REVIEW: BIRDS OF PREY (2020)

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BIRDS OF PREY (2020)

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The full title of this latest DC comics flick is Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, though they could have saved some poster space and just called it Harley Quinn, as it is far more her movie than the title crime fighting group’s. The actual Birds of Prey are hardly in their own flick and Huntress, especially, has extremely minimal screen time. Messy plot finds Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) having broken up with the Joker and now with a target on her back, as she’s no longer protected by being The Joker’s girlfriend. She’s particularly pissed off sleazy crime boss Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), who will spare her life if she steals back The Bertinelli diamond, which is now in the hands of young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Cain is being watched over by detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who is being fed inside information from within Sionis’ gang by his singer/driver Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). Throw in a mysterious vigilante called Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is killing off mobsters across Gotham. Of course, all paths are destined to meet and we have basically the mess it sounds like.

Flick is directed by Cathy Yan, who thinks style is simply cranking out a famous pop culture song every five minutes and bathing everything in neon lights and glitter. It makes the mess of a script by Christina Hodson all the more obvious in how superficial it really is, despite all the attempts at feminist commentary about female empowerment. Messages that would be far better presented if the story or characters had any real substance or development. A good example of a film that tries too hard and gives itself far too little to work with. Harley Quinn is the only character that has some weight, but only because she was already established in another movie. Why DC can’t do anything really special with this character theatrically is a mystery. The current DC animated series with Quinn (voiced by Kaley Cuoco) is a naughty, bloody hoot with tons of sarcastic wit and delivers the girl power messages slyly along with all the fun. It’s far better written than this under-baked flick. At least if the action was fun and fast moving, it could make this more watchable, right? Unfortunately the monotonous fights wear out their welcome, just as early as the soap opera level melodrama about broken homes, being orphaned and murdered parents. Yes, these origins are comic book tradition, but come on, do something innovative with them. This is the same old tired stuff with glitter thrown over it to make it appear new. It’s a thin coat of paint over a thin script for characters and actors that deserved far better. The story is also told in a Pulp Fiction-esque habit of going back and forth, until it settles into the last act and Tarantino used it far more effectively. Here it just makes a jumbled mess seem even more jumbled. Shame, there might have been a real blast of a movie in there somewhere, but director and script let our clown queen and her new buds down.

For the most part we have a good cast, though. Robbie is simply a great Harley Quinn in desperate need of a far better movie. She’s fun, energetic and gives us a tough, sexy, smart-ass bad girl that makes the best of a bad script. She makes every line work better than it should and livens up most of the drab, cliché scenes whenever she can. A good actress and a pro. Same can be said for Ewan McGregor having a blast as the thinly written Roman Sionis. He gives the sometimes prima donna villain some menace and the right amount of-over-the-top to vastly improve what he was given to work with. Rosie Perez is good as Montoya, a cop crapped on by the system one too many times, but still trying to do her job. As for the actual Birds of Prey, beautiful Jurnee Smollett-Bell does give her Dinah Lance/Black Canary a little heart and substance and is a strong women in need of more screen time. She’s better than her thinly written part deserved. As a big fan of the versatile Mary Elizabeth Winstead (just watch her in Smashed and Faults), it’s rare to say she didn’t seem right for a part, but the actress doesn’t quite click as Huntress. Maybe it’s because she’s one of the worst written characters and has barely any screen time to be developed. Her anger issues are the brunt of jokes in a script that wants us to respect women. Rounding out is Ella Jay Basco as orphan and delinquent Cassandra Cain. She’s an annoying plot device in a flick that has enough problems without having an annoying child as a plot device. Harley gets saddled with her and it’s funny how a film wanting us to believe in female empowerment turns one of it’s strong female leads into a stereotypical babysitter/surrogate mom. At least Basco tries to give her cliché character some fire and spirit.

