Suicide Squad – Spoiler-free Film Review (aka – rant about critics)

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This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but film critics are undoubtedly miserable people. That’s not to say that they are terrible human beings… even if many actually are. When I say ‘miserable people’ I mean that they are generally unhappy with life. These were my thoughts as I left the theater the other night after finally watching Suicide Squad.

 

My wife and I waited until the Tuesday after the film came out to see it. As a devout DC-loving geek family, you’d expect us to be there at the first showing per our usual. Since that didn’t happen, thanks to stupid adult responsibilities, we were exposed to the witch hunt of critical reviews that took place (and continues to take place) around the much anticipated release prior to having the liberty of forming our own opinions. In the end the only thing that truly bothered me about the film was how eager critics were to engage in that witch hunt. Critics as a whole have acted like they can only be reputable if they join in on the hatred.

 

The stakes were tremendously high since DC and Warner Bros needed a hit. When Batman v Superman turned into a comic book movie pariah, bets were hedged on the non-traditional mashup as a means to right the course. Their impressively expansive advertising campaign prepared us all for a goofy action film that was sure to entertain. Guess what? That’s exactly what it was!

 

Suicide Squad never attempted to be a perfect movie, but rather, it set out to be a film the fans would enjoy. I’m a textbook fan – I’ve read the source material. I’ve bought the merchandise. I’ve watched the other movies on multiple occasions. Essentially, I’m the kind of person they made the movie for. Regardless of how much (considerable) anticipation I had going into the theater, I never forgot that I bought a ticket with the hope of being entertained. It’s pretty obvious that the critics walked into the theater prepped to utterly despise and disparage what they were going to watch. What’s the point in bitching about a movie that never stood a chance in your biased mind? That scenario completely devalues any opinion that might be expressed as a result.

 

Granted, the movie wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Harley Quinn and Deadshot were really the only characters that received any significant character development. This wasn’t surprising due to a higher notoriety for Will Smith and Margot Robbie. It would have been nice to get more out of the rest of the cast yet doing so likely would’ve bloated the run time. Casting overall was spot on with each actor embodying the spirit of their comic origins in satisfying ways. Harley Quinn was especially on point interjecting an element of fun insanity throughout. Will Smith’s Deadshot completely sold me on the egotistical asshole and simultaneous caring father that recent incarnations of the character have shifted towards. All in all, I don’t recall feeling that any of the actors didn’t belong in the part they played…. that says a lot about a movie!

 

Jared Leto’s Joker was certainly interesting. Initially, I didn’t care for the “gangsta” that they portrayed. When I expressed this thought to my wife, she slapped some sense into me with a reminder that a gangster is exactly who the Joker is supposed to be – they merely adopted a form of it that would be more believable in the world DC/Warners has created. Her point was solid (as they tend to be) and changed my view. Leto’s Joker is very believable in the current DC Cinematic Universe. As much as I adore the psychotically terrifying Heath Ledger version, it wouldn’t fit into the new era. The chrome smile is probably my biggest objection to this Joker. His tattoos were actually quite appropriate – especially the smile on his hand.

 

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Brush your teeth, kids.

 

I’ve heard a huge amount of criticism stemming from ‘under-utilization’ of the Joker. True, he wasn’t in the movie a huge amount, however, ‘under-utilize’ would imply that he deserved a larger role. In the comics the Joker was never an overreaching thread; he primarily served as a motivator behind Harley Quinn’s actions. David Ayer stayed true to this by not allowing him sufficient screen time to steal the show. Jared Leto put enough into portraying the character that he likely would have stolen the show if given the chance. I’d love to see him in a future Batman installment. Perhaps the criticism in this area would be lessened if Joker hadn’t been made such a focal point in the advertising campaign. Anyone who was pumped to see the movie as a result would feel rightfully slighted.

 

Special effects were also commendable. The only weak points might be the ‘big bad’ – his overall look was interesting while a few scenes with his face looked a tad rough. If you were going to compare it to the CGI abortion that was Doomsday in BvS then he looked great. Certain segments with Enchantress came off as distracting. I didn’t care for the parts later in the movie where she looked brighter or more mystical. She definitely shined as the dark and creepy other-dimensional being from her first transformation. Seeing Cara Delevingne transform into this was very well handled.

 

 

In the end I can happily say that I enjoyed the film. It walks a line that’s both cooky and entertaining. It’s certainly re-watchable as a fun action flick with a healthy whetting of the appetite for future DC Cinematic Universe entries.

 

Go watch Suicide Squad and form your own opinion. Don’t let those miserable critics unfairly sway what could be an enjoyable experience for you.

 

My rating of Suicide Squad is 7 out of 10.

