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‘Suicide Squad Hell to Pay’: Heavens just not in your cards



Return with us to the wonderful world of Suicide Squad, that rag-tag gang of villains and thugs and baddies that Amanda Waller put together as a last resort, to do the kind of nasty missions only scum are best at.

Though never called Suicide Squad, oh no, Waller (Vanessa Williams) refers to them as Task Force X. And the task force of cobbled-together villains has apparently had all kinds of different members at different times, for separate increasingly-difficult missions. Like the one we begin the movie with, where Waller sends Count Vertigo (Jim Pirri), Deadshot, Black Manta (Dave Fennoy), and crime couple Punch (Trevor Devall) and Jewelee (Julie Nathanson), after a thumb drive of leaked information on the career criminal Tobias Whale (Dave Fennoy). (Whom hopefully most of you will recognize as the main crime-lord in the new hit show Black Lightning) Still not entirely sure why this mission was included first, unless it was to underline Waller and Floyd Lawton (Christian Slater) a.k.a. Deadshot’s working relationship.

Fast forward awhile, and hey Waller’s discovered she’s terminally ill. Time to bring together another Task Force X, bringing Deadshot along for the ride but also adding some newer faces – Copperhead (Gideon Emery), the body-mod freak with the prehensile tail; the charmingly Australian veteran Captain Boomerang (Liam McIntyre); Killer Frost (Kristen Bauer van Straten), but trust me, not the one you know from the CW show; everyone’s favorite psycho-Betty Harley Quinn (Tara Strong); and grunting religious dude Bronze Tiger (Billy Brown). Their mission, should they choose to accept it and really they don’t have much choice, is to find a man calling himself Steel Maxum and retrieve the mystical black playing card emblazoned ‘Get Out Of Hell Free’.

After embarking on what has to be the worst road trip ever, all stuck together in an RV vehicle, the newfangled Task Force X comes across Maxum shaking his money-maker in a club, and of course nothing would do but have a giant fight against other bad guys who want Steel too! Professor Zoom (C. Thomas Howell), Silver Banshee (Julie Nathanson) and some schmo called Blockbuster (Dave Fennoy), they want Steel and thus the hell-card for their own, as do Scandal Savage (Dania Ramirez), Vandal Savage’s daughter, and her girlfriend Knockout (Cissy Jones), a rogue Fury from Apokolips. Whew! Everybody got that? Onward!

Why is everyone chasing after the ridiculous Maxum Steel (Greg Grunberg), thinking he has the black card? Well, he used to. Somehow, fans and friends and odds and ends, this smarmy dude ended up as a Dr. Fate, but a night of rick-rolling from Scandal and Knockout ended up with a missing get out of hell free card and a job firing from some entity called Nabu.

What does it all have to do with the price of cheese? More or less explained, having possession of the card when you die, allows one in theory to bypass Hell altogether and go straight to Heaven. But there’s no real way to test it, and for some reason a 50k+-year-old caveman believes in Hell, even perhaps moreso than he believes in love, or loyalty for that matter. Vandal Savage (Jim Pirri) never quite understood that how he treats the women in his life almost always, inexplicably at least to his mind, result in his downfall.

After figuring out what the mission is actually about, our Suiciders all have their own opinions about Heaven, and Hell, and the possibilities of going to either one, or if either one even exists at all. Despite his prickly exterior and stubborn religious doctrine, Bronze Tiger manages to keep his head clear and do the job he was assigned to, for the most part. Circumstances change, plans change, and one has to be able to roll with it, even if you’re a villain on a covert government assignment.

Or are we? We all know what Waller wants the card for, and our Squaders all agree, she’s the last person who deserves to have it. So who does, if anyone? Not Vandal Savage, that guy’s lived way too long as it is. Zoom has his own problems, always mucking about with other universes and timelines as he does, and that old expression, ‘I need that like I need a hole in the head’ isn’t funny anymore in his case.

Killer Frost and Professor Pyg are both self-possessed and unconcerned with other planes of existence, they don’t deserve it either. The choice eventually comes down to Deadshot himself, and what he does with the card in the end may surprise those of you who think he’s nothing but a villainous assassin. Lawton has done plenty of bad things, there’s no argument there, but his love for his daughter Zoe will outweigh any other influence and tip him in the even semi-right direction.

The movie itself is a great fun little romp of lots of bad and not-so-bad-but-hey-still-bad guys and dolls all kicking the snot out of each-other. One could even posit that the voice actors of ‘Hell to Pay’ sounded like they had a lot more fun than the real-life actors of the feature film, the predecessor. Moments of quality time are paid to each character so that a more even spread of story runs throughout the animated film, and the one-liners or even Copperhead moments where he just hisses and scares people, are great wacky fun.

Come join Task Force X, I mean, Suicide Squad, in their latest incarnation, ‘Suicide Squad Hell to Pay’, on DVD and Blu-ray now!

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Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life



The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God. 

Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes. 

Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God. 

We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant. 

Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed. 

Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus. 

Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship. 

Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care. 

The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love. 

Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls. 

Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now! 

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Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!



Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer! 

First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive! 

So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance. 

Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth. 

The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge! 

First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer. 

A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now! 

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Scott Pilgrim Takes Off



“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.

The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.

The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.

The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.

“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.

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