Friday, August 6, 2021

The Suicide Squad (2021)

Streaming Services: HBO Max
Movie Name/Year: The Suicide Squad (2021)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Length:  132 minutes
Rating: R
Production/Distribution: Atlas Entertainment, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, The Safran Company, Warner Bros., Cinemundo, HKC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures Germany, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Singapore, HBO Max
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Actors: Alice Braga, Amanda Rabinowitz, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Flula Borg, Freddie Stroma, Idris Elba, Jai Courtney, Jennifer Holland, Joaquín Cosio, Joel Kinnaman, John Cena, John Ostrander, Joseph Oliveira, Juan Diego Botto, Karen Fukuhara, Margot Robbie, Mayling Ng, Michael Rooker, Mikaela Hoover, Nathan Fillion, Pete Davidson, Rey Hernandez, Steve Agee, Storm Reid, Sylvester Stallone, Taika Waititi, Viola Davis
Blurb from IMDb:  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.

Cat’s Point of View:
I can’t tell you how excited I’ve been that The Suicide Squad was released to HBO Max in conjunction with its theater premiere. There just aren’t enough adequate words. It was a foregone conclusion that Selina and I both had this at the tippy top of our Top 20 lists.
In the time between the original Suicide Squad (2016) and now, as information about this new iteration surfaced, my anticipation and enthusiasm have only grown.
I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed in the least.
James Gunn (Slither, Super, Guardians of the Galaxy) was firing on all cylinders when bringing his vision of this film to the screen. I loved his decision to focus on more B-list antagonists for the team and honoring the feel of the comic universe the characters spawned from. His dark and wicked sense of humor shone through every particle of The Suicide Squad.  My hats off to Warner Brothers Studios for not fiddling with his vision.

Another decision that I was over the moon about was that the first Suicide Squad movie wasn’t completely retconned by this one. There were small hints here and there that this story simply moves on from that point – it neither references the former production nor ignores it.  No one is pretending it doesn’t exist – we’re just not rehashing the same story. It’s a fresh take on the team-up with new characters and a few core personas returning.
Let’s be real. It would have been a hell of a task to have anyone try to fill Viola Davis’ (Fences, Troop Zero, The First Lady) shoes for Amanda Waller, or Margot Robbie's (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Terminal, Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood) as Harley Quinn. Honestly, I didn’t hate Joel Kinnaman’s (Robocop, Run All Night, For All Mankind) Flagg in the first movie – but I’m thrilled he got a chance to explore more facets of the character in this soft reboot.
I could babble for days about this cast. Seriously. Gunn and his casting department had strokes of pure genius when they filled these roles.

I only have one quibble with this entire production. When they lost Will Smith (Bright, Spies in Disguise, Bad Boys for Life) as Deadshot due to scheduling conflicts, and brought in Idris Elba (100 Streets, Molly's Game, Concrete Cowboy) that was a stellar decision. The point where they went a little wonky was taking Deadshot’s background and somewhat copy and pasting it for Bloodsport. I’m glad they shifted the character so that it left room for Smith to potentially return in the future. I just wish they’d done more tweaking with the story surrounding Bloodsport so that his character stood apart more. It was the only element that felt redone out of the whole thing.
Let me be clear, however, that I’m not as familiar with most of the characters tapped to comprise the team this time around. I haven’t read the comics where Bloodsport was featured, so I don’t know what his story is – and my quick delve through online resources didn’t tell me much. It could just be a coincidence that Bloodsport and Deadshot have so much in common. Who knows. It certainly didn’t impact my ability to enjoy the hell out of The Suicide Squad or cause me to appreciate Elba’s character any less.

