Grading the Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad is an exploding meth lab of a movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with it. Therefore, I must ask: which supervillains would you want to recruit for Task Force X (the titular Suicide Squad)? Using a highly scientific, 100% objective grading system, I have assigned scores to each of Amanda Waller’s recruits. Surely you or I could have done better than this motley crew? Let’s see how they stack up (spoilers to follow).

Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Will Smith): This guy is the most obvious choice for a black ops team. Who wouldn’t want to have a super humanly accurate hitman on the government’s payroll? In spite of his aloofness, he forms a begrudging bromance with team leader Rick Flag, which is a nice bonus. Plus, he looks great in that hat. Grade: A

Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie): She’s a clown girl who’s good at hitting things with a bat. Even by DC Comics standards, that doesn’t exactly scream black ops material. Also, having her around practically guarantees that the Joker will show up to throw a couple of wrenches in the plan. That Waller (Viola Davis, somehow holding onto her dignity) wanted this grossly under-qualified person with extra crazy baggage on the squad should have raised a couple of red flags with the rest of A.R.G.U.S. That’s a huge risk to take for the sake of making sure Task Force X has some knee-slapping comic relief. Grade: D+

Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman): All-American super patriot and Special Forces veteran Flag is a solid choice to lead the squad…on paper. The fact that he is sleeping with the woman whose body is being possessed by the most powerful and unstable member of the team doesn’t seem to concern anyone. Has Waller never heard of the phrase “conflict of interest?” Grade: B-

Digger Harkness/Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney): On second thought, I may have been too harsh on Harley Quinn because all this guy can do is throw boomerangs. At one point, he throws a remote control drone boomerang with a camera on it, which feels like a desperate gamble on writer/director David Ayer’s part to make the captain useful. Coincidentally, this was the scene that broke the whole movie for me. Grade: D-

Chanto Santana/El Diablo (Jay Hernandez): This dude is pyrokinetic, so he’s a go-to guy for demolition jobs. El Diablo can also transform into a giant fire demon thing, making him ideal for fighting other giant demon things. This is the DC Universe, so that’s a contingency you need to prepare for. Chanto loses some points due to his newfound pacifistic outlook, which makes him very reluctant to do the kinds of dirty work Task Force X was created to handle. On the other hand, he grows to love the team and considers them his surrogate family after unwillingly spending fewer than 12 hours with them and he even gave his life for the mission. He was a team player until the very end. Grade: B+

Waylon Jones/Killer Croc (Adele Akinnuoye-Agbaje): Killer Croc is an enormous crocodile man whose contribution to the mission consisted solely of planting a bomb underwater. He was rewarded for this by getting a TV in his cell that seemingly only plays BET. Grade: C-

Dr June Moone/Enchantress (Cara Delevingne): Did you forget that Suicide Squad‘s big bad was actually a member of the team? Yeah, that’s what happens when you think you can control super powerful, 7,000-year-old witches, a mistake Waller makes that drives the plot of the whole movie. Enchantress gets a failing grade for being both too powerful and too easy to defeat. Flag takes her down for good by destroying her (external) heart, which he simply squeezed to death with his bare hands. Had Waller simply thought to do that at the end of the first act, we would have been spared this awful movie. On an unrelated note: isn’t it funny that both Marvel and DC have green witch characters called Enchantress? Grade: F

Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana (Karen Fukuhara): Katana wields a sword that captures the souls of those it slays. The movie tells us this twice but does not ever show any soul stealing in action. Despite lame implementation, the Rule of Cool still applies here; Katana passes. However, she does appear to only speak Japanese, which can potentially hamper communications in the field. Grade: A-

Christopher Weiss/Slipknot (Adam Beach): Slipknot’s (no, not that Slipknot) ludicrously narrow degree of situational usefulness makes Captain Boomerang look like MacGyver. “This guy can climb anything,” is how one character describes Weiss’ skill set. He’d make an excellent teammate on an Everest expedition but he’s a baffling choice for black ops. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t even make it an hour into the mission; Slipknot dies via micro-bomb implanted into his neck (to insure the squad’s loyalty) while trying to escape from the team by rappelling away at a comically slow place. Grade: F-

You Need to Watch ‘Turbo Kid’

This Netflix recommendation comes courtesy of my cousin Jake, because I give credit where it’s due.

