Screen Savor: Indignant

Thu. August 4, 2016 12:00 AM
by Gregg Shapiro

For an author as beloved and respected as Philip Roth, film adaptations of his work, particularly the ones made during the 21st century, have not fared all that well. The most well-received one of all Roth adaptations, the Oscar-nominated Goodbye, Columbus (from 1969), has become such a part of popular culture that references to over-indulgent sweet tables at catered affairs earn the movie a name-checking. The 1972 film version of Portnoy's Complaint, from Roth's most notorious novel, didn't do well with critics or audiences. The PBS American Playhouse adaptation of The Ghost Writer was a big hit in 1984, but almost 20 years passed before there was a renewed cinematic interest in Roth's work, resulting in the films The Human Stain (starring out actor Wentworth Miller, Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins), Elegy (starring Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley) and The Humbling (starring Al Pacino and Greta Gerwig). All three were mostly forgettable.

James Schamus' film rendition of Indignation (RT Features), his feature-length directorial debut, has the potential to change all of that. Framed by scenes of an elderly woman in a nursing home looking at a wallpaper pattern and a Korean war flashback, the film takes us back to 1951 where New Jersey native Marcus (Logan Lerman in a fine performance) is preparing to leave his friends and family behind and begin his freshman year of college at Winesburg College in Ohio (where the mother of one of his friends wonders where he'll find Kosher food). Marcus' departure, at a time when young men are dying with regularity in the Korean war, creates an almost insurmountable situation with his parents, with him being the only son of worrisome butcher Max (Danny Burstein) and homemaker Esther (Linda Edmond who deserves a Best Supporting Actress nod come Oscar time).

At college, Marcus, an excellent student, rooms with dorm-mates Ron (Philip Ettinger) and "queer" Bert (Ben Rosenfield), both juniors. He is also recruited to pledge the campus' sole Jewish fraternity, but he decides to pass on the opportunity. While working in the school library, he encounters troubled blonde shiksa goddess Olivia (Sarah Gadon), who is also in one of his classes. Unlike any girl he ever encountered in Newark, Marcus is immediately smitten. The draw, as it turns out, is mutual, but after an unexpected sexual encounter during their first date, Marcus has difficulty reconciling the event with his attraction to Olivia.

What follows are Marcus' attempts to deal with his studies, the fragile Olivia, his unsympathetic dorm-mates, the deteriorating situation with his parents at home, the sudden interest that Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) has taken in him, and a case of appendicitis. Indignation, like Whit Stillman's Love and Friendship, is one of those rare occasions where the source material, the screenplay, the direction and the performances, all blend to create an experience that genuinely transports the viewer to another time and place.

Suicide Squad (WB/DC) squeezes a whole lot of set-up and character introduction, as well as lengthy fight sequences and above average special effects into its 123 minutes. But that's to be expected from a movie meant to be the launching pad for the latest live-action comic book movie series, right?

In the dangerous days following the death of Superman (He's dead! He's alive! He's a bird! He's a plane!), high ranking government agent Amanda Waller (a fierce Viola Davis) meets with military officials with a unique proposition. She wants to amass a team of metahumans, most of whom are ultra-violent and soulless and locked up in maximum security facilities, who will do her bidding when it comes to fighting other villainous folks. She keeps them in line by injecting an explosive device she controls in their necks.

This crew, eventually dubbed the Suicide Squad because of the threats they face, includes killer-for-hire Deadshot (Will Smith), blood-thirsty Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie in a mind-blowing performance) who also happens to be the paramour of The Joker (a terrifying Jared Leto), human torch Diablo (hot Jay Hernandez), Boomerang (Jai Courtney), and the reptilian Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and sundry others. One metahuman, Enchantress (queer actress/model Cara Delevingne), an ancient witch who alternates identities with human June Moone, has plans for world domination.

Amanda puts June's soldier boyfriend Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) in charge of the Suicide Squad and its mission to stop Enchantress and her equally destructive brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine) from enslaving the human race. In the midst of all of this, The Joker is determined to be reunited with Harley Quinn and undermines the operation. As is often the case with these kinds of movies, there is a certain level of level of self-indulgence, and Suicide Squad is no exception. Regardless, it's a surprisingly entertaining movie, even if you don't consider yourself to be a comic book geek.