Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Year of Release:  2013
Director:  Isao Takahata
Screenplay:  Isao Takahata and Riko Sagacuchi, based on the folk tale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter
Starring:  Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, Takeo Chii, Nobuko Miyamoto
Running Time:    137 minutes
Genre:    Drama, fantasy, animation

This is one of the most beautiful films ever made.  made by Japan's legendary Studio Ghibli, and based on the traditional Japanese folk tale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, with first appeared in print in the tenth century, and was old even then, the story revolves around an elderly bamboo cutter,   Miyatsuko (Chii), who discovers a miniature girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot.  Miyatsuko and his wife decide to raise her as their own.  The girl grows and learns astonishingly rapidly.  Miyatsuko discovers gold, jewels and fine clothes in the bamboo grove, again hidden in glowing shoots.  With his new-found wealth, Miyatsuko moves his family to the capital and buys their way into the gentry, having his daughter formally named Princess Kaguya (Asakura).  Her astonishing beauty captivates those around her, and Kaguya soon finds herself trapped.

The animation is stunning in beautiful charcoal, crayon, pastel colours, it has the look and feel of traditional Japanese art.  The story moves slowly, and has a surprisingly dark conclusion, but it's full of beautiful moments, it looks and feels like a dream, taking the viewer into a remote world.  The film constructs the social world of 10th century Japan, but Kaguya is a very modern character, who just wants agency over her own life, and finds herself being thrust into situations by her well-intentioned father, wants to return to the time when she felt truly happy.  As with many Studio Ghibli films, this has a real feel for the natural world, and a forgotten rural life.

Possibly too slow and dark for some viewers, if you surrender to this beautiful dream of a film you will be rewarded with one of the most uplifting and devastating experiences you are ever likely to see on screen.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Wednesday, 24 August 2016


Year of Release:  2015
Director:  Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay:  Taylor Sheridan
Starring:  Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Victor Garber
Running Time:  121 minutes
Genre:  crime, drama, action, thriller

This is a powerful crime thriller.  Following a raid on a suspected Mexican drug cartel's safehouse, young FBI agent Kate Marcer (Blunt) is recommended for a task force led by CIA agent Matt Graver (Brolin) and involving the ruthless and mysterious Alejandro (del Toro).  The task force's mission is to bring down the powerful cartel which owned the safehouse.  However, as the operation progresses, Kate becomes increasingly concerned about the task force's brutal tactics, and dubious morality.

There has been no shortage of gritty thrillers about drugs and guns on the Mexican-American border, but this is certainly one of the better ones.  It's a complex story that deals with the moral questions of the "War on Drugs", and how it has the potential to corrupt the very people whose job it is to protect, and the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are completely blurred here.  The title, "sicario", is Mexican for "hitman", and that applies both to the cartels and the task force assigned to bring them down.  

In the lead role Emily Blunt has too little to do, initially she is the audience surrogate, as the new person on the team she is there to get the situation and the mission explained to her/us.  However, she becomes the heart of the film.  She provides the film's humanity and moral compass, along with Daniel Kaluuya as Kate's protective partner and friend.  Benicio del Toro shines as the quietly terrifying Alejandro who is mostly quietly in the background until he snaps into action in truly shocking ways.

The pacing flags at times, and the story is a little shapeless, but this is well above the typical crime thriller and provides much food for thought.  The action scenes are well handled  and exciting.  It's a fascinating, and at times gripping thriller, and by the end it is devastating.

      Emily Blunt in Sicario

Monday, 22 August 2016

Mystery Train

Year of Release:  1989
Director:  Jim Jarmusch
Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Starring:  Youki Kudoh, Masatoshi Nagase, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Cinque Lee, Nicoletta Braschi, Elizabeth Bracco, Rick Aviles, Joe Strummer, Steve Buscemi,
Running Time:  113 minutes
Genre:  comedy-drama

This film collects three separate but connected stories, all set during the same 24 hour period in Memphis, Tennessee, linked by a run-down hotel, a single gunshot and the legacy of Elvis Presley.  A teenage Japanese couple visit Memphis on a rock 'n' roll pilgrimage, Mitsuko (Kudoh) is crazy about the King, while Jun (Nagase) is more of a Carl Perkins man.  A young Italian widow, Luisa (Braschi), is stranded in Memphis during an unexpected 24 hour layover while escorting her husband's body back to Italy. A hapless barber, Charlie (Buscemi), is unwittingly involved in a liquor store robbery by his drunk, English brother-in-law (Strummer).

This is a slow, melancholy movie.  It's funny but it is comedy of the most deadpan sort.  Jarmusch once commented that he makes films out of the parts that other directors cut out, and this really feels like that.  It's a film full of long pauses, meandering conversations and long sequences of characters wandering around.  It is strangely affecting and haunting though.  The stories with the Japanese couple and the Italian widow capture the feeling of being in a strange city, far from home, and the story about the barber features one of the best scenes of drunkenness on film.  The story with the barber is probably the most mainstream segment, and is Tarantinoesque before Quentin Tarantino, including a conversation about Lost in Space that could almost have been written by Tarantino.  The stories are connected by scenes with Screamin' Jay Hawkins as the night manager of the hotel and Cinque Lee as a porter, who provide some of the film's funniest moments, with Hawkins being able to bring the laughs and express so much with just one look.  There are some great performances from Kudoh, Nagase and Braschi.  Buscemi's put-upon barber and Strummer's aggressive Brit are hilarious together.  Music is ever present in the film, Elvis Presley is referenced in all three of the stories, the Japanese couple are fascinated by American rock 'n' roll, and there are several musicians in the cast:  Soul singer Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Joe Strummer who was frontman for British rock group The Clash, and Tom Waits lends his gravely tones as the voice of a late-night radio DJ.  

Jarmusch's brand of cool, deadpan whimsy won't appeal to everyone.  It is slow and not much happens for a lot of the film, but it is one of Jarmusch's most accessible films and the epitome of American indie cool.  If you think you might have a taste for underground or more indie films, this is a good place to start.  It's also a haunting paean to American pop-culture which will resonate in the mind long after the end credits have rolled.

   Late Night Grande Hotel:  Cinque Lee and Screamin' Jay Hawkins in Mystery Train

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Wind Rises

Year of Release:  2013
Director:  Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay:  Hayao Miyazaki, based on the manga Kaze Tachinu by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring:  Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishjima, Masahiko Nishimura, Stephen Alpert, Morio Kazama
Running Time:  126 minutes
Genre:  animation, biography

This animated film from acclaimed writer/director Hayao Miyazaki, tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi (Anno), who dreams of flying, and aware that he can never become a pilot due to his poor eyesight, decides to become an aeroplane designer, under the influence of celebrated Italian aircraft designer Count Caproni (Alpert).

The film tells Horikoshi's story from childhood until the end of World War II, taking in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and his doomed romance with the beautiful Naoko (Takimoto). This is a beautiful film, featuring some of the most stunning animation to be seen on screen. The film shows one of the main dichotomies of Miyazaki's work, an avowed pacifist, he has a fascination with the machinery of war, particularly aircraft.  The film depicts flight as a "cursed dream" evolving from pure, honorable motives, but corrupted for military purposes.

This shows the ability of animated film to depict drama in a way that live action film can't.  Moving between Horikoshi's dreams and reality, it's vibrant images make the past come alive.  It may be too slow-moving for some, and it's debatable how close it sticks to the real story (I'm no expert on the real story, but by all accounts it does take liberties with Jiro Horikoshi's real life), but it is a beautiful and powerful film, with a stunningly moving climax.  Miyazaki has said that he was inspired to make the film by a statement from Jiro Horikoshi that "All I wanted to do was create something beautiful."  By which criteria this film is a resounding success.      

Jiro and Naoko in The Wind Rises

Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Martian

Year of Release:  2015
Director:  Ridley Scott
Screenplay:  Drew Goddard, based on the novel The Martian by Andy Weir
Starring:  Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie
Running Time:  141 minutes
Genre:  science-fiction, drama

This thrilling science-fiction survival story is adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Andy Weir.  The manned Ares III mission on Mars is aborted early due to a violent storm, during the evacuation, astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is hit by a piece of debris and, presumed dead, is left behind on the surface of Mars.  Watney finds himself completely alone on a desolate planet, and faced with finding a way to get in contact with Earth, and keeping himself alive long enough to be rescued, with a rapidly diminishing supply of food, drink and air.

