DoorMatt Reviews #3: “Suicide Squad” (2016)

clac5pdwyaadpxoIt’s no secret by now that DC Entertainment has developed a track record of releasing highly divisive pictures under its banner. Starting with “Man of Steel” (2013) and continuing with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), DC has began to build its stable on the heels of its biggest feature attractions; Superman, Batman, and to a lesser extent, Wonder Woman (trailer at the end of this article). Despite the box office draw of Batman (coming off the highly successful Christopher Nolan trilogy), though, and the appeal that is corn-fed Clark Kent, DC’s opening salvos into the contested comic book movie genre have been critical duds. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I am a giant fan of both. “Man of Steel,” from its very first trailer (seen below), had me hooked (the Russell Crowe voice over, the way you can’t even tell it’s a Superman trailer until Zack Snyder’s name pops up on the screen; it’s the perfect setup for what a Superman movie should be). DC continued that universe with BvS, regardless of whether of not “Man of Steel” was ever even intended to be a universe starting picture or not (more on that later). BvS introduced a new, older, veteran Batman to this universe that is tired of criminals shit and is willing to go to whatever length necessary to stop it. Highly influenced by several high profile DC Comics event runs, it should have been a hit (and it was… you know, just for me and a few select others).

So what exactly has gone wrong? While hard to pinpoint, speculation is easy. Zack Snyder’s direction has been a point of contention, as well as casting decisions, storyline and scripting, editing, and Warner Brothers interference. That brings me to “Suicide Squad,” the newest entry into the DC Entertainment Cinematic Universe that released on August 5th.

clac5qvweaqjdspIt would be next to impossible to start this review in earnest without mentioning the incredible amount of negative attention that this film has received, even before the general public had seen the film. Critical reviews (see Rotten Tomatoes) have been overwhelmingly poor and the usual suspects have been out sounding off on how bad the film is. This has created a harsh battleground between pro-DC faithful and Marvel backers, critics, and review aggregate sites, like Rotten Tomatoes. Having seen “Suicide Squad” now… They aren’t entirely wrong. My single biggest issue with the film, which is arguably the BIGGEST issue period with the film, is that it may be the most poorly edited film I’ve ever seen. There is simply very little logical flow to the film. Without entering spoiler territory, there is a sequence about 5/8 of the way through the film that has the Squad entering a federal building. Directly before this scene is a serious clip of Will Smith’s Deadshot, preceded by a jokey scene of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn “window-shopping,” preceded by a serious scene with the film’s villain establishing part of their plot. Oh, and the scene entering the villain is followed by two jokey scenes with Deadshot and Harley, then more action, then a serious scene. This is the general flow of the movie; scenes like this occur all within minutes and there are no smooth transitions, things just happen, jarringly at times, and you’re along for the ride. It’s like an old school wooden roller-coaster and you’ve previously had a neck injury.

Jared+Leto+JokerA secondary issue, and this may just be me, is relating to Jared Leto’s Joker. Inevitably, every conversation I have had about “Suicide Squad,” save one or two, has devolved into some form of discussion about who the best Joker is. We all know the usual suspects; Heath Ledger in the Nolan-verse, Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s take, and Mark Hamill in “Batman: The Animated Series” (lest we forget Cesar Romero in Batman 66′). I am in the extreme minority on this issue but I loved Leto’s take on “The Clown Prince of Crime.” As I have mentioned to others, this is the Joker I have been waiting to see on screen. I realize the brilliance of Ledger’s performance, at times it bordered on mesmerizing, but he wasn’t The Joker. Ditto for Jack Nicholson who, while he was fun in the film, was essentially just playing Jack in face paint in Tim Burton’s interpretation of Batman’s world (which isn’t much like Batman itself). And while Mark Hamill certainly embodies a voice appropriately for The Joker, playing a character on screen where every emote is captured for all time is a completely different ballgame. This is the closest I’ve seen to a comic book take on The Joker. He’s sinister, appropriately psychotic, and holds court differently. He’s not a raving anarchist, or a mafioso, he’s a lunatic. That’s The Joker to me. Too many people are getting caught up in their opinions on people with tattoos and are quick to label the character as a “thug,” the infinitely more hilarious “juggalo,” or a “hot topic scene kid” (something also attributed to Heath Ledger upon first look at his take on the clown), instantly removing any credibility they had. Once you get beyond the tattoos, and the gang mentality behind the character, this is a character more influenced by the comic roots behind it than any other film take on the character yet.

