Find Me At Screen Rant

Friday, February 14, 2020

Star Trek: Picard at Screen Rant


Sir Patrick Stewart returning as Jean-Luc Picard in the first Star Trek series set in the 24th-century in 18 years is a dream come true. As part of Screen Rant's bridge crew for Star Trek: Picard, here are all my Screen Rant Features about Picard's newest voyage into the final frontier.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)



Mmm BoP

You know those little windup toys you can get for cheap? Maybe one's a little monkey clanging cymbals, another could be a little dinosaur with chattering teeth, and a windup car that goes vroom for a few feet before coming to a dead stop? Director Cathy Yan'Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is like five of those toys clanging together for an hour and 47 minutes. The only things they have in common is the kid who happens to be playing with them and at the end, she lines them all up and has a little race, which is, admittedly, kinda fun, but then she gets called inside for dinner and leaves all her trinkets on the sidewalk.

Birds of Prey is as colorful and messy as Harley Quinn herself and the film is, shall we say, not very good, but it tries very hard and earnestly. Centering entirely on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the breakout character of Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey is about her coming into her own as a strong, independent, clown princess of crime (kind of) after her breakup with the Joker (presumably Jared Leto, but Mr. J is unseen but constantly talked about, like Poochie). The Joker actually throws Harley out unceremoniously (by literally just locking her out of his house) and Harley narrates her own emancipation as she tries to start anew without being the harlequin subservient to her male master (her words). Unfortunately, little Miss Quinn learns that her affiliation with the Joker was the only thing that was shielding her from Gotham's underworld wanting to string her up by her heels. Harley becomes a target of every (non-costume-wearing) thug wanting to collect a huge bounty in Gotham City's East End, a section of town Batman apparently never visits and is run by trust fund baby/crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), aka Black Mask. Why is he called Black Mask? Because, by the end of the movie, he wears a black mask (that's as deep as this thing gets).

Because Harley is narrating this little tale (and she's cuh-razy... sometimes), Birds of Prey is somehow both thinly-plotted and overplotted simultaneously and the movie unfolds in bewildering fits and starts. It's as if screenwriter Christina Hodson (who wrote the excellent Bumblebee) tried to crib Pulp Fiction while she was high on meth, but then she gave up and got hit by a bus, scattering the pages every which way. The film introduces us (and Harley) to the other Gotham girls in this Gang of Five: First, there's Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who likes to be called Black Canary (according to Harley, but Dinah herself never says so), and is a chanteuse/chauffeur working for Sionis. Dinah is the only one with superpowers: a Canary Cry sonic scream that she only uses once (on purpose). Then there's Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a grizzled cop always being passed over by mediocre men in the GCPD (but not Commissioner James Gordon, who is never mentioned). There's also Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a teenage pickpocket who steals this movie's MacGuffan - a diamond containing the serial numbers to the fabulous fortune of the Bertinelli crime family, the richest people in Gotham (not named Wayne). Finally, there's Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a vigilante murdering the criminals who executed her family like the Romanovs with a crossbow, and goes by the name Huntress. The running gag of Helena always trying to dramatically say her codename - "They call me..." and everyone cutting her off and calling her "The Crossbow Killer" is the best joke of the whole movie but also drags across the whole movie. 

This is a lot of characters to juggle and it takes them for-fucking-ever to all get-together. Anyone going into Birds of Prey expecting Harley to be surrounded by a loyal girl gang that sticks it to the asshole men in their lives has to literally wait until the last 10 minutes for it to happen. Instead, each of the Birds of Prey is belittled, abused, and victimized ad nauseam by every character with a Y chromosome in the film (even Harley's kindly Chinese landlord betrays her for a wad of cash). Harley spends the length of the movie alternating between being a damsel in distress and a relentless fighting machine who can take out scores of thugs while high on cocaine. There's a little mentor-student stuff where Harley takes Cassandra under her criminal wing and there are fleeting references to how Harley owns a stuffed beaver she talks to (because she's crazy) and a hyena named Bruce (named after "that hunky Wayne guy") that nods to her comic books but falls flat in the film. There's also a lot of action, in that the movie basically delivers the same fight scenes 3-4 times where Harley (and later, with the rest of the BoP) acrobatically takes out legions of thugs with her signature baseball bat. 

As the main character who's essentially a human Looney Tunes (she even watches Bugs Bunny cartoons while eating cereal at home), Harley Quinn is equal parts grating and irresistible - the latter can be attributed to the irrepressible movie star charisma of Margot Robbie and it's hard to see how this character could work anywhere near as well with someone else playing her. The other characters get little moments to shine but are underserved, comparatively; Dinah needed a lot more to do while Helena is mostly kept on the wayside and she doesn't even get to show her personality until the final minutes of the movie. However, the real embarrassment are the villains: McGregor is a disaster as Roman Sionis, playing Black Mask as a seething man baby that skirts towards Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever farcical. Just as awful is Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz, Sionis' skeevy, psychotic henchman who is apparently super into Roman but the movie doesn't really get into it. Zsasz is supposed to be one of Gotham's worst serial killers but he doesn't kill anyone in the movie. He does, however, get pickpocketed like a rube. Anyway, they're terrible villains and by the end, Batman will never even get to punch Black Mask in the face in this version of the DCEU. Overall, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) feels like too much of a good Quinn, but then again, Harley is never more relatable or endearing than when she's just trying to eat a breakfast sandwich.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker



The Last Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is everything: the conclusion of the 42-year, 9-film Skywalker Saga, the last of the Disney sequel trilogy, the death of cinema, the end of the Star Wars franchise (to hear some lament it), the biggest, craziest, balls-to-the-wall, overstuffed, most ridiculous Star Wars movie of all - take your pick. Hell, take more than one thing. The Rise of Skywalker is like one of those booths where you stand still and money flies around you - in this case, instead of money, it's Star Wars references and your nerd love itself for the galaxy far, far away - and you just grab everything you can to keep as yours. It's not a movie as much as it is a checklist the length of a CVS receipt. It is a jaw-dropping disaster from a structural, screenwriting, and editing (certain) point of view. Overflowing with a trilogy's worth of half-baked ideas, it is hellbent on cramming anything and everything - this is "the last one", after all - into a manic 2 1/2 hour runtime. It is the light and the dark. It is a mess. So, I, uh... I kinda loved it.

Full disclosure: After falling deliriously in love with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which reignited the warm, fuzzy feels of the Force inside me that I hadn't felt since I was a child, sometime after the toxic malaise surrounding Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the who-gives-a-shit failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story, I became emotionally divested from Star Wars. I've never given a whiff (or a Whill) for the expanded universe; I only like the movies but I don't really care about the galaxy far, far away like so many seem to. Therefore, whatever director J.J. Abrams ended up doing with The Rise of Skywalker, as long as the damn thing didn't bore me, I figured I'd be fine. Well, The Rise of Skywalker wasn't boring, I'll tell you that much. Half the time, I had no idea what was going on or why the characters were doing what they were doing to get this ludicrous movie from plot point to plot point, but never once was I bored. And there were even moments, like when Rey (Daisy Ridley, as beautiful and wildly charismatic as ever) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, probably in his trailer complaining to his agent after every "CUT!") Force dueled over an escaping transport and Rey shot Force lightning from her hands, that I gasped in delight. Because I was having fun thanks to being gobsmacked at this insane movie relentlessly going for broke every single second.

The screenplay by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams is like a fairly decent second draft that needed a serious polish but instead got workshopped by a bunch of eleven-year-olds. To recount the plot would lead me to madness but, suffice to say, somehow Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is still alive because some Sith weirdos cloned him but they cloned him to still be a decrepit old man for some reason. Not unlike how Spectre retconned Daniel Craig's (himself a Star Wars veteran) James Bond movies so Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) was the main villain all along, Palpatine is now the man who was behind everything from Ben Solo's fall to the Dark Side to become Kylo Ren to Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o) losing her goggles, probably. Palpatine has been busy in the last 30 years not just being alive but also somehow building a gigantic fleet called the Final Order where every Star Destroyer now has a planet-killing Death Star laser cannon. What's the plan, Sheev, you mastermind? Blow up every planet in the galaxy so no one has anywhere to live except Star Destroyers? Probably. Doesn't matter. Palpatine gives Kylo Ren marching orders: kill Rey. Except he doesn't really want Rey killed; he needs her to transfer his life essence into so she can become Empress Palpatine. For you see, Rey's full name is Rey Palpatine and she's Sheev's granddaughter. Whatever I feel about this (I feel fine), it's washed down with a spoonful of sugar because Jodie Comer from Killing Eve cameos as Rey's Mom (for me, personally, this is the best thing in the movie).

