The bell has tolled for The Suicide Squad, Lost in the Moonlight, Gunpowder Milkshake, Pig, and Jungle Cruise. Let’s see which ought to be washed away by the sea, and which should remain involved in mankind.
The Suicide Squad seeks to answer that age old question of “How much goodwill is generated for an audience by brutally killing off Jai Courtney and Pete Davidson in the first few minutes?”, that answer seemingly being “a good bit, actually”.
Quite why there is a sequel to David Ayer’s, kinda, 2016 Suicide Squad will baffle future historians of the era, given that the 2016 outing was just the worst, but apparently enough dump trucks of cash were dispatched to James Gunn, he of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, to take on the challenge of making a better film than the original. Well, okay, that’s not much of a challenge, I suppose it’s more to make a film good enough to overcome the massive inertia of Ayer’s rock, a tall order indeed.
To that end, meet the new team, not quite the same as the old team, albeit with a few returning faces. Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller recruits / blackmails Idris Elba’s gruff assassin Bloodsport to lead a team into the civil wartorn island of Val Verde, probably, to destroy a problematic research facility. His team comprises John Cena’s Peacemaker, who loves peace so much he’ll kill everyone to get it, David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man, a depressed, tortured soul with so much love, and hyperkinetic exploding polkadots to give, Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2, who controls rats, naturally, and Sylvester Stallone’s King Shark, who is a shark. A landshark, of course. So, yes, your normal service of weird goons has resumed, the team soon joined by Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and Joel Kinnaman’s Colonel Rick Flag after their separate distractionary mission goes south early on.
Turns out the facility they’re out to ruin, headed up by Peter Capaldi’s Gaius “The Thinker” Grieves, is holding captive a giant intergalactic mind controlling starfish, Starro the Conqueror, and unleashing him causes another bunch of problems for the Squad to clean up, and some amount of inter-team conflict once America’s role in Grieves’ horrific experimentations are uncovered.
Now all of that sounds like a fever dream when written out, and that’s not far off the aesthetic that Gunn seems to have been shooting for, so I won’t spend much more time on recapping the events of the film, for they are silly. Now, this is of course a marked step up from Ayer’s film, whose main motif appeared to be stultifying boredom. No, this film is silly, and features mostly silly action scenes handled in as light hearted a fashion as is possible, given the bodycount, which is also silly, and the violence, which would be gruesome were it not so silly.
I’m not sure there’s a lot of point me giving you much more of the chapter and verse on this film – it is very much like its trailer, but two hours and a bit of it, so if you like that sort of thing this is the sort of thing you’ll like. If you must have my opinions, they’re broadly positive. It is, for the most part, a good amount of fun, perhaps flagging a bit in the final act, but even then the outright daftness of the finale almost counterbalances it. It’s fun watching Elba and Cena butt heads, Robbie is dependably entertaining, and the supporting characters get their moments in the sun without cluttering up the place too much and the prevailing tone is much better matched to the dumb content of the piece. I like Gunn’s colourful and dynamic ways of transitioning between scenes, and the variety of somewhat abstract styles in which he shoots his shooting.
It’s not high art, but it’s a fun way to pass a few hours. Good enough to wipe out the memories of the first film? Apparently not as far as the audience is concerned, if the early box office is to be believed, but it deserves the positive write-ups it has been getting, even if I’ve already started to forget everything that happened in it.
Better than the first one out of five.
A much older film than we normally put into our Intermission episodes next, in the shape of 2016 Korean animation Lost in the Moonlight, which I first saw the trailer for six years ago and had been wanting to watch since, but, thanks to a lack of an English subtitled version, have had to wait until 2021 to see. This has been rectified in the last few months, it would seem, with one of my periodic checks having turned it up on Amazon.
What had attracted me most was the style, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli. Now, it’s possible that I compare Asian animation to Studio Ghibli too often, although it’s hard, and perhaps inappropriate, not to – they’re the gold standard. Indeed, when it comes to traditional, two-dimensional animation, they’re the gold standard everywhere (please listen to our review of Earwig and the Witch in our February 2021 episode if you’d like to learn about how they’re very much not the gold standard for 3D animation). But in this case the comparison was particularly appropriate, as Studio Holhory’s film bears more than a little resemblance to Spirited Away.
Adolescent girl Hyun Ju-li is about to perform in her school’s musical, in which she plays a tree. Upset about her small part, fed up with being ignored by her classmates and the director, embarrassed about her parents coming to watch her and, well, 13 years old, Hyun Ju-li decides to run away from the performance. At the same time, a rat who is part of the ancient and recently restored clock, the unveiling ceremony of which Hyun Ju-li’s musical is a part, is similarly fed up of his seemingly minor role and leaves the clock.