If the fantastic Stranger Things has not sated your appetite for all things ‘80s genre flicks and sythwave, then you need to give Turbo Kid a shot. This delightful 95 minute action/comedy/parody/homage romp is the massively positive force you need in your life right now. It’s a joint Canadian-New Zealand production that was shown at Sundance and SXSW in 2015 and it got a super limited release last August. This thing needs to be in your queue right the hell now.

Set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1997 (no, really) it follows the adventures of a kid who idolizes the fictional comic book hero Turbo Man and rides around on a bicycle (the primary means of transportation in this wasteland) salvaging junk and doing his best to be like his hero. Along the way he meets a delightfully whacky robot girl named Apple, teams up with a foul-mouthed, arm-wrestling cowboy with an Australian accent named Frederic (Aaron Jeffery) and does battle with the warlord Zeus (Michael Ironside, the only recognizable actor in this), who seeks to control the wasteland’s limited water supply.

The whole affair is aggressively cheeky and self-aware but balanced out with some gloriously over the top violence that is always hilarious. More than anything else though, you’ll be watching it for all the callbacks and references. The most obvious inspiration for Turbo Kid is George Miller’s Mad Max films, but just about every other ‘80s action/adventure and sci-fi flick you can think of gets a send-up: Indiana Jones, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Starfighter and The Terminator were just some of the few I spotted and there’s no doubt many more I missed.

Turbo Kid is has the budget equivalent to a YouTube fan film, but the cheap production value is highly endearing, especially since it makes the retro effects work and props seem even more authentic. To give you some idea on how committed this film is to its retro-ism: it opens on the Epic Pictures (its US distributor) logo, which includes the line “#1 leader in laser disc sales.” Damn, that’s good.

Cheeky self-awareness can be fun and all, but it can get a bit trite and obnoxious after awhile. The brilliant thing that co-writing/co-directing team of François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell do is know when to be sincere. The titular Turbo Kid’s (Munro Chambers) adoration and emulation of his hero is treated with utmost seriousness and his relationship with Apple (Laurence Leboeuf; manic and brilliant) is genuinely sweet in spite of everything else in the movie. The scenes where they play tag in the wasteland will bring a non-ironic smile to your face.

Look, I don’t even know why I’m still talking about this. Michael Ironside is in full ham mode! It’s silly Mad Max on bicycles! A dude gets speared with a freaking umbrella! Go watch this thing. You won’t regret it.

‘The Killing Joke’ is a Shit Show

I was warned by Ryan, the night shift manager of Century Regency and part-time cashier at Blue Moon Comics, about Batman: The Killing Joke a mere minute before the movie started.

It’s 90 minutes of my life I’m never getting back,” he lamented while I was in the popcorn line.

When the movie got out just a little before nine, I felt the same way.

The Killing Joke animated feature film is about as bad as you’ve heard. Of the handful of DC Universe Animated Original Movies that I’ve seen, this one is easily the worst. In addition to retaining all of the problems many people have with its source material (the 1988 graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland) – which it exacerbates tenfold with a ludicrously awful scene in its dragging first act – it is also the most boring Batman movie I’ve ever seen.

By now, you’ve probably heard of the controversial addition to the film: the rooftop sex scene between Batman and Batgirl. Writer Brian Azzarello and executive producer Bruce Timm somehow thought this was a good idea. I watched the YouTube clip (embedded above) of this scene before I saw TKJ and it doesn’t improve within the context of the film. This by itself is enough to mar the movie; Batman hooking up with any of his sidekicks or protégés is going to come across as borderline incest. There’s a reason why Batman’s team of Robins, Batgirls, Spoiler, Nightwing, etc. is referred to as the “Batman Family.” They’re the family Bruce Wayne never got to have. Hell, he even adopted at least two of the Robins, which would legally make him their father as well as figuratively. It’s so damned wrong that it will make you long for that other cringe-inducing rooftop sex scene in the Dark Knight’s history.

Other than that, the first act is utterly unremarkable. It’s dull as hell, features a disposable villain who isn’t the least bit interesting yet he gets tons of screen time and it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. The idea behind it was to give more agency to Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, all of which gets completely undermined by the Bat Hookup. Her subsequent crippling and implied sexual assault at the hands of the Joker – troubling enough in the original story – now just feels even more like a fridging than it already was.

Whatever the hell Timm and Azrello where trying to accomplish by adding a Batman-Batgirl romance angle into this story, it fails miserably. It doesn’t cause Batman to act any differently toward the Joker after he assaults her and if you were a half hour late and walked into this after the first act, you wouldn’t have the slightest inkling that Batman cares about Barbara in a romantic sense. And given the extreme victimization Babs endures in the story just for the sake of motivating Batman and upping the stakes of his conflict with Joker, the romance angle is just…yikes.