 

7 out of 10

Batman: The Killing Joke (film) Review

 

If you ask many longtime fans what was the first (memorable) Batman title they ever read was, the answer will most likely be Alan Moore’s legendary one-shot, The Killing Joke. It’s sort of ironic that an entire generation of Batman fandom associates the beginning of their Dark Knight love with one of the character’s darkest literary titles.

 

The Killing Joke has remained one of the most divisive comics to this day; the kind of book that takes on different meaning during repeated readings set years apart. I read the book as a kid and was captivated while still protected by rightful naiveté. Ten years later, I reread the book to find equal parts captivation and anxiety as its previously unrealized deeper themes came into my realization. Now, as a father, I read the book again and experienced the full horror that had blissfully alluded me in the years past. Anyone who dismisses the literary power of comic books is missing out – Alan Moore has proven that time and time again.

 

Twenty-eight years after its release, we’re finally able to see the property adapted for film. DC Comics has an unparalleled average with its animated films so it was the best possible outlet for Moore’s work to be brought to life. News that the supreme talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill would be used to voice Batman and the Joker, respectively, meant that the movie would be done right. Topping everything off, they allowed it to be Rated R so there would be no diluting of the source material. I bought my wife and I tickets for the one night Fathom Events screening mere hours after they became available for presale.

 

So how was it? Here’s your obligatory “spoiler warning” (which should be unnecessary for this specific title)…

 

Batman: The Killing Joke – directed by Sam Liu

 

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The film starts out by showing a short interview with Mark Hamill. He discusses his past and what led him to become the iconic voice of one of the most iconic comic book characters. It was fascinating to hear his direct take on it; how he wanted to be involved with Batman: The Animated Series in any role BUT the Joker. He felt that a character like Luke Skywalker couldn’t have any association with the depravity of the Joker. We’re all so fortunate that he decided to do it anyway! Hamill’s segment was an unexpected way to begin the movie which also turned out to be perfect. It was a unique way to incite excitement then segue into the actual film.

 

Much of the criticism I’ve read about the movie is directed towards its first act which centered around Batgirl. The fact of the matter is, Alan Moore’s novel is only 48 pages long – a third of the length of your average graphic novel. They had to add a significant amount of material in order to not only adapt the story properly, but to also make it long enough to warrant production. Batgirl’s story acts as a framing device that helps tie everything together while setting the emotional stakes appropriately for what was to come. It also contributes to what I feel was the overall theme (something I’ll get to in a moment). It threw me off when Batman and Batgirl bumped vigilante uglies under the voyeuristic eyes of a stone gargoyle, but not to the extent that I thought anything less of the movie. If anything, the scene emphasized the fact that there are still people under the cape and cowl. Plus – Batgirl is a hot, kick ass librarian… can you blame Batman for giving into the moment? Some of the more vocal critics have focused on this scene for the wrong reasons, in my humble opinion. Batgirl isn’t just a jilted lover but rather she’s undergoing a transformation in line with the theme (again, I’ll get to that). Tara Strong’s voice acting definitely sells the emotional uneasiness that reverberated as a result of the rooftop scene. If you focus on the relatable humanity of the scenario then it’s easy to overlook the strength of character she forges as a result of everything that occurs.

 

The rest of the movie follows very closely with the novel. It doesn’t spare the audience from any of the depraved brutality of the source. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s vocal chemistry is just as powerful now as it was back in 1992 during “Joker’s Favor” (the first aired B:TAS episode featuring the two titans). You can hear the age in both actor’s voices which contributed to the grizzled dread that is so palpable in the original work. I absolutely loved additions made to the dialogue like the twistedly funny librarian puns made by the Joker standing over Batgirl’s wounded form. I will never tire of the Hamill/Conroy team up. I’ve heard their voices in my head with every comic appearance for as long as I can remember. One day I’d love to meet the actors because they both seem like the nicest guys around.

 

The Killing Joke’s underlying theme is about a person’s breaking point. When you’ve hit your lowest moment, the ultimate “bad day”, what direction will you take? What will you become after being taken beyond the brink? Batman and Joker are presented as both opposites and equals. They were each taken to that point then returned on completely opposite terms. We all know Batman’s story (thank god they didn’t feel the need to show any of it like every other Batman adaptation seems to) so seeing the Joker’s past was extra captivating. Personally, I prefer the vague approach Christopher Nolan later took with the Joker: his rabid unpredictability and untraceable origin makes him all the more terrifying. With that said, I cannot deny that the scene when Joker emerges from the chemicals and sees his reflection is powerful. I think I got chills hearing the transformation taking place with Mark Hamill’s haunting Joker cackle scoring the shattering of a man. An origin story for Joker was necessary to show the other extreme that could happen when that ultimate bad day occurs.

