FlixChatter Review – BIRDS OF PREY (2020)

After Margot Robbie pitched the idea of a Harley Quinn film featuring the Birds of Prey team to Warner Bros. Studios in 2015, she spent three years developing the project under her production company. Directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, the Harley Quinn film would end up being called Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and co-produced by Robbie, who would reprise her role as Harley Quinn after the 2016 DC Extended Universe film Suicide Squad. Speaking of Suicide Squad – which ended up being the tenth highest-grossing film of 2016 – it received mixed to negative reviews (including this blog’s founder) from critics. What was generally praised from Suicide Squad was Robbie’s performance and her makeup as Harley Quinn. So, in Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn is the one who takes center stage and everyone hates after her break up with Joker, whom she affectionately calls “Mr. J.”

In Birds of Prey, Harley is still a mess after her breakup, but gets her own apartment, and goes out clubbing where she spends the night at a club owned by Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Sionis likes to masquerades as a bubbly nightclub owner, while he is actually a sadistic gangster with cruel tendencies and the movie’s main antagonist – Black Mask. While at the club, Harley meets Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a burlesque singer who works for Sionis. She ends up saving Harley’s life after some of Sionis’ thugs drag Harley outside and beat her up as a consequence of her drunken and disorderly behavior. Sionis sees Dinah’s skills as a fighter and appoints her as his new driver, after Harley broke the previous driver’s legs, back inside the club.

We spend some more time with Harley as she goes to adopt a hyena from an exotic pet shop and names Bruce (after Bruce Wayne/Batman). Harley also destroys Ace Chemicals, the place where she had pledged herself to Joker before truly becoming Harley Quinn. The movie turns to Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who is investigating the aftermath of the Ace Chemicals explosion and is after Harley Quinn for previous criminal acts. Meanwhile, we are back with Dinah and Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), a henchman of Sionis and deranged serial killer who carves a tally mark on his skin for each victim he claims. Sionis sends them to pick up a diamond which has very important information to him, but while they’re on their way back to the car, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young orphan and pickpocket steals the diamond from Zsasz and ends up swallowing it to keep it safe, before being arrested by the GCPD.

Harley is captured by Sionis’ men and brought to his club, while Zsasz and Dinah tell him about Cassandra’s status in prison. Sionis forces Harley to get Cassandra and the diamond so Harley disguises herself and breaks into the GCPD to retrieve the diamond thief. Sionis, not trusting Harley to bring Cassandra back puts out a large bounty for her head, and this bounty also attracts Helena Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a vigilante known as the “crossbow killer” who calls herself Huntress. After Harley decides that she actually wants to save Cassandra, she finds out about the bounty Sionis put on her head. She plots revenge and calls him and agrees to turn the girl over in exchange for protection from the bounty. Cut to the chase, Sionis sends his henchmen after Harley Quinn and Cassandra, who are also joined by Dinah Lance, Renee Montoya and Huntress. The climactic finale involves a major fight scene and car chase by Harley Quinn and Sionis, only to end up at a nearby Gotham City a pier.

Spoiler Alert (highlight to read): Once Harley catches up with them, Cassandra puts a grenade in Roman’s suit, killing him. In the aftermath of destroying Roman’s empire, Montoya, Dinah and Helena start the Birds of Prey with the money from the accounts of the diamond while Harley and Cassandra pawn it and start their own business together. We end with Harley and Cassandra driving in a car and enjoying a previously mentioned breakfast sandwich, while Bruce, Harley’s hyena, rides in the back seat.

I think that the cast of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is stellar with Margot Robbie successfully helming this eighth film in the DC Extended Universe. Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco are all wonderful as part of the Birds of Prey squad. It’s a refreshing change from those forgettable characters in Suicide Squad (minus Harley Quinn and The Joker). Where the movie does run amuck is when it tries to over-tell the story of Harley Quinn. Robbie is seen breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience in several scenes, just as Deadpool does in the Marvel Comics Universe movies. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t for Harley Quinn. Perhaps the biggest misstep of the film is that it doesn’t really answer the question whether Harley is truly and really emancipated from Joker.

Overall, the film is quite the ride as Birds of Prey goes at 100+ miles per hour, with Robbie as Harley Quinn at the helm of a swerving/speeding car. The movie moves from scene to scene with little explanation, albeit some narration by Harley, and sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. The new characters add a great deal to the movie and do wonders for the DC Extended Universe, focusing on women’s right and female empowerment. There is so much color in this film that I often felt like I was inside a glitter bomb explosion. However, I did enjoy Harley’s humor, and fashion sense and abilities to beat up the bad guys while holding her own. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed McGregor’s character – the antagonist Black Mask – and think that it was one of best decisions made for the film. The success of Birds of Prey will ultimately propel Margot Robbie and the rest of the cast to a possible sequel, but how that factors into the DC Extended Universe remains to be seen.

– Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen BIRDS OF PREY? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – BOMBSHELL (2019)

Directed by: Jay Roach
Screenplay by: Charles Randolph
Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow

Bombshell follows a group of female news anchors as they confront Fox CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment and attempt to dismantle the toxic atmosphere he created as head of the network. Previously they all had served as clone-like soldiers in Ailes’ army of perfectly manicured blonde newswoman army. Each was complicit in and helped to build the culture, however they are eventually forced to decide which side they will take, pursuing the truth or following the network and Ailes.

From its opening scene, our lead character addresses the camera/audience directly (in news-like fashion) breaking the 4th wall. Bombshell toys with the “uncanny valley” hypothesis. While it is trying to warm you to the main characters by bringing you into the story both literally and figuratively (giving you a behind the scenes look at the inner workings at Fox) it leaves much unexamined. This choice was made to protect the Women whose testimonies were used to create this film, as all who participated in the settlement with Fox were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Director Jay Roach also wrestles with this through his characterization of real life people he is portraying. Charlize Theron is uncanny as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell. She is well known for blending into a character and becoming unrecognizable and she once again does a stellar job as Megyn. There is a lot of empathy given to her character as she faces her many pitfalls over the course of 2016 which leads to this amazing performance. But at times it also feels a little creepy watching Charlize as Megyn.

The dichotomy of wanting to tell the story while protecting sources creates an underdeveloped narrative. The film isn’t able to fully delve into the complicated emotional nature of this subject as well as it should. Which in turn contributes to a lack of central structure throughout the film. This in no way affects how well the film is acted or how important it is to highlight these women but left me feeling like Fox was not being properñy held accountable.

Although it affected the film’s flow, I think this choice rang very true. Everyone who suffers sexual harassment suffers some silencing or minimizing of their experience. They must make a choice about how much they will share and how much backlash they can take when sharing their experience. In the end this film is very much about autonomy and commodification, selling sex as a brand, selling a candidate, as well as your identity/story, and the truth.

What Megyn Kelly did was very brave, especially in a pre-Weinstein, pre-#MeToo era. This is compounded because she is a hard working ambitious person who knew exactly what she was putting on the line by speaking up. The risk to her career and reputation was very real. There are so many moments that are so familiar, this film clearly portrays the way women have to navigate predators with power. It does a really good job of highlighting the grey areas of this morally complex issue. A person can be a mentor, a father figure, someone you respect and still act problematically. Each person ends up negotiating their limits and ultimately trying to do the right thing.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen BOMBSHELL? Well, what did you think? 

Advanced Screening Giveaway to ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD

Happy Monday, folks!! Guess what, we have another passes giveaway!

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, you and a guest are invited to an advance screening of ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD on:

Wednesday, July 24
Showplace ICON (West End) at 7pm.

RSVP using the link below for your chance to attend (while supplies last)

rsvp here

Seating is based on first come, first served.
It is recommended to arrive early.  The film hits theaters on July 26.

“In this town, it can all change…like that.”

Some interesting trivia of the movie courtesy of IMDb:

This is Quentin Tarantino‘s ninth film and according to IMDb, he said he worked on the screenplay for five years and it’s also his most personal one yet. Apparently he started writing the story as a novel before realizing a film script would better suit the material.

Per THR, Tarantino describes it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), former star of a Western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor … Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).” But QT has maintained that the movie is more about the era it’s set in and not about the Manson murders.

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Once Upon A Time in Hollywood opens in theaters this Friday 7/26. Are you excited to see this film?

FlixChatter Review: Suicide Squad (2016)

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Not every year we get not one but two highly-anticipated DC superhero films where the hype is simply overwhelming. I personally have not been anticipating either movies, and I tried with all my might to avoid watching every damn clip/trailer/featurette, etc the studio releases practically every single week. Well, you already know how I feel about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now we’ve got the DC ensemble cast about supervillains instead of superheroes.

Now, it certainly helps if you have seen BVS, as this film starts out in the aftermath of that film. “What if the next Superman is a terrorist?” intelligence operative Amanda Waller (the always solid Viola Davis) asks a team of officers and general. She argues that mere mortals won’t stand a chance against such formidable foe, so she assembles a team of incarcerated supervillains and send them off on a deadly black ops mission in exchange for clemency.

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The first act of the movie pretty much consist of character introduction: hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), deranged former psychiatrist Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic former gangster Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and monstrous cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). They’re to be placed under the command of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), whose girlfriend June Moore (Cara Delevingne) is actually possessed by a witch known as “Enchantress.” If you think that’s already impossible to keep track, we’ve also got Flag’s bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara), and of course, one of the most [over]-hyped character of the year, The Joker, played by recent Oscar winner Jared Leto. Now, as tedious as the intros may be, it does help someone like me who isn’t familiar with the comics to figure out just who the heck everybody is.

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Though billed as an ensemble cast, the two leads of the film are actually Will Smith and Margot Robbie. The rest are pretty much relegated to supporting roles, with the Joker’s role ends up being nothing more than a glorified cameo. Even as I’m watching the movie, I could just feel the wrath of the Joker’s (or Leto’s) fans seeing how little his screentime is. Now Batman is barely shown here but that’s understandable as this is a movie about the villains. It seems a ton of Leto’s scenes has ended up in the cutting room floor.

Now I wonder if the filmmaker thought that the Joker is such an an overpowering figure that he easily steals the spotlight from everyone else. The longer he’s on screen, the film might no longer be about the Squad, but more about the iconic DC villain. Even the scarce number of scenes between him and his lover Harley (a case of doctor/patient relationship gone terribly wrong) is no doubt one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. I think from those deleted scenes they could probably create a Harley & Joker movie that would likely be a massive hit.

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For a movie built on ‘it’s good to be bad’ principle, I expect a lot of fun with the characters. Well, there were some amusing scenes and some that made me laugh, but overall it’s not that joyful of a ride after all. First of all, none of these supervillains are really that bad in this movie. Heck even one of them didn’t want to perform his abilities because he’s developed um, a conscience. Then there’s the drab and dour look of the movie popularized by DC’s purported *savior* Zack Snyder. Director David Ayer pretty much adopts a similar style, with occasional garish, candy-colored color-scheme in some scenes. Oh and there’s sheer lack of originality in the music department too, pretty much copying Guardians of the Galaxy in its overuse of pop music. Heck they even used the exact same song Spirit in the Sky! At least in Guardians, the music is actually part of the plot involving the lead character, but here it’s just used haphazardly seemingly just to fill up dead space.

That said, I was actually surprised that I wasn’t bored watching the movie despite its 123-minute running time. I guess that would be the one pleasant surprise about this, oh and the fact that there weren’t as many cringe-inducing scenes as BVS. Unfortunately, the more I think about this movie, the less positive I feel about it.

As for the performances, I was quite surprised that I didn’t mind Smith here despite my growing apathy towards him (interestingly enough I also quite like him in Concussion). Courtney didn’t irritate me as he usually did in other roles, and Kinnaman is pretty good despite being a rather vanilla character. It should be no surprise to anyone that the scene-stealer here is Robbie. The Aussie actress is on the brink of overexposure these days as she seems to be everywhere. But she does have talent and personality that matches her beauty.

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Her Harley Quinn is fun to watch when she’s bad, but she also has a certain vulnerability that she lets out when there’s no one around. Now, Leto’s Joker didn’t really wow me. He’s nowhere as phenomenal as Heath Ledger in the role, but I think that’s unfair to expect him to be, simply because the two Joker characters are quite different. Ledger’s more of a sadistic psychopath who in Nolan’s version ‘just wants to see the world burns.’ Leto’s version is a deranged maniac, more of a warped prankster than merciless criminal mastermind. For one, I can’t imagine Ledger’s Joker to ever be in a relationship with any human being, romantic or otherwise.

The third act of the movie is the most problematic. It’s ironic that in a movie about bad guys, the actual villain is irritatingly absurd. Whilst the enchantress starts out rather intriguing, it seems to have gotten more ridiculous as the movie goes on. Nary of a compelling backstory, this diminutive witch spews out an army of blob-headed creatures that are so gross to look at. The finale looks as if Warner Bros and Sony are sharing the same SFX department to create the effects as it looks so similar to the one in Ghostbusters! Just like Man of Steel and BVS, once again the final battle is nothing more than a mind-numbingly loud and bombastic CGI fest.

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Plagued by multiple reshoots, perhaps the movie was doomed from the start. As the writer and director of the movie, it was risky for WB to hire David Ayer, known for modest-budgeted, gritty crime dramas who has never done a blockbuster film. Now, hiring filmmakers with indie-cred can pay off (as in the case of the Russo Brothers for Marvel), but I don’t think it pays off as well here. I wouldn’t call Suicide Squad a huge mess, and it truly IS better than BVS, but really that’s not saying much.

But I think the most disappointing part is that for a movie that strives so hard to be different, the result is pretty much more of the same as the previous DC movies. Though I’m glad I did see it so I can judge it for myself, it’s not something I’m keen on watching again anytime soon. This one makes me dread the other DC ensemble movie Justice League even more, once again promoted in the post-credit scene featuring Bruce Wayne. I have said in the past that I’m more of a DC than Marvel fan, but sadly DC still has SO much catching up to do to match its arch rival.

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So what do YOU think of Suicide Squad?

FlixChatter Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

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Did you that if you type ‘Tarzan’ on IMDb, there’d be about 200 titles popped up since 1918 all the way to 2016. So yeah, you could say that Edgar Rice Burroughs’ titular character has been adapted to death in various formats. But hey, Hollywood loves to recycle stuff over and over, and this one promises to make the Lord of the Jungle to 21st Century audiences.

What I do like about this one is how the story isn’t told in a linear way. By the time the film opens, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) has been acclimated to life in London as John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke of Greystoke Manor, with Jane (Margot Robbie) as his wife. I’m glad this isn’t an origin story, though the film did reveal his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, director David Yates (known for his Harry Potter movies) use of flashbacks constantly throughout, showing us how he met Jane and so forth.
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Of course soon Tarzan ends up in Congo again, at the request of Belgium’s King Leopold II to visit & report on Belgian’s development on Congo. He’s reluctant at first, but American attaché George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) persuaded him to do so, suspecting of slavery of the Congolese people. There he crosses path with Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who’s in Congo on a rich minerals expedition for the Belgian king. It would’ve been a huge issue if it weren’t for the fact that Rom has been promised diamonds by the tribal leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou, typecast once again) in exchange for Tarzan.
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I was actually surprised how much I enjoyed the adventure ride with Tarzan, with Jackson being the comic relief throughout. I gotta say that without Jackson’s hilarious antics, I might not have enjoyed this movie as much as I did, because the film tends to take itself far too seriously. On top of that, Skarsgård plays his character in such a surly, dour manner that practically sucked the fun out of the whole thing. There’s a difference between Byronically-brooding and dull, and he definitely fits more with the latter. I mentioned on Twitter before the movie started that it’d take more than a 12-pack abs to make his character intriguing. Well, it seems that Skarsgård’s too busy working out and dieting rigorously that he forgot to infuse his role with any kind of personality, let alone charm. Oh btw, those who couldn’t wait to see Tarzan’s bare torso would be pretty disappointed that he didn’t take of his shirt until about halfway point. I should mention too that Skarsgård reminds me a lot of Sam Heughan who plays Jamie in Starz’s Outlander at times that it distracted me a bit.

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Robbie did her best with what she’s given. Her Jane isn’t quite a damsel-in-distress, though there’s still the obligatory rescue when she’s held hostage by Rom. As for Waltz, well he’s better here than in Spectre, but his mustache-twirling villain-y is becoming more of a tiresome schtick. It seems his fun baddie performance a la Hans Landa is long behind him, what a pity.

There’s also the issue with the whole colonialism and slavery that critics think are tone deaf. Now, I actually think the filmmaker/writers strived to make Tarzan more than ‘another white savior’. Jackson’s character is based on a respected real life African American minister/soldier/lawyer/writer and he’s got a major role here that includes saving Tarzan’s life. Even the moments where Tarzan returns the favor is downplayed a bit and that bit when Williams climbs onto his back as he swings down from a tree vine is pretty hilarious. I didn’t expect this Tarzan movie to be some sort of buddy comedy but at times that’s how it played out, which doesn’t always work but Jackson is always a hoot. There is also a quiet moment between Williams and Tarzan when Williams reflects on his past that I think is quite memorable. There are moments that tugged at my heartstrings too, as Tarzan and Jane seem to genuinely care for the Congolese residents, both the people and animals of the jungle.

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Having just seen The Jungle Book, the cinematography here doesn’t quite match that one, and at times it appears way too dark and gloomy. But there are some beautiful shots and some of the action sequences are pretty fun to watch. The soundtrack byRupert Gregson-Williams was pretty rousing at times too, though now I could barely remember it. Somehow every time I hear the word Tarzan I always think of Phil Collins’ fabulous song You’ll Be in My Heart from the animated Disney version.

This may sound like a backhanded compliment but given my low expectation coming into this, I’m not disappointed. I guess I wasn’t expecting something truly epic and it wasn’t, but as far as Summer popcorn flick go, it offers an adequate escapist good time.

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Have you seen ‘The Legend of Tarzan’? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: A Bigger Splash (2016)

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When I first heard of this film, I was immediately intrigued by the premise of an idyllic sun-drenched holiday that’s being disrupted by an unexpected visit. The people on holiday are famous rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and her lover, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). When we’re introduced to the couple, they’re stark naked by the pool on their villa. They read books, sun bathe, make love, basically enjoying a blissful time together in this picturesque remote island of Pantelleria, Italy.

Soon though, their moment of euphoric existence comes at an abrupt stop when Marianne’s old flame suddenly arrives on the island. They reluctantly pick them up at the airport to find Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his young daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). What strikes me right away is how exuberant Fiennes was in this role, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so vivacious on screen.

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Things unfold in a rather unhurried fashion. I didn’t realize at first that Marianne is rendered practically mute as she had just undergone throat surgery, so even though there are glimpses of her in rock star mode (a la Bowie), we didn’t hear her voice until later in the film. She communicates with gestures, and Paul pretty much doing the talking for her. I’m glad I hadn’t read much about this film before seeing it, and so I won’t discuss much about the plot in my review. I do however, want to talk about the acting in this film, as it’s truly the highlight.

Fiennes and Swinton are absolutely marvelous here, displaying their acting versatility and proficiency. I’ve mentioned how exuberant Fiennes was. There’s an extended dance sequence where his character express himself through music that’s truly a joy to behold. In contrast, Swinton is much more reserved, communicating her emotions through subtle gestures and facial expressions. I have never seen such a romantic side of Swinton. She looks absolutely sensuous and glamorous here, and casting her as a rock star is absolutely spot on. I also adore every single outfit she wore here, they’re all perfectly-tailored for her. The fact that she’s unable to speak somehow creates an intriguing tension to the nervous energy that’s already present in the group. Every time these two are on screen, I was truly in awe.

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I had seen Schoenaerts in a couple of things (Far From the Madding Crowd, Suite Française) and he’s certainly got a pleasant countenance about him. He displays a certain unpredictability here that the role of Paul requires. As for Johnson, I have to say she’s the weakest link here but I think it’s more to do with the fact that her character is the most underwritten. Up until the end I don’t really have much of a clue what she is all about and thus it’s hard to care for her character.

Working on a script by David Kajganich, Italian director Luca Guadagnino weaved a tale of jealousy, frustrated passion that escalates to a boiling point. What started out as a drama slowly unravels like a whirlwind and turns into something sinister. I’m glad there’s still that element of surprise and I really didn’t know where things will lead. Unpredictability is always something I appreciate in any story. There’s also a bit of humor thrown in throughout, especially that bit with the local police fangirl-ing over Marianne.

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The island of Pantelleria is practically a character itself in this movie. The stunning cinematography by Yorick Le Saux (who also shot Clouds of Sils Maria) is definitely a plus here, but it’s the gripping story and fantastic performances that made this a memorable endeavor. Being that it’s a European production, there’s a frankness with sexuality and nudity, but yet the way it was shot it didn’t feel crude or distasteful. I wouldn’t say the film is perfect however, it felt a bit tedious at times and the filmmaker luxuriate too much on in the scenery. I’ve also mentioned the part about Dakota’s character not being as well-developed. I do think her casting might be more suitable than Margot Robbie who’s initially cast, as she would’ve been too mature-looking to play a late teen.

So overall, this is quite an absorbing psychological drama. I saw this film at a morning press screenings and there were less than five people in the entire theater. That’s too bad as I think this film deserve a larger audience. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for something off the beaten path that’s superbly acted.

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Have you seen ‘A Bigger Splash’? I’d love to hear what you think!

Spotlight on Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Interview with Kim Barker, whose memoir inspired the film

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I first saw the trailer of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot about a month ago which stars Tina Fey as a 40-something female who finds herself in a rut and wants to completely shake up her life, which she does by taking up a journalism assignment in Afghanistan.

The film is directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa and has a great ensemble cast in addition to Tina FeyMargot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina and Billy Bob Thornton. Check out the trailer:

 

TalibanShuffleBookIt turns out that the film was based on a best-selling memoir by Kim Barker called The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days In Afghanistan And Pakistan that’s got great reviews on Amazon. The book is a dark comedic take on her time in South Asia, which was published by Doubleday in 2011. When I got the opportunity to chat with Kim Barker, I jumped at the chance.