Sadly another wasted theatrical venture by one Harley Quinn. Another great portrayal by Margot Robbie goes wasted again with a muddled mess of a script and ‘too hip for it’s own good’ direction. Some messages about female empowerment are buried under a cliché and superficial flick that wastes a good cast, and despite a lot of chases and action, is actually very by-the-numbers once you peel away all the loud pop culture radio hits and all the glitter and neon. With a wittier script and a director who didn’t bury what could have been some nice underlying weight and substance under a lot of shallow glitz and glamor, this could have been as good as the current animated cartoon, which fires on all the cylinders that this flick fails to.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 (out of 4) anti-heroines who, again, deserved a much better movie.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

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DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

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Doctor Sleep is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel which in itself is a sequel to The Shining. The film picks up in 1980 shortly after the events of the first film/book with Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mother Wendy (Alex Essoe), who are both still traumatized from their stay at the Overlook Hotel. Danny is especially troubled because of his psychic abilities and what they attract. It then moves forward to 2011 where Danny is now an adult (Ewan McGregor) and an alcoholic mess of one at that, still trying to get over his emotional scars. He joins AA and gets a job at a hospice where he finds he can bring solace to the terminally ill residents. The film finally settles in presented day, with Dan now clean and sober, but being contacted by a girl with similar abilities named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). Unknown, at first, to Dan and Abra, a sinister group called the True Knot, who feed upon the powers of people with such abilities, are hunting Abra down. This eventually leads Dan and Abra back to the dreaded Overlook Hotel for a showdown with True Knot’s powerful leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and the spirits that still linger there.

Adaptation is written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who did the brilliant Gerald’s Game adaptation for Netflix and is one of the most innovative writer/directors in horror right now. Here he creates what is more of a dark fantasy than straight up horror with some clever representations of the various abilities of both those with Shining and the True Knot. The recreations of events, places and characters from Stanley Kubrick’s film are really on point, too and a lot of fun with some inspired casting, such as Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe as Wendy and Carl Lumbly as Hallorann. If anything holds this intriguing and entertaining film back a bit, it’s that it feels like one must have read both Stephen King’s books to really appreciate the mythos being created here. Maybe this flick needed to be in two parts like the It adaptation, as it feels like certain things needed more attention, such as who or what really are the True Knot, and Abra and Dan’s friendship could have been fleshed out a bit more for it to resonate. Still, Flanagan has a solid script and is a good editor in cutting his own material, but here it just feels like there wasn’t enough of certain elements to really emotionally involve the uninitiated viewer not familiar with King’s books. The audience in attendance was very quiet and seemed a bit detached from the film. The flick does earn it’s R rating. There is graphic violence and some disturbing sequences, especially when the True Knot kidnap and murder a young boy (Jacob Trembly), and the final conflict had intensity and chills. It’s just, overall, the flick didn’t inspire a strong emotional investment to really get one involved in what was going on…unless there was already an invested interest in the material going in. A first for a Flanagan film, which are usually emotionally gripping and intense like Gerald’s Game and Hush. The FX are very well done and there are some really wild sequences, like Abra taking on Rose who’s not used to being challenged. At 152 minutes it’s not boring, there is an atmospheric score by the Newton Brothers and Flanagan’s visual style is well represented by Michael Fimognari’s cinematography. It just it wasn’t as gripping as it needed to be, despite all that Flanagan gets right…and he gets a lot right, here.

Flanagan has a great cast and the characters are well written. Ewan McGregor is very good as the adult Danny, who becomes a reluctant hero, of sorts, when the True Knot come after Abra. His downward spiral as an alcoholic and eventual recovery to the point where he is selfless enough to combat Rose, is well played by the veteran actor. As Rose, Rebecca Furguson steals the film as the sinister yet smolderingly sexy True Knot leader. A devious yet powerful woman and one who will commit horrible acts without question, to keep she and her followers “fed.” Kyliegh Curran is very good as Abra, a powerful young teen in her own right. The actress gives her the strength needed to believe in her abilities, yet still keeps her a relatable teen. Cliff Curtis is also very good as Dan’s only friend and AA support, Billy. There are some familiar faces in the supporting cast, such as House of the Devil’s Jocelin Donahue as Abra’s mom, the before mentioned Alex Essoe as Wendy, Henry Thomas in a role not to be spoiled here and Bruce Greenwood as Dan’s AA group leader. Sadly, Greenwood’s likable Dr. John Dalton character just disappears and one questions his inclusion at all.

Overall, this was an entertaining film, though not as engrossing as it should have been. Flanagan directs solidly with a clever and innovative script, but doesn’t quite get the emotional investment needed from those not already familiar with King’s material and characters. There are some intense and disturbing sequences and the dark fantasy element works so very well, but something was still missing for those of us who haven’t read the books. It did have a strong villainess and it was spooky fun to revisit the Overlook Hotel again. A good movie, but as the end credits roll, one feels it should have been more.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) hats.

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