Lectures For Lifelong Learners!

“The Suicide Squad” and “Don’t Breathe 2” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

On The Rocks

I can be a simple man of easy pleasures when it comes to selecting a movie I want to watch. “On the Rocks” is one such selection, because it’s very simple: I see it stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones. I then see it’s directed by Sofia Coppola. I watch. This is a formula that worked out quite well when I watched the 2015 Netflix holiday special “A Very Murray Christmas,” and it worked again. As a matter of fact, it worked even better the second time around.

Sofia Coppola must like seeing Rashida Jones in a wedding dress. Jones played “The Bride” in the Christmas special and “On the Rocks” starts off with the wedding of her character Laura to Dean (Marlon Wayans). Skip forward ten or so years and the couple have two children who Laura has to walk to school every morning before tackling her novel during the day, and Dean is away a lot, keeping late hours and going on several business trips. She may not have to wear the wedding dress anymore, but is now worried that all Dean’s time away is to be with his employee Fiona (Jessica Henwick) rather than for his business.

The first 15 minutes or so of “On the Rocks” feel very Woody Allen. We have a couple living in Manhattan in an apartment more spacious than most can afford. They have interesting professions, including one being a writer, attend cocktail parties, and meet other quirky Manhattanites like fellow mom Vanessa (Jenny Slate) who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word “overshare.” Laura’s suspicion about Dean makes her uneasy and anxious—one step less than the neurosis Allen would have written into the character, but close enough.

Instead of neurosis, we get Bill Murray as Felix, Laura’s father. His introduction is what transitions “On the Rocks” from a Woody Allen movie into a Sofia Coppola movie. Felix is a great character. He’s worldly, charming, witty, well-dressed, well-spoken, highly intelligent, and quite the raconteur. The best aspect of his personality is his clear love of people. He’s not someone who has to always be telling the stories or be the center of attention. He lets others have the spotlight, and even better, he listens to them. Even better than that, he remembers—a trait that comes in handy during an encounter at a traffic stop. But he doesn’t just remember details about people’s lives in the stories they tell to score points or for any selfish purpose. He legitimately cares about others. Big kudos to Coppola for writing him so well and with so much sympathy. His view on the reaction of other people when men have an affair versus when women have an affair is a surprise from a woman writer, but fits the character perfectly and raises an interesting point.

This isn’t to say that he’s perfect. A fair amount of his philosophizing about men and women couch thinly veiled excuses as to why he left Laura’s mother to be with a younger woman. He’s also the one who plants the seeds in Laura’s head that Dean is having an affair. But if he didn’t do that then the wonderful, sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic, and even a little bit suspenseful father-daughter adventure these two go on would not have happened. Buy it.

Also New This Week

The Suicide Squad

The setting for “The Suicide Squad” will strike a chord for those who know the 1989 “Batman” movie well. The name of the fictional island off the coast of South America is Corto Maltese, which is where Kim Basinger’s Vicky Vale took the photos that both Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson’s Joker admire so much. As Joker points out, the photos were full of skulls and bodies. He makes no mention of starfish, but if he did, I can envision a DC universe timeline in which the photos Vale took were of the bodies left behind after the events of “The Suicide Squad.” Why not? By the time the movie’s over there are plenty of them.

Part of what makes “The Suicide Squad” work so well is the R rating, which is taken to full advantage. There are some moments that rival the carnage in the 2008 “Rambo” movie, which is also set in a jungle and pushed the R rating to its limits. “The Suicide Squad” brushes up against that level at times.

One thing that keeps it from going all the way there is the second part of what makes it work, and that’s the humor. Writer-director James Gunn created a wicked dark comedy, which when paired with the action makes for one highly entertaining show. After all, with characters as colorful and ridiculous as Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), King Shark (voice of Sylvester Stallone), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Javelin (Flula Borg) and T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), a writer-director might as well go all the way or not go at all. These colorful antiheroes make the others like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), and of course Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) look normal in comparison.

This wouldn’t be a “Suicide Squad” movie without Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who between the live action and animated movies I’ve seen her in, I find reprehensible. She’s the one in charge of Task Force X, aka the Suicide Squad, a covert government operation that uses criminals to accomplish missions. She’s the one who sends our colorful group to Corto Maltese to track down and destroy a disc with some incriminating files. Waller may be on the winning side of the law and get government funding, but that doesn’t make her methods right. There’s a coldness to the character—very well-played by Davis—that severely rubs me the wrong way. Suffice it to say that when she finally gets a dose of comeuppance at the end, I actually cheered. Note that I almost never, ever audibly cheer when watching a movie. That moment made me cheer. Well done, James Gunn. Very well done. Buy it. 

Don’t Breathe 2

“Don’t Breathe 2” is a mixed bag. On the one hand it continues the moral complexity from the first movie. In that one, thieves break into the house of the Blind Man (Stephen Lang), so they’re bad, but as the plot unfolds we find out that he’s worse. Now the Blind Man’s home is invaded again and we find out the bad guys, led by a man named Raylan (Brendan Sexton III), are worse.

This time instead of thieves, they’re kidnappers. The Blind Man is raising a young girl named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace) as his own and they’re out to take her from him. The reason why should not be revealed, but it is sinister enough to turn the Blind Man into the hero of the story.

While all that is interesting, the plot itself goes a bit too far. It’s one thing for the Blind Man to fight in his own house, in familiar surroundings, but once out of that element things get too ridiculous. I can only suspend my disbelief so far until it breaks, and unfortunately, by the second half of “Don’t Breathe 2,” it was broken. That said, the first part is fairly solid as far as thrillers go, and given the horrific revelation of the girl’s kidnapping, which is a nasty surprise, it’s not time totally wasted. Stream it.

More New Releases

“Stillwater,” about a father who travels from Oklahoma to France to help his daughter who has been arrested for murder, starring Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, and Abigail Breslin; and “Warning,” in which the meaning of life is explored through multiple interconnected lives set in the near future, starring Alice Eve, Thomas Jane, Alex Pettyfer, Charlotte Le Bon, Annabelle Wallis, and Patrick Schwarzenegger.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover and author of the novel “Takedown,” which is available on Amazon, iTunes, and more. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.