24. Incidentals–7/10/17

Often I find myself pining for the good, old, carefree days of my 1990s childhood, when Will Smith seemed a trifle more down to earth and you could smoke in restaurants. I miss those days, both as an erstwhile fan of the Fresh Prince and as someone who works in a restaurant and hates himself just enough to enjoy a nice Parliament every ten minutes or so now and again. I’m old enough that I can remember when going out to eat meant deciding whether you wanted to wait forty minutes for a table in the non-smoking section, where families dined peaceably and breathed clean, invisible air, or be seated immediately in the smoking section, where the patrons hacked bits of lung and trachea goo into their chicken Parmesans and dates were obscured across tabletops by the gray skrim of expunged smoke hanging between them. Even when I was too young to be a smoker myself, I thrilled whenever I dined out with a relative who smoked, or whenever my parents were willing to risk shortening their children’s lives in exchange for shortening their wait time. I loved the smoking section. The second-hand smoke bothered my eyes and dried out my nasal passages and left me blowing slime-yellow snot into tissues for hours after leaving, but I’m sucker: I totally bought into all those ads glamorizing cigarettes (back when there was such a thing as cigarette ads), showing impossibly cool camels shooting pool in Ray-Bans and backward baseball caps, too dapper for words in a tuxedo and black tie. I’d look at those ads, glossy in the pages of my mother’s fashion magazines, enraptured by the glamour they promised, and I guess I’d think to myself something along the lines of I wanna be that camel? Who knows. I also had phase in high school where I collected pictures of writers I admired smoking cigarettes (by “collected” I mean that I searched for these images online and printed them out behind my boss’s back at my after-school job at the local library), which probably didn’t help matters–or did help, I guess, depending on your feelings about things like heart disease and lung cancer.

The point is: I loved the smoking section. I loved the grim faces everyone had on (smokers always look grim; it’s not because they’re cranky, it’s because smoking is repulsive and you can’t help but make a repulsed face when you do it, that’s just facts). I loved the people who didn’t bother to put out their cigarettes if their food happened to arrived at an inopportune time, who were talented enough to smoke and eat simultaneously. I loved the old women with their mile-long 120’s who were still enough (because they were dying, I know realize) to keep the caterpillar of ash growing at the end of it from falling to dust on the table top. I loved the atmosphere: dirty, stinky, and with just a hint of macular degeneration. And even though it’s *heavy sigh* probably for the best that the prohibition against cigarettes is in full swing pretty much any where a queer boy of color could go without getting lynched or gang raped by six guys in an ’97 Ford-150, four of whom are named Jeremy, there comes a moment (or nine) during every shift I work where I find myself wishing there were clouds of smoke for me to walk through just so I don’t kill the woman at table twenty-one who is apparently going to die anyway if I don’t get there quickly with her fourth iced tea (with extra lemon!).

 

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suicide squad is awful as you’ve heard it is

suicide squad is as awful as you’ve heard it is.

the plot is sloppy and haphazard, clunking along pointlessly as moments of insufferably corny dialogue are plunked between sequences of lack-luster action. the art direction is not so bad–the joker’s (jared leto) green slick-back was really giving me ideas for fall, but harley quinn’s (margot robbie) daisy dukes and skin-tight tee, “daddy’s lil’ monster” scrawled across the breast, seemed like a cheap excuse to sex up a woman who is probably sexy in sweatpants. (the actress herself, in conversation with the new york times, expresses some ambivalence about the hot pants, but concedes that they are part of the character’s “iconography.”) of course, i’d have put her in the red and black jester’s costume she wore in the animated series, and which the movie tease us with early on–but that’s just me.

suicide squad introduces us to its titular anti-heroes by on-screen text that gives their names, neé and aka, and what they can do. as high-ranking government official amanda waller (played well but without investment by her majesty viola davis) walks national security advisors through a binder containing information on the top-secret task force she’s assembled, comprised of the worst criminals in the world, we meet our primary players. there’s deadshot, played by will smith, a sniper assassin who has never missed a shot. there’s diablo, a former cholo gangster who can spew fire from his hands, and captain boomerang, who throws boomerangs and hits on widows, and killer croc, a man who looks like a crocodile. (there are probably more characters but i’ve forgotten about them because, like the film itself, they’re forgettable.)

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in any case, waller has some hair-brained scheme to control these criminals by implanting exploding chips into their heart which she can detonate if they step out of line. to lead them she appoints captain rick flagg (an absolutely delicious joel kinnaman). there’s no immediate reason: waller has some speech about how the next world war will be fought by metahumans and the united states might as well be prepared. no sooner, of course, does she assemble this rag-tag group than one of them–an archaeologist possessed by a powerful witch known as the enchantress–escapes her control and begins wreaking havoc on someplace called mid city. send in task force x, who, inexplicably, are sent in to rescue waller and defeat the enchantress. none of it really makes any sense. the enchantress is building a machine to take over the world, but all this machine seems to do is turn ordinary people into shellacked minion soldiers under her control. one wonders why a sorceress so powerful–one who can make people see things that aren’t there, teleport, do basically whatever she wants–would go to all that trouble when she might just as easily cast a spell for world domination.

but no matter. there’s money to be made here, clearly. the show, no matter how tacked together, must go on.

a hungry margot robbie gives it her all but either it’s not enough or there’s not enough to give it to, or both. i was not at all impressed with her partially-realized  conception of harley quinn, but this might not totally be her fault: she certainly hasn’t been given very much to work with.

one feels worse for will smith as deadshot, who is forced to deliver some of the film’s worst dialogue and muster some of the films most artificial emotions. “you don’t kill as many people as i’ve killed and sleep peacefully at night by feeling things like love,” he tells harley quinn, which totally contradicts the idea, otherwise expressed throughout, that his primary motivation is his young daughter. particularly nauseating is a scene in which he attempts to teach her geometry through bullet trajectory–despite his previous efforts to conceal from her the nature of his business endeavors.

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similarily disgraced is jay hernandez as diabolo, a conflicted ex-con whose weepy tale about how he murdered his wife and children is a moment of failed pathos so horribly written one can’t help but squirm. he has vowed never to wreak his pyrogenic havoc again. he relents, of course, for his new “family,” and to save the world, which is another thing that felt like hard bullshit about this movie: how quickly these characters–“textbook sociopaths,” allegedly, as harly quinn observes at one point–are bonded together, ready to give their lives for one another. sure, this sort of unlikely commitment is a tentpole of the sorts of movies in which gangs of misfits band together to do something brave and unexpected, but it was particularly hard to swallow in a movie about people who murder their own offspring, or swim in sewers, or do whatever captain boomerang does.

but of course, none of these characters is clearly drawn or convincingly motivated. one can’t help but wonder if the writer was given a story board and tasked with working backward.

which might go some way to articulating why so many dc fanboys are freaking out about the movie’s poor critical reception: as fans of the comic book, they come to the movie with not only an investment in but also an acquaintance with the mythology that critics who are excoriating the movie lack. i’m one of those critics. they only characters i knew anything about going in were harley quinn, because i worshipped the batman animated series that birthed her in the 1990s, and june moore/the enchantress, because I kept seeing her in the trailers and was like who is that witch because typically i’m down for anything involving witches. lacking an exposure to the source material, i was dependent upon the movie itself for both inspiration and a reason to care. the film delivered neither of these things and, no matter what the fanboys believe–some of whom were scattered, solitary, about the theater at the viewing i attended yesterday–the film needed to.

i’d feel remiss if i didn’t mention jared leto’s turn as the joker, one of the most iconic of all the characters in the dc comicverse. always a standout and a staple, the joker became a template for the deranged psychopath supervillain after heath ledger donned the purple suit in christopher nolan’s masterful the dark knight. that was a stellar performance, and it’s clear how much leto hopes to do something similar here. poor jared leto. there’s something cookie-cutter about his turn. he seems to think craziness is best expressed in animated lip movements and creepy soft caresses and false grandiloquence. to be fair, leto had his work cut out for him, taking on this role post-ledger, and it also works against him that the character is completely unnecessary in this movie. he really serves no purpose other than to provide for harley quinn’s momentary escape–a gesture hard to take as romantic when one recalls that he caused her capture in the first place. then he pops up again, in the film’s final frames, purely, it seems, to tease a sequel.

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most of suicide squad is run-of-the-mill scenes of fantasy of violence spliced with incoherent bits of exposition that i guess are supposed to stand in for plot points. there is not a face that appears on screen that does not seem to wonder, at least at one point, what it is doing there, not a performance that doesn’t fall flat, and i really can’t say enough about how corny the dialogue is. i really cannot. at times i felt embarrassed, it was so corny. in a year that has already seen its share of disappointing comic book blockbusters, from batman v. superman to x-men: apocalypse, suicide squad really stands out.