The film moves between Watney's desperate attempts to survive on Mars and the efforts back on Earth to retrieve him.  It's an exciting, straightforward story, which is gripping, despite the fact that it is basically about one man alone on a planet.  Matt Damon makes Watney a likeable and engaging anchor for the film, and he has strong support from a large and impressive cast.  It benefits from the switching back and forth between Mars, Earth and the mission's spaceship, opening up the narrative and making it far more than a one man show.  It's a deeply human film, about people trying to save one life.  All the conflict in the film comes from people arguing about how best to do that.

It is worth pointing out that this is a science-fiction film but there are no aliens or killer robots or anything like that, instead it tries to be relatively realistic.  Although it is worth pointing out that in reality, a Martian storm would only really be like a light breeze, rather than the raging hurricane depicted in the film.

By and large it is pretty faithful to the Weir novel and the dialogue is witty and there is plenty of humour to alleviate the tension, and quirky and amusing details such as the frequent 1970s songs on the soundtrack (the only music that Watney has available to him in his shelter).

Aside from a couple of moments of introspection there is little of the angst and despair that the situation might engender, which strikes a bit of a false note.  However this is a hugely enjoyable film.

    Matt Damon is The Martian

David Brent: Life on the Road

Year of Release:  2016
Director:  Ricky Gervais
Screenplay:  Ricky Gervais, based on characters created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Starring:  Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey Smith, Andy Burrows, Tom Basden, Jo Hartley, Rebecca Gethings, Tom Bennett
Running Time:  96 minutes
Genre:  comedy

In 2001 the TV series The Office, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, was first broadcast and became almost immediately one of the most influential comedy shows in the last 20 years.  The show's most memorable character was David Brent (played by Gervais) the "boss from Hell", a mid-level office manager who described himself as "a friend first, boss second... probably entertainer third". In this feature film outing, Brent is now a sales rep for a company selling cleaning and sanitary products, but has not given up on his dreams of fame and fortune, and is lead singer and songwriter in the band Forgone Conclusion.  The film follows Forgone Conclusion on their three week tour of bars, clubs and student unions.

Like The Office, this film uses the "mockumentary" style of filming, and cringe humour with most of the comedy revolving around David Brent either completely dying on stage or saying something horribly offensive and inadvertently insulting or annoying everyone around him.  Ricky Gervais was a musician before he became a comedian and he can sing quite well.  One of the funniest elements in the show are Brent's terribly songs, that are either horribly offensive or ridiculously over-specific.  The film is funny, although the humour will be offensive to some people, and there is a level of heart to it.  Brent says horribly offensive things, but it seems more due to crassness, insensitivity and misguided attempts at bonding than from any real malice.  Ultimately Brent is presented as something of a tragic figure, who really just wants acceptance, friendship and fulfillment, as he continues to blow all of his own money after dreams of rock stardom.

Gervais, of course, is good as Brent, the character that made him a star, but Ben Bailey Smith (aka rapper Doc Brown) steals the show as Brent's bemused friend and bandmate.

The film sags a little towards the middle and falls into the common trap of big screen adaptation of British sitcoms where it feels like a blown-up Christmas special of the show, and to be fair this would probably be better seen on the small screen (I think it's being distributed on Netflix outside the UK).  As I said before, there is also a lot of humour that people will find offensive, so if you are not familiar with the UK version of The Office or Ricky Gervais' style of humour, proceed with caution.

However if you are a fan of The Office and/or Ricky Gervais' other works than you will probably enjoy it.

    Jo Hartley and Ricky Gervais in David Brent:  Life on the Road

Friday, 19 August 2016

Spirited Away

Year of Release:  2001
Director:  Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay:  Hayao Miyazaki
Starring:  Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki, Bunta Sugawara, Yumi Tamai, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Takehiko Ono, Akio Nakamura,
Running Time:  124 minutes
Genre:  fantasy, animation

This is one of the best loved films from Japan's celebrated Studio Ghibli.  Ten year old Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi) is not happy at all about moving home and leaving her friends behind, on the way to their new house, her parents take a wrong turn and the Ogino family find themselves in what at first appears to be an abandoned theme park.  However, Chihiro soon learns that it is much more that that, when her parents start eating some food that has been left out, and become transformed into pigs.  Trapped in a bizarre fantasy world, Chihiro's only hope of changing her parents back and returning them all safely to their own world is to take a job in a bathhouse for spirits and other creatures, run by  a dangerous witch, Yubaba (Natsuki).

