Review: MONSIEUR CHOCOLAT (CHOCOLAT)


Rafael Padilla (Omar Sy) was among the world’s first (and certainly first in France) famous black performing artists. He rose to prominence as the clown Chocolat, and enjoyed spectacular success for his part in the then novel double act with white clown Foottit (James Theirée) – although perhaps ‘enjoyed’ is somewhat overstating the case.

When we’re introduced to Padilla at the end of the 19th century, he’s already in a struggling rural circus, playing the role of Kanaga, and presented as a savage, exotic wonder of the African continent. Demeaning, but a paying gig for a performer with limited training and options at the time. At least he’s doing better than Foottit, who is failing auditions, his act being written off as stale. But the eureka moment quickly arrives, and the duo soon realises their value when they are called up to a major theatre in Paris.

Padilla’s experience of fame was brutally fickle, a bitterly sharp double-edged sword for the Afro-Cuban child of slaves. The fact that parallels can be drawn between his situation a century ago and today is as powerful as it is shameful, and its one of the film’s great strengths - it’s a just shame that the (multi-credited) screenplay isn’t smooth enough to convey the subtlety and delicacy it deserves; too often, good work elsewhere is undone by thudding exposition and tin-eared dialogue.

There’s really no better actor working today to portray Padilla than the towering Sy (even though, judging by the actual footage of the clown used in the film, he was not a big man), whose imposing physicality can be disguised through any combination of charm and chops, or revealed it in moments of ferocious self-defence. He doesn’t miss a beat, and has an excellent match in Thierrée as the strange, never completely knowable Foottit, and watching the white clown quietly navigate his own problems and oppressions is another of MONSIEUR CHOCOLAT’s many pleasures.

MONSIEUR CHOCOLAT is released June 29 in Australia and NZ.


2016 Recap


Now that the dust has settled on 2016, I'm taking a look back. Not at the year as a whole - it's still too soon, and too damned depressing. But as far as movies go, it was pretty unusual. A year when so many a tentpole movies didn't so much outright disappoint as they didn't quite live up to expectations. For many of the biggies, it was too often a year of forgettable averageness. When it was being delivered by ostensibly the same team, why wasn’t GHOSTBUSTERS as good as THE HEAT? STAR TREK: BEYOND? Better than the last one, not quite as good as the first. X-MEN: APOCALYPSE: WTF? (okay, that was just a huge and outright disappointment).

But while only a few of the giants really delivered, the year was peppered with great things in small packages, which has produced two notable results: 1) it’s been really hard to cull my list to ten favourites this year - so many of my listed honourable mentions could easily have had a spot on the final list. 2) This phenomenon has made everyone else’s lists really diverse, which is far more interesting.

As ever, there’s a long list of films that either I didn’t see, or which weren't (legally) released in this part of the world prior to Dec 31. Obviously there’s dozens of these, but off the top of my head, among some of the most popular and oft written about are:


WEINER DOG

AMERICAN HONEY

MILES AHEAD

OTHER PEOPLE

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS

A MONSTER CALLS

DON'T BREATHE

CHRISTINE

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

THE WAVE

KUBO & THE TWO STRINGS

SWISS ARMY MAN

ELLE

PETE'S DRAGON

TRAIN TO BUSAN

TONI ERDMANN

THE GREASY STRANGLER

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

HIGH RISE

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

MOONLIGHT

DEEPWATER HORIZON

HACKSAW RIDGE

RED DOG: TRUE BLUE

PASSENGERS



Moving onto those which could quite easily have made my final list on a different day, it's (VERY) HONOURABLE MENTIONS:


GREEN ROOM

BAD NEIGHBOURS: SORORITY RISING

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING

SPOTLIGHT

I, DANIEL BLAKE

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

MOANA

SING STREET

WEINER

DEADPOOL

SHERPA

HELL OR HIGH WATER

ROGUE ONE

THE WITCH


Which leaves the final list. The big enchiladas (mmm, enchiladas); my FAVOURITES FOR 2016:

ARRIVAL


Fortunately I saw this two days before the US election, so for those 48 hours I was able to enjoy the unbridled humanist optimism of Denis Villeneuve’s thoughtful sci-fi. Beautiful to look at, and – bar one tiny, niggling plothole – clever.

