film admittedly my expectations were fairly low after the mess that was “Batman V Superman”. This past summer’s success in “Wonder Woman” was a delightful surprise in the series and so I began to hope, with cautious optimism, that maybe the DC team-up film could have potential. To be honest the film hooked me right at the opening of the film, in which some children with a camera interview Superman before his death in the previous film. They ask him what his favorite thing about Earth is and he looks away in thought before turning back to face them, and he smiles right before the scene ends without his answer. That was just the first nugget of reassurances that the whole movie bends over backwards to tell us, We know these characters- we will fix our mistakes.

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This film is a gigantic step in the right direction, by focusing on what they needed to fix most from previous installments they’ve carefully reexamined their heroes and mended the past’s wounds. Let’s focus on what they did right first, the heroes. The newcomers in this film, Ezra Miller’s Flash, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman all shine in various moments and scenes. Ezra Miller was a comedic hit throughout the film, his reactions to the other league members were memorable, and his Barry Allen was different enough from Grant Gustin’s version that no one at the CW should feel maligned or discredited by Miller’s take on the character. Ray Fisher surprised me with his performance of Victor Stone A.K.A. Cyborg, he was subdued and subtle and he grew over the course of the film as he became more adjusted to his evolving abilities and new body. We even got a “Booyah!” and as someone that grew up with the animated Teen Titans show, that’s all I needed, and I appreciated it. Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry was intimidating when he needed to be, and a great presence in the film, but he seemed to be a hero lost in his own storyline at times-an effect of not having his own solo film before the team up entry. Make no mistake though, I am now enticed by the idea of an Aquaman movie, something I thought I’d never say years prior.

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The trinity of DC’s superheroes, Wonder Woman, Batman, and (let’s be honest we all knew he would be back) Superman worked so well in this film that I was wonderstruck. Gal Gadot proved to be the beating heart of this film franchise this summer with her World War One origin story and she again earns her rightful place as one of the most well rounded and consistent of these characters. All hail Diana Prince, respectfully. However my two favorite re-renditions of characters in this film were that of Ben Affleck’s Batman and Henry Cavill’s Superman. These characters went under massive overhauls since the last time we saw them onscreen, and I couldn’t have asked for a better apology than Batman himself telling Superman at one point, “I was just fixing a mistake, righting a wrong” (Or something along those lines), and he’s right. Warner Brothers has righted many wrongs here for me and it will be exciting to see where the franchise goes from here.

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This doesn’t mean that the film is without it’s flaws though. The main problems that I have with the film echo what most take issue with, namely the villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) and his motivations. I understand that there needs to be a huge threat facing the planet for the league to assemble, but when you compare this film to, say, “The Avengers” Loki may have been playing a cosmic gamble for power in allegiance to Thanos, but we know his inner issues of pain and spite towards his father Odin and thus his dive into a darker path. This is where Marvel’s plan of having standalone films before the team up event films make more thematic sense. Steppenwolf was essentially a mindless drone with cardboard thin characterization. You can only shout “MOTHER!” so many times before people start asking questions. Which is why the filmmakers were bright enough to keep the focus on the heroes and them gearing up to face the threat of Steppenwolf rather than examining a character that’s not worth examining.

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“Justice League” was a success in my eyes because the people behind the film took the time to ask, Why are these heroes beloved worldwide? What are the core essences and values of these people and how do we develop a compelling story about them? Batman never once picked up a shotgun in this film, Superman smiles and has become a more recognizable Clark Kent, and the filmmakers were wise enough to throw some well timed self aware humor into the story. Hopefully this is indicative of the DCU’s future, because it is one where we finally have some hope.

Final Score: 10,000 Leagues above Batman v Superman’s quality

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Old School Review: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1957, “The Seventh Seal” is a fantasy drama set during the Middle Ages in which a disillusioned Knight returns to Sweden after the Crusades have ended. The Knight, Antonius Block, (Max Von Sydow) is met by the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot) on a seaside coast and engages in a ‘running’ game of Chess over the course of several days to determine his fate. If this sounds familiar, a knight playing chess with the grim reaper, it may be because of the parodies that this film has inspired over the years. Take Ian McKellen’s cameo in “The Last Action Hero” for example:

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McKellen’s character even emerges from the set of a film with the same title as Bergman’s classic, sporting the simple yet effective look of Death. However my favorite example of this imagery being parodied happens to take place in a little movie called “Bill and Ted’s Bogus journey” the sequel to “Excellent Adventure”:

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Other aspects of the film have been mined for laughs as well. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” famously depicted their own version of the flagellant scene by having a roving group of monks smacking themselves in the head while reciting lines from the Dies Irae (A Latin Hymn):

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So, why all references you might ask? To press upon you (for the uninitiated) that this film is heavily lauded around the world-and therefore has been ripe for a good ribbing for over half a century now. The story deals heavily with religious themes and seriously questions organized religion through allegory and rich dialogue. In the film, every character deals with doubt in some way shape or form- it is one of the central ideas of the story after all. The two opposing ideologies of the film are represented in both the Knight Antonius, and in Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand), his nihilistic squire who rides with him. Both characters’ personalities color Bergman’s own differing thoughts on the subject of God, “Since at this time I was still very much in a quandary over religious faith, I placed my two opposing beliefs side by side, allowing each to state its case in its own way. In this manner, a virtual cease-fire could exist between my childhood piety and my newfound harsh rationalism.” -Ingmar Bergman.

The other major theme of the story is the silence of God and how people react to this. Antonius may be dour and depressed by all of this but he never rejects the possibility of God, he simple wants some reinforcement that can prove that his life has not been wasted. He says as much when he and Jons enter a small chapel. Jons chides a local artist there for creating artwork depicting the dance of death and embracing the religious and ideological fervor that led to the Crusades while Antonius goes to confess. He asks, “Is it so terribly inconceivable to comprehend God with one’s senses? Why does he hide in a cloud of half-promises and unseen miracles? How can we believe in the faithful when we lack faith? What will happen to us who want to believe, but can not? What about those who neither want to nor can believe? Why can’t I kill God in me? Why does He live on in me in a humiliating way – despite my wanting to evict Him from my heart? Why is He, despite all, a mocking reality I can’t be rid of?” Shortly thereafter Antonius reveals that he is playing chess with Death and boasts of the move he has planned to cheat the supernatural foe. However, it was not a priest that was listening to the woes of the Knight, but Death himself.

During this exchange Antonius reveals his understanding of religion and the organization of it, “We must make an idol of our fear, and that idol we shall call God.” Once Death vanishes from the chapel both Antonius and Jons head into the small village and see the traveling theatre troupe we had been introduced to earlier in the film. They are composed of a married couple, Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson) with their infant child and Skat, the director of the troupe. Jof occasionally has visions and is the only other character to actually see Death other than the Knight near the end of the film. After a spat in the local pub involving Jof, Antonius meets the married couple outside of town and shares a meal with both of them and oddly enough- he finds his meaning in that moment with Jof and Mia on a hillside, he is inspired by the simple love of the two and embraces the gift of the natural world, not a fate handed down from above, but of the fellowship of mankind in the natural world. He then extends an offer to them to travel with him and Jons through the forest rather than risk getting the plague along their original route, even going so far as to offer shelter in his castle from the plague.

In his next turn in the game Antonius appears exuberant and Death takes notice, deviously asking if he plans to take the troupe through the forest. Antonius also takes note of the grim reaper’s inquiry and becomes well aware of the threat his newfound friends face with him. Once deep into the woods the Knight engages with Death one last time, in which Jof notices who Antonius is playing chess with and decides to escape while Death is distracted by the game. Antonius sees the troupe attempting to leave and knocks over half the board to let them escape Death’s grasp.. for now. It is this act which completes Antonius’ quest to do one meaningful deed before Death takes him. In the end Jof sees Death and the Knight’s remaining travelers doing a solemn dance of death as he guides them away from the land of the living.

