By: Kevin Jordan
Don’t oversell it.
Watching a DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movie is a bit like Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football. Every time you line up the kick, she promises that, this time, she won’t pull it away. By now, you have slipped four discs in your spine, bruised your tailbone, dislocated a hip, and eaten as much grass as a goat. But, you are going to try again, remembering that one time the DCEU was a little slow to yank the Wonder Woman ball away and you grazed it. You think “one of these days, she is going to keep her promise and that kick is going to feel sweet.” Well, either Lucy fell asleep on the job or that day is upon us because Birds of Prey finally fulfilled that promise.
(Side note: the subtitle of Birds of Prey is The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. To continue with my tortured Peanuts gang analogy, that subtitle was DCEU thinking really hard about seeing you land on your ass again. Also, mild SPOILERS ahead.)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a bit of a perfectionist. When I point out problems with movies and people accuse me of nit-picking, my immediate response is “Hello…movie critic.” Picking apart movies is literally the job. What one might see as a good movie whose flaws should be ignored, I see as a solid first draft that needs to be polished in order to be great. Birds of Prey definitely needs some Pledge.
I will start off by saying that Birds of Prey is a very fun, very entertaining movie. Considering the DCEU’s track record, Birds of Prey seems like a priceless work of art following the tornado of toe jam that is the entire DCEU minus Wonder Woman. Incidentally, Wonder Woman was also no better than a solid first draft, but I digress. The film captures the insanity of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) through its structure, bouncing between past and present with Harley narrating everything for us. It is manic and discombobulated, but somehow manages not to cross the line into obnoxious. The fight scenes are well-choreographed and the movie incorporates some well-timed and funny comedic relief. The characters are fun and engaging and not once do we see Jared Leto’s Joker appear on screen. If this is the limit of your interest in deconstructing a movie, great. Thank you for reading and please thank the ushers on your way out.
If you are here for some fun, you’ve come to the right place.
But look past the surface for a moment and you will start to see that the flaws in this film are much more than just nits. Every character has writing issues. Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is missing a backstory and gets a superpower with barely any development (she shatters a glass while singing, which is not even remotely an indication that she has super-scream powers, not to mention no other glasses broke in the room). Huntress, a.k.a. the cross-bow killer (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is a stone-cold assassin until the movie tries to make her an awkward nerd. Plus, she seems to be completely unaware of the mythical diamond belonging to her own family, instead, focused solely on revenge for her family’s murder. Roman Sionis, a.k.a. Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), only wears his mask at the very end of the film, for no reason other than to remind the viewer that he has an alias (which is completely pointless since everyone knows who Black Mask is and we never see him do anything as Black Mask until the climax). The hyena is never used other than as a sight gag. Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) is an aged, maybe-alcoholic that suddenly is able to kick ass with the best of them despite barely any development of said ass-kicking skills beyond a drunken fight with Harley. Harley can kick the hell out of dozens of toughs, but struggles with the drunk-detective (to be fair, this is typical of action movies).
In addition to the character issues, the production and screenplay have a couple of problems. While most of the fight scenes are executed well, the climactic fight scene is over-choreographed, forcing everyone to fight in a room full of over-the-top obstacles, not to mention the editing is disorienting, frequently jumping back and forth between multiple fights. Then, after dispatching the first round of bad guys, why do all of them just walk out of the building as a group when they know a bunch more bad guys, including Black Mask are waiting for them, leading to the least surprising shooting in the history of film? At one point, they stage a person-whipping-motorcycle sequence (based on roller derby) which causes the motorcycle to crash for no reason. Maybe the most egregious flaw is how the R-rating is mostly wasted, as there is almost no blood-spatter, zero nudity, but plenty of f-bombs. Birds of Prey clearly wants to be DC-Deadpool, but manages to come off as if it has never seen Deadpool. Somehow, this movie manages to not do enough, while also doing way too much.
If only you could rip a few people to shreds. Oh yesh.
Conversely, it does a bunch of smaller things well. The movie is aware of itself with some fourth-wall breaks (again invoking Deadpool), it stops one scene to have a character ask when Harley had time to put on roller skates during a fight, another scene shows Huntress practicing her “do you know how I am?” line in the mirror, and most importantly, the majority of the action scenes treat the women as characters instead of women. Plus, the actors are clearly having fun, especially McGregor, who seems like he has been waiting to play a super villain since Jar Jar Binks crossed his path.
If you have made this far, you can see how a movie appears to me. Maybe I am too critical sometimes, but you try forgivingc flaws after watching and writing about seventy-five movies a year. Like I said, I am a bit of a perfectionist and I am not willing to settle for merely okay or good when a movie can clearly be improved upon. That does not mean I still don’t enjoy the hell out of movies because I really did enjoy the hell out of Birds of Prey. It just means I am not going to gush over movies that only look awesome because the other movies standing around them smell like my son’s feet after two hours of basketball.
Rating: Ask for a dollar back or at least a spit-shine.
By: Kevin Jordan
Dude, you got a computer on your face.
Now, this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
Just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the target of a group of elite killers, including a clone of me thirty years my junior
In west Philadelphia born and raised (I even wear a Philadelphia hat and confirm my birth city)
On the playground was where I spent most of my days (playground being a euphemism for battlefield and training grounds)
Chillin’ out maxin’ relaxin’ all cool
And all shootin some bad guys with my super-duper sniper skills all over the world (I’m Henry Brogan (Will Smith))
When a couple of guys who were up to no good (well, guy and gal, Clay Verris (Clive Owen), and Janet Lassiter (Linda Emond))
Started making trouble in my neighborhood (by lying to me about my final kill and having me followed by a DIA agent named Danny Zakarweski (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared (just kidding, my mom doesn’t know I’m an assassin and I killed the team of mercenaries sent to kill me in my home)
I said “I’m going to rescue Agent Zaka..Zakawaka..Zachoo..Danny and get the heck out of Dodge”
I am the greatest!
I begged and pleaded with her day after day (actually, I just told her she was the next target and had five minutes to get out)
So she packed a quick bag and we went on our way
She beat up a merc and gave me his teeth
So we hopped on a boat and said “we need a safe place to hide”
First class, yo this is bad (my friend Baron (Benedict Wong) picked us up in his prop plane)
Then getting shot at by my clone in Cartegena
Is this what Clay was doing with my DNA
Hmm this is not alright (including the CGI used to render my clone’s younger face of me..yikes)
But wait I hear a Russian guy can tell me all about the last target I killed
Is this the type of place that they just send this cool cat (anybody else weirded out by having to meet the guy in a bathhouse in Budapest?)
I don’t think so (but at least he told me about the target)
I’ll see when I get there (round two against my clone)
I hope he’s prepared for the prince of state-sanctioned murdered
The CGI looks fine in a single frame.
Well, the plane landed and when I came out
There was a dude who looked just like me standing there with a gun
I ain’t trying to kill him
I just got here
I sprang with the quickness like lightning, disappeared (after fighting him again in another example of clearly and poorly rendered CGI fight scenes)
I whispered to Danny “How’d they know where we were”
Turns out I had a bug in me and my clone dug it out
If anything I could say that this clone was rare
But I thought “Nah, forget it – Yo, homes to Gimini headquarters”
We pulled up at a light in the middle of some town
And my clone yelled to us “Yo homes get out of the van!”
I looked at my kingdom (the town)
We were finally there
To duke it out with Clay and his army as the Prince of..you get the idea
Rating: Ask for all of your money back and for me to never, ever write a review using song lyrics again. You are welcome.
By: Kevin Jordan
Raise your hand if you knew this movie was coming. Ok, everyone not involved in the making of this movie, raise your hand. That’s what I thought; me either, and I know about most movies well before you. I found out about it maybe two weeks ago when the first trailer was released and my reaction was “wait, when did J.J. Abrams have time to produce another movie while doing Star Wars?” My next reaction (because I’m a nerd) was “another Cloverfield movie? Niiiice.” Then, I watched the trailer and, as is typical with Abrams’ movies, learned just enough to think “Niiiice.”
There are plenty of things to admire and like about Abrams, but my personal favorite is how good the trailers are for his movies. Most movie trailers ruin 80% of the film or they completely lie about what the movie is actually about. Abrams does no such thing, instead, choosing to tease the viewer and raise questions that in the viewer’s mind that must be answered. In the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the trailer shows three people (John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr.) in a bunker doing trivial things – reading, assembling puzzles, and listening to music. Then, things start to turn dark with shaking, fires, pointy sticks, handcuffs, and terrified glances. Finally, Winstead whacks Goodman in the head with a bottle and bolts for the door, getting through the first door (it’s two doors creating a homemade airlock) and locking it before Goodman can reach her. As she looks out the window, Goodman is screaming at her not to open the door and we see her cover her mouth in horror and…fade to movie title. Dude.
Now, because we saw Cloverfield (if you didn’t see Cloverfield, what are you doing here?), we have a basic idea why they are in the bunker – rampaging monsters that may or may not be aliens. After that, nothing. From the one minute and forty-four second trailer this was what went through my head:
They seem like a family; they’re making the best of a shitty situation; oh there’s John Goodman’s ass dancing in front of a juke box. (Rumble, rumble) That would be the monsters. Wait, why does Winstead look terrified of Goodman? Who’s in the handcuffs? What’s in the air duct? FIRE! Goodman’s little pistol and a sharpened stick are not going to kill those monsters. Do they have a plan? Are they all going to die? Holy shit – she just whacked Goodman with a bottle and made a break for the door? What the hell is happening here!? I thought they were a family? Goodman’s right – don’t go out there!! Oh my god – what does she see! (Title screen) NOOO!! …….. when does this movie open?!?!
Now that is how you make a trailer. Incidentally, 10 Cloverfield Lane is also how you make a horror movie. Unlike most horror flicks, 10 Cloverfield Lane doesn’t stoop to cheap tricks like gory deaths or making things jump into the screen. It uses actual writing and film elements to scare you and make you tense throughout. It’s a cross between a whole lot of Misery sprinkled with some, well, Cloverfield. There are genuine moments that shock you because you really weren’t expecting THAT to happen. In short, it’s a horror movie inside a completely different horror movie.
I’d see any Abrams movie, so I might be a little biased in saying that this movie is definitely worth the price of admission. But, even if you aren’t an Abrams fan, you almost have to be a John Goodman fan. Winstead and Gallagher are both good, but Goodman brings his A-game. As the subplot of “who is he” unfolds, you won’t know what to think. Is he good, bad, crazy in an innocent way, or crazy in a Hand that Rocks the Cradle kind of way? Regardless, you will enjoy his character because Goodman was that – uhh – GOOD.
Like the trailer, I’m keeping this short and not giving away too much. If you’re an Abrams fan and seen his movies, then you know he can’t resist giving you at least a peak at the monster under the bed. Whether that monster is Goodman or something outside, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back. Remember this movie when you’re NOT being scared later in the year by movies like The Purge 3.