Vincent Schilling

Indian Country Today

Hello #NativeNerd readers,

Thanks for all of the “Reservation Dogs” #NativeNerd review love and reading my column enough to secure the number one most-read article last week. I am sincerely flattered.

(See related: Top 10 Indian Country stories for week ending August 14, 2021)

This week I am reviewing the latest DC epic anti-hero blockbuster, “The Suicide Squad,” by James Gunn, the teen hero DC series “Titans”— also on HBO Max — which is three episodes into its third season, Amazon Prime’s “Jolt” with the actress most-arguably known for her roles in the vampire “Underworld” universe, Kate Beckinsale, the newest Marvel animated series “What If…” and an incredibly adorable and heartwarming tribute to Indian American culture on the Disney channel starring Avantika as a young Indian American teen striving to find her artistic and musical side in “Spin.”

#NativeNerd scoring system

When reviewing movies, I employ the decimal system to one-tenth of a point. So instead of 7 stars, I might give a 7.4 out of 10. Some movies aren’t an 8 but deserve a little more than a 7. Another way to look at it is as though I was scoring on a 100 percentile scoring system.

The Suicide Squad

8.5 out of 10

My quick quote: “Definitely a movie worth watching and enjoying. In so many ways, The Suicide Squad’ lives up to its name, but I am starting to see the formulaic nature of superhero movies, which is worrisome.”

The Suicide Squad

Synopsis: The government sends the most dangerous supervillains in the world -- Bloodsport, Peacemaker, King Shark, Harley Quinn and others -- to the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese. Armed with high-tech weapons, they trek through the dangerous jungle on a search-and-destroy mission, with only Col. Rick Flag on the ground to make them behave.

Hey, I get it. James Gunn recently said he was getting sick of making superhero movies and I can’t help but wonder if some of his frustration came out in this film. I really enjoyed it. It was funny, unexpected, misleading, and yet, completely predictable at the end.

Superhero, or anti-superhero movies in this case, are becoming formulaic in nature and “The Suicide Squad” fits right into this category like that last puzzle piece on a way too big puzzle.

I don’t mean this as a cut-down. I just mean I knew exactly what was going to happen to that huge alien starfish. Was anyone out there that has already seen the movie feel any different?

The movie itself was laden with great actors in great character roles. John Cena as the Peacemaker, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, David Dastmalchian as the Polka Dot man (who would have been a great Bruce Wayne by the way) and Idris Elba as Bloodsport were all doing spectacularly. But the plot was the piece of the puzzle I didn’t really like.

And of course the scene with Daniela Melchior as the Ratcatcher 2 and Taika Waititi, Maori, was hilarious. My god does that man have time to sleep at night with all of the projects he has going on?

And one more thing, with as cool as James Gunn looks these days, why hasn’t he had any cameos in his films? I couldn’t think of a much cooler concept.

So all of the fighting worked, all of the mistaken kill shots worked, all of the gory deaths that are completely unexpected worked, I just wished I would have been surprised at the end.

My suggestion for all of the incredibly hard-working writers out there, do the best you can to step outside of the formulaic storylines.

One more thing, I promise I am not writing this review with a one-eyed alien starfish covering my face.

Titans

8.9 out of 10

My quick quote: “A little soap-operatic at times, but Titans has some great action, sincere, honest and personal moments making it a great DC superhero series worth bingeing.”

Titans

Synopsis: Titans is an American superhero streaming television series created by Akiva Goldsman, Geoff Johns, and Greg Berlanti. Based on the DC Comics team Teen Titans, the series depicts a group of young heroes who join forces in their fight against evil.

If you are or were an avid reader of the Teen Titans comics in the DC Universe, “Titans” will leave you a little confused. Some of the characters don’t show up (Cyborg) ever, while the origin of the group never really got started. Then there’s also the Hawk and the Dove.

Set all of the comic books aside, and you will have some fun in store. “Titans” is a fun series that admittedly i hadn’t watched until nearly recently. It took me a little while to get through the entire series so far, and I have to agree it is deserving of its third season. The show is now up to its third episode in Season 3, and will have new episodes on HBO Max every Thursday.

Dick Grayson (portrayed by Brenton Thwaites) is the leader of the team and former Batman sidekick Robin, and those familiar with the DC Universe already knew this. He combines forces with other young superheroes Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, Wonder Girl and the Hawk and the Dove. Jason Todd (who he is is a bit of a spoiler if you haven’t seen it) also joins in the explorations of the team who come up against such foes as Dr. Light, the Joker and Trigon.