By the time the actual Killing Joke segment of The Killing Joke started, I was already feeling weary. The prospect of seeing the graphic novel’s iconic panels recreated shot-for-shot on screen was undermined by the stiff animation. Batman in particular looks like he’s made of cardboard in most of his scenes. Kevin Conroy (reprising his role from the acclaimed animated series, along with Mark Hamill as the Joker and Tara Strong as Batgirl) sounds frankly bored for the whole damn movie. This perfectly channeled my feelings about The Killing Joke but didn’t make for a compelling performance.

The first and second acts meander through the motions, checking off all of the stuff you’d expect to see in a Killing Joke movie: Barbara Gordon getting shot (which of course happens in slow motion), the flashbacks to the Joker’s past (the only decent scenes; Hamill is really good here) and Commissioner Gordon getting stripped naked and dragged around Joker’s carnival lair by his circus freak henchmen (which, like everything else in this mess, goes on for way too long). It’s almost a relief when the infamous ending, in which Batman may or may not have killed his arch nemesis, finally arrives.

This version of The Killing Joke is a dumpster fire and a waste of time. If you’re one of those people who thought the “MERTHA!” scene in Batman v Superman was the greatest thing ever, you’ll probably love this movie. Otherwise, skip it. Batman: The Killing Joke will be out on Blu-ray and DVD on Aug 2. I suggest you buy literally anything else instead.

At The Chapel with Chelsea Wolfe

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Chelsea Wolfe and her eponymous band performing at The Chapel. Photo by me.

A former mortuary may seem like an odd place for a music venue, but for gothy, dark folk rocker Chelsea Wolfe it was weirdly appropriate. Situated on the hipster haven that is Valencia Street, The Chapel’s interior was bathed in blood red light right before the show started; combined with the high, arched ceiling, the dusty chandelier and black curtains at the back of the stage, it made for a pretty striking visual. Wolfe was playing the second of two shows in the City. As you may have gathered from the last time I talked about her, I’m kind of a big fan. I was mildly devastated when I couldn’t make it to her last San Francisco show, so when I saw that she was not only coming back but playing two nights in a row, I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket.

The Chapel is a small venue and it filled up at an alarmingly fast rate. My fellow concert attendees were mostly young. Almost everyone was wearing black, or some other dark hue and tattoos were every where. In that sense, it wasn’t very different from the several metal shows I’ve been to over the last few months. Wolfe is, strictly speaking, not a metal artist, although she has many songs (her last album in particular) that are metallic as hell. I was wearing my particularly ludicrous Mastodon t-shirt to this show mostly because I didn’t know what else to put on, but to my pleasant surprise a few people were into it. Other metal shirts I spotted at this not metal show included The Ocean, Behemoth and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats.

The opening act was a duo from New Zealand called A Dead Forest Index, comprised of brothers Adam Sherry (guitar and vocals) and Sam Sherry (drums and backing vocals). I won’t even try to describe what sort of music they play; their Facebook page describes their genre as “Other,” which is really helpful. I had checked these guys out awhile back and I did enjoy them and they sound just as good live as they do on record. They did little talking between songs; Adam has the tiniest of speaking voices and he’s barely audible even with a microphone directly in front of his face. It makes for a profound contrast with his vibrant singing voice, which filled up the whole venue with ease. A Dead Forest Index is a fascinating live act, though I did find myself getting restless near the end of their set.

After a sound check that went on just long enough for a bathroom break and another $8 beer, it was Wolfe’s turn to come on. The pre-set music pumped into The Chapel was downright eerie, setting up a doomy, melancholic atmosphere and getting the crowd worked up. The band, clad in all black, came out first followed by Wolfe in a white dress. They opened up with “Demons” and segued right into the crushing “Carrion Flowers,” which is a favorite of mine. Drummer Jess Cowrie was annihilating her kit on those songs. Three of the first four tracks of her set where all from Abyss, the most metal friendly of Wolfe’s work, so I was a happy camper. Fan favorite “Feral Love” (that Game of Thrones song) came somewhere in the middle of the set. Wolfe didn’t speak once during the entire set; not even when she and the band came back onstage for an encore in the form of “Hypno” and “Halfsleeper.”