Of course, in the human world, the rat is only a figure in a clock, but in the spirit world he is actually a rat god, who unwittingly carries a name tag that, if allowed to fall into the wrong hands, will cause time to stop and darkness to forever cover both the human and spirit worlds.
It falls into the wrong hands.
The fleeing-from-embarrassment Hyun Ju-li picks up the name tag and, due to its magic, ends up in the spirit world, full of strange demon creatures – including one masked figure with an extending neck – vengeful trees, like evil Ents, and gods. Here she also encounters Madam Blossom, possessor of the wrong hands, who is not suspected at all of being evil because, as the disguised rat god who has become the girl’s companion states, “no pretty people are bad”.
Sadly, Lost in the Moonlight turned out to very much not be worth waiting for. While it’s reasonably well-animated (even if the backgrounds have the look of a Ghibli first pass, rather than the achingly beautiful and painstakingly drawn art of that studio’s finished work), and some of the character designs are either interesting or creepy, where it really suffers is story and character. Setting aside the very on-the-nose but almost de rigueur messaging about pollution and the environment, as the plot progresses and the world approaches destruction, Hyun Ju-li is given no agency whatsoever, being buffeted around events like a twig in a hurricane, and always rescued by external forces, never her own wit or action: it’s extremely boring and unsatisfying.
It also fails in its messaging. When the spirit clock’s creator addresses the issue of the rat god’s dissatisfaction which led to his leaving the clock, our heroine informs him, “it’s because no-one told him how important his role is. If someone did, even if it is a routine job, he would’ve done it gladly.”
So much, so “you’re an important part of things, even if you’re unhappy with the size of your role” moral for children, but really, no, you’re just dressed as a tree in the background. Your part is actually insignificant. This film is not saying what you think it is, especially since Hyun Ju-li is a spectator for more or less the entirety of her adventure.
In the end, what I really want to do is warn off anyone else who, like me, might stumble across the trailer for this at some point and think, “OK, I’ll bite, let’s see how this lot do a Spirited Away knock-off”. Don’t. It’s too dull. Instead, I’d recommend watching a little film called Spirited Away, which does a lot of the same stuff, but oh so much better.
What if, right, John Wick, but women?
That’s it. That’s the review.
What’s that Grace? Contractually obligated minimum review length? Oh, alright.
Now, “Action film from Netflix” doesn’t yet have the same run for the hills quality warning as “Science fiction film from Netflix”, although it’s getting down there. So, we trepidatiously approach Gunpowder Milkshake, in which we find Lena Headey’s Scarlet, an elite assassin for The Firm, having to go into hiding for mysterious reasons, leaving her daughter in the care of Paul Giamatti’s Nathan, her handler in that their Firm. Said daughter grows up to be Karen Gillan’s Sam, and like mother, like daughter.
However, spanners are interfaced with works when her last assignment goes south, with the son of a local crime outfit run by Ralph Ineson’s Jim McAlester getting a case of ballistic lead poisoning. This will soon catch up with Sam, but not before she’s told to track down and kill someone who stole money from the Firm. In the process of doing so, she’ll find out that the crime was done in order to pay his young daughter, Chloe Coleman’s Emily’s ransom to a bunch of kidnappers.
Sam goes off mission, deciding to rescue Emily, while the McAlester gang shake the Firm to the extent that they are happy to give up Sam in exchange for peace. Hence, a great amount of firepower is soon levelled at Sam, but she will receive some unexpected help from her returning mother, and her friends, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett’s group of librarian assassins, I guess.
Now, to be fair, I didn’t dislike my time with Gunpowder Milkshake, which was an amiable enough watch as far as this sort of thing goes. I might even have felt a bit more receptive to it in a theoretical world where Nobody wasn’t released a few months back, or the John Wick films existed, or the John Woo heroic bloodshed films, but as it stands this just falls to the bottom of the pack. Maybe it’s also because it’s primary difference, gender aside, is the odd neon 50’s aesthetic it’s running with, which is stylising its violence into The Suicide Squad‘s territory, which did that better this very episode.
Headey and Gillen do well bouncing off each other and the supporting cast is adequately served – side note, it’s nice to see Giamatti again, sadly missed over the past, what, three years? Overall, I don’t have a great many complaints about the actors, but Navot Papushado’s script and direction is just a bit too try-hard for it’s own good. It results in a film that seems desperate to self identify as a cult classic, rather than get there organically, and is slightly repellant for that.
But only slightly, and that’s not quite enough to ruin it. If you are in the mood for a slice of stylised action, and if you’ve already seen the other similarly themed flicks aforementioned this won’t be an unpleasant watch, but that’s a pretty caveated recommendation at best. For more general audiences? Pass.