All of that said, getting to the issue I mentioned, The Joker is barely in “Suicide Squad.” Estimates range anywhere from between 7 and 10 minutes of total screen time in a film around 2 hours long. The character, and Leto’s performance, captured the screen for me every time he was on it, so when he disappeared for the second half of the film, it became distracting when I kept expecting him to reappear every other scene. Instead, nothing was ever explained and I just kept wanting more. It should be mentioned though that this is NOT The Joker’s movie. He is just a side character and the movie could have existed in its current state even if they removed him completely from the film (and if you believe the rumors, they already removed 50% of what Leto shot for the film).

maxresdefaultWhat did I like though? Pretty much everything else. The casting was spot on for the movie (see the individual character trailers above). With ensemble casts like these, often a few roles seem to slip through the cracks and manage to miss the mark. In this film it didn’t feel that way. The two main characters of the film are Deadshot (Smith) and Harley Quinn (Robbie) and they are developed quite well through in more in depth back story. The side characters, namely Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Katana (Karen Fukuhara), all tend to be more fascinating on occasion, have less developed back stories, and had performances so good that they left me wanting A LOT more of them. Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller and Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flag originally had me worried (based on different factors) but both performed their roles well for what they called for and should make solid additions to the extended universe. Sadly, it feels as if Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Slipknot (Adam Beach), and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) were added mostly to fulfill storyline facets, not to be parts of the film and Squad itself. Even these characters though, for as much as they felt tacked on, were cast well and felt fleshed out. Also of particularly good note, the cameos in the film were well done and should please fans of the DC Cinematic Universe. Make sure you stay through the credits!

It is somewhat hard to make a judgement call on the story of the film because the editing made so much of a mess out of it. What I will say is that the threat of the film felt credible enough to need the cast of criminals that were called upon to save the day. It is an A-level threat that the Justice League themselves may be called upon to face… you know, if they had been formed yet. While the actions, or inaction as it were, of the threat itself is questionable, it felt big enough to require a team effort to stop it.

In general, I would count myself among those who highly enjoyed “Suicide Squad.” Is it a perfect film by any means? No, it really isn’t. There are certain issues that WB MUST work on moving forward before they can be taken seriously by the general public to avoid the negative reviews they continually see for their films. Judging by the following trailer for “Wonder Woman” (2017), it seems like they are on the right track:

If I can try to impart anything it’s to see the movie yourself, don’t trust the word of a critic, or a friend who shits on the movie but won’t even make their voice heard with their dollars. Form your own opinion and then, if it’s not for you, it’s not for you.

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DoorMatt Reviews #2: “The Killing Joke” (2016)

11295488-1954394628505164One of my earliest memories as a comic book reader is reading a copy of The Killing Joke. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke isn’t one of the best graphic novels ever written, hell, to call it a graphic novel might even be a bit of an exaggeration as it’s only about 60 to 65 pages, total (and, to be completely fair, I would count Watchmen in the same vein – it was 12 separate issues first people, not a novel). That said, this does not make it any less of an amazing Bat Family story and, quite possibly, the DEFINITIVE Joker story.

What the story captures incredibly well, and sets the pace that still caries the vibe 26 years after press (the original release was March of 1988), is that Joker and Batman relationship. (ed. note: what follows is all PERSONAL opinion) What has always made that relationship great is that The Joker is the perfect antithesis and foil to Batman. Batman is the “World’s Greatest Detective,” he makes his living off of figuring out what makes his villains tick, tracking them down, and often outsmarting them in a game of wits. Batman, though, for all his intelligence, has often been unable to outsmart The Joker over the long game. He doesn’t know what makes Mista’ J tick, he never knows his true motivations, and he can never do what it will take to stop a criminal like him. This is all because Batman, unlike any of his other villains, has no idea who The Joker was and where he came from. Just like it is for the readers, The Joker’s origins are a mystery to Bruce Wayne as well and he can never truly grasp what it would take to stop him.

What makes The Killing Joke such a fascinating story (and the film follows this plot line almost to a T) is that it posits to give The Joker an actual backstory. The Joker is a family man. He has a wife, with a child on the way, and is trying to provide for them. At the same time, he is trying to be a stand-up comedian and make progress in that venture. The Joker feels like a loser and a failure. In this way, Alan Moore almost makes the character sympathetic, in the same way that 2015 documentary “Welcome to Leith” (trailer) manages to create sympathy for a white supremacist that intended to force people from their homes and out of towns, but instead finds himself on the receiving end of hate; At times, you don’t like yourself for sympathizing with the villain. In some ways, reading a novel or comic book allows you to detach yourself from those feelings and keep moving; it’s all in your head after all. When the picture moves, though, and the characters are brought to life with brilliant voice acting, as in the case of DC animated’s “The Killing Joke” (releasing on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday August 2nd), you may have a harder time removing yourself from these feelings.

