Birds of Prey


Viewed – 18 February 2019

… and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Some of my favourite movies are pleasant surprises. I went into this with not very high expectations and you know what? I really enjoyed it. It’s a simple movie at heart; a diamond falls into the wrong hands, a pick pocket kid steals it causing bad guys to go hunting for her, whilst at the same time anti-hero Harley Quinn fresh off a break up with former boyfriend The Joker finds herself the target of cops and crooks.

The alternative Avengers?

Yeah I wasn’t here for the story either, but when you consider Margot Robbie’s Quinn was the only redeeming aspect of the mostly forgettable Suicide Squad, another crack of the whip with this off-kilter character I was certainly up for. She doesn’t disappoint, narrating and carrying the movie in a whirlwind showcase of the actress’s screen magnetism and comic timing. Add to this decent support from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an avenging assassin and especially Ewan McGregor having a ball as villain Black Mask, and with several stand out fights and action scenes … I was thoroughly entertained. For a mostly female lead vehicle it didn’t shove some feminist agenda down one’s throat either.

It’s plot and structure are a little messy, but the movie wisely plays with this as a representation of how Harley Quinn thinks. Rosie Perez seems a bit out of place though, and characterisation other than the lead is fairly basic. Yet with enjoyable dialogue, a goofy sense of humour and a memorable villain, this was far from the disaster some critics (and that disappointing box office) would have you believe.

Verdict: Recommended

Joker


Viewed – 08 October 2019. Cinema

I didn’t get the most positive impression upon seeing the trailer for this. Although I believed Joaquin Phoenix was an ideal casting for the clown prince of crime … the realistic approach and the fact the movie looked simply like a guy laughing a lot and acting a bit strange didn’t fill me with excitement. There’s more to Joker than being a clown and a bit of a weirdo … but thankfully having sat through this, such feats are swept aside as director Todd Phillips delivers precisely the origin story fitting to the iconic character.

Phoenix plays Arthur, a guy with more than a few mental problems, not helped by an over dependant mother, a thankless job as a street performer, hopeless aspirations to be a stand-up comedian and living in a city that doesn’t give a damn. However with a girl next door who catches his eye, not all is bad. That is until a series of events finds him sinking further into madness and eventually finding a confidence in himself – as the Joker is manifested. Welcome support comes from Robert DeNiro as a chat show host but this is clearly Phoenix’s show and despite (favourable) comparisons to Nicholson & Ledger, he somehow makes the character his own in a complex, at times heart-breaking – yet still menacing portrayal.

This can be seen as a snapshot of our current society. It’s a brave exploration of how the powers that be can create a monster. At the same time, the movie plays cleverly with the viewers interpretation of what is real and what is fantasised . In the closing moments this approach is almost its undoing but with very strong echoes of Taxi Driver and even Black Swan I still came away surprised and particularly impressed. A must-see.

Verdict: 5 /5

Aquaman


Viewed – 23 June 2019. Blu-ray

When Nicole Kidman’s Atlantian queen washes up before a lighthouse, her forbidden love with land-dweller Temuera Morrison produces Arthur a half-breed who grows up to become underwater superhero Aquaman. However despite his reluctance to be the hero he’s destined to become, a war at his home world of Atlantis causes his own kind to come calling.

This colourful, energetic comic book adaption has a potentially star-making central performance from Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa and delivers a setting that immediately intrigues. It’s a shame then, that an over-use of CGI and green screen means that almost nothing in this looks like it was shot on location, leading to a largely artificial look and feel. Add to this a cliched story I felt I’d already watched with strong resemblances to the Thor films and Black Panther, with predictable revelations and plot twists … and what’s left is a movie that feels like it arrived too late for its own party. Momoa is charismatic and well cast and handles a plethora of fight sequences with genuine skill and showmanship, and the gorgeous Amber Heard is equally enjoyable. Willem Defoe feels kind of miscast and despite often being cast as the villain – should still have been the villain (Patrick Wilson is largely forgettable) and what really, is Dolph Lundgren doing here?

With that all said it’s hard not to be entertained. The action is slick and at times jaw-dropping (a particular roof top chase is heart-in-mouth exciting) and at times it’s really feel good. It re-introduces the character (following Justice League) well and brings with it a fascinating underwater world ripe for sequels. Just a pity it’s all feels so deja-vu.

Verdict: 3 /5

Justice League


Viewed – 27 March 2018  Blu-ray

After the critically panned yet commercial smash that was Batman V Superman (a movie I stand by as not being as bad as they say), we get this excuse to bring together several notable (and less notable) figures from DC comic’s illustrious history; namely Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash, Aqua Man and Cyborg, when a centuries old, banished demon returns to claim three powerful cubes that if united will give him the power to conquer worlds.  Yeah, the villain, Steppenwolf is basically Apocalypse from X-Men er…Apocalypse, but minus Oscar Isaac’s charisma, although by no means is he an unappealing adversary.  Then we get the problem that Superman is dead, but there may be hope of resurrecting him if Batman’s plan works out.

Justice League

Some people like to focus on a person’s imperfections.  The same can be said when it comes to movie criticism, and I’ll admit I have been guilty of that in the past.  However I am also a strong believer that some imperfections can be forgiven if they don’t ruin the overall experience.  One such example is the rather luke-warm reception given to this latest entry in DC’s attempt to rival Marvel’s cinematic universe, which for the most part the company has fallen in the shadow of constantly.  Yet having sat through it’s refreshingly lean-2hrs I came away wondering what people had issues with.  The story whilst not anything ground-breaking is perfectly suitable and engaging to bring together these characters, and a witty script handles many egos together on screen particularly well, giving each individual a moment to shine.  I especially enjoyed the slightly out-of-his-depth Flash and I found the otherwise unfamiliar Cyborg intriguing with his semi-Frankenstein’s monster backstory.  Affleck again proves himself a worthy Batman / Bruce Wayne and thankfully Henry Cavill’s Superman gets some great moments also, with his resurrection handled rather well.  Add to this a wonderfully likable (and damn sexy) turn from Gadot’s Wonder Woman and I found myself mostly buzzing from this.

The troubled development with director Zack Snyder having to pass the reigns to Joss Whedon is barely noticeable unless scrutinizing the tone of every scene.  Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is a little side-lined but that’s to be expected with so many characters to focus on, and there’s some questionable CGI / green screen moments.  Oh and that bit with Superman sporting CGI moustache-removal (in one brief scene) is a tad jarring. Also I’d have liked a bit more focus on the villain and just how he seems to psychically know the whereabouts of each ‘hidden’ cube. Thankfully such shortcomings are made up for by plenty of great action, superheroes kicking butt and bags of personality.

So ignore the nay-sayers, ‘cause this one’s definitely worth a watch.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Wonder Woman


Viewed – 01 June 2017  Cinema

Despite many people’s misgivings about Batman V Superman, few could argue that Gal Gadot’s sensual Wonder Woman was a particular highlight.  Her appearance kept viewers eager for more, and so we have this origin story that focuses on how Diana (who funny enough is never referred to as Wonder Woman) came to be involved in a mission during (interestingly) the first world war.  Quickly we’re introduced to Diana’s fantasy world of Amazonian warrior women and a loose connections to Greek mythology.  There we have Connie Nielsen (Gladiator) as the reining Queen and also Diana’s mother, as well as the queen’s gutsy sister played by Robin Wright (House of Cards), who despite seemingly a departure for the actress, proves a good fit.  However their peace is soon interrupted when an American pilot Chris Pine (Star Trek) crash lands at their shore, and Diana comes to his aid.

Wonder Woman

This plays mostly like a fish-out-of-water adventure with some well observed comedy and sharp dialogue, helped immeasurably by the chemistry between Gadot & Pine who spark wonderfully off one another.  The WWII backdrop also means we get plenty of action and thrills within a fun ‘dirty dozen’ escapade.  When Diana gets to kick ass too, its a sight to behold, superbly choreographed and well, she’s very appealing to the eyes (where did they find this beauty?).  The movie is a tad over-long and degenerates into typical over-powered villain verses overpowered hero showdown, and well some of Wonder Woman’s super-human powers aren’t fully explained (she can easily toss a tank aside with one hand).  Add to this an avalanche of CGI where some acrobatics began to look a bit cartoonish once people are flying around left right and centre.

However this has it where it counts; with colourful characters that work well with each other, a decent script with plenty of humour and some excellent set-pieces.  DC seem to have turned a corner with this one, so on such evidence, I can’t wait for Justice League!

Verdict:  4 /5