A bit of background about the author:

Barker was the South Asia bureau chief for The Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2009, based in New Delhi and Islamabad. Barker has covered natural disasters such as the tsunami in Asia and the earthquake in Kashmir, as well as tracked manmade disasters — the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the corruption in Afghanistan, and the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

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Before going overseas, Barker worked at The Seattle Times and the Spokane Spokesman-Review. After coming back in 2009, she was the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where she freelanced for Foreign Affairs, Reader’s Digest and The Atlantic. In 2010, she joined ProPublica, where she wrote about campaign finance and the fallout of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Barker, who grew up in Montana and Wyoming, now lives in Brooklyn and works as a New York Times metro reporter specializing in investigative reporting and narrative writing.


My review of the movie

This is the biggest role I’ve seen of Tina Fey in a feature film. She plays the protagonist based on Kim Barker, though they changed her name slightly to Kim Baker and she’s a tv reporter instead of a print journalist. The fact that she’s unmarried and childless makes her the ideal candidate for the job as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, and she had wanted an escape of sort out of her mundane life. Well, she’s certainly got the adventure of her life as soon as she arrives in Kabul.

It’s a fish-out-of water dark comedy that’s perfect for Tina Fey‘s brand of snark. Even the title, military alphabet speak for WTF, should tell you what you’re in for. Some reviews say it’s a drama marketed as a comedy but I think it leans more towards a dark comedy with some dramatic moments. I was laughing throughout and found Kim’s journey quite engaging. At times there are scenes that seem way over the top that made me think Kim’s a reckless reporter, but I’m aware that it’s definitely Hollywood’s way of sensationalizing stuff for dramatic/comedic purposes. People who are really curious about what really happen to Kim should read her book [more on that in my interview below]

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The supporting cast are wonderful and they all have a great rapport with Fey. Margot Robbie is one of the most interesting actresses working today, this is the third movie I saw her in so far and I’m a fan. She and Martin Freeman as Kim’s fellow reporters, as well as Billy Bob Thornton as a US general, are all wonderful in their roles and have some memorable moments in the film. The casting of British Alfred Molina and American Christopher Abbott in prominent Afghan roles, as the attorney general and Kim’s fixer/translator respectively, is a curious one. I mean they’re both great in the roles but in light of the hot button issue of diversity, I kept wondering why they didn’t look for actors of South Asian (or even Middle Eastern) background. In any case, I thought Abbott as Fahim was especially memorable in an understated performance. His relationship with Kim is the most developed in the movie and the scene towards the end actually made me tear up a bit.

Robert Carlock‘s script is definitely perfect for Fey’s screen vehicle, the fact that he’s worked with her on 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The dialog are sharp and pretty funny, even the romance between Fey’s and Martin Freeman’s character (speaking with an amusing Scottish accent) is hilarious with some genuinely sweet moments. Unlike the book, there’s no shuffling between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the movie, they pretty much stay in Kabul the entire time. But there is a shuffle between drama and comedy here that at times feels uneven, but I’d say for the most part the movie plays out as a comedy.

Overall I enjoyed this one, it’s definitely one of the most entertaining female-driven comedies out there. If you’re a Tina Fey fan, I highly recommend it. It’s also no surprise to see SNL creator Lorne Michaels as one of the producers.

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Kim Barker [left] during the post-screening Q&A
After the movie ended, there’s a Q&A with Kim, moderated by The LOFT’s education director. I didn’t have the early part on tape but Kim explained that she didn’t really have any say about the script once she sold the rights of her book. She was consulted by the film’s screenwriter Robert Carlock, but knowing that they were going to fictionalize a lot of what happened in her book, she wasn’t exactly given the rights to make any modifications to it. Check out her thoughts about her life as a journalist and some tidbits about the film.

From the Q&A:

Q: When you’re overseas reporting, with all the risk involved, what is the x factor, the synergetic factor that make you still want to keep doing what you’re doing considering you might lose a limb or even your life? 

A: As a journalist, when you go into a story, you start to go into a spiral and you just need to go into the next part of the story. When I was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it felt like you’re covering the most important story in the world. Once you start seeing it unfold, I couldn’t see myself leaving, I want to see how the story unfold and I care so much about the people there. And you also stop seeing yourself as somebody who’s in danger. It’s like we’re all frogs in boiling water, we had no idea the water is boiling. So your friend would do this thing, they go to the middle of Kandahar to talk to the Taliban. Well that seems crazy but that means I can invite the Taliban here to this hotel and talk to them. And you just start thinking of yourself, that you’ve been here for so long, your friends’ been here for so long, and nothing really bad’s happened to anybody, so we can keep going. But then bad things started happening, in terms of the kidnappings.

Looking at what happen since then in the Arab Springs, like Libya and Syria now, it seems that Afghanistan is just child’s play for us. If you were to say to me, ‘hey I have a ticket for you to go to Syria,’ I’d say, ‘You’re out of your f****ing mind, no way I’d go to Syria.’ You start to get the sense… I mean I really felt like that with Faruk (Fahim in the film who was her Afghan fixer) y’know, when he got married and have kids, I didn’t want to have him on me, y’know, because in a lot of this situation, when a Western journalist and the driver/fixer or whatever got kidnapped or whatever happened to them. When I was over there, it’s always the driver or fixer who got killed or got into trouble more than the foreigner and I just couldn’t deal with that anymore. So that kind of moderated the risk I’m willing to take over there.

[spoiler alert]

Q: Where there any scenes in the movie involving Tina Fey that actually happened in real life? How much was fictionalized?

A: That’s a good question. Um, read the book [audience laughed] I mean you’ll learn, I mean when I saw the movie, I was like ‘hey you cut out a lot of the funny stuff from the book.’ Like when I go to interview the war lord, that is true. But they cut a lot of the parts in the movie. I was like, ‘you just lost part of the jokes there as it got really funny with that war lord.’ They also made the war lord to be a much bigger deal than he actually was. But the part when I was shooting guns with the attorney general, that’s actually true. That’s one where people thought, ‘that can’t possible be true,’ but it was. Although I never would’ve fired an AK-47 like that. I’m from Montana, I know about y’know, saving ammunition. I’d point and I aim, I’d hit the target that’s been set up. Those things are true. I did live in a place called the ‘fun house’ that’s not quite as grand as in the movie. There’s no address in Kabul, so every house has a different name and ours was called the ‘fun house.’

As far as the military, the story in the end involving the soldier that was very accurate. But he only lost one leg instead of two legs. I didn’t actually go visit him in his ranch, but I called him on the phone. He said a lot of the same things as in the movie, but he’s much nicer in real life. The speech actually came from this guy Doug, he’s the drug czar for the US. I was sort of torn up about [the soldier losing his leg] and I didn’t hear about it until I got back. I was blaming myself, basically the entire unit got moved to a more dangerous area because of the story I did with them, because they all seemed so puffed up and kept saying, ‘no we’re not locked an loaded.’So when I was writing the book, I remembered talking to those soldiers and I said to Doug, ‘Oh no, I’m responsible for this.’ And he’d say ‘What about the Taliban?’

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Iain is portrayed by Martin Freeman

Q: The storyline about Ian being kidnapped, how close to the real story was that and are you still in touch with him?

A: Iain’s real name is Sean Langan [a British war photographer]. He was kidnapped by the Taliban for three months. He was a good friend of mine, no he IS a good friend of mine, I didn’t want to talk about him in the past tense [laughter]. He met with me before he went to meet with the Taliban in Pakistan. He said ‘I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this.’ And I said, ‘You’re a f***ing idiot, you’re gonna get kidnapped.’ And he kept changing the subject, ‘how about if I do it this way or that’ and I just said ‘you’re a f***ing idiot, you’re gonna get kidnapped.’ So when he went there he immediately got kidnapped. It was awful, I’ve been in that situation before where someone close to you got kidnapped. I mean, it turned your world upside down because you couldn’t do anything but think about it and fixate on it.

He eventually got out three months later. There’s a ransom paid for him, I didn’t really have anything to do with the marines going in to rescue him. And he wasn’t as dumb as taking the bus out of Kabul to go to Pakistan but he was pretty stupid. We’re still in touch and we’re good friends and he’s going to the premiere. The premiere is March 1 and Faruk is also trying to come to the premiere but he’s sort of blocked by the US embassy. He’s in Canada now but y’know, he has a Muslim name so his papers are still in further review. I’m hoping he can make it to the premiere.

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Q: Once the film comes out, people might assume that what happens in the movie actually took place in real life? How do you reconcile that given that most of the movie is fictionalized?

A: I answered the same way like I did in the Q&A. If people ask me if something is accurate, then I’ll say ‘well this one is accurate, this one isn’t.’ When you sold your book to Hollywood, Hollywood will do whatever it’s gonna do. There are plenty of examples where the book says one thing and the movie is totally different. Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City turned into Green Zone [a movie by Paul Greengrass starring Matt Damon] which has no resemblance to the original book. But it was optioned for a movie. I think in Hollywood, ‘based on’ means ok it’s the source material but we’ll do the Hollywood thing with it.

