MOVIE REVIEW: Birds of Prey

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 49 minutes

As sold by its marketing, “Birds of Prey” is a total blast of glittery, violent, girl power from start to finish. Picking up soon’ish after the events of “Suicide Squad” (though you have no need to see that film in order to follow this one), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has had it with her Puddin’, a.k.a. The Joker, and is ready to end their relationship for good because she’s tired of being taken for granted. This presents a major problem for Harley, though, because without the fear that Joker strikes in her enemies as protection, a whole host of people she has wronged are about to come calling. Among these are crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) a.k.a. Black Mask and Gotham City PD detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez). Montoya is a cop who has been passed over despite her accomplishments in police work while her male co-workers take the credit and advance ahead of her. To her, bringing in Harley is part of a bigger case she’s been chasing, and this woman takes law and order seriously. Sionis is just another rich, eccentric, nasty, evil underlord, flanked by his loyal servant/muscle Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), who wants to own everything and everyone in town, Harley included.

The overall script is honestly pretty silly and all over the place. In less than two hours it tries to focus on Harley’s life of independence, Renee’s frustration with lack of support from the police chief, and Sionis chasing down a diamond that has been inadvertently stolen by a young orphan street thief named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), as well as introducing us to the superheroines Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) a.k.a. Black Canary and Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) a.k.a. The Huntress. It’s in these backstories where the film falters most, as its structure takes the approach of using flashbacks frequently to tell us who these people are once we’ve already been introduced to them. The same thing happens a couple of times with Harley and in every single instance, it robs the film of precious momentum. It also should be noted that while this film is called “Birds of Prey”, this is really the Harley Quinn show, and there is much, much less attention given to the other characters for most of its running time. That’s okay, though, because Robbie’s performance as Harley is as nuanced as ever, really outpacing the rest of the cast, and she does a great job of taking the character through new emotional ranges while never ceasing to provide the clever, hilarious dialogue and unpredictable decisionmaking we expect. If there is an MVP among the supporting cast, it’s definitely McGregor. The veteran actor is clearly enjoying himself and having a blast going full comic book with his performance. It works great in the context of the film, although if he’s supposed to be more powerful or scary as his alter ego Black Mask, that was not conveyed well at all and rendered any time his supervillain identity was used a pretty big letdown.

Director Cathy Yan reached out to Chad Stahelski, director of the “John Wick” series and founder of the renowned stunt work studio 87Eleven, to help with vision for the film’s action scenes, and it definitely shows. The action choreography is awesome and shot beautifully by acclaimed cinematographer Matthew Libatique. The color palette being mostly muted with the exception of big, bold splashes makes the film visually striking. It always looks great, and seeing it in IMAX was a treat. The soundtrack kicks major ass and like the frequent kinetic action, it is almost always on. This is a rock and roll concert of a comic book film that is unlike any you’ve ever seen, but that does remind in many ways of movies that came before like “Tank Girl”.

“Birds of Prey” is not shy about its empowerment message and all of the characters here have suffered abuse of some kind by men. These women are all about taking their lives into their own hands and making their own way, a strong and positive thought. It’s fun to see a film get to go wild with his idea and serve as a catharsis for many women in audiences who will likely relate to what those on-screen have gone through. I did, however, find the film’s lack of balance to bring it down just a notch. There is not one single male character in the film who isn’t in opposition or causing harm to the ladies in some way (be it physical, emotional, or even just a small act of betrayal). Not one. It paints an unrealistically cruel world in which every male is a villain and that is going to be tough for some viewers to watch. For those willing to reflect on how that makes them feel and why, I think there can be value, but on the surface, it was a choice that somewhat lessens the ability for the movie’s message to translate into real life.

Despite some nitpicks and its big structural flaw, “Birds of Prey” is an incredibly funny and exciting film to watch in the vein of Marvel’s fourth-wall-breaking “Deadpool” series. It serves as yet another unique entry into the DC comic book universe that provides a stylistic experience and delivers its story from a perspective that we haven’t seen before. There may not be a ton of depth worth mining in this ultra-violent (yet somehow not super gory) comedic affair, but “Birds of Prey” is one helluva badass female-led blockbuster that is a great addition to superhero cinema.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

2020 Oscar Locks

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Feelin’ Film circles, whether it be the Facebook group or our active Twitter community, you’ve likely heard the following phrase: Jeremy is always right. Listen, I don’t know who came up with it and it’s really flattering, but for a guy like myself who just oozes humility, it’s a bit embarrassing. It also happens to be completely true. It’s a pretty heavy cross to carry that would crush most men, but it’s one that I am glad to bear. As everyone’s favorite Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. With this in mind, given that it’s Oscar season and knowing that some people like to make Oscar season a little more interesting, I thought I would give back to you, the normies, and provide you with the stone-cold locks to win the major Academy Awards in 2020. So without further ado, for the second year in a row, here are Jeremy’s Oscar locks! You’re welcome.