 

BONE TOMAHAWK


S. Craig Zahler’s remarkable debut horror Western not only succeeds in both genres, but constantly manages to make a virtue of its tight budget; the stillness of the camera serves to both soak up the great characterisations and, eventually, amplify the horror (which classily remains jump-scare free) with its unflinching matter-of-factness.

 

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!


Richard Linklater’s ‘spiritual sequel’ to the brilliant DAZED & CONFUSED is a curious beast, blending meandering humdrum realism (this is all character and no plot, but in a good way) with nostalgia and a searing attention to period (in this case 1980) detail, and steadfast refusal to take shortcuts with or pigeonhole its subjects; we’re doing a lot more than simply following a bunch of ‘dumb jocks’ around for the weekend.

 

THE LADY IN THE VAN


I went in expecting another charming, low budget British drama starring Maggie Smith in the same sort of role she usually plays (very well, I might add). I got that, but I also finally got why Alan Bennett is so revered. With THE LADY IN THE VAN, Bennett not only writes himself, but splits his ‘character’ in two (both played superbly by THE CROWN’s Alex Jennings), laying bare some glorious insights about the writing process itself.

 

THE HATEFUL EIGHT


Tarantino promised something special with his ‘roadshow presention’ Western parlour piece, and he delivered – even if I’m not completely sure what he’d delivered by the end of it (in America, misogyny has always trumped racism? Answers on the back of a comments section, please). But whatever I continue to miss, there's plenty else to love about it: 70mm Ultra Panavision! Morricone! All the clichés about the things Tarantino does best! Etc.!

 

13TH  / HYPERNORMALISATION


In moving away from drama and into documentary, SELMA director Ava DuVernay delivers an even more powerful indictment of institutional racism in the United States. The overlay of Trump’s dangerous campaign rhetoric onto a previously contextualised slice of BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) is a strong contender for scene of the year. Meanwhile, Adam Curtis’ BBC iPlayer-only HYPERNORMALISATION may be a near three hours of brain-scrambling complexity, but that’s exactly the point, and while some his broader observations may not be exactly revelatory, the devil is most certainly in the (often forgotten) details.

 

GOLDSTONE


It may be becoming apparent by now that I am a sucker for a good Western, and Ivan Sen outdid himself this year with his sequel to MYSTERY ROAD. The odd moment of over-egging aside (David Wenham, I’m looking in the direction of your socks/sandals combo), Sen did a bang-up job of furthering the story of Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson), while folding in some forgotten aspects of Australia’s mining past into a decidedly contemporary, real-world-familiar tale.

 

EYE IN THE SKY


Despite suffering from a terrible trailer and a too-tight budget (the sub-HBO production values are at times distracting), director Gavin Hood delivered one of the year’s biggest surprises with this tightly-knotted ethical thriller about drone warfare. The upside? The military can now see everything the enemy are doing. The downside? Everything is being recorded, and there are still rules of engagement; it’s fascinating (and occasionally funny) watching responsibility being kicked all around the globe by – often justifiably – nervous politicians. It’s rounded out by a great cast, and ensures the great Alan Rickman a high note sendoff.

 

45 YEARS


By Christ, what a performance from Charlotte Rampling. Not to undermine Tom Courtenay’s fine work in this two-hander, but this is Rampling’s film, and she delivers a masterclass in acting with the eyes. That she didn’t win every award going (BAFTA, who failed to even nominate her, should hang their heads). The screening I attended had more than one bored walk-out, and that’s understandable if you fail to find director Andrew Haigh’s macro wavelength. Find it though, and 45 YEARS makes for quietly devastating drama.

 

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE


In a word: 'Stungray'. In a lot more words: It feels like Taika Waititi has been searching for this sweet spot for ages. BOY got very close, but had a heavy undercurrent pulling it in a more dramatic direction; WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS was funny and frivolous; but HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE manages to get it just right, walking virtually without fault the line between hilarity and pathos. The adult cast are great, but Julian Dennison is the (Southern) star of the 100 most joyous minutes of the year.

Speed review: LA LA LAND

Much as I hate to say it, and I know I'm in the minority here, but I just wasn't as enraptured by Damien Chazelle's LA LA LAND as virtually everyone else seems to be. I liked it, but this unabashedly contempo-nostalgic Hollywood musical has far too many shortcomings (both aesthetic and technical), to get overly excited about.

