The Suicide Squad – A Movie Review

James Gunn’s R-rated version of The Suicide Squad is exactly what you would expect it to be. Yes, the humor is still there. Yep, the zaniness is off the charts. But this is Gunn with the kid gloves resoundingly off. The first ten minutes of the film are ludicrously violent and he never takes his foot off the accelerator from there.

That’s not to say I didn’t like it–I liked The Suicide Squad very much!

Gunn perfectly understands the premise of this group. These are very bad criminals literally on suicide missions in the hopes of reducing very long prison sentences. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

However, Gunn also appreciates the fact that these are comic book characters. Peacemaker looks like he stepped right off the page, yet it makes total sense with his character. Javelin, Savant, Weasel, King Shark, Mongal, Polka-Dot Man–they look almost exactly like they do in the comics. Yet, somehow, Gunn made them loveable, intense, disturbed, and dynamic. Well … some more than others.

Speaking of which, The Suicide Squad lives up to its name. Gunn takes his cue from Cormac McCarthy and doesn’t get too attached to any of his characters. I’m not a fan of killing off characters for shock value, but with a name like Suicide Squad, you kind of have to expect someone to die, right? Frankly, some of the deaths surprised even me.

My only complaint is Bloodsport, played by Idris Elba. Elba is a fine actor, and Bloodsport is a cool character, but he seemed so similar to Will Smith’s Deadshot in terms of storyline and abilities that it felt almost like they were hoping the audience wouldn’t notice these were two different characters. Bloodsport is an expert marksmen trying to help his daughter while finding the goodness within. Sound familiar? I liked Ebla just fine, but there’s a classic Suicide Squad character out there called The Bronze Tiger that probably would have been a better choice. The Bronze Tiger is an expert martial artist and former member of the League Of Assassins. His character could have been a good way to set one of the lead characters apart from Deadshot.

The core characters of the movie were fun to watch, especially John Cena’s Peacemaker. Though an incredibly violent man, they played Peacemaker for a lot of laughs and Cena pulled it off by playing it as straight as he could. King Shark looked amazing and, like Peacemaker, spurred forth much of the humor even as he was literally tearing people in half. Joel Kinnaman once again had to be the straight man but Gunn even allowed his character some breathing room and moments of levity. Of course, Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn and brings something unique to the screen every time she plays the character. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller? Chilling.

However, James Gunn completely won me over with the last act of the film. I won’t spoil it in case you somehow missed it, but the last act of the movie is about as bonkers as you can get and I couldn’t believe I was actually watching it unfold. Gunn said Warner Brothers let him do whatever he wanted, and I believe it! I never, ever thought I’d see a certain monster from DC Comics in a blockbuster movie, but there he was, and he looked both terrifying and ridiculously silly–in a good way!

So as you can see, I had a fun time watching The Suicide Squad. There were so many jokes coming so fast with so much going on all of the time that I definitely need to watch it again. Luckily, it’s so crazy and fun that I won’t mind doing so at all.

HBO Max’s All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star – A Few Thoughts

HBO Max continues to air shows from BBC, this time with All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star. We picked this show to watch as a family. Like with Full Bloom, The American Barbecue Showdown, Blown Away, and The Great British Baking Show, we are fascinated by makers making things and being very nice to one another while doing so.

All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star isn’t something I initially thought I would enjoy. I honestly brought it up to my daughters because they are crafty and what could be more crafty than making jewelry, right? However, as soon as they started their first task, I was hooked. As I watched, I realized I had no idea how jewelry got made–I always took it for granted. Seeing the process proved fascinating. I couldn’t get enough.

Best of all? Like with the above mentioned shows, all of the contestants are both very talented and very cordial. They support each other, encourage one another, and conduct themselves respectably. I won’t spoil the ending, but my favorite contestant actually won, and I also believe this contestant to be the most pleasant of all the very pleasant people.

Each show is broken into two parts. The first part is a “Best Seller” challenge. The jewelers are given a brief, and then they must craft a piece of jewelry that both fits that brief and would be a bestseller in a jewelry store. This can be a difficult task because while the piece must be skillfully made and original, it also has to be mainstream enough to appeal to the masses.

The second part of each episode is always my favorite, and it’s called “The Bespoke.” In this portion, the jewelers must create a sentimental piece specifically made for a special person. Seeing the joyful reactions of the recipients, as well as the winning jeweler’s emotional response, is always a moment guaranteeing the feels.

I understand that on paper this show may not sound like your thing, but trust me when I tell you that it is well made, the participants are engaging to watch, the pieces are exquisite to behold as they evolve from nothing into heirlooms, and the whole tone of the show is simply a joy.

You can find All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star on HBO Max.

