Friday 23 March 2018

Film review: Suicide Squad should have been much better

Cert: 15A. Now showing

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad
Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad

Hilary A White

It wasn't meant to be this way. DC, the arch comic-brand nemesis to Marvel and home to Batman and Superman, was to punch back against the box-office tyranny of Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite netting big bucks, Batman v Superman collapsed under the weight of its spandex-clad ambition earlier this year but it would do to help kick-start more DC franchises.

Suicide Squad, a super-villain Dirty Dozen with added Margot Robbie, was set to restore cred after that spectacular misfire. That task now falls to Wonder Woman (2017) because this all-star, magazine-emptying doodle is still not at the required standard.

Writer-director David Ayer (Training Day, Fury) has a lot on his plate and, like BvS, much ground to cover. A hefty and fun opening chunk is devoted to Viola Davis's mean government agent pitching the idea of a covert crack team made up of bad guys who then, one-by-one, must be introduced to us. Get comfy.

Among the assembled are Deadshot, Will Smith's hitman with a heart of gold, Cara Delevingne's ancient sorceress and Jai Courtney as a tinny-swigging Aussie called Boomerang who - that's right - wields a boomerang. El Diablo is a fire-spouting Latino and Killer Croc is a nasty humanoid lizard. That one of their number creates and becomes the very threat they are then sent off to tackle is a wonder of the shoddy screen-writing arts.

The centrepiece is Robbie, who fizzes as carnival psycho Harley Quinn, while Jared Leto's overripe turn as the Joker (the character's first outing since Heath Ledger's 2008 tour de force) is not quite as bad as some are making out.

It ends in a dull light-show finale where character arcs creak and a childish tone belies its 15A cert. And all to a drearily clichéd rock-classics soundtrack. Fine, but really ought to have been better. 3 Stars

Up For Love

Up For Love

Cert: 12A. Selected cinemas.

Successful, attractive lawyer Diane (Virginie Efira) gets in from a busy day at the Marseilles firm she owns with her ex-husband and the phone rings. On the other end is a charming stranger called Alexandre (The Artist's Jean Dujardin) who informs her that he has found the mobile phone that she left behind in a café. The exchange is easy and pleasant, so when he asks her on a date to give the phone back, she happily agrees.

Only when Alexandre walks in at the rendezvous the following day, it turns out that he is 4' 7" and this, of course, is a problem for all but the most secure of women. Diane cannot put the issue to bed, and after a whirlwind romance with the kind, successful, entertaining and sincere Alexandre, she fails to show enough spine to be proud of her relationship with him.

Despite this immediate impediment to liking Diane, Up For Love is an exercise in formulaic charm whereby every gentle bend in the narrative road can be seen from a mile off and enough cute chuckles are stirred up on the path to eventual redemption.

Director Laurent Tirard set out to do a Eurocentric rewrite of the 2013 Argentinian hit Corazón de León, and mostly succeeds with the brief. Dujardin is cleverly shrunk in the scenes, his golden-age-of-Hollywood charisma alone swelling Alexandre's stature. Trope characters - the mortifying mum, the sleazy ex, the kooky secretary - orbit Diane effectively. 3 Stars

Hilary A White

Born to be Blue

Born to be Blue

Cert 16: Now Showing Light House

Born to be Blue, loosely based on the life and skills of trumpet player Chet Baker, opens in Italy in 1966 where Baker (Ethan Hawke, below) is going cold turkey in a jail. A movie director arrives to bail him out and casts him to play himself in the film. Our film switches to black and white, to 1954 with a still dapper Baker playing in Birdland. He is loved by audiences but dismissed by Miles Davis (Kedar Davis) and takes solace in a groupie who introduces him to heroin, much to the horror of his wife Elaine (Carmen Egojo). This turns out to be the film he was bailed out to make - and it is, like the film we are watching, a version of events, not a biography.

Baker and Jane, the actress who plays his wife (Egojo again) embark on a relationship even though on their first date he is beaten for a drug debt, loses his teeth and essentially has to relearn how to play. They struggle through his rehab until she dares to need something for herself and without her he has to make a call about who he wants to be. Robert Budreau's film is a clever and original take on the biopic genre. Whispery and jazzy and niche market, it is hooked around an excellent performance from Hawke. 4 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Bobby Sands: 66 Days

Bobby Sands: 66 Days

Cert 12A; now showing

It's been 35 years since Bobby Sands and nine others starved themselves to death in political protest. Brendan J Byrne's documentary Bobby Sands: 66 Days gives an excellent overview of the context and details of that pivotal time and some fascinating insights into its legacy. It's a meticulously researched and well-balanced analysis of difficult, dreadful and pivotal times in recent Irish history.

There are interviews with his contemporaries, historians, commentators and a former prison guard whose attitude to working in the Maze prison during the dirty protest, "walking into a sewer with 40 people who wanted to kill us" remains unsoftened 40 years later.

Political prisoner status was revoked for IRA prisoners in the late '70s and it was this that sparked the dirty protests and then the hunger strikes. Actor Martin McCann reads from Sands's diaries, revealing him to be, whether you agree with them or not, a man of principle following in the footsteps of Terence McSwiney, the Cork Lord Mayor whose hunger strike in 1920 was based on the concept of winning propaganda wars not by showing how much suffering you can inflict, but on how much you can endure. That in mind, more than one commentator attributes the hunger strikers' deaths with turning the tide in the North. 4 Stars

Aine O'Connor

Sweet Bean Club

Sweet Bean Club

Cert: now showing IFI

We see relatively little Japanese cinema, so this bittersweet story is a lovely treat. An engaging human story it also provides some lovely and interesting glimpses into an intriguing culture.

Sentarô (Masatoshi Nagase) runs a tiny stand that makes only dorayaki, a Japanese sweet treat of two pancakes around a sweet bean paste. He is middle-aged and clearly unhappy, yet he remains a kind man. To Wakana (Kyara Uchida), a teenage schoolgirl who seems not to enjoy the same luxuries that her friends have, Sentarô gives the leftover dorayaki. And when an elderly and apparently none-too-sprightly lady asks if she can take up the position he is advertising for a helper, his rejection is kind and he gifts her a dorayaki.

However, this elderly lady, Tokue (Kirin Kiki) is not that doddery and she returns proffering her own sweet bean filling. It's so delicious that Sentarô is persuaded that he and Tokue can make a good team. And they do (the film is quite heavy on the metaphor). But that would make a very short film, so naturally complications arise.

It sounds like an oxymoron but Naomi Kawase's film is a study in understated sentimentality and no less affecting for the lack of melodrama. However, although beautifully played (Kirin Kiki especially is fabulous) and full of little funny sweet treat moments of humour of its own, the very understatement sets it up to stumble a little. It drags a bit in the middle - a slip in pacing from which it struggles to recover - and it might have benefited from being a little shorter.

The glimpses into Japanese life, history and society are really intriguing and the story twist manages to be both universal and uniquely Japanese. A subtle treat, Sweet Bean is an unusual and interesting gentle pleasure. 3 Stars

Aine O'Connor

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