‘The Suicide Squad’ is Silly, Violent, Imaginative, and Easy Enough to Follow

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The Suicide Squad (CREDIT: Warner Bros./Screenshot)

Starring: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Flula Borg, Steve Agee, Storm Reid, Taika Waititi

Director: James Gunn

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: R for Various Body Parts Getting Torn Apart, a Full Roster of Potty Mouths, and a Little Bit of Nudity

Release Date: August 5, 2021 (Theaters and HBO Max)

The Suicide Squad feels like it came from another dimension. It shares a few characters with 2016’s (no “the”) Suicide Squad and has essentially the same premise. It’s ostensibly a sequel to that earlier effort, but it’s effectively a do-over. There are plenty of reboots every year at the multiplex, but rarely do we have such an unabashed mulligan. The multiverse theory posits that there is an infinite number of realities with any number of minor or major variations, and it seems that we’ve somehow been visited by the one in which James Gunn directed a Suicide Squad movie instead of David Ayer. Adding to this surreal state of affairs was the fact that I was in a bit of a fugue state while watching The Suicide Squad. It was a 10:00 AM screening, my first morning trip to a movie theater post-pandemic. My body was confused by the lack of sunlight at the early hour and thus my brain was unsure if it should be waking or dreaming. Either way, heads were always fated to explode.

The Suicide Squad takes a cue from Suicide Squad by having multiple beginnings, but this time it’s a cheeky bit of purposeful misdirection instead of stinky studio manipulation. Suicide squads are famously expendable, and it turns out that there are degrees of expendability, as one squad is introduced with plenty of fanfare only to serve as a diversion. Everyone involved clearly wanted to feature as many characters as possible to essentially say, “Can you believe all of the colorful ridiculousness that has actually appeared in DC Comics?” The team that we spend most of our time with consists of the ever-popular Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), a couple of sharpshooters (Idris Elba, John Cena), a queen of rodents (Daniela Melchior), and a guy who shoots polka dots out of his mouth (David Dastmalchian). They’re sent to the fictional South American island nation of Corto Maltese for some top secret political meddling, but a date with the fantastical awaits them.

I wasn’t prepared for the Big Bad in The Suicide Squad to be a giant starfish, but that is indeed what awaited me. And quite frankly, I’m glad that that’s what we got. I can take or leave the gleeful over-the-top violence; it’s good for a few laughs, but after a couple of hours, I’m exhausted by the fact that I’m not really meant to care about any of these characters (although a few do manage to find a small place in my heart). So I’m grateful that there’s a surplus of visual imagination to appreciate. Way too many extraterrestrial cinematic CGI creatures of the past 15 years or so are some variation on big bad bugs, so a massive starfish that squirts out hundreds of smaller starfish is a relief. I’d be happy to see Starro rolling around every future corner of the big-screen DC universe, whether or not the reject crew is around.

So in conclusion, if you like kooky superpowers at their absolute kookiest and rats getting their time in the spotlight, you’ll probably have a decent time with the Suicide Squad.

The Suicide Squad is Recommended If You Like: The trailers for 2016’s Suicide Squad, bodily mutilation played for laughs, Mouse Hunt

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rats

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Christopher Robin’ And a Silly Old Bear Remind Us of the Importance of Family

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CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Disney

This review was originally published on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings, Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen, Toby Jones

Director: Marc Forster

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Bumpy Rides on Trains and the Streets of London

Release Date: August 3, 2018

One reason the Winnie the Pooh stories have endured, particularly in cartoon form, is because of their commitment to the intense, occasionally overwhelming, wonders of the imagination. Ostensibly, the original fount of this imagination is Christopher Robin, whose stuffed animals have sprung to life in the Hundred Acre Wood. Christopher Robin the movie, starring Ewan McGregor as the grown-up title character, initially presents itself as being about the importance of retaining your inner child, as Pooh, Piglet, and the rest of the gang return unexpectedly after decades to visit their old friend. But along the way, Marc Forster’s film is powered along by the lessons of treating employees fairly so memorably espoused way back when (and year after year) in It’s a Wonderful Life. The businessmen of Christopher Robin are not quite as warped and frustrated as Mr. Potter, but they prevent people from properly enjoying their time with their spouses, children, and stuffies, and that cannot be abided.

