Movies to watch this week at the cinema: Suicide Squad, Sweet Bean, more...

Out on Friday 5 August

David Ayer watches the world burn. A tasty Japanese drama. Punk returns to cinemas.

Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Suicide Squad, Sweet Bean, Sid and Nancy, Bobby Sands: 66 Days, The Carer, Up For Love, The Founders, and Songs For Amy.

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SUICIDE SQUAD

Cast and crew gave each other tattoos. Writer/director David Ayer (Training Day, Fury), an ex-Navy man, used military tactics to reduce his cast to a state of physical and mental exhaustion. A psychiatrist was available on set. Cara Delevingne, playing a witch, was told to use her spare nights dancing naked in the pale moonlight (she did). Jai Courtney, as Aussie bank robber Captain Boomerang, went so deep into character he stubbed cigarettes out on his arm. And, like you haven’t already heard, Jared Leto, playing a Joker that somehow needs to prance out of Heaths Ledger’s shadow, sent co-star Margot Robbie a dead rat.

Never mind Deadpool: Suicide Squad is the bad boy of superhero movies, a film that has proudly purported itself to be “unhinged”, “nightmarish” and “fucking insane” in promotional interviews. It’s Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice’s nasty, narky little brother. It’s A Clockwork Orange with special powers. It’s… not half as badass as you want it to be, but rather a major studio’s idea of being dangerously screwy, with even its soundtrack – ‘House Of The Rising Sun’, ‘Spirit In The Sky’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – designed for mainstream airplay.

Things start off well, with government hard-ass Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembling Task Force X, a team of misanthropic misfits who can help protect national security now that Superman’s in the ground. “In a world of flying men and monsters,” she barks at her colleagues over dinner, “this is the only way…”

For those uninitiated with DC’s cult comics (and needing to be brought rapidly up to speed with a bunch of characters who have not previously seen live action), Waller flicks through their files, one by one: Deadshot (Will Smith, reminding us of his star power), the world’s most wanted assassin; Harley Quinn (Robbie), an ex-psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum who first fell for patient the Joker (Jared Leto) and then into a vat of toxic liquid; Cap. Boomerang, whose drone devices return to him; fire-spraying meta-human Diablo (Jay Hernandez); Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man-beast being contained in a sewer-cell and who wants to be this movie’s Thing or Rocket Raccoon but is not as memorable; and aforementioned witch Enchantress (Delevingne), an ancient force who takes over Dr. June Moone (Delevingne again) when called upon, and whose physical-ethereal form, all billowing smoke and oozing embers, resembles one of Guillermo del Toro’s ghosts.

Led by ace military man (and Dr. Moone’s boyfriend) Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), they’re choppered into a burning Midway City to fight an unspecified, non-human, world-threatening evil, and to retrieve the equally mysterious HVT1. Suffice to say they must first battle their way past an army of frog-spawn-suited minions that came to Ayer in a dream (and, like most nightmare-monsters, lose all power when presented to others) while Midway City burns with detritus all about. Yes, this is essentially Escape from New York with a squad of Snake Plisskens and a side portion of sadistic Joker. Leto’s grinning loon haunts the periphery of the action, but sad to say, proves as empty as his laugh.

Early scenes are shot in tattoo-ink purples, gangrenous greens and electric blues, a palette that evinces Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies dosed with disease, though much of the action takes place in a world leeched of colour and forever soaked in rain. Frames shudder, edits jolt, and several images scorch the backs of eyeballs, not least Harley Quinn’s introduction – hanging upside down in a cage in the middle of a vast empty room, like some strip-joint Hannibal Lecter. Once busted out, she goes on to be Suicide Squad’s best and brightest, Robbie playing it coy and male-fantasy sexy, cute and crazy. Sure, it can be argued that Suicide Squad puts gender issues back by 30 years – its guys are covered, its ladies all but unclad, with Harley squeezed into itsy-bitsy shorts and a tight T emblazoned with ‘Daddy’s lil monster’ – but Robbie at least owns her sexuality enough to make fools out of the gawping guys. Hell, she and her offensive costume are the only real anarchy on display.

But Harley Quinn aside, the bantz is blunt, the arcs predictable (all these “psychotic social freaks” just wanna have happy home lives, dontcha know?) and the Big Bad straight out of Ghostbusters – fine in a ‘normal’ summer movie, but lacking any of the real threat posed by the knife crime and terrorism in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

It’s to be expected, certainly, when the budget is in the (reportedly) $250m range, and serious kudos should be given for introducing new characters to the screen in a summer of sequels and reboots. But consider this exchange: “Outside, you’re amazing. Inside, you’re ugly,” says Boomerang to Harley, to which she replies, “We all are. Except him [points to Killer Croc]. He’s ugly on the outside too.” Now that’s the film we want to see. The film we were promised. 

