Newbie Movie Review – Suicide Squad (2016)

margot robbie as harleyquinn in suicide squad
What? We’re bad guys.

Surprise, Surprise. Justice League is Actually a Good DC Flick

Movie Truism: Maybe going into a movie with low expectations makes it better. I didn’t bother to see DC’s highly anticipated 2016 Suicide Squad in the theaters because it was so lowly-regarded among critics and viewers alike. So I just let it slip by.

Cut to 2019. When I heard James Gunn  — beloved director of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy — was taking over the creative reins of Suicide Squad 2 (as a ‘soft’ reboot), hope flared anew that finally DC would have a group film brilliant enough, funny enough, and just damn worthy enough to counter the amazing ensembles produced by the MCU.

A Whole Lot of Good

The stars of Suicide Squad come down to two charismatic roles — Will Smith’s Deadshot — a decent man trapped by a nasty super-skill set, and Margo Robbie’s gleefully, lethally, nutso Harley Quinn.

Here’s Quinn’s efficient backstory from the movie:

Honestly, I enjoyed the whole misfit group. There was a one-take moment where I grinned from ear to ear, as the misfit crew executes a dynamic Hero Shot. It’s an expected trope in superhero films, right? In Suicide Squad, it felt earned and triumphant…until the next second, where you realized, hey, this is a Villain Shot. An Anti-Hero Shot? An Anti-Villain Shot? The sheer amount of dissonance was delightful.

(Some spoilers for Suicide Squad 1 follow)

This is good story making. Really. Suicide Squad had a ton of viewer treats that broke from DC’s usual grim-is-good comic world. I too wanted to see “The Bat” put away: as Quinn says, “He ruins all the fun.” Batman shows up, but he’s relegated to the background. Superman’s only mentioned in passing. Good and good. This isn’t about them.

There are so many Easter Eggs in the background, with great signage, throwaway lines, and outright allusions to other characters inside the DC universe and out. [They even predicted 2019’s “Evil Superman” Brightburn! ] This is some lively shit.

Another treat: the appropriately brief cameo of Flash. (Ezra Miller can do a lot in a small role, and was a bright spot in the mostly dreary Justice League.)

Suicide Squad has Two Great Music Tracks

As on Guardians of the Galaxy (which Suicide Squad was supposed to mirror) the extensive rock playlist is perfectly used. It’s great that movies list their songs during the credits, so I can remember to add them to my tune rotations. Suicide Squad leaned heavily into The Rolling Stones, which felt just right.

The second track — that instrumental background music we generally consider the “soundtrack” — was top-notch. In my notes, I scribbled several scenes where the music greatly underscored a character’s growth, emotional confusion, or was just plain…well…heroic. No other way to put it.

Another movie truism: bad guys can be heroes, and heroes can be bad guys. I think DC’s entire oeuvre is an ode to this concept.  (Exceptions: Wonder Woman and maybe Shazam.)

I’ll say this, though — the over-reliance on Queen tunes in genre films is starting to wear on me. When a scene perfectly uses a song in one film, said tune should be retired, like a great athlete’s number. So hearing Bohemian Rhapsody used by this crew was a nice moment, but as far as I’m concerned, BoRhap belongs to the wonderfully wacky Wayne’s World, forever. Can’t Stop Me Now was jarring in The Umbrella Academy, because why would anyone want to compete with the iconic zombie scene in the Winchester in Shaun of the Dead? (“Kill the Queen!”) And ripping Spirit in the Sky off the back of Guardians of the Galaxy went beyond homage.

Exposition and the Suicide Squad Characters

This is how you do it. With a large cast of super powered and/or crazy people to introduce, the best solution is to make the movie about THEM, not a MacGuffin plot. In a surprisingly smart move, that’s what Suicide Squad did. I loved the stylized flashback scenes of these criminals doing what they do best, their blink-fast list of skills, and how they each got taken down. These were very amusing scenes. Killer Crock especially was a hoot (Crock doesn’t seem actually evil, unlike most of the crew). His line about being beautiful was unexpected and well-played.

We also got some meaningful scenes with DeadShot in a text-book example of how to tell an emotional backstory in an efficient, effective way.

Speaking of DeadShot, he was a natural group leader, and Will Smith carried the movie effortlessly. Strangely, Smith apparently bugged on the James Gunn Suicide Squad 2 sequel. The news is Idris Alba is slated to recast Smith, which seems like a fair trade. Alba is the man, woefully underused as Heimdall in the MCU.

How About The Big Bad?

What really brought Suicide Squad down was the villain, and here I mean The Incubus. I’ll treat him separately from his sister, The Enchantress.

Actually, I don’t have time to discuss bad writing. The Incubus has zero development and isn’t worth delving into. He’s overpowered and boring. Next!

The Enchantress showed some promise in her CGI form, but when little June Moon started writhing around, it looked ridiculous. I appreciated the line that Mankind worships machines instead of gods now, but nothing was done with that intriguing concept. Fail. I don’t care. Bad villains are an ongoing superhero problem, but I mostly ignore that at this point.

An ensemble origin movie isn’t about who they fight, in any case. It’s about  group-building and world-building, which Suicide Squad got very right.

And the Joker?

Now, let’s talk about the real controversial role: Jared Leto’s Joker. So many Jokers over the years. Some get it right. All are distinctive.

I’ve got my favorites, but Leto’s not one of them: I’ll just say I’m glad his role was little more than an extended cameo. Let’s keep it that way in the sequel. Quinn on her own is much more fun and I prefer her out of the Joker’s shadow. With the Suicide crew she’s a fascinatingly deranged soul, instead of being a pet to the Joker. (Seriously, he whistles for her like a dog.)

I’ll give this Joker one thing: he had one deeply interesting line. It resonated so strongly for me that I wrote it down to think about —

“Desire becomes surrender…surrender becomes power.”

Suicide Squad, Overall

Something I hoped Suicide Squad would do is create real stakes and jeopardy…where not everyone you like is going to make it out alive. I had a feeling who that would be if they went there, and was satisfied with the payout when they did. It’s a brave gamble to take when you’re working with an ensemble you’re hoping to grow.

However, I didn’t buy their warm family feelings after sharing feelings over a few drinks, but I’ll give them this — bonds can form fast in life-threatening situations. And they had so much in common on a fundamental level: severely misguided people, good at being bad, damaged moral compasses, isolated, frequently abused, seen as the dregs of humanity, then abandoned in a dark hole with no hope of atonement.

Still, I’ll forgive some storytelling shortcuts in a movie this amusing.  With Gunn in the saddle, I’ve high hopes for Suicide Squad 2.

Color me pleased. I’m happy to add a third movie to the DCEU that I actually enjoyed, along with Wonder Woman and Shazam.

(BTW, stay through to the end credit scenes. Justice League was no Avengers, but it was thrilling to see JL’s inception anyway.)

Movie Grade: B

Guardians of the Galaxy Ex-Director James Gunn to Direct Suicide Squad 2

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Movie Review – Justice League (RunPee Jilly’s POV)

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Fact verses Fiction – Mary Queen Of Scots

historical painting of the real mary queen of scots
Off with her head! (Ouch; too soon?)

I have read at least 10 books on Mary Queen of Scots, watched every documentary about her, and spent a great deal of time in Edinburgh retracing the steps of this mighty woman.

When the movie  Mary Queen of Scots was released, I knew Hollywood wasn’t going to go for accuracy; that’s just not what they do. I was prepared for some outlandish story, like maybe, Elizabeth and Mary would meet, embrace, form a two-girl show and play on Broadway. However, I was pleased to see that Hollywood only monkeyed with the whole face -to-face meeting thing, but it still worked.