“I’m looking for a truffle pig. Someone stole it”, a gruff-voiced Nicolas Cage tells us in the trailer for Pig. His pig was “taken”? Perhaps, then, Nicolas Cage’s Robin will turn out to be the sort of man who doesn’t have money, but does have a very particular set of skills, skills that he has acquired over a long career? Well, actually, yes, but absolutely not the sort of skills that the rather misleading trailer (which, fortunately, I didn’t see until after watching the film) might lead you to expect.
This week’s Nicolas Cage vehicle is one of those that pleasantly reminds us all that, given the appropriate material and direction, Mr Cage is really a very fine actor indeed. It can be easy to forget that: unlike, say, Al Pacino, who around here we tend to measure on the Decimal Scarface Scale™, Nicolas Cage’s performances tend to reflect one of two settings – On (All of the Nic Cage) or Off (Normal Person).
Here we very much get the ‘Off’ setting – indeed, it’s perhaps the most low-key performance I can remember seeing him give, spending most of the first act of the film barely even talking, and I’m very much here for it: as much fun as his more trademark maniacal turns in the likes of Mom and Dad or Mandy are, this is the Cage I’ve always preferred – Nicolas Cage the actor, not the human meme seemingly intent on actually becoming the parody version of him created by Andy Samberg on Saturday Night Live.
This acting happens in and around Portland in the northwest of the US, where Cage’s Rob lives quietly and simply in the woods with his pet pig, selling the truffles that she finds to Alex Wolff’s Amir, a Portland restaurant supplier and promoter, to provide him with a living. Violence enters Rob’s quiet world, though, when he is attacked in the middle of the night and his pig stolen. A still-bloodied Rob makes his way into the city to find the animal, enlisting Amir’s help, as he journeys into the world of high pressure haute-cuisine with a seedy underbelly.
This is a world that Rob was once part of but left and, returning, he only partially recognises, though part of that may be due to the fact that Rob does not entirely recognise himself anymore. To mention more would be to risk spoiling this subdued and thoughtful piece, and its exploration of the effects of grief. I will just add some praise instead, in particular for Alex Wolff as Cage’s unwilling associate, and Patrick Scola’s beautiful cinematography and its abundant use of natural light, or at least the effect thereof.
Pig isn’t flawless (the underground restaurant fight club seeming particularly odd), but it really is rather a wonderful little film, and an impressive debut from writer/director Michael Sarnoksi. A low-key, non-sentimental character piece running to only 92 minutes, it’s quite comfortably one of the best films I’ve seen all year. Very highly recommended.
It’s a film based on a theme park ride. Well, we’ve been here before, of course, with Pirates of the Caribbean, which was given the side eye before release, but turned out to be an enjoyable romp. Admittedly, a slew of increasingly poor sequels may have dimmed that memory, but at any rate it earns Jungle Cruise a fair hearing, at least.
Emily Blunt’s no-nonsense Dr. Lily Houghton is on the search for a legendary, surely mythical artefact called the Tears of the Moon, a veritable tree of life, much to the amusement of the stuffy old Royal Society. Well they’re mostly being amused by her foppish dandy brother sidekick, Jack Whitehall’s MacGregor Houghton, as they’re not going to listen to a woman speak. Perish the thought. Also on the trail is Jesse Plemons’ entirely accurately accented Prince Joachim, seeking the healing powers of the tree for Germany’s war effort, leading to some tussles over an arrowhead artefact that Lily believes to be the key to finding the tree.
So then, off to Brazil, where they hire sketchy steamboat captain Rock “The Dwayne” Johnson’s Frank Wolff to journey down the Amazon in his sketchy steamboat, with ze Germans in hot submarine pursuit, whereupon a variety of perils both natural and supernatural must be navigated until they reach the end of the ride. Sorry, film, all the while exchanging quips and barbs, and occasionally humiliating Jack Whitehall, but not often enough for my liking.
A touch dismissive, but a blow-by-blow recap isn’t going to do a lot of good, save perhaps to mention the cursed ghost conquistadors released from their captivity by ze Germans to help find the Tears of the Moon, which will also tie into Frank’s mysterious past. Oooh.
It is, of course, nonsense, but it’s such likeable nonsense that not even Jack Whitehall can ruin it. Johnson carries a lot of it, this being one of the better vehicles for his charisma and awful, awful puns, and he bounces well off Blunt, Whitehall, and even Paul Giamatti, Jesus, him again, give someone else a chance Paul, stop taking all the roles.
I have already mostly forgotten Jungle Cruise, come to think of it in much the same way I swiftly forgot anything of that Jumanji reboot, other than the vague memory of an enjoyable couple of hours of popcorn fuelled blockbuster entertainment. It’s for sure not life-changing cinema, but it’s a broadly appealing family action adventure romp that’s worth checking out.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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