Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Suicide Squad

You know, I’ve never read—nor have I ever collected—the comic books from which this film is adapted.  Criticisms of the movie may have to be given to the writers of the comic book rather than the writers of this production.  However, to me, it’s up in the air and whomever the blame may lie upon, you can decide for yourselves.  What I do know is that this film takes place within the constructs of the DC cinematic universe, not only of all the latest DC films but also the ones that will be coming into fruition soon. 


With that said, I’d opted not to see this film when it was released in theaters this past summer.  It had been on my personal watch list, albeit not that high up where I’d really felt the need to see it.  I was hot-and-cold on the news of the production—I’d been excited to see Jared Leto’s own interpretation of The Joker, but the description of the story and what it entailed seemed a little lackluster.  Sure, the trailer showed us that Ben Affleck’s Batman would be making some sort of cameo, but I figured it’d be a very small part of the whole story (and I was right…spoiler alert), but that wasn’t enough to convince me.  Therefore, shortly after this film’s release, I’d made a conscious decision to wait for its distribution onto home media, forgetting about it until I’d seen its availability on Netflix a week ago.


Even as it appeared in my mailbox the other day, I had to push myself to pop it in the machine to finally see this film and decide on whether I’d liked it or not. 


So…did I?  Well…let me break down the synopsis of Suicide Squad first.


A secret government agency, run by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains—Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and Slipknot (Adam Beach)—led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and with minor help from Katana (Karen Fukuhara), to form a defensive task force.  Their first mission: save the world from the apocalypse caused by The Enchantress (Cara Delevingne).  All the while, The Joker (Jared Leto) thwarts the group every step of the way.


One thing that I’d wondered before seeing this, and while witnessing the first of a few trailers that had been released, was how these villains were going to be put in check and not run off when they were assembled for this group.  Seeing this movie the other night finally answered that speculation and just provoked disappointment from me rather than satisfying my inquisitorial thoughts.  Seems that the writers, producers, comic book authors—whomever—couldn’t think of a better way to solve this without ripping off the John Carpenter classic, Escape From New York.  Yes, the answer was to inject tiny explosive capsules into the necks of each villain—with an identical mechanical hypodermic to boot—and threaten them with the assurance that they’d be killed if they tried to cut and run.  I literally shook my head as this part of the film played out.


Let me go over this group of villains who are apparently needed to form this anti-hero heroic group.


Deadshot seems to be the main character of the group and his talent is that he’s a really good shot with firearms, able to hit the same exact target with micro-precision—we’re talking about hitting the same exact bullet hole over and over again.  He doesn’t have any super abilities, like strength or senses, just the capability to shoot a gun perfectly and accurately.  Deadshot does appear to have some sort of military background, definitely has some sort of combat experience, so he gets a pass on being needed for this team.


The requirement to have Harley Quinn as part of this group puzzled me throughout the whole movie.  She has no superpowers, she’s insane, she’s tied to the recently escaped Joker who’s still on the loose, so I don’t know why she’d be needed—let alone allowed—to be in this team.  Margot Robbie is definitely included here as eye candy for prepubescent boys who’ll undoubtedly be gaga over seeing her in this film, but it’s senseless to include her in this squad.


Diablo has some cool pyrotechnic powers, but reserves them until later, citing his vow to be peaceful and not to lose control due to him killing his wife and child a while back.  It was really getting on my nerves throughout the film when trouble would arise and he just stayed back, not helping the situation.


And speaking of keeping to the background without helping, Killer Croc does NOTHING except follow the group around until—lo and behold—the soldiers need to swim through the flooded sewers to get to the battle zone and he jumps in to show off his super swimming skills.  Sure, he fights here and there, but so do the no-name soldiers you see in these quick-cut scenes.


Captain Boomerang seems wasted as well, not really doing anything throughout this story.  Sure, he throws a few boomerangs, even has a boomerang drone (think of the physics and logistics of how that would work) that he uses to spy on the battle ahead, but besides a few one-liners that fall flat (in fact, ALL the one-liners you hear in this flick are not funny at all), Cap is wasted in this ensemble.


In charge of this group of desperados is Rick Flag, the military leader who keeps the villains in check with the threat of detonating the charges in their necks (which he demonstrates on one of the rogues who has the shortest screen time in superhero movie history).


Of all the characters mentioned, there is not one ounce of chemistry seen between any of them, making anything they say to one another seemed forced and unbelievable.  Some characters go from hating each other to suddenly having a comradery.  Case in point, at the beginning of the film, Deadshot tells Flag a few times that he’s going to kill him when he gets a chance, showing hatred and a determination in his words.  Yet, shortly after, the men are nearly sharing a bromance.  I really didn’t feel anything for these villains, yet I felt the soldiers and the government they’d worked for weren’t any better.  When there are no characters you care for or any heroes you can get behind, the movie usually falls flat…and that’s what happened here with Suicide Squad…at times.


