Saturday, August 6, 2016



Suicide Squad review time, and there will be blood.

I'm going to warn you up front. I'm kind of pissed... and there will be spoilers here. I just don't care, this movie was a goddamn mess.

It's so bad, I really don't know where to begin.

The first act is an unmitigated disaster. Every single character introduction is severely botched. It's some of the clumsiest, worst writing I've ever seen in any film. It's so lazy, in fact, that writer/director David Ayer just created a template and used exactly the same system for everyone.

It's the epitome of formulaic.

We meet Deadshot in his prison cell. Cue cliched pop music. Amanda Waller literally tells us what he can do. We cut to a flashback of him doing what he does. We cut back to Waller explaining his weak-ass "emotional" backstory. Then we see another flashback of him getting arrested by Batman and sent to the prison he's in now.

We meet Harley Quinn in her prison cell. Cue cliched pop music. Amanda Waller literally tells us what she can do. We cut to a flashback of her doing what she does. We cut back to Waller explaining more backstory. Then we see another flashback of her getting arrested by batman and sent to the prison she's in now.

We meet Killer Croc in his prison cell. Cue cliched pop music... You get the idea.

There's zero finesse. No artfulness. No thoughtfulness. It's all just ineptly stated exposition followed immediately by a visualization of that exposition in a sequence that serves no purpose other than to repeat what we just heard. It happens for almost every character we meet and there are a lot of characters in this movie.

It's one of the worst violations of the "show, don't tell" principle in film-making I've ever seen.

And what's even more frustrating is that the movie misses every major opportunity to use these character introductions to build suspense or actually lay the groundwork for what could have been dramatic reveals later on.

For example, as Amanda Waller is explaining Diablo to her Department of Defense dinner guests, she references his fire-controlling abilities by saying something to the effect of:
"You should see the security footage, it's incredible."
Now... Smarter and better film-makers might have just left a line like that as a tease - suggestively letting us know that he is a character capable of amazing things that we haven't seen yet. That way, those amazing abilities could be revealed to us later in the film - perhaps in the third act when more firepower (pun intended) is actually called for.

Inexplicably, this movie doesn't do that kind of thing at all.

Instead, Ayer follows Waller's little joke by immediately cutting to the aforementioned security footage which shows us exactly what he can do. So when it's finally time for him to show the extent of his raw power to the the rest of the group in the key moment, it falls completely flat... Because it's not a surprise or spectacle to marvel at.

This is particularly a shame because Diablo is one of the most interesting characters in the movie - a superhuman gangland king turned pacifist, satisfied with spending his remaining life in prison as atonement.

But ya know what? That's not even the worst character introduction.

Not 10 seconds after Katana - a fundamentally useless character whose role could have been cut out entirely with no impact on the film - first appears on screen, we're treated to a ludicrously irrelevant flashback of her battling the Yakuza in Japan as an explanation for why she's a little late to the mission, and when we return to the scene from that trip down memory lane, Rick Flag follows that up with some poorly worded line about how her husband was killed and his soul lives in her sword to explain even more of her backstory to everyone else.

It's all just straight-out spoken exposition that doesn't even serve a purpose to the overall story.

And I get it... It's hard to introduce so many characters. There are a ton in this movie. The actual "Suicide Squad" (which, by the way, is a phrase literally used in the film) itself consists of:
  • Deadshot (Will Smith)
  • Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie)
  • Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)
  • Diablo (Jay Hernandez)
  • Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney)
  • Slipknot (Adam Beach)
  • Katana (Karen Fukuhara)
  • Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman)
  • and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) before she goes off the chain
Plus we have Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), Batman (mainly played by Ben Affleck's stunt double), Enchantress's brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine), and a shockingly forgettable Joker (Jared Leto).

These characters aren't all necessary, but I get why some of their stories would need to be rushed. That's not the problem. The problem is that it doesn't seem like anybody at DC even bothered to try to deal with introducing these characters intelligently.

And it doesn't really get any better.

Once we meet them, their motivations are incredibly inconsistent and none of them is particularly believable as a villain or a bad guy. Keep in mind that this is supposed to be a movie about murderers and thieves whose only connection to each other is a ruthless government agent who has them all by the balls. They're only working together because Waller will literally blow their heads off if they don't. At the very least, what this should mean is that the core tension (and even the comedy) in the film should come from the fact that these people can't get it together as a team. But strangely, that never seems to be a big problem for them.

