There’s no saving ‘Suicide Squad’

“Suicide Squad” was doomed to begin with.

This squad, assembled by director and writer David Ayer, are tasked with the impossible, made even more so by the elevated expectations of comic book fans.

This was D.C’s team going head to head with Marvel’s successful “Avengers” franchise.

But the squad — made up of Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and Croc Killer (Adewale Akinneuoye-Agbaje) — were set up to fail.

They’re the “The Dirty Dozen” of supervillains — the bad guys assigned to save the world. Not only are they tasked with battling badder guys, but these guys are fighting their instinctually human urges of serving their own self interest.

“Suicide Squad” has many problems, but the first is its ridiculous premise: that a group of supervillains could actually be the next Superman or Batman — and that they’d want to be heroes to begin with.

The film overcompensates for these villains inherent natures by giving them sympathetic backstories and editing out scenes showing truly evil stuff. By omitting this material, the filmmakers are also editing out important context clues crucial to our understanding of these characters.

These guys are bad guys for a reason yet those reasons aren’t explained. Instead, we’re given reasons we should sympathize with these protagonists. El Diablo accidentally killed his wife in a fire and Croc Killer was born looking like a monster — so he became one.

Casting directors Lindsay Graham and Mary Vernieu also cast one of the most likable and charismatic human beings alive to play Deadshot, a jaded paid assassin for hire. You don’t have a problem believing Will Smith’s a hero after seeing him in previous roles such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Men in Black,” “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “I am Legend,” so its hard to believe that Smith’s Deadshot is actually a villain.

“Suicide Squad” focuses on Deadshot’s role as a loving father to his daughter Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon), but while that’s enough material to make a two hour film with, that’s only a fraction of what “Suicide Squad” is supposed to contain. Remember the other villains? We don’t remember most of them either.

That’s quite a letdown since the film features one of the most interesting and iconic cinematic characters of all time. Yet “Suicide Squad” treats Jared Leto’s Joker as a gloried sidekick, using him to play to Prince Charming to Harley Quinn’s mad acid party.

“Suicide Squad” might have worked better if each of these villains were built up prior to the film, living in their own separate franchise films until this movie brought them together. (We certainly wish Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Leto’s Joker got their own movie.) Or perhaps “Suicide Squad” would have worked better if we were presented real anti-heros instead of “Suicide Squad’s” poor excuses.

Whatever the case, perhapses won’t alleviate the feeling of being cheated.

“Suicide Squad” was written and directed by David Ayer, based on John Ostrander’s comic books. 


Next Stop… ‘Fruitvale Station’: a discussion on race and equality 50 years since MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech

Fifty years ago on the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. announced his dream to the world: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Fifty years later, that world is still a dream.

According to an August Pew Research poll, 49 percent of Americans say “a lot more” needs to be done toward racial equality.

The study shows that in 2010, black men were incarcerated six times as often as white men and in 2011, median white households made roughly $27,000 more than black ones. Blacks are three times as likely to be living in poverty. And the July unemployment rate for blacks (12.6 percent) is double of that for whites (6.6 percent).

Compared to data collected from a sample of children born more than a decade after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed into legislation, these revelations aren’t surprising. After all, according to The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy reform group, one in 10 black males in their 30s are in prison.

Meanwhile, sociologist Dr. Becky Pettit’s study, “Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress,” of high school dropouts born between 1975 and 1979 shows that:

  • 68 percent of blacks, compared with 28 percent of whites, had been incarcerated at some point by 2009.
  • In 2009, 37 percent of blacks, compared with 12 percent of whites, were imprisoned.
  • More young black dropouts are in prison or jail than have paying jobs.
  • Black men are more likely to go to prison than to graduate with a four-year college degree or complete military service.
  • Black dropouts are more likely to spend at least a year in prison than to get married.
  • And by the time they turn 18, one in four black children will have experienced the imprisonment of a parent.

