Tag Archives: Margot Robbie

Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey

My first thought after seeing Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey? There hasn’t been a more bloody, crazy or inventive action sequence set to ‘Black Betty’ since Ryan Reynolds used Home Depot tools to obliterate bad guys in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. After 2016’s Suicide Squad felt like it had that ‘almost’ factor that was viciously pruned by that pesky PG-13 rating it’s so refreshing and fun to see R rated DC comic book shenanigans launch across the screen.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is by now not only an iconic character but a force of nature in itself and a stampeding cultural talisman that could go in the collective time capsule to burst out like a confetti adorned jack in the box for future generations. After being dumped by The Joker, she sets out into Gotham City’s underworld to make a name for herself and blow up all kinds of shit along the way. Eventually her path crosses with that of east end crime boss Roman ‘Black Mask’ Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and sadistic mass murderer Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), who have their sights set on a diamond birthed from mob royalty that a sassy little pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) has gotten her hands on. Cue the involvement of hardcore GCPD Detective Renee Montoya, smoky voiced songstress Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and crossbow slangin’ vigilante Helena ‘Huntress’ Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

This works well mostly thanks to costume designer Erin Benach, the fight and stunt choreography, eclectic soundtrack, bubblegum gothic production design and a few key performances, namely McGregor and naturally Robbie. It isn’t the most, shall we say, densely plotted outing, but it doesn’t really need to be and the fun is in watching these badass chicks from various backgrounds and emotional states take down one of the sickest, most despicable villains in DC cinema lore. I’m used to a graver Sionis in the comics but McGregor turns this guy into a deadpan, nasty, angry pile of spoiled brat sadism and flamboyant, violent behaviour whether he’s brutally humiliating a poor female patron at his gaudy nightclub, peeling the faces of his victims like banana skins or prancing around in all manner or fancy suits like a loony toon. Robbie gets to go full tilt bonkers as Quinn and once again the R rated material just helps this vision along so nicely, I really hope we’re passed this tiresome thing of limiting comic book films to PG-13 and capping off the chaos just short of actual gritty, crowd pleasing mayhem. Snyder almost managed it in his director’s cut of Batman Vs. Superman, David Ayer came so close before being shit down hard and robbed of final cut on Suicide Squad (which I still love no matter what) but Yan has somehow gotten the green light here and makes the most of it. There are a ton of beautifully designed, bone n’ blood filled fight sequences including Harley’s epic one woman siege on a GCPD precinct complete with glitter guns and mass bodily harm inflicted by the beloved hammer, a rip snortin’ motorbike roller derby rolls royce chase and a crazy awesome climax set in Gotham’s super spooky Amusement Mile that looks like Coney Island’s worst nightmare. Interestingly the one performance that’s most down to earth is Bell as Canary, who is still a badass but feels the most human, the most weary and irked in the presence of evil, she really grounds the whole thing just the right amount it needs, which isn’t much but a welcome touch. I’m pumped to see what comes next for Robbie’s Harley and this deliriously colourful, creatively inspired vision of Gotham and its worst.

-Nate Hill

Cathy Yan’s BIRDS OF PREY

Margot Robbie is a star. A bona fide star. She’s worked with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and is now an Academy Award-nominated actress. Coming off her best year yet; her first entrance into the new decade is reprising her role of Harley Quinn in BIRDS OF PREY with the wickedly fun subtitle: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN. It is a sort of her standalone follow-up to SUICIDE SQUAD and in actuality, the movie the precursor wanted to be.

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Robbie, who is obviously a lot of fun and owns and commands the film, is supported by a rich cast of Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, and a remarkable turn from Ewan McGregor as perhaps one of the most perverse villains ever. With a runtime of 109 minutes, the film is incredibly paced that is very, very self-aware of what it is, and the genre that it is working within. The film doesn’t even come close to wearing out its welcome; with a narrative that is just bonkers.