The niggles began almost immediately, with the admittedly ambitious single-tracking-shot-through-freeway-traffic-jam opening number. The idea is fantastic, but the dancers aren't up to muster; the blonde guy in the blue shirt who gets his big close up sliding over his car? Sorry mate. Similarly, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are obviously a great duo, but I just kept thinking "was Channing Tatum unavailable?" (To which the answer may well be "yes.")

The second(?) song - the one where Stone's Mia and her friends are getting ready to go out to a party doesn't fare much better, and everything begins to feel a bit like it's trying too hard, but things pick up thereafter, and the moment the comedy elements really get going, pace and structure perk right up and it never looks back.

Finally, a huge technical concern: focus. It feels like a good 20% of the film isn't sharp, and I'm not just talking about all of the complex tracking shots in the musical numbers. This includes simple, static close-ups, and it drove me to distraction. I've since heard from a friend that this is due to the film being shot in Cinemascope (which on the other hand is for me one of LA LA LAND's big pluses), which is an incredibly difficult format for a focus puller to work with. But if the eyes aren't sharp, why take the risk? Was THE HATEFUL EIGHT using the only old school focus puller in town?

So the colours are nice, and the central performances are fine, but let's not kid ourselves: the bars set by the great Hollywood musicals - both in front and behind the camera - aren't in any danger of being toppled by Chazelle's creation. It's a nice enough way to pass a couple of hours, but there's not enough here for me to believe LA LA LAND is the masterwork everyone's making it out to be.

LA LA LAND is in cinemas now in Australia, New Zealand and the US, and is released January 12 in the UK.

Review: ALLIED

Another year, another WWII spy thriller. Ever get the feeling that all of these baby boomer directors each want their shot to relive their fascination with the airfix model Spitfires and Panza tanks of their childhoods using the filmmaker's toybox? You're not alone. This time it's Robert Zemeckis' turn.

It's 1942, and Canadian airman and spy Max Vatan is parachuted into Casablanca to rendezvous with French resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cottilard), where they are to pose as husband and wife to infiltrate an important Nazi soirée. They actually fall in love and move to London, where they have a child together and live happily, until British Intelligence summon Max to their offices to inform him that Marianne may in fact be a double agent leaking information to the Nazis. There will be a sting operation to confirm this, and if she is, the rules are that Max will have to execute her by his own hand.

Pitt is sorely miscast here, in a role that plays to none of his strengths; he's aiming for a George Smiley-esque unreadable introvert, but too often comes across as wondering if he's left the iron on. Which leaves the heavy lifting to Cotillard, who is thankfully wholly able to carry any scene she appears in - but even she can only do so much in a plodding storyline which is only occasionally punctuated by any intrigue or excitement.

Zemeckis, master craftsman that he is, seems to be going through the motions, more interested in the period details that the story's romantic core. Is it Steven Knight's script? Possibly, although all of the ingredients are seemingly there. It's just simply be that no-one except Cottilard is on their A-game. Consequently an early set piece made of pure Hitchcock is a highlight, but beyond that everything - including what ought to be a bit of third act derring-do - feels a bit flat and pedestrian. It looks the part, but lacks heart - which, as you can imagine for a romantic thriller, is a bit of a problem.

ALLIED is released November 23 in the US, November 25 in the UK and December 26 in Australia and NZ.

Review: BAD SANTA 2


Many of us never thought we’d get to see any more of Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie Soke. The misanthropic, alcoholic, part-time Santa/full time safe-cracker’s story seemed pretty much done by the time the credits rolled on his first piss-stained, profanity-and-bum-sex-filled story. But that story was a runaway hit, and if there’s one thing more reliable than a Christmas wish to get fans a sequel, it’s box office returns - no matter how far down the line.

So here we are, more than a decade later, and we quickly learn that in the interim, life has once again been unkind to Willie. Things are so bad that severely estranged partner in crime Marcus (Tony Cox) manages to lure him to work one – presumably last - giant score in Chicago, ripping off a Christmas charity run by Diane Hastings (Christina Hendricks) and her dodgy husband. Meanwhile, the now spectrum-placed Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly) is still somehow following Willie around like the one puppy the thief can’t bring himself to kick, and we’re introduced to the heist’s mastermind: Willie’s own mother (Kathy Bates).

It’s this angle that BAD SANTA 2 uses to explore new ground, and prevent it from being just a photocopy of the first film (but without the colossal, much missed talents of Bernie Mac and John Ritter). What and who made Willie the way he is? For the most part this works, thanks to the typically committed sparring between Thornton and the ever-reliable Bates giving everything to her unscrupulous character.