This was the highest grossing film in Japanese history when it was released, and won Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards.  Hayao Miyazaki came up with the idea when he spent the summer at a mountain cabin with his family and some of his ten year old daughter's friends.  During the vacation, Miyazaki read through some of the manga that the girls had brought up and was disappointed to find that it mainly focused on crushes and romance.  Feeling that this was not what the girls "held dear in their hearts", Miyazaki made Spirited Away specifically for these girls, witha  heroine they could look up to.

The animation in the film is stunning, mixing traditional hand-drawn animation with computer technology, to dazzling effect.  The animation creates a world that has texture and life to it, the food looks like it has taste and the objects look like they have weight and solidity to them.  It creates a world that is truly a self-contained fantasy world with it's own rules and laws, but that also feels strangely familiar, with such strangely haunting aspects as the lonely trains that occasionally run through the water-logged landscape.  Chihiro is an affecting lead character, initially seeming quite sullen, and whiny, she relies on her courage, intelligence, persistence and kindness to survive.  

There are several themes recurring Miyazaki themes in the film:  a strong heroine, environmental awareness, ambiguous villains, the conflict between tradition and modernity in Japan, and criticism of greed and corruption.

While not Miyazaki's best film, this is a wonderful fantasy and a classic of animation.

Chihiro finds herself Spirited Away

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Only Yesterday

Year of Release:  1991
Director:  Isao Takahata
Screenplay:  Isao Takahata, based on the manga Omoide Poro Poro by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone 
Starring: Miki Imai. Toshiro Yanagiba, Yoko Honna
Running Time:  118 minutes
Genre:  drama, animation, slice of life

This lyrical, animated drama is one of the lesser known classics in the catalogue of Japan's legendary Studio Ghibli.  It tells the story of Taeko, a 27 year old, unmarried, office worker living in Tokyo.  Taking a ten day holiday from work she travels to a remote farm owned by the elder brother of her brother-in-law, to help with the safflower harvest.  Along the way she drifts back to memories of her ten year old self in 1966.  Increasingly nostalgic and wistful, Taeko's memories and dreams make her realise what she really wants from life.

This is a genuinely powerful film, which, in it's quiet way, is a masterpiece.  It deals with themes of memory, city versus country, and the relationship between adults and the children they once were.  The "present day" (or 1980s) sequences have a particularly realistic look to them, unusually for Japanese animation, the dialogue for these scenes was recorded before the animation was produced.  For the 1966 sequences, a more typical anime style is used for the characters, with the backgrounds done in  a sketchy watercolour style, which shows how memory can be.  If you look back to your own childhood memories, some elements may stand out vividly, but a lot of them are fainter and more unreal.  It also takes us into Taeko's dreams and fantasies, which are vividly depicted.

The film takes it's time and beautifully evokes the rhythms of rural life, as well as the triumphs and heartbreaks of childhood.  The film suggests that we are at our purest, most honest selves as children, and that as adults, we have to reconnect with the children that we once were.  Sometimes sweet, sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, this is a gentle dream of a film.

      The past meets the present in Only Yesterday

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Our Little Sister

Year of Release:  2015
Director:  Hirokazu Koreeda
Screenplay:  Hirokazu Koreeda, based on the manga Unimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshida
Starring:  Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose
Running Time:  126 minutes
Genre:  Drama, slice-of-life

This Japanese film is a gentle, quiet take on family life.  The three adult Koda sisters live in a  large house in Kamakura.  The eldest, Sachi (Ayase) is a nurse, and the de facto matriarch of the clan, Yoshino (Nagasawa) is a bank teller, and has a tendency to get drunk and involved with useless men, Chika (Kaho) is the youngest and works in a sporting goods store.  Their house was left to them by their grandmother.  When the women were children, their father left the family for another woman, and they have not seen him for fifteen years.  Their mother left them shortly afterwards, leaving Sachi to look after her younger sisters, and Sachi still resents her for this.  Having been notified of their father's death, the sisters attend his funeral, where they learn they have a hitherto unknown half-sister, fourteen year old Suzu (Hirose).  Charmed by Suzu's liveliness and responsibility, the three sisters invite her to come and live with them, which Suzu eagerly agrees to.

This is the kind of quiet, wistful film that Japanese cinema does so well.  Very little actually happens in the film.  Sachi strikes up a tentative relationship with a married man, Yoshino gets a promotion at work, and tries to help the kindly owner of a local cafe, Suzu makes friends at school and proves to have a real talent for soccer.  All four deal with complex family ties.  Even the more soap opera elements in the various storylines are very low-key. The characters also eat, a lot, in fact barely five minutes of screentime pass without at least one person eating or drinking, or food being seen or referenced.  Food is depicted as a point of connection.  The sisters eat together most of the time, friendships are forged or solidified with gifts of food, and families are brought together by recipes passed down through generations.                

This is a film full of small delights, which is emotional but largely unsentimental.  There are darker elements that are brought up but, mostly, left in the background.  The film features some fine performances, and is beautifully shot.  The characters are engaging, but often flawed.   However they are likeable, and by and large try to do the right thing.  People are flawed here, but change and forgiveness are always possible.  This is a wistful, gently joyful tale.

Kaho, Haruka Ayase, Suzu Hirose and Masami Nagasawa in Our Little Sister

Monday, 8 August 2016

Ivan's Childhood

Year of Release:  1962
Director:  Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay: Vladimir Bogomolov and Mikhail Papava, based on the short story Ivan by Vladimir Bogomolov
Starring:  Kolya Burlyayev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgeniy Zharikov, Stepan Krylov, Nikolay Grinko
Running Time:  94 minutes
Genre:  War, drama

This is the astonishing debut film from legendary Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky.  It's set on the Eastern Front during World War II.  Twelve year old Ivan (Burlyayev) is used as a scout by the Russian Army, and he is very good at it, being able to infiltrate enemy lines fairly easily on account of his small size.  However his commanding officers, who are fond of him, want to send Ivan to a military school, where he will be safe.  Ivan however, is desperate for revenge on the Nazis who killed his parents, and wants to fight on the front line.

This is a war movie where very little combat is actually shown.  It mostly consists of long conversations in grimy makeshift military bases and burned out buildings, and long shots of nature.  There are several, flashbacks and dream sequences to Ivan's earlier life with his mother, shown in shimmering silver with beautiful full, leafy trees and blooming forests and meadows.  His real life, however is grimy, dirty, dangerous, desolate, and bleak.  However, it is all shot very beautifully.  Few directors have captured the natural world as beautifully as Tarkovsky, or have found such poetry and beauty in desolation.  Tarkovsky believed in the power of long takes, that after boredom comes curiosity and a deeper connection to the audience.  This is not really a film to be enjoyed.  It is very slow moving, as you may have already guessed, and very bleak.  It is also a very beautiful and important film, and is a startling piece of art, and this really is film as art.  Those familiar with Tarkovsky's later films will see many of his hallmarks on display here:  such as ruined buildings, nature, bells and water.

I would not recommend seeing this if you just want to be entertained on a Friday night, however if you want to see a real, beautiful piece of art, that will trouble you, haunt you and stay with you long after the end, than this is thoroughly recommended.

           Kolya Burlyayev in Ivan's Childhood

Sunday, 7 August 2016

"The Fireman" by Joe Hill

Year of Publication:  2016
Length:  752 pages
Genre:  Science-fiction, horror, apocalypse

The world is plagued by an incurable spore nicknamed "Dragonscale".  It initially manifests itself as beautiful, intricate tattoo-like markings in black and gold all over the host's body.  This may be all well and good, however, there is the slight problem that sooner or later the spore causes the host to burst into flame and burn to death.  With fires on every street corner, and anyone liable to burst into flame at a moment's notice, civilization collapses with the human race divided between those who are infected with Dragonscale and those terrified of infection.  Cheery school nurse Harper Grayson becomes infected with the spore at around the time that she becomes pregnant.  Knowing that there is a very real probability that the baby will not be infected with Dragonscale, Harper determines to stay alive at least long enough to give birth.  Escaping from her increasingly unstable husband, Jakob, Harper discovers a community of the infected who have discovered a way to control the Dragonscale infection.  However, as time goes on, and conditions worsen in the camp, Harper's situation becomes increasingly perilous, not least because of the constant threat of discovery by roving bands of vigilante "Cremation Squads" who hunt and execute the infected.  Harper's only hope of survival lies with the Fireman, John Rookwood, who has learned the ability to not only control Dragonscale, but to harness it's power and use it to his own ends.

The theme of the world devastated by a deadly disease is hardly new or original, but this book at least has an imaginative plague.  Joe Hill is a very talented writer and he manages the no mean feat of keeping the reader's attention over a very long novel.  That being said, it is quite flabby in places, particularly there are scenes in the infected community, which could be cut, but the characters are engaging enough that it is fun to spend time with them.  Harper is a likeable and engaging lead character who is trying not just to survive, but to retain her innate goodness and optimism in the face of the constant horror she's confronted with.  This is at times a very bloody, gruelling book, but the theme of it is essentially hope, and it has a big beating heart at it's core.  Hill has a tendency towards putting in a few too many in-jokes, there are several references, subtle and not so subtle, to amoing others The Stand by Stephen King, and the plot rides too heavily on coincidence in some places, but this is still a cut above most apocalyptic novels.  As someone who is not a particular fan of that genre, and who approached this book with some caution, I really enjoyed it a lot.  It's a big, exciting, entertaining and often powerful read about hope in the face of chaos.



Saturday, 6 August 2016

Suicide Squad

Year of Release:  2016
Director:  David Ayer
Screenplay:  David Ayer, based on characters from DC Comics
Starring:  Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara
Running Time:  123 minutes
Genre:  Action, superhero

This film had a lot of weight on it before release.  After the critical failure of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), this was the film that, it was hoped, would salvage the DC Comics Cinematic Universe.  The story takes up shortly after the events of Batman v Superman.  Realising that the American people are now living in a world of supermen, batmen and wonder women, and all their dastardly villains too, intelligence agent Amanda Waller (Davis) devises a task force made up of dangerous "metahuman" (superpowered) criminals: Elite hitman Deadshot (Smith), the deranged Harley Quinn (Robbie), pyrokinetic ex-gangster El Diablo (Hernandez), opportunistic thief Captain Boomerang (Courtney), reptilian cannibal Killer Croc (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), mercenary Slipknot (Adam Beach), and powerful, ancient witch The Enchantress whose spirit inhabits the body of archaeologist Dr. June Moone  (Delevingne).  The idea is that they will be forced to combat any alien or metahuman threat.  They are put under the command of  tough Colonel Rick Flagg (Kinnaman), who is also June's boyfriend and hopes to rid her of The Enchantress.  The members of the task force are implanted with small but lethal bombs to ensure their compliance, and are watched over by swordfighter Katana (Fukuhara), whose sword harvests souls.  Of course, before long they are sent out on a mission against an otherworldly threat, while also being pursued themselves by Harley's psychotic and abusive boyfriend, The Joker (Leto).

The behind the scenes stories surrounding this film have become almost legendary (for example Jared Leto, who allegedly never broke character throughout the entire shoot, sending dead rats and other animals to members of the cast).  The film was also heavily edited after test screenings.  The film is kind of messy, it tries to pack too much into too short a time and suffers from the problem that a lot of franchise movies seem to have of feeling like a trailer for other movies.  The tone is inconsistent throughout, moving from fizzy, day-glo, punk-rock style to a dour, gloomy action film and back again.  However there is a lot to like about it and it is an entertaining film.  The action scenes, by and large, are exciting and well choreographed, and the characters are intriguing (unfortunately many of the Squad members, such as Katana and Killer Croc never really get a chance to shine).  The performances are good with Will Smith as charismatic as ever, making Deadshot an appealing and interesting character, despite being a ruthless assassin, with a cliched backstory (he's doing it for his daughter, bless 'im).  Margot Robbie is superb as the volatile Harley Quinn, although Jared Leto, for all his method acting,  makes the Joker like a particularly eccentric 1940s crime boss, without the nihilistic edge that Heath Ledger had in The Dark Knight (2008).  Also it never really explores the sheer wrongness of Harley and the Joker's relationship.  Viola Davis impresses as the chilling Amanda Waller, who is a big believer in the ends justifying any means.  Ben Affleck appears briefly as Batman.

The DC Comics movies seem to be aiming for a darker tone to the essentially upbeat Marvel Comics films, and that is no bad thing.  Although, aside from Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy which seems to have been removed from the DC Cinematic Universe, there has yet to be a truly great film, but hopefully that will come.

Suicide Squad is a fun, exciting mess, that has a lot wrong, but is never less than entertaining.  Hopefully there will be a director's cut released at some point.

Meet the Suicide Squad: Jai Courtney, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Karen Fukuhara, Joel Kinnaman, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Jay Hernandez