The Chair Reviews: Suicide Squad, Jason Bourne, Finding Dory…
Thrones=good, Chairs=average, Stools=bad.
IN CINEMAS — ‘Sometimes I could just kill myself’ said Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989 before putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger, frightening the shit out of Kim Basinger. We’ve come a long way in 27 DC years, because now we have a whole team of nutjobs all willing to put their necks on the line in Suicide Squad (2016; 123 mins). Kinda willing, anyway, if willing means doing what Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller tells you because you have a Snake Plissken-style head exploder inserted into your neck. Thus coerced, and commanded by goodie Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), baddies Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Capt. Boomerang (really?) (Jai Courtnay) and a host of others form the squad and set out to…do stuff.
Warner Bros/DC really needed a pick me up after the critically-mauled Batman vs Superman earlier in the year. That film has gone on to make $870 million and change worldwide, but there is an extended universe to consider and fan faith can only take a series so far at the box-office. Have they got one? Well, kinda. It’s a film that starts very strongly. For a good half hour there is heaps of fun, actual fun, to be had as the squad are introduced, quirky stats and titles coming up alongside them as they are fought and caught by certain familiar vigilantes. It could have been annoying but it works and it promises much. It felt like I wanted to learn more about this world and I was enjoying being in it. The cast, too, works for the most part. It is inevitable that some members will be squeezed in order to make room for the big guns, and an opportunity for some real inter-team sniping is largely missed, but everybody gets a scene or a bit of a scene, and Robbie and Smith are very watchable, the former pretty much stealing the show as expected. Director David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury), a pretty sombre character himself, doesn’t sell all of their moments as seductively as he should but neither does he drop too many clangers. The only two that come up short are Kinnaman, a man who must have a terrific agent because he is quite simply boringly awful in everything ever, and Jared Leto. The latter’s Joker will be a matter of personal taste. He does a decent job selling nuts and his goons are great but I’m not his biggest fan at the best of times and having loved Heath Ledger’s incarnation, this was not the best of times.
So the team is mostly decent and a good tone is set — one that is consistent with the darker DC world and at the same time brighter; the film’s look is pretty good, so we’re all set and…then someone lost focus. Just as with BvS, coherence is this film’s biggest problem. There is a WTF? moment to challenge Batman’s crappy dream sequence about half way through, and suddenly we are in a story that just doesn’t work well enough. It still feels enjoyable because of all the personalities and the fighting and whatnot, but it’s all over the place, and the central plot ends up feeling and looking like something from 80s flick Masters of the Universe. Not a comparison anyone at WB would want drawn, I’m sure. There is an inherent schism in the DC world due to the vast power variance across its chief heroes and there is some of that here. Marvel had the same problem with The Avengers but it was overcome with ease by concentrating on the inter-team dynamic. With villains this should have been easier and there are flashes of the same but not enough to stifle creeping realisations that some of the characters, in fact most of the characters, are actually a bit pointless and ill-fitting for the story they went with, some elements of which appear lazily written (there are some shenanigans with a bomb that are just lame).
But hey, you know, overall I liked it. A super-powered Dirty Dozen is a great concept and there is a lot to like in it, it’s just a shame it goes wonking its way into la-la land rather than doing something more interesting with a good set of characters. Rating: 1 Throne.
I’ve read a few interviews with Paul Greengrass over the nine years since he directed The Bourne Ultimatum, each of them stating that he and Damon would only return to the character if they could get the script right and conjure something original to bring the forgetful assassin back into the fray. They are words that rang in my head whilst watching Jason Bourne (2016; 123 mins), causing the odd smile as he is called back into the world of CIA conspiracy via the death of a girl and a need to find out something about his past, taking in a few European capitals and whooping ass whilst uncovering the dark exploits of a shady suit (Tommy Lee Jones), or suits (Alicia Vikander) high up in the organisation, who — guess what? — had something to do with the formation of the Treadstone program. Sound familiar? Of course it does. There is a strong sense of déjà vu to proceedings and this does feel like a superfluous chapter in his quest for total recall, the key loop linking the past to the here and now proving a stretch for credibility. Luckily, the cast are all enjoyably game, and even more luckily Paul Greengrass has lost none of his touch when delivering action set-pieces. No-one does shaky-cam like the man who virtually invented it, and in the hands of lesser helmsmen that fast-edit effect is usually witheringly dull, but throughout this edition the action is spectacular, particularly during the third act, during which I was actually awed. So fair play, there are big story problems and it doesn’t do anything different really, but what it does well it still does better than everyone else.Rating: 1 Throne (nearly a 2).
I’m not a fan of Pixar’s Finding Nemo in the same way that I am Inside Out or Up, or even Monster’s Inc. I like it, but the central trio of Nemo, Marlin and Dory are mostly annoying and there is a thick Jetstream of moping schmaltz washing around them, so I wasn’t completely charged about seeing sequel Finding Dory (2016; 97 mins). Wearily, that same moping schmaltz is still front and centre and I had the same yawning reaction to every boring scene during which they discovered something pukey about friendship (as did a burbling, chatty audience of disinterested nippers), and even an aggressive dislike (I was quite tired) for the numerous cutesy segments during which Dory remembers her lost parents, the finding of which is the drive for the story. What makes both films enjoyable, though, is the supplementing cast and the world that surrounds them, and with octopus (or septopus?) Hank as a reluctant guide the Marine Life Institute serves as another beautiful and inventive background for the frenetic seeking of fishies, and during the moments when said fishies aren’t wafting around talking it is good fun. It felt long, though, and it really isn’t, but then again I was quite tired. Rating: 1 Throne.
FOR RENTAL — When you think of pimps and male prostitutes, Woody Allen and John Turturro probably aren’t the first people to pop into your mind, but in Fading Gigolo (2013; 90 mins) that is exactly what the two become, Allen hawking Turturro’s manly, ‘not too pretty’ appeal to mature women such as Sharon Stone and Vanessa Paradis, along with some younger models like Sofia Vergara. It sounds like the basis for a raucous comedy but Deuce Bigalow this is not, Turturro as writer-director going for a much more sensitive style, with a heavy emphasis on the healing, less sexual affair between himself and Paradis’ grief-stricken, religiously tied Jewish widow than the fun stuff. It is funny in places, but far less so than it could or should have been. Rating: Low Chair.
FILM OF THE WEEK — Technically it was last week but I’m still saying Jason Bourne.
CLASSIC OF THE WEEK — is Beautiful Girls (1995; 100 mins) because I always get the feeling it is little seen and it’s one of those warm, small town, snowbound American gems. A great script with many astute things to say is supported by a great cast (Michael Rappaport, Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Timothy Hutton, Natalie Portman, Mira Sorvino and more) who, not coincidentally, have many astute things to say.
Next week: Nerve, The Shallows, Pete’s Dragon.