This is the world we see — one where Florida’s “stand your ground” laws protected a light-skinned Hispanic  from charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter after he shot a black teen in early 2012 and didn’t protect a black woman who felt like she was in physical danger from her abusive husband.

And it’s the one we see in “Fruitvale Station,” Ryan Coogler’s empathetic debut feature-length film based on the death of Oscar Grant III, a black 22-year-old shot by a white Bay Area Rapid Transit officer.

Through Coogler’s script and direction and Rachel Morrison’s camera lens, we follow Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) over the course of 24 hours, watching his “pursuit of happyness.”

But unlike Chris Gardner‘s story (about a hardworking and homeless entrepreneur/stockbroker), “Fruitvale Station” is without its Hollywood flourishes. While Oscar may strive to provide for his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and daughter (Ariana Neal), he spent time behind the walls of the San Francisco Penitentiary. Instead of selling expensive medical equipment like Gardner did, Oscar dealt marijuana.

“Do you want me to sell dope?” Oscar, who worked at a local food market, asked his former boss after he refused to rehire him.

Certainly this illustrates the cyclical nature of one’s socioeconomic status. Unable to find a socially acceptable minimum wage job, Oscar resorts to selling drugs — which could put him back behind prison bars. Is this really the “pursuit of happiness?”

How do you answer your daughter when she asks you, “Why do you love taking your vacations more than you love being with me?”

As uncomfortable as this reality is, “Fruitvale Station” doesn’t shy away from another self-evident truth: we’re still judged by the color of our skin.

We see this when a white woman looks away nervously when a black man in jeans and a hoodie approaches her in the supermarket. We see this when police officers pull aside unarmed black men from a BART train, shooting and killing one of them.

You can’t help but think: is this what Trayvon Martin felt like when he was followed by George Zimmerman on Feb. 26, 2012?

“This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told police. “These assholes, they always get away.” Trayvon, a black teen wearing jeans and a dark hoodie, made him uncomfortable, he said.

Even President Obama isn’t a stranger to this racial profiling: “There are very few African American men in this country who’ve never had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store… There are a very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars… There are a very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking in an elevator and having a woman clutch her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often,” he said, admitting that some of these incidents occurred to him.

While Johannes Mehserle, the BART officer who shot Oscar, was convicted for involuntary manslaughter, and sentenced for two years in prison, and the Trayvon Martin case renewed momentum toward the End Racial Profiling Act, that’s not enough.

It’s not enough when new North Carolina voting laws requiring photo identification, making it harder for blacks to vote. It’s not enough when state laws require a jury to acquit a man who shot and killed someone. It’s not enough until every man is not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

That’s the world Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of 50 years ago. And sadly, those words are as relevant today as they were on Aug. 28, 1963.

Echoing the words of Dr. King, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality… We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Words to remember, but also words worth fighting for — that self-evident and elusive truth: equality. Will dreams ever come true?

‘World War Z’: prouder, stronger, better?

It begins like one of President Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” ads — an idyllic house featuring the nuclear family: Dad’s flipping pancakes, Mom’s helping out with math homework, the girls are begging for a puppy — everyday ordinary scenes edited over swelling music. You know, it’s morning again in America.

But unlike Reagan’s presidential ad, the TV montage and narration in “World War Z” are ones of increasing urgency: dolphins stranded, travel restrictions, rabies in Taiwan, CO2 rising, the looting of grocery stores, trucks bulldozing cars like they’re Matchbox toys, people jumping off roofs of skyscrapers and martial law.

These frightening scenes of chaos prove that the world’s neither prouder, stronger nor better. But rather, it shows an apocalyptic turmoil that’s becoming as routine as — say pancakes for breakfast.

While a zombie apocalypse may sound as far-fetched as martians landing on Earth, Marc Forster’s “World War Z” contains a sense of realism that makes a zombie infestation look plausible (or at least sound as realistic as Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio drama).

