Thursday, July 9, 2020

Mini Mini Reviews #2

“The Omega Man” (1971) – More or less, it’s a lame version of “The Last Man on Earth,” that exchanges all of its subtlety and tension for over the top goofiness and really poor effects. Grade: D+

“Moonstruck” (1987) – A very heartwarming romance with one of the more honest performances out of Nicholas Cage, while also proving how multi-talented Cher can be. Grade: B

“Cleopatra” (1963) – This should be the dictionary definition of extravagant and box office failure. The history behind “Cleopatra” is far more interesting than the movie itself, though that might be due to the four-and-a-half hour runtime. I wouldn’t have nearly as much problems with the film if it wasn’t the longest film I’ve ever watched and nothing about the film justifies that runtime. Grade: C

“The Death of Stalin” (2017) – A nice palette cleanser after “Cleopatra,” “The Death of Stalin” feels like the Russian equivalent of “Dr. Strangelove” focusing on incompetent idiots having to deal with problems they were never prepared for. Great dialogue, wonderful performances, and a hilarious pace that never lets up. Grade: B+

“Cornered” (1945) – A man travels to Argentina to find the Nazi who killed his wife, and the film utlimately becomes more about stopping that same Nazi from controlling some crime syndicate or something. It started out great and Dick Powell’s performance really captures the grief and pain he’s going through, but somewhere along the way the film loses its focus. Grade: C+

“Scoob!” (2020) – One of the best children’s movies in the last year, “Scoob!” is colorful, funny, loyal to the source material, and most importantly, fun. It takes Scooby-Doo to a more personal level than he’s ever been while still having a great sense of humor about it all. The opening is touching and the ensuing sequence where they remake one of the classic Scooby-Doo moments is great to see. Even though it’s aimed for little kids, there’s enough here for older fans of Scooby to enjoy this movie. Grade: B

“A Ghost Story” (2017) – Is it cliche to call this film haunting? One benefit I’ll give “A Ghost Story” is that, in the case of other thought-provoking indie films like “Under the Skin” I’d normally be bored out of my mind with so little happening in the film and even less pontificating. And while there are some annoyingly slow or nonsensical moments in “A Ghost Story,” the film really does drive home how distant, cold and worrisome death can be. It certainly has some bizarre artistic choices, but those choices do lead to a point that makes the whole piece worth it. Grade: C+

“Candyman” (1992) – This is a supernatural horror film way ahead of its time. Much like “The Twilight Zone,” “Candyman” uses myths and legends to talk about issues that plague society, and especially societies that often get unheard, especially in the 1990s. Wonderful writing, spectacular performances, some impressive cinematography, and horrifying effects, this one shows why the myth of Candyman has stuck with us for so long. Grade: A-

“I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” (1932) – For 1932, this film is as politically charged and controversial as Hollywood could be, taking a long, hard look at the dehumanization of the criminal justice system and how it defines those who have been in it. This film is brutally honest and horrifying for its time, but surprisingly thrilling, especially due to Paul Muni’s gripping performance as a man caught up in the mechanisms of a corrupt and petty form of justice, and how that changes him from the inside out. Grade: A+

“Horse Feathers” (1932) – Not the best Marx brothers comedy, but this one is certainly worth watching if only for the climatic football game where the brothers go all out. At times, it feels like a cartoon in how energetic and absurd they get. Grade: C+

“Gattaca” (1997) – A thought-provoking piece of speculative fiction, “Gattaca” explores every aspect of how humanity would change if we went all in on the genetic manipulation, both the good and the bad, especially how that would make the best of us possible but also create a new form of descrimination against those who didn’t have their genetics changed. It’s an effective triumphant story, sold by Ethan Hawke’s emotional performance, with some eye-opening world building. Grade: B+

“The Yearling” (1946) – This is your standard, run-of-the-mill boy and his dog story, except that it’s a baby deer instead of a dog, complete with a coming-of-age story about the boy fighting for his home and growing up a little faster than expected. The best part is certainly the boy’s father, played by Gregory Peck, who has the same likable charm we’ve come to admire from him in works like “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Roman Holiday.” Grade: C

“Murder by Contract” (1958) – This is a barebones film noir about a hitman with a strict code that he adheres to, with a strange sense of superiority that gives him a rather cool edge. Aside from a memorable soundtrack and the coolness of the main character, this is your basic film noir. Grade: C+

“Da 5 Bloods” (2020) – Describing “Da 5 Bloods” as a strange mix of “Do the Right Thing,” “Apocalypse Now” and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” would not do this film justice. Much like all of Spike Lee’s best work, this film captures a great pain that is timeless in its relevance, in this case the mistreatment of black soldiers during the Vietnam War and how situations have not improved much since then. Most of this is sold through the tortured performance of Delroy Lindo, a man teetering on the edge of clarity and insanity, and a brilliant fusion of Fred C. Dobbs and Colonel Kurtz. It is eye-opening, impactful, thrilling, visually stunning, and it is Spike Lee in his element. Grade: A

“Underworld U.S.A.” (1961) – If “Mildred Pierce” is the perfect Mother’s Day film noir, then “Underworld U.S.A.” is the perfect Father’s Day noir, about how far one man will go to avenge his old man. What really hits home is that, while we never get to see the father alive, we see just how much he impacts our protagonist (Cliff Robertson) in his day-to-day life, making this a tribute to how much a father influences his son’s life in invisible ways. Grade: B

“San Francisco” (1936) – Aside from the spectacularly executed earthquake special effects and model use that followed that scene, nothing too extraordinary about “San Francisco.” Other than wanting to slap Clark Cable for being the most insensitive, smug, selfish prick on the planet, and that apparently D.W. Griffith co-directed it, which would probably explain why the film wants us to sympathize with the most unlikable man on the planet. Grade: C

“Tokyo Godfathers” (2003) – “San Francisco” could have learned a thing or two from this movie about taking characters that should be unlikable or despised and giving them dimensions, trauma and redemption. Everything about this movie flows together so perfectly, especially the broken homeless family healing each other through actions even they didn’t know they had in themselves. Grade: A-

“A Matter of Life and Death” (1946) – The best way I can describe “A Matter of Life and Death” is as a reverse “Wizard of Oz,” where real life is filled with bright technicolor and new opportunities to explore and love, and the fantastical is shot in black-and-white and is shown to be a dreary, monotonous bureaucracy. If you enjoy “Wizard of Oz,” you should definitely give this one a try. Grade: A-

“The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” (1962) – Certainly the most angsty, rebellious British film I’ve ever seen. It shows a darker, more honest look at the impoverished side of Britain and the hardships that those people carry. Grade: C+

“I was a Male War Bride” (1949) – One of the better examples of a love-hate relationship I’ve seen in Hollywood movies, where both partners (played by Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan) constantly try to one-up each other in the most showoff-y way possible, which gets on the other’s nerves, while always going out of their way to help the other whenever possible. It is odd that the titular plot of the film, about Cary Grant having to pose as a war bride, only comes in the last 40 minutes, but this light screwball comedy still works throughout. Grade: B

“Chariots of Fire” (1981) – On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” this film is all about proper Englishmen and devotion to that prim and elegant lifestyle above all else. Still, the most interesting thing about “Chariots of Fire” was the soundtrack, mostly because the electronic 80s music feels so strange when used for a film set in the 1920s. Grade: B-

“Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” (1956) – What pushes this film above other 1950s sci-fi movies is a few things. Ray Harryhausen’s effects work on the flying saucers breathes new life into something we often take for granted now, the final battle on Washington D.C. still holds up surprisingly well, especially when combined with other effects that aren’t stop motion, and the romance between the two leads (Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor) is charming and never overbearing, making the two leads some of the more likable protagonists in any 1950s sci-fi movie. Grade: B

“The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958) – Going in, I thought the only thing of note was going to be Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion effects, but there are a few other stand out things about this epic fantasy. Namely, Bernard Herrmann’s score is as good as any of his music for Hitchcock’s films, atmospheric and adds a new sense of scope to the many monsters Sinbad must defeat. Still, the Harryhausen’s effects steal the show and take on a life of their own, especially with so many different monsters here, such as a two-headed bird, multiple cyclops, a swash-buckling skeleton, and a fire-breathing dragon. Grade: B

“OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” (2006) – To be a truly great parody, you have to love what you’re parodying. “Cairo, Nest of Spies” might be the best parody since “Airplane!” because it doesn’t just nail the aesthetic, camera techniques, green screen effects and fight choreography of the James Bond movies, but the views and attitudes of the time period too, putting Bond’s gross misogynistic and insensitive views on full display to show just how out of date they are, without having the dimwitted, backwards spy who doesn’t know any better come across as unlikable. This spy parody blows all of the Austin Powers movies out of the water. Grade: A

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Mini-Mini Movie Reviews

mini movie reviews

I picked a weird time to stop reviewing films. Apparently when this website stops publishing, a pandemic begins.

Over the last two months of silence, I’ve taken on some new responsibilities that have kept me away from film reviews, mostly a new job that allows me to work from home. And while I’ve been focusing all of my attention on that job, that didn’t stop me from watching the occasional film, including over 20 films I’d never seen before.

And while I don’t quite have the time to write full length reviews on all of them (including some that I watched over two months ago), I do feel like I should give my thoughts on all of them, even if it’s just one sentence on each. So I’m going to try something new by offering you some mini-mini-reviews. I’ll try not to make this a regular thing, but can’t make any promises.

“Paprika” (2006) – Imagine if “Inception” was animated by Miyazaki and was more of a psychological thriller about making literal dreams into reality, and throw in some anime insanity and you’ve got “Paprika.” Grade: B+

“Falling Down” (1993) – All it takes is one really bad day for some people to snap, and “Falling Down” pushes the envelope of how one man going on a rampage against the society could be any of us, pulled together by an off-the-wall performance from Michael Douglas. Grade: B+

“Crime Wave” (1954) – “What do you want? Christmas every day?” is one of the greatest and most quotable movie lines that no one talks about. Grade: B-

“Red Dragon” (2002) – A much scarier depiction of Hannibal Lecter than “Silence of the Lambs,” while never shying away from what makes him such a likable villain in the first place. Grade: B

“Monkey Business” (1931) – Aside from “Duck Soup,” this might be the best Marx Brothers film, with many memorable slapstick moments and gags that play so well with everyone stuck on a cruise ship. Grade: B


“Sanjuro” (1962) – Not the best Kurosawa film, and certainly a downgrade from its predecessor, “Yojimbo,” but it is serviceable as a lighthearted period piece about rival feudal gangs trying to seize power. Grade: C+

“Address Unknown” (1944) – If the Twilight Zone had been made in the 1940s, I could see the plot of this movie being an episode – how, with the right motivation, anyone could have been convinced to see the same views as the Nazis. Doesn’t work as well today, but at least it was killer cinematography. Grade: B

“Your Name” (2016) – This one gets confusing, going from a lighthearted comedy about supposedly random body swapping to a convoluted tale about time travel and spirituality. Beautifully animated and the characters are quite likable, just don’t think about it too hard. Grade: B

“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (1956) – One of the most twist-and-turn filled film noirs I’ve ever seen, this one constantly kept me on my toes, having you love and hate pretty much every single character. Grade: B+

“Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance” (1972) – Far more violent than I ever expected it to be and filled with a lot of odd creative choices that had me scratching my head. Grade: C-

“Night and the City” (1950) – The main character is one of the most detestable, loathsome people I’ve ever seen in a movie, and yet is somehow quite charming in his passion and enthusiasm, so convinced of himself that you can’t help but love him. One of the strangest but most watchable dynamics of any film noir. Grade: B+

“Collateral” (2004) – One of the more effective thrillers in recent memory, with a brilliant cast, a sharp script that hits every moment perfectly with its atmosphere, and never a dull moment. Grade: A

“Exorcist III: Legion” (1990) – The most underrated psychological horror film ever made, “Exorcist III” even surpasses the original “Exorcist” in many ways, with a wonderful crime piece that’ll keep you guessing, pitch perfect atmosphere, scares that are worth it every time and some wonderfully creepy acting from Brad Dourif, who could be the villain in every movie ever and I wouldn’t complain. Grade: A-

“Wicked Woman” (1953) – The most memorable part of this film noir is the opening theme song, performed by a guy who sounds like he’s melting. Grade: C+

“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) – One of the best performances from Marilyn Monroe and one that perfectly blends music and comedy, only being outclassed by “Singin’ In the Rain” in that category. Grade: A-

“The Candidate” (1972) – I feel like this one was building up towards its final moments, where the whole picture becomes clear as a farce about people wanting to be politicians for power and fame and nothing else. Other than that, quite forgettable. Grade: C

“Victor/Victoria” (1982) – This one was a lot funnier than I thought it would be, though I should have expected as much when it was made by the same guy who directed “The Great Race.” Lots of great moments for Julie Andrews and Robert Preston. Grade: B

“Superfly” (1972) – “I’m Your Pusherman” is a surprisingly addictive song that this movie loved to death. Grade: B-

“Fallen Angel” (1945) – It makes for a fascinating companion piece with “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,” as both are about Dana Andrews being convicted with a crime they may or may not have committed, while someone else may be pulling the strings of the crime. Grade: B-

“Dark City” (1998) – Perfectly blends together film noir and science fiction without ever feeling overwhelming, with some wonderful production design of philosophical questions that were better addressed in this movie than they were in “The Matrix.” Grade: B+

“Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx” (1972) – Now this was more like it – still ultraviolent, but puts that violence to good use without ever coming across as grotesque or raunchy. Just a good ol’ samurai facing impossible odds and that’s really all I asked for. Grade: B-

“42nd Street” (1933) – Back when musicals were more of a spectacle than a story, “42nd Street” stands out for its elaborate dance numbers, unique cinematography and fun songs. I can see why this is often regarded as the first really great musical. Grade: C

“7 Faces of Dr. Lao” (1964) – You know, I could get behind the whole mystery comedy aspect of the movie with a mysterious stranger coming to town and using his powers to make everyone’s lives better, but then they had to make almost half of the film a western about land disputes and fighting the old west with newspapers. You know your movie is strange when the western aspects are weirder than one guy playing seven different roles, including Medusa, Pan and a talking clay-mation snake. Grade: C+

“The Crimson Kimono” (1959) – A surprisingly progressive film for its time, setting the tone for the buddy cop genre that would come 30 years later and discuss the trouble that come with interracial couples a decade before “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” would do the same thing. Still, it’s more of a police procedural than a film noir with some bold editing and camera techniques that makes this stand out from all the other films during this time period. Grade: B-

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Movie Review - "Onward" (2020)

You can always rely on Pixar to deliver an imaginative, colorful and beautiful picture that has enough there to entertain both kids and adults. Their latest film, "Onward" is no exception.

While the film isn’t groundbreaking in the slightest or even close to one of Pixar’s best films, that doesn’t stop "Onward" from giving us one of the more creative metaphorical worlds it has ever presented. It delivers on everything it sets out to do good laughs, excellent morals, a wonderful ending and a sense of wonder about the world that only a Studio Ghibli film can match.

In the case of "Onward," the film is about a mystical world filled with every sort of mythical creature, goblins, manticores, dragons, centaurs, pixies and so many others, as well as the ability to use magic. However, magic doesn’t come easy in this world and can only be used properly by skilled sorcerers. Non-sorcerers decided to make life easier for themselves by creating something that is much easier to use technology. As their society started using more tech like cars and phones instead of spells and staffs, the citizens got used to the ease of it until magic became a legend, a product of a long forgotten era.

From there, the film takes place in what can only be described as modern times, where the mythical creatures act no different than we do, if only a little disinterested and feeling like something is missing. We see a family of elves who exemplify this, mostly a pair of brothers, the socially awkward Ian (Tom Holland), and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) who is obsessed with the mythical past and treats everything like a Dungeons and Dragons adventure. On Ian’s 16 birthday though, their mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives him a present from his deceased father a wizard’s staff with a spell that will bring the father back to life for 24 hours. But when the spell doesn’t work exactly how it’s supposed to, Ian and Barley have to go on a quest throughout their world to fix it if they want to have a chance to see their father one last time.

What makes "Onward" work so well is its world building, making magic and spells that are so unique but also so hilarious in the hands of novices like Ian and Barley. A lot of the magic is based off of emotions or mental states, like focus and honesty, leading to a lot of visually comedic situations when Ian can’t stay on task and ends up being the same awkward self that we’ve come to love from Holland’s performance as Peter Parker. On top of that, so many of the magical creatures are handled well, put into modern situations that I would have never expected. Some of the best ones include pixies being a tough biker gang who threatens anyone who makes fun of their size, except that it takes about a dozen pixies to operate one regular sized motorcycle. Another great one is the manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer), who is supposed to hand out dangerous quests to adventurers, and has turned her tavern into a Chuck-E-Cheese style restaurant to pay the bills, getting so caught up in the machinations of society that she forgets her true calling.

This terrific world building is balanced by the bond between Ian and Barley. On the surface, Ian appears to be your standard dorky teenager and Barley is your deadbeat brother stuck in the past. But actually, both brothers actively work to make the other a better person…or elf. Barley is always pushing Ian to do things he isn’t prepared for, giving one of the best lines in the movie that no one is ever fully prepared for anything so it’s better to just take the leap and trust in yourself. While Ian keeps Barley grounded in reality, never letting his fantasies get the better of him, but still engrossed in the amazement of magic and exploration.

Together their adventure is one, not just to discover more about their world, but also to learn about the magic they have within themselves and how wondrous they can be on their own. Holland and Pratt both turn in great performances to make it seem like these two really did grow up together, with Barley acting like the father Ian never had and Ian being Barley’s anchor. It all culminates in one of the best endings and morals in any Pixar film, where the journey of these two brothers is finally given a purpose.

Overall, "Onward" isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or go places Pixar has never gone before, but it still delivers a solid ride that hits every proper emotional note while still creating a massive and entertaining world. It is exactly what you’d expect from Pixar, giving us something that everyone can enjoy, while still offering one of the better endings they’ve ever done. And for Pixar to still have so much to offer after all this time is magical in its own right.

Final Grade: B+

Movie Review - "The Invisible Man" (2020)

One thing I learned early on while writing film reviews is to embrace your own ethnic and gender backgrounds and what makes you you. If you’re a mostly conservative reviewer and you watch a film with a mostly liberal agenda, that gives you a unique perspective when it comes to the views of that film. Personally, I give a film like "The Accountant" more praise than others because it is one of the few films to have an autistic main character and addresses what it really feels like to have autism, something I have to deal with every day.

I bring this because I had a similar reaction to "The Invisible Man" as I did with "Get Out" delving into fears and bigotry that I can’t comprehend. As a white male, there’s a hidden subtext in both of those films that makes the terror that the main characters feel like something many people have gone through, but is something I’ve never experienced. In the case of "Get Out," it was about the fear of racism unhinged by modern society and what privileged individuals might do to others who look different than them. With "The Invisible Man," it is the fear of women speaking up against men having too much control over the world without any accountability, and dreading that others refuse to see or acknowledge what that could mean, like that worry is invisible to everyone else.

These fears that reflect real life worries make both movies more powerful in their subtlety, message and endearing performances. Even if I don’t fully understand how devastating these fears can be to some, both films make it clear that they’re as real as you and me and need to be addressed.

But of course, the other common point between "Get Out" and "The Invisible Man" is that, even if you remove all of that, you still have a gripping, atmospheric thriller that never lets up.

"The Invisible Man" is a modern remake of a classic Universal horror film, though the original 1933 version is far more comedy than horror. This version dives headfirst into what an invisible person could really do in today’s society, detailing the life of Cecilia Kass (Elizabeth Moss) as she leaves her abusive and controlling husband Adrian. She’s been planning this for some time, but Adrian has always been so manipulative that she fears what he would do to her if she left. But while she’s hiding at a friend-of-a-friend’s house, Cecilia learns that Adrian not only killed himself but left her five million dollars as he was one of the world leaders in optic technology, on the condition that she not commit any crimes and prove that she’s mentally stable. Just when everything seems great though, a bunch of strange things start happening around her friend’s house, including a missing knife and finding Adrian’s phone in the attic. The more Cecilia digs into it, the more she believes that Adrian isn’t dead and is stalking her without being seen.

The story is a fractured and misleading tale about two broken people. The main focus is on Cecilia, her years of abuse and manipulation haunting her like a ghost, making her constantly look over her shoulder, worrying that she’ll never be able to get away from being controlled. When she starts to believe Adrian is stalking her, all of those fears come to life and her paranoia causes her to start ruining her own life, making you even wonder if there even is an invisible stalker and she’s making all of this up.

But Adrian’s side of the story cannot be overlooked, after all the movie is named after him. One thing is made clear about Adrian from the beginning control. He doesn’t feel safe or content with life unless he is in control of every little detail, including what his wife wears, eats, and thinks. And if he can’t have that control, then he’ll take any action necessary to regain control, especially if that means manipulating control to show that things would be better if he was in charge. This is shown in many ways, like Adrian stealing Cecilia’s laptop and writing a nasty email to her sister through her email account, or making it look like Cecilia hit her friend’s daughter. Everything is a mind game to Adrian and he wants to show that he is the most dominant and in control.

Together, this creates a wonderfully tense dynamic that plays on Cecilia’s fears and Adrian’s quest for control that never lets up. Even moments of a long shot down an empty hallway are terrifying, using negative space better than any movie in recent memory. And it’s all because of the basic carnal desires of these two leads one that wants love and another that wants freedom, but both ultimately desire peace of mind in their own ways.

Final Grade: A

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Movie Review - "My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising" (2019)

"My Hero Academia" is a special breed of anime, falling more in line with Western ideals of heroism with the spectacle and wonder that comes with Japanese animation and long term character development. For those unaware, "My Hero Academia" is set in a world where 80 percent of the worlds’ population is born with a unique super power, known as quirks, such as sweat turning into nitroglycerin or being born with engines in your legs that let you run extremely fast. As expected, there are those who use their quirks for personal gain and villainy, praying on those with weaker quirks or no quirks at all. To combat these villains, the world relies on superheroes using their own quirks to protect the innocent. These heroes are so ingrained in their society that they have special schools to train the next generation of heroes, hone their quirks and learn from the wisdom of veteran heroes, including the world’s number one hero, All-Might.

What makes "My Hero Academia" so special is that, despite living up to its opening line of "not all men are created equal" since many are born stronger, faster, or smarter than others through their quirks, while others are simply just more powerful which they feel makes them better, the show never stops being amazingly optimistic and uplifting. Part of it is because of the heroic beliefs the show often projects about being a selfless person and how power should be used to help others. But the bigger example is how we watch this group of high schoolers not only learn how to be better heroes, but better people. Despite having a cast of 20 characters that all have decent amounts of screentime, it does feel like each of them is learning from each other to become the best version of themselves. The best parts of the show are not the ones with big action sequences with lots of destruction, but rather the quiet moments where a character stands up for themselves or breaks out of their comfort zone and sees how that affects their classmates. The show proves that heroism isn’t about being born stronger or faster, but rather being better than the person you were yesterday and sharing that enthusiasm with the world.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that "My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising" is not only a perfect movie version of the anime, but just might be one of the greatest anime movies of all time. The movie knows exactly what makes the show so great, the characters, and delivers that in droves, while still escalating the conflict to a more personal and hard-fought level that couldn’t be shown on television. In this case, the class of 1-A is tasked with protecting and guarding a small island and its people all on their own, which becomes threatened when an extremely powerful villain, Nine, attacks the island so that he can steal a quirk that would allow him to take over the world through brute force. Without any way of contacting their teachers or the hero society, class 1-A must stop Nine on their own, led by the figure heads of the class, Midoriya and Bakugo.

"Heroes Rising" gives every character a chance to shine, even the ones who have taken more of a supporting role over the last few seasons. Whether it’s a memorable line or heroic moment, or nailing a big blow against Nine or his companions, they all come across as heroes in their own way. But what really sells the movie is the animation and the ending fight, both of which are so beautiful in their scope and impact that I nearly cried at a couple points. The awe of stellar animation and wonderfully built character development between Midoriya and Bakugo is what makes this movie worthy of being the greatest anime movie of all time, right up there with "Dragonball Super: Broly," and the final push where everything clicks is what sends it over the edge.

If you’re a fan of "My Hero Academia" or anime or even just animation, do yourself a favor and give "Heroes Rising" a shot. The movie tells you everything you need to know about the anime, so you’re not missing out on much information. I guarantee that if you’re not a fan of "My Hero Academia" already, watching this movie will make you want to give it a chance.

Final Grade: A

Movie Review - "The Hours" (2002)

"The Hours" is a story told throughout multiple generations, detailing how one act of discovery can affect many lives, even ones you’ll never meet. It takes place during three different time periods one in 1923 England while Virginia Woolfe (Nicole Kidman) struggles with depression and bipolar disorder while writing her novel "Mrs. Dalloway," another in 1951 Los Angeles where pregnant Laura (Julianne Moore) is reading that novel while trying to figure out what she really wants out of life, and finally in 2001 New York with Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) who has built her life around being like Mrs. Dalloway as she tries to put together a party for her friend (Ed Harris) before he dies of AIDS. All three women desperately try to find meaning in their own lives through this book, regardless of the struggles they all face and the temptation they all feel of taking the easy way out.

And boy is it overly and rather unnecessarily melodramatic.