They all seem to like each other right away, and they actually have far fewer problems with team dynamics than The Avengers.

In fact, I would argue that Suicide Squad actually goes way out of its way to paint each of these characters as sympathetic. Even Killer Croc - who, in the comics is a brutal, monstrous cannibal who tears people apart - is mostly shown as a misunderstood misfit who got abused by people calling him a freak as a child. Waller claims that these are the "worst of the worst", but I've personally met people I was more afraid of.

Meanwhile, the plot makes absolutely no sense.

It's genuinely not worth going into much detail about that. You already know what you really need to know anyway - imprisoned bad guys are recruited by a nefarious government operative to undertake an insane mission and save the world.

The big unsurprising twist (again, spoilers) is that Enchantress - an archeologist named June, possessed by an evil 6,000 year old witch - is only "good" because her magical heart is controlled by Waller, who threatens to destroy the witch if she doesn't work for her. When that goes predictably awry, Enchantress reanimates her brother Incubus by releasing his soul from a bottle and having him possess some random businessman in a train-station and together, they shoot a mysterious blue light of the variety we've now seen a hundred times up into the sky that opens a portal to some other dimension which will do........ something.

WoooooOOOooo... Bluuuuue liiiiiiiights!
I honestly still have no idea what the actual threat is.

When Incubus comes back to life, Enchantress tells him that humans no longer worship them as gods and that now, they worship machines. So, she says, they will build a machine... But as far as I can tell, at no point during the rest of the film do they attempt to build anything remotely resembling a "machine".

Even if they had done what they said they were going to do, I find it hard to imagine a more boring premise.

Worse still, while the villains' powers and motivation are thin and poorly established, it is at least clear that Enchantress and Incubus are wildly more powerful than the entire Suicide Squad team. So much so, that the only way they actually lose is by completely forgetting to use most of their abilities for no reason at all.

What if all the characters just showed up like this? Then
we could learn more about them throughout the rest of the
In a better movie, we'd have seen two hours of bad guys struggling to work together, trying to escape and abandon the mission, and fighting amongst themselves. We'd have seen a group of selfish people who have no interest in saving the world fail to execute their mission and find themselves in an increasingly dangerous meat grinder. They would have to make the impossible choice between getting obliterated by the villain, getting their heads blown off by Waller, or killing each other. We should be entering the third act with a disjointed group whose only hope is to use their individual skills as part of a team to win.

In a better movie, the characters would just wake up in a creepy room like Carey Elwes in Saw - all mystery and no context. Then we'd get to know who they are by their own actions, slowly and subtly throughout the rest of the story. They would build relationships with each other over time, not just decide randomly that they're one big family for no reason.

In a better movie, complex themes about the nature of good and evil, the humanity of criminals, and the nefariousness of secret government agencies might be explored.

But we didn't get a better movie. We got a frustratingly terrible movie which I was genuinely tempted to walk out of several times.

Just watch this. It's actually good.
When I got home, I put on DC's excellent animated Suicide Squad movie, "Assault on Arkham", just to wash the taste out of my mouth - and sure enough, every aspect of that film is superior to this one at half the run-time. If this movie had just been a live-action version of that script, it would have been an infinitely higher quality film to what I just saw.

What DC is doing with their cinematic universe is completely unconscionable at this point.

Like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad is a movie that (mostly) looks good. It's got a fantastic core cast who all seem really well suited to their various roles. There are good beats and moments here and there - including a couple in this film where I actually chuckled or smiled. It's even got an overall premise that few other movies and certainly no recent comic book movies have had, which should make it a fresh take on the genre in the same way that Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool offered more originality.

There was so much potential here and yet again, DC has squandered their opportunity with terrible writing and poor direction.

I'm done. The next one does not get the benefit of the doubt.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Five Suggestions for Better Creative Media

The following is a short speech that I was invited to give yesterday at Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform coalition meeting at FreedomFest in Las Vegas. I only had three minutes on stage, and a lot of this had to be cut on the fly for time, so I wanted to share what I intended to present in its more complete form here:

For those who don't know me, my name is Sean Malone.