Much like my initial viewing of “Citizen Kane” I found this film to be more enjoyable than I had expected. This sensation can be condensed down to two major reasons why the film worked for me as a modern audience; humor and truth. Gunnar Bjornstrand’s character Jons was an unexpected source of humor in the film as the first half of the film paints the squire as a cynical brute with a penchant for singing tunes. We see him rough up a would-be rapist, Raval (Bertil Anderberg), while searching for water in the first act. However, Jons quickly recognizes Raval, the theologian that had convinced the knight to leave for the Crusades in the first place, and promises to brand him on the face if he sees him again-which he does, and he immediately fulfills that promise. The second half of the film shows his other half though, his comfortable acceptance of the world and its darkness, which leads into his sense of humor. One scene in particular has Jons providing lines to Plog the Blacksmith as the local smith tries to insult and threaten the theater troupe director that had run off with the blacksmith’s wife earlier in the film. It’s wonderfully played as the squire’s attention is piqued when the insults begin to fly and he makes his way to Plog’s ear to aid for his own enjoyment. There are other times throughout the film’s runtime when the darkly comic humor emerges, though the film is indeed mostly concerned with Antonius’ quest for answers.

Which leads me to the second reason the film worked, the truth in Antonius’ universally relatable problem, having doubt. Questioning the larger machinations at work can be applied to religion, but it could also be applied to government rule, as an example. Having a sensation of existentialism after experiencing doubt as to what was previously considered the standard way of life can be disorienting to say the least. Many people throughout time have felt that same sensation, it’s part of what makes a revolution so unsettling to some- and just as invigorating for others. The truth in the film is likely so well done because Bergman drew from his own inner turmoils about religion but also because of the way he crafted the world of his film as well. By creating a sensation of anxiety and fear from a threat as menacing as that of the black plague Bergman made the medieval world’s problems comparable to that of the 1950’s and now again in 2017, the fear of nuclear annihilation. Bergman thought of his film as an allegory for the 20th century, or the modern era, with the threat of the black plague resembling the cloud of anxiety that nuclear weapons now bring in its place. He was also inspired by the idea of art existing in dark times, which is brought to life in the film by the troupe of traveling actors bringing song and dance to various small villages even under the looming threat of the black plague. “In my film, the Crusader returns from the Crusades as the soldier returns from the war today. In the Middle Ages, man lived in terror of the plague. Today, they live in fear of the atomic bomb” – Ingmar Bergman. “The Seventh Seal” is a classic for a reason and if you want an entry point into the acclaimed filmmaker’s body of work, this is a fine start. “The Seventh Seal” is in the Criterion Collection and can be found on Filmstruck, a classic film streaming service that works with the Criterion Collection, as well.

 

Final Score: 1 Knight & 1 Bishop

 

*For more analysis of “The Seventh Seal” I suggest giving the video below a look, it helped me to more fully understand the film, hopefully you’ll find it of use as well.

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Ratings, Awards, and Scores

Recently I’ve spent a lot of thought on the idea of giving a score, or a number to represent the quality of a film. Obviously I understand the need, or want, to associate a numeric value to a film to understand a generic amount of value or scorn this may elicit, but we are all beasts of arbitrary association and we all (humans) like to know which subjects are the “winners” and which are the “losers” even when such a dichotomy is fruitless in the end. Everyone has films, music, paintings, architechture, etc etc that they prefer over others’ preferences. Recognizing skill and artistic expressions is great, and important culturally. However stating that one may be better or worse truly depends on who you are as a person, your own background, family’s impressions upon you, and essentially your taste.

Awards also fall under this category for they are ultimately arbitrary when it comes to art in my opinion. While I do love the fanfare and pizzazz that comes with the Oscars, it’s not the award that gives meaning to art, it is the celebration of the creation of art that has meaning here. Plus who doesn’t love a good show? It is part of being involved in film, in theatre, we love putting on a good show. The Oscars don’t always hold that notion close to their hearts, but it is there for better or worse. I’d like to entertain the notion that such an idea shouldn’t be about receiving an award, but of giving recognition to a piece of art that has enough of a consensus to have earned such notoriety.

My conclusion being that since this is such a meaningless task in the end my reviews from this point on will focus more on the merits and failures of any specific film as far as my perspective can facilitate such a conversation. In the wake of a score I will implement more of a whimsical idea in that my “Final Scores” will be as meaningless as any such label. An example of this might be “Fifty-two surfboards for Keanu Reeve’s ‘Point Break'” or “One Thousand and Eight Bullet casings for Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge'”. Not only can this be a fun button to put at the end of each review, I believe it helps to cement the ideology of “One man’s trash being another’s treasure”. I know, as well as you do, that some people actively seek out films disregarded as “Trash” or simply “bad” intentionally or otherwise purely because of it’s perceived “badness”.

My intent is facilitate thought and discussion about film and the people involved in creating it. Losing the focus of scorekeeping levels the field and diverts thoughts back to what makes or breaks a production. Was the editing too fast and muddled? Or did the cinematography move and flow in a way that moved you? Were the performances impeccable? Or did it seem like the actor was holding back? Not pushing him or herself the distance? Maybe it was the atmosphere on set that created this? Or something in their personal lives that could be felt onscreen in some mystifying way? Obviously some of these unknowns will always be speculation, but that’s part of the fun isn’t it?

One final thought. If you find yourself disgusted, maddened, or simply unentertained by someone else’s art, then by all means express your opinion, it is our right after all, but there is no reason to spew misplaced and confused hatred into the world because you were bothered by a piece of art, film or otherwise. I’m not suggesting the silence of discussion by any means, this whole piece is about the broadening of thoughtful and engaging communication between others. I simply believe that you shouldn’t need, or feel the need, to go out of your way to spread vitriole and division. We here in the United States of America have enough of that going around as is, and in light of the holidays approaching: go forth and talk, write, or type about a film that you love. Show it to others. Have discussions about it with them and if you don’t particularly enjoy something that someone else loves, then let them have it. This is supposed to be entertainment after all.

 

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Review: Suicide Squad or “DC’s Modern day B-movie”

At the time of writing this article everyone that wants to see Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer, either has or has made up their mind not to based on word-of-mouth and critical review. Because of this I will be spoiling several key points, you’ve been warned.

This latest movie marks another incredibly divisive entry into the DCEU after this year’s punchy slogfest that was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Darkness. My main issue with that film was that it seemed that the people behind-the-scenes didn’t really get the true nature of their two main characters. There was no hope in Superman whatsoever and Batman murdered everyone (I suspect a hidden skull shirt underneath that fresh new batsuit). This next iteration of page to screen comic movie in Suicide Squad actually does improve on that issue, but proves to muddy the waters on almost everything else. There is fun to be had in it though and I’d say it’s a more enjoyable experience than Batman V Superman, but it really, truly is a mess of a movie with clear studio intervention.

In the DCEU the wake of Superman’s presence is felt throughout all of its corners, most especially in paranoid shadowy agents like Amanda Waller. She urges the government to consider a drastic plan that involves utilizing captured villains to form a team to take on the greater threats that face humanity in this new world of Superheroes, because what if the next Superman decides to rip off the roof of the White House? (I assure you this squad couldn’t stop him if he wanted to do just that though) Thus begins the story, or rather the first half of the movie, which is purely flashbacks and introductions to the squad set to cheeky top ten pop songs or hits in lieu of a soundtrack to match the emotion of the movie, which drastically fluctuates across the runtime.

Deadshot

Will Smith’s presence in this movie is what makes it watchable. His skill in emoting, and making the deadly assassin worth rooting for, is the emotional hook of the story and really the only good motivation across the board for the team, besides not wanting to die. Deadshot’s through line comes in the form of him attempting to provide for his daughter. Plus he’s one of the few characters to get a scene with Batman involved. Truthfully this is one of the best performances from Smith in years, personally I just wish it had been in a better movie.

Harley Quinn

Margot Robbie is the other standout among the squad. Not only is her performance spot on with the nature of the character she injects moments of humanity into this classic case of stockholm syndrome that makes you believe there is more to the queen of crime without you just waiting around for Mista J to appear.

Captain Boomerang

Jai Courtney, and I really thought I wouldn’t be able to say this after “A Good Day to Die Hard”, is actually pretty damn entertaining here. Granted Captain Boomerang doesn’t do much in the film but his greaseball criminal antics make him worth watching, and yes, he even throws his boomerang once.

Diablo

Billed as the conscience of the squad, portrayed by Jay Hernandez, Diablo is one of the characters that was weakened by the size of the cast and the choppy mess of editing and direction. His backstory, once revealed, is dark and ripe for character work but its almost cast aside as soon as it is mentioned almost as if the producers read it and said “Oooo.. that’s too dark, we just had Batman V Superman shrouded in darkness we can’t have that again, cut that up and put some pop songs in there, lighten it up a bit Geez.” His death in the third act is set up for an emotional pull but the film hasn’t gotten us aquainted with Diablo all that much for the moment to mean anything and it isn’t lingered on or even acknowledged afterward.

