Birds of Prey (2020)

birds of prey poster

Being the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn 🙂

Following the events of Suicide Squad (2016), ‘Mr J’ (Joker, but not the Joaquin Phoenix one!) and Harley Quinn have split up. She’s taking it well (!): time to adopt a new pet (hyena) and blow some stuff up. But, her party days of doing whatever she wants to whomever she wants are over – without the Joker’s protection, she’s fair game to everyone with a grudge. And there are more than a few of those…

I swithered so hard on this: DC haven’t captured my heart with their movies, and the reviews were mixed. It seems to me that audiences are split on this one more or less down gender lines. Every review I’ve seen that says, “meh, it’s not great” was written by a bloke. And every one that goes “wheee that was fun!” was by a woman. Oversimplification, perhaps, but it kind of makes sense. The women in the movie are having fun; the men are cannon fodder, idiots, or just deranged. Are male audiences just failing to find anything to identify with here? Possibly. Probably, even. Well, welcome to the flip side of the coin!

I’ve described this to a friend as a sort of all-girl version of some daft action movie, like The Expendables or Hobbs and Shaw it’s not deep, it’s not meaningful, it’s just a glorious riot of kicking ass. And there is nothing wrong with that. I say, if there’s room for a dozen mindless action movies for/with the boys in any given year, there is more than enough room for this!

That said, it’s maybe a little mean calling on such daft comparisons. Because while it is largely loud and colourful daft fun, it’s well made, decently acted, and there are a few clever little bits. For instance (tiny, non-important) spoiler: someone pointed out that the ‘fridging’ of the egg sandwich Harley is making goo-goo eyes over is exactly the kind of inciting incident the random female love interest is so often used for in these kinds of movies. Hah!!

The storytelling is also done quite cleverly, dashing back and forward on the narrative as we get the plot through Harley’s not entirely sane mind. She’s ditsy, but not dumb: the odd moment of her using her psychology degree are a nice reminder that she’s damaged, not stupid.

There are going to be those who say that if a case can’t really be made for men enjoying this more, then it’s not a great movie. Well, no it’s not ‘great’. It is a LOT of fun, though, and for once it’s more relatable to a different audience. Getting dumped and getting revenge, hitting back – literally – at catcallers and the like. Being a girl and doing whatever the F you feel like – hells, yeah!!

So. Not a masterpiece, but for the female audience, at least, a huge dollop of fun and exactly the kind of OTT wish fulfilment that the boys have had for more than long enough!

Released: 7th February 2020
Viewed: 4th March 2020
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

jumanji 2 poster

Never a huge fan of the original Jumanji (1995), I enjoyed the reboot of the series (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)) more than I expected. This sequel is more of the same, really, although not quite hitting the same highs for fun or laughs or novelty. Most of the jokes are based on the previous film, with not too much variation on the themes. Still, you know what you’re getting.

For some unfathomably daft reason, young Spencer decides to fix the video game smashed the end of the first (reboot) movie, and re-enters the world of Jumanji. When his friends discover this they feel obliged to go back in and save him. However, not all is working perfectly, so rather than getting to pick their own avatars this time, things get a little… mixed up. Oh, and grandpa (Danny Devito) and his one-time friend (Danny Glover) are along for the ride.

The humour of the ‘old fogies’ is perhaps pushed a bit too far – it’s a bit insulting, actually. Watching the actors play with the new characters, however, is a lot of fun, even if some of the impressions are laid on a bit thick.

This time, the adventure travels out of the jungle setting of the first, but tbh I wasn’t that impressed with the ‘oh look, more Jumanji world’ – it’s all a bit… yeah, yeah, whatever.

Still. Watched this on a day of some pretty dire news, and it did exactly what I was hoping: distracted me for a few hours with a lot of daft fun. Overall I think it’s all pretty forgettable, but enjoyable enough for a mental mini-break.

Released: 11th December 2019
Viewed: 13th December 2019
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

21 Bridges (2019)

21 bridges poster

When a robbery goes wrong and several cops are left dead, who else would be called in but the cop that kills cop killers? Fresh from an Internal Affairs review board, Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is left in no doubt what is expected of him in this case. Given just a matter of hours to catch the killers, before those ’21 Bridges’ in and out of the island of Manhattan must be reopened, the race is on and tension levels are skyrocketing.

Meanwhile, the robbers are doubting the job they’ve just pulled, or the stumbling blocks to their escape. Davis, too, is questioning if things are quite what they seem.

Mark Kermode described this as a “B-movie with an A-list cast”, and quite frankly I can’t top that. 21 Bridges is a pretty straightforward crime thriller, with even the ‘twist’ signposted practically from the beginning. And yet, it’s well made with an excellent cast, and manages to be perfectly watchable and indeed, quite enjoyable.

Still, there’s nothing too novel here. Production values aside, this could have been made at pretty much any point from the 1970s onward. Grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy the action – brain not particularly required.

Released: 22nd November 2019
Viewed: 22nd November 2019
Running time: 99 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 6.5/10

Legion (season 1)

We meet David Haller as a patient in Clockworks mental institution, where he’s been for the past several years after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. But what if the voices he hears aren’t mental illness at all – what if he’s actually one of the most powerful mutants on the planet?

Legion is part of the X-Men universe (and similar but not quite to Brandon Sanderson’s Legion, at least in theme), based on the Marvel Comics (which I’ve never read, so no views on the adaptation). However, this bears little resemblance to the movies, and is all the better for it, in my opinion. The look is oddly old-fashioned – fashion, old-school tech – maybe 60s or 70s, but it’s not a period piece. It’s not about saving the world, or acting like superheros, but the far more personal story of one man fighting for a life worth living.

Story-wise, this needs a little attentioned paid. David’s life goes from boring routine to terrifying flight; the amazement of learning about his new abilities and the horror of his past. Things jump back and forth between the different times and memories, really brilliantly mirroring some of the confusion of David’s illness.

As things progress, everything gets that bit weirder. There are other mutants, and a shadowy quasi-government department. There is a lot of mystery around David’s abilities and ‘illness’ – who or what is the yellow-eyed demon, for instance?

I absolutely loved this first series. It makes so much sense that mutant abilities could be mistaken for mental illness, and being told it’s actually super-power is still greeted with so much doubt. But then – oh! Yeah, no spoilers 😉 I particularly liked the performances of Dan Stevens as David, on his journey from meek to figuring himself out, and Aubrey Plaza as Lenny who gets to run the gamut of unhinged, sexy, predatory and just out there.

If you can, it really works as a binge-watch, one episode flowing into the next, helping you as best as you can to keep hold of the twisty thread of things. Everything is very weird, from the deep sea diver in an ice cube to the various powers, and the style is very reflective of this: tilt-shift camera shots, a bollywood number, odd mental tricks and traps. But if you’re willing to go for the ride, I absolutely think it’s worth it!

First broadcast: 2017 – rewatched ahead of final season
Series: 1 of 3
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Gemini Man (2019)

gemini man poster

An aging assassin (Will Smith) runs into trouble with his government bosses when he decides to retire. The best there’s ever been, who could hope to take him down – except, perhaps, the younger version of himself. Just as well a shadowy figure cloned him 20 years before, hmm?

Actually, that time gap is one thing I approved of in this movie: I’m fed up of the sci-fi trope of ‘instant clones’, where people have a double there and then. This part of the science is closer to real, with the cloned child raised at the normal pace. Let’s not delve too deeply into the cloned personality, tastes, abilities, etc etc.

As a premise, it’s not too awful, if you’re minded to suspend disbelief for a bit. As an action movie, this works pretty well, with some cool rooftop and motorbike chases and Will Smith fighting with himself. The CGI for the de-aged duplicate is so-so: occasionally pretty darn good, sometimes so dreadful as to look unfinished (I imagine the DVD release will see improvements!).

However, the story is bland to the point of forgettable, which is a lot of a shame. It starts okay – who is chasing Will, why does he look like him (except, the audience already knows, so zero tension), etc etc. But, character motivations are murky, some change for no real reason, and the baddy ends up being totally one dimensional. I suppose there is a bit of ‘what if’ – how would you interact with your younger self, could you change their path, that sort of thing.

Overall: I think this is only about the special effects, which aren’t so impressive as to make up for the lack of interesting story. It’s well enough made, just lacks any real… anything, tbh, apart from action. Still, inoffensive popcorn fluff, the no-longer-so-fresh Prince adds a certain degree of quality – and he’s aging pretty well, I have to say!

Released: 10th October 2019
Viewed: 18th October 2019
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10 – forgettable, soulless popcorn fluff, but reasonably well-made

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (2019)

once upon a time in hollywood poster

In 1969, the murder of the young, pregnant actress, Sharon Tate, by the followers of Charlie Manson, shook the world and started the crumble of the era of love, peace and hippies. This movie is sort of Quentin Tarantino’s retelling of that period and set of events.

Except, it’s not really. Tate (Margot Robbie) is pretty much a side character, as we instead follow the fortunes of her (fictitious) next door neighbour, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Rick was famous for a while, playing a cowboy in a TV show, but now he’s taking bit parts as villain of the week in new pilots. He’s accompanied everywhere by his stunt double, friend, and lackey, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who’s struggling even more for work, not least because of some dark rumours about his past.

In one way, the film is about the different approaches these two men have to slowly fading careers and inevitable aging. Both actors are outstanding, DiCaprio as the whiny, self-obsessed actor throwing tantrums and sobbing, compared to Pitt’s laid-back, shrug it off, que sera acceptance of his lot. I’d have to say the latter is far more appealing, lighting up the screen with charisma, self-assurance, and a rather impressive not-dad bod for a man in his mid-50s. Sorry, got distracted there… 😉

Mostly, though, the movie is just a homage to a period in time, and Hollywood of the late 60s – in the same kind of way that Singin’ in the Rain looked back three decades to another ‘golden era’ of Hollywood.

The plot sort of meanders, doesn’t really go anywhere much, but through it all everything just looks amazing. The real win here is how the viewer is entirely taken to a different era. It’s not just the visuals, but a slow pace quite at odds with today’s modern life, and a soundtrack that isn’t full of recognisable hits as much as just music of the time – and not just music, often the backing track is an advert playing on the radio, or the TV, and all the more ‘real’ for it.

I was a little baffled coming out as to how I was going to review this. On the one hand, I kept waiting for something to happen, and mostly it did not. There are a few ‘meh’ moments, such as Tarantino’s less than flattering portrayal of Bruce Lee. There were a lot of nods and ‘homages’ that went entirely over my head – many of the characters were real people, that I just didn’t know about, and the TV shows were also generally real. There was a huge level there that would have added more to the experience – I’m just glad I knew who ‘Charlie’ was, or I’m not sure how the film would have played at all.

And yet. It didn’t feel almost three hours long – I could have watched another hour, easily. I will happily see it again, and perhaps enjoy the atmosphere even more, without waiting for the ‘plot’ to happen. So. Yes. Worth the viewing, definitely.

Released: 14th August 2019 (UK)
Viewed: 16th August 2019
Running time: 161 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 8/10

Hobbs and Shaw (2019)

hobbs and shaw poster

The characters of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) have been spun-out of their bit-parts in the Fast and Furious franchise to butt heads in their own movie. F&F is big, flashy, daft fun – H&S is dafter and even more fun!

They might hate each other – see previous movies – but when a genetically engineered super-virus is stolen from a Mission: Impossible plot – I mean, from an armoured truck (ahem!) – Hobbs and Shaw are brought together (by the most unexpected cameo role!) to recover the virus and save Shaw’s sister. It won’t be that easy, though, not with Shaw’s ex-military compatriot, Brixton (Idris Elba), aiming for the virus himself – and that’s after his bullet-riddled body (courtesy of Shaw, natch) has had some serious cybernetic upgrades…!

I went into this expecting loud and flashy and daft and fun and I can confirm I got a full house of ticks on those fronts. It’s not high art or going to trouble the awards shows, but sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

The biggest draw is of course seeing the two leads facing off – and that brings a lot of fun and giggles. However, the movie is probably at least half an hour too long, and when the playing-for-laughs is shoved aside for out-and-out action, laid on as thick as the ‘message(s)’ (importance of family, in keeping with the F&F franchise , old ways over tech, the power of working together, blah blah), I turned off a bit and let the generic action movie stuff roll past.

Still, you can’t really complain about an action movie having too much action! Kudos to letting the woman, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), kick just as much ass as the boys. Idris makes a delicious baddy, although (as ever!) his character peters out a bit towards the end and could have done with more… something.

For the leads – well, the Rock is the Rock, and the Stath is the Stath. Not much more to say! Oh, apart from a couple of unexpected cameos – not quite as funny as they thought, but still amusing. Although watch out: when a familiar face starts talking during the mid-credits scene, there are some big Game of Thrones (!) finale spoilers!

There’s no subtlety here: you know from the genre if you’re likely to like it a lot, or not even slightly. I’d say it’s more fun than the F&F main movies, more hamming it up for laughs – and I quite liked that.

Released:
Viewed: 3rd August 2019
Running time: 135 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10