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: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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Talk about a “sequel” that no one saw it coming huh? I don’t believe anyone except the filmmakers and studio folks knew that this movie even existed before the trailer was shown a couple of months ago. A sort of “blood relative” to the 2008 found footage Cloverfield, this new movie is more of a Twilight Zone episode and it’s 10 times better than the original “movie” (both are produced by JJ Abrams).

A young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) decided to leave her boyfriend and while on the road, she got a call from him. But as she was about to answer the phone, she got in a car accident. Hours later she woke up and handcuffed to the wall and had nothing on by her underwear. A mysterious man named Howard (John Goodman) said he rescued her and brought her to his secret underground shelter. He told her that there’s been an attack and many people have died. If she wants to stay alive, she needs to follow his orders. Later she meets another man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) who she thought was Howard’s prisoner but Emmett said he fought to get inside the shelter.

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The whole movie is about these three characters interacting with one another and if I can’t really say much without giving away spoilers. The performances by the actors were quite good, especially Goodman. You don’t really know if he’s telling the truth or he’s just crazy. Gallagher provided the humor but deep down he’s a beaten man who has regrets about his life choices. But the movie belongs to Winstead. Unlike many of the female leads in other thrillers, her character is smart and always on guard about her surroundings. She never trusted Howard and when it’s time to take action, she’s the one in charge.

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Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, the movie felt like a very good episode of The Twilight Zone. Trachtenberg was able to create some tight tension moments and keep all of his actors on their toes. Since this is his first feature, I thought he did an impressive job. But like many young filmmakers, he couldn’t resist the use of hand-held shaky cam on some scenes. I don’t know if it’s being taught in film schools regularly or what, but it needs to stop.

Despite the good performances and tight direction, the movie’s finale was sort of a letdown for me. I wouldn’t go into it but I thought the writers should have come up with a better way to show the audience of what really happened to the world. That said, this is a good thriller and you don’t need to see Cloverfield to enjoy this one.

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Have you seen 10 Cloverfield Lane? Well, what did you think?