The everyman in this story is Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a retired UN employee who reluctantly travels to find patient zero after a zombie virus spreads worldwide. In exchange for his service, his wife, Karin (Mireille Enos), and daughters, Rachel (Abigail Hargrove) and Constance (Sterling Jerins), are promised refuge.

Forster’s zombie movie, based on a novel by Max Brooks (author of “War World Z” and “The Zombie Survival Guide”), differs from zombie movies of the past. Unlike “28 Days Later” where Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital bed alone or “I Am Legend” where Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the last man on earth, “World War Z” opens with a father and his wife and kids. Gerry Lane is never alone while raiding abandoned supermarkets or hunting deer. He has his wife and girls in tow. And when he doesn’t — only because his UN mission requires it — he’s with soldiers and scientists who have guns guarding his back.

But that’s not the only thing that separates “World War Z.” Forster’s film deals with the zombie epidemic on a much more modern and global scale. Sure, “Shaun of the Dead” — the 2004 British zom-com featuring a bloke named Shaun (Simon Pegg) trying to survive a zombie apocalypse — is good and fun and all, but the action is mostly isolated to traveling to and from a pub. And Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead” centers around a shopping mall. There’s no such thing as isolated pubs or shopping malls anymore — not with globalization.

“World War Z” takes the viewer from the city traffic in Philadelphia to a Naval ship off the coast of New York City to a military base in South Korea, a mecca in Jerusalem and a World Health Organization research facility in Wales. You know that 400-mile wall separating Israel from Palestine? That, it turns out, is the world’s greatest zombie blockade. So you’re saying that an infectious virus would solve the more than 60-year conflict between the Israelites and the Palestinians? Well, that’s one way to achieve world peace… And oh look, it’s morning again in America.

“World War Z” was directed by Marc Forster and written by Damon Lindelof, Drew Goddard, Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski, based on the novel by Max Brooks. 

The undead never die: a sample of recent zombie flicks

Jaden Smith follows father’s footsteps in ‘After Earth’

Seven years after Will and Jaden Smith’s played father-and-son in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” they co-star in another movie, “After Earth” — M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi action drama about the father-and-son duo in a post-apocalyptic future. In this timeline, Earth has become uninhabitable and Ranger soldiers police the worlds.

When Ranger General Cypher (Will Smith) goes on one last ranger mission before his retirement, he decides to take his teenaged son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), a w0uld-be ranger once he passed his exams. But the mission goes horribly wrong and the two are the only survivors when they crash land on Earth. Discovering that both his legs are broken, Cypher relies on his son to find the SOS beacon that’s their ticket home from the wreckage.

Kitai has a lot to live up to. His father is known for his lack of fear and his no-nonsense tone. After Cypher realizes the perilous nature of their situation, he wastes no time in saying, “Retrieve that beacon or we will die.”

Lucky for Kitai, the future holds high-tech gadgets which Cypher uses to track his son’s journey. This means Dad can accompany him with his “When I was your age” stories and criticize him on what he’s doing wrong. (What parent wouldn’t give for this kind of opportunity?)

But technology is a poor substitute for the real thing. And when Kitai screams, “Dad, please come help me,” Dad can only give voice commands from far away.

Like his character Kitai, fourteen-year-old Jaden Smith has a lot to live up to. His father is actor and rapper extraordinaire Will Smith, the winner of four Grammys and the “fresh prince of Bel-Air.” Since the two played father-and-son in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Will has be nominated for two Oscars and four Golden Globes. But Jaden doesn’t let his daddy’s credentials overshadow him.

He butts heads with his father at the dinner table before Will has to remind him of his manners. He screams at his dad for not being there when his sister dies and then jumps off a cliff. While some of his actions can be dismissed as teenaged rebellion, he certainly makes his presence known. Jaden’s as sincere, charismatic and emotive as his old man, proving that maybe there’s a new “fresh prince” in town.

“After Earth” is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and written by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta.