The Suicide Squad (15)
Verdict: Violent, but a blast
Jungle Cruise (12A)
Verdict: Overlong family fun
Some years ago I interviewed a chortling John Cleese, who told me that a U.S. network had paid handsomely to adapt Fawlty Towers.
The executives then holed up in a hotel for three days to discuss how they were going to do it, finally emerging to share with Cleese their masterstroke: ‘We’ve decided to take the Basil character out.’
I like to think there was a similarly intensive brainstorming session behind the titling of The Suicide Squad, the latest addition to the so-called DC Universe and a sequel of sorts to 2016’s Suicide Squad.
Margot Robbie in a scene from (C)Warner Bros. new film: The Suicide Squad (2021)
Adding the definite article suggests endless workshopping, possibly overseen by expensive branding consultants.
Writer-director James Gunn is on record as saying he just couldn’t think of anything else, but I don’t believe him. No title that unimaginative comes without a great deal of effort.
On the upside, The Suicide Squad is an absolute blast, albeit with levels of brutality that explain why under-15s are deemed too young to see it.
I disapprove of superhero movies disenfranchising what in a saner world would be their core audience, but I understand why this one does. The decapitations and garrottings are at the tamer end of the violence spectrum.
The film soon settles into the standard superhero narrative, that familiar bionic twist on The Magnificent Seven as assorted psychos with complementary deadly skills are picked for a hazardous mission by a shady branch of the U.S. government.
Gunn tosses us a red herring or two before the team takes shape, led by a profane Londoner known as Bloodsport (Idris Elba), who has been serving a prison term for putting Superman in intensive care, and quite right too.
The idea that any of this will be regular superhero fare, however, is quickly and gleefully despatched.
Gunn made the Guardians Of The Galaxy films, so we know he likes a joyride. But The Suicide Squad, despite a largely terrestrial storyline, takes us on some truly cosmic flights of fancy, ending up with (spoiler alert, especially if you’re having your breakfast with the Olympics on in the background) rats swimming inside the eyeball of a gigantic alien starfish.
The starfish has been nurtured by a British supervillain played by Peter Capaldi, his bald head studded with electrodes, and is being pressed into service by a rogue military junta on a South American island.
The Suicide Squad, answering as in the first film to flinty Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) back in the States, are ordered to overthrow the generals.
Helping Bloodsport do so are Captain Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), Peacemaker (John Cena), a killer shark in vaguely human form voiced by Sylvester Stallone, Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), whose somewhat dubious superpower is the ability to turn the dots on his suit into lethal projectiles.
He’s not even very good at doing that, until he visualises his abusive mother as the target.
Gunn makes rather a theme of parent-child issues in this film, but just as you’re beginning to think he might have a kind of touchy-feely checklist, he subverts expectations again.
If there’s a single scene-stealer it is once more Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, crazily weaponising her sexuality like some psychotic standard-bearer of the MeToo movement. She’s a marvellous character, and Robbie plays her with manifest relish.
With steadily increasing nuttiness, the story builds to a wild acid-trip of a climax, which shouldn’t be undermined even if the rampaging giant starfish reminds you ever so slightly, as it did me, of Mr Blobby of not-so-blessed memory.
And let me add a word, too, in praise of the soundtrack. Any film that opens with Johnny Cash singing Folsom Prison Blues has my immediate attention, and it rarely flagged thereafter.
Not even the cannibal piranhas of the Amazon Basin feed off themselves quite as voraciously as the dear old Walt Disney Company. (Pictured, Dwayne Johnson as Frank and Emily Blunt as Lily in Jungle Cruise)
Staying attentive through the two hours-plus of Disney’s Jungle Cruise is a taller order.
But it’s a slick, family-friendly adventure set in 1916 that shamelessly fuses Raiders Of The Lost Ark with The African Queen as Emily Blunt’s intrepid English scientist, Lily, in search of an elusive petal with magical healing powers, is swept up the Amazon by Dwayne Johnson’s rugged steamboat captain.
On their tail is the dastardly son of Kaiser Wilhelm (Jesse Plemons, hamming the Teutonic vowels for all he’s worth), who sees the petal as the key to winning the Great War, while Jack Whitehall enjoys himself as Lily’s prissy, scaredy-cat brother. The whole thing is directed with some pan-ache by Jaume Collet-Serra, better known for rather iffy thrillers, and I mildly recommend it as a family outing or even non-outing (it’s in cinemas but also on Disney+).
That’s as long as you don’t object to it being inspired by a venerable Disney theme-park ride of the same name. Not even the cannibal piranhas of the Amazon Basin feed off themselves quite as voraciously as the dear old Walt Disney Company.
Sparks of genius from rock and pop’s quirkiest brothers
The Mael brothers, Ron (the weird one) and Russell (the cute one), tell their own story direct to camera
Shaun Of The Dead director Edgar Wright takes his first plunge into documentary-making with The Sparks Brothers (15):
An enjoyable if greatly overextended look at the pair of alpha Maels who formed one of the quirkiest rock and pop acts of the 1970s — and that’s saying something, of the quirkiest of all musical decades.
The Mael brothers, Ron (the weird one) and Russell (the cute one), tell their own story direct to camera, with contributions from fans as diverse as Haircut One Hundred’s Nick Heyward, actor Mark Gatiss, and Jonathan Ross, who observes that they don’t look like a band, more like two blokes ‘who’ve been let out for the day’.
Apparently, when John Lennon first saw Sparks, he rang Ringo Starr and said that Marc Bolan appeared to be on Top Of The Pops with Adolf Hitler. Wright’s film is full of oddities like that, and has fun explaining how two Californian brothers, whose careers didn’t take off until they arrived in London and whose musical influences were overwhelmingly British (The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks), came to exert such enduring influence themselves.
The Most Beautiful Boy In The World (15):
Another documentary focusing on the 1970s, tells a sadder story. You might think that the most famous Bjorn of the era was the tennis superstar Bjorn Borg or, failing that, Abba’s Bjorn Ulvaeus, but first came Bjorn Andresen, who owed his startlingly sudden global celebrity to a leading part in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film Death In Venice, as the androgynously pretty teenager for whom Dirk Bogarde’s ageing composer falls.
Andresen, now white-bearded, emaciated and looking as old as the hills, feels that his ‘lucky break’ as a 15-year-old effectively ruined his life. It’s a tragic tale of alcoholism and depression, told mostly in Swedish with subtitles.
Very poignantly, we see the precise moment his fate is sealed, when Visconti, who was gay, purrs over him at a Stockholm audition. The director callously objectified Andresen, although the film dumps just as much of the blame on the boy’s