The action is superb and the special effects rival any other superhero epic movies out there. But then those struggles against personal darkness, social pressures and even love affairs enter into the mix, making it a bit like a soap opera more so than a superhero series.

But hey, even a superhero might like his coworker all spiffed up in the latest colorful and revealing kevlar body armor. So who can blame these Titan team members for falling for each other and getting all dramatic.

All are interesting in the stories of millennial love and war.

There are a few frustrating bloopers I keep noticing, like why Raven (who is arguably one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe and more notably a healer) won’t heal the bloodied face of her close friend Beast Boy, or Hank Hall’s bad back or even Commissioner Gorden who was shot by the Joker.

I have a love-hate relationship with a few of the episodes with Iain Glen as Bruce Wayne. At first, when he is the conscience so-to-speak of Dick Grayson, he looks utterly corny and silly dancing, singing and more, but then he fights. Glen owned the moment as Bruce Wayne. Those moments were some of the best in the series.

Other moments include a beautiful few moments by Alan Ritchson, who is an addict struggling with abusing drugs and alcohol as well as trying to survive sexaul assault as a young child (as I have had to do the same type of self-healing as a sexual assault survivor myself).

I also want to applaud Curran Walters as Jason Todd, who does an exceptional job in portraying a bratty and entitled loose cannon, and Teagan Croft who portrays Raven, a young hero coming to terms with powers that could either turn her completely dark or a source of positivity.

A great series with a great heart. It is much more of an insightful series than I would have expected.

Jolt

9.2 out of 10

My quick quote: “Super fun, super funny, and though a bit formulaic, it's like riding a roller coaster that you would never tire of. Kate Beckinsale owns it, delivers it and smiles with a gun hidden behind her back. ”

Jolt

Synopsis: A bouncer with an anger-management problem goes on a revenge-fueled rampage after the murder of a friend.

Call off the dogs, hire that female bouncer by the name of Kate Beckinsale, also known as Lindy, to do your dirty work.

I had no idea what to expect in the recent Amazon Prime film “Jolt” starring Kate Beckinsale. In this movie, Lindy the bouncer has a bit of an anger problem. So much so that she needs to electrify herself with this weird device created by her psychiatrist, played by Stanley Tucci.

The premise is hilarious and enjoyable to me because I didn't expect it. As far as movies go I always enjoy the creativity of things I don't expect.

Overall the plot was a little bit formulaic as I did guess the end game reveal ... but that's okay because I figure this is what I do for a living and there are certain “tells” in films. I believe filmmakers for the most part, really do want to surprise and delight their audiences. In this case there were some formulaic milestones I couldn't help but notice. So I wasn't surprised with the big reveal. I won't tell you because I don't want to issue any spoilers. This sentiment is the only problem I have with the movie.

Overall, Beckinsale is freaking hilarious. I love her relationship with Tucci most of all. I believe every bit of her rage and inability to manage it — which sets the precedent for the entire movie. Some poor unsuspecting civilian may just be walking by her, and bump into her shoulder and then find their teeth knocked out.

This may seem harsh of course, but they portrayed her violent nature in a humorous way so the movie is funny.

Go check it out in all of its female leading actor antagonistic overly-angry assassin glory.

Marvel’s “What If...?”

6.5 out of 10

My quick quote: “A bit of a slow start to a series that I am looking forward to, and the first story was a bit of a dud. I am most excited about Jeffrey Wright's voice as The Watcher.”

What If

Synopsis: Exploring pivotal moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and turning them on their head, leading the audience into uncharted territory.

Really? Peggy Carter as Captain Britain? That was the episode Marvel chooses to kick off their newest animated series? (Insert wah-wah horn music.)

Ok, Disney and Marvel have a lot on their plate. But I really was not impressed with their choice in showcasing their new animated show, with the Marvel Universe's biggest possibilities that could happen, with this story line. I really am in disbelief that this was the premiere. I could rattle off a few massive alternate storylines such as, “What if Thanos was killed before the finger snap?” “What if Iron Man lived?” “What if Hawkeye died instead of Black Widow?” etc. etc.

