Suicide Squad 4/5
Bobby Sands: 66 Days 5/5
Sweet Bean 4/5
Superhero movies have grown increasingly dark in tone in recent years, but D.C. Comics’ Suicide Squad (15A) takes the trend to its logical conclusion.
Task Force X, aka ‘Suicide Squad’, is comprised of a team of supervillains rather than heroes, including Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
When US national security is threatened by the non-human entities Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and Incubus (Alain Chanoine), Task Force X is coerced by government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) into defending humanity against the invaders’ awesome powers. Naturally, things do not go according to plan.
Written and directed by David Ayer, Suicide Squad is a fevered dream of a blockbuster, a lurid, neon-lit nightmare that in its early stages brings to mind David Lynch’s most enjoyably perverse creations.
Teeming with ‘psychotic anti-social freaks’, as Amanda Waller describes them, the movie also features The Joker (Jared Leto), the samurai Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Boomerang (Jai Courtney) — in other words, very few of these ‘freaks’ are the usual morally upstanding defenders of freedom and mom’s apple pie.
With so many offbeat characters in play, it’s difficult to root for anyone in particular (although Margot Robbie steals the show as the sweet-natured but utterly bonkers and ultra-violent Harley Quinn) — but then, these characters were designed to shock and awe rather than evoke your sympathy.
The latter stages conform to the conventional superhero movie climax, it’s true, but even so Suicide Squad remains the most innovative, irreverent, funny and exhilarating blockbuster of the summer.
Bobby Sands: 66 Days (12A) is a superb documentary by Brendan J Byrne about Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in 1981.
A Provisional IRA prisoner serving a 14-year sentence in the H-Block complex, Sands — along with nine of his peers — was protesting for his right to be treated as a political prisoner.
It was a crucial moment in the history of ‘the Troubles’, when — as Fintan O’Toole notes — Sands’ actions ‘broke through the mental partition’ that allowed the world to pretend that the conflict in Northern Ireland had no impact on the rest of these islands.
Employing Sands’ diary of the hunger strike as the narrative spine of the film, Byrne also employs animation, eye-witness testimony and archive footage to explore how the hunger strikes finally drove home to the world at large the suffering of ‘the Troubles’.
It’s a gripping account, both deeply personal (Sands’ protest is described as ‘the most intimate kind of pain’) and remarkably wide-ranging in how it posits the hunger strike in the cultural history of Irish revolutionary struggle, as Sands draws on the legacy of the Easter Rising and Cork’s own Terence MacSwiney, and pursues, in the words of one commentator, ‘the triumph of failure’.
Equally impressive is the way in which Byrne teases out the complexities of the conflicting agendas of the period — his ‘cast’ of talking heads including Gerry Adams and Norman Tebbit — as he builds towards the inevitably sombre but insightful finale.
All told, Bobby Sands: 66 Days is a must-see for anyone interested in modern Irish history.
Sweet Bean (PG) is a touching story of a Japanese pancake stall owner, Sentarô (Masatoshi Nagase), who advertises for a part-time assistant.
When 76-year-old Tokue (Kirin Kiki) applies for the job, Sentarô is initially resistant to the idea — until Tokue cooks him up a batch of the sweet bean sauce that makes his pancakes a taste sensation.
They make for an odd couple, of course: Sentarô is an alcoholic introvert, whilst Tokue is an outgoing pensioner who still retains a childlike fascination with the world’s tiny miracles.
But when crisis strikes, the pair discover that they have far more in common than they might have believed…
Adapted from Durian Sukegawa’s novel and directed by Naomi Kawase, Sweet Bean offers up Tokue’s approach to cooking sweet bean sauce as something of a metaphor for life.
She’s diligent, precise, passionate and patient, as is Kawase in the way she gradually crafts a heart-breaking tragedy out of a story that initially appears to be a whimsical tale of how to blend savoury and sweet.
The performances are superb, with Masatoshi Nagase and the veteran Kirin Kiki afforded all the time they need to explore the nuances of their characters, while young Kyara Uchida, Kirin Kiki’s granddaughter in real life, more than holds her own as the neglected but spirited teenager Wakana.
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