Saturday, August 6, 2016

Suicide Squad

After Superman’s apparent demise, intelligence official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) makes preparations to thwart future superhuman threats. To that end, she organizes Task Force X, a group of notorious felons that will operate covertly under special ops Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his bodyguard Tatsu “Katana” Yamashiro (Karen Fukuhara), thus buying the government plausible deniability should things go awry. The titular squad consists of Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton (Will Smith), a high-priced assassin with remarkable accuracy; Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) a former psychiatrist who was transformed into the Joker’s (Jared Leto) deranged accomplice; Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), an ancient sorceress who periodically inhabits the body of Flag’s lover, Dr. June Moone; Digger “Captain Boomering” Harkness (Jai Courtney), an unruly Australian thief; Chato “El Diablo” Santana (Jay Hernandez), a remorseful ex-gangbanger with the ability to summon flames; Waylon “Killer Croc” Jones (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man with a reptilian appearance and abilities; and Christopher “Slipknot” Weiss (Adam Beach), a master of ropes. Waller initially believes that she can control the team (via explosive implants that she will detonate if they go rogue), but it isn’t long before Enchantress proves her wrong, putting the whole world at risk.

For better or for worse, DC is not afraid to take risks. After whiffing on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the next film in the comic publisher’s growing cinematic universe has as its director and writer a man best known for gritty police dramas (David Ayer) and as its protagonists a motley crew of lesser-known villains. It’s an audacious move and though ultimately not a successful one, it at least makes for more memorable entertainment than other cinematic failures.

The prime culprit, as was the case in Dawn of Justice, is the plot. Action films can be forgiven for being thinly or implausibly plotted, but Suicide Squad is inane to the point of insulting. First, the choice of Enchantress as the main antagonist is a perplexing one as many of the squad’s abilities would seemingly be ineffective against a magical being. As if that isn’t bad enough, she then spends the majority of the movie powering up, complete with a clichéd CG lightning storm. Aside from the squad’s mission, no attempt is made to deal with her either, because why call in an airstrike or look for some actual heroes when we must focus on the villains’ expository flashbacks and sociopathic hijinks? This isn’t a movie that asks “What were they thinking?” inasmuch as it answers with “They weren’t.”

That said, if you can look past the poor plotting and muddled motivations – and that is a big if – Suicide Squad is not a film without virtues. For one thing, it’s both funnier and more fun than previous DC outings. Deadshot, Harley, Boomerang, and even Croc get some great quips. There is also a lively soundtrack featuring a respectable cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and though Ayer’s direction on the whole is unimpressive, the squad’s first fight is well-choreographed and satisfying to watch.

Performances varied, but there were several bright spots. Davis made for an appropriately determined and ruthless Waller, Smith added a vulgar and cynical edge to his usual affability, Delevigne exuded both creepiness (as Enchantress) and vulnerability (as Moone) despite the mishandling of her character, and Hernandez was convincingly contrite. While Robbie was both physically and metaphorically overexposed, she embodied Harley Quinn quite well and was true to the spirit of the character.

On the other hand, some of the secondary characters weren’t written with nearly enough depth for the actors to work with. Flag comes across as a gung-ho stereotype for much of the film, and Croc seems misused as comic relief (a role that he shares with the more expectedly clownish Boomerang). And then there’s the Joker. Despite being heavily hyped in promotional materials, the character doesn’t get a lot of screen time. Leto plays him as a flamboyant, jittery, gropey, giggling psychopath. His interpretation lacks the gravitas of Heath Ledger’s take, but he still comes across fairly well as an agent of chaos, albeit one with a goofiness that undermines his menace. Batman shows up as well, by the way, but Ben Affleck isn’t given enough time to steal the screen.

For all its faults, Suicide Squad does accomplish two things: it shows that DC isn’t averse to mixing things up, and it further sets the stage for 2017’s Justice League. But if that film is as ineptly plotted and inexpertly crafted as these past two outings have been, DC’s cinematic universe may collapse before Darkseid even has a chance to attack.


Los 3 Potrillos

Located at 4512 West Market Street in Greensboro, Los 3 Potrillos offers Mexican cuisine for lunch and dinner. There is a full bar, daily discounts and specials are available, and delivery is free within 10 miles for orders $35 and over. Limited outdoor seating and private dining are also available.

The newest location of a regional family-owned chain opened in late July in the space formerly occupied by the short-lived Casa Don Lupe. Though there is no shortage of Mexican fare in the vicinity, it’s still a welcome addition if for no other reason than to see that Southwestern-styled building being put to good use. Thankfully, there are other reasons to be glad that Los 3 Potrillos has arrived, quality food and top-notch service chief among them.

Inside, 3 Potrillos is bright and uncluttered with some colorful wall art and a well-laid out bar. Our server, Sofia, did a good job of making us feel welcome, as did one of the owners, who offered both recommendations as well as coupons for our next visit. All of the staff seemed very friendly, drink refills were prompt, and we didn’t have to wait long for any of our food.

Speaking of food, the menu here is solid. You’ll find several permutations of the usual suspects (burritos, fajitas, quesadillas, etc.) as well as a few surprises (ribs, sincronizada sandwiches). It’s no Los Gordos in terms of creativity, but 3 Potrillos will likely have what you’re craving.

For our first time out, my wife and I split a starter of Mexican street corn and went with steak picado and arroz texano, respectively. The corn had a nice citrus zest, and the sauce accompanying the steak was rich and spicy. The texano (chicken, steak, and shrimp over rice – along with carnitas, one of my go-to Mexican dishes) brought no such heat, but the meats were tender and well-seasoned just as same. Aside from the strictly average chips and salsa, the food was a win.

Pricing proved to be fair. Our street corn was $3/ear (or two for $5), and our entrees were $10.75 and $11.75 respectively. Portion sizes were respectable, and the meat/vegetable/rice proportion seemed about right. My wife’s $4.95 margarita did not skimp on the alcohol, either.

Usually, it takes new restaurants some time to find their rhythm, but Los 3 Potrillos already seems to be firing on all cylinders. Here’s hoping it can stay strong and stay around.


Midtown Cafe and Dessertery

Located at 151 South Stratford Road in Winston-Salem, Midtown Café and Dessertery serves salads, sandwiches, homestyle entrees, and all day breakfast. Grab and go desserts and deli items are available as is delivery to groups of ten or more on weekdays.

With its large menu, dated interior, and tantalizing cakes on display, Midtown Café calls to mind some of the classic diners I grew up with in North Jersey. It’s the kind of place where you can likely find a satisfying bite to eat, but it is unlikely to blow you away.

Midtown Café is deceptively large, which is a plus given the crowds that it draws. Our group of three arrived at the end of a Sunday morning and faced about a ten-minute wait. Once seated, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the depth of the menu: a dozen different kinds of pancakes, lots of gluten free options, and lots of cakes. As we were craving breakfast, we settled on an a spicy southwestern omelet (Andouille sausage, pepper jack cheese, salsa, and sour cream), banana crunch pancakes (banana stuffed buttermilk cakes topped with banana and pecans), and a side of sausage.

The food hit the spot, and the wait for it was not as long as it could have been given the volume (our server, though a bit harried, was on top of things). The pancakes were very good: light and sweet, with a nice crunch provided by the pecans. The andouille and salsa in the omelet gave a welcome bit of spice, and the eggs were neither loose nor overdone.

That said, the portion sizes were somewhat disappointing. Though adequately filling, don’t come here expecting huge plates. In light of that, the prices charged seem high. The pancakes, with no sides, were $7.30 while the omelet (which came with plain pancakes) was $10.80. IHOP, for all its faults, charges less for more food.

Come dinner or dessert (those cakes looked good), Midtown Café may yield a very different experience. Their breakfast offerings were varied and tasty but ultimately overpriced for diner fare.

Midtown Cafe & Dessertery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato