February 2020 Round-Up

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)(2/12/2020)

I’m not really sure how savvy general audiences are to these things but I could smell weakness coming off the “Birds of Prey” movie.  The studio was certainly treating it like it was going to be bad; it had a noticeably light advertising budget and reviews were embargoed on it right up until the day before release, something studios only do when they know they’ve got a bust on their hands, but when those reviews did start streaming in they were surprisingly positive.  You can envision a world where this could have become a hit if it had been finessed a little better.  I think part of the problem with the film in general is that it’s sort of a sequel to Suicide Squad in that it’s using the Harley Quinn character from that movie but neither the studio nor the filmmakers are really sure if anyone liked that movie given that it made a lot of money but it’s sort of reviled by the chattering class so they weren’t sure whether to advertise it as a follow up to that or to sell it as a spin-off, or as a new franchise altogether.  The result is a movie that does basically honor the continuity introduced by Suicide Squad but has a completely different tone and creative team.

After the film was released the studio, in a desperate grab to salvage the film’s prospect, changed its title to “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey” (the original title is still there in the actual movie so I’ll be sticking with it here).  That is a bad title too but in a way it’s more accurate: this is basically a Harley Quinn solo movie, the Birds of Prey are barely in it and when they are in it they kind of suck.  The Renee Montoya character is alright but the other two are thinly drawn and just kind of seem lame as action heroines in the first place.  This is at its best when it’s functioning as a Harley Quinn solo movie pure and simple but even as that it’s a little bit of a mixed bag.  Despite being a Suicide Squad sequel what this movie desperately wants to be is Deadpool.  It has a similar sort of R-rated profane irreverence and operates with a voice-over which bends, but doesn’t entirely break, the fourth wall.  There’s a bit of a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” mentality to the whole thing.  Some of the film’s jokes are legitimately clever, some of them are just kind of obnoxious, and the movie is also never really sure who much of an anti-heroine it wants Harley Quinn to be.  This also extends to the action scenes, some of which are quite well choreographed and executed and some of which are just kind of messy, like the finale where the heroes are fighting through a bunch of mysteriously unarmed henchmen.  The whole movie is just messy and not really to my taste, but it’s hardly the disaster that the studio seemed to think it was and there’s some good stuff in there.

**1/2 out of Five



Beanpole was widely predicted to win the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard award but it lost last minute to Invisible Life, and having now seen both films I think the jury made the right call.  Beanpole is set in St. Petersburg in the immediate aftermath of World War 2 and concerns a woman named Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) who everyone calls “Beanpole” because she’s very tall and skinny.  Iya has been left slightly mentally handicapped by a head injury sustained while serving on the front.  She’s returned home with a the three year old child of a friend but child is killed in an accident caused by that mental handicap and when the mother of the child, Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), returns she initially seems understanding but over time she sort of goes mad and starts taking out her frustrations on Iya.  Now, I’m usually the last person to complain about a movie being “depressing.”  Movies get made for a lot of reason and not all of them are supposed to be entertaining per se and some stories are supposed to make you feel bad, and to some extent this is probably one of them, but there are limits to that and this is a story that borders into what they call “misery porn.”  The film is meant to about the way veterans came back from the war broken inside and to depict this in an unconventional way but the story they come up with feels fictional enough to be removed from any real experience and in many ways just kind of seems like a cruel story that puts its innocent protagonist through the ringer to no real end.  In this sense it almost reminded me of Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (not a movie I like) except it isn’t being made by an infamous provocateur and instead just kind of feels like a really miscalculated movie played sincerely.  There is some clear talent on the screen; I liked the performances and thought it conjured the world efficiently and I would be interested to see what Kantemir Balagov can do with different material, but this one did not sit right with me at all.

** out of Five


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