With a focus on addiction, superheroes and stories of colour, here's what Rāwiri is watching this month...
The Suicide Squad (2021), Warner Bros.
After years of disappointing ventures, the DCEU has been on a solid course correction in the past few years. AquaMan and Wonder Woman have generated ridiculous box office receipts, while ShaZam and Birds of Prey proved that in the right hands, Warner Bros were capable of candy-coloured superhero films with creative integrity.
2016's Suicide Squad was one of those films that performed beautifully at the box office but was roundly dismissed as inadequate by fans, critics and even casual filmgoers. Handing over directorial reigns to James Gunn, the man behind the Guardians of the Galaxy films for Marvel, is an inspired choice and one that helps push this semi-sequel-kinda-reboot 2021 version to the very top of the DC Extended Universe.
Returning favourites Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) are joined by new additions Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and Peacemaker (John Cena) as the government-sanctioned villains tasked with preventing an alien starfish
from unleashing havoc on the world. Sound a bit weird? You don't know the half of it...
The Suicide Squad is bat shit crazy, in the best way possible.
How crazy, you ask? Sylvester Stallone plays a base instinct half-man-half-Shark God, crazy. We've got a superhero who throws polka dots. Javelins-through-the-eyeball, shots-to-the-face exaggerated gore. Weasels that can't swim. 'Hero' squads that massacre the good guys instead of the bad guys. A Ghostbusters-esque giant starfish. It's nuts!
And in other hands, it wouldn't have worked. With James Gunn at the helm, it all comes together. A serviceable plot that allows for character depth and arcs aplenty, crazy stunts and fight choreography that will make you jump and make you laugh, and performances from a huge ensemble cast who look delighted to the lean into the lunacy of it all.
See it; see it now.
Coming Home in the Dark (2021), Light in the Dark Productions
New Zealand's local horror movie output is typically infused with a unique weirdness and wit that makes genre-blending films like Black Sheep both scary but enjoyable at the same time.
Like the eerie, stoic insinuation of its title, Coming Home in the Dark is not of those types of films.
There are just a few brief moments of levity at the beginning of this story, where we meet an everyday Kiwi family-of-four on a road trip. Approached by two men - Mandrake and Tubbs - the action is catalysed with a spine-shuddering bang and from there, we're treated to an intense, often brutal film, that will have its audience perching on the edge of their seats.
First time feature director James Ashcroft is a strong story-teller. He builds tension and character development simultaneously and seamlessly - whether we're focusing in on our hero family, or pulling away the layers of the two villains - and we slowly uncover a decades-long mystery as Mum, Dad and Sons attempt to escape the hostage situation with their lives.
Erik Thomsen's patriarch Hoaggie does a great job with the movie's majority of dialogue, while Miriama McDowell's matriarch Jill performs anger and anguish with the fervid yells and cries that are reminiscent of the horror genre's greatest Scream Queens. Matthias Luafutu as the near-mute and dangerous Tubbs is eerily expressive, and Daniel Gillies as the psychopathic Mandrake delivers an outstanding performance that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
In addition to excellent pacing, strong writing and beautiful shots courtesy of cinematographer Matt Henley, Coming Home in the Dark is a must watch for any horror fan.
Free Guy (2021), 20th Century Studios
If you've ever wondered what a Sims-based Truman Show might look like, search no further than 20th Century Pictures' latest sci-fi action comedy, Free Guy.
Creator of the Free City video game, Walter 'Keys' McKey (Joe Keery, Stranger Things) finds his world under threat by his manipulative, sell-out boss. In order to retain ownership of the game and prevent its deletion, he hides computer code within the world itself and must rely on the characters within to help him. Guy, a background character from the local bank, gradually develops sentience and becomes aware of his hyper-realised, fishbowl existence, and of the mission at hand.
It's an intriguing premise that director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) finds plenty of comedic opportunity in, and with a solid screenplay to work from, allows his talented cast the freedom to mine for gold.
Ryan Reynolds is as relentlessly charming as ever, infusing equal parts underdog and heroic would-be into his performance. Here he's paired opposite Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) as Millie, a real-lifer who befriends Guy in Free City under her avatar guise of Molotov Girl.
The two leads are supported by a strong support cast, including Lil Rel Howery and Utkrash Ambudkar. Taika Waititi, known for whacky roles in his own films Jojo Rabbit and Boy, delivers an energetic performance as video game company boss Antwan, in one of the most memorable roles in the movie.
Always amusing, with several laugh out loud moments to be found, Free Guy is a fun, funny ride.
Misha and the Wolves (2021), Netflix
In 1997, a Massachusetts writer shot to notoriety when her novel 'Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years' became an international best seller. In the book, Misha Defonesca had detailed her traumatic and truly extraordinary childhood in Belgium, which included the deportation of her parents to the Nazi regime, and long travels traversing countryside - with only the companionship of wolves.
Of course, in 1997, Wikipedia wasn't a thing. The internet was barely a thing. It was a time in modern history that you believed a person who told you they were a product of wartime atrocity. It was also a time where it was hard to disprove such stories.
Sam Hobkinson's film Misha and the Wolves delves into the twisty, turny inner and outer worlds of writer Misha Defonesca. Did she really lose her parents to Nazis? Was she really taken in by wolves? Why would she turn down the Oprah Winfrey Show? And what kind of person possibly fabricates a holocaust story for personal gain?
Told with interviews, media footage and a cleverly staged set piece (a twist all of its own), it is a captivating story that treads the line of fact and fiction amiably.