The-Killing-Joke-2“The Killing Joke” largely follows the exact same story as the Alan Moore story; The Joker escapes from Arkham, Batman seeks him out, Joker causes chaos as revenge, and Batman comes to the rescue with horrifying results for all involved. Without significantly spoiling anything, while this sounds like the common setup of a Batman-Joker comic storyline, there are real stakes for characters you both know and don’t know and there is a kill count. This is very much a high level PG-13 or low level Rated R story set within that Batman mythos (to whit, DC did release two different versions – a PG-13 and a Rated R). It is worth mentioning that it seems like DC, in an effort to beef up the run-time, added some storyline elements that didn’t exist in the original story. This is mostly in the form of a “prologue” of sorts that establishes an odd random gangster character stalking Batgirl and a Batman-Batgirl romance that culminates in a far overblown sex scene that is in no way steamy or interesting. One can only make the assumption that the scene was added to establish some emotional context for what was to come later in the story and to create a longer run-time to A) make the film long enough to charge $19.99 for the physical media release and B) meet theater needs for the special DC one two night only special screening event. This encompasses about the first half-hour of the film until we get to the Batman detective aspects and Joker enters the fray. In no way did it take me out of the story and if anyone says it did, they are complaining for the sake of complaining. This is a solid DC story and the film is a great addition to it.

MV5BZmIxNTZmYjctMmRlZC00Y2JmLWFmMDAtODg5YjFhZTVkM2M4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_One thing that “The Killing Joke” absolutely nails is the cast for it’s animated tale. DC has made great strides in terms of creating an “Animated Universe” to rival Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (though it is now somewhat a second thought given DC establishing it’s own Cinematic Universe) but one thing that has always bugged me is the way that voices tend to change from film to film. DC made the excellent, and fan friendly, decision for “Killing Joke” to bring back a piece of it’s “Batman: The Animated Series” cast with Kevin Conroy (“Batman”) and Mark Hamill (“The Joker”) returning to the roles they made famous and Tara Strong returning to a role she has played on occasion over the years as “Batgirl.” The voice cast is phenomenal, truly. While it is certainly possible to convey emotional through a comic book panel, nothing can quite move a person like a voice, or a moving performance, and when you have actors and actresses that embody their performances the way that the ones here do, it is second to none. Hamill, over time, has come to be thought of as the quintessential Joker. While some may disagree, or have different favorites, he owns this performance, especially in the dramatic and flashback moments, and brings like to a Joker that is both reflective and murderously insane at the same time. It’s something that we will not forget in what Hamill says is his last voice performance as the character.

As with any animated film, the animation style certainly must be mentioned. It’s been mentioned in some online forums that fans are disappointed that DC chose to not utilize the same animation style that was used in “Batman: The Animated Series” and fair enough. If you’ve spent any considerable amount of time watching the “TAS” then you know why it is so universally loved. I feel that, in this case though, the animation style utilized was perfect for what the story was. “The Killing Joke” is not a story for children, so the animation used should not be for children. “TAS” was a very smooth show. By that I mean that everything, quite literally, looked very smooth. The art in “Killing Joke” has no such smoothness. There are jagged edges to characters, things don’t look perfect and safe. And why should they? If you have any familiarity with the story, this is not one that was playing it safe. Alan Moore has stated that he sees Batman and The Joker as mirror images of one another, something I alluded to previously and, further, critics have said that both Batman and Joker are tragic characters that (at least in Moore’s version of the Joker tale) are results of one bad day. These aren’t perfect creatures we are discussing; these are very damaged characters that are in no way perfect, fixable entities. To gloss them over in a smooth, more colorful way… It simply wouldn’t do the story justice.

All of that said, while I did enjoy DC’s effort with “The Killing Joke” I certainly enjoyed the book more and encourage people to read it. For this author, that does nothing to diminish either the film OR the book, we live in a world where both can exist and it is good that they do. For the comic industry, it’s good for people to see this, hear critical response, and seek out the book to see what the differences are. For the film industry, it’s good that comic readers will want to see their favorite story played out and compare dreams to reality. Whenever these comic stories are committed to digital or celluloid, we shouldn’t waste time debating whether it should or should not have happened, we should enjoy it. What a time to be alive as a fan.

