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Josh Reviews Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Despite my having a very negative opinion of most of the recent DC/Warner Brothers films, including the dreadful Suicide Squad (which is where Margot Robbie’s version of Harley Quinn first appeared), I was interested in seeing Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.  I loved that audacious title, I was impressed by the strong mostly-female cast they’d assembled, and I thought the trailers looked promising.  But I didn’t manage to find time to get to a theater during the film’s first few weeks of theatrical release, and then the COVID pandemic rendered all thought of going to a movie theatre an impossibility for me.  I did, though, recently get a chance to watch Birds of Prey on blu-ray, and I was delighted!  I thought the film was terrific fun; a ripping adventure yarn with a pleasingly loose, tongue-in-cheek tone.  This film deserves to be seen by a wider audience!

Birds of Prey picks up Harley Quinn’s story a ways after Suicide Squad, after getting abandoned by the Joker.  At first depressed, Harley begins to see the upside of beginning a new life out from under the Joker’s thumb.  However, she quickly discovers that she also no longer has the protection that being the Joker’s girlfriend afforded her, thus now making her fair game for any criminal or lowlife she has ever pissed off.  Harley’s story soon intersects with that of several other powerful women: G.C.P.D. detective Renee Montoya; Dinah Lance, singer and driver for the crime lord Roman Sionis; young pickpocket Cassandra Cain; and Helena Bertinelli, the Huntress, who has made it her life’s mission to hunt down and kill every gangster who was involved with her family’s murder.

Writer Christina Hodson and director Cathy Yan have created a very entertaining and original film.  It’s fantastic to see two women at the helm of this female-focused film, and both Ms. Hodson and Ms. Yan demonstrate their tremendous skill in spades.  I hope they both have long careers ahead of them.  Birds of Prey has a sense of style and tone that is unique among the DC/Warner Brothers films of recent years.  It is the tone that is the most critical, as this is an intense and serious and very adult film that is also a lot of fun and playfully loose.  Many films try and fail to strike that balance, but Ms. Yan and Ms. Hodson make it look easy.

Birds of Prey demonstrates a wonderfully playful attitude throughout, beginning with the funny and irreverent animated opening sequence.  I knew I was in for a fun ride after seeing that opening!  Birds of Prey is structured to bring the audience into Harley Quinn’s loopy and off-kilter … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Film Adaptation of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep

After revisiting The Shining and then reading Mr. King’s sequel novel, Doctor Sleep, I was eager to see the film adaptation, written and directed by Mike Flanagan.  The film, like the novel, picks up the story of Dan Torrance, decades after the tragic events at the Overlook Hotel.  Dan has spent years struggling with the trauma he suffered as a child, and he has often viewed his supernatural abilities (his “Shine”) as more of a curse than a gift.  But at last he has found peace, living a quiet life in a quiet New Hampshire town, working at the local nursing home/hospice.  But his peaceful life is threatened when he befriends a young local girl, Abra, with a Shine more powerful than his ever was.  Abra’s shine has made her the target of the True Knot, a group of immortal vampire-types who consume the Shine of young children as a way to extend their own lives.  Dan must now embrace and use his Shine as he never has before, if he is going to be able to help Abra and try to defeat this evil which has marked the two of them as their next victims.

I really enjoyed Mr. King’s novel, and I was extremely pleased and satisfied by this film adaptation!  The film has apparently been a box office disappointment, which is a shame, because it’s a terrific film, a satisfying adaptation of Mr. King’s novel and also a satisfying sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film.

Mr. Flanagan’s film takes the difficult path of attempting to be both a faithful adaptation of Mr. King’s novel Doctor Sleep, as well as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, which diverged from Mr. King’s novel The Shining in a number of ways.  I was continually pleased and delighted by the ways in which the film slightly tweaked the Doctor Sleep novel’s story so as to maintain continuity with Kubrick’s film.  Here’s a great example: the novel contains a scene, early on, set very soon after the events of The Shining, in which Dick Halorann teaches young Danny how to create a locked box in his mind, in which he can trap the ghosts and other horrors that are drawn to him because of his Shine.  This is a critical scene, because Dan will use this ability throughout the story.  But the film is faced with a challenge: how to have that scene, when Dick was killed off in Stanley Kubrick’s film!  (He survived in the original novel.)  Cleverly, the film presents this scene with a twist at the end: only Danny can see and hear Dick.  The implication is that Dick in this scene is a ghost.  … [continued]

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Unlearn What You have Learned: Looking back on Star Wars: Episode I

There’s a weird phenomenon that affects me sometimes (and I know I’m not alone in this) where I so fall in love with a story, or a group of characters, that I will watch those characters even in something really really bad.

I know Star Trek V is a terrible movie.  Terrible.  The story is weak (A search for God?  Spock suddenly has a half-brother?), the special effects are terrible (the ending really suffers…and compare the Bird of Prey shots with the much superior effects in Star Trek III made several years earlier), and the beloved characters are treated very poorly (Uhura’s “fan dance,” Scotty knocking himself out in an Enterprise corridor, navigators Checkov and Sulu getting lost in the woods, and, oh yeah, Kirk, Spock, and Bones singing “row, row, row your boat”).  And yet I so love those characters, that every now and then I’ll watch Star Trek V, somehow hoping that this time I’ll find something I sort of like about it.

This is also what happens with me and Episode I.  I’ve probably seen the movie 6 or 7 times now.  (About every 2 or 3 years I’ll make my way through all the Star Wars movies, usually in the order they were made:  Episodes IV-VI, and then I-III.)  And always I sort of hope that maybe this time I’ll be able to focus on the positives about Star Wars: Episode I.  The visuals are, mostly, pretty sweet.  I like Watto.  Darth Maul is cool.  The climactic three-way lightsaber battle is pretty dynamite.

But its hard to get over just how boring the movie is.  For a movie called Star WARS, there’s not a heck of a lot of action to be had.  Just a lot of talking.  There’s a terrific assemblage of actors – a far stronger ensemble, I would argue, than in the OT.  Ewan McGreggor.  Qui-Gon Jin.  Natalie Portman.  Terrence Stamp.  Ian McDiarmid.  These are fine actors, and they are WASTED.  And that’s what’s most frustrating to me about Episode I (and, frankly, the entire prequel trilogy). It just seems like such a wasted opportunity.  I wanted to see more of the Jedi in their prime – kicking ass and taking names.  I wanted to learn more about the Sith.  (In one of Darth Maul’s few lines of dialogue, he speaks of having his revenge against the Jedi.  Revenge for what?  What happened between the Jedi and the Sith thousands of years ago?  How did the Sith now return?)  Most of all, I just wanted another fun, exciting chapter in the space adventure series that I grew up loving.

And it still sort of bums me out that that’s … [continued]