James Gunn has always been a delightfully rambunctious, perennially irreverent filmmaker whether he’s exploring the realm of sentient alien slugs, sad-sack superhero wannabes or comic book property, which he gets to do once again in The Suicide Squad, one of his very best films yet. He feels more at home in the world of DC than he does in Marvel and it’s not just the larger playground that a hard-R rating gifts him, although that is a *huge* factor given his stylistic tendencies as an artist and his roots in horror, which are on gooey display here as well. The DC stable, particularly villains, just has this dark, perverse edge to it that Marvel can’t match and in creating a maniacal palooza of second tier baddies in a subversive, heavily violent extravaganza he has found a groove and achieved an aesthetic that for the entire two plus hour runtime I wasn’t bored by once. Some of our familiar favourites from the other Suicide Squad naturally return including Harley (Margot Robbie, resplendent in the role of her career), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) as well as welcome new additions like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Gunn totem Michael Rooker looking like he walked in from a Rob Zombie flick) the scene stealing Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), impossibly adorable King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) and of course Viola Davis as their game warden Amanda Waller, the cunt to end all cunts. Their missions here include the overthrow of a South American country, constant bickering, shocking team casualties, betrayals, clever skewering of American patriotism, a giant alien starfish, bountiful loads of gratuitous and blessedly gory violence and a clever balancing act between lighthearted, frothy banter and a darker undercurrent of thematic heft that sneaks in the back door and lands with an effective, grounded touch. Obvious comparisons will be made to the 2016 Suicide Squad and I’d like to sideswipe that other than to say I love both films, they’re both very different and the 2016 is what it is, it has its reputation. I do believe this to be the stronger film but I think they both have their place on my shelf, they are M&M’s and Skittles, Pepsi and Coke, or Warheads and Airheads to reference a junk food as obscure as the characters on display here. Gunn has made a rollicking, badass, bizarre yet strangely accessible piece of pop art nutso comic book madness here with many standout moments including an emotional monologue by Ratcatcher (she’s the soul of the film), some stunning technicolor gore effects that call to mind Lovecraft and Carpenter, an Easter egg hunt of many hidden film and literary references, a ballsy, nihilism laced opening sequence wherein some of the characters brutally live up to the title of the film, one instance of Waller *finally* getting a modicum of what she deserves, some painfully on the nose political satire and, in my favourite sequence the film has to offer, a brilliantly placed and paced opportunity for Robbie’s ever awesome Harley to work through the trauma of her past and absolutely TAKE DOWN toxic relationships like the badass boss bitch we all know she is. A wonderful, weird, wild and fantastic film.
There’s a lot of ideas running around in David S. Goyer’s The Unborn, ideas that a terrific cast do their best with but ultimately this was one big WTF of a letdown, a boring waste of time that deserved better execution than it got. It’s essentially another Exorcist retread, given a twist, with Odette Yustman (whatever happened to her? She was sort of like Megan Fox Lite) playing a girl who is tormented by something called a Dybbuk, some sort of mythological Jewish entity but also just a fancy way of saying demon. It has something to do with her unborn twin who never made it past utero, her institutionalized mother (Carla Cugino, wasted in a heavily cut role) as well as history dating back to Joseph ‘Angel of Death’ Mengele, the infamous Nazi surgeon who had an obsession with twins, a theme that also plays on here. This thing haunts and eventually possesses her, until she finds help from two priests played by Gary Oldman and Idris Elba, in roles beneath their talent. There’s one nicely written scene where she and her boyfriend (Cam Gigandet, who can’t act to save his life) ponder the universe and all its terrors while in bed that would have been better brought to life by different actors. Various scenes show her interaction with her loving father (James Remar), but they’re underdeveloped and feel edited. Mostly it’s just her running from freaky scuttling apparitions, loose plot threads hanging about like wires in an abandoned warehouse and just.. bleh. There’s definitely something there in terms of brainstorming script ideas, but they screwed it up big time by making a haphazard, boring, generically glossy PG-13 dud instead of putting some actual style, personality and genuinely frightening elements in. Big ol’ missed opportunity. It’s a shame, because there’s some neat, spooky special effects thrown at the wall here that deserve a better film, and I’d expect better from Goyer too. Oh well.