Harley Quinn breaks up with the Joker (with a subtle and respective nod to Jared Leto), and then half of Gotham is after her. Along with her struggle to stay alive and work through heartbreak, she inadvertently assembles a team of hard women to take down a mean man, the gloriously flamboyantly gay, Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis the Black Mask.

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McGregor is marvelous in this film. He’s very hammy, with costumes that are gleefully gaudy; yet have an air of class and old money to them, yet completely psychotic with fierce paranoia that spins him into this perverse and sadistic delight. This picture is a perfect showcase of casting, and casting directors, enhancing the film to the heights of being so unique, that it would be hard to imagine other actors in the principal roles. McGregor as the big bad in a DC film, at the pinnacle of Robbie’s star power seems like a cinephile’s dream.

Chris Messina finally gets his moment in the sun as Victor Zsasz who gets turned into McGregor’s foppish boy toy and makes every scene he is in creepier and better. Messina has always put in solid dramatic and comedic work, but in this film, he really gets to cut loose, and have a lot of fun in the role. Rosie Perez is great, doing what she does best in an intentionally stereotypical role, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one mean motor scooter; she’s terrific. And of course, Robbie is the star that perfectly slides back into the Harley Quinn role, and adds more depth and debauchery to her seminal character.

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The film cascades into a girl power film, it’s empowering while bending pretty transgressive with its hard R rating, keeping the film from becoming overly preachy or woke. It pulls off what it is trying to say rather well, with an end result of a film that is very self-aware, dirty, violent, and a lot of fun. Warner Brothers most certainly have turned the beat around regarding their most coveted franchise property with DC films.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN…2019

I have always been hesitant about writing in the first person when it comes to anything analytical, one thing instantly comes to mind; Robert Prosky in BROADCAST NEWS saying “who the hell cares what you think?” after watching William Hurt, a network anchor, say “and I think we’ll all sleep better tonight.” At the risk of sounding like a flippant fanboy (which I am), I think what I have to say about this topic, and this auteur, in particular, is important. When it comes to the minority of naysayers and torchbearering wokaholics, Quentin Tarantino and his latest and most seminal film, ONCE UPON A TIME IN…HOLLYWOOD has become an easy target. Violence against women, Margot Robbie doesn’t have enough lines, it glorifies toxic masculinity – no, no, and NO – the film surely does not.

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Tarantino is fundamentally important to me as not just a cinephile, but as a person. I wore out my used VHS copy of RESERVOIR DOGS when I was in middle school. My mother forbid me to watch it, and my Dad embraced it. One of the benefits of being a child of divorce. It was cool, sexy, violent, and overly masculine. It made me feel empowered yet cautious. Would I want to be a Reservoir Dog in a black suit and carrying a big gun? Kind of, yes. But did I really want to live that life, where less than one percent of that life is glorified in encapsulated moments on screen? No. No, I did not. Tarantino has a fanbase that isn’t so much a cult as it is an organized religion, and QT will always be our cinematic lord and savior.

My pallet of film was already starting to get diverse. My father brought me up on John Wayne and John Ford, Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and my namesake, Frank Sinatra. My Mother’s contribution was ROCKY, TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, INDIANA JONES, and STAR WARS. Then, I experienced Quentin Tarantino. It was that cool fucking name that introduced me to Harvey Keitel, John Travolta, Steeler’s Wheel, Harry Nilsson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Sam Jackson, Uma Thurman, Dick Dale, Kool and the Gang, Robert Forster, The Delfonics, Pam Grier, Bridget Fonda, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, David Carradine, Michael Parks, Sid Haig, Larry Bishop, Ennio Morricone, Franco Nero, DJANGO – I would love to keep going, believe me, I really would, but you get the point.