No Sudden Move – A Movie Review

I watched No Sudden Move on HBO Max last night frankly because I wanted to watch an actual movie and it seemed like the best option available. I also knew Steven Soderbergh is a celebrated director, and that fact, coupled with an impressive cast, made it an easy choice.

Set in the early 1950s, No Sudden Move is about two men hired (along with a third) to hold an accountant’s family hostage as the accountant retrieves a document from his boss’ safe. At that point, things move oddly fast for a movie called No Sudden Move and the story becomes more and more complex with each passing moment.

In the end, I can certainly say that I enjoyed No Sudden Move. However, I enjoyed it primarily due to the cast. Don Cheadle put on quite a mesmerizing performance. He’s understated in No Sudden Move, yet captivating at the same time. Benicio Del Toro was also interesting to watch. Furthermore, you’ll see Brendan Frasier, Julia Fox, Kieran Culkin, Amy Seimetz, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, and a surprising performance by David Harbour.

The cars, set pieces, and clothing also gave the movie a sense of reality that helped the audience to engage. Furthermore, Soderbergh, as is his fashion, consistently chose unique angles and perspectives for his shots. At times I thought they were a little overdone, but for the most part it’s a beautifully shot film. You’ll also notice that he seems to play with lenses to some degree.

I can’t claim to have been smitten with the story, though, because half of the time I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. Soderbergh does not reveal the big picture until the very end, and while it ultimately (mostly) made sense, I felt as though the audience could have been clued in a little sooner. It is only because of Cheadle and Del Toro that I just rolled with it–I simply enjoyed watching them act.

In the end, I recommend No Sudden Move for the performances. Watching all of these gifted actors will move the film along even as the plot is not clearly evident.

Mare Of Easttown – A Few Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoy listening to Chris and Andy from The Watch, and they immediately lauded Mare Of Easttown as soon as they could–before it even debuted, if I’m not mistaken. Because they were so excited for it, my wife and I made sure to catch it as soon as the first episode aired.

We were instantly hooked.

I promise not to spoil anything when I say that Mare Of Easttown is about a small town detective who is personally battling difficulties even as tragic events continue to unfold around her. There are two major mysteries to be solved in this series, which may or may not be connected, yet the show is more about Mare and her fellow Easttowners than anything. These are people who have grown up together, laughed together, cried together, lived together, and died together. The story drives relentlessly forward with the mystery plots, but it also gracefully takes the time to reveal nuggets of history among all of these characters. Yes, the show does indeed reveal the solution to both mysteries, but, perhaps more importantly, it offers a resolution for Mare and her fellow cast of characters.

Speaking of characters, everyone is superb on this show. Kate Winslet plays Mare as tough, plain, damaged, and charmingly unlikable. However, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, and Evan Peters also deliver expert performances. In fact, everyone–and I do mean EVERYONE–truly makes every piece of dialogue count. This is a show performed by talented professionals.

I won’t lie–Mare Of Easttown is sometimes hard to watch due to violence and gore, yet it never crosses the line. It never veers into the gratuitous, nor does it become blatantly distasteful. It is a show for grownups, though, so be advised.

Mare Of Easttown initially flirted with the Broadchurch method of making everyone seem like they could be guilty from episode to episode, but they relaxed that tendency as the show progressed. In fact, many viewers were probably surprised by how quickly things started wrapping up by episode five (of seven).

If you’re looking for a satisfying show that has real heart as well as an interesting story, I strongly recommend Mare Of Easttown on HBO. In fact, you can watch the first episode for free HERE.

Godzilla vs. Kong – A Movie Review

It’s all in the title, right?

Let’s start with the positives–the special effects in Godzilla vs. Kong are spectacular. You see every hair on Kong’s body, every scale on Godzilla’s face. It really is very impressive.

Also, when the two behemoths clash, it is epic. The falling buildings, the crashing waves, the displaced earth–they’ve got the physics of their brawling down pretty well.

Furthermore, the actors–respectable names like Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, and three minutes of Kyle Chandler–they’re trying. They’re trying. So. Hard.

And the director, Adam Wingard, he’s doing his best. He really is. The movie looks great. The actors are obviously giving it their all. I think he’s got everyone motivated, he’s got the film appearing exquisite, and he’s got the technical people overachieving.

But, despite all of those positives, the movie is just dumb.

There’s no other way to put it.

I wish they would stop trying to insert human stories into monster fight movies. I wish they would stop trying to humanize monsters. I wish they would stop trying to force motivation upon the monsters.

Here’s my monster fight movie–monster’s fight for 75 to 90 minutes. Multimedia news reports are spliced in to provide context. Done. Everyone is happy.

Godzilla vs. Kong has a lot going for it. It’s a fun, entertaining spectacle with sublime special effects (even on the “small” screen through HBO Max). But there’s a lot about this movie that just plain doesn’t make any sense at all, no matter how suspended the disbelief.

