- S Grade; 5.0 Stars: The Best Film One Has Ever Seen, Everyone Has An S Film
- A+/A- Grade; 4.0/4.5 Stars: One Of The Best Films Of The Year, If Not All-Time
- B+/B- Grade; 3.0/3.5 Stars: Worth A Trip To The Theatre For First Viewing
- C+/C- Grade; 2.0/2.5 Stars: Watch From Home For First Viewing
- D+/D- Grade; 1.0/1.5 Stars: Don’t Bother Watching This At All If You Can Help It
- F Grade; 0.5 Star: One Of The Worst Films Of All-Time
- Reminder: Reviews For These Films Can Change Over Time And Will Be Reflected Over At Our Letterboxd
- The Plot: Supervillains Harley Quinn, Bloodsport, Peacemaker and a collection of nutty cons at Belle Reve prison join the super-secret, super-shady Task Force X as they are dropped off at the remote, enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese.
- The Review: It should be pretty well established by now for those who have followed my movie reviews even going back to before The Cinephile Café ever existed that I am not the biggest champion of the DCEU. I remain someone who liked but didn’t love 2013’s MAN OF STEEL, but since then their films have at best been mediocre to just okay for me - both 2017’s highly acclaimed WONDER WOMAN and this year’s well reviewed ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE included. I haven’t particularly hated their movies, as much as I just found myself walking away from them feeling like their unmemorable escapist flicks that never stuck with me. I know that might sting with the fanbase their films have built, but I’m just giving one man’s opinion. The only DCEU movie that I can say that I outright hated was 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD.
Meanwhile after years of being all-in on the MCU films, I’ve grown frustrated that they seem to have become stuck in a phase of generic and safe formulaic superhero flicks that are by no means bad movies, but just don’t reach the levels that they used to consistently hit. If you go back and read my BLACK WIDOW review you can really tell how frustrated I am with that franchise even though I do think their films are still above average in quality. Something that bends the genre and its tropes, pushing the boundaries and exploring new ways to tell stories of these modern mythical characters in the way such movies like 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT or 2014’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or 2014’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER or 2017’s THOR: RAGANROK did among others. Just something that doesn't feel so play by the numbers.
Enter James Gunn. The visionary Director who gave us the aforementioned GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, a film that blew me away so much in presenting a superhero flick as a space opera with a soundtrack that made the movie almost feel like a musical at times. I saw it in theatres for three straight days on opening weekend and it has ended up just behind PADDINGTON for my favorite film from that year. Its still to this day my all-time favorite MCU film.
A scandal in which bad jokes from Gunn’s past came back to haunt him cost him a job with Disney, leading to Warner Brothers snapping him up and giving him free reign to make a reboot to the aforementioned SUICIDE SQUAD. Disney quickly took him back but Gunn made it clear this DCEU project was the priority now. I was pissed when that happened, feeling like Disney botched the entire situation and cost us a longer wait for the third Guardians film in favor of a reboot to one of my least favorite comic book films of all time. Boy did that entire mess turn out to be a blessing in disguise because Gunn just gave me what I consider to be not just the greatest DCEU film I’ve ever seen, but the MCU movie I’ve been begging Marvel for years for.
This film subverts the genre in every way from the anti-hero protagonists that willingly kill their foes without hesitancy, the gore of the death scenes that an R rating provides (Seriously hire a babysitter for the kids when you go see this one), the fact not all our heroes will make it, the gall of the storytelling to show us innocent civilians biting it in ways other superhero flicks refrain from showing, the way flashbacks are used here in going back and forth in time like we were in the middle of a Tarantino movie, the raunchy humor, and the twists and turns with each story beat that almost serves as a purpose of course correcting every time the movie seemed to be playing dangerously with falling from the high bar it was achieving.
The large ensemble in this, and it is very large, all play their parts to perfection no matter how long they last in the story (As they warn you, “Don’t get too attached.”) Returning from the previous film are Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, and Joel Kinnaman who all clearly have found and connected with those characters in the years since - particularly Robbie who is having a blast with her third try at Harley Quinn. Idris Elba, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Peter Capaldi, and even Sylvester Stallone voicing a giant CGI shark named Nanaue or “King Shark” are added this time around with every one of them getting interesting character arcs and moments for each of them to shine. And yet with such a large ensemble and eclectic cast of personalities, my personal favorite ended up being Sebastian - a rat!
The film’s other pluses are beautiful colorful shots, including some fantastical sequences that make us feel at times like we’re in the middle of a comic book panel scene, a decent score and soundtrack, great editing, and a certain heel turn certain fans have been waiting a decade plus for.
The only negatives I have for the film is that there are very few times were the comedy can fall a tad flat, and there is one particular joke that I laughed at regarding a rescue mission for the character of Flag that I admittedly laughed out loud at but the lack of consequences from the actions to set up that joke did bother me a bit storytelling wise. As always if you’re squeamish when it comes to gore or want a very clear line between good and evil in your superhero films, this might not be your speed. If you don’t like Quentin Tarantino films for example, I’d stay away from this because it very much has that feel of a Tarantino superhero flick without the long dialogue driven scenes.
But this is ultimately James Gunn’s baby and he has given us a DCEU film that can be placed up there among the greatest superhero flicks in cinema’s history in my humble opinion. After years of begging for Marvel to give me a non-formulaic film, here comes a guy they almost lost giving me something completely different for the genre - but with the last studio and properties I’d expect it from. The ball is in your court Marvel, the guy you almost let go of just delivered a movie you will never be able to make and just changed the game on taking superhero movies into the Rated R category. A+ for THE SUICIDE SQUAD, finally some proof the comic book genre of films can be taken to new places - and it doesn’t necessarily have to be Marvel who takes them there.
- The Plot: Vivo, a one-of-kind kinkajou, must find his way from Havana to Miami in order to deliver a song on behalf of his beloved owner and mentor, Andrés.
- The Review: In what will be just the second of many Lin Manuel Miranda linked projects for the year, we get yet another Sony and Netflix partnership in giving us a new animated film in the form of the musical VIVO.
First and foremost as a musical the soundtrack and scoring are absolutely integral, and thankfully we get a solid set of songs in this infused with Latin flavor and even a little bit of hip-hop. You can absolutely tell that Miranda had a hand in how the music flowed. Second are the characters who are all solidly well written with each having their own arcs and motivations on top of personalities that identify each as a separate equal. Third, the animation is much better than I anticipated coming into this. Going back and forth from traditional animation and 3-D renderings to make each color shade and animated scene pop with purpose. Fourth and final, the voicework here is top notch from everyone on down from Lin Manuel Miranda to Zoe Saldana to even Gloria Estefan in a smaller role.
The first and third acts to the film offer us an emotional core and I found myself brushing off some tears now and then. The film’s core message of moving on from grief and leaving a legacy resonates and leaves you with a crowd pleasing ending even after all the emotions this puts you through.
Unfortunately, the middle of the film is a jumbled mess of badly executed filler and lazy writing that makes that section of the movie stand out as an ugly duckling in the middle of a makeup of Swans. Whereas the first and third acts feel like a top notch Pixar film, the middle feels like another B DreamWorks feature. Its a massive flaw that keeps an otherwise beautiful and nearly perfect movie from reaching that A tier, and I believe is the big reason this movie is getting a more middling reception than I think it arguably deserves among some critics and general audiences.
All in all, this is a great animated musical that uses great animation, an infusion of culture, a tale of friendship, and themes of passing on from grief and leaving a legacy to give us one of the better Netflix released animated films. Unfortunately it fails to quite reach its potential thanks to a middle section that really should have gotten some aggressive re-writing. B+ for VIVO. A wonderful and moving musical that overcomes a really rough second act.
- The Plot: A reclusive man conducts a series of interviews with human souls for a chance to be born.
- The Review: This film almost seems cursed in its release strategy. Originally premiering at last year’s Sundance film festival, it was set to release for a potential awards run last year and was even shown at some virtual film festivals. Then, like that, it was pulled from release literally last second and for whatever reason place right smack in the middle of the Blockbuster dominated Summer movie season. I wasn’t too surprised that my screening to this had severely low attendance. That said the film has had such massive good word of mouth, that I was extremely excited to finally see this one for myself after it went wide this past weekend.
I can report back that this thankfully more than lived up to the hype. Offering us a film that forces us to ask questions about existence, purpose, destiny, and legacy. Every soul that comes knocking on our protagonist’s door as a candidate to join Earth each has distinctive personalities, lessons learned from the process of applying to earn a life, hopes and dreams of their own, and even have their own separate moments to shine even as they are taken out of the process one by one. Hell, even how each responds to being removed varies - which creates poignant moments when we see them eliminated. And what makes the the process of elimination so brutal at times is that no soul is honestly in my mind a bad choice, each of them are legitimate choices but only one can make it through to the other side.
But there’s more to the story, including a well written arc to our protagonist played by Winston Duke in an Oscar worthy performance in any other year or with a much better release strategy. He’s haunted by a tragedy that befalls one of his previous choices, it ultimately becoming a major factor in his decisions on who gets to advance in the application process. Giving him his own reasons to question a reason for living just as much as the souls he’s recruiting. All culminating in an ending that leaves us realizing this was as much his journey as the other souls.
The only negatives I'd give this is the pacing does have at issues, and yet it does feel like certain subplots could've been explored even further. But otherwise the film tells the story it wants to tell. A- for NINE DAYS. It is criminal this movie will struggle to find a bigger audience thanks to Sony Classics’ incompetence.