I admire a network narrative told through three different time periods, something I can only recall being done in 1916’s "Intolerance," but the whole thing does feel forced and exaggerated. The 2001 timeline is especially egregious of this, with Streep’s character basing her entire life on a fictional character and a party. Regardless of what that party means to her or Ed Harris’ character, the whole thing is played out like a life-or-death ordeal with many moments of reflection and regret. All that’s missing is a musical number and every cliche would fall into place. While the acting is wonderful from all three leads, especially Nicole Kidman who really sells just how disturbed she is, the film goes so big on every little moment and treats everything like the end of the world. It really is too much at times, never giving the audience a chance to breathe.
Final Grade: C

Friday, March 20, 2020

Movie Review - "Manhattan" (1979)

Despite what the plot might tell you, "Manhattan" is a love letter to the city it is named after. It is about a one-sided love affair between Woody Allen and a city that never sleeps how New York made him who he is and why he can’t live without it. The culture, the diversity, the attitude of the city is wrapped up so much in Woody Allen’s life that he can’t imagine a world without New York. But he’s also so committed to having only one love in his life, in this case he loves a city more than anything else, that he bumbles through the other loves he could have, including the love of a 17-year old girl (Mariel Hemingway) and his best friends’ mistress (Diane Keaton).

What sells "Manhattan" is the beautiful black-and-white cinematography of the city. Each shot gives the city its own character, never focusing on the people but rather the architecture or billboards or fireworks, always to breathtaking effect like Brooklyn Bridge cast in the fog. The love that Allen has for the city is put on display like one of the paintings in the Museum of Modern Art that Allen and his uppity friends would discuss. While this just as much of a reflection of Allen trying to separate himself from the city, the film takes an artistic look at how New York is a simple town, where everything is black-or-white, and Allen discovers that life doesn’t share that same quality.
Final Grade: B+

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Movie Review - "Fantasy Island" (2020)

Never heard of the TV series "Fantasy Island"? It’s fine. I’m pretty sure this films’ producers haven’t heard of it either.

While I’ve never watched an episode of the series, I do find the premise interesting a magical island that brings your biggest dream to life, regardless of what that may entail or how impossible that might be. For a television show, that has a lot of potential, each episode bringing in a new guest with a different fantasy. Much like "Star Trek," the possibility for episodes is endless and each episode could be a different genre, some going for more dramatic and introspective, while others could be funny or action-packed or thrilling.

The new "Fantasy Island" movie though decides to take none of those routes, remove the wonder and awe of an island that can grant your wishes and make an uninspired and forgettable horror movie that has no business being a horror film. Not only is a movie the wrong format for this premise, because there are about six different plotlines that have no business being connected, but then it doubles down on the stupidity by trying to go deeper in an "Inception"-style plot where everything is a fantasy-within-a-fantasy, without ever making any of these characters seem like anything more than walking stereotypes.

It was honestly painful watching "Fantasy Island," mostly because the rules of the island don’t make any sense. From the beginning, they make it clear that everyone only gets one fantasy and that everything they imagine isn’t real if they imagine a certain person, like a long lost lover. Except the movie contradicts itself almost immediately. While one guest wants a second chance to fall in love again, and gets a not-real copy of her former boyfriend, another guest wants revenge on a childhood bully and they fly in the actual bully for her to literally torture. Why did they need to kidnap the bully? Couldn’t the island make a fake bully like it made a fake boyfriend or a fake dead father for another guest?

But it doesn’t stop there at least three different guests get multiple wishes, even some getting another wish while their former wish is still playing out. The film can’t make up its mind on what these characters truly want and it is infuriating, especially since the rules get thrown out the window. Why should any of this matter to these people? If there really are no rules, then if anything goes bad, they could use another wish to undo everything.

Even then, it’s not clear how the island knows what to wish for, especially for one character whose wish keeps changing. At first, he makes it clear that he wants to serve in an active military situation and be a soldier, but then it quickly changes to fighting alongside his dead father, then changes again to saving his father, only for all of that to be completely pointless when we find his real fantasy was "to be a hero." Why go through that whole ordeal when the island could have just given him superpowers and fight crime? It is unnecessarily convoluted and never gives us a chance to like this guy when his motivation is all over the place.

That’s the problem with "Fantasy Island" in a nutshell way too many ideas, and not enough talent to execute them all. It feels like they tried to cram an entire television season’s worth of ideas into a 90-minute movie. Nothing comes organically, everything feels rushed and the characters have no defining traits or development. It all feels hollow at best, and insulting at worst. Ultimately, a massive waste of time.

Final Grade: F

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Movie Review - "Sonic the Hedgehog" (2020)

The "Sonic the Hedgehog" movie is one of the rarest and most bizarre experiments in the history of Hollywood. While it wasn’t the first film to receive universal backlash after its first trailer dropped, one of the biggest examples of that being the all-female "Ghostbusters" remake, I’ve never seen a studio so quick to apologize for such a bad representation of a beloved character and actively work to remake the movie so that the character actually looks like how they’re supposed to…until "Sonic" came along. We never got that kind of apology with "Ghostbusters" or the 1998 American "Godzilla." I can only guess that Sega decided to redo all of the effects shots of Sonic because it would be the final nail in the coffin to the decline of Sonic’s reputation, ruining him forever.

Regardless, if you haven’t seen what Sonic was originally supposed to look like in this movie, you’re doing yourself a favor. I can’t imagine this movie Sonic looking like a beady-eyed reject from "Cats" with teeth and weird hands and feet. He looked like a gremlin that’ll steal all of your possessions before you even see him, which would have ruined the movie. If Sonic’s design had been unchanged, this movie would be terrible a main character that is unpleasant to look at and would only get worse as he ran around. If we hadn’t complained about how terrible the design was, this movie would be irredeemable.

With the redesign though, "Sonic the Hedgehog" is a serviceable kids movie. Sonic and James Marsden’s characters are likable and have good chemistry together, Ben Schwartz perfectly captures the manic energy of Sonic as well as his love of life, the running effect for Sonic and slow motion is put to good use, the comedy hits many of the right notes it needs to, and it has a good moral about the importance of making connections with people. I do want to stress that this is still a kids movie though, since the characterization is shallow and expected, much in the same vein as an episode of "Power Rangers" or "Kim Possible." Plus, Sonic does the "Fortnite" floss dance. Twice.

But if there’s any reason to see this movie, besides seeing the marked improvement over the old effects, is because of Jim Carrey, playing the evil Dr. Robotnik. Carrey steals the show in every scene he’s in, capturing the same crazy insanity that made him famous in the first place in movies like "Ace Ventura" and "The Mask." Imagine if all of Carrey’s characters from his movies in the 1990s merged together and decided to be a super villain. A character so full of himself and his greatness that he delights in proving how everyone else is dumber than him, despite throwing temper tantrums like a five-year old. Little moments like him taking command from a general by talking over him any time he speaks up to the way he treats his minion like one his malfunctioning machines that he doesn’t know how to fix are the things I’ll remember the most about this movie.

Overall, "Sonic the Hedgehog" knows exactly what it wants to be a cartoonish, kid-friendly adventure that captures the crazy energy of a blue alien that can run really fast being chased by Jim Carrey. And while this wouldn’t have been successful in the slightest if the effects weren’t updated, the film does everything adequately, if rather simply. For a kids film adapting a video game character, that’s all we can ever ask for.
Final Grade: B-

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Movie Review - "Bull Durham" (1988)

"Bull Durham" is not only the greatest baseball movie of all time, but might also be one of the greatest sports movies of all time. Despite my love for sports and movies, sports movies are often tedious to watch because they’re so predictable and formulaic. If you’ve seen one comeback story about the underdog like "Rocky," then you’ve watched 95% of sports movies. But then you get a film like "Bull Durham," which looks at baseball like it was a religion, a way of life, a fun life that can be as quick as a fast ball or as leisurely as a nine-inning game on a warm summer day. And not just in the way to watch baseball but how it encourages patience, focus and intensity into our everyday lives, but especially into the way we make love. It honestly believe that baseball has all the answers to life as Susan Sarandon molds young baseball players not just into fine men but fine lovers. It plays with its sport better than any other sports movie, creating this shrine to baseball as a mental state and why people love the game so much.

Writer and director Ron Shelton once described "Bull Durham" more as a western than a sports movie, and I can see why he would think that through Kevin Costner’s character. Costner plays an aging veteran baseball player who reluctantly comes to town to coach a rising star (Tim Robbins), who has a chance to make it to the majors if he can learn to stop being such a hothead. Robbins and Sarandon find Costner mysterious, full of wisdom and a love for the game but little love for himself. He’s rough and rash but wants nothing more than to make the game he loves so much a little bit better, even if that means he gets shafted for the majors. Just replace the wide-open plains of the old west with a baseball diamond and bullets with an equally fast baseball and you’ve got yourself the most unique and hilarious sports film you’ll ever see.

Final Grade: A

Movie Review - "Cat Ballou" (1965)

By the 1950s, the western genre was beginning to fade, slowly but surely taking those same western stories of exploring an unknown frontier and setting them in the truly unexplored frontier space, which would eventually create the sci-fi genre. By the 1960s though, the western was essentially dead in Hollywood (though not so much in Italy with Sergio Leone reinventing the genre). It had become a tired genre filled with cliches of cowboys roaming a land that had already been conquered, so Hollywood needed to do something new to keep the genre alive. And you can’t say that they didn’t try with "Cat Ballou," since it gave us one of the most memorable performances in a western with Lee Marvin’s drunk stumbling turned into an art form here.

"Cat Ballou" takes many of those tired Western cliches and turns them on its head a female lead (Jane Fonda), bandits who actually want to be helpful instead of selfish and greedy, a town that loves its criminals more than its heroes, a savior who actually can’t do anything unless he’s drunk as a skunk. It plays with some of these effectively enough, though the best part of the movie is certainly Lee Marvin who shows that he has the slapstick comedy timing of Charlie Chaplin and the intensity of John Wayne. It gets even better since Marvin plays two roles, the bumbling hired gun who becomes surprisingly articulate once he’s got some booze in him, and a quiet assassin with a piece of silver over his nose, with Marvin making each of them his own man. But beyond this, there isn’t much to "Cat Ballou." It has a few laughs, but despite trying to buck with the western cliches, it falls into many of the same trappings as before, only usually saved by Lee Marvin giving one of the best performances of his career.

Final Grade: C+

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

My Favorite Films of the 2010s

It’s strange to think that we now live in the far off future of the 2020s. But with that new and strange future waiting for us, we also leave behind a decade filled with some of the best movies we have ever known. While there are a lot of negative and overwhelming things about the 2010s that we’ll always remember, whether we want to or not, I believe it is safe to say that this past decade was one of the best for cinema. It allowed the widest range of filmmakers to tell their unique and awe-inspiring stories that forever changed the landscape. From “Get Out” and “Moonlight” to “Lady Bird” and “Roma,” this was the decade of imaginative storytelling.

For me, I got to see far more wonderful movies than I can count. Not only did I get to see nearly every major release in my small town from 2014 onward, but this was a decade that significantly expanded my world view and tastes in cinema, allowing me to see pictures I would have never expected and now I can’t imagine a world without movies like “Spotlight” or “The Social Network.” But there are so many of those stunning films that forever changed cinema that it’s daunting to even narrow them all down to one list. 

So rather than talk about the best movies that changed the decade and movies forever, I’m going to stick with what I know and talk about the movies that changed me. The movies that I will remember forever from the 2010s and ones that I could watch again and again. I also couldn’t do any of these films justice with a short description here, though I do have full length reviews for nearly all of them elsewhere on my blog, so links to those will be included for each of them. These are not necessarily my picks for the best films of the decade (though some of these would be on that list too), but rather these are my absolute favorite and most memorable films of the 2010s (in no particular order…except for the last one).

“The Artist” (2011)

Out of all these picks, “The Artist” is the only one I haven’t talked about at length. But to get to the heart of it, “The Artist” is cinema at its purest. Raw, emotional, visual storytelling at its finest, celebrating how beautiful and tragic cinema can be by crafting a tale that hasn’t been told for nearly 80 years. It’s one thing to make a silent movie in 2011, but it’s another thing entirely to make about the story of how silent cinema faded and the lives that were crushed by that transition. At times, it evokes the whimsy and energy of “Singin’ in the Rain,” while other times the tragedy of being lost in an ever-evolving world like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard.” It is a timeless tale about why we love movies so much and why they’ll always be relevant, a love letter not just to silent cinema but cinema in general. 

“Her” (2013)

Simple, yet innovative. This is a science fiction piece that understands technology in cinema is not just fiction, but can be relatable and logical yet still fascinating and imaginative. I found myself just as invested in the futuristic Los Angeles as I was in the romance between Theodore and Samantha, finding a love story set in a world not too different from our own. A world where technology might have advanced further than us, and has replaced us in many capacities. Yet “Her” finds a middle ground where humans and technology make each other more desirable. That we wouldn’t be complete without the other. With the same quirky, off-the-wall craziness you can only get out of a Spike Jones film, “Her is one of the most creative and heart-warming films of the decade. 

“La La Land” (2016) and “Whiplash” (2014)

After a lot of consideration, I’ve come to the decision that I cannot decide which of Damien Chazelle’s masterpieces I love more. So rather than pick one, why not just include both in one spot? Though both films do tell me the same thing – that the musical is not dead. Chazelle’s take on the genre uses music more as an emotion or a state of mind that is complimented by a passion for why music, moving music, needs to be shared with the world. In “Whiplash,” this is taken to its most extreme through J.K. Simmons’ character and his anger at a world that doesn’t share his enthusiasm for music and can’t understand why his students don’t care about it as much as he does. While in “La La Land,” that passion is splashed all over the screen through vibrant colors, long shots of stunning choreography that demonstrates why musicals are beautifully unique without ever sacrificing that same harsh reality that “Whiplash” started. While both films are joyous in their own way, they never sugar-coat anything and often show just how cruel and unforgiving the world can be, but also why that passion is something worth fighting for.


“The Lego Movie” (2014)

There were a large amount of noteworthy animated movies over the last decade – “Inside Out,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Zootopia,” “The Wind Rises,” “Kubo and the Two Strings” just to name a few. But none of them made quite as much of an impact on me as “The Lego Movie.” As strange as this is to say about a film meant to sell tiny bricks of plastic that are a pain to step on, “The Lego Movie” might have been the most creative, heartfelt, nostalgic and visually-striking film of the decade. Say what you will about some of the best cinematography of the decade, none of those movies were made up entirely of legos. But beyond the vast cast of characters that seems to cover nearly every franchise in existence and makes it all feel connected, what makes this so important is the twist near the end and the message that comes from it. No other animated movie hit me nearly as hard as that moment when you find out who has really been pulling all the strings and how it fits right at home with the imagination of legos. I didn’t know that I ever wanted a movie about yellow bricks that has Batman, Shaquille O’Neal and Charlie Day playing a crazy astronaut obsessed with spaceships, but now I can’t imagine a world without “The Lego Movie.”  


“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)

This film still blows me away. So much is conveyed with little dialogue and visually-rich imagery, creating this hellscape built on madness and cars. It is not only the most high-octane movie of the decade, but also the most authentic action movie of the decade too, with little CGI and epic level action sequences that would make David Lean blush with jealousy. This is what every action movie should aspire to be like – beautiful, detailed in its simplicity, deliciously hand-crafted and satisfying. Any day with “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a lovely day indeed.

“The Martian” (2015)

As time has passed, the more I have fallen in love with “The Martian.” I’d describe it now as a comedy that laughs in the face of certain death and takes delight in the small moments of happiness, anything to remind us why it’s wonderful to be alive. Despite films like “Gravity” or “Interstellar” taking giant leaps for exploring the universe in new and creative ways, it’s the heart and honesty of “The Martian” that wins me over every time. Matt Damon gives the best performance of his career, perfectly capturing the highs and lows of having a planet to yourself while refusing to succumb to the dread of dying and working towards another chance to live. “The Martian” is as uplifting as it is hilarious, striking the perfect balance between crisis and serenity. 

“Nightcrawler” (2014)

If I had to include one gritty and unsettling film from the 2010s, I’d certainly go with the irresistible “Nightcrawler.” Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance might be my second favorite of the decade, as a man so engrossed in his own uncaring and unsympathetic world that he has to go out to prove his worth in any meaningful way. The way he treats others like his pawns or tools yet how it plays so well into the world he creates for himself and the “Man bites dog” mentality of journalism is so highly captivating. Watching this man try to conquer the world in his own way is a treat all on its own, especially once he starts to succeed at it. 

“Parasite” (2019)

While I tried to stay away from more recent films that haven’t had as much time for reflection as the other films on this list, I keep coming back to Bong-Joon Ho’s immensely captivating genre-bender. Not only is the film able to effortlessly bounce between being a thriller, comedy and social commentary, but it is the most unpredictable experience of the decade. With each scene, it feels like the film could spring off a million different ways, always keeping the audience guessing as to which path it will take, and yet Bong-Joon Ho often picks none of those million possibilities and goes off in a completely different and yet still fascinating path no one could have expected. “Parasite” makes storytelling as creative and original as it was when we first heard stories and reminds me why cinematic storytelling can be so fun in the first place. 

“Shin Godzilla” (2016)

I tried desperately to think of a movie that I loved more than “Shin Godzilla” from the 2010s, and I could only come with a few movies, and certainly no other kaiju films. When I think of a modern monster movie, one that portrays a honest depiction of what would happen if there ever was a giant monster running around, “Shin Godzilla” captures that perfectly. The dread and uncertainty of a creature that defies all the laws of nature and the cold reality that scared, tired and confused men are in charge of dealing with that creature is terrifying in its own right. Democracy was not meant to handle a nearly indestructible monster that destroys everything in its path. And even beyond that, this version of Godzilla is the most terrifying since the original monster, leading to monster scenes that are just as intense and gripping as the scenes with the government, and helped by wonderfully dynamic cinematography. Lastly, there’s the national identity of Japan on full display as the film makes Japan the main character with its demeanor, ideals and fears bared for everyone, leading to a climax that is triumphant as it is exhilarating.  

“The Shape of Water” (2017)

Despite everything else being in no particular order, “The Shape of Water” is, without a doubt, my favorite movie of the 2010s. From the opening scenes of finding joy in the small moments of happiness like the smell of chocolate in the air to tap dancing after watching in on TV, to the transparently wicked Michael Shannon soaking up every minute he has a chance to assert his authority, to the hauntingly beautiful dream dance sequence that brings me to tears every time, there is no shortage of wonder and awe in this movie. But what really brings it all together is Sally Hawkins giving my favorite performance of the decade, so raw and emotionally gripping as she acts her heart out in every scene without ever saying a word. She commands the screen, not like Michael Shannon’s intensity, but through her vulnerability. “The Shape of Water” is joy in its purest form, capturing the majesty and imagination that cinema can offer without ever shying away from the darker, more horrific sides of that imagination that leads to powerful emotional moments that I’ll never forget. And it is because of Guillermo del Toro’s passion for filmmaking, passion for the fantastical and passion for life that makes “The Shape of Water” the most rewarding movie of the decade. 

This has been a decade of so many wonderful movies that I’m sure there’s a bunch that I missed or left out or possibly some that I didn’t even see. So if you have any of those, be sure to let me know what your favorite movies of the 2010s were!

Movie Review - "Going My Way" (1944)

Fun fact: I grew up in the town where Bing Crosby lived, Spokane. One of our local theaters is named after him and every Christmas they play a marathon of a few of his movies, usually ending with "White Christmas." And yet I don’t think that theater, simply known as The Bing, plays the movies of his that I’ve seen lately, like the "Road to…" movies, or more recently the film that won Bing Crosby an Oscar, "Going My Way." You would think that film would have solidified itself as a Crosby classic but nowadays it’s not nearly as popular as "Holiday Inn" or "White Christmas." "Going My Way" is just as smaultzy and overly sweet as those films, so go figure.