The last two concerts I’ve been to (Behemoth and Amon Amarth) were metal as fuck, so a more low key yet equally engaging show was exactly what I needed. Wolfe is a captivating performer; her haunting yet beautiful voice and excellent guitar playing is all she needs to hold your attention and her band gives her excellent backup. I came out of that show as a fan of Cowrie and bassist/keyboard player Ben Chisholm, who is positively electrifying to watch. Even if you are unfamiliar with her music, I heartily recommend checking out Wolfe if the opportunity arises. She really is something else.

I’m really glad I got a second chance to see Ms Wolfe perform and I thought The Chapel was cool venue; I wouldn’t mind going back there, provided they book someone I’m interested in seeing.

All Hail the Millennial Nostalgia Industrial Complex

The Millennial Nostalgia Industrial Complex is real.

It reared its head over the holiday weekend in the form of not one, but two marathons. The Harry Potter marathon on the channel formerly known as ABC Family wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but coupled with the Disney channel airing every single one of their original movies, it created a force of devastating nostalgia overload.

Millennials on the older end of that generational spectrum are no doubt already aware of this, but if you’re in that sweet spot between late ’80s and early ’90s? This might be news to you; you are now just old enough to notice that the “Hey, remember how awesome this old shit you loved as a kid is/was?” marketing apparatus is now being pointed directly at you. We saw the beginning of this with the launch of Pokémon GO, and there is only going to be more of it as we get older.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but seeing as Generation X has had to deal with a deluge of hot donkey shit made from adaptations of stuff they loved, we should absolutely be prepared to deal with it. The new Power Rangers movie could very well be awful enough to generate multiple existential crises. Accepting that possibility now will make coping with it later much easier. In the first grade, I used to sprint home from school (we lived in walking distance) to catch episodes of Power Rangers and sometimes I would practice their fighting moves while I watched. Nothing will take those memories away from me; not even a shitty Power Rangers movie.

I hope everyone had a lovely weekend, regardless of what you were doing. If anything, we should feel lucky Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon didn’t decide to jump on the nostalgia bandwagon. That would have been a bloodbath.

On ‘The Flash’s’ Metahuman Problem

The Flash has a serious metahuman problem. That much is a given but the one I’m referring to depends entirely on how invested you are in the show. I like The Flash a great deal and I’m still fully onboard with it even though I’ve been less than impressed with the last few episodes. It’s because I like it so much that I’d like to see the writers tackle this telepathic gorilla in the room: what is up with Barry Allen and his friends running a secret prison under S.T.A.R. Labs?

This is something that’s been an issue since season one, but now that the captured meta population has doubled in light of this week’s episode, in which Flash and the gang subdued all of the rampant Earth-Two villains, it’s laughably impossible to ignore. There are now a substantial number of super-powered people imprisoned in a high tech dungeon without due process by four STEM geeks, only one of whom has any connection to law enforcement (Barry is a forensic scientist). No one on the show appears to be aware of this moral quandary.

What the hell, Flash? Assorted musings below:

  • These cells are very small and they do not have beds or toilets.
  • There is no reason to believe the imprisoned metas are getting any sunlight, which is awfully harsh. There’s no yard for these guys to shoot hoops or lift weights in. They’re just living in a glass and steel box 24/7.
  • Do you know what else regular inmates have that these prisoners don’t? Showers.
  • S.T.A.R. Labs must have some extremely powerful ventilation and air refreshers; because there’s no way that the metas aren’t pissing and shitting in the corners of their cells.
  • Are the metas even getting fed? What about water?
  • Provided they haven’t perished from a gruesome combination of malnourishment and dehydration or asphyxiated from the fumes of their own bodily waste, all of these prisoners have most certainly been driven insane.
  • Can we please get a whole episode devoted solely to the starving, smelly, now insane prisoners of S.T.A.R. Labs? I’d be fascinated to know more about their day-to-day existence.
  • Maybe The Flash actually takes place in Earth-Three (or the Anti-Matter Universe in Post-Crisis comics) and Barry and his friends are all villains except their evilness is only manifested through their brutal and callous treatment of captured badguys? Eh…I’m really reaching on that one.

Listen, Flash writers, I get it; this is another one of those things you just don’t want to deal with because it might slow down the story and maybe you guys didn’t even realize the implications of the S.TA.R. Labs prison, but at this point it can’t be glossed over anymore. I know I have zero right to give professional TV writers advice, but you guys really ought to address this in season three. And if you think that’s a boring waste of screen time, know this: one of the all-time greatest DC graphic novels has a substantial chunk of its plot devoted to the imprisonment of rogue metahumans. If Mark Waid and Alex Ross can pull a mesmerizing tale out of that, I don’t see why Flash can’t.