Join us as we speak about Roger Moore’s first outing as 007 in Guy Hamilton’s Live and Let Die. We also cover the recent news that Danny Boyle has left the production of Bond 25, and we discuss the rumors and rationale behind it and also discuss who we would like to see take over as director. We also speak of the recent casting resurgence of Idris Elba as James Bond and where the franchise may go after Bond 25.
Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.
They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.
Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.
For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.
There is still time for you to join Kevin in his latest cinematic offering (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/935772123/the-haunted-swordsman-a-ghost-story-puppet-film), and to listen in now to the man himself talk about his movies, influences and career.
I give you the talented Mr. McTurk.
Visit Kevin’s website for more: http://www.thespiritcabinet.com/
Legacy: Black Ops is a good one. Like so many indie products, it has been marketed to look like an action flick for dvd, but the truth is something more akin to a psycho – political thriller. Clearly influenced by both the Bourne films and Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate, it reins the intrigue in somewhat for an intimate, starkly paced look at one man who is on the brink of losing both his mind and memories in the wake of a special ops mission gone awry. Idris Elba gives a mini powerhouse as Malcolm Grey, a battle scarred veteran who has isolated himself in a drab motel room, ruminating on a calamitous outing with his fellow squad members to find and take out eastern European extremist Salenko (Julian Wadham). Whatever went wrong sent a chain reaction down the ranks and left them divided in years to come, but we are only treated to unreliable fragments of these events, reflected through the prism of Malcom’s broken mind. He receives visits from his squad mates, but are they really there, or yet another illusion dreamt up to avert his gaze from the truth? Character actor Richard Brake is O’Keefe, his longtime friend and second in command, providing sympathy and solid support during the mission we see unfold in hectic flashbacks. Adjacent to this plot is the political rise of Malcom’s brother Darnell (Eamonn Walker) riding the wave of an election that will put him in a seat of immense power, but one wonders how he’s connected to Malcolm and his past? How indeed. It’s confusing to say the least, but never trips over its own ambitions, sewing threads of concise cause and effect throughout it’s story, which is emotionally downbeat and melancholic in nature, a stylistic choice that really works in the film’s favour. If you’re willing to sit, absorb and meditate on a slow burner of a tale that feeds you pieces of the puzzle bit by bit, with almost zero action to be found, have at ‘er. I enjoyed it immensely.
While Finding Dory is not the same magic that Nemo was back in 2004 (it’s hard to catch that kind of lightning in a bottle twice), it’s safe to say it’s it’s own awesome little movie, and as far as a sequel goes, passes with flying colors. It’s more or less structured the same way as the first in terms of plot, adding it’s own twists, new characters and a core message that relates to previous themes while intrepidly covering new ground. My only complaint is I wish it were longer. It seemed to be over in a flash, even for a reliably slim Pixar running time. It would have been nice to have an extra 15 or 20 minutes to flesh out a few scenes, and elaborate a bit more on one particular character. Even so, what we get is completely charming and inspired. It starts off pretty much where we left off, with Nemo, Marlin and Dory living happily on the reef, intercut with scenes featuring an infant Dory who is most likely the cutest little thing to ever be seen in a Pixar movie. It’s revealed that a long time ago she was separated from her parents (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton), and has grown up lost, adrift and afflicted by her relentless memory disorder. When an interaction triggers memories of them, she sets off with Marlin and Nemo in tow, on a merry quest across the ocean to connect with her roots. A great deal of this one is spent in a Sea World like habitat, which is another change and leaves room for many more new jokes and creatures. An octopus named Hank (Ed O Neil) begrudgingly helps her out, as well as a nearsighted whale shark (Kaitlyn Olsen), and as beluga (Ty Burrell) whose echo location is busted, providing one of the best jokes. There’s also a couple of exuberant seals played by Idris Elba and Dominic West, a few returning familiar faces and an epic cameo by a huge star, dead panning the voice of the aquarium tourist announcer in classic Pixar good humour. The film stresses the importance of acceptance and resilience, putting forth the idea that someone with a debilitating condition can in fact find their own unique method of coping, and achieving their goals despite the symptoms of their ailment. Trust Pixar time and time again to take mature, lofty themes and mold them into totally relatable fables that never preach, and are distilled to a point where the little ones can absorb them right alongside their parents. Like I said before, the film needs a bit more padding in its narrative to feel complete, which may materialize in an extended dvd version. What we have here is brilliant enough though, and didn’t disappoint.
Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla was the third British crime comedy caper for the director, and it could have easily been the misstep that signaled him wearing out his welcome. Happily I can tell you that it’s a winner, and although not as cracking as Lock Stock or Snatch, it sinks into its own distinct groove that’s fairly removed from it’s two predecessors. Once again we are treated to the life and times of a bunch of hoods and gangsters in London, but not the grungy, back alley soup kitchen London that we’re used to from Ritchie. No, this is a glistening, prosperous London, filled with real estate money ripe for the taking and developers making underhanded deals with shady businessmen. The climate has definitely changed in Ritchie’s aesthetic, but the characters remain the same, just as witty, eccentric and chock full of piss and vinegar. The story centers around the wild bunch, a cozy little clan of East end petty thieves led by One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba). Their third musketeer is Handsome Bob, played by a hilarious Tom Hardy who has a secret up his sleeve that spills out in what is the most adorable scene Ritchie has ever written. The gang is hired by a mysterious chick (Thandie Newton) to rob some dudes, and that’s where the trouble starts. Elsewhere in town, arch gangster Lenny Cole (a frothing Tom Wilkinson) negotiates a land deal with dangerous russian billionaire Uri (Karel Roden switches up his trademark psychosis for smooth talking menace here) that hinges on a missing painting. Lenny dispatches his right hand bloke Archie (Mark Strong, subtly trolling us) to find it along with his rock star nephew Johnny Quid. Got that? Nevermind, half the fun is the how and not the why of Ritchie’s stories, and I find it best to just let the flow of it wash over you as opposed to thinking out each detail and missing the sideshow. Toby Kebbell is off the hook as Quid, a wiry stick of dynamite and a comic force to be reckoned with, truly the most exciting performance of the film. Ritchie has a knack for bringing out the funny side in actors, even ones that aren’t usually the type to make you laugh. Strong is terrific, with a few carefully timed moments of sheer hilarity that deftly make you forget how dangerous he is. Ludacris and Jeremy Piven are fun, if a bit out of place as two event promoters. Butler and Elba have an easy-peasy rapport that’s light, friendly and believable. Wilkinson dances between alpha assuredness and aging buffoonry nicely, always commanding the scene and oddly reminding me of Mr. Magoo. There’s a playful tone to this one, glitzy and celebratory in places where Snatch was grim and sketchy, and the whole affair feels like a new years party with a bunch of old friends. Watch for cameos from Matt King, Nonzo Anonzie, Jimi Mistry, Mundungus Fletcher and Gemma Arterton. Very fun stuff.
Prepare your eyes for maximum bogglement, work out your abs so you don’t bust a gut laughing, and most importantly, dust off that childlike sense of wonder before going to see Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, boldly and lovingly retold by Jon Favreau in what is the most flat out exciting, adventurous film of the year thus far. The director pulls off a balancing act between palpable tension, character interactions that come straight from the heart and land squarely in ours, and some of the most believable, jaw dropping CGI I have ever seen on screen. The animals look so impressive and lifelike that after seeing them I shelved away some of my inherent reservations about computer generated effects as a dominant force in a piece, and simply gave in. The atmosphere is lush, intoxicating and deeply detailed, with a naturalistic feel and tone. Young Neel Sethi is tasked with being the only fully human component, and is perfect. His interactions seem real and rehearsed, immersing the viewer further into the visuals. Mowgli is a young man cub, found on the edge of the jungle by the panther Bagheera (stately, compassionate Ben Kingsley) and given to a wolf pack to be raised by alpha Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o). Not all in the animal kingdom are receiving of this man cub, especially a terrifying Bengal tiger called Shere Khan, given the rumbling tones of Idris Elba, inspiring fear in animals and audience alike. He has a rocky relationship with man, and wants Mowgli dead. Bagheera takes him far into the jungle, where they are separated and Mowgli’s adventure truly begins. He wanders into the path of Kaa (a slithery Scarlett Johansson) a monstrous, seductive python, and is taken under the wing of Baloo, an adult Winnie the poo voiced by Bill Murray. Murray is one of the film’s great delights, and as soon as he shows up we forget about all the menace and threat which preceded his arrival, and are swept up into his affable, lounging lifestyle and brightly colored neck of the woods. Murray clearly ad libbed a lot of Baloo’s dialogue, and anything he didn’t he still gives that unmistakable, winking ‘Murray’ twinge that I so love. Mowgli’s adventure