The Suicide Squad Review

I had no doubt while watching James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad that it’s a more realized vision of exactly what its director wanted. This was apparently not the case with David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad and maybe we will see his Justice League style extended cut one day. For this latest DC Extended Universe pic, Warner Bros reportedly let Gunn do his thing without interference.

The result is a hard R rated and often gleefully bizarre experience. There are some truly funny moments and inspired action sequences mixed with a host of repetitive ones. At one point, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) makes light of a character named Milton who just got popped. The joke is that she doesn’t remember him being part of the team because he’s so forgettable. Milton isn’t the only one. Frankly, I’m struggling a bit with my overall take. This Squad is unquestionably an improvement over its predecessor. Yet I never quite got immersed in its raunchy comic book violence or irreverent attitude in the way I did with Deadpool or Gunn’s own Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is still head of A.R.G.U.S., the government organization that has its own unique prison work release program. Felonious super villains are sent on black ops missions in the name of homeland security (or so they’re told). Many of the cast mates (including Will Smith’s Deadshot) are MIA this time around. Harley’s back as is Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney). So is Waller’s right-hand man and Squad leader Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman).

From the jump, we discover that no character may live past a scene or two and this does contribute to an unpredictable vibe. The newbies recruited include human weapons depot Bloodsport (Idris Elba), meaning of the word peace conflicted Peacemaker (John Cena), rodent whisperer Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). His name? Just like it sounds. Our primary CG creation is King Shark (voice by Sylvester Stallone), who’s half man/half Jaws. If he reminds you a bit of Groot from Guardians, mission accomplished.

Speaking of missions, it is to stop a recent coup in the fictional South American land of Corto Maltese. Now that their government has been overthrown, someone needs to destroy a secretive laboratory housing an experiment called Project Starfish. Part of the Squad’s goal is to capture The Thinker (Peter Capaldi), a scientist who’s involved with the mysterious Starfish happenings. The eventual revelation of what that is pure B movie escapist joy that I won’t spoil.

Regarding our brand new characters, it’s a mixed lot. Elba’s Bloodsport has a character arc and motivations not unlike Smith’s Deadshot and it’s not terribly interesting. I will say his brief interaction with his daughter (Storm Reid) humorously didn’t go the way I thought it would. Cena uses his comedic chops effectively at times with his morally confused antihero. Gunn pushes pretty hard to make Ratcatcher 2 a heartwarming protagonist amidst the exploding heads and bodies being literally ripped apart. It could have gone the wrong way, but Taika Waititi’s casting as her dad helps save the day. King Shark’s contribution to that mayhem is rather amusing.

In one way, the more things change (and change they do from 2016) – the more they stay the same. This would be with Robbie’s Quinn, who retains the title of best performance and most enjoyable demented personality. For a while, she gets her own subplot that involves being romanced by the Corto Maltesian dictator (Juan Diego Botto) and being an unreliable torture subject. Those scenes work well and Robbie gets the lions share of the credit. Like in Suicide Squad, she’s the brightest star in The Suicide Squad. 

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The Suicide Squad

I’m not sure what I anticipated for The Suicide Squad when its review embargo lifted, but it definitely wasn’t this. Five years after David Ayer’s Suicide Squad posted impressive box office returns but poor critical reaction, the Squad’s new comic book adventure appears to be a major improvement. James Gunn, maker of both Guardians of the Galaxy flicks for the MCU, has taken over directorial duties. Opening next Friday in theaters and HBO Max streaming, the difference in reviews is quite startling.

How much so? 2016’s Suicide Squad ended up with a 26% Rotten Tomatoes score. Putting The in front of the title for 2021’s version apparently upped the quality considerably. Its Tomato meter stands at (get this) 98% with 55 reviews up at time of posting. Gunn’s iteration is said to be a hard R rated blast that is more of a redo than reboot of the franchise. Sounds like mission accomplished.

No, I don’t think this will get a Best Picture nomination. I do believe it could play in down the line races (two in particular). You may have forgotten that the first Squad is actually an Oscar winner for Makeup and Hairstyling and The Suicide Squad could easily show up there again. Gunn is no stranger to that category as the first Guardians nabbed a nod there. Both Guardians also made the final five in Visual Effects and Squad could too. The competition in that race should be serious and some of the other hopefuls also come from Warner Bros. (Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, the fourth Matrix).

Bottom line: reviewers are crowing that the latest makeup of the Squad is a vastly superior experience. It may only get a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination to show for it. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

The Suicide Squad Box Office Prediction

Putting the “The” in front of the title isn’t the only change for The Suicide Squad as the DC Comics adaptation hits theaters August 6th. Arriving five years after Suicide Squad, James Gunn (best known for making both Guardians of the Galaxy pics for the MCU) takes over directing duties from David Ayer. Will Smith is nowhere to be found though Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn. Other returnees include Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney. New cast members in the mix are Idris Elba, John Cena, Sylvester Stallone, Peter Capaldi, Michael Rooker, and Pete Davidson.

The tenth feature in the DC Extended Universe series, the film will be a test of just how much audiences wish for a return engagement in this particular subsection of the franchise. In 2016, Suicide Squad (despite mostly poor reviews) exceeded expectations with its opening weekend. It grossed a frontloaded $133 million out of the gate with an eventual domestic haul of $325 million. In the spring of 2020, spin-off Birds of Prey, centered on Robbie’s character, was a different story. Prey made a full $100 million less than Squad for its start at $33 million with an $82 million overall stateside gross.

The Suicide Squad, like all Warner Bros product in 2021, will open simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max’s streaming service. The studio has seen some positive results this year with that strategy including Godzilla vs. Kong (nearly $50 million in its five-day Easter debut) and Space Jam: A New Legacy at a better than expected $31 million.

Gunn’s Squad tale will not approach what was achieved five years ago. Yet I do suspect it will outdo the low 30s made by Prey. Hitting $50 million is achievable, but Delta variant complications and the availability of HBO Max could put it under that figure in the low to possibly mid 40s range.

The Suicide Squad opening weekend prediction: $40.8 million

2020 Golden Globe Nomination Predictions

The biggest Oscar precursor thus far drops their nominations this Wednesday (with SAG following the next day) in a week where the awards picture should become a bit clearer.

Of course, The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has a habit of making some left field picks from time to time. And unlike the Academy, they split their film and lead acting races into Drama and Comedy/Musical.

Every week on the blog, I have been forecasting each Oscar race. However, for the Globes, it’s just one post with my final predictions for what I feel will happen on Wednesday. In every category, I’m also selecting a first and second alternate. We shall see how I do shortly!

P.S. – SAG Predictions are up tomorrow! Let’s get to it…

Best Film Drama

Predicted Nominees:

Da 5 Bloods

Mank

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

The Trial of the Chicago 7

First Alternate – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Second Alternate – The Father

Best Film Director

Predicted Nominees:

David Fincher, Mank

Regina King, One Night in Miami

Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods

Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chloe Zhao, Nomadland

First Alternate – Florian Zeller, The Father

Second Alternate – Paul Greengrass, News of the World

Best Actress – Drama

Predicted Nominees:

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Sophia Loren, The Life Ahead

Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

First Alternate – Zendaya, Malcolm & Marie

Second Alternate – Kate Winslet, Ammonite

Best Actor – Drama

Predicted Nominees:

Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal

Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods

Gary Oldman, Mank

First Alternate – Steven Yeun, Minari

Second Alternate – Tom Hanks, News of the World

Best Film Comedy/Musical

Predicted Nominees:

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Emma

Hamilton

Palm Springs

The Prom

First Alternate – On the Rocks

Second Alternate – The Personal History of David Copperfield

Best Actress – Comedy/Musical

Predicted Nominees:

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs

Michelle Pfeiffer, French Exit

Meryl Streep, The Prom

Anya Taylor-Joy, Emma

First Alternate – Rosamund Pike, I Care a Lot

Second Alternate – Rashida Jones, On the Rocks

Best Actor – Comedy/Musical

Predicted Nominees:

Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

Dev Patel, The Personal History of David Copperfield

Andy Samberg, Palm Springs

First Alternate – Pete Davidson, The King of Staten Island

Second Alternate – James Corden, The Prom

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted Nominees:

Ellen Burstyn, Pieces of a Woman

Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman, The Father

Jodie Foster, The Mauritanian 

Amanda Seyfried, Mank

First Alternate – Youn Yuh-jung, Minari

Second Alternate – Saoirse Ronan, Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted Nominees:

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods

Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Bill Murray, On the Rocks

Leslie Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami

First Alternate – Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

Second Alternate – Mark Rylance, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Film Screenplay

Predicted Nominees:

Mank

Minari

Nomadland

One Night in Miami

The Trial of the Chicago 7

First Alternate – The Father

Second Alternate – Promising Young Woman

Best Animated Feature

Predicted Nominees:

The Croods: A New Age

Onward

Over the Moon

Soul

Wolfwalkers

First Alternate – The Willoughbys

Second Alternate – Earwig and the Witch

Best Foreign Language Film

Predicted Nominees:

Another Round

The Life Ahead

Martin Eden

Minari

Quo Vadis, Aida?

First Alternate – Dear Comrades!

Second Alternate – Beanpole

Best Original Score

Predicted Nominees:

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Soul

Tenet

First Alternate – Hillbilly Elegy

Second Alternate – The Midnight Sky

Best Original Song

Predicted Nominees:

“Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

“Only the Young” from Miss Americana

“Rocket to the Moon” from Over the Moon

“Seen” from The Life Ahead

“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami

First Alternate – “Wear Your Crown” from The Prom

Second Alternate – “The Wuhan Flu” from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

And that breaks out to the following pictures receiving these numbers for nominations:

6 Nominations

Mank

5 Nominations

One Night in Miami

4 Nominations

Da 5 Bloods, Nomadland, The Trial of the Chicago 7

3 Nominations

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Hamilton, The Life Ahead, Minari, Palm Springs

2 Nominations

Emma, The Father, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Over the Moon, Pieces of a Woman, The Prom, Soul

1 Nomination

Another Round, The Croods: A New Age, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, French Exit, Hillbilly Elegy, Judas and the Black Messiah, Martin Eden, The Mauritanian, Miss Americana, News of the World, Onward, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Promising Young Woman, Quo Vadis, Aida?, Sound of Metal, Tenet, Wolfwalkers

I’ll have reaction to the Globe nods up on Wednesday!

 

Oscar Watch: An American Pickle

In another case of a comedic release going the streaming route due to the COVID-19 pandemic, An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen hits HBO Max tomorrow. The pic finds its lead as immigrant Herschel Greenbaum in 1920, who falls into a vat of pickle juice that perfectly preserves him until he snaps out of his slumber in 2020. Rogen also plays the dual role of Greenbaum’s great grandson in the fish out of water flick.

Some of these Oscar Watch posts over the summer could better be termed as Golden Globe Watch. Pickle currently sports a 72% Rotten Tomatoes score. That’s not bad, but a number of the reviews are lukewarm with others downright non-complimentary. In other words, any Oscar consideration for this is wishful thinking. Yet the 2020 experience could open up the door for unexpected comedies to contend at the Globes in their separate Musical/Comedy categorization.

The odds are long for that as well. Based on the critical reaction, I would list the film and Rogen’s performance as behind that of two other streaming comedies released this year: The King of Staten Island with Pete Davidson and Palm Springs starring Andy Samberg.

Bottom line: it would be quite a jarring development to see An American Pickle in any sort of awards contention. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: Palm Springs

Hulu gave us a nice surprise this weekend with the release of Palm Springs, a refreshingly clever take on the Groundhog Day concept from director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Saria. I wrote my review of it yesterday and you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/10/palm-springs-movie-review/

The sci-fi comedy originally debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and reviews have been impressive (to the tune of a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating). Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, the RT score for Springs easily eclipses that of The King of Staten Island at 72%. The latter has been mentioned for potential awards attention – albeit in a long shot fashion.

So could this even more acclaimed pic be a contender? Unlikely, but you never know in this highly unusual 2020. If Springs were to vie for any prize, I feel Original Screenplay would be its best hope. The story could be different when it comes to the Golden Globes. That’s where the genres of Drama and Musical/Comedy are divided. Depending on the competition coming in the last half of this long year, both Samberg and especially Milioti (in a breakout role) could at least be on the minds of Globes voters.

I know one thing. Based on my very positive reaction to it, I think it should at least be considered. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar Watch: A Midyear 2020 Report

It might be hard to fathom, but we are at the midpoint of this experience we call 2020. As COVID-19 and social issues dominate the landscape, the cinematic world has necessarily taken a backseat to the times. The Academy recently announced that the Oscars will be delayed until April 2021 and that movies premiering in January and February of that year will be eligible for consideration. This is in addition to previous notice that streaming pictures that forgo a theatrical release will also be able to nab nominations at that ceremony.

Since theaters have essentially been shuttered since March and with several festivals (the normal breeding grounds for awards hopefuls) either canceled or significantly modified, a midyear report on Oscar contenders is, to put it mildly, challenging.

Yet… here goes! As awards followers already know, the bulk of serious contenders aren’t  typically released until fall anyway. In fact, the earliest release of the nine Best Picture nominees last year was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which came out in late July. The remaining 8 had autumn and winter dates.

The Sundance Film Festival from January did give us some potential contenders. Florian Zeller’s The Father was acclaimed and it could score nods for previous winners Anthony Hopkins in lead actor and Olivia Colman in Supporting Actress. The biographical tale of feminist icon Gloria Steinem finds several actresses playing her at different ages. Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander (they also both have gold statues) are among them and could be potential nominees. Previous nominee Carey Mulligan garnered solid reviews for Promising Young Woman. 

And there’s Minari. The South Korean family drama starring Steven Yeun won the Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance. I wouldn’t sleep on its chances with the right marketing push from its studio A24. That same studio has the 19th century set indie First Cow, which also has its ardent admirers. They would need to make a major push in order for Oscar to notice it.

For movies that have actually come out, the Jane Austen inspired Emma saw positive notices for lead Anya-Taylor Joy. Ben Affleck got some of the best reviews of his career with the basketball drama The Way Back. Pete Davidson’s starring debut in The King of Staten Island drew mostly praise. And Elisabeth Moss starred in the hit The Invisible Man and it’s a possibility she could be recognized even though acting nominations in horror flicks are rare. Neither Toni Collette (Hereditary) in 2018 or Lupita Nyong’o (Us) last year could pull it off. Moss could also be recognized for Shirley, a drama that debuted at Sundance and is already available via streaming.

Then there’s Netflix’s Da 5 Bloods from Spike Lee. The director saw his last picture, BlacKkKlansman, receive numerous nominations and win Adapted Screenplay. I would posit that Bloods stands the best chance at multiple nods including possibly Picture and Director. Delroy Lindo (though it’s not clear whether he’d be campaigned for in lead or supporting) seems highly likely to be recognized. And if he’s campaigned for in Best Actor (which he probably should be), it could open the door for Clarke Peters or Jonathan Majors to make the cut in supporting.

In other races – Pixar’s Onward could compete in Animated Feature, though Disney could save their muscle for the upcoming Soul. Look for Emma to nab a Costume Design nod.

And we shall leave it there for now, folks! As readers of the blog know, expect more Oscar Watch posts to come your way as titles screen. Typically it’s late August when I start my weekly predictions and hopefully that’s a tradition that can be kept in this crazy thing we call 2020…

Top 25 SNL Alumni Movie Performances: Numbers 25-21

It’s time for another list on this here blog of mine and Saturday Night Live has been on the mind lately. With The King of Staten Island garnering solid reviews and serving as a launching pad for the film career of current cast member Pete Davidson, I’ve decided to compile my own personal list of top 25 performances from the 45 years of SNL alumni.

And this is sure to be a list where many moviegoers would have their own choices that do not reflect my own. Obviously SNL has a rich history of performers that have made the transition to the big screen and there are lots of notable comedic (and some dramatic) highlights.

A couple of notes before we start with numbers 25-21:

  • There are couple well-known actors that I chose to leave on the cutting room floor due to their very brief tenures on the show. Ben Stiller was a cast member for only 4 episodes and Laurie Metcalf was a not ready for prime time player for exactly 1 show. That didn’t seem like enough to include them. In short, if you lasted a season or more on SNL, you are eligible.
  • This list is undeniably dominated by men. That’s just a fact. On the other hand, if I did a list that included TV (which I may after this), you would certainly see a more substantial presence of former female performers. Think Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and their acclaimed small screen work.
  • We have a couple of cinematic legends like Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray and I could have chosen plenty of their roles for inclusion. I tried to limit that, but you will see them make quite an impact in the top 25.

And with that, let’s get to the list!

25. Jan Hooks, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

OK, maybe this is cheating a little bit since Ms. Hooks (who was brilliant on SNL) gets about three minutes of screen time in Tim Burton’s team-up with Paul Reubens for his iconic character. Yet her work as the cheery tour guide with the southern drawl is so memorable that I couldn’t leave it off. Six words: “There’s no basement at the Alamo!”

24. Bill Hader, It Chapter Two (2019)

Hader has been one of the most versatile cast members in recent times and has had memorable film roles in Superbad and Trainwreck, among others. I include this horror sequel because he was the undeniable bright spot in an otherwise inferior sequel.

23. Will Forte, MacGruber (2010)

Count me in as one of the ardent defenders of this SNL spin-off featuring Forte doing a feature length version of his idiotic MacGyver like role. MacGruber was a box office flop upon release but has since turned into a deserved cult classic (with a rumored sequel happening).