Less successful is the look of the film – it’s so damned dark. As in literally dark. The first film had its pitch-black antics play out against the sunny climes of Phoenix, but here we’re in mostly night and occasionally grey murk of a Chicago winter – even the lion’s share of the interiors are a homeless hostel and a roach motel, which begins to feel just a little too much. Director Mark Waters (MEAN GIRLS) attempts to counter this in the third act by again spotlighting the one unextinguished ember of humanity in Willie, but it feels a little heavy handed after Terry Zwigoff’s deft touch in the first film of that simple, stuffed pink elephant (which cameos here). Pleasingly though, the sulphurous barbs and insults – both verbal and physical - are all still present and very much accounted for, even if they’re wrapped in a messy plot.

Maybe if it wasn’t carrying the weight of expectations from its predecessor, we would be a bit more forgiving of BAD SANTA 2; it’s good for a naughty giggle, even if it’s not everything fans wished for. But then again, any BAD SANTA fan can quote you Willie’s line on wishing…

BAD SANTA 2 is released November 23 in the US and UK, and November 24 in Australia and NZ.

Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

The first of the inevitable spinoffs from the Harry Potter saga moves the action to 1920’s New York. From the immigration queues, we follow visiting English wizard and magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his efforts to save endangered magical creatures. Or at least half of FANTASTIC BEASTS does. The other half concerns itself with setting up the other four projected films in this series, complete with another worrying, unseen dark force on the rise.

Redmayne brings  almost elf-like delicacy to Newt, while Dan Fogel brings heartful support as down on his luck no-maj (as muggles are referred to across the pond) Jacob Kowalski, who becomes entangled in Newt’s adventure courtesy of a luggage mix-up.

Meanwhile, magical society in the US has its own governing body, MACUSA (Magical Congess of the Unisted States of America), whose head of security Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) takes a disconcerting interest in the affairs of the puritanically anti-magic Barebone family led by matriarch Mary Lou (Samantha Morton), but in particular her whipping boy son Credence (Ezra Miller).

David Yates returns as director (his fifth film in the Potterverse), and delivers an effort tangibly consistent with his previous work. J.K. Rowling, this time on board as screenwriter, continues to wear her influences on her sleeve: a TARDIS-like suitcase, and Magneto-esque motivations from some of the antagonists, which will serendipitously serve the sequels if Warner Brothers are prepared to dive into the obvious parallels between the dark events of the 1930s and the demagoguery we’ve witnessed in 2016.

For all of the set-up and developments in FANTASTIC BEASTS (and perhaps because of it), it often feels like there are protracted periods in the film where not much is actually happening. Despite it’s two-plus hours running time, we don’t really to get to know many of the supporting characters very well (and some of whom become very important to the third act). It’s an accomplished, well-oiled exercise in world-building, like a huge budget HBO series where you have to wait two years between episodes, but there’s not quite enough going on right here and now for the film to truly dazzle as a standalone piece.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM is released November 17 in Australia and New Zealand, and November 18 in the US and UK

Review: SAUSAGE PARTY

Given the success and enduring popularity of SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT, animated movies that play on the naughty end of the spectrum have been relatively few and far between. Not much springs to mind since 2007’s AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE COLON MOVIE FILM FOR THEATERS. The reason of course, is money - there’s a reluctance from backers to mix R-rated humour with the shiny happy worlds of CG when they can profit so much more from simply not doing it. But tell that to Megan Ellison (ZERO DARK THIRTY, HER, FOXCATCHER), whose Annapurna Pictures has helped deliver the sweary, blasphemous SAUSAGE PARTY into the world.

On a supermarket shelf somewhere in America, it’s July 3rd. All Frank (Seth Rogen) and the fellow hotdogs in his packet want is to be taken, along with his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig) and the other buns in her bag, to enjoy eternity in ‘the great beyond’ by one of the ‘gods’ – human shoppers. Every ingredient and item of produce in the store has their own interpretation of what happens once they get past the sliding doors, but each happily believes that they’re headed for some form of paradise, because that’s all they’ve ever been told – until Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned as a mistaken purchase. Twitching with PTSD, he’s seen some shit. At first, Frank can’t believe the now suicidal Honey Mustard’s nightmarish whistleblowing, but soon doubt creeps in. When a shopping trolley mishap (a supremely funny homage to... well, figure it out for yourself) strands Frank, Brenda and a few other items on the other side of the store, the weiner begins an epic spiritual journey and a race to save his recently purchased friends... while an angry pre-packaged Douche (Nick Kroll) with revenge on its mind is in hot pursuit.

