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By midlandsmovies, Feb 14 2020 08:42AM

Birds of Prey (2020) Dir. Cathy Yan

DC’s eighth instalment in their ever expanding ‘Extended Universe’ is released this week. Birds of Prey, or to give it it’s full mouthful of a title, Birds of Prey (and the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn), is helmed by director Cathy Yan and stars Margot Robbie in her second outing as the titular character.

After Harley’s split from the Joker leaves her vulnerable to the wrath of all of Gotham’s criminal underworld, she crosses paths with 3 other “dames looking for emancipation” in order to take down the most nefarious villain of them all, Roman Sionis (Ewan Mcgregor). Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and cliché cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) team up alongside Harley when pre-teen Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) has a contract placed on her head after pick pocketing Sionis’ prized diamond.

We are told the story in an almost Tarantino-esque non-linear fashion. The chronology of the story imitates Harley’s hyperactive mind, with her unreliable narration taking us back in time to understand the events unfolding on screen. From the get go this film just oozes fun. The colourful sets and costumes really create an atmosphere you want to be a part of, unlike the dingy, suppressed nature of Harley Quinn’s first introduction to us in Suicide Squad.

In terms of performances Margot Robbie and Ewan Mcgregor are the obvious standouts. Robbie embodies the role as if she was born to play it. Again, in comparison with Suicide Squad she has a lot more opportunity within this film to bring a more emotional depth to the character allowing the audience to gain a larger understanding of her as a person. Therefore, cementing herself as one of the most beloved anti-heroes in this generation of superhero franchises.

Ewan Mcgregor seems a world away from the last time audiences saw him in last years Doctor Sleep. Both performances brilliant but in polar opposite ways. In Doctor Sleep Mcgregor a much more serious, reserved and endearing character. Whereas in this film he grabs the over the top villain role with both hands. Sionis teeters on the edge of madness, going from 0 to 100, flamboyant to terrifying in mere seconds.

An honourable mention is deserved for Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz, Sionis’ right hand man. A character in love with violence, constantly provoking his superior to allow him to feed his desperation for it. His mannerisms and even the way he looks at other people sends chills down your spine.

Unfortunately, in terms of acting, for me, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ella Jay Basco were the clear weak links. I was surprised by Winstead, I do enjoy her performances in Scott Pilgrim Versus the World and 10 Cloverfield Lane, they prove she can hold her own alongside highly respected actors. Whether it was the script or just how she played it, her appearance as Huntress felt misjudged. The character’s dialogue always seemed forced. Continuous reference is made to the fact her character has not become akin to the tough guy persona just yet which led to quite a bit of overacting and cringe inducing lines.

Similarly with Ella Jay Basco, despite her fantastic physical acting in scenes of her pickpocketing unsuspecting people on the street, her delivery of lines just didn’t feel up to the mark. I understand that she is a young child actor but her performance lacked the spark or magic that others possessed.

Getting back to the positives of the film, the influence of John Wick director Chad Stahelski on some of the action scenes in the film was clear. An excellent choice by Birds of Prey producers to gain the help of the director of this era’s staple action franchise. Wide shots, perfect use of slow motion and practical stunts immerse the audience in each and every action sequence. Each significant character’s unique fighting style is showcased in spectacular fashion. Whether it Harley Quinn’s acrobatic flair or Huntress’ sharpshooter technique, these scenes were the most fun I had whilst watching this film.

DC seem to have finally found their rhythm in their longstanding fight against Marvel and with Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar win for his performance in Joker and the quality of this film, they may even be one step ahead right now.


Jake Evans

Twitter @Jake_Evans1609

By midlandsmovies, Feb 1 2017 11:54PM

T2: Trainspotting (2017) Dir. Danny Boyle

Renton returns in this 20-year follow up to the 90s classic as director Danny Boyle reunites with the whole gang for another trip to bonnie Scotland, as we revisit the ex-junkies whose lives have all panned out very differently.

Ewan McGregor comes home to Edinburgh after the breakdown of his marriage– two decades since running off with the ill-gotten gains of his friends’ heroin deal – and it's safe to say his friends are not particularly pleased with his reappearance. Ewen Bremner as a brilliant Spud has also split from his family leading to a suicide attempt whilst Johnny Lee Miller’s esoteric Sick Boy is failing to set up a brothel with his Bulgarian “girlfriend”.

With revenge in mind, Sick Boy’s obsession to serve up retribution is nothing compared to the unhinged Begbie (a manic Robert Carlylse) who escapes from prison to settle old scores in the only way he knows how – with violence and more violence.

With the set up established, T2 is a film about choosing life but acknowledges life moves on. With the actors furrowed faces, everyone’s older, wiser and that little bit slower. This is reflected in the film itself as the frantic pace of the 90s gives way to a slow jog. For a film with many running metaphors, the film’s pace is much more leisurely than the exhilarating 90 minute high of the original.

The film also has flashes of the original's strange visuals but I personally wanted to see more weirdness. Where’s the equivalent of the haunting image of the baby on the ceiling? Where’s Dale Winton on the TV asking quiz questions about HIV? The movie plays safe in some areas but when it does push the envelope it is all the better for it – Begbie “slapping” the camera around in his domestic rages as well as a dreamy image of Sick Boy’s room in a football stadium were great additions.

The film reminisces too but the first 30 minutes were so average that I thought that it was really going to fall short. However, I soon warmed to its narrative charms and as they head to the Scottish highlands (by train of course) to remember their friend Tommy. The film’s ‘meta’ conversation between McGregor and Miller about how it’s not a moving memorial but they are simply tourists in nostalgia really hit the right note.

There are plenty of stimulating sequences though with one standout being when Begbie finally catches Renton in the toilet (where else?) of a loud club. Here we get a brilliant split screen sequence that has all the verve, extreme colour and excitement of the original film but is also very much original in its own right.

The deeper meanings continued with Spud’s blossoming story-telling as a cipher for the author Irvine Welsh himself (who also returns as Mikey Forester). The act of writing, which reflects on the past whilst planning stories for the future, becomes a major part of this film. In addition, Trainspotting 2 is as much about the problems of “going back” as it “goes back” itself. Boyle and his cast have matured and they do not shy away from the issues that throws up.

It has something in common with Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, where an edgy “topical” film is followed many years later but loses a little of the excitement along the way. And most Trainspotting fans who (legally) saw the film on its release are in their late 30s/early 40s now but appropriately the film tackles that fact with scenes on family, fatherhood, children, generational angst and reacquainting with old friends.

My biggest reservation – and the one that stops the film from achieving true lofty heights is the fact that there has never been a really good “delayed” sequel or prequel. I may be alone here but I often ask how long is too long? Superman Returns, Crystal Skull, Independence Day: Resurgence, Blues Brothers 2000? Whilst it’s nowhere near as bad as those, trying to get another hit as good as the last one is a futile addiction that audiences seem to crave but is often never fulfilled.

All that said, Boyle keeps interest up with dark comedy and drama as well as picking a great selection of songs to litter throughout his movie (with some remixes of the film’s classics added for a retro feel) and his wider themes of growing up, the past and the future expand upon the outlandish antics of his first foray with the crew. Neither a big disappointment nor an unmissable sequel, T2 dabbles with the familiar feelings you felt during those heady days yet convinces us that it’s hard to recapture the intense rush of enjoyment from that first time around.


Midlands Movies Mike

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