The Suicide Squad

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 10/26/21;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $55.8 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Stars Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Alice Braga, Peter Capaldi, Taika Waititi, Jai Courtney, Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg, Pete Davidson, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, Jennifer Holland, Sylvester Stallone, Dee Bradley Baker.

Writer-director James Gunn’s subversive follow-up to 2016’s Suicide Squad resets the franchise by embracing the absurdity inherent in comic book movies.

Like its predecessor, The Suicide Squad is based on the DC Comics series about a team of supervillains who are blackmailed into conducting black ops for the American government through the threat of an explosive chip in their head. The 2016 edition, while a financial success, was panned by critics and audiences after it was infamously re-edited by a trailer company into essentially a series of vignettes set to popular music, trying to capture some of the magic that made Guardians of the Galaxy work so well.

So, for the sequel, DC just brought in Gunn, writer-director of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. The hire came shortly after Gunn was fired by Marvel over some questionable tweets in his past, only to be re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which he’s working on now.

The Suicide Squad is just another example of why he’s such a good fit for these kinds of movies: a keen understanding of the source material, and a willingness to poke fun at it without undermining the credibility of the story. Here, Gunn assembles a team of some of the silliest comic book concepts ever created, gives their characters emotional depth, and makes it all work.

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This is one of the bloodiest comic book movies ever made, but also one of the funniest, with Gunn expertly finding the balance between the two extremes, beginning with an absolutely insane opening sequence that will leave audiences without a clue of what to expect from this movie.

The story involves the team heading to a tropical island to dispose of a top secret project before the new military dictatorship can expose U.S. involvement in its development. Idris Elba grounds the mission as Bloodsport, a weapons expert. He has a bit of a rivalry with the team’s other weapons expert, Peacemaker (John Cena), as they try to outdo each other running up the movie’s body count. With his earnest penchant for killing anything that stands in his way to achieve “peace,” Peacemaker would seem to be Gunn’s metaphor for American foreign policy (though Gunn found the character appealing enough to write an eight-episode TV spinoff about him, set to debut on HBO Max in 2022).

Other standouts on the team include King Shark, literally a walking, talking man-eating shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone; Ratcatcher II (Daniela Melchior), who uses her deceased father’s technology to control the minds of rats; Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), who was experimented on by his mother with an interdimensional virus that gives him the power to expel dots of deadly energy; and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), one of the few holdovers from the first movie, along with team commander Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), the government agent who will detonate their heads if they disobey her.

Like the first movie, the sequel has plenty of songs, but thanks to Gunn, they are well integrated into the structure of the film, rather than seemingly played at random.

The Suicide Squad is fun, vibrant and visually distinctive like a graphic novel come to life, though its hard-‘R’ sensibilities may not appeal to everybody.

The Blu-ray edition of The Suicide Squad comes loaded with hours of insightful bonus material about the making of the film, including a good solo commentary with Gunn.

There are also about 17 minutes of deleted scenes that don’t amount to much, so it’s easy to see why they were cut.

Also included are three fun retro trailers done in the style of 1960s war movies, 1970s horror movies and 1980s buddy cop movies.

The regular Blu-ray Disc of the film contains all the extras. The 4K disc includes just the commentary and one featurette, a seven-minute breakdown of Harley Quinn’s violent escape sequence.

Originally published as a streaming review Aug. 9, 2021.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Animated;
Not rated.
Voices of Helen Sadler, Omar Benson Miller, Jake Green, Eric Bauza, A.J. LoCascio, Matt Sloan, Trevor Devall, Matt Lanter, Tom Kane, Matthew Wood, Dee Bradley Baker, James Arnold Taylor, Grey Griffin, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams.

To say the “Star Wars” franchise hasn’t had the best of luck with holiday specials would be an understatement.

In 1978, a year and a half after the release of the first “Star Wars” film, CBS aired the original Star Wars Holiday Special for its one and only time Nov. 17. Seizing on the continued excitement surrounding the first movie and anticipation of a sequel, the special re-united the original cast, and was so notoriously awful, with cheap production values and a dreadful variety show format, that “Star Wars” creator George Lucas once wished for every copy to be burned.

In the ensuing years, it was distributed solely through bootleg VHS and DVD copies, shared from one fan to the next and achieving a certain cult status before the Internet made it more readily viewable for everyone.

The story involved Han, Luke, Leia, C-3PO and R2-D2 helping Chewbacca return to his home planet to be with his family for Life Day, the “Star Wars” equivalent of Christmas, while avoiding Darth Vader’s efforts to capture them. While a series of notable guest stars popped in for jaw-droppingly bad musical numbers, the special’s most significant claim to fame was an animated segment that served as the introduction of Boba Fett before his appearance in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.

While much of the special is no longer considered canonical, many elements from it have been reintroduced into “Star Wars” lore over the years, particularly and most recently through references in “The Mandalorian.”

Fans have certainly embraced the concept of Life Day, celebrated the unofficial “Star Wars” holiday every year on Nov. 17. Fittingly, then, and with a healthy sense of humor, Disney+ presented the franchise’s second holiday special on that very day, and this time the results are much more favorable.

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Instead of repeating the mistake of the first special and presenting it as a sequel to the first movie, the new one uses the animation style and sensibilities of the “Lego Star Wars” world, making it more of an homage to “Star Wars” than a continuation of it. Filtering the special through the “Lego” lens gives “Star Wars” fans a chance to enjoy a lighthearted, yet still heartfelt, poke at their favorite franchise.

Picking up after the events of Rise of Skywalker, the story finds Rey doubting her ability to train a new generation of Jedi. While her friends prepare the Millennium Falcon to celebrate Life Day with Chewie’s family, Rey consults the ancient Jedi texts and learns of a temple that offers a key to the insight she seeks, but is accessible only once a year on the holiday. While the Life Day celebration begins to spin out of control, Rey journeys to the temple and finds the key opens a doorway through space and time, allowing her to visit significant moments in “Star Wars” history, a trip that descends into chaos when the characters of the various eras begin to interact.

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The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special crams a lot of gags into its 44-minute running time, drawing inspiration from the entire 43-year history of the franchise and putting the characters in fun but absurd situations that, because its Lego, doesn’t detract from actual canon.

It has all the “anything goes” feeling of kids playing with their “Star Wars” toys waiting for Christmas dinner, and with letting imagination run wild definitely makes for a winning combination.