I have a Bachelors degree in music composition from the University of Nebraska, and a Master of Arts in composition for film & media from New York University, and I worked as a professional in the entertainment industry in New York and Los Angeles for five years, before shifting my career goals to advancing libertarian ideas.

In 2010, I worked full time as a hired gun, producing media for non-profit advocacy groups.

In 2011, I built the first media production capability at the news website, The Daily Caller. For the last four and a half years, I worked for the Charles Koch Institute, building a media production capability and growing a creative team inside the organization.

I've won several awards for documentary film-making and have had my work screened all over the United States. My work has generated millions of views, and in a couple weeks, I will be moving to Atlanta, Georgia to take on a new role as Director of Media for the Foundation for Economic Education.

But today, I'm only here to speak for myself.

After more than 6 years working to create compelling media geared toward advancing a more free society, one thing I've been truly surprised by while working within this network is how frequently economists and political analysts are actually the ones writing scripts and leading the development of creative content instead of people with training and experience in the creative arts and communication.

Far too often, decision-makers throughout the liberty movement - many of the people in this room - use creative media not to reach new audiences, but to preach to the choir.

I believe that as a direct result, the organizations dedicated to promoting a more libertarian future wind up producing a lot of videos, podcasts, memes, and other types of content that appeal mainly to ourselves - and worse, often only to the most wonky, academically sophisticated among us. Meanwhile, we struggle to reach the mainstream audiences that we need to reach if we hope for our ideas to shape culture and politics in this country and around the world.

We have to do better, and I think we can.

In the spirit of offering solutions, I have 5 suggestions to improve creative media in the liberty movement that I've learned from doing the work:


Recognize that the folks in this room don't always have the same interests and preferences as everyone else in America.
You are usually not your audience - and that's good.

But it means we can't keep making stuff that appeals only to our own preferences as people who have often read dozens (hundreds?) of books on philosophy, economics, and political theory and expect it to be liked by everyone else.

Videos should rarely be expected to explain everything in detail or go into the pedantic trivia of names and vocabulary libertarians are often excited by.

Praxeology. Marginal benefits. Opportunity costs. Calculation problem. 

These aren't phrases most people know... And they don't need to know them in order to understand and value individual liberty.

Videos aren't academic white papers. Nor should they be.

What they should be doing is connecting people to your ideas on an emotional level. Get people to care first. Once they do, they will want to learn more.


If your organization is publicly facing, please consider trying to hire people with a legitimate background in creative fields - film, music, art, advertising, etc. - and then trust them to do their jobs.
As people with a good understanding of economics, I'm sure most of you understand the ideas of decentralized knowledge and comparative advantage. Don't underestimate the value of other people's expertise. Economists, professors, philosophers, policy analysts, lawyers -- they're all crucial to the work we do in this movement. But they don't understand audiences or conveying emotion through art the way people who have spent their lives doing this kind of work do.

And by the way, always ask to see applicants' portfolios of previous work, and make sure you know exactly what they contributed to those projects. That's far more important than any on-paper resume.

If you don't know what to look for, bring in a consultant like me, or my friends at Taliesin Nexus, the Moving Picture Institute, or from production companies in your area.


In order to attract and keep creative talent, one of the best things you can do is try to cultivate an environment that rewards creativity.
This means being willing to play, to experiment, to set aside time and space to brainstorm ideas, and allow those ideas to play out before shutting them down.

Be prepared to embrace some risks.

There are no guarantees that anything will be a huge hit, but one sure-fire way to fail is to play it safe.

Usually, the worst thing that will ever happen to a bad bit of creative content is that people won't watch it or share it. It won't burn the building down.

So live a little and don't be afraid to do something interesting.


Be yourselves, and allow your content to have its own voice.
Authenticity is the currency of online media especially, and viewers can spot something overly message-tested a mile away.

In the paraphrased words of David Mamet, what comes from the heart goes to the heart -- but what comes from the head, goes to the head and is ultimately perceived as manipulation.


Lastly… Be positive.
I can't stress this enough.

We spend far too much time telling people they're wrong, and talking only about problems we see with the world. And while it's true that you can get people's attention with shocking negativity, you can't keep it unless you offer them a way forward.

As soon-to-be Director of Media at the Foundation for Economic Education, I plan to employ every one of these lessons in the work we'll be doing over the next few years. I hope that you will all join me in improving the culture of creative media within the liberty movement.

Thank you.