The major conflict is that Christopher is unable to spend a weekend in the countryside with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) because of work commitments. Far from a workaholic who has forgotten how to have fun, he is instead a businessman who is constantly stressed out by the demands of his bosses and his commitment to do what is asked of him. As the efficiency expert at Wilson Luggages, he is tasked with finding the most cost-effective way to lay off staff, and he must have his presentation ready by a Monday morning meeting. He gets to work fulfilling this heartbreaking task, resigned to being stuck in a rigged system. Then Pooh Bear shows up, and through a series of mishaps, Christopher is able to see this problem anew with fresh eyes and discover a way for decent, hardworking people to keep their jobs AND have paid vacation time while still retaining efficiency.

The presence of talking stuffed animals could be played to make Christopher Robin appear insane to the rest of the world, but the Hundred Acre Wood gang is too un-self-conscious to hide their true selves to anyone. Thus, Pooh’s presence is disarming to all his human friends, acquaintances, and audience. His propensity for simple wisdom in the vein of Zen aphorisms is on full display, as he remarks, “it’s usually today” when Christopher Robin screams out, “It’s tomorrow!” and later declares that today is in fact his favorite day. We all can benefit greatly from leaving room for Pooh in our hearts. When life feels like it is just making our floors sticky and breaking our glassware, we just need to take that as an opportunity to assess the situation differently and realize what is really important.

Christopher Robin is Recommended If You Like: It’s a Wonderful Life, Winnie the Pooh cartoons, Making time to vacation with your loved ones

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Honeypots

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Paddington 2’ Sends Our Very Special Bear to Prison, But Truth, Common Decency, and Marmalade Prevail

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi

Director: Paul King

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG for Cheeky Humor and Threats of Violence Appeased by Marmalade

Release Date: January 12, 2018

The first Paddington film was a clear refugee allegory, with the titular “very special bear” (voiced then and now by Ben Whishaw) looking for a new home in England after his home in Peru is destroyed. The coded language about what happens to neighborhoods when bears move in was an obvious stand-in for how some actual Londoners (and other native residents around the globe) feel about the arrival of immigrants. Paddington 2 – in which the raincoat-sporting, marmalade-loving bear is imprisoned for grand theft despite his innocence – is not quite so stark in its messaging. It may have something to say about profiling, though Paddington’s wrongful arrest has more to do with misleading circumstantial evidence moreso than ungenerous assumptions about bearfolk. Still, for a family-friendly flick that distinguishes itself with a gentle touch, it is notable how much it does not hold back from some genuinely unsettling moments.

It all starts out pleasantly enough. Paddington, now living with the Brown family in London, wants to get his Aunt Lucy, the bear who raised him, a truly special present for her 100th birthday. He comes across a rare pop-up book in an antique shop, but it is a bit out of his price range, which is to say, he has no money (unless the Browns have been giving him an allowance). So he sets out to join the workforce, which begins with an abortive stint as a barbershop assistant (make sure to keep what appear to be narrative detours in mind, as these adventures are all intricately and carefully plotted) but then ultimately leads to an entrepreneurial effort as a window-washer. This segment is most memorable for Paddington’s improvising by rubbing the soap against the glass with his bum, which explains why this is rated PG and not G.

It gets a little scary from here on out, though. Considering the genre, there’s no need to worry that it will all descend into a bloodbath, but in the course of the narrative playing out, the danger does feel real, and fitfully intense. The main baddie is Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), a washed-up actor who is now best known for appearing in hacky dog food commercials. He’s the real thief behind the crime Paddington has been charged with, a villain in the Scooby-Doo mold, though a tad more competent: awfully silly but a master of disguise and escape. Grant has a blast with all the dress-up and smoke-and-mirrors.

But the most worrisome threats come during Paddington’s prison stint. He runs afoul of Nuckles (Brendan Gleeson), the inmate assigned to cooking duties, who is legendary for dispensing with those who question his culinary decisions. It really does feel like Paddington is just one false move away from Nuckles beating him to a pulp. This is the neat trick that P2 pulls off. We really do believe that Paddington’s fellow inmates are capable of the crimes they are guilty of (though we would surely never see them happen in a film this), while simultaneously we believe that they would indeed befriend a fundamentally decent, very special bear.

Aesthetically, attention must also be paid to Paddington 2’s artful compositions. Director Paul King was no slouch in the first Paddington, with a whimsical architectural style indebted to Wes Anderson. This time around, he grows even more confident, assembling artfully arranged close-ups: single characters take up the ideal frame space and there is still an impressive amount of background information. London can be harsh, but the care apparent in Paddington 2 makes it much easier to bear.

Paddington 2 is Recommended If You Like: The first Paddington, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Family films that don’t hold back

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Marmalade Sandwiches