Review Roundup

New Reviews: ‘The Suicide Squad’ and ‘Stillwater’ Lead Late-Summer Lineup

Published on August 5, 2021
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Soooooo….. what have we learned so far at the movies this summer? I’ll start: People will still pay to see a Fast & Furious movie, no matter how insipid the franchise has become. Musicals without stand-out music is a tough sell, despite the presence of one Lin-Manuel Miranda. Scarlett Johansson may want to reconsider her exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (If Groot can talk, Black Widow can rise from the dead). Emma Stone should clear her schedule for more Cruella movies. And, perhaps most telling, audiences will indeed leave their homes to see a proven commodity. We’re still ways away from 2019 box-office numbers, and I’m not certain we’ll ever see the likes of $100 million-opening weekends again. The sliver of comfort is the fact that studios are still delivering original and audacious material — yes, even The Suicide Squad, kinda — even as the sun dims on summer. Here’s my take on six recent entries.

 

The Suicide Squad

3 stars (out of 4)

Five summers ago, Suicide Squad — in which a group of super-villains are coerced into working together to defeat a powerful enemy — was dead on arrival. This sequel proves that bad can indeed be good. Well, better. See ya Will Smith and Jared Leto; hi again to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, who, along with the likes of criminals played by Idris Elba and John Cena, are sent to destroy a lethal creature in a mission dubbed Project Starfish. If they fail or bail, they die. The irreverent attitude is rampant, as several members spectacularly bite it before the climactic battle. The scenes are played for laughs, though please note new director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) sprinkles his film with ugly and potentially off-putting violence. When Harley abruptly puts a bullet into a villain, blood oozes from his brain. (At least she’s no longer spinning her wheels and pining for The Joker!) Still, the go-for-broke cast — along with the giant pastel-colored monster — infuse just enough spirit into the mix to make it all go down easy. (In theaters and HBO Max Friday August 6)

 

Stillwater

3 stars (out of 4)

Nobody does everyman like Matt Damon. Now the actor submerges himself in a genuinely affecting adult drama. He’s Bill, a straight-shooting oil rigger who uproots from Oklahoma to a tiny port city in France to exonerate his imprisoned daughter (Abigail Breslin) on a murder charge. (Insert obvious Amanda Knox comparison here.) Amid frustrations with the cultural differences and language barriers — Americans don’t exactly come off like heroes — he forms a friendship with a local actress (Camille Cottin) and her little girl. This tender dynamic is the beating heart of the story: A scene in which the three slow-dance together is all shades of lovely. And to Damon’s credit, he never flashes his smile and shakes off Bill’s essence. Alas, the “A” plot threatens to drag down this arc. Not only is Breslin’s character shockingly unsympathetic, Bill’s obsession with finding the alleged real killer devolves into contrivances galore. Stillwater does indeed run deep, but prepare for some chop. (Now in theaters)

 

Gunpowder Milkshake

3 stars (out of 4)

Get ready to feel some strong female independent vibes via this action thriller. Sam (Karen Gillan, Guardians of the Galaxy) is a hired assassin who uses her talents to clean up the messes for a male-dominated crime syndicate known as The Firm. After a job goes awry and she decides to save the life of a small girl, Sam realizes that her only chance to survive is to reunite with her estranged mom (Lena Heady) and her ninja-like lethal associates (an embarrassment of acting riches in Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino). Given that title, you’re right in assuming the film is flush with action — Gillan barely has time to catch her breath in between all the hand-to-hand fighting and bullet sprays. (They all come equipped with quips too.) The stylish originality is also delectable: The ladies are headquartered in a library, and Gillan’s mother issues are relatable fun. But next time, lose the kid. What a PG-rated drag! (Now on Netflix)

 

The Last Letter from Your Lover 

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Dear makers of weepy romances: Thanks for keeping The Notebook formula alive and well over the past 17 years. But just because your movie features appealing star-crossed lovers and soft mood lighting doesn’t mean you can skimp on crisp storytelling. Take this dual-narrative drama —  based on the Jojo Moyes novel — which follows a wealthy-albeit-unhappy American woman (Shailene Woodley) living abroad in the 1960s and a modern, career-focused London journalist (Felicity Jones). Their lives become intertwined when the reporter discovers stashed letters and sets out to solve the mystery of the illicit affair at its center. Despite that intriguing set-up, the film is bogged down by an ultra-leisurely pace in its past and present. The lack of urgency leads to a lack of fire between the women and their respective partners. (Woodley’s stilted dialogue in the flashback scenes is particularly painful.) Everyone means well, of course. It’s just frustrating that a love story fueled for passion is only sealed with a kiss. (Now on Netflix)

 

Old 

2.5 stars (out of 4)

A legitimately intriguing premise shrivels up on the screen in M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest thriller. A handful of wealthy tourists visiting a hotel in paradise (you’ll recognize Gael Garcia Bernal, Rupert Sewell and Ken Leung from Lost) are all persuaded to take a day-trip to a cliffside cove for the day. They soon realize that they’ve been dropped in a space where time and biology are awry. Three kids evolve from horny teenagers to grown adults before the sun has set. A middle-aged couple become wrinkly and hard of hearing/seeing, etc. It’s all interesting and trippy but the thriller never coalesces into something worthwhile. Sure, it does’t help that the one-note characters exclaim captain obvious statements like “we’re rapidly aging!” But the real problem is that Shyamalan doesn’t stay consistent, constantly breaking his own rules. And the twist ending that audiences have come to expect from the man who gave us The Sixth Sense and Signs is a just a shoulder shrug with zero emotional resonance. I see underwhelmed people. (Now in theaters)

 

Annette

2 stars (out of 4)

The opening night selection of the recent Cannes Film Festival is a highly experimental, 140-minute musical with a striking, fever dream-like visual style. In other words, it’s for open-minded cinephiles only and not for The Suicide Squad audience. Adam Driver stars as a self-loathing, anarchistic stand-up comic married to a renowned opera soprano (Marion Cottilard, underutilized). After they welcome an ethereal baby girl named Annette, their lives turn even more tumultuous. (Just to underline the weirdness, said baby resembles a marionette.) This L.A.-set drama is all set to songs by the pop-art duo known as Sparks — and some of the music, especially the first number “So May We Start,” is alluring. The morally repellent storyline, which meditates on the pitfalls of fame, is not. Pass, cherie. (In theaters August 6; on Amazon Prime August 20)