"Going My Way" tells the tale of Father O’Malley (Crosby), a priest who is sent to a decaying church in New York to help the elder pastor (Barry Fitzgerald) and is to take charge of the affairs of the parish. The more traditional pastor and the more relaxed and unconventional priest don’t get along at first, but as Father O’Malley starts helping out around town by making the young delinquent boys into the church’s choir and a young woman thought to be a prostitute is given a new outlook on life by Crosby, the pastor starts to open up to him. It is easy to tell this film came out in the middle of World War II, showing that the battle back home is in good hands by men who put everyone else ahead of themselves and want nothing more than to make the world a better place, something Americans can aspire to be like and brings soldiers peace and comfort. Crosby is more relaxed and at peace in this role and the on-screen chemistry he has with Barry Fitzgerald is delightful, if a bit too sweet. Nowadays, "Going My Way" is harmless fun about a priest that genuinely wants to make the world better with an ending that you’ll either love or find contrived. It was good enough to win Best Picture in 1944, so I’d say it’s still worth a look.

Final Grade: B-

Movie Review - "Klaus" (2019)

"Klaus" is the closest we’ve gotten to classic Disney animated storytelling since "Hercules." The fact that it isn’t Disney makes that even more impressive. But it’s not because of the animation that looks hand-drawn yet is somehow more immersive than that, it’s not even because of the retelling of a fairy tale we’re all familiar with, in this case how Santa Claus came to be it’s because of its heart, the warmth and compassion it has for the wonder of Santa and a burning passion to share that warmth with everyone and shares its message loud and proud, that selfless kindness is as infectious as it is moving.

Everything we love about Santa is given a purpose here the reindeer, the cookies, the elves, his laugh, giving bad kids lumps of coal, all of it is given new meaning and often leads to hilarious results. What works especially well is that this Santa (voiced by J.K. Simmons) is paired up with a pampered but hopeless postman (Jason Schwartzman) who is forced to move to the island Santa lives on, a dark, snowy island where two rival families have constantly fought one another for generations. This postman reminds me of Kuzco from "The Emperor’s New Groove" egotistical and so sure of himself but is thrust into a world he was never ready for and has to make the best of it, leading him to build a strange friendship that becomes the backbone of the movie. And through this strange friendship that neither the postman or Santa fully understand, all of the Santa-isms are given new meaning, but especially the joy of giving back to the world and watching the happiness that springs from that.

"Klaus" is as lovely as it is imaginative and is just as entertaining for adults as it is for kids. The animation is beautifully colorful and atmospheric, the comedy wonderfully balances good slap stick with witty comebacks and jokes and every character is energetic lively, even the rival families in their seriousness about their on-going war. But I can’t overstate how loving and caring this film is, not just for the story of Santa Claus but for what he stands for, that no matter who you are and what you’ve done, everyone deserves that same joy we all feel when we get a new toy.

Final Grade: A

Monday, February 17, 2020

Movie Review - "Birds of Prey" (2020)

If you asked me which sidekicks to DC characters deserved their own movies, my first pick would not be Harley Quinn. Robin, Lois Lane, the Teen Titans, even Mera from "Aquaman" have potential for poignant, worthwhile superhero movies. Yet we live in a world where the Joker’s obsessed girlfriend got her own movie in the DC cinematic universe before Batman, the Flash or Green Lantern got their own movies. And make no mistake, despite the title and advertisements billing this movie as an ensemble cast with several main characters, "Birds of Prey" focuses on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn as much as the Deadpool franchise focuses on Deadpool, with lots of fourth wall breaking and self-important, hyper-active characters.

If "Suicide Squad" was DC’s rip off of "Guardians of the Galaxy," then "Birds of Prey" is their rip off of "Deadpool" R-rated superhero violence with loads of in-jokes and our hero bouncing back and forth between good and evil. But I’ll give "Birds of Prey" this much, at least it’s not horrendously unlikable like "Suicide Squad" since this one does try to have some personality and moral dilemmas.

Set some time after the events of "Suicide Squad," Harley Quinn (Robbie) has gotten tired of purportedly years of abuse, neglect and both mental and physical scars from the Joker and breaks up with him in the most ludicrously over the top way, which also puts a massive target on her back. This results in open season being declared on Harley, where she eventually ends up in the hands of the mob boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Harley is able to weasel her way out of his clutches by doing a job for him that leads into a much bigger plot about a priceless gem that holds the key to a massive fortune, which very quickly involves a police detective (Rosie Perez), one of Black Mask’s employees who considers turning on him (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a mysterious crossbow killer going after mob bosses (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and a teenage thief who gets her hands on the diamond (Ella Jay Basco).

The strength of "Birds of Prey" lies in its supporting cast, especially the titular team of heroes. Perez plays a tired detective who has had enough of the corruption of the police department and just wants to make a difference in the world. Smollett-Bell plays a torn and confused woman who has seen how tough the world can be and just wants to live rather than survive, but realizes the conflict that creates for the rest of the world. Winstead plays a little girl in an adult’s body who only seeks vengeance, and then can’t figure out what to do with herself once she’s achieved that goal. All of them are charming and complex in their own ways, angry at the world but unsure how to make a big difference without ever coming across as brooding or angsty. Even Ewan McGregor is rather charming in his insanity and maniacal ego-trip, always ready to party but always read to attack without any regard or remorse. Every one of these characters is written and performed with the perfect amount of gravitas and dignity.

Where the film makes or breaks it though is with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, who is in every scene. Even scenes where she’s not on screen, she’s providing narration about her thoughts on each character or writing on the screen about her nickname for them and why they probably hate her. Whether you love or hate this film will depend entirely on how much you enjoy Robbie’s kinetic and over-the-top performance and if you feel she differentiates herself enough from Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool in terms of zany, almost cartoon-esque antics. Personally, I felt Robbie’s performance was at odds with the serious-minded stories of the other female leads and didn’t contribute to any of them beyond bringing them together. As her own character, her redemption is serviceable but Robbie really dials everything up to 11. It’s like if William Shatner tried to be Batman in one of Christopher Nolan’s movies. There are times where the movie would have been better off without her, and other times where her frenetic energy is hilarious, especially when she’s being hunted by all of Gotham.

Overall though, "Birds of Prey" is a serviceable R-rated superhero film. The supporting cast is really given a chance to shine and the writing can sometimes be clever, but it does use many of the same fourth-wall breaking jokes and nods as "Deadpool" and it doesn’t help that Harley Quinn is as cartoony as Ryan Reynolds. Yet despite the many branching storylines, there is a solid connecting theme of turning anger and confusion into a weapon that brings them all together. "Birds of Prey" is far from the worst the DC cinematic universe has to offer, but it’s a sign that they’re still trying to copy Marvel’s success.
Final Grade: C+