Best Supporting Actor

Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes; Brad Pitt, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Joe Pesci, The Irishman; Al Pacino, The Irishman; Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Should’ve been nominated: Christian Bale, Ford vs. Ferrari

I want to win: Full disclosure, I haven’t seen The Two Popes or A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood so I cannot speak to the work done by Hopkins or Hanks, but I absolutely adored all of the work that the other nominees did this year. The Irishman was stellar across the board thanks in part to Al Pacino’s stunning performance as Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci’s wonderfully understated Russell Buffalino. But Brad Pitt gave my favorite performance in what was (spoilers for later) my favorite movie of the year and so he is my personal pick to go home with the statue.

Will win: Ultimately it looks like this is a two-horse race between Pesci and Pitt that will be won by the man who should be People’s Sexiest Man Alive until he dies, Brad Pitt, as Pesci loses a few votes to Al Pacino from those wanting to reward The Irishman.


Supporting Actress

Laura Dern, Marriage Story; Margot Robbie, Bombshell; Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit; Florence Pugh, Little Women; Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell

Should’ve been nominated: Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers; Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

I want to win: In my opinion, and I know this is controversial, Margot Robbie gave the best performance of those nominated this year. Her portrayal of the fictional amalgamation of real victims, Kayla Popsil, was absolutely dynamite and made me want to go punch everyone who has ever responded to a woman who has alleged sexual abuse with anything other than love and compassion straight in the throat.

Will win: Laura Dern. The odds are completely in her favor. And she was great in Marriage Story. Of course, she was. She’s Laura Effing Dern. But she was better in Little Women.


Best Actor

Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes; Adam Driver, Marriage Story; Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory; Joaquin Phoenix, Joker; Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Should’ve been nominated: Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems; Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

I want to win: If you would’ve told my 17-year-old self in December of 1997 as I watched the girl I was in love with look up at the screen and drool all over Jack Dawson that I’d ever be on Team DiCaprio, I’d have told you to pound sand. But here we are. 

Will win: Look, Joaquin Phoenix is going to go home with the statuette. Whether you liked Todd Phillips’ Joker or not, there’s no denying that Phoenix gave an absolute powerhouse performance as the Clown Prince of Crime. Plus he lost weight, and you know the Academy can’t resist an actor who went on a diet for a role.


Best Actress

Charlize Theron, Bombshell; Renee Zellweger, Judy; Cynthia Erivo, Harriet; Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story; Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Should’ve been nominated: Lupita Nyong’o, Us; Awkwafina, The Farewell

I want to win: I’m going to be honest, until I read this list, I thought Megyn Kelly played herself in Bombshell, so I’m going to go with Charlize Theron. I do reserve the right to change this to Cynthia Erivo after I watch Harriet with my daughter tonight. 

Will win: All signs are pointing to Renee Zellweger at this point. By all accounts, it’s the one really bright spot in what was otherwise a bland, formulaic biopic.


Best Director

Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Todd Phillips, Joker; Bong Joon-ho, Parasite; Martin Scorcese, The Irishman; Sam Mendes, 1917

Should’ve been nominated: Greta Gerwig, Little Women; James Mangold, Ford vs. Ferrari

I want to win: Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is my favorite movie that I saw in 2020. Parasite is the best movie that I saw in 2020. A movie that is equal parts family drama, horror, dark comedy, and social commentary should collapse under the weight of its own ambition, but it’s never less than perfect. I’m not into foreign film because I don’t like to read, but I’ll never miss another Joon-ho project. 

Will win: At this point, I think it’s a toss-up between Joon-ho and Mendes and I wouldn’t be upset with either of them. I’ve already praised Parasite and 1917 is an absolute masterwork in warfare storytelling. I think Joon-ho walks away with it.


Best Picture

1917; Parasite; Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood; Joker; The Irishman; Jojo Rabbit; Little Women; Marriage Story; Ford vs. Ferrari

Should’ve been nominated: Uncut Gems; Avengers: Endgame

I want to win: Here’s the thing, I really liked all nine of these movies. All of them were in my Top 25 of 2020 and all but Marriage Story were in my Top 15. But my favorite was Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino’s patience in telling the story along with his always great writing and some dynamic performances make it a movie I’ll revisit over and over and I’d love to see it win.

Probably will win: This is a tough one. 1917 has a lot of momentum, but so does Parasite. And we all know that the Academy loves a story about its golden age, so I think Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood has a great shot as well. Currently, the odds are on 1917 bit it’s a pretty close race. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood takes home the industry’s most coveted prize on Sunday, February 9th. 

There you have it. Those are my picks. You can trust me or you can look at the odds. But remember, I’m always right.


Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

 

Episode 205: Bombshell

Potentially lost in the shuffle of big-name releases this Christmas is one of the most important films of the year, and also one of our favorites. We chat about this riveting story of toxic sexism and how brave women at Fox News took down its infamous sexually abusive CEO. This slick, entertaining film is so much more than just a history lesson, though. It is first and foremost a story that gave us perspective, and with that plenty to talk about.

Bombshell Review – 0:01:32

The Connecting Point – 1:15:12

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MOVIE REVIEW: Bombshell

Once upon a time… in Arkansas, I grew up wanting to be a journalist. And specifically, a journalist that covered politics. I ran for school government, closely followed every election, was downtown partying in the streets of Little Rock when Governor Bill Clinton was elected President, and even volunteered on a state Senator’s successful campaign. Plans went askew, though, and somewhere after 9/11 the political discourse became too volatile and upsetting for me, so I began to tune out. For the past decade, I’ve only mildly followed the news and my awareness of major scandals was entirely through the lens of social media. So going into this film, I shockingly was ignorant to the story that “Bombshell” tells, but I’m sure glad that is no longer the case.

“Bombshell” isn’t directed by Adam McKay, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. A major reason why is that writer Charles Randolph (who won an Oscar for writing McKay’s best film, “The Big Short”) employs much of the same fourth-wall-breaking dialogue that has become a McKay signature. Director Jay Roach kicks off “Bombshell” with an entire segment of just this – featuring Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) giving us a tour of Fox News and an explanation of how the station operates. It’s an engaging way to introduce the audience to several characters and an important background for understanding the structures of power that exist in this Trump-friendly media empire. Roach shows more restraint than McKay after that, though, and settles into a much more traditionally fluid narrative.

The true story being recounted here is a #MeToo nightmare revolving around a culture of sexual abuse and harassment at Fox News that started at the top with CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) and led to a misogynistic work environment for the women employed there. Female employees were regularly subjected to insults from Ailes, promoted based on their appearance and/or willingness to participate in coerced sexual favors, and expected to show as much leg as possible during broadcasts. Frankly, it is disgusting to watch occur, even in this dramatized manner, and many viewers will likely cringe while relating to the dialogue and power games on display that they may have witnessed themselves. For others, it will hopefully be eye-opening to the behavior women still face in many workplaces across America. Lithgow plays Ailes brilliantly, as the slick-talking untouchable snake of an executive he was. He is creepy and rage-inducing, and it’s easy to cheer for his eventual downfall that is coming.

To bring down Ailes and the toxic culture at Fox, it took many brave women speaking up and risking their careers and reputations. The story in “Bombshell” centers on three of them: two highly-regarded television journalists, Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), and Kayla (Margot Robbie), who serves as a composite character to represent the experience new female employees went through when trying to climb the ladder of success at Fox News. Over the course of the film, Carlson’s initial lawsuit looms over Ailes, and we experience the struggle of women trying to fight back against men of power, with Kelly’s backing being critical to Carlson’s cause. As I mentioned earlier, it is not always easy to watch what these women endured. Roach took great care to present as detailed of a view of what it was really like at that time as possible, including troubling scenes showing women who supported Roger Ailes despite his blatant harassment.

Theron is incredible in her role as Kelly, fully transforming her voice and facial structure via the use of several prosthetics. It’s a committed performance and one that carries the film, as she tries to hide the emotional weight of what it costs for her to come out in support of Carlson against Ailes. Kidman and Robbie, though, are also amazing, providing two additional viewpoints from which to understand the damage being done. All three women portray both the vulnerable and strong parts of their characters incredibly well, and I found myself feeling heartbroken and angry for them.

If you enjoy costuming and production design, those are on point, as well. The costumes are more than just for looks as they play a direct role in how women were judged in the Fox culture. The production design is slick and shiny, just as you’d expect a newsroom to be, and the editing is likewise done through efficient cuts that feel akin to a news broadcast. What I’m trying to say is that “Bombshell” is the total package. It is an Oscar-worthy film, led by some of the best performances of the year, with strong technical elements, and it tells a very important story from the right perspective. In the end, what Carlson and Kelly courageously did will hopefully be inspirational to women everywhere, and provide them the strength and encouragement to stand up against harassment in their own lives. As for men watching, well, you either stand against it with them or you’re part of the problem. And for me? I may not ever end up with that dream career in journalism, but I now have two new heroes in the field, and I think that you will too when you see their story.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 189: About Time

For September’s Donor Pick, our Patrons chose this sweet Richard Curtis film about time travel. We enjoy discussing what makes this particular romcom unique and why we felt as deeply about the relationships around the central characters as we did the primary romance.