Before seeing this movie, I’d hoped my intuition would’ve been wrong and that it was going to be better than I’d thought, but the film is just a rushed and thinly plotted story that didn’t make sense at times.  For example, Amanda Waller’s reasoning to put this group together was to thwart an attack of an evil entity of Superman’s ilk.   Meta-Humans like Enchantress made sense and so did Diablo, maybe even Killer Croc, but all the other rogues were just humans that wouldn’t stand a chance against something with Superman’s strength.  And wasn’t it a weird coincidence that Waller was pushing for this RIGHT BEFORE the shit hit the fan?  The biggest puzzlement of all—for me at least—was why Batman is nowhere to be seen when the shit goes down in this movie.  After seeing the involvement of Batman during some of the backstories, you’d think he’d be available to help solve this problem that has put the city’s population in danger.  But, no…I guess Batman’s on vacation.


Finally, I had such high hopes for Jared Leto’s Joker and looked forward to his inclusion most of all.  He definitely had some big shoes to fill as Heath Ledger raised the bar so high on that character that I really couldn’t see anybody ever playing the part again.  But The Joker is Batman’s biggest villain and he’d have to be included sooner or later, but Leto’s performance left me a bit flat.  Sure, there were some cool moments—making Alex Ross’s artwork come to life being one of them—but I can’t really accept this tattooed punk-rock star with silver fronts as the new Joker.  I’m sure Leto tried to veer away from Ledger’s performance, but I couldn’t help hear the same vibes and accents in the few scenes we see in this film.  Hopefully he’ll work out the kinks by the time we see him again, perhaps in the standalone Batman movie.


So…may final “bit” on Suicide Squad???


I’m sure on paper this seemed like a good idea—good, not great.  The acting throughout the production was nice and made it feel like it was a comic book come-to-life, especially from Smith, Robbie, and occasionally Courtney.  The stylized way it was produced and directed gave us that feeling as well, but I think all the effort was put into how this film was going to look rather than getting a good story together.  The plot was very thin and wasn’t a very good foundation to place this on top as it seemed like the studio was banking on a huge blockbuster.  Suicide Squad had its moments, but they were few and far between.  If you want to see Will Smith put on a cool costume and shoot guns or if you want to see Margot Robbie walk around in a skimpy outfit as she carried a baseball bat around or if you want to see a few cool special effects—both in CGI and practical—then you might like this movie.  It definitely kept my interest, for I’d wanted to see how it was all going to end, but it left me cold and I’m a little torn on whether I would recommend this movie or not.  I’ll leave you with this: if you want a mindless movie to sit back and eat some popcorn, maybe to keep on as background noise, this is the movie for you; if you want a really engaging film with an intriguing plot, I’d skip it. 


Here’s my bonus “bit” to Warner Bros. and DC Comics…


Warner Bros. and DC: if you’re listening (or reading), you better do something about the quality of these films in your so-called Cinematic Universe.  If Justice League doesn’t fair better, you’re going to have a mess on your hands…and from what I’ve seen of that released footage, it’s not looking too good.  Suicide Squad reminds me of the announcement from Sony a while back, saying they were going to release a Sinister Six film—a film about Spider-Man’s villains grouping together for a standalone movie.  They were smart enough not to do it, why weren’t you?  It just seems you’re trying to keep up with—or even trying to overtake—what Marvel Studios has already accomplished.  Forget them…take your time and do this right.  The more crap you put out, the fewer people you’ll get in the theater seats when you release the following movies of this DC filmic world.


For the rest of you, thanks for reading!


Cinema Bits is on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Blair Witch

