Jared Leto

Suicide Squad

It’s become trendy on social media, and on Twitter especially, to refer to any and everything as “trash” if you dislike it. When word spread online that Suicide Squad was “trash,” I was disappointed that the highly anticipated DC Comics film hadn’t lived up to expectations – but I needed to see for myself. And I’m glad that I didn’t heed the naysayers. Although the movie was not without its flaws, it was far from the disaster everyone described.

The movie is built on an intriguing premise: What if Superman were bad? Who would stop him? This essential question is what drives Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, Lila & Eve), a high-level national security advisor who ascribes to the old adage that you fight fire with fire. She assembles a team of badass miscreants to keep on standby for any kamikaze mission, should the need arise. If things go south, this band of ragtag criminals and “meta-humans” will be easy to disavow. The Suicide Squad is comprised of Deadshot (Will Smith, Concussion), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, The Legend of Tarzan), Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Concussion), Boomerang (Jai Courtney, Insurgent), Diablo (Jay Hernandez, Bad Moms), and Slipknot (Adam Beach, Diablo).

Dr. Harley Quinn was a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, where she treated The Joker (Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club). She fell in love with the charming psychopath, and the pair unleashed a reign of terror across Gotham until Batman (Ben Affleck, Batman v. Superman) nabbed her, splitting the demented couple apart. Batman also reeled in Deadshot, an assassin whose pinpoint accuracy netted top dollar amongst underworld figures. Harley, Deadshot, Croc and Diablo share a prison, while Boomerang and Slipshot are apprehended later, rounding out the Squad.

Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnamon, Run All Night) is Amanda Waller’s second in command, tasked with corralling the Squad as they did her bidding. He is in love with Dr. June Moon, an archaeologist whose body and spirit have become inhabited by a witch dubbed Enchantress (Cara Delevingne, Pan). Moon’s altar ego unleashes a sinister force, spurring Waller to call the Suicide Squad into action. I’ll end the plot summation here, as the storyline is perhaps the weakest aspect of the movie. The details of the Squad’s mission were muddled, and writer/director David Ayer (Fury) seemed to take an ad hoc approach to the storyline’s structure. The movie’s strength lies in the chemistry of its titular ensemble cast, namely Harley Quinn and Deadshot.

Robbie and Smith have undeniable chemistry, evidenced by their previous work in last year’s Focus, and again here. Robbie clearly relished the role, embodying the beautifully batty Harley with an endearing air of likability. I watched the Batman cartoon as a kid, and I remember Harley as an adoring nuisance to the Joker, a smitten pest. Here, she was every bit his equal and true love interest. Regarding Joker, there will be inevitable comparisons to Heath Ledger’s portrayal, but I encourage you to let each interpretation stand on its own. Leto did a fine job with the role, putting his own spin on it while maintaining the evil eccentricity we’ve come to expect.

The entire cast was excellent, but Smith and Robbie were the standouts. To put it simply, Deadshot is a bad ass MF. Smith is charismatic enough to carry his own Deadshot movie, and I hope DC is at least considering the notion. Viola Davis couldn’t turn in a bad performance if she tried, and she shone brightly in what could have been an average role. She was formidable in her own right, which was befitting of a character charged with keeping such a group in line. Was this the best comic book movie ever? No. In fact, I can understand why someone wouldn’t love it. But the disdain is totally overblown. Bolstered by the chemistry of its cast and the sheer amount of fun they seemed to be having at every moment, Suicide Squad made for a good time at the movies. Grade: B

Dallas Buyers Club

My quest to see the Oscar nominees continues, as I decided to check out Dallas Buyers Club last week.  Matthew McConaughey (The Wolf of Wall Street) stars in the semi-biographical account of AIDS activist Ron Woodroof, a patient who sought alternative means of procuring medication after being frustrated domestically by U.S. pharm laws and their attendant bureaucracy.  McConaughey is enjoying a career renaissance, having recently shed his image as a rom-com mainstay in favor of more complex, challenging roles.  In Dallas Buyers Club, his career continues its surprising divergence as he gives a tour de force performance.

Woodroof is a hard-living rodeo rider, depicted as the macho, archetypical cowboy. He is diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and given 30 days to live, facing the unbelievable realization that his life is over.  His friends ostracize him, believing that he is homosexual.  Now a pariah, Woodroof’s options are limited.  When his doctors suggest that he participate in an AZT trial, he signs up in the hopes that he won’t receive the placebo.  He feels helpless and at the mercy of his doctors, as he’s unable to guarantee that he’ll receive AZT in the trial and unable to purchase it out of pocket due to FDA regulations.  Jennifer Garner (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) co-stars as Eve, a doctor who finds genuine friendship in the ailing Woodroof.

Desperate for life prolonging drugs, but unable to secure them from American doctors, Woodroof begins to obtain AZT illegally from a source inside the hospital.  This routine transaction leads to a connection in Mexico, and soon Woodroof is smuggling drugs into the U.S. and selling them out of the trunk of his car to other patients, many of who were in the AZT trial.  Only these drugs are different.  While in Mexico, Woodroof meets the rogue Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne, Broken City), who educates him about the deleterious effects of AZT and administers a cocktail of various supplements and vitamins that will be more effective.  The components aren’t FDA approved for usage in the U.S., but as a man on borrowed time, what does Woodroof have to lose?  Soon he is smuggling the product back to Texas and selling it to patients as an AZT alternative.  As clientele and profits grow, he decides to form a club where the black market drugs are given freely with the cost of membership.  If you aren’t a member of the Dallas Buyers Club, he can’t accommodate you.

During a previous hospital stay, Woodroof reluctantly befriended a fellow patient and trial participant named Rayon, a sensitive transvestite beautifully portrayed by Jared Leto (Chapter 27).  Initially Woodroof’s homophobia prevents any real connection, but eventually they bond through the futility of their shared condition and warmth of companionship.  The film takes us on an emotional journey as Woodroof grapples with his own fateful mortality, while becoming a cult crusader in the field of healthcare reform.  Why should it be illegal for him to improve what little life a dying person has left?

The filmmakers explore our notions of morality and justice, and the indomitable nature of the human spirit and will to survive.  McConaughey’s dedication and preparation for the role cannot be denied.  The physical transformation he undertook resulted in the gaunt, haggard appearance of a dying man.  I can’t imagine the wealth and depth of emotion it takes to convey the despair and frustration of impending death, and then to reveal a flicker of hope and passion as you fight for a larger cause.  Bravo.

Everything I just said about Matthew McConaughey can be applied in equal measure to Jared Leto, who gave a performance that shows he can hold his own with anyone.  It was beautiful and courageous, and I have a hard time deciding if he or Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) is more deserving of an Academy Award in their supporting category.  Dallas Buyers Club was poignant, but inspiring.  It will challenge your perceptions about disease and how you treat others; it will connect you with your own humanity.  Although certain aspects of the film were draining to witness, I thought it was meaningful and deserving of its critical acclaim.  Grade: B+