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Not only were these musicians, films, and actors all put on my radar, so were genre pictures, and sub-genres. His films are not only an encyclopedia of all that, but also a chose your own adventure. After seeing ONCE UPON A TIME IN…HOLLYWOOD, I instantly ordered C.C. & COMPANY and THE ILLUSTRATED MAN and watched both instantly upon arrival. Anyone who knows me well knows that was an incredible feat I pulled off: watching a movie as soon as I bought it. Not only does Tarantino’s films make me feel good, they send me on a quest of an actor or band’s catalog and I immerse myself into everything I can in microbursts that send me to buy bootleg DVDs of Michael Parks’ movies on eBay, or scouring record stores for cassettes of The Delfonics.

Quentin Tarantino and everything he’s created, curated, and recommended – everything that is Quentin Tarantino is important to me. I hold him and everything that comes with him sacred. Which is why I was so deeply moved by the haunting beauty of ONCE UPON A TIME IN…HOLLYWOOD. Sure, it is a jovial bromance between a fading star and his stuntman, as well as portraying Sharon Tate as this beautiful showboat of purity and everything that was once good in the world, and revising the wrongs that history should have gotten right. There is a multitude of takeaways from this film, and that’s one of the reasons it so rewatchable and so fucking alluring. The film is an experience. You get immersed by it; you become lost in a place where there is no space and time.

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For me, the film plays like a Sam Peckinpah picture. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are two men who are coming to the realization that the world, their world, has progressed past them. There really isn’t a place for a fading TV star who fucked up his movie stardom, and his faithful, wife killing, war hero stuntman who is the epitome of loyal, who will stand by him when everyone else has abandoned him. And then there’s Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, who is portrayed as a goddess of fertility and good, whose performance is ever more powerful because everyone knows her fate. The three of them have no place in the world anymore.

Are you the fading movie star who comes to the realization that his previous transgressions coupled with cultural advancements have left him as the bad guy on prime time tv? The one who doesn’t even know who he is? His phonies and insecurities have boiled to the surface, and he’s become a fragile and emotional being? Or are you the stuntman? The anthesis of stoicism; the rocksteady one who deals with problems on their own terms; right or wrong, it gets handled and the problem is over. Are you the one that carries the load? Does the heavy lifting?

This is not singular to men. These are two people that have broad strokes that encompass any individual and are as relatable as Bill and The Bride, and Jackie Brown and Max Cherry. Yet, the ending of the film, the saving of Sharon Tate elevates not just these two characters and the film, but Tarantino himself to a rung of uncertainty. Tarantino is surely an amalgam of both Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, and one thing is for sure, he knows his days as a final cut artist are numbered. He’s become an artist without a means to an end. With the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, he became a filmmaker without a studio. The #MeToo movement had nearly dragged him down to the point of no return until he signed Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie to his next picture after Sony beat all the other studios into submission over a bidding war for QT’s ninth film.

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Tarantino had always been a problematic filmmaker. His excessive use of the word “nigger”, he “glorified” violence and drug use; and then when THE HATEFUL EIGHT came out, to a hostile environment of the beginnings of Donald Trump’s America. Tarantino was caught in the crosshairs of the alt-left and their faux outrage over violence towards Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character (who was the villain, mind you) and cartoonish racism aimed at Sam Jackson’s character. If you stayed until the end of the movie, you’d find that the racist and the black guy come together to hang the evil bitch, coming together to serve not just justice, but retribution.

AND THEN Tarantino decided to march in a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City, that quickly eroded any support and counter support that he had from the “silent majority”. He was in a lose/lose situation. There was no way out of this. So what does he do? He crafts a fucking masterpiece that is ONCE UPON A TIME IN…HOLLYWOOD as not just an ode to the era, and himself, but to who he is as a filmmaker.

The Atlantic and The New Yorker and even Time Magazine, fucking TIME MAGAZINE, released half baked and lazy think pieces on Tarantino and how he’s “problematic” with the way he treats women. What those three analysis had in common is they had a lazy argument for a shit opinion. Tarantino loves women. LOVES women. Sure, some of his characters have hilarious demeaning deaths, but so do male characters. He has created bold and empowering female characters that are worshiped by both the world inside the film and the audience themselves. The Bride, O-Ren, Jackie Brown, Mia Wallace, Sharon Tate, Jungle Julia, Broomhilda, and Santanico Pandemonium are just a few.

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And while I can understand perspectives, and am empathetically in tune with how violence against women can be a breaking point for audience members, who the fuck are you, me, or anyone else to tell an artist what they can and cannot do with their own work? The world can be evil, ugly, and bad – and at times, art and artists are a direct reflection of that. At the time this “editorial” was written, Donald Trump is trying to buy Greenland, children are being taken from their families and locked in cages, and people are walking around carrying weapons designed for maximum carnage killing school kids, and mothers, and fathers, and friends, and neighbors, and lovers – and you want to use your corner of the internet and complain about Manson Family hippies getting torched and graphically killed? You’re not helping. At all. All your nuance is temporarily going to stick to the landing. Once we make it through and the pendulum swings back to a President who gives a fuck, then absolutely no one is going to give one single fuck that Brad Pitt broke the face of a hippie girl with a thirty-two ounce can of dog food.

Quentin Tarantino doesn’t make films for me, even though it feels that way for me, he doesn’t make them for you, and he sure as shit doesn’t make them to offend people’s delicate sensibilities; he does what any great artist does. He makes art for himself because he has to.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

One time Robert Rodriguez asked pal Quentin Tarantino for advice on his Mariachi films and Quentin told him that if he was going to go for a third one it should be big, loud and be called Once Upon A Time In Mexico. This to me represents a certain decision in the career of any filmmaker to make a ‘Once Upon A Time’ in the sense that it is to be big, loud, lengthy, personal and something of a milestone, and I always wondered what Quentin’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ might, if ever, manifest as. Well it’s here, and let me tell you that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is the real fucking deal. It’s Tarantino’s best film since Kill Bill (in my humble but stubborn opinion) and a magnum opus of poetic justice, cartoonish buffoonery, horrific suspense, painstakingly beautiful production design, dirty fuckin’ hippies, pitchers full of margarita mix, a pit bull you’ll fall in love with instantly and enough meta moviemaking fanfare to send one into a coma of cinematic bliss.

It’s a western, a period piece, a borderline documentary at times, a buddy comedy, a horror film and more but at the centre of it Tarantino stashes a deep love and reverence for an era long past. I didn’t grow up in the 60’s, I wasn’t born yet but watching these old cars careen through the Hollywood hills at dusk, hearing the the gorgeous soundtrack, various meticulously chosen commercials and radio plays gently warble out from stereos and televisions and seeing neon billboards flare up all over town somehow just put me right there as if I’d lived through those decades. There’s a sense of idyllic innocence in Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, a hopeful force of good as we see a woman in the first lap of both life and her career, the world open in front of her like a red carpet. There’s also menace in the land as the evil, twisted Manson cult hovers over the fringes of town like a flock of banshees. Tarantino clearly has no love for these people, portraying them as trashy dumpster diving lunatics who live in putrefied squalor and come across as inbred jackals waiting to pounce. There’s a clear cut hatred for the acts perpetrated in our timeline by Manson’s followers, and a deliciously cathartic sense of righteous retribution in how the filmmaker acts out his own version of an event that for him changed the face of the city.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio are two mega movie stars who share the screen for the first time here, and they also get to share a bromance thats poignant and perfectly pitched in terms of comedy and tragedy. Dicaprio is Rick Dalton, a once dapper TV star whose jump into film has faltered, or at least it has in his own perception of himself. Pitt is Cliff Booth, his trusty stuntman, confidante and drinking buddy, an ice cool cowboy with a dangerous edge and uncanny way of getting in more sensational real life shenanigans than Rick does behind a camera. Their relationship is the core of the film and while we get to spend quite a bit of time with both together, much of the film we see them off doing their own thing. Rick has landed the bad guy of the week guest spot in a western called Lancer, struggling to keep his cool, remember his lines and stay on top. Cliff picks up a spooky hitchhiking chick (Margaret Qualley makes a stark impression) and makes a visit to the sinister Spahn movie ranch where the Manson brood have taken up roost like vultures. They make a trip to Rome so Rick can do a few spaghetti westerns that his agent (Al Pacino) keeps talking up. It’s a hangout film for much of the languid two hour and forty five minute runtime, and despite the lulls and chill time not a moment feels wasted. Pitt may well have whipped Tarantino’s best character, a kooky badass who is clearly dysfunctional on film sets but has his own hard edged set of morals that cause him to dish out western style justice at the drop of a hat, when he isn’t eating kraft dinner, hamming beers or feeding his adorable dog Brandy. Leo is insecure, melodramatic and neurotic no end, there’s a frustration and hilariously relatable self loathing that’s tamed in a touching encounter with a child actress (Julia Butters- a breakout star here) who befriends him and puts things into perspective.