Killer Croc

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Croc was also fairly underused in the film. He’s almost mute the entire runtime save for several attempts at humor and for one specifically underwater portion of the mission near the end which was clearly tailor written for Killer Croc to have a reason to swim. It too is quickly passed by, only briefly mentioned “Oh yeah, Killer Croc, he can swim, lets have him swim.” Now if he had been as monstrous as he has been depicted in comics and animated Batman cartoons before he could have been a real powerhouse monster, but that must not have been in the budget. He has essentially no backstory either.

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Guess who’s only in the movie for about twenty seconds and dumped at the viewers feet near the beginning of their mission? His only reason to exist in the movie is to confirm that Amanda Waller’s explosive threat is legitimate.

Katana

At about halfway through the movie Katana, Karen Fukuhara, is introduced as an associate of Rick Flagg, the defacto leader of the group. She, apparently, uses a sword that encapsulates the souls of those killed by it. The soul of her dead husband is also in that sword. Honestly throw the rest of this garbage out the window and give me that movie, that has a hook I’m actually interested in. We get nothing else from her except cool sword action when the inevitable faceless army comes into play.

Rick Flagg

Joel Kinnaman’s Army grunt Flagg is serviceable as the character that has to wrangle this rag tag team. He’s only truly there because of his love interest, June Moon. This is a manipulation by Waller as she plays her chess pieces to try and make this erratic group work. He has some shoddy lines here and there, but some actual emotional work in the third act.

The Enchantress/June Moon

Here’s one of the biggest problems with this movie. The Enchantress, Cara Delevingne, is one of the weakest villains in years. Her motivation is.. world domination? Almost everything about this character is a joke. She’s over sexualized. She basically just belly dances for the last half of her performance. She also ruins Amanda Waller’s plans easily right from the beginning thus setting up the squad’s very existence as the threat that has to be abolished. Her plan was to revive her brother kept by Waller, I suppose they were some sort of magical gods from an ancient Mayan-like society? After she frees him they have a small back and forth where she explains to him that Humans worship machines now, and that she will build a powerful machine to… rule with? Thus giving her the opportunity to have a giant beam of light reach up into the sky like we’ve seen a thousand times before, and to create a massive faceless army for Deadhot to shoot at and Harley Quinn to bash their noggins in with her baseball bat. What is the purpose of such a machine that has no moving parts, is powered by belly dance inspiring magic, and takes an incredibly long time to create with no visualization of progress being made on said “Machine”. Magic, I guess…

Amanda Waller

The real villain of the movie is portrayed quite well here by Viola Davis. I say real villain because while that might not have been the intention of the screenwriters, or the director, Amanda Waller plagues the villains..err heroes(?) far more than anything the Enchantress accomplishes. Amanda Waller is a cold and calculating agent of A.R.G.U.S., they’re like S.H.I.E.L.D. but with less cool spy stuff and more shady goverment dealings.

The Joker

You might be wondering why I mentioned the clown prince of crime last. That’s because he’s barely even in this movie at all. Jared Leto handily gives us a Joker with traits cherry picked from the late Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, and Cesar Romero respectively, something new that feels familiar. Not bad, but certainly not the best Joker to grace the screen yet. Of course there was (supposedly) a large portion of Jared Leto’s performance that was cut from the film, and until we get more of him it’s really unfair to judge him until we see how he squares off against Ben Affleck’s Batman.

In the end we have a movie with some middling success, a few visually interesting action sequences, but nothing to make you really feel anything for any of these characters. It’s a classic example of throwing everything at a wall just to see what sticks. There is a battle waging across the film’s runtime for what tonal shift the filmmakers want the audience to feel, but they never decide between the two being both bright, and dark. There is a constant feeling that there is a good movie, maybe even two, hidden somewhere in this version we got. I highly suspect we will see another ‘ultimate edition’ of Suicide Squad to spring forth just as one did for Bats and Supes. But whereas that movie was already too long and initially a mess as well I’d actually be interested in an ultimate edition of this film, if only to sate my curiosities on Jared Leto’s Joker if his performance truly was that limited here.

Oh and as mentioned there were several Batman cameos that were fairly entertaining, seeing Batman punch Harley Quinn in the face underwater was truly pleasing. The Flash also showed up for the first well executed Superhero quip in the DCEU, so that’s saying something. At the risk of any kind of comments section retorts, I have to say, at least we have Marvel Studios, those guys know how to tell superhero stories, DC might yet make the best version of what they can do and surprise us all, but until then they are the definitive second fiddle to the house of ideas.

Final Score: 2/5

 

film

Rant Time: Moments don’t make the movie

Over the last few years there has been a common concern between fellow filmgoing friends and myself. Mainly that while popular films might have incredible moments sparsed throughout their runtimes, those moments don’t represent quality storytelling overall and that spectacle drives ticket sales while cinematically speaking some films have been lacking. I know there comes a time to debate what type of film deserves what level of expectation, but this has happened enough, even discounting blockbuster carnage a la ‘Transformers’ aside, that it is a legitimate concern.

This was most recently brought back into the forefront of our minds upon an initial viewing of ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2’. Yes, a bit late, but none of us had been particularly enthused with the first outing with Andrew Garfield’s attempt at the character, so it took awhile before any of us were that excited to see the sequel that ruined Sony’s Spiderverse anyways. This film is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Many, but not all, of the Spiderman scenes in the film were fun and more accurate to the character than the initial film, bombastic, aerial, slow-mo fun. That being said, those were almost entirely the only points of the film that either made sense (When did Peter Parker become so whiny and quote “Edgy” anyways?) or were even all that engaging. I could probably cut twenty minutes of the film where Garfield is simply staring open mouthed like an idiot for no reason at all. Admittedly, I am biased here, this film is not my cup of tea, or my Spiderman to be honest. There are fleeting moments when Garfield pulls off aspects of the character wonderfully, but they are tarnished by its overlong runtime, questionable tonal shifts, and musical score throughout.

Godzilla was another hit that confounded me entirely. Let me say first however that I do have a love for monster movies, particularly for ‘The King of Monsters’ himself. Gareth Edwards adaption’s popularity is so very odd to me in that it A) killed off the only compelling character in the first twenty minutes, B) focused on easily the most useless and uninteresting protagonist I’ve seen onscreen in years, and C) ignored its title character for most of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are awesome moments here and there, but the film denies us several fight sequences, tries desperately to get us to care about a character that doesn’t even seem to want to be involved in the story much less lead us through the plot, and wastes the few good actors they do have in its ranks, namely Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Elizabeth Olsen. If only they had killed off Aaron-Taylor Johnson instead, the film would have been far better.

James Bond returned this year in ‘Spectre’ which brought Bond back to the Whiz-Bang adventure stylings that would be more fitting for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond than Daniel Craig’s. While there are indeed moments of excellence, that opening sequence alone was worth the price of admission, they cannot mend serious flaws that hurt the film otherwise. What’s particularly disapointing here though is that the last James Bond film ‘SkyFall’ had been a profound story for the character, questioning whether or not He is still needed, the film challenged the audience to rethink what Bond meant to them and his relevancy in the medium, ‘Spectre’, on the other hand, nestled back into the tired tropes of the double O agent and neglected to challenge the character, or audience, hardly at all. Relying on a formula that’s been done time and again can only do so much, especially when the shadow of the previous film stands as tall as ‘Skyfall’ does. Audiences’ memories aren’t that bad.

So, we should come to expect more from our films given how many we churn out each year, right? As an informed audience, we should want our art to challenge us, ask us the hard questions, show us the hard truths, and be better than we expect. Not all movies have to go through the gauntlet because of audience demands though, and I get that, but shouldn’t we want more substance out of our stories than just being entertained? Some films are simply pure entertainment, and that’s fine! However we shouldn’t let this permeate a majority of the movies being made. A variety throughout the cinematic landscape is certainly wanted, and needed! Personally, I want to see more films that inspire people, make emotional connections, and showcase ourselves onscreen in the best light.

It should also be noted that this is by no means to say that we don’t have nuanced and complex films solely relying on spectacle. This year alone has had many worthy additions, ‘Mad Max’, ‘Inside Out’, & ‘Creed’ are all magnificient in their own rights and are only a fraction of the quality content out there. So, my point is get out and see a film outside of your comfort zone, it might challenge you in a way you never thought possible! See something new!