 

This story isn’t just a Batman/Joker story, it’s also a Batgirl and Commissioner Gordon story. Perhaps that’s what the negative critics are missing. If you look at the movie as only a Batman tale, then Batgirl does indeed become wrongly objectified and weak overall. Barbara Gordon’s story frames the entire film because it starts with her at her best, leads her along the edge of a disturbing abyss, before allowing her to emerge strong and confident regardless of what horrors she experienced. Commissioner Gordon’s side is the least developed yet still important since he’s the one to directly prove the Joker wrong by desiring to go “by the book” rather than embracing the laughable insanity craved by Joker.

 

The ending did slightly vary from the graphic novel… At first I didn’t like the difference but have since pondered the change and think it was the best route they could have taken. In the book, Batman shares a laugh with his equally mad counterpart then seemingly kills him. This works for the book but would have felt somewhat disjointed for the movie. After stressing the theme of returning from that breaking point, it wouldn’t have been right for the film to immediately go the other way by having Batman stoop to the Joker’s level. They openly acknowledge that the end of their story is clear: one of them will end up killing the other. Yet it’s Batman who chooses to take the route of redemption with an open offer for Joker to work with him in search of an end to the madness. He believes that their story doesn’t have to end that way; insanity doesn’t need to be all that remains when all is lost. The final scene with Barbara Gordon becoming Oracle further contributes to this thinking while bringing everything full circle. It was a far more defined ending than that of the book.

 

So don’t let the critics determine your own personal opinion of it. Watch the film and look beyond the surface to the expansive past that a wealth of source material has granted the characters on screen. There is much more present in this tale than just victims and villains. The Killing Joke is a raw, worthy adaptation of a milestone in comic history that features talented art direction and legendary voice acting.

 

My rating of Batman: The Killing Joke is 8 out of 10.

 

8 out of 10

LEGO Display Methods and Techniques

<Steps to podium> “Hi. My name is Nathan and I’m a collector.”

 

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Collecting – it’s essentially an addiction. This veritable compulsion serves as an outlet for our inner hunter/gatherer while simultaneously stroking the ego of the hoarders we’re most likely destined to become. And you know what? It’s not such a bad thing to be! A full display shelf offers a unique type of satisfaction that is hard to come by through other means.

 

I’ve had my share of display shelves. Shelves are sort of a prerequisite when you’re a lifelong collector, a notorious nerd, and a kid LEGO nut turned AFOL functioning in society. If you’ve acquired some item collection-worthy item, it’s only natural to want to show it off like your own personal museum. My collection makes me happy because each piece stirs up its own unique memory or feeling. Looking at my display shelf (shelves, truthfully) is almost like flipping through a tangible photo album. The mix of items span from yesterday all the way back to my childhood.

 

If your situation is anything close to mine, you have a spouse that is supportive of your collecting…. to an extent. There’s a line that’s constantly walked between clutter and style. My wife has graciously allowed me to display items primarily on one wall in our bedroom. Sure, there are various items sporadically throughout the house, but it is my collectors wall that is my true pride and joy.

 

LEGO can be a very complicated thing to show off. When space is limited, the complications increase exponentially. After experimenting with a multitude of different techniques over the years I feel I’ve found an efficient, yet effective, balance of displayed minifigures/builds. These techniques are also pretty cost effective since I’d much rather save my money for more collectibles (or bills, or food for my children, or all those boring things).

 

Minifigures

 

When it comes to displaying LEGO Minifigures, their miniscule footprint is something that will consistently work in your favor. They typically take up such a small horizontal space that a ledge can be around an inch deep to hold them with the black base that is usually included. I recommend you use this base plate to prevent any ‘domino’ effect from slightly bumping the shelf…. a lesson I learned the hard way.

 

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The first ‘minifig exclusive’ shelf I created was made using wood, wood glue, and black glossy spray paint. Quality materials make a massive difference in the end product here – don’t go cheap with scrap wood. Using cheaper oak planks will get you a warped/uneven ledge that isn’t as smooth as it should be for items as small as LEGO minifigures. I’ve had the most success with poplar or cedar. These wood types warp less and sand without altering the integrity of the shape.

 

Two planks will suffice for this shelf type. A perpendicular connection will provide a base wide enough for the stock minifigure stand. The top ledge is perfectly sized for any plate that’s two studs deep. Using the top ledge can get a tad precarious so double sided tape might be needed to ensure the plate stays put.

 

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If you want to pack a lot into a condensed space, you can add multiple levels. This takes some patience as the glue must dry on each level prior to adding another. I made the one in the picture below to display Series 14 (the only series I’ve sought to collect in its entirety) and a few other monster-related singles.

 

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In order to properly mount these shelves to the wall, you must be willing to drill a hole in the spot. I tried several other ways hoping to limit the amount of drywall damage – none were able to cut it like an anchored screw. Fortunately, minifigs weigh next to nothing so it doesn’t take much to secure a shelf. The best method is to drill a single hole centered in the shelf then use one 2-3 inch screw with a proper wall anchor. A major advantage to having a centrally drilled hole is you can easily shift the shelf to level it out without needing to re-drill anything in the wall.

 

Shelves are all well and good, but what if you don’t have enough space to mount one? Or what if you can’t do anything that will leave a lasting mark/hole on the wall? The problem I ran into is that my collection quickly surpassed the maximum capacity of the shelves I mounted. In order to make the most of the space you have all you have to do is implement some LEGO-styled ingenuity….

 

Here’s what you need for an individual row:

  1. One 2×16 plate
  2. Six 1×2 plates
  3. Two 3M Command mounting strips

 

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This tactic allows the minifigure to stay put in a standing position with surprising stability. Five figures can comfortably fit in each 2×16 position with enough clearance to hold any given accessory. Using 1×2 plates provides enough room for them to stand upright without being forced into a bent or leaning stance. You may need to get creative with a 1×1 plate or an extra 1×2 if the minifig has any piece (like a backpack or a wide head/hair piece) that would require more space from the wall.

 

By using the 3M command strips you have nothing but flexibility in how rows are arranged. It enables you to make full use of a space without limiting the display via a permanent mounting. Using a level is advisable for any shelf; it helps the end aesthetic and appeases the obsessive compulsives of the world.

 

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A portion of what my kids call “the toy museum.”

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They have a surprising amount of strength considering the minimal connected bricks.

 

A bit more work is required for any “short-legged” minifig if you want to utilize the command strip method. Their lack of connection points on the back of their legs means they must stand. It’s still possible to do this by adding an extra 2×16 plate positioned perpendicularly with any brick meant to change build direction. This works out for the line of their heads is at the level of a normal figure so you don’t disrupt any overall symmetry on the line. You’ll need at four to five of these short figures to occupy a section – having a normal one on the same plate will stick out like a sore thumb.

 

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Looking for an easy way to display minifigures without building anything or mounting anything? Find a wooden drawer organizer in the houseware section near the cooking utensils. These are easily obtained from Walmart or Target for between $9 and $15. It must be wooden because then you’re guaranteed to have flat surfaces as opposed to the space-conserving rounded edges of a plastic organizer. Turn the drawer organizer on its side and you instantly have a perfect display shelf. Each section is designed to hold knives, forks, and spoons yet the dimensions are perfect for your LEGO army. I found the one below at Walmart for nine bucks. It has expandable sides for additional rows. One row was glued in the expanded position while the other is there for when the need inevitably arrives. As a bonus, each level has enough surface area to accomodate minifigures with large bases. LEGO has evolved a lot in the last ten years so you can’t count on mifigures to all follow the same profile.

 

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Sets

 

Diversify your arrangement with some smaller sets mixed in. With some slight modification you can show off a constructed set amongst the rows of minifigures. These sets can take up considerably more space, so you’ll like be presented with some choices to make down the road. Remember, you’re working with one of the most versitle toys ever made – it’s alright to use that to your advantage. Use additional bricks to create a stable base or shift the profile to something suitbale on a couple inches of ledge. Some builds can be shown securely on narrow shelves if you anchor them to the wall with a small section of fishing line and a clear thumb tack.

 

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Mix up the monotony!

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This would be a disaster without having it anchored – the ledge is far too narrow for the build.

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Adding a jointed or clear piece can adapt a set for display.

 

How about full sets? Sometimes it isn’t the minifigure that prompted the purchase, it’s the build! I recently encountered this situation when I picked up the Millennium Falcon. As a set that’s as gorgeous as it is huge, I knew allowing it to sit atop a bookshelf wouldn’t do it justice. Instead, I tracked down a load of transparent bricks. The lot I bought was 1x2x2, but 2x2x2 would have worked just as well (if not better). I toyed with multiple configurations before settling on one that utilized the landing gear built in as part of the original design. The Falcon is a heavy build, so having evenly spaced mounts allowed the weight to be distributed equally enough to have an angled final position. 1×2 plates modified with handles paired with 2×16 plates created a flexible enough attachment to obtain the angle I sought. I took pictures from a few angles to demonstrate the connection along with the tremendously satisfying final result.

 

 

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The Ultimate Collector’s Slave I joined recently. Thankfully, LEGO includes the means for an upright stand with the build.

 

Are you just as crazy as I am with showing off your LEGO treasures? What display methods do you use? I consider this an ongoing project so ideas are always welcomed. Keep building!

 

 

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