In case you hadn’t guessed by now, SAUSAGE PARTY is a contender for the most baked screenplay ever written. If a fourth HAROLD AND KUMAR movie were to be made and centred on their efforts to write and make a movie, this would be that movie.

It’s crude, grubby, and outrageous. It’s jam-packed (no pun intended) with brilliant/dreadful food puns. It’s also frequently hilarious, and – quite unusually for a comedy – it gets better as it progresses, building to a batshit crazy third act piled with more sex and violence than CALIGULA. It’s also not without ambition. Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg (together responsible for SUPERBAD), and their directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon are aiming for an elusive sweet spot: to be a clever film masquerading as a dumb one.

Unfortunately they don’t always nail it – too often good ideas, arguments and jokes are hamstrung by cheap, tired racial stereotypes and over-egged efforts to shock; having characters swear is a genuinely funny device, but trying to ram it into even the most incidental line comes off as trying way too hard.

It’s a shame because it’s nothing that couldn’t have been fixed with a little more drafting (and maybe a little less weed). Instead, amidst otherwise excellent execution these basic mistakes stand out, over-amplified in a movie with an honest case to make. By today's lofty standards the animation won't win any big awards, but the cast of mostly longtime friends (Michael Cera, David Krumholtz, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd) with notable ring-ins Edward Norton and Salma Hayek, are on fine form.

SAUSAGE PARTY is released August 11 in Australia and NZ, August 12 in the US and September 2 in the UK.

Review: ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS


Eddie and Patsy are back. We’re not 100% sure why now in particular, but they’re always welcome, and fortunately neither Jennifer Saunders’ feel for her creations nor her gag writing ability have diminished at all in their years of absence.

Edina Monsoon’s (Saunders) PR business is in trouble, and her client list is looking decidedly anaemic. Hearing that Kate Moss is leaving her PR, Eddie immediately sets out to woo the supermodel. This all goes screamingly wrong, and sees Eddie and lifelong reprobate bestie Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) on the lam in the south of France.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE, to give its full title, follows in the grand tradition of British TV series making the leap to the big screen with no real reason for doing so, and little more than a Christmas Special’s worth of budget to get by on. But get by they do, and the cameras a dutifully switched over to progressive frame rate.

It’s silly, unfocused plot passes up elements and ideas that would have given the film more purpose and relevance - the hunt for a missing-presumed-dead Moss completely dominates the news cycle while far more important things are happening, for example, or the increased sense of entitlement of Eddie & Patsy’s set since they we last saw them, for another. Instead it pretty much boils down to “it’s hard growing old” – which is particularly rich coming from the vacuous, superficial, freeloading, husband-leeching Eddie - but the vitriolic barbs and zingers that fly from the pair (though let’s face it, mostly Patsy) are just enough to fill in the cracks.

There’s an almost endless parade of cameos all game for sending themselves up, and nearly every recurring character from the show (though sadly not Adrian Edmonson’s food critic) gets a look-in, with Kathy Burke’s magazine editor easily the scenery-devouring standout, while Barry Humphries makes a very welcome and memorably repulsive first appearance.

Much like ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA – dedicated fans are going to really love this Ab Fab top-up in the moment, but once the glitter settles we’ll be wishing something more had been made of the opportunity.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE is released July 1 in the UK, July 22 in the US, August 4 in Australia and August 12 in NZ.

Review: SUICIDE SQUAD

If BATMAN VS SUPERMAN hadn’t made about US$1 squillion at the box office, you’d almost have to feel sorry for Warner Bros. and DC. All of that good will earned from the dizzying heights of the Nolan DARK KNIGHT trilogy feels but a distant memory, and SUICIDE SQUAD puts those halcyon days even further over the horizon.

It was obviously seen as an economical way to quickly expand the DC cinematic universe ahead of their big gamble: next year’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, but once again, in their rush Warners (this time handing chief responsibility to writer/director David Ayer) has forgotten to tell a coherent story.