THE VERDICT: Starts off flavourful, turns rather bland. This Injustice League jaunt proves that DC is still a long way behind Marvel for on-screen action.

Director: David Ayer; Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtenay; Theatrical release: August 5. 2016

Jamie Graham

SWEET BEAN

In Naomi Kawase’s wistful drama, a morose seller of dorayaki (a Japanese confection of sweetened aduki-bean paste sandwiched between pancakes) meets an elderly woman who shows him the true way to prepare the paste from scratch, rather than buying it ready-made.

But the film’s about more than just food: as always with Kawase (2014’s Still the Water), it’s our relationship with nature that’s at the heart of the story, with broken or surrogate families featuring strongly. The action moves at the pace of the seasons; but for those who relax into its reflective mood, it offers much to savour.

Director: Naomi Kawase; Starring: Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida; Theatrical release: August 5, 2016

Philip Kemp

SID AND NANCY

Love kills; junk doesn’t help. It’s an old story, but shots of vital life enliven Alex Cox’s harrowing/heartfelt 1986 riff on the destructive love triangle between Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman), Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) and heroin.

A post-Meantime Oldman dives deep into the Sex Pistol’s hot-wired persona - a mess of sneer, ambition and surprising sweetness. Spiking the filth and fury of tainted love with disarming humour and lyricism, Cox doesn’t just plot an obvious decline: things do get grim, but he makes you care as you also despair for punk’s cracked casualties.

Director: Alex Cox; Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman; Theatrical release: August 5, 2016

Kevin Harley

BOBBY SANDS: 66 DAYS

Dramatised in Steve McQueen’s Hunger and Terry George’s Some Mother’s Son, Bobby Sands’ 1981 hunger strike – an entreaty to Thatcher’s government to recognise IRA inmates as political prisoners – is here given the documentary treatment.

Counting down the 66 days to Sands’ death, director Brendan J. Byrne calls on archive footage, expert talking heads and wordless re-enactments to analyse, contextualise and theorise, presenting a clear picture not just of Sands’ childhood and radicalisation, but also of Irish political history and ideology. Informed, balanced and deeply humane.

Director: Brendan J. Byrne; Starring: Fintan O'Toole. Raymond McCord,Dennis Sweeney, Richard English; Theatrical release: August 5, 2016

Jamie Graham

THE CARER

Chewing scenery and spouting soliloquies, Brian Cox steals with both hands Hungarian director János Edelényi’s English debut. Newcomer Coco König plays a carer for Cox’s retired thesp, a Parkinson’s sufferer who doesn’t want anyone helping him into his adult nappies. It’s only a small step from Scent of a Woman, but Cox elevates it with one of his strongest performances.

Director: János Edelényi; Starring: Fi Brian Cox, Coco Konig, Anna Chancellor, Emilia Fox, Karl Johnson, Andrew Havill; Theatrical release: August 5, 2016

Paul Bradshaw

UP FOR LOVE

After chatting with Alexandre (Jean Dujardin), the man who finds her phone, Diane (Virginie Efira) agrees to meet, only to find that he’s 4ft6 tall. Alexandre makes up for his literal shortcomings with charm; Diane struggles with falling for a “midget”. The film flirts with near-offensive gags and attitudes, but there’s inventive use of forced perspective, even if the focus should be more on Diane changing hers.

Director: Laurent Tirard; Starring: Jean Dujardin, Virginie Efira, Cédric Kahn; Theatrical release: August 5, 2016

Matt Looker

THE FOUNDERS

Non-golf fans won’t have a rough time with this doc, centred on the 13 women who set up the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1950. The four surviving members recall their fight against sexism, and how their passion for playing motivated them to arrange their own tournaments, becoming true pioneers for women’s sports. An inspiring – if occasionally saccharine – story, told with genuine affection.

Director: Carrie Schrader; Starring: Bella Lotz, Caleb Messer, Parker Sack; Theatrical release: August 5, 2016

Matt Looker

SONGS FOR AMY

For reasons best known to himself and the makers of this Galway-set rom-dram, level-headed Sean (Sean Maguire) goes on an extreme, bride-alienating bender the night before his wedding. There’s an undeniable sweetness to the songs our hero pens in an attempt to win Amy (Lorna Anderson) back – but his cause isn’t helped by stock characters, leisurely pacing and crude contrivances.

Director: Konrad Begg; Starring: Sean Maguire, Lorna Anderson, Barry Ward, Ross Mac Mahon, Ford Kiernan, Kevin Ryan; Theatrical release: August 5, 2016

Stephen Puddicombe