Birds of Prey (dir. by Cathy Yan)


Once upon a time, there was this comic book company called DC. DC was fortunate enough to be owned by Warner Bros. back in 1968. I’ve always thought of this as a good thing, despite not being the best of fans. It meant that any tv show or movie would have the full backing of Warner Bros., and DC would never need to shop around for production and/or distribution  rights for their work. So, when Superman finally happened in 1978, it was a watershed moment in the history of Comic Book films. It would take more than a decade for the WB to finally make a film about a second DC Hero with Tim Burton’s Batman.

But over the last 30 years, we’ve had:

  • 7 Superman Films (5 Original, plus the Singer reboot, the Snyder Reboot and a sequel with Batman v. Superman)
  • 4 Batman Films (4 Original, plus the Nolan Reboot and Snyder sneak-in on Batman v. Superman
  • Green Lantern 
  • Wonder Woman
  • Aquaman
  • Suicide Squad
  • Shazam!

That’s not counting films like Steel, but generally, outside of 2011’s Green Lantern, the support for DC’s character base outside of what they needed for Justice League really wasn’t strong, in my opinion. So getting a movie that stands outside of the usual top tier is worth trying, even if it stutter steps the way Suicide Squad did.

So, Birds of Prey, fully known as Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it and give me a bit of hope for what comes next from DC/WB. The film focuses on Harleen Quinzel (Margot Robbie, reprising her role from Suicide Squad), who suffers a bad break up from The Joker. To cope, she gets herself a new place and a new pet hyena (a good throwback to the Paul Dini / Bruce Timm Batman: The Animated Series version of the character). When she runs into mobster Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor, Doctor Sleep), he gives her a mission to recover a precious diamond from Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Bosco), a young pickpocket. Also thrown into the hunt for the diamond is Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, True Blood), who works for Sionis. Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez, Do the Right Thing) is looking to take down Sionis and The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Death Proof), who has her own reasons.

The performances are nice, and it seems like everyone enjoyed themselves. No one really phones in their roles – both McGregor and Robbie excel with their parts, and there’s nothing really wrong with anyone’s work here. I haven’t much to say on that.

The story for Birds of Prey, written by Bumblebee‘s Christina Hodson, is a bit unsteady at first. It makes sense, given Harley’s madness, and makes for some fun exposition in the same way Suicide Squad did. Of particular note are the fight scenes, which feels a lot like what you’d find in John Wick. Birds of Prey has its own particular style.  My only real problem with the film was the change over in Cassandra Cain’s character from the comic, who is pretty dangerous. Bosco’s Cain isn’t really written that way, but her pickpocket abilities does make up for it, somewhat. It’s not a terrible thing, but if you’re expecting the Batgirl you’ve read about, it’s not happening. Additionally, Moviegoers expecting to see either Jared Leto or Ben Affleck will probably be a little disappointed. Birds of Prey works with the inclusion of the two DC majors, but I enjoyed that.

Overall, Birds of Prey is a fun popcorn flick that may not be as strong as Shazam!, but offers quite a bit in the way of humor and action. I’m happy that DC’s taking these chances, and hope they continue to do so going forward.

At least it’s not another Batman film.

Todd Phillips’ “Joker” Trailer


DC will never fully give Gotham any rest.

Why should they, though? With Batman’s 80th birthday, it makes sense to keep the fires burning by announcing a film taking place in his playground. With Joker, we now have the 4th iteration of Batman’s nemesis over the last 30 years (not counting animated/tv versions, anyway).

When Todd Phillips’ name is mentioned, the first movie that comes to my mind is The Hangover. Comedy is where he shines, so seeing the first trailer for his upcoming Joker is interesting. It’s looking more like Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down or Scorsese’s Taxi Driver than anything else. I’m curious to see where this goes, honestly.  If there’s anyone that can bring the creepy and crazy to The Joker, it’s Joaquin Phoenix.

Phoenix stars as an individual trying his best to smile through life’s challenges, only to become Gotham City’s greatest villian.

Joker makes his appearance in theatres this October, which worked extremely well for Venom in 2018.

 

Made Man: Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS (Warner Brothers 1973)


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Let’s talk about Martin Scorsese a bit, shall we? The much-lauded, Oscar-winning director/producer/film historian has rightly been recognized as one of out greatest living filmmakers, with classics like TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS, GANGS OF NEW YORK, and THE DEPARTED on his resume. Yet Scorsese started small, directing shorts and the low-budget WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? as a film student. He got work as an editor (UNHOLY ROLLERS) and assistant director (WOODSTOCK) before directing a feature for Roger Corman called BOXCAR BERTHA, starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine. When Scorsese and Mardik Martin cowrote a screenplay based on Martin’s experiences growing up in New York’s Little Italy, Corman wanted to produce, but only if the film could be turned into a Blaxploitation movie! Fortunately, Warner Brothers picked it up, and the result was MEAN STREETS, which put Scorsese on the map as a filmmaker to be reckoned with.

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Spring Fever: Joe E. Brown in ELMER THE GREAT (Warner Brothers 1933)


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It may be cold and snowy here in New England, but down in sunny Florida, Spring Training has already begun – which means baseball season is on it’s way! The Red Sox are looking good, although they got pounded by the Orioles in the game I watched this afternoon (I’m writing this on a Saturday), but just hearing the crack of the bats has whetted my appetite for the return of America’s National Pastime. So while we wait for Opening Day to arrive, let’s take a look at the 1933 baseball comedy ELMER THE GREAT.

Comedian Joe E. Brown plays yet another amiable country bumpkin, this time Elmer Kane of small town Gentryville, Indiana. Elmer’s  laid back to the point of inertia, except when he’s eating… or on a baseball field! He’s better than Babe Ruth and he knows it, and so do the Chicago Cubs, who’ve bought his contract…

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Living History: Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD (Warner Brothers 2018)


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If you like history as much as old movies, Oscar-winning New Zealander Peter Jackson has a treat for you – THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, a World War I documentary utilizing 100+ year old footage from the Imperial War Museum (most of it never viewed outside there) to tell the story of the British Empire’s infantry during The Great War. Jackson was given access to hundreds of hours of actual film and audio and commissioned to create something “unique and original”, and with the aid of modern technology he certainly succeeded in his mission.

Jackson’s narrative is told through the eyes of the young men and boys (some as young as 15) as they go through enlistment and boot camp, training to kill the enemy, then follows them to the Western Front, where they encountered not only battles in the trenches, but dysentery, rats gnawing at their fallen comrades, lice…

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40 Years of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (Warner Brothers 1978)


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Unlike today, when superheroes dominate at the box office and your local multiplex, costumed crusaders were dead as the proverbial doornail in theaters of the 1970’s. The last was 1966’s BATMAN, at the height of the camp craze, but after that zer0… zilch… nada. I didn’t care; my comic book reading days were pretty much at an end by 1978, driven away by other distractions, like making money, girls, beer, and girls. I had moved on.

But when Warner Brothers announced they were making a new, big budget Superman movie, I was intrigued. I’d always loved the old 50’s TV series starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, corny as it was, and with a cast featuring Marlon Brando , Gene Hackman , and Glenn Ford , not to mention that girl from Brian DePalma’s SISTERS as Lois Lane, I wanted to see this new version. I also wanted…

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Hollywood Babylon: TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (Warner Brothers 1958)


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Hollywood biopics are by and large more about their entertainment value than historical accuracy. TOO MUCH TOO SOON is no exception. It tells the story of actress Diana Barrymore, daughter of “The Great Profile” John, based on her 1957 best-selling tell-all, and though it pretty much sticks to the facts, many of them have been sanitized for audience consumption. Dorothy Malone , fresh off her Oscar-winning role in WRITTEN ON THE WIND, is very good indeed as Diana, whose true life was much more sordid than fiction, and we’ll get to all that later. What makes the film for me was the actor portraying the dissipated John Barrymore – none other than Errol Flynn !

Errol Flynn (1909-1959) as John Barrymore

Don’t expect to see the dashing star of CAPTAIN BLOOD and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD here. Flynn (who a year later would release his own tell-all book, MY…

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