It’s really difficult to understate what a hot mess SUICIDE SQUAD is, but the first alarm bells start ringing in the opening minutes. In a Louisiana maximum security prison, we’re introduced to Deadshot (Will Smith), and then Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). We then break to a secret government meeting between the stony Amanda Wallace (Viola Davis), who outlines her plan to create a squad of ‘the worst of the worst’ currently in custody, forcing them to do the jobs that no-one else will, or possibly can. Cue some character introductions replete with title cards, beginning with… Deadshot and Harley Quinn. That’s right, within ten minutes we have redundant scenes. As if this problem needed compounding, one future member of the squad is left off of this roll call. It’s a clear, breezy ‘up yours’ to anyone with a memory longer than a snapchat.

The plot from there on in is similarly nonsensical. It should have been a simple INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS guys(-and-girls)-on-a-mission movie, only the script has clearly been shredded mid-shoot. It feels like Ayer was jettisoning scenes right after they were shot, as every day notes from the studio kept arriving, contradicting those he had been given the day before, and the day before that.

Then there’s characterisation: someone, somewhere along the line, has a problem trusting the audience with the concept of an anti-hero. Deadshot for example, beyond Smith’s solid performance, is motivated wholly by his love for his daughter, and claims to have been a wholly honourable professional assassin – he’s never spilled innocent blood. In actual fact, he’s really not that different from AMERICAN SNIPER’s Chris Kyle, especially if you believe the stories about what he did during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina (incidentally, Scott Eastwood appears as part of the military team accompanying the squad). This lot are supposed to be the worst of the worst, but few of them seem at all properly villainous – that’s left to Jared Leto’s Joker (really rather good in the 15 or so minutes of screen time he gets), and the big bads: ancient witch Enchantress (Cara Delavigne) and her brother Incubus (Alain Chanoine), who in looks, intent and dullness are a cocktail equal parts Gozer from GHOSTBUSTERS and Apocalypse from X:MEN APOCALYPSE.

Thankfully, not every character is wasted – Robbie embodies the mad Harley Quinn perfectly, and of the characters that aren’t short-changed with screen time, she alone gets through the film unscathed. Not physically, of course – that would be too straightforward for this production, but despite the rather disproportionate amount of abuse doled out to her (electrocuted, force fed, sent through a car windshield, punched, throttled and more), it’s a strong, focused performance.

The other thing that works in the film’s favour is the conscious attempt to bring more levity – rumour has it this was one of the studio notes, and it was for the best - more wouldn’t have hurt.

Behind the camera, there’s a significantly more saturated colour palate than the two Zack Snyder Superman films, but still a dark look. And – again – strangely for a film this expensive, there’s a curiously small scale to the whole thing. When the supernatural crisis develops, Midway City is quickly and conveniently evacuated - most of which happens in tight shots or off screen altogether. There are significantly more extras (real, CG or otherwise) in Game Of Thrones’ Battle of the Bastards than there are in the whole of SUICIDE SQUAD, leaving the action with a rather low-rent feel.

The timing and pacing are an ongoing shitshow. When the squad is assembled for the first time, they’re told to hurry into their kit before ‘wheels up in 10 minutes’. Once they’re in the thick of it, they (and we) are told that the crisis they have been sent to fix actually started three days ago. Technically it makes sense, but it’s distractingly messy, and clearly a wallpaper job. At around the midpoint, the true stakes of the mission are revealed to them (end of the world stuff), and they are given permission to walk away. The larrakin Boomerang (Jai Courtney) immediately does so, getting one of the best laughs in the film, but reappears in the very next scene. Ayer just can’t – or isn’t being allowed to – make up his mind.

Then there’s the music. Despite the big/McLarge/huge budget (the first 15 minutes burns through more money in rights than most entire movies), there’s a whole separate essay in how misjudged SUICIDE SQUAD’s soundtrack and its clumsy application is - suffice to say that it’s been selected by old people who don’t understand their target audience; it’s your Dad trying to program a playlist for a sweet 16 party with only his own CD collection – great songs they may be, but you might have to skew a little more recent than Eminem or circa 2013 Kanye West if you want to be down with the kids.

They even manage to cock up the post-credits sting. Those who will take time to wait for it will typically be the big fans, and there’s nothing here they won’t have already watched two weeks ago in the Comic Con JUSTICE LEAGUE footage reel (or indeed was on the clip reel dropped into BATMAN VS SUPERMAN). It tells you nothing you didn’t already know, and only succeeds in tying the ‘good guys’ further into ethical knots.

