Limbo (PG) ****
The Suicide Squad (15) ****
Jungle Cruise (12A) **
Old (15) ****
The Sparks Brothers (15) ***
The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (15) ***
More than a year on from being selected for last year’s aborted Cannes Film Festival, Scottish director Ben Sharrock’s sophomore feature, the aptly named Limbo, finally arrives in cinemas and proves to have been very much worth the wait. Set on a never-named Hebridean Island, this tragicomic look at the plight of asylum seekers awaiting their fates is both heartbreaking and wryly funny as it follows its characters’ efforts to get to grips with western customs, the Scottish weather and an indifferent-to-hostile local community.
The story is built around Omar (wonderfully played by Amir El-Masry), a Syrian musician who has fled his war-torn homeland but now finds himself in bureaucratic purgatory struggling to reconcile the reality of his new existence with his decision to leave his family behind. Though the film is fully attuned to the refugee crisis, Sharrock avoids Ken Loach-style didacticism with a deadpan approach that has more in common with Aki Kaurismäki, Jim Jarmusch, and, of course, Bill Forsyth. Indeed, the plot centrality of a phone box and the Northern Lights serve as their own tribute to Local Hero, though Sharrock has enough mastery of his story and its execution to transcend any influences.
More of a course correction than a reboot or a sequel, The Suicide Squad ditches the dead weight from DC’s dismal 2016 super-villain team-up movie of nearly the same name in order to launch a much wilder, more fun and more fleet-footed blockbuster worthy of the concept. Written and directed by Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn, it’s a gonzo mix of insouciant violence, demented comedy, expressionistic comic book flourishes and strangely beautiful cinematography that also creates enough space to flesh out its many characters without swelling the running time beyond what its crazy plot will bear.
That plot revolves around a new band of reprobates, once again recruited by the US government to do its dirty work. This time, however, they’re led by Idris Elba’s Bloodsport, a super-assassin disgruntled about being blackmailed into teaming up with an egotistical assassin (John Cena), a rat-manipulating bank robber (Daniela Melchior), a polka-dot spraying freak (David Dastmalchian) and a mutant shark voiced by Sylvester Stallone, who isn’t even the weirdest character in the movie (take your pick from Peter Capaldi’s oddball Scottish geneticist or a man-sized weasel). Margot Robbie is also back as Harley Quinn, performing her usual DC function as a cinematic live-wire, jolting every scene she’s in to life with her entertainingly off-kilter energy.
Following in the footsteps of Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise is the latest Disney theme park ride to get the big screen treatment. Rocking Humphrey Bogart’s outfit from The African Queen, Dwayne Johnson stars as the wise-cracking skipper of an Amazonian tour boat enlisted by Emily Blunt’s Katherine-Hepburn-by-way-of-Lara-Croft botanist to hunt down a mystical plant with life-prolonging properties. The period setting ensures there are also large doses of The Mummy films and Indiana Jones in there too, though with regards to the latter, it’s more Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull thanks to the way this elaborate slab of escapist summer blockbuster fare has you willing it to be better than it really is. Jack Whitehall co-stars as Blunt’s gay brother and quickly assumes damsel-in-distress duties as all three are pursued by a mad German aristocrat (a scene-chewing Jesse Plemmons). Yet no matter how appealing the leads, the set pieces are so generic and numerous they become like wallpaper.
Everything that the hit-or-miss M Night Shyamalan does well comes to the fore in Old, an engagingly loopy Twilight Zone-style sci-fi thriller about a group of holiday makers at a luxury resort who find themselves trapped on a tropical beach. If the title and an early shout-out to Cocoon hint at where the film is going, Shyamalan’s gift for misdirection – amplified here by virtuoso camera work – makes his characters’ collective predicament horribly compelling. Gael Garcia Bernal and Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps star.
The prolific and relentlessly creative art pop rock band Sparks gets a loving and comprehensive tribute in self-confessed super-fan Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers. The siblings in question are Ron and Russell Mael, a couple of Californian anglophiles whose mix of pop star glamour and performance art strangeness have made them a consistent anomaly in the ever-evolving music scene. Going through their extensive career album by album, Wright’s approach isn’t as radical as his subjects’ music, but there’s plenty of good stuff here for fans both casual and devout.
The subject of documentary makers Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is Björn Andrésen, a Swedish actor plucked from obscurity as a 15-year-old to star in legendary Italian director Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice. The film changed his life, though not for the better and what follows is an all-too-familiar story of abuse and exploitation as we catch up with Andrésen 50 years later, still reeling from being thrown to the wolves by Visconti and left to fend for himself in a predatory environment. Though full of sadness, it’s ultimately a portrait of just how resilient a person can be in the face of so much pain.
Limbo and The Suicide Squad are in cinemas from 30 July; Jungle Cruise is in cinemas and streaming on Disney+ with premier access from 30 July; Old is in cinemas now; The Sparks Brothers is in cinemas from 29 July; The Most Beautiful Boy in the World is in cinemas and streaming on digital platforms from 30 July.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription at https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions