Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020, Cathy Yan)

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a Margot Robbie vehicle, which is excellent, because Robbie’s great and the filmmaking, particularly on Robbie’s scenes, is outstanding. Retitling it the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn would be the best move; the Birds of Prey are going to be a bonus, with all your favorite side characters teaming up with the potential for a sequel. Or at least a great “team” epilogue scene. But it’s all about Robbie. Robbie and, to a lesser extent, Ewan McGregor, who gets to play a fantastic villain here.

The film opens with an animated recap of Robbie’s Harley Quinn, which—in addition to being kind of cute and establishing the film’s cartoonish nature immediately—means the film doesn’t have to use any actual footage from Robbie’s previous outing, Suicide Squad, much less the cursed image of Jared Leto’s Joker. And it sets up Robbie’s narration; the narration continues after the opening, walking the audience through the plot, albeit with less exposition than in the opening titles sequence. Robbie’s contemporaneous narration usually establishes one of the supporting players’ backstories in relation to the crime story and gives Fantabulous a noir feel. Director Yan shoots it like one too, with the supporting cast all assuming the showy character actor parts of old without being character actors. Instead, Yan and Prey just waits for the character to resonate enough through presence, then expands them. The film’s got a phenomenal sense of timing, both for the character arcs and the action. The film’s a crime story about a tween pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) who picks the wrong pocket and gets into a bunch of trouble. She gets some badass defenders who try to get her out of that trouble while also inspiring her to do something better with her life.

Though not exactly. Because Birds of Prey is very much about the bullshit women have to tolerate just to survive. Robbie’s been a cannibal madman’s concubine, if you want to go with comic book Joker, or… shudder… Jared Leto’s, if you want to go with movie Joker. Cop Rosie Perez has watched the men she works with take credit for her work for her entire career. Club singer turned crime boss driver Jurnee Smollett-Bell is on survival mode, though Smollett-Bell’s got the thinnest backstory; the film’s not fair to most of its supporting cast; Birds gives them enough to shine but only just. Like Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Mafia orphan turned “cross bow killer,” who assassinates the mobsters who killed her family so long ago. Winstead turns out being great, but it takes a while. She’s kind of comic relief cameoing leading up to it. It’s unfair because Smollett-Bell’s introduction, a performance of It’s a Man’s World, is one of the film’s best sequences.

Fantabulous has a lot of sequences on that list, however. The entire first act and most of the second are these expertly executed and edited adventures for Robbie, with frequent check-ins on villain McGregor and cop Perez. No one gets to do anything on their own except Robbie, McGregor, and Perez in Birds. Smollett-Bell never runs her own scene and, despite being a lone avenger, Winstead doesn’t get to either. Ditto Basco. It’s Robbie’s movie, with some great stuff for McGregor and Perez—once it’s clear McGregor and Perez are actually going to be able to give excellent performances, Birds of Prey’s gradually solidifying ground immediately turns concrete. McGregor, Yan, and screenwriter Christina Hodson get a truly great villain going here. The strangest part of Fantabulous, between McGregor’s New Wave gangster antics and Robbie doing crime and fighting thugs in the streets of Gotham, is how much it feels like a realization of the DC Batman movies going back to the beginning. Well, not Adam West, but Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Birds of Prey’s got an actual good sense of humor about itself. It lets itself have fun and stretch to get to certain jokes. The truly terrifying moments in the film make up for it. It’s not just McGregor’s arrogant, privileged sadism, it’s him having even more dangerous sidekick Chris Messina. Because Messina knowingly eggs McGregor on. And they come into the movie cutting people’s faces off so there’s the imagination is rightly spinning.

Throw in Yan, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, production designer K.K. Barrett, and costumer designer Erin Benach’s “reality,” which sort of toughens up a cop comedy to the point where you can have Robbie and Winstead’s costumed antics and not have it break character. Yan and Libatique open with a great scene of urban destruction; it’s very realistically rendered. As the film introduces more and more outlandish elements, the visual tone stays constant. It’s not until the end Birds breaks out the obviously CGI landscapes, at which point Yan and company have earned the leeway. It’s a bit of a cartoon anyway, right?

The third act’s not great. Birds just doesn’t have an ending. Instead of just stopping, the film wraps everything it can together and hopes the cast can pull it off. The cast and some excellent fight choreography, which is geared for eventual laughs not ouches, succeed.

But the point of the movie isn’t the fight, the missing diamond, the girl power… it’s Robbie. And for the great showcase Fantabulous gives Robbie, it doesn’t give her enough. The part’s not there. Because to put the part there… you couldn’t have the entertaining action comedy. Or at least the jokes wouldn’t land in the same way. So it’s not a good ending but it’s a reluctant fine. It does work. It just doesn’t excel and when you’ve spent ninety minutes watching everything excel, something not excelling is a smash on the breaks.

So me being upset about Robbie not getting a better character study aside, Fantabulous is a thorough success. Yan, Robbie, and McGregor are the major standouts—though Yan’s crew all deserves major acknowledgement, especially the costume and production designs, the photography, the editing. I have no memory of Daniel Pemberton’s score, but the soundtrack’s great and, whatever Pemberton does works.

Oh. And the now infamous sandwich scene. It’s remarkable. The film often is.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Cathy Yan; screenplay by Christina Hodson, based on the DC Comics characters created by Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, Paul Levitz, Joe Staton, Joey Cavalieri, Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Mitch Brian, Kelley Puckett, and Damion Scott; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Jay Cassidy; music by Daniel Pemberton; production designer, K.K. Barrett; costume designer, Erin Benach; produced by Sue Kroll, Margot Robbie, and Bryan Unkeless; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn), Ewan McGregor (Roman Sionis), Rosie Perez (Renee Montoya), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Dinah Lance), Ella Jay Basco (Cassandra Cain), Chris Messina (Victor Zsasz), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Helena Bertinelli), Ali Wong (Ellen Yee), and Steven Williams (Captain Erickson).


Bobby (2006, Emilio Estevez)

I knew Emilio Estevez directed Bobby, but I didn’t know he also wrote it. From the dialogue and the construction of conversations, I assumed it was a playwright. There’s a certain indulgence to the dialogue, which some actors utilize well (Anthony Hopkins) and some not (Elijah Wood).

Estevez’s an exceptionally confident filmmaker here. He changes the film’s premise in the final sequence, going from a Grand Hotel look at people in the hotel where Bobby Kennedy was shot to an extremely topical, socially relevant picture about how little the world has improved between the shooting and the film’s production. He relies heavily on the audio of a Kennedy speech over the film’s action because there’s no other way it’d work. And it does work.

There are some great scenes in the film, particularly one between Demi Moore and Sharon Stone where the two former sex symbols discuss aging. Stone’s great throughout the film. Moore’s great in that scene (and okay in the rest).

Other great performances include Freddy Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Jacob Vargas, Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson, Brian Geraghty and Shia LaBeouf. Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt are both good, just not exceptional. Similarly, Christian Slater’s impressively slimy without being fantastic. Hopkins is outstanding. Only Wood and Ashton Kutcher are bad. Kutcher’s worse. Much worse.

The real acting star is Rodriguez.

Estevez gets great work from cinematographer Michael Barrett and composer Mark Isham.

Bobby is impressive work; with Estevez establishing himself as an ambitious, thoughtful, if not wholly successful, filmmaker.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Emilio Estevez; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Richard Chew; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Patti Podesta; produced by Edward Bass, Michel Litvak and Holly Wiersma; released by The Weinstein Company.

Starring Harry Belafonte (Nelson), Joy Bryant (Patricia), Nick Cannon (Dwayne), Emilio Estevez (Tim), Laurence Fishburne (Edward), Brian Geraghty (Jimmy), Heather Graham (Angela), Anthony Hopkins (John), Helen Hunt (Samantha), Joshua Jackson (Wade), David Krumholtz (Agent Phil), Ashton Kutcher (Fisher), Shia LaBeouf (Cooper), Lindsay Lohan (Diane), William H. Macy (Paul), Svetlana Metkina (Lenka), Demi Moore (Virginia), Freddy Rodríguez (Jose), Martin Sheen (Jack), Christian Slater (Daryl), Sharon Stone (Miriam Ebbers), Jacob Vargas (Miguel), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Susan) and Elijah Wood (William).


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The Thing (2011, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.)

The big problem with The Thing, besides it being pointless (though it needn’t be), is its stupidty. While van Heijningen is a perfectly mediocre director, he doesn’t know how to add mood or make something disturbing. Some of it probably isn’t his fault… I can’t see him caring about the addition of Eric Christian Olsen’s third wheel in the romantic chemistry between Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton, for example. It’s just the filmmakers in general. They aren’t bright.

For example, who casted Olsen as a smart guy in the first place? He’s clearly not smart. Poor Winstead and Edgerton try–and Winstead can sell the scientist pretty well–but they’re stuck in a terrible cast. Ulrich Thomsen’s mad scientist belongs in a Roger Corman knockoff.

The filmmakers seem to understand they shouldn’t be telling the story of some Norwegians in English, but whenever the Norwegians panic, they speak English. That detail seems somewhat nonsensical.

If The Thing were a traditional sequel or prequel (i.e. coming within ten years of the original), it might concern developing the original’s mythology. But coming almost thirty years later, with zero participation from the original filmmakers, it’s not… it’s a potential (and thankfully failed) franchise starter.

It could have been neat though, since it’s essentially a remake of the original Thing from Another World in terms of plot. Sadly, it’s not neat. It’s terrible and cheap.

Eric Heisserer’s script is asinine.

Watching it, I just felt bad for Winstead. She’s too classy for it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.; screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on a story by John W. Campbell Jr.; director of photography, Michel Abramowicz; edited by Peter Boyle, Julian Clarke and Jono Griffith; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Sean Haworth; produced by Marc Abraham and Eric Newman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kate Lloyd), Joel Edgerton (Sam Carter), Ulrich Thomsen (Dr. Sander Halvorson), Eric Christian Olsen (Adam Finch), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Derek Jameson), Paul Braunstein (Griggs), Trond Espen Seim (Edvard Wolner), Kim Bubbs (Juliette), Jørgen Langhelle (Lars), Jan Gunnar Røise (Olav), Stig Henrik Hoff (Peder), Kristofer Hivju (Jonas), Jo Adrian Haavind (Henrik), Carsten Bjørnlund (Karl), Jonathan Walker (Colin) and Ole Martin Aune Nilsen (Matias).


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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright)

In terms of emotional depth, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World comes in a little below the average John Hughes teen picture. Supposedly Scott Pilgrim is about a listless twenty-something… but with Michael Cera playing the lead, it definitely feels about that deep.

Cera’s not bad, but he’s playing the same role he’s played since “Arrested Development.” Opposite Ellen Wong, who plays his high school aged girlfriend who he wrongs, he works. Opposite Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the object of his affection… well, she’s actually acting. So it doesn’t work.

It’s unfortunate Edgar Wright felt the need to “faithfully” adapt the comic book, because there’s a decent story without it and it’s unfortunate he wastes a lot of good performances on a gimmick movie.

Neither of the “superhero” cameos–Chris Evans and Brandon Routh–are bad (both are really funny). But they’re also both useless. All of the fight scenes are boring–the movie’s only interesting for a moment at the end, when it’s clear Cera and Wong have more chemistry and it seems like Wright would have noticed and figured something out to utilize it. Big shock, he doesn’t.

But the great performances–Kieran Culkin, Mark Webber, Alison Pill–are the straight supporting roles. And Wright wastes them.

Then there’s Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman’s performance is so one note, he makes Cera look deep. The movie nosedives once he shows up.

The movie’s got its funny moments and Wright is, technically, a fine, imaginative director.

Shame the script’s completely unimaginative.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Edgar Wright; screenplay by Michael Bacall and Wright, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss; music by Nigel Godrich; production designer, Marcus Rowland; produced by Eric Gitter, Nira Park, Marc Platt and Wright; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers), Kieran Culkin (Wallace Wells), Chris Evans (Lucas Lee), Anna Kendrick (Stacey Pilgrim), Alison Pill (Kim Pine), Brandon Routh (Todd Ingram), Ellen Wong (Knives Chau), Aubrey Plaza (Julie), Mark Webber (Steven) and Jason Schwartzman (Gideon Graves).


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