Season three’s finale airs this upcoming Tuesday. Here’s the preview:

So Why Are Captain America and Iron Man Fighting?

Captain America: Civil War is nearly upon us, and as I expected last time we indulged in this exercise, some of you are no doubt wondering why Cap and Iron Man are trading blows with each other. The easiest and most cynical answer would be that they are fighting because they fought in Marvel’s Civil War crossover event from 2006 and 2007, and since that is routinely among the ranks of Marvel’s highest selling trade paperbacks then it makes sense to make an adaptation out of something fans really dig. Coincidentally, Batman v Superman did pretty much the exact same thing, with much of its plot being informed by The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman but I’d really rather not talk about that right now and at any rate, we need to discuss Marvel business this week.

So what exactly happens in the Civil War comic to bring about conflict between the two biggest Avengers? In the inciting incident of CW , a young and relatively inexperienced superhero team called the New Warriors try to take down a villain called Nitro, who uses his explosive powers to destroy an elementary school and a couple of city blocks, resulting in the deaths of most of the New Warriors and more than 600 people. Public sentiment starts to turn against heroes, so the government proposes the Superhero Registration Act, which would require all superheroes to register with the federal government for oversight purposes. Tony Stark/Iron Man takes up the reigns of the pro-registration side after initially opposing the SRA, while Steve Rodgers/Captain America becomes the self appointed leader of the anti-registration side. Things quickly got out of hand…

After a not bad start, CW rapidly flew off the rails. The breaking point was when Iron Man and Mr Fantastic starting dumping captured ani-reg heroes into a prison in the extra dimensional Negative Zone without any semblance of due process, culminating in Cap and his gang staging a massive prison break that spills into the streets of Manhattan and culminates in massive collateral damage. The story ends with a sobbing Steve Rodgers unmasking and turning himself in to the authorities after witnessing first-hand the destruction caused by the brawling heroes.

I do not have any great fondness for this story and I was more than a little apprehensive when Marvel announced it would be the basis of the next Cap movie.

From what I’ve seen of the trailers and promo material, Captain America: Civil War is working off that same basic framework. The movie’s Sokovia Accords appears to more or less be the same thing as the comic’s SRA, except its scale is global rather than national. Part of my initial skepticism of a straight adaptation of CW is that despite being around for nearly eight years and spanning 12 films, two TV series and two (so far) Netflix series, there still aren’t really that many superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hence, a CW movie wouldn’t have the advantage of taking place 60 plus years into the existence of a Marvel Universe already inhabited by hundreds of characters. Since the CW movie we are getting is baffling still (at least technically speaking) a Cap feature and not an Avengers sequel, the smaller stakes could actually work to its advantage. At most, this titular civil war appears to be a six-on-six affair; I’m okay with that.

CW was almost a decade ago, so I’m really hoping all of those years of hindsight will allow directors Joe and Anthony Russo (who directed Winter Soldier and will also helm the next two Avengers) to avoid some of its mistakes, particularly the business where Iron Man turns into a fascistic prick and starts tossing his friends in jail (that building at the 54 second mark in the above trailer looks like a prison, so maybe we are getting that version of Iron Man). Granted, the early reviews have been positively rapturous and it can’t possibly be worse than the slog that was BvS. I’m cautiously optimistic.

So what’s the deal with Spider-Man? In the comics he initially joined the pro-reg side of the Civil War and even followed Tony Stark’s example by publicly outing himself as Peter Parker. As the story went on, he became disillusioned with Stark’s increasingly Draconian measures against rogue superheroes and jumped ship to Cap’s team. As for him being in the movie (where he’s played by Tom Holland), Sony Pictures and Marvel studios now share “joint custody” of Spidey’s film rights on account of Sony scuttling their initial plans after the dreadful Amazing Spider-Man 2 underperfomed at the box office. I’m pretty sure this Spider-Man (who already has his own solo feature in the works) won’t be revealing his secret identity to the public, but the business with him getting a conscience attack and switching sides? I’m absolutely positive that will go down in the movie.

Captain America: Civil War opens this Friday. Good movies being made from bad source material isn’t unheard of and maybe that will be the case here. I’m a huge fan of the Captain America movies and they’re largely the reason why he’s my favorite Marvel hero. As much as I don’t like stories where superheroes fight each other, I’m Team Cap all the way on this one.