Birds of Prey: and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quin – Review

Oh, Suicide Squad. Remember that garbage pile? Well Birds of Prey is Warner Bros latest attempt to put things right with their DC Universe. Essentially being a Margot Robbie led Harley Quinn film, they decided to bet on one of the few things to come out of Suicide Squad with any praise. The trailers were colourful and crazy, two words synonymous with Harley, so that gave me some hope that this would be a fun time.

Having spent my week watching Drama’s and Best Picture contenders, Birds of Prey was been a great palette cleanser. The 6th film of my week was by far the most colourful and striking visually. Describing this as a palette cleanser is perhaps doing the film an injustice, it’s more like I have spent my week eating Michelin star cuisine, and this is a chicken vindaloo from a takeaway.

It’s loud, bombastic and fast paced. The films firmly focused on Harley Quinn for the majority of the film and having just broken up with Joker, she’s trying to figure out what her life is now she’s no longer the clown prince’s right-hand gal. The Joker’s shadow hangs heavy over the both Harley’s mind, and on the film in general. You can tell they’d have liked to use the Joker for parts of this film but due to the controversy over how Jared Leto was received they just kind of awkwardly step around it.

Once Harley and the film are into their own stride, Margot Robbie takes over completely and is clearly enjoying her time as this character. She does all she can to embody the anarchic yet fun personality the character has always had. She uses Guns, exploding glitter bombs, Mallets and baseball bats and you believe she’s just having a great time doing so regardless of who she’s using them against.

The rest of the birds aren’t developed nearly as much as Harley, but they’re all fun in their own way. Rosie Perez as frustrated detective Renee Montoya is a believable bad ass, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is entertaining and then funny when needed, and she plays it really well. Those two are pretty undeveloped throughout the film. Both are given backstory through the running voice-over from Harley Quinn, but they aren’t really given much to do besides that.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Black Canary and of the other members of the Birds, her character came closest to having an arc worth noting. Youngster Ella Jay Basco plays Cassandra Cain and does well with what she’s given, but she is essentially a plot device for large parts of the film. They have good chemistry together, but I’d have liked to see a little more of their stories rather than rely on voice-over from Harley.

I understand why this film was so focused on Harley, as she’s by far the biggest named character in here, but her character is the only one we see go through anything and show any growth of note. The rest of the film adopts a “Tell, don’t show” approach which is the opposite of good storytelling in film.

As the main protagonist, it’s odd to find yourself cheering for her as she battles her way through a police station or blows up a chemical plant. She’s a psychopath and a serial killer, but she’s fun to watch. When you have such a flawed protagonist, you need a real dick as the antagonist, and this time round we have Ewan McGregor chewing up scenery and oozing arsehole-ish charisma.

He plays Roman Sionis, also known as Black Mask. I can’t say I have read many comics featuring him but from what I know of the character he’s a crime boss and a pretty feared one. His right-hand man is Victor Zsasz, a character who keeps popping up in live action batman media that doesn’t contain batman after his appearance as a key character in Gotham. That’s not really relevant, I just find it interesting how he keeps popping up.

McGregor clearly just threw himself into the role of being a dickhead, as the character has no redeeming qualities. They say the best villains are the hero of their own stories, well there is no way he is a hero in anyone’s eyes. He is fun to watch, as he always is in any role he pops up in, but there just isn’t much to the character other than he wants something, and these women are in the way.

That brings me onto the heavy-handed Women V Men angle this film takes, and whilst I have nothing against it being this way, it’s never really acknowledged. Sionis builds an army of mercenaries, but none of them are female. There is one moment when a female is trying to get out protagonist’s and it’s a short exchange with a stick of dynamite. This film doesn’t give enough time to developing the group and making them feel like strong characters. The bond between them isn’t there, we are just told they’re a group of strong people, and then they fight their way out of situations to prove it.

When you focus a film so much on the plot and what the antagonist is after rather than the characters, you need it to be an interesting plot. Roman Sionis, whilst definitely a dickhead, just want’s something. Harley and the Birds of Prey are between him and that, and that’s the conflict. There is nothing deeper at play. That type of plot is fine in films where the characters are strong and well developed throughout the movie and it becomes more about them and their interactions than the plot, but Bird of Prey doesn’t do that.

Birds of Prey is an entertaining film and it’s a feast of visual candy for the eyes. Harley Quinn is front and centre, and perhaps that’s needed for the first one of these films, assuming there will be more. There is potential for a franchise here, as the characters have enough to intrigue me further, just I wanted more in this one. This film gets much closer to where Suicide Squad was trying to get to, and if you’re into the superhero genre, it’ll be a lot of fun for you. If only this had come out years ago, pre joker, and they just hinted at him throughout before a reveal in The Batman next year. If Only.

Good: Margot Robbie is electric; the cinematography and colours are a treat and the violence is really well executed. Also a great soundtrack.

Bad: Underdeveloped characters for all but Harley, and a very basic plot.

7/10 – Colourful Fun

 

Bombshell Review

Bombshell caught me by surprise late last year when I stumbled across the trailer and saw it had some of the most talented actresses all bundled together to tell an important, powerful story. It then fell off my radar until it finally released, and now I have finally been able to see whether it could live up to the expectations such a talent packed cast demand. 

Well first off, that cast all turn up and deliver excellent performances all-round the board. Everyone follows the lead of Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman in the lead roles and that level of performance is what really drives this film and makes it so compelling. Charlize Theron in particular catches the eye, and the Oscar nomination she has received for this role is well earned.

Margot Robbie is less central in the film, but she has some of the most powerful scenes and that’s why she is in the running for the supporting actress role, once again earning it. I did feel that those two were just a level above Nicole Kidman, who plays a very important role in the film but never threatens to steal a scene from anyone.

John Lithgow plays Roger Ailes, the man in charge of Fox and the man who is pitting these women against each other in their competitive field. He channels the ability he’s displayed in several roles over the years to be incredibly unsettling. He shares scenes with all the leads and although Margot Robbie’s character is a blend of several real women, the idea that this is based on true events made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

The story, if you don’t know it already, is essentially a dramatic telling of the events that led to Roger Ailes being removed from his role at Fox due to him sexually harassing numerous women over years in power at the news platform. The movie does a fantastic job of bringing you through the events, and the voice over from the three leads provides extra exposition when needed to give you more information as we go through the events.

There are a couple scenes in this that really feel powerful, and the film starts to go deeper into the characters and their emotions and the struggles they had to deal with. Margot Robbie bears the brunt of these scenes, with one showing how much the events have hurt her and another asking cutting questions to other women asking why they didn’t come out sooner to protect the next group of women from being abused the same way they was.

In these moments, the film threatens to step up another level to a point where I would be championing it for best picture, but it never quite goes for that step up and delivering something that really pulls at your emotions. It’s not that there is a joke that breaks the tension, it’s that the moments sort of fizzle out, they pass without a big moment to really punch it over the line and that’s where this film doesn’t quite make it to where it could have.

I found the subject matter horrible to watch, as a straight white dude I have not experienced anything like this and I am ashamed of the men in this story, as they stand idly by and turn a blind eye to these events. I can imagine that in the moment these situations are unbelievably difficult to manage. Their careers and personal aims would be unaffected by them staying on the outside of this, but they could lose it all by stepping into the fight for women against powerful men.

This film wasn’t about them though, and rightfully so, its focused on the women that stood up to the Mad Men style patriarchy and came out of it with an important win. I would be interested to know how this film makes women feel watching it, and I am looking forward to the conversations I will have about this film.

Good: Fantastic Performances carry this film, and it tells an important, interesting and at times powerful story.

Bad: The tone doesn’t always match the events unfolding, and the pacing took away from some of the more dramatic beats that could have elevated this film even higher.

8/10 – Bombshell is full of Bombshells. 

 

 

 

 

I,Tonya Review

I, Tonya tells the story of US olympic ice skater Tonya Harding and her life, and the build up to the famous incident with Nancy Kerrigan. As this all happened in 1994, when I was a 1-year-old boy, I do not remember it happening but I believe it was quite a big news story at the time. 

As someone who had little knowledge of her story, I have to say i found myself hooked on this film from early on, with a very interesting storytelling style that really lent itself to keeping the viewer engaged. Switching back and forth between interviews and the events they are discussing proved to be a very entertaining way to view this specific story and credit has to go to the Director Craig Gillespie for that.

Allison Janney plays LaVona (Tonya Harding’s Mother), and immediately stands out from early in the film as an entertaining but deeply flawed person. Despite playing such a despicable character, and this film really does portray her as that, you can’t help but enjoy the way Janney plays the character. Straight away this highlights the biggest strength of this film, the performances.

Janney is in good company in playing the supporting roles, alongside Winter Soldier actor Sebastian Stan as Tonya’s first husband Jeff and Paul Walter Hauser as the ignoramus bodyguard Shawn. They all do great work, Janney in particular shining and deserving that oscar nomination for her supporting role, but there is no doubt who the star of this film is. Margot Robbie proves beyond any doubt (If there was any) that she is much more than just a pretty face.

Margot carries this film with so much charm, intelligence and drive that you can’t take your eyes off her performance. Whether she’s dancing around an ice rink, arguing with her mother, or crying in the mirror putting on her make up, the film contains several scenes that give her the opportunity to shine, and she takes every one of them. I haven’t seen every performance this year, but from what I have seen she has to be favourite to pick up a statue for best actress this weekend at the Oscars. Take nothing away from Sally Hawkins and Frances McDormand in their films this year, but nothing has come close to this performance for me except Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, and even he is second best in my mind.

I, Tonya moves along at quite a speed for the most part, and teases you through the first act with hints at what we know is coming later in the film. Once we get to the “Incident” the film slows a little, and it does seem to go in circles for a brief period where you are waiting for the next event to move the story along. Other than that the only other minor gripes I had with the film is that we are asked to buy Sebastian Stan and Margot Robbie as 15 year olds, and there is one particular moment when a heavy metal song is playing and it was a complete mismatch to the scene and took me out of the film for a second.

The film is thoroughly entertaining, funny, informing, and by the end of the film, emotionally taxing. You will feel for Tonya Harding despite the film acknowledging her flaws. It paints a vivid picture of a person with a very specific goal, to be an olympic gold medalist in ice skating, and how the circumstances she found herself in affected that goal.

Good – Every performance in this film is great, with Margot Robbie showing she’s among the best actresses in hollywood today. Also has some great comedic moments, and tells its story brilliantly. It was also written by a guy named Steve Rogers, and stars Bucky Barnes, a bit of trivia for you comic book fans to appreciate.

Bad – That Heavy metal song, and Knee Injuries. I have one at the moment, so it’s a particularly sore spot for me.

9/10 – I, Margot Robbie, Shall win an oscar this year.