(Some Kind of) Suicide Squad

Director: David Ayer (2016)
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto
Find it: IMDB

A gang of murderers, reluctant heroes and psychopaths team up to (reluctantly) save the world from mysterious supernatural forces which threaten to destroy it, brooding a lot and constantly threatening each other in the process. But enough about Justice League, which isn't even out yet. Before that, another gang of murders, reluctant heroes and psychopaths team up to (reluctantly) save the world from mysterious supernatural forces which threaten to destroy it. But do they brood a lot and constantly threaten each other in the process? Well they do a bit - but mostly, they seem to like each other a lot more than the actual Justice League so far.

Task Force X, aka, the Suicide Squad: a ragtag band of captured supervillains, forced into collaboration with the government in exchange for mildly commuted sentences. Master assassin Deadshot (Will Smith, fun again), Joker's squeeze Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Aussie nut Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), cannibal mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, so hidden under prosthetics that it may as well be anyone), human fireball Diablo (a literally unrecognisable Jay Hernandez) and, um, expert climber Slipknot (Adam Beach), who doesn't even rate an introduction until about twenty minutes into the film. Together with minders Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and sword lady Katana (Karen Fukuhara) the team are dispatched to save a mysterious VIP from the ground zero of a supernatural event caused by all-powerful witch Enchantress (Cara Delevinge) and her CGI brother. Plus the Joker (Jared Leto) for some reason.

If introducing all of that takes up a whole lot of review time, now you know how it feels to watch the first half of Suicide Squad, which spends so long setting up characters that by the time the Squad are set to their mission, it feels like the film should be half over already. "What if Superman had decided to fly in, rip the roof off of the White House and grab the President right out of the Oval Office?' asks scary suit Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), continuing the theme of a DC cinematic universe in which Superman is such an unknowable dickhead that Batman and the government have to create contingency plans against him. Turns out that it's not Superman she needed worry about, but rather one of her own recruits, as Enchantress breaks loose to wreak havoc upon the world, creating an army of faceless zombies upon the ground and a giant portal to... something... in the sky.

Such is the plot, which is Guardians of the Galaxy meets Escape from New York, with DC characters and negative reviews. But is it as bad as all that? Certainly not, disjointed and unsure of itself as it is. The characters are fun (and funny) enough to carry the film all by themselves, the one-liners and tunes coming thick and fast throughout - varying from Queen to Kanye West to Skillex and more, depending on how on-the-nose it wants to be (usually very). I enjoyed its soundtrack hugely, but it does feel as though Ayer and the filmmakers realised that they had something of a dull one on their hands, and decided to copy and paste music all over every scene. For the first half, it's more jukebox than movie, and completely unable to see any tune through to the end.

Largely though, it handles its characters properly, and well. For all the DC cinematic universe's faults, I'm living in a world in which I get to see Killer Croc and Deadshot in live action, and upon the big screen. And for that, one should forever be grateful.

Even Harley Quinn is several times less irritating than feared - and actually seems kind of rounded at some points - thankfully nowhere near the insufferable Deadpool clone she could have been. Like most of the squad, Deadshot is too heroic to ever work as a villain (and his mask is stupid) but feels authentic as the master assassin and de facto team leader. Jai Courtney is actually good as Boomerang - a thing I never thought I would be writing - getting all of the biggest and best laughs, with his unicorn fetish and beer chugging ways. Davis is perfect as the amoral asshole Waller, and even the more underwritten teammates (namely Diablo and Croc) get their little moments to shine. And, most importantly*, it gets Batman right. Not only does Batman not kill anyone in Suicide Squad, but he actively saves a criminal life too. And gets the most authentically 'Batman' line in a live-action Batman thing ever.

Admittedly, Batman not fucking murdering people is a low bar to clear, but following Batman v Superman, I'll take these small victories. The rest of it, however, ranges from ill-advised to flat-out horrible. The action is generic trash, all smoke, gunfights and Margot Robbie wrapping her legs around things so's you can get a good look at her ass. It's a disjointed mess, with the visuals of a David Ayer film (for the record, Fury is brilliant and I even liked Sabotage) married to a cutesy pop soundtrack and the sloppily inserted CGI colour palette of a Schumacher Batman. For a film in which Harley Quinn gives a guy a speech about 'owning' his being a murderous bastard, Suicide Squad is decidedly lacking in its convictions. Really, it's only the characters saving it from Expendables** level action movie mediocrity. And even then, Joel Kinnaman and Scott Eastwood are pretty damn mediocre.

Not mediocre: Jared Leto's much-vaunted Joker. Not good either: also Jared Leto's Joker. Less Ace Chemicals and more Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, this Joker, for all Leto's prophylactic pratting about, feels a lot like a sane man pretending (badly) to be insane. Never mind the tattoos or the grill, he quacks like a bad Jim Carrey performance and dresses like an idiot. I did like his lovesick mooning over Harley though, which is a better version of their monstrous relationship than expected.

Jared Leto's Joker.

Like everything else, it's been edited down to the bone. As red shirt Slipknot is no longer a serial rapist, so there's much less of Mister J than one might expect - a number of slimy, Quinn-torturing sequences said to be cut from the film so as to make it more palatable to grit-weary audiences.

Like the Squad itself, all of these disparate elements combine to make something which oddly works, but only just. A comic book curio of bad ideas edited into good ones (and vice versa), ADHD soundtracking and Jared Leto let loose, it's the most bizarre adaptation in years. Suicide Squad is not a good movie, but it is one I enjoyed nevertheless.

*To me
**The first one. The other two are alright

Batman: The Killing Joke

Director: Sam Liu (2016)
Starring: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong
Find it: IMDB

“It's all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for... it's all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can't you see the funny side? Why aren't you laughing?”

Yeah, alright, I went through my dumb teenage* nihilist phase too, but you don't see me making a movie about it. At last, the 'definitive' Batman/Joker story for the masses** gets its official animated adaption, once again luring Mark Hamill out of Clown Prince of Crime retirement. Well, when Mark Hamill says he wants to do The Killing Joke, you do The Killing Joke. And here it is, R-rating and all. Escaping Arkham Asylum for the latest time, the Joker embarks upon his nastiest scheme yet - proving that even the best, most sane men are only 'one day away' from becoming the Joker.

And this, as anyone who knows anything about comic book history will be aware of, sees Jim Gordon kidnapped and tortured - and Batgirl 'fridged' so as to drive Batman and the Commissioner both to the brink. The most controversial of Batman stories then, and this adaptation's first order of business should be an attempt to give Barbara some agency of her own before doing away with her.

A transparent prologue gives Barbara some time in the costume, bickering with the Bat and battling a smitten criminal. With Alan Moore patently having none of it, Brian Azzarello fills in the gaps for the pre-Killing Joke Batgirl sequences. Don’t expect the fun of recent Batgirl comics though, Azzarello sticking with his usual hardboiled vibes; maintaining the R-rating by having folks shot in the head at regular intervals and inserting the most left-field, ill-advised of sex sequences you’ll ever see in a comic book adaptation. As though The Killing Joke didn't have enough controversy of its own already.

Does the added Batgirl make what follows any more palatable? Sadly not much, the story forgetting about her anyway when it comes time for The Killing Joke to fully kick in. Worse, rather than hinting at it like the book, we finally find out how far the Joker went in his treatment of Barbara – a trio of hookers confirming to Batman that no, the Joker hasn’t visited them like he usually does after escaping Arkham (!), so he must have gotten his ‘kicks’ elsewhere. The lingering question at the ending is also answered, albeit in a more underwhelming manner.

However you feel about the book (it's still a classic!) there’s always Brian Bolland’s career-high artwork to fall back on. This animated movie has no such luck, being surprisingly slapdash in places. The Dark Knight is depicted well enough (we’re well rid of that horrible chin-strap most DCAU movies lumber him with), but this Joker is ugly in the worst way, lacking Bolland’s sense of detail or most cartoons’ vibrancy. It’s only when the animation stops aping Bolland and does its own thing that it works – see the Joker, staring up at his neon nightmare, depicted in eye-bulging anime glory. The action sequences, at least, are well done, if all too brief (and seemingly cribbed from the Two-Face story Faces, in places). Rubbish musical routine aside (Arkham Knight did it better), the rest of it is simply the novelty of hearing Mark Hamill do all of Alan Moore’s famous Joker monologues.

This Stupid Fucking Meme: The Movie

This, at least, doesn’t disappoint. The voice over legend gets to do pre-Chemical Dip Joker, enlivening a series of flashbacks which felt unnecessary even when Alan Moore did them. He and Conroy haven’t let us down yet, and The Killing Joke doesn’t disappoint from that perspective. Ray Wise and Tara Strong are also good as the two Gordons, gamely playing to an audience who only really care about their legendary leading men.

While this punchline is less overtly nihilistic than Moore’s template, it should change few minds. Those who dislike the story for its controversies and grim legacy will find little redemption here (no, not even in an Oracle nod), while the curious cult of Joker will continue to idolise his dim, bleak Nihilism 101 philosophies. Those who can appreciate the book for its place in history and considerable artistic merits will be worst off – it’s a cheap adaptation with bad animation, creaky writing (“a storm was coming”) and an opening that feels completely tacked on and disingenuous, heaping new problems onto an already troublesome prospect. It’s far from the worst DC Animated feature (hello Son of Batman and Assault on Arkham) but one should stick with The Dark Knight Returns movies or Year One for their classic Batman fix. Provided, of course, you can’t get your hands on The Animated Series proper.

In spite of the obvious passion and talent of its main players, The Killing Joke is a sad disappointment, and a concept which probably should have been well left back in the 1980s, when it was first published.

“I’ve heard it before. It wasn’t funny then.”
Why so serious, modern Joker?

*Late twenties
**The Joker's Five Way Revenge is way better

Cabin Fever (2016)

Director: Travis Z (2016)
Starring: Gage Golightly, Matthew Daddario*, Samuel Davis
Find it: IMDB

A girl takes selfies all the time. A gamer guy bemoans the lack of Internet and GTA 5. The Deputy is now a lady but still really wants to party. Such are the most notable additions to Cabin Fever 2016, the remake nobody wanted, expected or needed.

Look, I am all for remaking movies to include less Eli Roth, but Cabin Fever is not a good place to start with the erasing of his Bro legacy. Not only is Cabin Fever Roth's second best movie (next to the masterful Hostel 2, which I really do like that much), but it also contains his only tolerable slash good performance in Pothead in the Woods character Justin (who I think I only like because of Doctor Mambo). It also doesn't help that his Cabin Fever is a fairly timeless horror film - a genuinely witty precursor to Cabin in the Woods that I much prefer to Cabin in the Woods.

The plot is, quite literally, the same as the first one. Pretty young college kids travel to cabin in the woods. Encounter local drifter, sick off his face with a mystery illness. Accidentally murder local drifter. Get sick. Squelch. If you've never seen Roth's Cabin Fever, you're bound to have a lovely time with this slick, sick horror movie. Everyone else however, will be left bored, nonplussed and slightly angry.

Cabin Fever: now with added CGI that looks worse than CGI from 2002.

It's not a shot-for-shot deal, like the infamous Psycho debacle or Funny Games US, but it is close enough as to be pointless to anyone with a half-decent memory and horror education. It's the same movie but with less jokes, more gore and slightly sharper visuals. The odd surprise is thrown in here and there - an effective jump scare where there wasn't before - but largely it's just longer, gooier versions of the same old splatter sequences. Where it's at its best is during the second half, when the action takes over and the pace ratchets up, at least being quick and easy to watch in spite of the all-encompassing deja vu. Dare I say it, I did actually enjoy this version of the bathtub scene a little bit more than the first time around.

Those sparse flashes of brilliance, however, do not hide the fact that Cabin Fever 2016 is perhaps the laziest remake ever (re)made.

*Related, but he's certainly no fucking Alexandra

Goodnight Mommy

Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala (2015)
Starring: Lukas and Elias Shwartz, Susanne Wuest
Find it: IMDB

Speaking as a self-confessed and unapologetic mummy's boy, there is no idea more terrifying in life than the love between a son and his mother going un-reciprocated. It's this primal (yeah, alright soppy) fear that informs Goodnight Mommy, an Austrian horror film about a violent battle of wits between a mother and her sons, both parties doing their damnest to hurt the other most viciously.

Face all bound up in bandages, Mommy (Wuest) returns from a major cosmetic procedure - literally - a changed woman. Now cold and cruel to her twin sons (the brothers Schwartz) - even refusing to acknowledge little Lukas - Mommy's sudden change in demeanor leads the boys to question whether this woman is even their mother at all.

It's a question which drives Goodnight Mommy, and one that writer/directors Franz and Fiala are in no hurry to answer. Indeed, Mommy spends most of the film looking like an archetypal slasher movie villain and acting like an abusive asshole, (allegedly) murdering cats and repeatedly slapping her one kid about the face while being downright negligent towards the other. And yet the kids aren't exactly alright either; a pair of weirdos who collect giant bugs, pickle dead cats for some reason, and dress almost exclusively in vest tops and three quarter length shorts. To say nothing of their behaviour in the second half, which verges on being the best Let's Go Play at the Adams' adaptation never made.

One's sympathies dance all over the place in a chilly, elusive narrative which refuses to stay still or take the easy route. Like the thematically similar The Babadook and The Witch, it positions itself as one thing but turns out to be another, game-changing twist and all. A twist I guessed ten minutes in, granted (as will anyone remotely versed in horror cinema), but isn't so much hiding in plain sight but rather brazenly swanning about all over the place. Thankfully, that revelation (however soon you work it out) serves only to enrich the story, making the cruelties of the second half feel even more upsetting.

And such upset it is. Goodnight Mommy is not a particularly violent and gory film, but its brutalities hit home hard, making for genuinely, profoundly difficult viewing. A film that will test viewer patiences on many levels, it's a creepy, unsettling and difficult picture with serious mommy issues.