continues, as he stays one step ahead of Shere Khan and is visited by the king of the monkeys, a twenty foot tall, lumbering orangutan named Louie, voiced with demented, pithy glee by Christopher Walken. As soon as he showed up the laughs erupted from within me, and reached a manic peak as he belts out the ‘Oobie Doo’ song in priceless Walken fashion, his monkey mannerisms uncannily starting to resemble Walken’s own distinct visage. Many of the animals serve as differing parental figures to Mowgli, representing elemental factions of raising one’s young. Bagheera is cautious, doubting and skeptical. Baloo is the fun loving, lenient one. Even Shere Khan has a curdled paternal feel to him, like the brutal stepfather who is damaging to his offspring. Raksha is the unconditional mother, and that devotion comes out wonderfully in Nyong’o’s souful performance. The vocal performances are aided by the stunning effects; the CGI of facial features allow the actors work to truly extend into the realm of what’s visible, with real emotions displayed by the creatures, and not a single rendering that’s anything short of lifelike. The film evokes true wonder and primal excitement, escapism that takes itself seriously yet knows when and how to play, a dazzling technical marvel, a timeless story well told, all in one cinematic package that is not to be missed. Oh, and stick around for the credits, instead of Walken out of the theatre and missing a final musical treat.
Disney’s Zootopia is the kind of animated film that passes with flying colors in just about every damn category it needs to, making it a thoroughly endearing classic that will stand the test of time and delight countless new fans as time goes on. It’s the best of its kind since last year’s Inside Out, and one that will be hard to top this time around. It’s got the most treasurable kind of story, one that has all the fun, flash and zip that the kids will take a shine to, some hilariously subversive and cheeky humour for the the adults to chuckle at, and some vital, important messages within its themes that adults will knowingly relate to, and the kids will subconsciously perceive. Never preachy nor pandering, all of its ingredients are mixed harmoniously. And let’s talk about that animation, good lord. Every year these films get more cutting edge and eye boggling, and this one busts the blueprints in its attempts to dazzle, with every kind of texture, glint and rendered gold on display. Animals of all shapes and sizes run, scamper, dart and dive throughout the film, to the point where I felt that only with multiple viewings could I appreciate every loving detail and subtle joke. Ginnifer Goodwin gives perky vocals to Judy Hops, a small town bunny who dreams of being a big city cop. Just leagues away from the tiny carrot farm she was raised on lies Zootopia, a sprawling metropolis where the denizens of the animal kingdom live in civilization, or rather, their brilliantly realized version of it. She is told time and time again that she’ll never become a cop, but pays no heed. And whadd’ya know, she becomes a cop. Left to rot on parking duty by stern bison Sergeant Bogo (growly Idris Elba) she fumes and longs for real action. Soon she meets wily fox and street hustler Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman in possibly the best vocal performance in years), and both are whisked away on an adventure through Zootopia to find some bad cats (and every other creature imaginable) who are up to no good. The city itself is a marvel in every sense of the word. Divided into detailed, vast and climatized zones including Tundra Town, Little Rodentia (laughed hardest at this sequence, purely inspired) and a subtropical tree house lined Rainforest area. The cast has buckets of fun, including JK Simmons as Mayor Lionheart, Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake as Judy’s endearing parents, Tommy Chong as a yak hippie, Peter Mansbridge as Peter ‘Moosebridge’, and more. Shakira shows up essentially as herself in animal form, with an original composition called ‘Try Everything’ which gives the film a lot of its charm and heart. Bateman just has to be commended for a performance so full of real conflict and shades of grey its hard to belive hes playing a fox in a Disney flick. Despite being in the most hyper real of all genres, hes walked right out of real life amd nails every note. There’s so many highlights I could write for pages, but I won’t spoil the fun, of which there’s no end. There’s also a very grounded head on the film’s shoulders, saying some important things about not giving up on your dreams (sounds clichéd, I know, but not the way the writing addresses it here), and never assuming one thing about a specific group of animals just because of the way a few of them behave. Subversive stuff for a kids movie, and I’d have it no other way, as the undercurrents of film forge minds and opinions for the young ones. Simply put, it’s destined to be a classic, and comes up a winner no matter how you look at it. Oh, and try not to bust a gut laughing at the sloth sequence, I dare you.