2 hour, 10 minutes
Documentary by Gerald R. Molan
1 hour, 47 minutes
I saw two movies this week, both somewhat ill-conceived, both beset by intensely negative buzz, and both, despite all logical assumptions to the contrary, destined to be successful. Sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense.
The first movie I saw was “Suicide Squad,” the latest in the DC Comic’s movie universe. The idea is a good one. Instead of assembling a super-team like the Avengers, put together a team of misfits, losers, and then send them on a “suicide” mission where it doesn’t matter if they live or die. Imagine, essentially, “The Dirty Dozen,” but with super-powered characters. While the concept may be sound in principle, in practice, the movie’s a huge mess.
The film opens by introducing Deadshot, a super-accurate assassin played by Will Smith. It jumps to Harley Quinn, crazed girlfriend of The Joker, before eventually settling on one Amanda Waller. Waller, the Machiavellian bureaucrat in charge of the team, reintroduces us to the two we’ve already been introduced to, while filling us in on the rest, including a fire guy, a boomerang guy, a 6,000 year old witch and a human crocodile. She is selling her concept of a “suicide squad” to top government officials, her point being that with all these meta-humans (super people) running around now, eventually some foreign entity was going to attack our interests using superpowers and we needed our own team in place to combat it. Obviously, psychopaths and bottom-feeders are the way to go.
This is, of course, ridiculous. If you want to have a contingency team in place, you recruit the Flash or Batman or Superman, who died in the last movie, but c’mon. Who really believes that’s going to stick? If you want to storm a remote Nazi bunker where you know there’s almost no hope of survival, that’s when you need a suicide squad. As it happens, the only threat the Squad ends up facing is one of its own, so the story has a weird kind of circular pointlessness.
“Suicide Squad” does have a few bright points which make the movie, if not good, at least somewhat entertaining. Will Smith is the best part of the film, bringing just a hint of an edge to his normally gregarious demeanor. Margot Robbie, blossoming into a full-fledged movie star, leaves it all on the table as Harley Quinn, a character I didn’t always like, but never tired of. Viola Davis is fine as Waller, but I felt her character was poorly conceived. She is set up to be the worst, and in some ways, most powerful of the bunch, but it seemed to me that everything she tried to do backfired seriously undermining the sense of dark gravitas the film tries to paint her with.
One of the best performances, and the best character arc, comes from Jay Hernandez as Diablo. In this day and age, the idea of a guy that can control fire seems a little blasé, but Hernandez brings a nice pathos and a haunted quality to this gangland kingpin turned conscientious objector. Plus, the tattoos on his face are pretty sweet. Those four performances are good, whether the script supports them or not, but most of the rest of the film is garbage. Joel Kinneman, weedy and gaunt, is not who I would choose to play America’s top black-ops super soldier, and Jai Courtney… Well, actually Jai Courtney is exactly who I would get to play a character named Captain Boomerang. And then I would kill Captain Boomerang almost immediately. Which brings me to one of the main problems with this film: the stakes seem really low. In “The Dirty Dozen,” you know most of those guys aren’t coming back. In “The Magnificent Seven,” most of the leads die. Going up against impossible odds used to mean that coming out alive was nearly impossible. Aside from one poor guy that bites it almost immediately after being introduced, I never felt these characters were in any real danger.
A final note — Jared Leto, notable weirdo actor who won a Best Supporting Oscar last year for “The Dallas Buyers Club” is the Joker in this film. The Joker isn’t really involved in the main plot, but rather runs sidelong to it, popping his head in every now and then. This iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime, however, is awful. That’s not to say Leto doesn’t give it his all, but this is a character I never want to see again. Grating, over-done, disturbing, and gross. Sure, the Joker is a bad guy, but if I want to look away every time he’s on screen, I’m not sure they’re getting the result they want. He’s the worst part about “Suicide Squad,” and thankfully only in the film for brief snippets. Too bad there weren’t enough good snippets to tilt the balance the other way. Grade: C-
I didn’t leave myself very much space to discuss the second film I saw, but maybe that’s not a bad thing considering “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” barely qualifies as a film at all.
Writer/director Dinesh D’Souza believes he is the muckraking champion of the far-right, but it’s conservatives who should be the most angry about this poorly made, terribly written, and abysmally performed “documentary.” Ostensibly an indictment of Hillary Clinton, the film spends three-quarters of its run time on goofy conspiracy theories and a long “history” lesson that proves D’Souza understands almost nothing about history. To try to contend that the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson has any real connection with the Democratic Party of today shows a complete lack of knowledge about the evolution of political thinking in this country. You might as well contend that Genghis Khan, who was Asian, was a murderous despot, and therefore all people of Asian descent are not to be trusted. The film includes a long, convoluted metaphor about Obamacare being like a con game, but at the end of the con story, the cons murder everybody they were conning, so I’m not sure how that translates.
The film claims that Woodrow Wilson was racist, which is technically true, but unless you’re producing a “warts and all” biography of the man’s life, I don’t see what that has to do with Hillary Clinton. But D’Souza does. He sees a bright line, tracing from the evil slaver Jackson, through assassin John Wilkes Booth, to a racist Wilson, greedy Roosevelt, wicked LBJ, and finally to the secret terrorist Obama. Near the end, the director finally gets around to bashing Clinton, and though he does it in his trademark over-the-top, tinfoil hat manner, he barely touches on a few points that might be of actual concern.
There’s no question the Clintons have a lot of baggage. There is a lot in Hillary’s background that suggests she might be less than trustworthy. But instead of digging deep and revealing anything new, D’Souza is content to simply repeat what others have said about her, just in a much less convincing manner. The filmmaker comes of as petulant, uninformed, and more than a little crazy. He wants to be the right’s answer to Michael Moore, but he understands nothing about what Moore does. Michael Moore takes actual facts and figures, cherry-picked to be sure, but still verifiable, and then conducts actual interviews where he forces his subjects to confront head-on whatever agenda he’s pushing. He catches people off-guard and then uses their words to hang them. And, on top of it all, he is a talented filmmaker — by which I mean he can put together a coherent, entertaining narrative. Yes, it’s propaganda. Yes, Michael Moore has an agenda. But what D’Souza is doing is splashing half-truths and conjectures up on the screen with no attribution, no actual research, and no accountability.
“Hillary’s America” is a trainwreck from start to finish with abysmal writing and acting, hackneyed direction, and shameless pandering. The conservative movement in this country deserves a better champion than this guy. Grade: D-
“Suicide Squad” is rated PG-13 for lots of violence and some language.
“Hillary’s America” is rated PG-13 despite some fairly disturbing scenes of violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.