Towards the end of summer in 1999, a phenomenon hit theaters that featured a very crafty experiment, which became a horror and science fiction staple-subgenre of many movies to come.  The film I’m speaking of is The Blair Witch Project and it brought forth the popularity of the found footage category, becoming a press-stud of horror movies that continues to this day.  Sure, there are quite a few films that predate it which used the same type of classification, like Cannibal Holocaust or The Last Broadcast (which was released a year prior).  But 1999, by all intentions, should be considered the manifestation of the found footage subgenre.
Now, timing had a lot to do with the fame and reputation the film had gained.  In 1999, not everybody had a computer or easy access to the internet, not to mention that it wasn’t as expansive as it is today.  The directors of the film—Daniel Myrick and Eduardo S├ínchez—used that to their advantage, knowing that they could use it to blow up the film and get the word out by creating a little fake backstory, getting the word out there that this was a true story and the last remaining days and hours of these victims were captured on film that had been recovered as featured in this movie.  Most people believed they were watching a documented film, seeing a snuff flick, witnessing the demise of these three kids…and it was brilliant.  The film—made for around $60,000—reaped nearly $250,000,000 in the box office!  Recalling the release of this film, so many people told me about how frightening it was and how these kids in the film were real people that had gone missing…I admit, I’d believed the story and thought it fascinating, so I was very excited to see it.  However, days before going to see the film, I’d heard it was fake…but it wasn’t a deterrent in the least.
All things considered, I’d hazard a guess to say that this technique wouldn’t work today.  Too many people have technology right at their fingertips…if it was tried today, The Blair Witch Project wouldn’t work...but that’s just a changing of the times…and, of course, my opinion.
One thing that had always bothered me is that the filmmakers never tried to make a direct sequel to the 1999 film to follow up on the made-up story.  Sure, a sequel was released called Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, but that story just dismissed the 1999 film as fiction, using the movie-within-the-movie method; it wasn’t a good film, seemed pretty confusing at times, and is very forgettable.  Now, however, 18 years later, it was finally decided to make a direct sequel to that first film…but before I get into it, let me break down the synopsis of…Blair Witch.
After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister Heather, James (James Allen McCune ) and a group of friends—Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Ashley (Corbin Reid), and Peter (Brandon Scott)—head to the forest near the town of Burkittsville.  On the way there, they stop to see the guy who had found the video to get directions to the whereabouts of where he had discovered it.  But the local named Lane (Wes Robinson), gives the condition that he and his girlfriend, Talia (Valorie Curry), must go with them or he won’t give the location.  James agrees and the group soon finds out about the ominous legend of the Blair Witch.
Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard (both of VHS and You’re Next fame), they brought forth a more frightening film than we’d seen in the original.  Yet, the only reason this film can be considered a sequel is because of the reason the group of kids decide to go into the woods—to find his sister Heather, one of the three kids from the original movie.  That’s it…that’s the only tie to the first film.
Now, I’d read that one difference this film has from the original is that it’s totally scripted, meaning the words written on page are what we’re getting from the actors in this flick, and it shows.  The original had quite a bit of realism and that’s because the directors basically told the three kids to go into the woods and improvise their discussions, debates, and dialogues (sorry for the alliteration) with each other.  They were left to their devices at hand while the directors set up situations ahead of time for which the actors would react.  Here, in Blair Witch, you can tell the dialogue was written ahead of time and it really feels like you’re watching a made up movie in comparison.  For example, the surplus of battery power is emphasized quite a bit.  Even my wife—who doesn’t enjoy horror movies and usually reads a book off to the side when I’m watching one—caught that bit of dialogue in this film and called it out right away.
To show off how ahead the world has gotten in technology, the devices used in this new film are way more advanced.  Instead of just a camcorder and camera with film, each friend has a small camera fitted to the side of their heads much like Blue Toothes, they have multiple memory cards to continuously switch them out, and they also have a drone that can hover around to help them get a sense of their direction within the woods.
What’s different about this film compared to its predecessor?  There are some nice special effects that maybe take up a few frames of film here and there with some ideas that have a creep factor of ten.  Will you get to see a witch this time?  I think so…you get to see something, but it’s so quick and shaky that you really don’t know what you’re seeing.  I think it may have been explored in the first film, but in Blair Witch time is messed with and it definitely conveys a sense of hopelessness for the characters.  It even goes as far as dividing some of them, giving some a sense of minutes passing, with others having weeks passing—I thought that was well done.
What’s the same?  Just about everything else.  I mean, you have a group of kids going into the woods and documenting everything with video, they get lost and go in circles, they’re being terrorized by some unseen force, and they end up exactly the same way as the kids in the original film…in the same place and in the same manner.  I would’ve liked some resolution or maybe see the kids get the upper hand on the witch or at least a bit of fight…not the exact same outcome.  I felt it was a bit of a cheat.
If there’s anything that was left with me after viewing this was one plot thread that really never amounted to anything and that was when one of the girls, Ashley, had gotten a big gash on the bottom of her foot when they had to remove their shoes and socks to cross a creek.  After it was bandaged up and the girl regained the ability to keep moving, later we see that she’s wracked with pain every few steps and we hear the sound of some strange crack or something when she uses that foot.  Late in the film, we see the boyfriend unwrapping the foot to check it out and sees it’s clearly infected.  But a quick shot of this shows the wound twitching like there’s some sort of animation going on.  The implication is that the witch had something to do with it, that the girl is becoming infected with some sort of paranormal disease, even seeming like she’s turning into a zombie or something.  However, it all goes nowhere and her demise has nothing to do with the foot’s ailment…in fact, she seems to regain a bit of energy later in the film as she’s able to run and climb a tree.  Nonetheless, this whole plot point went nowhere and left me confused.
Anyway…my final “bit” on Blair Witch?
As a standalone movie, the story is frightening and well done.  The actors and actresses (just a small ensemble of six characters) perform their parts well, giving us a sense of believability even though their dialogue is obviously formulated ahead of time, but the bottom line is that they’re all likable and you’ll end up caring what happens to all of them.   For all intents and purposes, this is a remake of the original film, made a bit better and obviously with a slightly bigger budget.  The new viewers—who’ve never seen the original or who’d thought it was boring—will enjoy this flick; the fans of the original will see it for what it is—a complete reboot of the franchise that’s giving us the same situation and the same (spoiler alert) outcome.  But…it’s still entertaining, will give you some good scares, and it’ll definitely make you think twice about camping out in the woods…again.  I recommend it.
Thanks for reading!
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