Wonder Woman: 1984 – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

Let me start by saying that I adore the first Wonder Woman film. That moment when Wonder Woman climbs out of the trenches and crosses No Man’s Land … I think it will forevermore be one of the most iconic cinematic scenes in movie history. Furthermore, it had a tight storyline, introduced the entire world and culture of Themyscira, and provided a potent moment in history with World War I. True, the final battle with the prerequisite big bad left something to be desired, but otherwise the movie proved a total success. It had heart, humor, and a real soul.

1984 has … some … of those things … at times.

I’m afraid Wonder Woman: 1984 fell a little flat with me.

The good news is that there’s a lot to like about Wonder Woman: 1984. Kristen Wiig totally sold me as Barbara Minerva. Furthermore, I think we all need to give Wiig huge respect for filming an intense action movie at forty-five years of age. She looks amazing and we get to see her as the superstar she’s always been.

Gal Gadot, as usual, oozes charisma and her chemistry with Chris Pine is as sharp as ever.

The opening scene featuring the Amazons during Diana’s childhood is superb. I’ve heard rumors they are making a spinoff film focusing upon the Amazons and I think that’s a very wise decision. I just pray they continue to include Robin Wright and Connie Nielson.

Also, the final scene of the movie, particularly in how it relates to Barbara Minerva, is wonderful. They fixed everything that disappointed me about the final scene in the first film.

Unfortunately, though they got the ending right in Wonder Woman: 1984, I fear they missed several steps getting there. My major issue with the film centers around its central premise. I won’t spoil it for you, but it explains how Chris Pine’s dead character returns and how Barbara Minerva undergoes a certain change. Look, I know we’re dealing with fantasy, but after such a relatively grounded first film deeply rooted in the horrors or World War I, 1984’s premise seemed rather silly. Sadly, that premise never led anywhere more complex than its most basic concept. The story, as a whole, just didn’t work for me.

I’m also afraid that the special effects simply didn’t hold up to the first film. Diana is now using her magic lasso much like Tarzan uses vines or Spider-Man uses webs. I kept finding myself getting distracted by the physics of the lasso and how Diana swinging about didn’t ever look natural. The lasso seemed to appear and disappear at will and didn’t adhere to any certain length or rigidity. Simply put, it didn’t look good.

Finally, Wonder Woman: 1984 struck me as a series of vignettes rather than a complete story. The opening scene on Themyscira is so beautiful, but ultimately unnecessary to the overall story. Most of Chris Pine’s scenes are there for comedic effect and could have been left on the cutting room floor. Diana experiences some new revelations about her abilities that are, honestly, unnecessary to the story as well and rather contradictory to what we’ve seen from her in Batman v Superman and Justice League. Finally, the incredible moment in the trailer when Wonder Woman lassos lightening? Total letdown.

I really do regret to say that Wonder Woman: 1984 is not as well written as its predecessor, the special effects are not as good as its predecessor, and it’s nowhere near as substantive as its predecessor. However, I’ll keep watching Wonder Woman movies because I love the character, I love Themyscira, and I love Gal Gadot working with Patty Jenkins.

Lovecraft Country – A Few Thoughts

Lovecraft Country started out as a brilliant genre mashup of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, history, and social commentary. The first episode thoroughly impressed me because it mixed fantasy horror with real life horror quite effectively. 

The second episode seemed to be a strange break from the first, and each subsequent episode always felt a little disjointed from the series as a whole. There were so many zigs and so many zags that I couldn’t synthesize the overall plot. 

In the end, these inconsistent storylines proved too much for me to say that I enjoyed the series. 

However, Lovecraft Country’s secret weapons are the cast. In the end, I’ll watch anything with Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett in starring roles. These two were fantastic. Furthermore, the show just looked good. The costumes, the sets, the props, the cars–everything was topnotch. 

And, though we only got to see them in one episode, Topsy and Bopsy proved to be the breakout superstars of Lovecraft Country. These charismatic fiends are the stuff of nightmares, yet I can’t wait to see them again. 

I appreciate everything Lovecraft Country set out to do. It tackled social issues, historical tragedies, racism, sexism, abuse, and many other important things, all while telling a story based within the worlds of magic and horror. 

In the end, though, it simply couldn’t tell a streamlined, coherent story that stretched across all ten episodes. No matter how great the acting, how beautiful the sets and costumes, and how noble the intent, the writing has got to be the best aspect of any show. 

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The Third Day – A Few Thoughts

I wanted to like The Third Day–I really did. I stuck it out. All six hours. Kept hoping it would get better.

It didn’t.

The Third Day had so much going for it. Beautifully shot. Excellent locations. Charismatic acting. An interesting concept. It’s just … it didn’t make any sense to me at all.

The Third Day jumped around so much that the plot became a muddled mess. The characters made such irrational, ludicrous decisions that I simply couldn’t suspend my disbelief. The show contradicted itself at every turn.

But … the actors! The actors were so good! Naomie Harris, Jude Law, Emily Watson, Paddy Considine, Katherine Waterson–these are quality actors doing quality work!

It just didn’t work.

As much as I want to, I simply can’t recommend The Third Day.

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An American Pickle – A Movie Review

An American Pickle is a strange, disparate comedy, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.

The premise is that an impoverished immigrant comes to America with his new wife, begins working in a pickle factory, and then, after falling into a vat of brine, wakes up 100 years later in modern day Brooklyn. He only has one surviving member of his family left, a great-grandson. By the way, Seth Rogen plays both the immigrant and the great-grandson.

I described An American Pickle as strange and disparate because while there are some laugh-out-loud moments, this movie is oddly quiet and serious at times. It very much centers on the importance of both family and faith. However, it will then switch gears and become absolutely ridiculous. This uneven pacing threw me for loop, but that’s not to say I didn’t like it. The unpredictable nature of the film actually kept me engaged.

Again, An American Pickle has a rather unexpected sense of poignancy. Rogen plays both Herschel Greenbaum and Ben Greenbaum. Herschel is literally a relic of the past. He is bias, violent, crude, and uneducated, yet he is also devoted to family, hardworking, tenacious, and devoutly religious. Ben, on the other hand, is technologically savvy, intelligent, and politically correct, but he’s also disconnected from society, has no real sense of family, and won’t acknowledge his own emotions. I think we recognize certain aspects of ourselves in both these characters–the good and the bad.

There also seems to be quite a bit of social commentary in An American Pickle (but you have to perhaps overanalyze the film in order to recognize it). The insanity of our current political climate, our overabundance on technology, our waning sense of community, our religious indifference, and our tenuous grip on family bonds are all on display in An American Pickle. Of course, the film is not overemphasizing these issues, but they are definitely there if you want to notice them.

I wouldn’t say An American Pickle is among my favorite movies, but I certainly enjoyed it and appreciated the fact that it took a different approach to comedy. If you’re in need of a quick, unusual movie to watch, I recommend you give An American Pickle a try.

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HBO Max’s Harley Quinn: Seasons 1 & 2 – A Few Thoughts

I subscribed to HBO Max because I am DC Comics for life and I could not resist the Zack Snyder Justice League Director’s Cut. 

Okay. There, I said it.

However, there have been some very welcome surprises since subscribing to HBO Max, and Harley Quinn is very much among them.

Let me explain. DC Comics launched a streaming service about two years ago featuring original show content such as Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Titans, and Harley Quinn. I heard rumors that, with the advent of HBO Max, the DC streaming service might get absorbed, at least in terms of shows. To my great advantage, that is happening even as we speak. 

Harley Quinn never struck me as a must-watch, but I’d heard good things about it, and so when it popped up on the HBO Max “just added” page, I gave it a shot.

I instantly loved it.

At just about 23 minutes apiece, this animated comedy regularly made me laugh out loud as I powered through the first two seasons. The show is cartoonishly bloody and relentlessly profane, but it is absolutely hilarious.

It features Harley Quinn played by Kaley Cuoco, Poison Ivy played by Lake Bell, Batman played by Diedrich Bader, Clayface played by Alan Tudyk, King Shark played by Ron Funches, Dr. Psycho played by Tony Hale, and Commissioner Gordon played by Christopher Meloni.

You’ve also got substantial voice appearances by J.B. Smoove, Jim Rash, Jason Alexander, Giancarlo Esposito, Michael Ironside, Wanda Sykes, Rachel Dratch, Wayne Knight, Will Sasso, and Alfred Molina. These are NAMES, people!

However, I’m not sure how funny this show is to anyone not deeply steeped in nerd culture. There are a ton of inside comic book jokes, parodies, and satires squarely aimed at the last eighty or so years of DC Comics.

Furthermore, they make everyone hilarious. Clayface makes me roar every time he talks, Bane is comedy gold, and King Shark is adorable. Kite Man has become the most sympathetic character going, and Poison Ivy is cooler than anyone ever imagined possible, and also bitingly funny. Don’t even get me started on Commissioner Gordon. 

Harley Quinn is such a fresh take on these characters and so unusual that you have to watch it for the novelty alone. For anyone who says DC is too dark, I dare you to feel the same way after watching Harley Quinn. (Just don’t pay attention to the blood, the maiming, and the general anarchy.)

Best of all? HBO Max just announced that Harley Quinn: Season 3 is coming exclusively to HBO Max.

If you have HBO Max, I highly recommend that you give Harley Quinn a try.