It's cool to see Rey running off into a breakneck, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants adventure with Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), BB-8, C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), and their new Droid friend D/O (who I loved). R2D2 got left behind because too many Droids, I guess? Who can say? Things just have to keep moving, everyone has lots of places to be. From a new desert planet to a new seedy underworld planet to the old forest moon of Endor, Rey and the Gang are busy bees and they even break into Kylo Ren's personal Star Destroyer for reasons I can no longer remember, if I even knew what they were to begin with. Regardless, Rey is chasing after a McGuffin, a Sith wayfinder device that points the way to Palpatine. Lots of crazy stuff happens like mind-wiping Threepio, meeting a new helmeted ally and ex-flame (?) of Poe's named Zorri Bliss (Keri Russell), and Rey Force healing a giant snake that wandered in from the Harry Potter set. On Endor, Finn - who spends the whole movie trying to tell Rey a secret and then never actually getting to say it - meets another ex-Stormtrooper named Jannah (Naomi Ackie) while Rey briefly fights herself as Dark Rey before spending a lot longer fighting Kylo Ren on the ruins of the Death Star. That is, until General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher worked in as smoothly as possible using old footage) decides to give her life to briefly distract her son so Rey can kill him. But, like many other deaths in this movie, it's a fakeout that doesn't stick.

For the record: people who died in The Rise of Skywalker but came back to life: Rey, Kylo Ren (mortally wounded but healed), Chewbacca (believed dead but wasn't). People who died for reals: Leia, Ben Solo, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E. Grant), Palpatine, Snap Wexley (Greg Grunberg). People who were dead but showed up as ghosts: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, who can do shit as a Force ghost like catch a lightsaber and raise his own X-Wing from the sea), Han Solo (Harrison Ford - which I really liked even if it makes maybe less sense than the stuff ghost Luke did). Geez, I haven't even mentioned Billy Dee Williams returning as Lando Calrissian or all of the guest voice cameos like Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, and Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn. I mean, this movie is, as stated before, ridiculous, but it's the 'last one' so whatever, throw it all in there, who gives a shit? Oh, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) is in this too and she got seriously turfed because they couldn't think of anything for her to do. But at least there were more space horses in this movie. Oh my God, the Knights of Ren were in this too and boy, weren't they just worth the wait? 

And yet, it all comes down to Rey, the hero of this saga, facing off against her grandfather Emperor Palpatine alongside the newly redeemed Ben Solo while the biggest fleet of Star Destroyers ever takes on the biggest fleet of Rebel ships ever. After she saves the galaxy, knowing full well that the last name "Palpatine" would lead to doors all over the galaxy slammed in her face, Rey adopts the slightly less tainted last name Skywalker, thereby inheriting everything that was her grandfather's and everything passed down from Anakin to his twin children to Leia's prodigal son - and she deserves it. A constant theme in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is characters announcing, "If this doesn't work, everything we did will have been for nothing" and the movie itself seems to be desperately aware of this too. So, did it work? Did this bombastic, turducken of a final film deliver? As someone who truly likes Rey, my agenda of Give Rey Everything was completely shared by J.J. Abrams. By the end, Rey is the Last Jedi, the first of the new Jedi, she gets her first kiss (finally!), and she even visits the old Lars/Skywalker homestead on Tatooine and looks at the setting twin suns with BB-8 at her side. So, for me, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker worked as well as it possibly could have. I wish Rey Skywalker the best and look forward to seeing her again someday because, as The Rise of Skywalker reminds us, no one's ever really gone.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Watchmen HBO


I didn't expect to become fascinated by Damon Lindelof's Watchmen on HBO but the new series has enthralled me. I'm in, wherever the show takes me, I'm in. Here are my collected Screen Rant Features about Watchmen, the world, and the characters - because nothing ever ends.