Hot News (Bombshell, 2019)

Bombshell_PosterBombshell is the dramatic recounting of the harassment scandal surrounding Fox News top guy Roger Ailes in 2016. Focusing on a wide eyed new Fox News employee Kayla Pospisil. An ambitious Conservative Christian, she finds her reality challenged as she starts to rise through the ranks, eventually becoming a victim of Ailes.

Robbie’s Popsisil is a composite character invented for the film. Robbie manages to be sympathetic in spite of her aspirations. Theron and Kidman do a good job disappearing into their famous roles, as does Lithgow.

The real MVP of Bombshell is the make-up, which made many actors near unrecognizable.

This being your standard “inspired by a True Story” fare, there is a lot of embellishment (outside of actual Fox News personalities, the central people Kayla interacts with the most are fictional, including Kate McKinnon’s Jess Carr).

The story playing out is pretty engaging, but the film seems unsure of what it wants to be. Is it a drama that indicts a sick corporate culture? Is it a satire of a sick corporate culture? Is it just the facts?

The main story is bookended by two very different set pieces.  It opens with Megyn Kelly (Theron) giving us a tour of the Fox News offices. It closes with a Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) speech about sexual harassment in the work place.

Bombshell is largely well made, bolstered by excellent make up and good performances.  But it’s lack of focus on what type of film it is trying to be definitely is a detriment.

Moving On (Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, 2020)

Harley_Quinn_BoP_PosterThe DC Extended Universe Films have struggled. A lot.  By the time Justice League came out the only film that had seemed to be a solid success with critics and audiences. Wonder Woman was joined by Aquaman and Shazam! as viewed through a largely positive lens.  Of course, Shazam! was a bit of a disappointment in the box office, which is too bad considering it is a fun and entertaining film.  Harley Quinn had it’s own issues facing it… a spin off (it is not really a sequel to Suicide Squad in any sense of the word) to a poorly received film (Suicide Squad made nearly its entire haul opening weekend) that went for an “R” rating.  The only character appearing in this film was Harley Quinn. Mind you, Margot Robbie is often cited as one of the best parts of Suicide Squad, mainly because she was.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a pretty messy title, and considering this is a Harley Quinn movie, rather misleading.  The focus is Harley Quinn and her life post Joker. But Harley discovers that life outside of the Joker actually makes her a big target for the underworld. Her biggest Danger is the Black Mask, Roman Sionis. He is after a unique jewel that was stolen by the pickpocket Cass Cain.  But things get complicated and Harley finds it hard to turn Cass over to Sionis.

Alongside are several interconnected side stories, Black Canary is working for Sionis, Detective Montoya is trying to take Sionis down and the Huntress is out for revenge on Sionis and his goons. Which means they will all have to team up together.

As I said, this is Harley’s movie. She narrates the film and will constantly suddenly decide we need to learn more of the story.  While this could lead to a complete mess, it kind of works as an aspect of Quinn’s personality.

I really like the characters in this film.  In fact, I found myself wanting more of Black Canary and the Huntress. Ewan McGregor is clearly having a good time playing an off the rails villain. Of course, Margot Robbie is making the character her own, becoming identifiable in the way Ryan Reynolds is with Deadpool or Hugh Jackman is with Wolverine.  She is so much fun in the film.

The action scenes are very well constructed and make for a whole lot of fun to watch.  The film is incredibly colorful, there is one scene where she is in the local jail taking people down with glitter pellets and other “silly” takes on weapons that is gleefully played out. They also use a visual queue similar to Suicide Squad…except they do it far better.

The “R” rating does not feel necessary and the film goes a little long. But it was a really entertaining time, and frankly, I wish this was the type of movie Suicide Squad had been.

Fading Glories (Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, 2019)

Once_Upon_A_Time_In_Hollywood_PosterAnd so here we are at Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film (Apparently Death Proof does not count?).  A pretty loving homage to the Hollywood of the 60’s, Tarantino weaves a tale of fading actor Rick Dalton and his best friend Cliff Booth and their place in it all.  Cliff is less bothered, content to help out his friend and then spend the evening sitting in front the TV with his dog. But after a meeting with producer Marvin Schwarz, Rick is realizing he is becoming…well obsolete…and it scares him.

I suspect Dalton’s crisis is not uncommon in Hollywood…but does it make for a great story?

Yeah.  It turns out that here? It sure does.

Now, of course, this is in part, due to the performances of both DiCaprio and Pitt as Dalton and Booth respectively. DeCaprio’s portrayal is both hilarious and endearing. Pitt gives Booth a real sense of casual cool.

Once_Upon_A_Time_In_Hollywood_Alt_PosterThe writing is both the cleverness we expect from Tarantino matched with compelling characters (there is a bit of a question if Cliff is maybe a darker guy, but the film leaves the door open on just how dark). I would say the weakest link in the main characters is Robbie’s Sharon Tate. Not because Robbie is a bad actress. She is charming and kind as Tate.  There is a sequence where we see Robbie express insecurity turning to joy as she watches a movie she is in with an audience. Robbie sells this moment. But she feels so incidental to the story for much of the time.

The cast is just full of great talent… Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant and a pretty endless group bringing their A-game.

Visually, the film feels it is of another time, truly like a creature of the 60’s. And the soundtrack is darn near perfect.

My only real criticism is a somewhat lazy time jump that glosses over six months. But, admittedly, had they shown all of it, the film would be, like five hours long. And I do like listening to the Kurt Russell narration.

I found Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood great fun.  Bear in mind, this is a Tarantino film…if you hate his previous work, I don’t think this will change your mind. But fans will appreciate this one for sure.

Skating By (I, Tonya, 2017)

i_tonya_posterI will be honest…all I really remember about the Nancy Kerrigan story is that the talented skater and Olympic Hopeful was brutally assaulted, leaving her with a broken knee. What followed was pretty insane.  It became apparent that her attack was coordinated by people related to her competition…Tonya Harding. Harding, her husband, her bodyguard and two other individuals apparently colluded to commit the crime.

I, Tonya tells the story in a darkly comic fashion. Showing Hardings tough childhood, the film frames Tonya as a victim who struggles to break free.  The early film is actually quite heartbreaking as young Tonya, a talented skater at age four, manages to get the attention of a reluctant trainer. Her mother is cruel and absolutely horrific in her push for her daughter to succeed. The is a gut wrenching moment as her father drives away and Tonya is tearfully begging him to take her with him (McKenna Grace is wonderfully touching in her performance. You cannot help but feel broken for her).

She meets Jeff Galooley at age fifteen and begins a whirlwind remance that eventually becomes abusive.  But Jeff is absolutely certain that he needs to be with her, no matter how often she walks out.

Nancy Kerrigan plays only a small role, as the film is mainly focused on Harding’s life and the controversy on her end.

The film is based heavily on interviews with Harding, Jeff, there body guard Shawn and LaVona (Tonya’s mother).  The film has the framing device of on camera interviews with the primary players.  This allows for a unique narration.  We see Jeff hitting Tonya (the portrayal of the domestic violence is suitably unnerving) and Jeff interjects his denial of the events. Tonya pauses the film to quickly state that Kerrigan was no angel.

The performances here are top notch.  Both Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan have a good chemistry that convinces the audience both of their initial connection and the dissolution of the relationship.  And Allison Janney as LaVona is inspired.  You cannot help but despise her.

The makeup and costuming here is impressive.  Janney is almost unrecognizable (only her voice made me recognize her). For much of the movie, both Robbie and Stan look positively average. Considering these are two very attractive people, the makeup people deserve kudos.

Now to the part of the film that might be troubling for many.  Some take issue with the notion of “reforming a monster”.  Tonya was part of a despicable crime. And the notion of the film rehabilitating her image did not sit well with people.

And, in a way, this is not entirely inaccurate. If the film is truthful? Harding was not in on the crime. She was only loosely associated.  Mainly, she appears to maybe have only found out about her husband and bodyguards involvement after the fact. The film also portrays Jeff as having tried to put a stop to the plan. He had hoped to send letters with threats to Kerrigan…psychological warfare. In the film, when he finds out what Shawn had done, he is enraged that they went so far.

Does it rehabilitate Harding’s image? Does it make her seem a victim of cruel circumstances that shaped her into a tough person who got a raw deal? Yeah, I guess it does.  But if the information in the film is accurate at all? Maybe she deserves it.

 

Suicidal Tendencies (Suicide Squad, 2016)

suicide_squad_2016_posterAfter the cool reception to Batman V Superman from critics and fans alike (It has it’s supporters) DC and Warner Brother started providing hype for Suicide Squad to divert attention.  Set to classic hard rock music the trailers screamed “This will be fun and exciting!”

Suicide Squad, for the uninitiated was a DC Comic written by John Ostrander (he actually was reviving an earlier comic, but the Suicide Squad as it is known now was Ostrander’s baby).  It was a government task force that forced some of DC’s baddest villains to take high risk jobs for our government in return for reduced sentences.  Of course, nobody was expected to survive long enough to get to take advantage of their reward.  Not a bad idea.

The film always seemed out of place for the DC Cinematic Universe.  We are actually meeting some of the enemies of heroes we have barely met.  Including Suicide Squad?  We have about two minutes of Flash time.  I am including that Justice League trailer from SDCC.  And this is actually one of the big problems with the film.  They are trying to fill in so much information, we are bogged down with tons of background.  The cast is pretty large, causing more than one character to get little to do.  Killer Croc has a few moments, but gets little to do until the very end of the film.

I wondered how the Kitana character would fit in (she is not a villain in the comics).  Here she is pretty much a baby-sitter until the final act.  It feels more like they put her in the film in case they wanted to use her in the future and she would already be established.

The emphasis on the Joker and Harley Quinn relationship is that it…well, polishes up their relationship.  We do get a moment that makes it clear that the Joker tortures Harley Quinn before she takes on the identity.  The film apparently cut a lot of bit that really suggested the relationship was abusive.  It could have been an interesting opportunity to have her standing against the Joker, but instead, she keeps running back to him.  Harley Quinn is also often forced into the position of eye candy.  The character has always had a sense of being…innocent.  Like she just thinks she is being wacky and funny.  Like when little kids insult grown up and are “only teasing”.  One scene has her dressing in public, looking around and realize everyone is staring and then just asking “what?”  Had Robbie not been stuck in outfits putting her on display throughout the film, that might have been more effectively funny.

Jared Leto’s Joker has been the source of much criticism and concern for many fans.  I have run into many fans who were tired of him long before the film saw release.  And I did feel like he was one of the weaker links of the film.  Not because the performance was terrible…but rather the performance was inconsistent.  He has an effective scary laugh which is barely used in the film.  Sometimes he seems bored, but other times he is very menacing.

And yet, in spite of these things?  I enjoyed the film quite a bit.  I felt it worked far better than Man of Steel or Batman V Superman.  Smith’s Deadshot is an interesting character who on the one hand is a deadly sharpshooter and a doting father.  While not a wholly original dichotomy, it works pretty well here.  Harley Quinn’s big focus is as the Joker’s Girlfriend.  In spite of this, Robbie really captures the core of the character.  She seems carefree, but yet dangerous.  Almost sickeningly sweet, all while being thrilled by mayhem.  Robbie is endlessly engaging.  Viola Davis brought Amanda Waller to life in an amazing way.  She was every bit as frightening as she should have been.

The big surprise for me was Diablo.  I went in knowing next to nothing about him other than he was the fire guy.  His character is a pacifist refusing to use his power for fear he will lose control and kill people.

The action is pretty easy to follow as it unfolds on the screen, and aside from the obligatory slow motion shot towards the end, is exciting to watch.  The fact that you really have a bunch of characters that want nothing more to walk away makes a “Let’s Do this” speech entering into the final act really tough.  Yet, somehow, the group choosing to act as a team works.

The rumor is that a lot of the humor was from re-shoots demanded by Warner Brothers.  If that is the case, good call from Warner Brothers.  The film peppers humor through out the film that works effectively at keeping the characters likeable.  I know that there have been some real rough reviews…but I avoided reading them so far because I wanted to see the film without pre-set expectations of terribleness.  And I walked out entertained.  I am not saying it is a great film.  Of the Super-hero films we have had this year?  I still give it to Captain America: Civil War.  But I had fun, and that can be hard to say with DC films as of late.

David Ayers and Iconography

Margot Robbie went to David Ayers expressing discomfort with her Harley Quinn outfit in Suicide Squad.  He shot this down, arguing that they needed to show fidelity to Harley’s costume iconography.

Here are other characters where Ayer’s showed his fidelity to the comics iconography:

Captain Boomerang:

Captain-Boomerang-ComicsCaptain-Boomerang-Movie

Slipknot:

Slipknot-ComicsSlipknot_Movie

Enchantress:

enchantress-comicssuicide-squad-poster-enchantress

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