Nostalgia is a powerful force. When tapped into correctly, it compels people to gloss over the shortcomings of the era for which they pine. Whether it’s in politics or entertainment, people wish to hearken back to a time when they felt more positive, safe and secure; when joy was easier to come by and things weren’t so complicated. It’s usually associated with childhood because that’s before adulthood brought compromises and shades of gray. Suddenly, decisions had to be made with serious weight but also with implications that could stretch far into the future. This is why politicians always talk about going back to an idyllic past that never existed, and why studios crank out big screen remakes of various properties they hope people still get warm and fuzzy over.
But it’s a hard thing to recapture that feeling, to perfectly evoke those feelings of the past without feeling like a hollow retread. Artists with deft hands have to be able to take those old familiar stings and blend them with something new in a way that is seamless yet exciting. These projects must be comforting but also with a dash of the unexpected; alive in ways that aren’t incongruous with that nostalgia but also not purely a slave to those feelings either. Recently, two such projects have come along that have shown the way to properly revisit the past with an eye to the future. The Duffer brothers’ “Stranger Things” on Netflix and the Jeff Nichols’ film “Midnight Special” both call back to a specific attitude and time in pop culture (and in fact, it’s the same time for both of them), but they manage to do so masterfully enough that it feels both like going back to something familiar while moving forward into unexplored territory.
Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
With the exception of “Star Wars: Rogue One,” David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” has been my most anticipated movie of 2016 since the first footage was released at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Though there was certainly reason to be concerned following the disaster of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and rumors of production troubles, the consistently excellent trailers – which promised a fun, irreverent comic book film in the same vein as “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” – helped quell those fears. Unfortunately, you can’t judge a movie based solely on its trailer, and that could not be any truer as far as “Suicide Squad” is concerned. Although it’s not as problematic as Zack Snyder’s superhero face-off, it’s just as disappointing, if only because it had the potential to be better.
Following the death of Superman, A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has created a contingency plan to deal with future metahuman threats in his absence: a covert team comprised of the world’s most dangerous criminals to carry out black ops missions for the government in exchange for reduced prison sentences. Led by no-nonsense soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and implanted with explosive devices in their necks to keep them in line, the codenamed Task Force X – which includes sharpshooter assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), Joker’s deranged sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Australian jewel thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) and reptilian-skinned cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) – is sent to rescue a high-value target who’s stranded in Midway City after it’s turned into a warzone by a powerful witch called Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Throwing a wrench in Waller’s plans is the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker (Jared Leto), who sets out to save his beloved Harley amid the ensuing chaos.
Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.
“The Knick: The Complete Second Season”
WHAT: After he’s rescued from the primitive rehab center that used heroine to treat his cocaine habit, Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) returns to the Knick with a new obsession: finding a cure for addiction. Meanwhile, Dr. Edwards (Andre Holland) and Dr. Gallinger (Eric Johnson) continue to butt heads; Bertie (Michael Angarano) goes to work at a competing hospital; and Cornelia (Juliet Rylance) investigates a mysterious death connected to her family’s shipping company.
WHY: The first season of “The Knick” was a slow-moving but nonetheless compelling period drama highlighted by some fantastic performances and gorgeous visuals, which makes it all the more disappointing to see the show suffer through such a terrible sophomore slump. Several key players, particularly Andre Holland’s Dr. Edwards and Eve Henson’s Lucy, have been saddled with half-baked storylines that barely form anything resembling an arc, while Clive Owen’s Thackery is gradually built up over the course of the season just so he can be torn down again. It’s all handled very sloppily, but that’s Season Two in a nutshell. Though the surgery sequences are still fascinating to watch, and the scene-stealing Chris Sullivan is rewarded with a bigger role, just when “The Knick” seems to be finding its groove, it pivots to less worthy characters like Dr. Gallinger and the sleazy Herman Barrow, both of whom are given far too much screen time this season. The change in direction is mind-boggling to say the least, because what started as a fairly promising prestige drama has deteriorated into a series that’s hardly worth continuing at all.
EXTRAS: In addition to three audio commentaries with various cast and crew, there’s a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes on the season’s main themes, an in-depth look at some of the medical procedures, a walking tour of the set, and much more.
Loose cannons. Vigilantes. Wild cards. Mad dogs. Whatever term is applied to them, there’s a breed of cinematic action figures that inspire devotion in spite of themselves. Born from the shadows of film noir and pulp literature, nursed in decades of anti-establishment distrust, and coming of age in a time when systems have failed us, these antiheroes have become some of the most beloved and iconic characters in movies.
From “Escape From New York,” to “The Dirty Dozen,” to “Deadpool,” to the upcoming “Suicide Squad,” audiences love them some amoral heroes who dispense justice on their own terms. But what is it about these figures that inspire such fandom? Why do we cheer for these criminals, psychopaths and murderers who do things their own way? We should be afraid of their unpredictability and judge them for bucking due process, but instead, we are fascinated by their actions, titillated by their attitudes and seduced by their charms. What is it about bad guys that make them so good?
The simplest answer is because we wish we had the moral clarity and independence that these antiheroes possess. Sure, they are horrible people who do terrible things, but we like them because ultimately they do moral Good with an amoral attitude (while they kill capriciously, it usually turns out the people they mow down are even worse folks)? Being outside of the dichotomy of Right and Wrong, indulging in whatever selfish desire they happen to pursue, willing to dole out punishment to the wicked and the annoying alike, all of it is easy to idealize and desire for an audience. Especially for an audience that feels increasingly demoralized, disempowered and disenfranchised by the system they thought they should follow.
Summer is winding down, and with it goes the last vestiges of the blockbuster season. But there are still a few tentpole movies left which, along with some offbeat choices, make for an interesting August at the theaters. There’s only one sequel and two remakes in this month’s offerings, and the rest are refreshingly off-kilter originals that hold a lot of promise for entertainment. Laika returns to deliver astonishing visuals with their latest, while the DC Comics movieverse tries to rebound from “Batman v Superman” with “Suicide Squad.” And the whole thing is capped off by one of the most enjoyable, intense thrillers released this year. It’s an intriguing and original list of films for August, so let’s get to it!
Who: Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Cara Delevingne, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje What: A secret government agency recruits imprisoned supervillains to execute a dangerous black ops mission in exchange for clemency. When: August 5th Why: “Suicide Squad” looks like an absolute barrel of fun that mixes everyone’s love of antiheroes with a dash of “The Dirty Dozen.” Based on the hit comic book of the same name, the film finds a bunch of colorful supervillains riffing off each other while trying to save the world (or just themselves). The trailers make it look like a promising blockbuster, though writer/director David Ayer (“Sabotage,” “Fury”) isn’t exactly known for delivering fun films, usually preferring the grittier side of things. Perhaps he’s found the perfect balance between the ultraviolent, grim world he normally inhabits and a more heightened experience that’s actually enjoyable to sit through.