You can buy “The Killing Joke” on August 2nd at Amazon.

You can buy The Killing Joke, also, on Amazon.

DoorMatt Reviews #1: “The Room” Live w/ Tommy Wiseau

posteraFor those unfamiliar, “The Room” (2003) is the seminal masterpiece written, directed, produced, and otherwise completely sculpted by underappreciated genius Tommy Wiseau (imdb). To say that the film didn’t reach it’s intended audience when it was first released would likely be… an understatement? A slight accuracy? An exaggeration? Therein lies the magic that is “The Room.” What started out as a joke to many people has, in just one short decade, turned into a film that is lauded along side the likes of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Repo! The Genetic Opera” as midnight movie fare that sells out theaters across the country.

Those that are from the same general age range as me, or are generally into the same “immature” things, may remember the original Adult Swim “The Room” prank. In 2009, Adult Swim without any prior buildup or warning aired “The Room” in place of it’s normal late night block of programming. And, while Adult Swim had already had a tradition of yearly April Fools Day pranks in 2009, the network had generally aired either re-runs of their own programming, unfinished tests of upcoming new programs, or elaborate hoaxes, such as this. The network repeated “The Room” prank the following two years (2010 and 2011) but it was in the 2010 year that something interesting happened: the love affair with Tommy Wiseau began somewhat in earnest.

During the 2010 “The Room” prank, Adult Swim played the film with bumpers of a Tommy Wiseau interview on Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Here’s a short compilation:

Let’s be clear, Tommy (“Johnny”) is not a great actor. This is a film with very few roles, fewer quality performances, and still Tommy is overshadowed by his two primary co-stars; the… lovely (?) Juliette Danielle (“Lisa”) and the passable Greg Sestero (“Mark”). It’s Tommy’s magnetic personality, or aura, that really keeps this film moving all these years later and blows through the film like a whirlwind of charisma, much in the same way Heath Ledger’s Joker blew through “The Dark Knight.” It’s why Tommy has been able to stay relevant 13 years after the making of “The Room,” despite only really making one other primary project (“The Neighbors”), and seeing co-stars such as Sestero go on to write a best selling book, “The Disaster Artist”, about his time making “The Room.”

TheRoomSoldoutAll this leads me back to the original point of the post, to review my time seeing “The Room” live, with special guest Tommy Wiseau. Any cursory online search will show you what you need to know about “The Room” live shows; these things turn into a three ring circus. Cos-plays, line readings, spoon tossings… you name it. “The Room” live shows are like a release where like minded people can get together and have fun watching what some critics have called “The Worst Movie Ever Made.”

I saw “The Room” live show in Philadelphia on Friday, July, 29 with my friends Steve and Stevie (I’ll like to her vlog at the bottom so you can check out her live journey to “The Room” yesterday) and to say we had a good time wouldn’t quite explain it all. We originally had decided to go to this screening because it was one of the shows that the film’s creator, Tommy Wiseau, would be in attendance and giving a Q & A before each screening of the film. And, really, that’s all that we thought it would be. About a week TommyFansbefore, I had even told Steve “Dude, don’t bring a football, I highly doubt that he will sign anything.” As with anything on the internet, there are differing takes on Tommy when you read about him online. Some people say he is very fan friendly, others have overwhelmingly said that he is very consumed with the fame his film has brought him; nothing could be further from the truth. I have met many celebrities, sort of celebrities, and wannabe celebrities over the years but very few have been as accessible and kind as Tommy Wiseau. Though unadvertised, we arrived an hour early to find out that Tommy would take pictures and sign autographs for everyone that wanted them if they were purchasing his merchandise. I know what you’re thinking, especially if you’ve been to ANY film or comic convention before; “the merchandise was expensive, wasn’t it?” No! Footballs: $13.99. DVDs, Posters, and Tees: $10. 8x10s: $7. This is a wildly popular person amongst people our age range that is actually in touch with what he means to his fan base and the cost of an item. And it wasn’t a “hey, step up, meet Tommy, get your autograph, and please get the fuck out of the way!” thing. Tommy took time, talked to people, thanked them for coming, and was generally a pleasant process. I was really very surprised by the whole thing.

