Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Posted on February 6, 2020 at 5:20 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very graphic peril and violence, characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 7, 2020
Date Released to DVD: May 11, 2020
Copyright Warner Brothers 2020

At last, the sisters are doing it for themselves, on screen and off. “Birds of Prey (and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee”), it has the ladies of the DC universe band together when the guys (Batman and Joker) are (literally) out of the picture.

We all know that when you’ve been dumped, you’ll need some recovery time, and if that involves Cheez-Whiz straight from the can, we won’t judge. You’ll need to adjust your social media settings, too. In the case of Harley Quinn (co-producer Margot Robbie), that can mean blowing up what used to be your special place. As an observer notes, that’s how “she just publicly updated her relationship status.”

Unfortunately, in the case of Harley Quinn, whose relationship with impulse control has been even more volatile than her relationship with the madman she calls Mr. J, has made many, many enemies, helpfully identified by name and grievance on screen so we can keep up. Without Mr. J as protector, it’s olly olly oxen free for anyone who wants revenge.

As Harley causes even more trouble and tries to hide or protect herself from those coming after her, she comes across the sole survivor of a mob family who is now an assassin dedicated to killing every man responsible for her family’s murders. She is still figuring out a name and a purpose once her targets have all been wiped out but one thing she has completely figured out is the crossbow. She will be known as The Huntress, and she is played by the always-terrific Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is a chanteuse in a club run by mobster Roman Sonasis (Ewan McGregor) with his henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). When Roman learns that she has some mad fighting skills, he makes her his driver.

There is the young girl thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who picks the wrong pocket. Trying to get to the bottom of all of this is a tough cop named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who is too honest to get promoted. Over the course of the film, the female characters will not always be on the same side. Some even betray each other. But when a girl needs a hair tie (in the middle of a big fight scene in a super-creepy abandoned amusement park beyond the wildest nightmares of Scooby-Doo, well, sisterhood is powerful.

Perhaps not as fun as it wants to be, but the movie has high spirits and a refreshing perspective that goes a bit deeper than just grrrl power. The carnage (with disturbing images and sounds) is intense and Harley does not always find the sweet spot between deranged creepy and deranged endearing. Deadpool may be nutty and naughty, but he is true-hearted, an anti-hero who is more hero than anti. As mesmerizing as Robbie is in the role, the storyline might have worked better with one of the other characters as the lead. It’s fantabulous that she is emancipated, but now she has to decide who she wants to be.

Parents should know that this film includes constant and very graphic peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed, disturbing sounds and images, knives, crossbow, guns, explosives, chases, very strong and crude language, nude images, brief drug humor, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: How did the early experiences of Harley and Huntress affect the way they made decisions? How is this like and different from other superhero movies?

If you like this, try: “Deadpool” and the “Birds of Prey” television series

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Trailer: Alex of Venice

Posted on March 17, 2015 at 8:00 am

The wonderful Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Derek Luke (“Empire”) star in “Alex of Venice,” about a woman struggling to meet her commitments at home and at work after her husband (director Chris Messina of “The Mindy Project”) leaves her.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

A.C.O.D.

Posted on October 4, 2013 at 7:30 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and brief sexual content
Profanity: Very strong language, some crude
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, some shoving, fire
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: October 4, 2013

AdamScottCOPortraits2013SundanceFilmMmjP6NGACVblAre today’s 20-and 30-somethings the least-parented generation in history, as a character explains in this film? To quote Rosie O’Donnell in “Sleepless in Seattle” about another depressing statistic, “It’s not true, but it feels true.” While the generation that came of age in the 1970’s and early 80’s were self-actualizing and consciousness-raising and yuppifying, their children were being raised by adults who were too often acting like, well, children.

Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation,” “Party Down”) produced and stars in “A.C.O.D.,” which stands for “Adult Children of Divorce.” It’s an apt oxymoron. Scott plays Carter, who is very much the adult in his relationship with his long-divorced but still-warring parents and with his younger brother, Trey (Clark Duke). He is also the adult in his professional life, as the owner of a trendy restaurant. But that has a considerable advantage, he points out. “It may be like a family, but I could fire the ones I don’t like.”

Trey’s engagement creates some immediate problems. He and his fiancée Kieko (Valerie Tian) have only known each other four months.  Trey cannot support himself; he is living in Carter’s garage.  But those are minor concerns compared to the “9 year marriage turned into a 100-years war” — their parents, Hugh (Richard Jenkins) and Melissa (Catherine O’Hara).  Trey wants them to come to his wedding and be civil to one another.  Even though both have re-married (Hugh twice), their toxic mutual hostility is still the most powerful and all-consuming force in their lives.

Carter, himself allergic to marriage due to the childhood trauma of his parents’ divorce (and their self-absorption, bitterness, manipulation, and use of him as a go-between and subject of endless custody disputes), knows that Trey’s plans are unrealistic.  But he can’t help being captivated, even a little wistful and the optimism and certainty of the couple.  And he knows it is in part because he has worked so hard to protect Trey from the worst of his parents’ battles.