The cinematography was spectacular, the action on point, the stunts crazy and cool, the undertones of friendship and team camaraderie heartwarming, and the effects (both CGI and practical) were killer.
Speaking of such, I loved the hell out of the ‘chapter’ graphics that worked their way into scenes. Those and a few other touches really gave me a nostalgic comic book feel. There were so many visuals that could have been right at home on a comic spread and I was completely here for it.
Even though this film is based on comic books, I do feel that it should be stressed that the R rating for The Suicide Squad is highly deserved and should be taken into consideration by parents. There’s quite a bit of graphic gore, expletives, nudity, sexual situations, and innuendo.
If you have a chance to go watch The Suicide Squad safely in a theater, I can only encourage you to do so. This sort of movie is only better on the big screen, and it’s even the first R-rated movie to be filmed entirely with IMAX cameras. Let me tell you, if I could see this in an IMAX theater, I would in a heartbeat. However, for those that cannot venture out, HBOMax is currently streaming The Suicide Squad for their subscribers - for no extra fee.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 93%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 89%
Metascore – 74%
Metacritic User Score – 7.6/10
IMDB Score – 7.9/10
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5

P.S.  There are 2 additional scenes that play during the credits.
Movie Trailer:

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Fantasia 2021: Brain Freeze (2021)

Movie Name/Year: Brain Freeze (2021)
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Length: 91 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Language: French
Production/Distribution: Palomar, WaZabi Films, Filmoption International
Director: Julien Knafo
Writer: Julien Knafo
Actors: Iani Bédard, Roy Dupuis, Marianne Fortier, Anne-Élisabeth Bossé, Claudia Ferri, Mylène Mackay, Stéphane Crête, Louis-Georges Girard, Mahée Paiement, Siom-Olivier Fecteau, Jean Pierre Bergeron, Marie-Lyne Joncas
Blurb from IMDb: A fertilizer used in a rich gated community becomes the source of a genetic mutation that transforms its residents into zombies. Can a teenager and his baby sister break free from the quarantined island before turning into grass?

Selina’s Point of View:
No regular reader will be surprised that I jumped on Brain Freeze when I saw it was part of the Fantasia Film Festival. Comedic horror is my favorite mix-genre, and zombies are my favorite horror-based creature. Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from this flick.
It absolutely did not disappoint.
When you mix zombies with comedy it almost always leads to a film that would be best labeled as a parody. Even Shaun of the Dead was, at the very least, more of a caricature than a serious film. Brain Freeze doesn’t take that route.
Not only does it excel as a comedy, but as a serious horror as well. Striking that kind of balance is insanely difficult, but portrayed to perfection here.
I was impressed instantly.

It started off with these gorgeous, high quality, informative visuals. There’s an immediate situational backstory given, without making us listen to boring, or forced, exposition. It doesn’t default to the ‘learn everything through a news story’ trope that is so prevalent in the genre. (Though there is some use of a radio show for this, it’s more of a means to an end than a necessity.)
Brain Freeze then goes on to give us a good idea of the lives our protagonists are living, and who they are as people. Again, it manages this without defaulting to droning exposition.
Just when it seems like it might be a little slow going, the action picks up and we’re right into it. Everything from there is survival.
The one-liners and humorous situations don’t ever overtake the plot. Throughout, the tension never ceases.

I’ll admit, there were a couple of aspects that seemed a bit too coincidental. I don’t know if I’d call them plot holes, but they did make me cringe a little bit. I found myself wondering if those parts could have been written a bit smoother. None of it was much of a big deal, though. It never took me out of the story.
What surprised me most, was that there was a message in the end.
Brain Freeze highlighted the danger of panic propaganda in media and how it can destroy otherwise reasonable people. We’ve seen that a lot with COVID-19, especially through the conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccines. I think this message is absolutely essential right now. Especially in areas where people are still somehow valuing partisan opinion over science.
When Brain Freeze is available widely, I think all horror fans should see it. Whether it’s in theaters, or streaming, doesn’t matter. Find a way. It is so worth it.

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5
Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R
Movie Trailer: (Although the trailer is in English, I recommend watching the movie in its original French, if possible.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Dustwalker (2019)

Streaming Services: Hulu, Hoopla
Movie Name/Year: The Dustwalker (2019)
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Length:  95 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Three Feet Of Film, Head Gear Films, Kreo Films FZ, Metrol Technology, Myth Factory Films, SunJive Studios, Hark, Umbrella Entertainment
Director: Sandra Sciberras
Writer: Sandra Sciberras
Actors: Jolene Anderson, Stef Dawson, Richard Davies, Cassandra Magrath, Talina Naviede, Harry Greenwood, Ruby Duncan, Caleb Sciberras Scott, Ben Mortley, Ryan Allen, Oscar Harris, Lis Hoffman, Jackson Lucas, Shyla Vivian, Alexandra Nell, John Harvie Morris, Chloe Brown, Rayne Moses, Michael O'Brien, Russell Lambe, Sam Dudley, Joyce Penny, Cecile Charles, Nina Deasley, Andrew Bennett, Peter Barron, Ewan Scott, Oliver Wynn
Blurb from IMDb:  One by one the residents of a small, isolated town become infected by an insidious bug that turns them into violent, indiscriminate killing machines.

Cat’s Point of View:
I’ve probably said it before, but it bears repeating: I am fascinated by Australia. I love the accents, the people are interesting and, aside from the large percentage of lethal wildlife, the nature of the Outback captures my attention as well. When I saw I was going to watch a Sci-Fi movie filmed just outside of Perth with a largely Aussie cast, I was pretty excited. I even convinced my nearly 18-year-old daughter to watch with me last night.
To say that I had a frustrating experience with The Dustwalker is a slight understatement.
I ended up watching The Dustwalker twice, much to my chagrin. My fatigue was worse than usual yesterday. Even with a mid-day nap, I found myself zoning out and dozing off during programming. I was worried that it affected my experience with the movie so I watched it again today before writing. 
Alas, my fatigue wasn’t the problem. Even my teen quickly lost interest and bailed early before the movie was over last night.

Let me offer a positive note regarding The Dustwalker first. The remote location worked in the story’s favor and bolstered the suspension of disbelief to allow the story’s events to unfold as they did. Beyond that, it generally lost me.
Everything just felt strange – but not likely in the way the production was intended. Some character actions were just…odd. A few of the story elements were too vague. The camera work wasn’t consistent. I liked the spunky female lead and her geologist friend – in a broad sense of the word. The spirit of the characters intrigued me, whereas the roles themselves and their execution left a little bit to be desired.
If the intention of writer/director Sandra Sciberras (Max's Dreaming, Caterpillar Wish, Surviving Georgia) was for us to just be flat-out confused by this film, then I’d say she hit a home-run there. Otherwise, I am struggling to grasp the words to convey my disappointment in The Dustwalker. I thought that, perhaps, this might be a freshman offering but she has several projects under her belt.

The soundtrack was repetitive and felt a little cliché – and I rarely say that. You need a certain level of musical or sound ambiance to underscore scenes for the appropriate emotional reactions. In this case, it ended up just a little bit off-putting.
I don’t think the special effects did The Dustwalker any favors. The monster wasn’t very believable-looking in several scenes, especially with its movements. The whole unhinging jaw of the screaming-possessed wasn’t effective for me because of the lack of consistency throughout the movie. The Dustwalker also tried to mash every zombie movement trope together, it seemed. (Even though the people weren’t exactly zombies.) 

There didn’t seem to be rhyme or reason to it at some points, whereas with others the movement seemed intentional.

That point brings me back to disagreeing with part of the IMDb blurb – the killing that happened wasn’t exactly indiscriminate. It’s fairly easy to connect the dots there. Unfortunately, it’s never clear exactly why events happen. It’s possible to puzzle out some of it, but I’m left with more questions than answers and I just don’t understand how the ending of The Dustwalker could leave audiences on the note the production chose. Sadly, without spoilers, I can’t exactly explain that further.
If you have a Hulu subscription and are bored, I wouldn’t call The Dustwalker a complete waste of time – it had some redeeming qualities. There’s just far better fare out there so I wouldn’t steer anyone in this direction on purpose. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 16%
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 3.7/10
Trust the Dice: Parental Advisory Rating – R
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 2/5
Movie Trailer:

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Fantasia 2021: Agnes (2021)

Movie Name/Year: Fantasia 2021: Agnes (2021)
Genre: Drama, Horror
Length: 93 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Language: English
Production/Distribution: Divide/Conquer, Perm Machine, QWGmire
Director: Mickey Reece
Writer: Mickey Reece, John Selvidge
Actors: Molly C. Quinn, Sean Gunn, Hayley McFarland, Chris Browning, Rachel True, Jake Horowitz, Zandy Hartig, Bruce Davis, Chris Freihofer, Ben Hall, Cait Brasel, Mary Buss
Blurb from IMDb: Rumors of demonic possession at a religious convent prompts a church investigation into the strange goings-on among its nuns. A disaffected priest and his neophyte are confronted with temptation, bloodshed and a crisis of faith.

Selina’s Point of View:
A lot of the tropes involved in an exorcism horror plot can be off-putting. The trailer for Agnes makes it seem like they intend to hit every point. It’s a bit misleading. In fact, it’s like one of those ‘spoilers without context’ posts you see on social media.
Agnes had some really unique turns. A lot of the aforementioned tropes were present, but in inconsequential ways. I don’t mean they flipped the stereotypes around; I mean they literally didn’t matter by the end.
Agnes seems to be made up of two completely different stories. As original as that made it, it also added a sense of intense confusion. I’ll be honest, at a few points I had no idea what was happening or how it had anything to do with where the movie began.

The thing is, both the first and the second half of the film would have made decent projects in their own right – but they’re so different in genre and tone that they feel awkward when stuck together. On one hand, you have the horror of a demonic possession. On the other, a dramatic look into the people affected by what happened. The titular character is never seen again after a certain point. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it is a simple way of explaining how sharp of a turn the movie takes.
It felt like a bait and switch.
The actual method behind the film-making was impressive. There was a decent use of imagery, with intuitive lighting, and some scenes utilizing interesting perspective shots. None of that was particularly flawed. I don’t, however, believe it will find a footing with wider audiences. 
The transformation of genres, the jarring transitions, and slow burn of the second half will make Agnes less accessible to general movie-goers. Amongst film critics, people who hyperfocus on cinema, and students of the industry – I get why it would do well. I just don’t think a wider audience would go for it.

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating2/5
Trust-the-Dice’s Parental Advisory Rating: R
Movie Trailer:

Monday, August 2, 2021

Teddy (2021)


Streaming Services: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: Teddy (2021)
Genre: Horror
Length: 88 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Production/Distribution: Shudder, Baxter Films, Les Films Velvet, The Jokers, Canal+, Ciné+, WTFilms, Indéfilms 8, SofiTVciné 7, Région Occitanie/Pyrénées-Méditerranée, Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée, Société des Producteurs de Cinéma et de Télévision, Cine Canibal
Directors: Ludovic Boukherma, Zoran Boukherma
Writers: Ludovic Boukherma, Zoran Boukherma
Actors: Anthony Bajon, Christine Gautier, Ludovic Torrent, Guillaume Mattera, Jean-Michel Ricart, Alain Boitel, Noémie Lvovsky
Blurb from IMDb:  In a rural French town, twenty-something Teddy is scratched by an unknown beast and slowly undergoes frightening changes.

Cat’s Point of View:
At this moment, I’m finding it hard to put my feelings about Teddy into words. I’m conflicted.
Let’s rewind a little bit.
When Selina and I watched the trailer for Teddy, prior to putting our respective Top 20 lists together, I gave this a 4.5 out of 5 rating reflecting my desire to watch the film. I noted that it looked like a fun dark comedy coming-of-age tale focusing on the titular young spa employee. Teddy landed at #13 on my personal Top 20, while Selina was a bit less optimistic – listing the movie as #19 on hers.
Now that the credits have rolled, I find myself leaning more in her direction.

