This reboot of a cult comic book ensemble film is distinguished by a parade of sensational casting and visual choices. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (A-) is a splattery spectacular madcap adventure with rousing action, vivid effects, ribald humor and idiosyncratic characters. Although its violence is not for the faint of heart, Gunn’s film is tonally and thematically one of the most winning DC Comics adaptations yet. The story revolves around the government sending the world’s most dangerous supervillains including Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena) Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) to a remote, enemy-infused island for a search-and-destroy mission related to a science conspiracy. Interlaced into the propulsive plot is a menagerie of exquisite weaponry, human/animal hybrids, throwaway gags, witty asides and just about any treasures Gunn can bury in the cartoonish carnage. It’s a rollicking ride with Robbie again a delightful standout and Melchior a winning find as a pied piper of both CGI rodents and some surprisingly emotional moments. Add in an anthropomorphic shark, stunning stunts and an epic showdown finale, and many will agree Gunn has assembled one helluva Squad.
Real-life stories of Hollywood royalty, chronicles of singing poets and lovers, displays of supernatural super heroics and much more will vie for your attention across multiplex and media as the fall film season gets fully underway. Filmmakers continue to showcase the movies they’ve been safely creating during the pandemic, and you’ll get a variety of new fare to enjoy on both big screens and home streaming in the months ahead.
Anticipated sequels and franchises include No Time to Die, the latest Daniel Craig 007 film; Dune, which covers half of the dense sci-fi novel about outer space wars; Halloween Kills with further mayhem between knife-wielding Michael Myers and scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis; and Maverick, Tom Cruise’s long-awaited follow-up to Top Gun.
True-life sagas range from director Ridley Scott’s chronicle of a murderous fashion family with House of Gucci starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver to Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos with Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as television idols Lucy and Desi Arnaz. Two tragic legends also get the big-screen treatment as Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana in Spencer and Ana de Armas embodies Marilyn Monroe in Blonde. And King Richard stars Will Smith as the father and coach of the Williams tennis sisters.
After the recent successes of Marvel on television, an emboldened box office run should continue with recent Oscar winner Chloé Zhao’s Eternals featuring an ensemble of immortal gods such as Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek plus the third in the latest Spider-Man trilogy, No Way Home, injecting a bit of twisty multiverse time travel into the teen web-slinger’s adventures.
Dear Evan Hansen with Ben Platt as a troubled teenager opposite Amy Adams and Julianne Moore ushers in a season of musicals, followed by Peter Dinklage in an acclaimed crooning performance as Cyrano, Andrew Garfield as an artist on the brink of hitting it big as he faces an early mid-life crisis in Tick Tick Boom, the Colombia-set Disney animated family feature Encanto about a magical family and Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler as star-crossed lovers in the gang lands of New York.
Awards season will be in full bloom when Martin Scorsese presents Killers of the Flower Moon starring Leo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro, Jane Campion showcases The Power of the Dog with Kirsten Dunst and Benedict Cumberbatch, and Guillermo del Toro transports us to Nightmare Alley with Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett. The next movie by the droll Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch, features talent such as Timothée Chalamet and Bill Murray.
Some other anticipated autumn fare includes Don’t Look Up, a crashing comet comedy with DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence; Kenneth Branagh’s personal black and white historical drama Belfast with Jamie Dornan and Judi Dench; and the artsy Last Night in Soho with eccentric leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy. Plus there’s some unexpected casting including Denzel Washington as the title character in Tragedy of Macbeth and Brendan Fraser as a 600-pound man in The Whale.
There’s something for everyone, and expect these and many more to receive their bite-sized reviews weekly here at www.SilverScreenCapture.com.
This story is also syndicated throughout American newspapers this month.
An undoubtedly frustrating and absolutely beguiling head scratcher of a fever dream musical, Leos Carax’s Annette (C+) is the love child of Sweeney Todd and Chucky from Child’s Play and plays like a dystopian La La Land in its biting take on twisty Hollywood romance. Set to an unusual parade of songs by the band Sparks, it’s more of a film experience to let wash over you rather than ever taking it too literally or seriously. A sensational and physically ominous Adam Driver absolutely sells the central performance of an unhinged comedian who marries an opera singer (a resplendent but underused Marion Cotillard) and starts a family including the marionette child of the film’s title. Carax is known for mixing the natural and artificial, so it’s appropriate he leverages a Brechtian rock opera approach with songs like “We Love Each Other So Much” as a stand-in for an actual courtship and “I’m an Accompanist” to introduce Simon Helberg’s character who is exactly that on the piano. The oddball styling of the songs and sequences, the bonkers shifts in tone and vocal quality and the meandering plot line don’t add up to a cohesive whole, but boy is it an intriguing mixed bag of an experiment. And for fans of Driver, this is probably the most Driver performance you’ve ever seen.