22. Tina Fey, Mean Girls (2004)

Before her fantastic work on 30 Rock, Fey wrote this hit comedy that has spawned a massive following and a Broadway musical. Her work as a teacher here served as a springboard to an impressive TV and movie career.

21. Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Crystal has certainly had his share of hits, but I’ll give the nod to his romantic leading man role opposite Meg Ryan in Rob Reiner’s blockbuster.

That does it for now, folks! I’ll continue the list with numbers 20-16 in short order…

The King of Staten Island Movie Review

Pete Davidson is not your average Saturday Night Live cast member. He is less known for characters he plays and is more known for essentially portraying himself on Weekend Update sketches. That includes warts and all with his much publicized romantic life, struggles with mental health and drug issues, and tragic family history. It is no surprise that Judd Apatow is the director to bring his semi autobiographical story to the big screen in The King of State Island. And the Apatow treatment comes with the high points of his previous efforts. It also comes with the warts and all of his pics that includes an unnecessarily lengthy running time and subplots that don’t really pan out.

The big screen treatment ended up being a misnomer since Island went the Video on Demand route due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Davidson is Scott Carlin, an aimless 24 year old living with his mom Margie (Marisa Tomei) in the borough where it is joked that New Jersey looks down upon. His little sister (Maude Apatow) is an achiever who is moving along to college. Scott’s longtime friend and sort of girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley) is a glass half full type in contrast with his constantly half empty outlook. The similarities between Davidson and his character are hard to miss. Scott’s father was a firefighter who died in the line of duty and so did Davidson’s on 9/11. Substance abuse and effects of ADD are prevalent with Scott and, as mentioned, the actor hasn’t been shy about addressing those matters.

One key difference: Davidson has been a pop culture fixture on the famous sketch comedy show for a few years. The man he is playing isn’t accomplishing much of anything. His idea to open a tattoo parlor/restaurant is met with understandable skepticism. Scott’s arrested development is dealt a setback when Margie finds romance after 17 years of being a widow with fireman Ray (Bill Burr). Their courtship elevates his anxieties to a new level.

Apatow, over the past decade and half, has elevated numerous comedic performers to new heights. These include Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. The similarities here are most in line with the latter as Davidson’s known persona is put through the cinematic lens. As an avid SNL watcher, I have found his bits occasionally inspired and frequently a little grating. It is a credit to Apatow and Davidson that Island finds a balance that is primarily satisfying. However, that’s not to say there aren’t issues. Island is too long. A subplot regarding Scott and his buddies and a pharmaceutical heist could have easily been left on the cutting room floor. While it often deftly switches between humorous and serious segments, the tone shifts are not always consistent.

On the bright side, some scenes are quite well done. This includes a night out with Scott, Ray, and some fellow firefighters where his late dad’s angelic legacy is tarnished to his son’s delight. Every time romantic interest Kelsey (with a terrific performance by Powley) is around, it works. I actually found myself wishing Scott had more interest in her because she deserves more screen time.

Ultimately The King of Staten Island is vintage Apatow and that includes the glass being measured in both ways. Thankfully it is full for the most part.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: The King of Staten Island

The latest dramedy from director Judd Apatow is receiving a lot of similar praise and a bit of the same criticism as other titles in his filmography. The King of Staten Island hits the VOD circuit this Friday after foregoing a theatrical release due to COVID-19. The pic is a showcase for Saturday Night Live cast member Pete Davidson, who’s received as much press for his personal life as his SNL antics. This is a semi-autobiographical vehicle for him and reviews out today give high marks to his work.

Overall Island currently stands at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. Several critics are calling it Apatow’s most mature work. There are kudos for the supporting cast that includes Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, and Bel Pawley. On the flip side, there are some complaints about its 136 minute runtime. This is a common gripe for the director’s efforts.

While Oscar attention is unlikely, the pic could garner the attention of Golden Globes voters since it splits acting races between Drama and Musical/Comedy. In the latter, Davidson could be a contender for Actor. Yet the Apatow track record at the Globes is shaky. Neither Steve Carell (The 40 Yr. Old Virgin) or Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) made the final five. I would especially say that Carell was robbed in 2005. On the other hand, 2015’s Trainwreck nabbed Amy Schumer an Actress mention.

Bottom line: some awards chatter for Apatow’s latest stand-up star could happen, but I don’t think it would be at the biggest show of all. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…