It might all seem more admirable if they were trying to invent something completely new, but no-one is re-inventing the wheel here; the fact that they're just hurriedly copying someone else's formula makes it worse. There are kernels of fun and excitement here and there, but in terms of being blatantly mangled by its creators and mostly just plain stupid, SUICIDE SQUAD is down there with last year’s FANTASTIC FOUR. At least this has a few more laughs and its winning Harley Quinn/Joker double act going for it.

SUICIDE SQUAD is released August 4 in Australia and NZ, and August 5 in the US and the UK.

Review: JASON BOURNE

We’re now fourteen years into the on-screen Bourne series: five films in total, with three of those – including JASON BOURNE - created by the star/director/editor team of Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse respectively.

Normally editors don’t get a mention in such groupings, but Rouse (who has cut all of Greengrass’ films since 2004’s THE BOURNE SUPREMACY) is of particular interest here not only because his cutting style has helped define the series, but also because for the first time he is here also credited as a co-screenwriter. Sadly though, in this particular instance that’s not going to make for a great calling card.

Ignoring 2012’s nearly Bourne-less THE BOURNE LEGACY, it’s been nearly ten years since the super spy was last seen. He’s been laying low, still stricken with guilt over what memories he has managed to retain, while simultaneously making enough money to survive and punish himself by allowing his bare knuckles boxing opponents to land more blows than they would ever realistically have a chance of achieving.

That changes when fellow ex-spook Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), now an activist and hacker, re-enters Bourne’s life with more important information about his past. She also knows what the ‘Treadstone’ program Bourne was a part of is soon about to evolve into: the sinister sounding ‘Iron Hand’. This instantly catches the attention of crochety-old-white-dude-in-charge-of-the-CIA-du-jour Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), who again sees Bourne as a threat and wants him immediately removed from the picture by fair means or foul.

JASON BOURNE has no problem providing evidence of the character’s continued relevance, wasting no time in dropping us into an austerity riot in Greece for its first big action sequence (handled, along with the rest of them, as magnificently as we’ve come to expect), and proceeds to deliver an avalanche of instantly recognisable references to all of the big government intrusion issues of the last decade: Edward Snowden, Wikileaks, the recent FBI vs. Apple phone security tussle, etc.. And of course, true to the series we’re constantly reminded of the reach of State-sponsored surveillance, and how easily it can be (and too often has been) abused.

Damon still fits the part perfectly, while Jones doesn’t need to stray far from his comfort zone to fulfill his duties. Bizarrely, the normally super-reliable Stiles appears to have forgotten how to act, turning in a distractingly wooden performance, although in fairness at least part of that should be chalked up to the lumbering exposition she’s saddled with. Getting far better shrift is Alicia Vikander as Dewey’s shrewd Millennial subordinate, who is less than convinced that Bourne needs to die (on a related note, Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy is – unless I missed something - conspicuous by her complete absence). The by now familiar, interchangeable role of 'asset' this time goes to the always excellent Vincent Cassell, while Riz Ahmed makes a good fist of his Zuckerberg-like part.

But for the first time, at the heart of the impeccably oiled action machine there feels a heavy-handedness to the storytelling – familial revelations (not far from Bond’s Austin Powers moment earlier this year, although this hits far closer to the mark than SPECTRE managed) feel like a lowballing plot device, while other genre tropes surface which are so old they actually induce giggles when they’re are dusted off (prepare your spy movie bingo cards now). There’s a lack of attention to realistic detail that the first three movies strove for; as Bourne hammers around Las Vegas in a luxury sedan, its airbag steadfastly refuses to deploy, even as it is ploughed into a casino marquee (despite Vincent Cassel having established earlier in the film that this is indeed a universe where automotive crash safety features do exist and function, even in a significantly cheaper vehicle). Place this against Bourne’s intelligent use of the humble seatbelt as he reverses a Mercedes off of a carpark roof in ULTIMATUM. Similarly, Snowden is sloppily misrepresented every time his name is mentioned.

But it’s all relative, of course: despite its flaws, JASON BOURNE is still a better, more cerebral action movie than most (especially this year), still managing to move with terrific strength and precision, and is worthy of your time – it only feels underwhelming by the near impossibly high standards of its predecessors.

JASON BOURNE is released July 28 in Australia and New Zealand, and July 29 in the US and UK.