I mean, I’m a TV reporter in the movie and I’m a print reporter in real life. People ask me, ‘how do you feel about that?’ and I’m always rational about it. I don’t think it’ll be very interesting to watch me do my job writing a story as I’m sitting in front of my computer for several hours. Y’know what I mean? It’s far more interesting to watch a TV journalist do her job because you have to be there to capture the story, you have to get the shots and everything so people understand what the character’s doing. I’m ok with that.

Look, they do their own version of the story and the real story is in the book. I’m hoping that people who watch the movie would go, ‘could life really be that weird there?’ and then go buy the book and hopefully learn something about Pakistan and Afghanistan. Because the book is, even though it’s more of a dark comedy, I want people to know more about Pakistan and Afghanistan and by the end of it, they’ll learn about those two countries. That’s my goal. So if the movie will drive people to the book I think that’s great. I think that the narrative arc of the movie is like the narrative arc of my book, I feel like it’s *truthie* There’s something in every scene, if it didn’t happen to me, it happened to somebody I know. And it shows the absurdity of the bubble we lived in over there and I think the movie captured that pretty accurately.

Tina Fey’s character is basically a fictional character based on me. They changed all the names because if they had kept all the names that’s in the book, they’d have to be truthful to the book. So this way they’d just fictionalize things, but there are still grains of truth to them. As I watched the movie I’d be like, ‘oh yeah that happened, I did say that’ even if they happened in a different context. I think they did a good job with it. I think if they wanted to portray everything as accurately as in the book, it’d have been really long and narratively it’s not something that people would want to sit through. [spoiler alert] I didn’t get together with Sean [Iain in the film] like in the movie. But I love that they also didn’t have me end up with him in the end. I love that, because that’s exactly like my narrative arc. I decided to come home because it was time for me to

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Q: What did you think about the title of the film, which is basically WTF? Did you help to come up with that?

A: No, I didn’t have anything to do with that. But Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is military speak, so it’s a nod to the military. You could certainly say ‘what the f***’ about Afghanistan. And it’s got the same dance thing that I did with the Taliban Shuffle, y’know Tango Foxtrot.

Q: It seems to me that the WTF title has that snarky-ness people associate with Tina Fey and is that right that you share a similar sense of humor?

A: Yeah we do. My book has that snarky-ness as well. There’s a dance back and forth between the two borders. I think that’s another reason they didn’t want to use the title of my book is because they keep the movie just in Afghanistan. There’s not enough room to go to Pakistan in the movie. But in the book, the shuffle refers to the going back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that’s what the Taliban was doing between the two countries and that’s what we’re doing as journalists. There’s no Pakistan in the movie. I talked to [screenwriter] Robert Carlock and he said, ‘we’re going to fictionalize this’ and I said ‘do what you guys do.’ I mean they’re the ones who knew how to make a movie. If I were to sit there and write a movie script, I won’t be able to do it, it just wouldn’t get anywhere.

Q: Since you know about all the real life people in the story, what did you think about the actors portraying the part?
[I mentioned to Kim that I was surprised that they had American actor Christopher Abbott, who was in the acclaimed indie drama James White, cast as the Afghan fixer Fahim] 

A: I didn’t have anything to do with the casting so I can’t answer any question about casting. But I thought [Christopher] did a great job, I mean he looked Afghan to me. Farouk [the real life counterpart of Fahim] loved the trailer and he came off really well in the movie. Fahim came across as the only adult in the room and Farouk was truly the only adult in the room. The thing about Faruk is he has a great sense of humor, whilst Fahim was a very serious man. I suppose we need a straight man there in a comedy movie.

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Christopher Abbott as Fahim
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Alfred Molina as Attorney General Ali Massoud Sadiq

The attorney general had white hear and a bushy beard, not dark hair like in the movie. But I thought Alfred Molina did a great job and the dancing scene, there’s supposedly a real video of the attorney general dancing on youtube. I wrote about it in the book. I thought he did the Afghan dance very well in the movie, let’s see how my Afghan friends think of him.

Q: Despite all the fictionalized accounts that they did, did the movie captured the tone of your book the way you envisioned it?

A: I always go back to what Stephen Colbert said, y’know, truthie. I think it got the narrative arc and I felt like it captured the relationships that are most important to me, which to me is the one I had with Farouk. I mean obviously all the friendships I had were all important but the one I had with Farouk is the most important one in the book and it’s that way in the movie. It’s the most developed relationship in the movie, y’know, when he leaves her when she was going down. He’s like ‘I don’t want to be a part of this.’ I have to say I teared up a bit when he showed up at the airport. Farouk was the first person I got in touch with after I saw the movie, and Sean was the second.

 


Thank you ALLIED Marketing and Kim Barker for the interview opportunity!


What did you think of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?