Here are a few inconsistencies I noticed in 2018’s film Mary Queen of Scots:


 

  • Mary didn’t speak with a Scottish accent. Having been raised in the French Court, she spoke with a French accent.
  • Mary had hazel/brown eyes, but didn’t you love looking at Saoirse’s beautiful blue eyes?
  • The Scottish court was not as diverse as the movie implies. There were very few Africans or Asians in 16th century England, let alone in the nobility.
  • There was not a room full of male advisers when Liz signed Mary’s death warrant. The warrant was slipped in with dozens of other papers the Queen was signing at her leisure. Elizabeth was like so many other ‘business people’ that when handed a stack of papers to sign, by the time you’re near the bottom, you’ve forgotten your own name.
  • James Hepburn was a rapist, a murderer, and a real scourge on society. Even though some historians claim the marriage between Queen Mary and Bothwell was consensual, only the bride and groom know for sure. The fact that Bothwell turned tail and ran from Carberry Hill, while his little bride was surrounded by men who wished her harm, speaks volumes about his character.
  • At the beginning of the movie, a manor purporting to be Holyrood Palace was not the real Holyrood Palace.

 

There were a few other goofs, but who cares? It was a great movie.

Quiz – Mary Queen of Scots

Movie Review – Mary Queen of Scots

Quiz – Queen Elizabeth l and Mary Queen of Scots

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Movie Review – I, Tonya

This movie surprised me: I teared up and cried a little for Tonya Harding. She’s been known as an Olympic villain for so long…and here we see that she may have been unfairly painted by history. If this story is an accurate representation, then I feel bad for believing the worst of this girl. I hated seeing her crummy life, the abuse, and how she couldn’t seem to get a break. But I also reveled in her Triple Axle Jump, and obvious adoration of the sport. It’s clear her first and real love is figure skating.

But how were the actors? Really, top notch. We got to see how well they inhabited their roles during the credit reels. Margot Robbie was absolutely believable, if much much taller than the real Harding – but who cares about that? She pulled off a difficult role, carrying 90% of the film. I look forward to seeing this actor mature.

Sabastian Stan was almost unrecognizable. This is the freaking WINTER SOLDIER, folks (he even gets a funny little line about superheroes), but in I, Tonya, he’s a detestable, bumbling, moronic boob.

The best work by far — no shock here — was by Allison Janney. I hated her character with the fire of a sun, but her iron gravitas and mean wit was undeniable. She’s awful. She’s great. Janney has been underrated since her work in The West Wing, and I’d love to see her garner some awards and bigger roles after this.

The conceit of the character interviews (it’s not “4th wall breaking” if the character is filmed within the film) added a deft and light touch to an otherwise sad, desperate plot. I did like the 80s/90s musical cues and outfits. The direction was pretty standard, as anything more stylish would have only called attention to itself.

I personally didn’t love I, Tonya, since it’s pretty bleak; not my idea of a fun time. I wouldn’t have seen it if I didn’t need to get Peetimes. But it does tell an interesting tale. I’m not sure it needed to be told after all this time, but it does have that nostalgia factor and really excellent acting. I expect there will be awards aplenty.

Movie Grade: A-

Movie Review – Suicide Squad

Movie Review - Suicide SquadI have to admit it, I was hoping Suicide Squad would be the Guardians of the Galaxy of the DC universe. It didn’t come close. My wife and I talked about it, and if I had to compare it to another comic movie, I’d say it was about as good as the Thor movies.

Margot Robbie was awesome as Harley Quinn, but you knew that already from the previews. Will Smith was enjoyable as Deadshot. I think they have something good to work with as they grow from here.

My biggest disappointment was the villain. There was no character development of the villain at all.

The best part of the movie is the character development of the suicide squad. The main members had enough screen time, including back story, to flesh them out pretty well. There were a few members of the team that were completely forgettable.

I’m going to be nit-picky for a second, but there was some clunky story telling. Little things like, where did those soldiers get the scuba gear? Were they just carrying it around with them the whole time? I don’t think so. It’s one of those things that happen in movies like this, where the writer needs some characters to have some equipment, or something, so they just make it handy. There were a few other things like that that aren’t worth getting into. There were some other issues with the plot, but I don’t want to bring them up because it might spoil some of it.

Suffice to say, enjoy the movie for what it is. Just try not to analyze it too much, or the plot will crumble.

Grade: C

About The Peetimes: I managed to find 2 good peetimes, and one “emergency” peetime. Overall I would recommend the last peetime at 1:18.

There are extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of Suicide Squad. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

Buy the movie from Amazon.com on DVD or Blu Ray