The stress of negotiating with his parents is so unsettling, Carter seeks help from a woman he saw after his parents split up (Jane Lynch).  She is glad to see him again, but informs him that she was not his therapist.  She was interviewing him for a book about the impact of divorce on children.  And it became an international best-seller.  This puts him even deeper into a tailspin, as he reads the book for the first time and discovers what his middle-school turmoil looked like to an observer.  “Am I living in a shell of insecurity and approval-seeking?”  It is even more disconcerting that the book is a best-seller (“Fourteen printings and Margot Kidder did the audio book.”)

Meanwhile, his efforts to get his parents to be civil to one another has had some very disturbing repercussions.  And Carter’s sympathetic and supportive girlfriend of four years (the magnificent Mary Elizabeth Winstead) may not put any pressure on him, but she does point out that it would be nice to have a key to his apartment.

The storyline may be weak in spots, but the spectacular cast (Scott’s “Parks and Recreations” co-star Amy Poehler plays Hugh’s third wife) makes the most of the sharp dialogue and depictions of world-class boundary issues.  A credit-sequence coda with the movie’s real-life crew discussing their own A.C.O.D. issues is, like the film itself, sobering but still a reminder that ultimately, no matter how dysfunctional our origins, we get to decide who we want to be.

Parents should know that this film includes explicit sexual references and brief situations, rear nudity, very strong language, drinking, smoking, and drug references.

Family discussion: Why was Carter unhappy about the way he was portrayed in the book? How did he try to be different from his parents?

If you like this, try: “It’s Complicated” and “The Baxter”

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“The Beauty Inside” — A Social Media Movie

Posted on August 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm

The Washington Post reports that a new movie called “The Beauty Inside” will invite the audience to become part of the film.  Computer chip giant Intel is

teaming up with Toshiba to give aspiring actors an opportunity to star in a multi-part film alongside the likes of Topher Grace and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The movie is directed by Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film director Drake Doremus. The first episode, which was released on Aug. 16, has received multiple shares on Facebook and views on YouTube — a great marketing coup for the two tech companies.

The next installment lands Thursday.

The film centers around Alex, a protagonist who, every day, is someone different. The film, narrated by Grace, reveals Alex’s struggles as a different person, particularly as it relates to his sex life, and his chronicling of his various personalities. Aspiring actors can audition bysubmitting their photo and video via Facebook to Doremus and his team. A lucky few will be chosen over the course of the five films to star alongside the two-person celebrity cast.

A character will carry and use an Intel-powered Toshiba laptop through the film (note the film’s title), making it not just crowd-sourced but product placement/infomercial-based as well.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Posted on November 2, 2010 at 10:00 am

Director Edgar Wright’s latest movie is based on the popular series of graphic novels about Scott Pilgrim, an often-clueless, out of work musician who falls for a girl named Ramona and has to fight her seven evil exes in a mode that is half superhero, half computer game. In other words, it’s a Comic-Con Quadrella.

Those who were born before 1980, don’t recognize gamer terms, and are easily confused by a cuddle puddle of comics, Bollywood, indie music, and the omni-connectedness of the 2010’s, will either find this an imaginative anthropological journey or an unintelligibly precious mish-mash of smug self-awareness. Those who are in the right age group will either find it uniquely speaking to their own sense of alienation mixed with a boundary-less
hive-mind ultimate oversharing — or an unintelligibly precious mish-mash of smug self-awareness.

I thought it was cute and funny and surprisingly sweet. Director Edgar Wright (“Shawn of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”) tells the story with great energy and imagination, incorporating an pan-media range of story-telling techniques. When Scott has a realization, Wright has a quick cut to a parking meter with a needle that swings from the red “no clue” to the green “gets it.” Another character’s feelings are expressed when the pink, fluffy word L-O-V-E wafts in Scott’s direction.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, of course) is a nice if somewhat clueless guy whose cluelessness is tolerated and sometimes enabled by his roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin, employing a terrific, seen-it-all-and-finds-it-amusing deadpan), his fellow band mates (Sex Bob Omb, and his high school girlfriend Knives (Ellen Wong). Yes, her name is Knives and she is his high school girlfriend not because he met her in high school but because she is in high school. What do they do together? “She tells me about how yearbook club went and once we almost held hands on the bus.”

And then Scott sees Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and in a time-honored tradition that goes back even before Hot Pockets and Nintendo, love will make him braver, stronger, and able to consider the feelings of others for pretty much the first time in his slackery life.

But first he has to fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends, I mean exes. Each one is a physical manifestation of anyone’s insecurities in a new relationship. Will he be strong and brave enough for her? Pure enough? Successful enough? What have they got that he hasn’t got? On the way to understanding, I felt big, pink, fluffy L-O-V-E wafting from me toward the screen.

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