Teddy wasn’t horrible, don’t get me wrong. I just feel like there was a lot of buildup throughout the production and too little payoff. 

Events begin oddly. Unfortunately, Teddy only builds momentum with its awkwardness rather than offering relief through story satisfaction.
I imagine that it’s a hard and awkward life to be the village black sheep in such a tiny community as shown in Teddy. The production went full bore on those elements, however, and teased the wolf more than I would have liked. I’m not sure if Teddy suffered from low budget woes resulting in some of those decisions, or if the odd and drawn-out process was purposeful.
Each part was acted well. I just couldn’t seem to invest in any of the characters.

Where was my werewolf?! I think that’s my biggest frustration with Teddy. I didn’t even get the dry dark comedy I was looking forward to. I had a couple chuckles, but Teddy took itself more seriously than I felt it should have.
I’m not sure that I would actively steer anyone away from Teddy, but I doubt I’d offer the title up if asked for recommendations.
Be that as it may, you can watch Teddy and judge for yourself starting Thursday, August 5th on Shudder. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – None
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 6.3/10
Trust the Dice: Parental Advisory Rating – R
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 2.5/5
Movie Trailer:

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Fantasia 2021: Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story (2020)

Movie Name/Year: Fantasia 2021: Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story (2020)
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Romance
Length: 73 minutes
Rating: TV-MA
Language: Filipino and English
Production/Distribution: Rocketsheep Studio, Spring Films, Netflix
Director: Avid Liongoren
Writer: Manny Angeles, Avid Liongoren, Paulle Olivenza
Actors: Reba Buhr, Todd Haberkorn, Tara Sands, Mick Wingert, Angelica Panganiban, Robin Padilla, Sam Milby, Empoy Marquez, Arci Muñoz, Eugene Domingo, Yeng Constantino, Moira Dela Torre, Joyce Bernal, Claudia Enriquez, Julienne Mendoza
Blurb from IMDb: In this adult animation, perfume sales cat Nimfa is torn between her macho askal boyfriend and a charming, philandering business dog.

Selina’s Point of View:
Trust the Dice is doing something a little different this month. Along with our regularly scheduled reviews (which will be posted by Cat), I will be covering the Fantasia 2021 festival. The review of Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story will be the first of many articles tied to the festival.
It was a hell of a strong start.
It’s hard to believe that this animated flick was funded almost completely by the creative team working on it. Every visual is absolutely gorgeous and the animation style is unique. I definitely think we need a whole lot more of this. I want to see a series, or more movies, in this style. It feels pure. Like you can almost see the artists hunched over their workspaces sketching and shading as the days go by.
Not just the obvious aspects are worth noting, though. In some scenes there are these nuanced movements by the characters that you can only really get in insanely-funded animation. The quick flick of a tail, the shudder of ears… any time something like that happened, it elevated the whole story.
The way the animals represented the characters also made a great deal of sense. The catty protagonist, the short-tempered bulldog, the snooty husky, the lecherous pig men, etc. Every animal fit. It reminded me of one of my favorite graphic novels, Maus (1980-1991) – by Art Spiegelman. Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story was much more light-hearted, of course, but the way they utilized creatures felt similar. It didn’t feel like a simple anthropomorphizing, but a full-on metaphor.

The story was cute. It had a basic love triangle at the heart. One that pitted the familiar choice of a simple life in love vs. a luxurious one. In most films that go this route, things tend to get predictable. The trope basically sees the main character realize that love is the only thing that matters and that money shouldn’t be what drives their decision making.
I’m not going to spoil it, but I will say that the ending does not take the road most traveled. It’s surprising, but doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s easy to see the subtle fore-shadowing on a second watch-through.
There was some cringe-based humor that is not quite up my alley, but I will admit that it still came off as charming. Most of the time, anyway. I don’t want to focus too much on that, though, because it’s a personal preference.
The creators of Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story made something special. It has better writing and directing than most of the big-budget films I’ve seen this year.

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating4.5/5
P.S. There are silent epilogue scenes that play out during the credits.
Movie Trailer: