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.

Two For the Price of One (Gemini Man, 2019)

Gemini_Man_PosterHenry Brogan is the best sniper there is. He has spent his life  shooting terrorists and those who help them.  But when he retires, he discovers that his most recent target may have been an innocent man, and retiring from the top secret government agency is permanent.

He ends up on the run with help from an old friend and a young agent as they try and piece together the facts.  But the biggest issue is the incredibly skilled young men sent after Henry. As the trailers revealed, Henry has been cloned and it was sent off to kill him. Younger and all his skills give Junior the advantage over Henry.

But Ang Lee is not interested in simply pitting two forces against each other. Instead, Henry is more interested in altering Junior’s path from that of a brutal killer. It helps keep things from getting two formulaic in the action genre. The action scenes are really well choreographed and well edited.  I like the characters, but the story kind of falls apart towards the end.

The big talk around the film is the use of High Frame Rate.  I saw this film in the standard frame rate, and I must confess, I am not sure the film would benefit.  There were outdoor scenes that looked like characters were just in front of green screens, HFR seems like it would make that stand out more.

The film uses cutting edge digital technology to create a digital Will Smith that is imposed over another actor. And it never quite looks natural.  While the digital de-aging Marvel did with Nick Fury in Captain Marvel looked like a younger Samuel Jackson, the digital puppet for Gemini Man looks like an artificial creation.

Gemini Man is an okay film with some good performances and great action, but it is not destined to be a sci-fi classic.

In the End Pt 3 (Final Destination 3, 2006)

final_destination_3_posterFinal Destination 3 returns it’s focus to high school kids (led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) surviving the near death experience when someone has a vision (Winstead’s Wendy)…this time on a roller coaster.

Wendy has a tragic vision of a roller coaster accident.  Getting off the roller coaster Wendy and her friends narrowly avoid the accident.  Her boyfriend comments on Flight 180, but blows it off thinking he is mocking her.  But as survivors start dying, Wendy starts seeing the signs in photos from the  night of the accident (a la 1976’s the Omen). This time Wendy gets no help from Tony Todd’s Bludworth…pretty much abandoning any suggestion that he might be more than a mortician).

She actually puts this together late in the film.  The characters are not terribly compelling in the film, offering very little opportunity to get to know characters before they die.  The characters are roughed out stereotypes.  The aggressive jock, the goth kids, the hot vapid girls, the clueless and unsuccessful Pickup Artist.

The film saw the return of Director James Wong to the franchise, but that does little to improve things.  The film Does not tie the characters to Flight 180 in any way, which is fine, and explains why Final Destination 2’s presumption of tying up the loose ends of 180 do not impact things.  One gets the sense that the deaths are meant to be somewhat ironic.  The death scenes get even more elaborate, leading to a lot of spectacle, but little more.  Usually the film has one big death moment that seems worse that the others and in this film it is death by tanning bed.  The film has no real emotional core to make you care about the characters, several seem to be intentionally annoying so that you are less bothered by their dying.

Final Destination 3 adds nothing to the franchise’s mythology, nor does it put it to real interesting use.

How It All Began… (The Thing, 2011)

thing_2011_posterWhen it was announced that they were making a movie connected to John Carpenter’s the Thing, the internet seemed unsure how to describe it.  Is it a Sequel?  No.  Is it a reboot?  No.  Is it a remake?  No.  But boy, I saw it constantly referred to as a remake and a reboot, even after it came out.  Here is the thing, there is literally no doubt that this is a prequel.  It is set shortly before Carpenter’s film at the Norwegian camp that discovers the alien thing.

Of course, being a prequel, the film spends a lot of time trying to set up and explain stuff we saw in the first film.  How was the ship so exposed?  How did the alien get out of the block of ice?

This is not to say they do not try and be a bit different.

For one, the cast has female characters, rather than the original’s exclusively male cast.  Specifically, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate Lloyd, a scientist brought by an old friend to the Norwegian base for mysterious reasons.  Of course, once she arrives, she can see why they were not so quick to tell her what they found.

They discover a body in the ice, and bring it back to the base.  They start to investigate, and are all excited, imagining what this discovery means.  But of course, that is when the creature awakens and the horror begins.  Once the infection starts, it moves through the cast quickly.  One of the things that they successfully do differently is how the characters determine infected from uninfected.  This all leads to an eventful showdown as the alien tries to take off with his ship.

Unlike the original, which often would slow down, and the ending fight was small and contained, this film is full of major action on a regular basis.  The paranoia takes a back seat to fast action sequences.

While there were actually quite a bit of practical effects designed for the film, the studio pushed for more digital.  The digital is not terrible in the film, but still, it feels less real than the effects of the original.

As the film races towards the end it becomes heavily focused on filling in the blanks of the destruction discovered by Kurt Russell and Richard Dysart in Carpenter’s film.  In the end, while a strong idea supports this film, the execution never comes close to having the impact of John Carpenter’s the Thing.

 

Confusing Christmastime (Black Christmas, 2006)

blackchristmas_2006This movie is why people hate horror remakes.

Seriously, they tossed out the things that work and add in…uh, a backstory.  One of the most unnecessary back stories ever.  See, now the sorority house is Billy’s old house, and that is why Billy came back.

Except, now Billy is not alone.  Apparently his daughter/sister (don’t ask) is in the house and has been for awhile.  Cause somebody is killing the sorority girls while Billy is still locked in the asylum.  See, the film does not reveal the sister/daughter until after the killings begin, so it is totally confusing.

The film is just a mess, and truthfully, the cast is not all that memorable in their roles.  The characters are far more generic feeling. Bitchy Girl, Drunk Girl, Nice Girl, Weird Girl…the cast feels like it was culled from the WB.  Probably cause it was.

There is an added “eyeball torture” aspect and a happier ending.  Nothing added to the remake improves upon the original, and everything skipped is that much more noticeable.

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