Ok maybe I am jaded. Maybe I was expecting too much. And with as much as so many Marvel Universe storylines raise a veritable middle finger to the original comics and origin stories, I think this should have been the time to honor the original comics.

In the very first issue of Marvel’s “What If” comic, titled "What If Spider-Man had Joined the Fantastic Four?" which came out in 1977, was arguably one of the biggest alternate reality punches marvel could have delivered. I actually have that comic, and to me, this was groundbreaking.

Such a question for the Marvel Universe set a tremendous precedent for initial interest. Sure tell the Captain Britain story at some point, but give us something better first.

In my view, Marvel made this the first episode likely because the actors that could voice the series were most likely available. Of course I have zero proof, and no evidence of this other than my own personal mental meanderings, and that said, other episodes are already available. I just really feel that this premiere episode was a terrible choice.

But I sincerely loved Jeffrey Wright’s voice. By the way, Wright has come out several times to the public to assert his Black Indian ancestry.

I will continue to watch the series, which will tell stories of alternate realities affecting the Black Panther, Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Hawkeye, and much more.

The animation is interesting and well done, and the overall presentation is also great, and yes, I will continue to watch the series. But I really thought their choice for the very first story hit me like a cracked bell issuing a muted klunk.

Do better Marvel.

Side note: Marvel redeems themselves a bit with their second episode, notably the inclusion of Chadwick Boseman, which pulled on my heart strings, even if the humor seemed a bit overreaching in terms of trying to hold onto the Guardians / Chris Pratt humor, but I am keeping the score in relation to the release of the first episode.

Spin

9.5 out of 10

My quick quote: “A beautiful gem of a movie by Disney highlighting the beauty of Indian American culture and the millennial quest for finding self-identity.”

SPIN poster

Synopsis: Rhea is an Indian-American teen who discovers her passion for creating DJ mixes that blend the rich textures of her South Asian culture and the world around her. Her life revolves around her eclectic group of friends, her after-school coding club, her family's Indian restaurant and her tight knit, multigenerational family. Everything changes when she falls for aspiring DJ Max, and her long-lost fervor for music is reignited.

Ok, I went in expecting some of the same feel-good heartwarming storytelling I usually find with many post-90s Disney productions.

But I didn’t expect “Spin” to be quite this endearing, this adorable and heartwarmingly good. Avantika Vandanapu is a young Indian American actor who stars in the film and portrays Rhea Kuma, a young and intelligent Jefferson High School student who is great at coding and works a near full-time job at her father’s restaurant, the Spirit of India.

When Rhea acts, you can’t help but smile at her friendliness and honesty as a young actor. She is the friend we all wish we would have had in school. Her friends and family are also endearing. There was also a lot of investment in the film in terms of relationships with Rhea, notably her dad Arvind (Abhay Deol), her little brother Rohan (Aryan Simhadri), and grandmother Asha (Meera Syal).

Her little brother is charming as the young stylish kid, trying to influence his father with TikTacos in an attempt to merge Indian culture with social media. Her father does a brilliant and completely believable job as does her grandmother, which proves to be one of the most special relationships of the film. I also loved her closest friends, the cheerful but serious friend Molly (Anna Cathcart) and the delightful rainbow-fingernail sporting Watson (Jahbril Cook), and the completely believable social media influencer friend Ginger (Kerri Medders) who work hard and are concerned with Rhea’s welfare in a real way. The show does an exceptional job in showcasing just how hard it is to be a young person today — where social media savvy is the truest way to solidify one’s sense of self.

As a Native American film critic, I have to applaud Disney and the filmmakers, to include director Manjari Makijany, for creating such a beautiful film showcasing Indian American culture without going over the top. The beauty of culturally-relevant clothing, beautiful dishes coming out of the restaurant’s kitchen, and a special moment where Rhea and her grandmother pray at a small altar in the family home are just a few of the incredibly special moments.

In the midst of all the showcased culture, there is also the real story, the struggle Rhea must contend with in terms of her age, the young male student she cares for and shares a passion for music with, contending with wanting to please her father as a hard-working employee and good student, but also struggling to find her own voice in a world drowning in social media and the desire to rise to the top amidst powerful same-age millennials at school.

“Spin” is a beautiful film that I am so fortunate to have watched. And by the way, make sure to have a dry handkerchief ready, because I cried about a hundred times. But maybe it was allergies, yeah, that’s it, allergies.

This is the type of content I would like to continue to see from Disney. 

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