REVIEW: Suicide Squad

2 08 2016

At the time of this review’s publication, there are a whopping seven untitled DC Comics films with dates on the calendar but no titles announced. It seems likely that at least one, if not more, of those slots will be filled by a character from “Suicide Squad.” The latest ten-car-pileup from the comic book studio plays like an extended audition for a standalone film. Individual characters distinguish themselves, sure, but they do so by essentially acting in little regard to the plot and tone around them.

This is the most obvious with the film’s resident crazies, Jared Leto’s The Joker and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. The former, never quite fully breaking from the iconic Heath Ledger performance, feels like he waltzed his way out of a Miley Cyrus video. The latter, a rainbow bomb-pop comes to life, breaks free to some extent and makes for raucous fun. But most of Harley’s shining moments come in cutaways or disruptive asides. Robbie does not feed off the energy in the scene; she mostly just crushes the line she’s been given.

All the internal one-upmanship feels oddly fitting for a film whose sole purpose appears to be one-upping Marvel. “Suicide Squad” feels like the inevitable byproduct of a DC boardroom who decided to blend their favorite parts of unlikely smash hits “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Deadpool,” which they then serve in a neon-lit package. The film has smart-mouthed, villainous protagonists who form an unlikely coalition to save the world, and their romp is set to a Spotify playlist of frequently used trailer songs. (The fact that “Spirit in the Sky” made it onto the soundtrack is as plagiaristic as Melania Trump’s RNC speech.)

“Suicide Squad” is an emblematic film for the kind of products made by committees and algorithms as opposed to champions of artists. DC and Warner Bros. know what has worked for these types of films in the past, and they are not necessarily wrong to assume that audiences want something like it. Indeed, “Suicide Squad” works in fits and spurts where writer/director David Ayer’s dark comedic or war battle sensibilities can come through. But more often than not, he is forced to do too much in too little time. And a good chunk of that overextension does not make it the kind of movie that another corporate committee will try to emulate in a year or two. C+2stars

REVIEW: Lola Versus

11 09 2012

Lola Versus” features Greta Gerwig as a poor, pitiful New York girl facing down all the number of challenges that confront her in the oh-so-austere loft life.  We get to listen to her talk about how much sodium she is eating during her post-breakup Pop Chip binge, putting all those other rom-com stars to shame with their tubs of ice cream!  We revel in her Whole Foods, granola-style quirkiness, exemplified by her love of macrobiotic food, her modern design tastes, and her charming mild case of flightiness.

Gerwig’s Lola is too much of a paradigm, too sanitized for us to really buy that she could have any real problems.  Even beyond the white, wealthy, whiny argument that pestered Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love,” she’s been so watered-down to an essence that we don’t buy into her struggles because she really shouldn’t be having them.  She’s an ideal, and movies that call into question the validity of an archetype generally have much more magnified scopes and stakes than this.

In addition, this movie has basically been invalidated by Lena Dunham‘s “Girls” and feels even more irrelevant now that Zooey Deschanel has gone mainstream in “New Girl.”  (It would have merely been redundant in a post-“(500) Days of Summer” world.)  Lola’s journey has been tread a number of times in the past few years, and those who have gone on before her have done it with far more creativity, more spunk, more zeal, and more veracity.

Gerwig is far better when she can be a little bit mopey and downtrodden.  Real girls don’t face a sea change in their life at the age of 29 with the hopeful whimsy slightly tinged with vacuous sadness, and Gerwig shouldn’t be forced to sell this unconvincing lie.  It’s useless, throwaway boondoggle material that takes away the time you could have used to watch three episodes of “Girls.”  C