 

About Time Review – 0:01:19

The Connecting Point – 1:01:07

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Episode 178: Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Once upon a time on Feelin’ Film, we gathered to discuss a new Quentin Tarantino film that shocked us not with its violence and exploitative nature, but with its sentimentality and unique marriage of fictional story with alternate history.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood Review – 0:01:08

The Connecting Point – 1:15:20

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MOVIE REVIEW: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Mary Queen of Scots


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 096: I, Tonya

This week we start our two-week long celebration of the 2018 Winter Olympics by chatting about I, Tonya, the new mockumentary style film from director Craig Gillespie. The film seeks to evoke a sense of empathy for Tonya Harding (we think) and establish some background about her upbringing and life both before and after the memorable attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan that she is forever tied to. We talk through our feelings about the film’s tone and whether or not its constant depiction of abuse was effective or just exploitative, as well as much more.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:11

(Both – Favorite Winter Olympic Sports)
(Aaron – Peter Rabbit)
(Patrick – Under the Sun)
(Both – Super Bowl LII Movie Trailers)

I, Tonya Review – 0:37:56

The Connecting Point – 1:27:04


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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MOVIE REVIEW: Peter Rabbit

PETER RABBIT (2018)

GOING IN

Oh, January. According to Box Office Mojo, there is exactly one animated film among the Top 100 grossing of all-time to release in what is widely considered the dumping ground month for film studios. Extend that to the Top 200 and you find only three films released in January. Let’s just say this doesn’t provide a huge amount of confidence in Peter Rabbit‘s breakout potential. That being said, despite my little to no interest in this live-action/CGI animated adventure, Columbia Pictures does have a history of putting out some solid animated films (Arthur Christmas, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Open Season, and the Hotel Transylvania series). I also had little to no interest in another live-action/CGI film this January. That movie, Paddington 2shocked me by being utterly fantastic. And so, Peter Rabbit. Here’s hoping for a hopping good time, but expecting nothing close.

1 Hour and 33 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

New rule: stop underestimating British comedies.

Early in the film, a narrator voice-over tells us that Peter Rabbit is “the tale of a rabbit in a blue coat with no pants.” That simple description may be true, but much like the film’s trailers, it says nothing about the emotional depth to be found within. Sure, the movie about talking animals battling with a human over control of a garden is funny as it should be, but it’s also got a lot of heart, and that is what elevates this one from good to to great.

Will Gluck’s writing in the film is wonderful. At first, the reckless and prideful Peter (James Corden) appears to just want supremacy of the garden from Mr. McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson). After all, despite it being a great source of food, couldn’t the rabbits move to somewhere less populated and with more accessible sustenance that wasn’t littered with traps? But as the story progresses, Peter’s underlying motivations are slowly revealed to be more emotionally driven, and his relationships with his family and local animal loving neighbor Bea (Rose Byrne) grow into ones that have some genuine depth. The film also uses its entertaining battles between rabbit and man to make a great point about bullying and the escalating violence it can cause. It’s not all feels, though. The humor Gluck weaves throughout the narrative comes in many different forms. There is social commentary (brief jabs are taken at electronic device addiction and the growing trend of everyone being allergic to something), fourth-wall breaking, and some great meta moments. All of the jokes feel smart and current in a way that’s different from typical American animation. Maybe I’m just a sucker for British wit, but if you are too then you’ll love what Gluck has done with this script.

The music in the film also is a major positive. It’s musical choices work great and a running gag with some singing birds definitely is a highlight. Visually, the film looks great. Colors are crisp and bright. The rabbits look appear appropriately cuddly. The interaction between live-action and CGI is fantastic, too, with Gleeson and Byrne both doing a great job of selling that they’re really communicating with talking animals. Gleeson in particular is a joy to watch and I’ve decided this type of role is where he shines most. He’s easy to hate while at the same time giving you enough charm that you feel like there’s something there to love, which is exactly what was needed for Mr. McGregor. Both he and Byrne seem to really be enjoying their roles an having a ball.

This all isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have issues. Structurally it hops around at times and is a little bit of a mess. And even though there is an attempt to round out Peter’s family with unique personalities, there’s just not enough time to develop them in a deeply meaningful way. Peter Rabbit also isn’t particularly memorable. While the emotional beats work while watching they aren’t something you’ll be considering for hours and days afterward. Still, these and other minor quibbles aside, the film is just so much fun that it overcomes them and results in a very entertaining experience.

VERDICT

Peter Rabbit isn’t by any means a perfect film. But like Paddington 2, when compared to non-Pixar/Disney American animation it really shows that there is an amazing alternative in animated comedy for audiences to focus on and celebrate. This is a film that is short, sweet and smart with some great messages about family and friendship all while being one of the most laugh out loud hilarious experiences I’ve had in a theater in ages. Its choice to go deeper than the surface by touching on themes of owning up to mistakes and forgiveness turn it into more than just a funny action adventure, and instead make it one of the better animated films to ever be released in January. Grab your blue jackets and take the family to this fun romp through the garden!

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.