Tag Archives: Peter Capaldi

The Suicide Squad

We actually saw this movie a few weeks ago, and like a good sport, I left it to Sean to review. You may have noticed it’s almost always Sean who reviews the super hero genre, and that’s me being my magnanimous self, giving these films a fair shake by not reviewing them myself. But Sean seems to have very little to say about this one, an indictment in itself, so it’s up to me to save the day.

I didn’t like it.

I really didn’t care for the first one either. I thought the music was both the best and worst part, the constant stream of pop songs perking me up, but their overuse indicative of weak writing and poor editing. This one doesn’t even feel as memorably bad, it was just a movie that failed to interest me despite a bevy of recognizable names and some enjoyable James-Gunn-isms.

Yes, the man has a way with manic expression, and away from Marvel’s PG-13 cage, he explodes with violent glee, shooting off confetti cannons loaded with human flesh, painting the scene with guts and gore. And while I welcome the sanguineous spectacle, I wish it splattered an actual story.

So we all know that Belle Reve is the prison where all the very worst super villains are kept, and that shady Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is at it again. When she’s got a job that’s so high-risk only the most expendable will do, she assembles Task Force X, a gang of villains chosen from the prison’s population. They’re promised freedom if they survive the mission, and no one expects them to survive. That’s why they call them the Suicide Squad.

We’ve got some new faces and some familiar faces in this particular squad: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), among others, and Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) to keep them all in line. Armed and dangerous, they’re dropped into the jungle of Corto Maltese, an island that’s overrun by enemies, including militaries, guerrilla forces, super villains, and a Big Bad that’s very Big and very Bad, threatening to take over the entire island – and then the world!

Much like the first, the only character worth watching is Harley Quinn, and that’s largely due to Robbie. Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn isn’t nearly as compelling as Birds of Prey’s, but she’s charming, manipulative, and unpredictable, an irrepressible combination, And though Robbie’s boxed in by the male gaze and the narrower interpretation of her character, she still brings a psychotic empathy to the role that’s a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, with such a large ensemble, she can’t be on the screen at all times. More the pity. Once again, DC bites off more than it can chew, padding out the squad with forgettable villains who are ill-used and badly introduced, if at all. Since they don’t care, neither do we, which is the most disappointing part of this film. The first Suicide Squad didn’t get this right either, but considering James Gunn was able to galvanize a bunch of unknown galaxy-guarding losers into crowd-pleasing heroes, we hoped he’d be able to do it again. No doubt DC was counting on him for this as well, but instead this movie doubles down on stacking the deck with mostly filler – not enough to engage the audience, but just enough to steal time from the few things in the film that do work. Bummer.

I think this movie was relatively well-received because we’ve been living in a blockbuster drought. If you’re thirsty enough, you’ll drink muddy puddle water gratefully. James Gunn’s Suicide Squad is muddy puddle water: it will do in a pinch. People will drink it during a time of scarcity, but given any choice at all, they’d rather drink anything else. It’s already on its way to being forgotten with other drinks that ultimately flopped despite lots of hype and fanfare: Crystal Pepsi, New Coke, Suicide Squad.

Benediction

Benediction is the story of English poet, writer and soldier Siegfried Sassoon. He was decorated for bravery on the Western Front, and went on to become one of the leading poets of the First World War. His poetry vividly described the horrors of the trenches while satirizing the patriotic pretensions that Sassoon believed were responsible for a fueling the war. His was a dissenting voice, protesting against the continuation of the war with his Soldier’s Declaration of 1917, which got him committed to the psychiatric ward of a military hospital. He married because he craved a child (and had one), but also had a string of same-sex affairs. He befriended a priest, converted to catholicism, and joined the Ghost Club, a paranormal investigation organization for ghosts and hauntings. I guess what I’m trying to say is: he was an interesting fellow. But you’d never know it from Benediction.

Peter Capaldi and Jack Lowden portray Sassoon at different stages of his life, both with skill. But director Terence Davies’ fondness for too-long shots of wind rustling leaves as opera plays is trying, and tiring, and no substitution for actual mood or atmosphere. It feels like filler.

Interspersed with real vintage war footage for context, Sassoon’s poems are narrated and layered on top of representative images. It’s cheesy, and reads more like a teenage girl’s diary. Terrible effects and amateurish green screen work add to the unprofessional feel of the film, which is hard to forgive, and harder still to sit through. The story isn’t particularly complex, but it’s still hard to keep everyone straight when all these underfed pasty types all look the same.

It’s a sad film, somber almost to a fault, but I could live with that. Davies seems to have something interesting to say about about time, using with parallels narratives, but some of his artistic choices were like taking a hose’s spray to the face. Thrown unceremoniously more than once from the bubble of the film, I found it difficult to get back in, not because it was impenetrable, but because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated. Failure is the theme to which the film often returned, but for me it wasn’t just part of the story, it was inherent in the execution as well.

Benediction is, nevertheless, an official selection of the 2021 TIFF.

TIFF19: The Personal History of David Copperfield

Dev Patel is David Copperfield – it’s an inspired bit of casting that’s instantly a perfect fit. In fact, the whole film is so overwhelmingly cast to perfection it’s almost embarrassing.

I worried about this film because though director Armando Iannucci’s previous film,¬†The Death of Stalin, was extremely well-received by critics, it was not my the-personal-history-of-david-copperfieldcuppa, not by a long shot. As an introduction to this film’s premiere at TIFF, Iannucci informed/assured¬†us the two films could not be more different. And while I’m not sure that’s true, I was relieved and elighted to find myself really enjoying it.

I hope it’s obvious that this movie is inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, though TIFF Artistic Director & Co-Head Cameron Bailey rightly called it an “audacious” interpretation, and it is that. Iannucci was struck by how timeless the themes of love and friendship were, so though the film is undoubtedly a period piece, Iannucci reminds us that for the characters, it’s present day.

As for myself, I was most struck by how convincingly Copperfield is portrayed as a budding writer. Even as a child he’s wildly observant, with a knack for accents and a fondness for “collecting” lovely turns of phrase. The way this movie explores and plays with language is unlike anything I’ve seen onscreen. It was setting off fireworks in the verbal parts of my brain. And there are plenty of visual treats too – beautiful costumes, dingy apartments, bustling markets, whimsical seaside abodes, and blooming gardens teeming with donkeys.

Sean did not feel so positively about the film – though he liked it, he also found it boring and meandering. Well, he said slow. I thought meandering sounded better.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a funny, perceptive, and inventive twist on an old favourite. I can’t help but think Dickens would approve.