Even the Queen of Soul herself can be enhanced by a judicious editor, and Liesl Tommy’s Aretha Franklin biopic Respect (C) would have been improved if the filmmakers had commenced to condense. Instead the film takes a fairly circuitous journey in the telling of the songstress’ life and gives cursory treatment to some significant incidents of trauma she experiences as both a child and adult. Jennifer Hudson’s singing is sublime, but there’s a hollowness to the character and portrayal, slighted and undermined by unfocused writing and narrative. Forest Whitaker and Marlon Wayans also have rather thankless roles as the controlling men in the musician’s life. There’s also a relative paucity of musical sequences, which is disappointing given the film’s ample duration. After a rather absorbing first hour, the film doesn’t trust its most creative instincts and instead resorts to paint-by-numbers behind-the-music conventions for nearly 90 more minutes. The movie imparts lots of great data points about why Aretha Franklin was a trailblazer, but Tommy’s film largely misses the mark in taking viewers beneath the surface of the legend.
Welcome to the Arthurian art film that’s about to get medieval on your summer. A trippy and faithful adaptation of a 14th century poem, David Lowery’s Green Knight (aka Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous) (B+) is both cerebral and eerie in its duration, culminating in a brilliant near dialogue free final act as the protagonist faces his fears. It’s essentially about a bit of a deal with the devil and the ensuing consequences as a knight musters the courage for a showdown that will seal his destiny. Dev Patel is engaging as flawed protagonist Gawain. Alicia Vikander as two characters – Essel and the Lady – and Joel Edgerton as The Lord also turn in outstanding performances as pivotal pawns along the massive chess board of an epic. The film is earthy, pulpy and often looks like a Renaissance painting come to life. The production design and costuming are exquisite. Because it is rather intellectual and episodic (with lovely ornate title cards, incidentally), it’s sometimes difficult to trace exactly where the film is headed (or beheaded) in the journey of its sweeping storyline; but even when the pace is slow, it is a mesmerizing piece of cinema.
Hot off a series of horror movies and Liam Neeson-led thrillers, director Jaume Collet-Serra is an unlikely choice to helm an old-fashioned Disney adventure based on a classic theme park ride but acquits himself nicely in the pleasant summer escapism fare of Jungle Cruise (B-). Similarly, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, best known for muscular action films, gets to flex his unexpectedly assured comedic timing to successful avail as a South American skipper of a small riverboat who takes a group of travelers including siblings played by Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall through a jungle in search of the Tree of Life. Johnson and Blunt are winning comic and would-be romantic partners with verbal and physical pratfalls aplenty, as he wields dad jokes and swagger in equal doses to her acerbic and acrobatic spunkiness. Faring less on the likability scale are characters played by Jesse Plemmons, Paul Giamatti and a coterie of cursed conquistadors in cartoonish or CGI villainous roles which add very little menace opposite the explorers. The film works best in rip-roaring action sequences and when Blunt and Whitehall provide some droll fish-out-of-water entanglements. As for the plot, we’ve been down this river many times in much better films. The first hour is fairly breezy fun; then as the protagonists get closer to their goal, the sogginess sets into sluggishness for a good while. Still, it’s competently made family friendly fun, and most of the kids haven’t seen the movies this riffs on, so it may all be new to them. Like its Adventureland origin attraction, you get to sit down in the shade and take a breezy ride for a while with a smile on your face for much of its duration, and that may be all we need this summer.
This summer writer/director M. Night Shyamalan invites you to his private coastal paradise for a reverse-Cocoon Geriatric Park with the potential to push every Benjamin Button of your patience. The film Old (D) is a disorienting suspense thriller with about one and a half intriguing ideas very poorly executed including the notion of accelerated aging as a plot device and its effect on a bevy of unsuspecting vacationers. The ensemble including the talented Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps and Rufus Sewell seems as adrift as the viewers in this filmmaker’s typical parade of nonsense followed by final act reveals. Without a clear protagonist and in some cases with the same characters played by multiple actors, this seaside spectacle is a cacophonous cavalcade for most of its duration. Shyamalan can occasionally stage an interesting action sequence or a supernatural Twilight Zone-esque twist, and it’s a game attempt at terror in the daylight, but he neither nails the play nor the payoff this time around. After a few films of creative redemption since his lowest point with the waterlogged Lady in the Water, the director’s latest aquatic fare is to be avoided like a Baby Ruth in the country club swimming pool.
A striking lived-in central performance by Mark Wahlberg as an anti-bullying crusader lifts Reinaldo Marcus Green’s frank biographical tale of Joe Bell (B-) above its sentimental R-rated afterschool special conceits. Structurally wobbly and a touch treacly, the film about a father’s road to redemption after not doing all he could to save his gay son from abuse at the hands of his high school classmates is often quite moving and revealing. Connie Britton is wonderful as well as the family matriarch, and Reid Miller gives a sensitive portrayal of the troubled teen: fragile, flamboyant and fiery. Green tinges the threadbare story with moments of realism, poignancy and heartbreaking self-reflection; it is best in its most small and intimate moments as opposed to its large gestures. The film is superb in depicting little-seen insights into the father-son bond and showcasing what it means to be strong in your own skin, and Wahlberg nails the central role. Even when the film sometimes stumbles in storytelling, it is a well-meaning summons to travel the world with head held high. It imparts lessons the world still needs to hear.
The nuclear family of superhero assassins comprised of Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour are pretty much the anti-Incredibles in Marvel’s new action installment. Also not so incredible: the languid pacing of Cate Shortland’s Black Widow (B), but this somewhat perfunctory saga still showcases some interesting backstory, a few well choreographed action sequences and some committed acting from the ensemble. Actually the three characters who are not the lead are the ones who contribute the most to this installment. The plot finds Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff a fugitive on the run who’s forced to confront a conspiracy tied to her past, and Pugh gamely plays her estranged little sister with dollops of deadpans. The humor in this episode centers on the sibling’s wisecracks about the titular character’s self-important poses and the witty dialogue of Harbour’s spandex festooned Russian super soldier who’s a second-rate mixed bag of hero and father figure. Shortland loves to pull back from her stunt sequences to show what an epic landscape she is painting on, but all the globetrotting still feels more surface than lived-in. There aren’t too many surprises, but altogether it’s a pretty sturdy entry into the MCU canon with action and heart.
An inventive free-for-all based on a frenzied series of real-life eyewitness tweets about the misadventures of two women on an extraordinary road trip, Janicza Bravo’s Zola (B+) brims with mirthful dark comedy and unexpected detours. Breakthrough star Taylour Paige is a delight as the wry title character “@zola,” a part-time exotic dancer lured into a Florida getaway by Riley Keough’s outrageous “@stefani.” They make a madcap duo, and Keough is a riot with a manipulative medicine show of emotions in her arsenal. Carmen Domingo manages to steal a few scenes from these brash co-stars as the ominous “X,” teetering on a line between charming and sinister. With surprises aplenty and shocks around every bend, Bravo marshals her ensemble with grit and grace. The tropical color palette and snappy editing plus droll throwaway one-liners provide the film with myriad memorable moments. The fact that it’s all a bit of a lark doesn’t take away from the creativity and the committed acting on display. This is a breezy joyride of an indie destined to coast into cult status.
Betting on the scrappiness of a bunch of bros who become woke in a history-bending take on the founding of the country, Matt Thompson’s America: The Motion Picture (B-) is an irreverent and often quite funny animated film aimed at the adults of the household. The movie’s tipsy time bandits traversing a stew of history involving George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Geronimo, a female Thomas Edison and many others throw out a lot of vulgar gags and end up with a winning comedy in the tradition of the South Park movie, Team America: World Police or even the live action This is the End. Channing Tatum, Jason Mantzoukas, Olivia Munn, Killer Mike and Andy Samberg are among the spry voice cast ensemble in this veritable Mad or National Lampoon magazine come to life. The animation is accomplished and the profane and prophetic jokes abundant enough to keep surprising even the most academic viewers. It’s anachronistic, anarchic and lots of mindless fun and ultimately pulses with a patriotic heart.
More like watching a Twitch video game play feed than enjoying an actual movie, the act of witnessing Chris McKay’s The Tomorrow War (C) is an experience of viewing it all play out and all the while second-guessing. Shoddy effects and ham-fisted acting mar this mediocre dystopian sci-fi adventure in which Chris Pratt’s character is drafted to fight in a future battle against aliens, and the fate of humanity relies on his ability to confront his past. Yvonne Strahovski and Sam Richardson are among an ensemble with little remarkable to do in a past, present and future tale that is far from Dickensian. Pratt tries out myriad befuddled faces and shoots or punches amorphous creatures for most of the film’s bloated duration. Any novelty to the story or surprises in its warped timeline wear out their welcome fast. This action movie will definitely not be one for the record books.