MattTommyWiseauMoving to the actual presentation, Tommy’s actual show was… interesting. The show starts with a brief introduction by the man himself, then a showing of his 2009 “sitcom” effort “The Neighbors.” “The Neighbors” is… weird. It’s essentially about a group of people who are never really officially named (except in the credits) that live in an apartment building together. Think “Melrose Place” if it was written, directed, and starred in by a third grade class… and Tommy Wiseau… and bikini chicks with large breasts. There are also these weird, self-reflective and bile spewing bumpers at people that have leveled criticisms at Wiseau, such as the oft batted thought that the film either had no script or the script was written daily was the movie was being filmed. The bumpers are accompanied by large “SHAME ON YOU!” slams at those that toss this criticism at the film… and an invitation to buy the script for $17.99 with a free pair of Tommy Wiseau “Twunderwear.” Funny. Before the main event, Tommy made a re-appearance and gave a brief Q & A about whatever questions the crowd wanted to ask. Of particular note; “How did you come across the correct number of belts for a man to wear?” “How do you feel about Trump?” “Is love really blind?” and… “Where are you from?” More on that last question at the end. Finally it was time for the big one, the main event, the Flair vs Steamboat broadway of live shows; “The Room.” If you’ve never been to a live performance of “The Room,” and have even a cursory interest in the film, you need to do it once. Seeing “The Room” live is less of a film going event and more of an experience. You’re not there to sit quietly; oh no, you’re there to be a part of the show, and it’s encouraged. Want to shout out your favorite lines? Go for it. Got spoons to throw every time you see that beautiful framed photo of Tommy’s spoon relative? By all means, please do! Everything is welcomed. At the end of the show, the front of the theater was littered with spoons and smiling faces.

Now, for more about that pesky question: Where is Tommy Wiseau from? This is a question that Tommy NEVER wants to answer. One can easily make the assumption that the person who asked this question is likely unaware of who and what Tommy is all about. Tommy has always been more about his film than about himself. He doesn’t want his past to be known, doesn’t want much about the making of the movie to be known, and generally frowns upon these questions being asked during live events. That said, to me, it only adds to the mystery and amazing aura that surrounds the film and the man himself. Who can’t help but want to know more about this when you know all that? That attitude though has caused rifts and issues between Tommy and people in his inner circle. Enter Rick Harper and his upcoming documentary “Room Full of Spoons” (imdb). From the Facebook page of the film:

In the spring of 2011, Rick Harper, the Director of Room Full of Spoons, was introduced to a mysterious filmmaker known for his cult film The Room. Celebrated by the world as the worst movie ever made, The Room has quickly become one of the most iconic films in popular culture. Join Rick and his team on their amazing journey across North America as they document this midnight movie phenomenon, meet with the cast and crew of The Room and struggle as they dissect the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau.

The documentary started as an ode to “The Room” and what it’s become… and slowly became more as Harper dove into the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau. When Harper began asking questions about Tommy’s background, where he was from, what his real name is, and the like, Tommy cast him aside and banished him from the circle. The same treatment applies to Sandy Schklair, the script supervisor on “The Room” (to be played by Seth Rogen in James Franco’s “The Masterpiece“) who has been one of the main voices about the troubles Tommy had in making the film (i.e. not knowing what he was doing, having no equipment, and not having a script). “Room Full of Spoons,” though, for all the negative surrounding the relationship between Harper and Wiseau, has only added to the mystique of the film and the man for me. It didn’t stop me from wanting to see “The Room,” despite Harper even saying in interviews that it has made him love “The Room” less. Judge for yourself, because even if you learn what’s behind the curtain, is the Wizard any less magical? “The Room” is fun, whether we know about Tommy Wiseau or not.

Really, isn’t that what it is all about, fun? The true and utter looks of joy on people’s faces because they got a chance to meet someone they loved, hangout with people they don’t know but have a connection with, and they could be completely comfortable doing it. So, please, if you look down on “The Room,” or any other independent film or film like “The Room,” keep your shit opinion to yourself. Film-making doesn’t have to be about crystal clear pictures (“FOCUS!!!!”), or continuity (seriously, why the pictures of spoons and why does NO ONE ever close the damn doors), or great acting (“OH HAI, MARK!”). Film-making is about making something that brings people together, puts smiles on faces, and creates communities. I’m a part of this community and proud of it.

ALSO, as mentioned, please checkout my friend Stevie Taryn’s video blog. Below is her and Steve’s journey to seeing “The Room” yesterday. She also posts a lot of vegan life videos and they are pretty cool too… I guess… Haha.