Tarantino amasses a monumental cast here from cameos to clever impersonations and more, watch for Bruce Dern, Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Michael Madsen, James Remar, Lena Dunham, Damon Herriman, Emile Hirsch, Damien Lewis, Austin Butler, Mike Moh, Maya Hawke, Victoria Pedretti, Danielle Harris, Scoot Mcnairy, Clifton Collins Jr, Marco Rodriguez, Dreama Walker, Rumer Willis, Spencer Garrett, Clu Galagar, Rebecca Gayheart, Martin Kove, Perla Haney Jardine (The Bride’s daughter in Kill Bill, no less), Zoe Bell and Kurt Russell. One standout is Dakota Fanning as a terrifyingly dead eyed Manson chick who tries admirably but unsuccessfully to intimidate Cliff. This could well be Tarantino’s best film, but really it’s hard to pick and why argue. It’s certainly his most eclectic, most personal and most human. Rick and Cliff seem born out of LA, out of Hollywood and out of the dreams of a man who grew up in cinema and went on to craft some of the most treasured films of the last thirty years. I feel like it’s my new favourite, and it’s tough for me to say why. I suppose it hauntingly captures a portrait of a different era almost in a fashion akin to time travel. He uses the ‘if we could only go back on time’ sentiment on the infamous Sharon Tate event and refashions it to something that although is no less violent, is not the tragedy everyone remembers. It’s a brilliant narrative, anchored and spurred by the chemistry that Rick and Cliff have together, the humour and humanity that each bring and sense of time and place like no other. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood… Quentin Tarantino made a film about an actor, his stunt double and the girl who lived next door, and it was something a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Chasing Tarantino: An Interview with Con Christopoulos by Kent Hill

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What price do you put on a dream? How much do you give, day after lonely day, on the steady climb toward that magical vision that no one else can see . . . but you? The truth is we all started that way. Then you learn that if you dream in one hand and crap in the other – one fills much quicker. The chances you are given dictate some of your rise, while luck, that iconic variable which many still refuse to acknowledge as an important player in their ensemble equaling in triumph, can also see you cross the finish line just as effectively. Being in the right place, at the right time.

Yet, the main forces that drive those with an obsession to see their dreams realized on film are hunger . . . and heart. So, I give to you the story of Con Christopoulos – a man whose relentless courage, determination and passion was at once inspiring, gravitating and above all, infectious. Con’s drive – the sheer pleasure that emotes from his lips while talking about the victories and defeats he has known along the path to unleashing his cinematic voice upon the world is simply staggering. I have seldom met others like myself – those faced with impossible odds and uncertain conditions in the seas before us as our voyage continues – that has exhibited so completely all of the pure exuberance and discipline required to see the journey through to that glorious moment, when the house lights dip, and the screen fills with all you have. The grand total of a life spent loving movies.

I first encountered Con when I saw a Facebook post and a video entitled Chasing Tarantino. I sat and watched in amazement as the man on the clip boldly declared, most convincingly I might add, that he had a truly captivating story and was desperately seeking passage into the halls of power, where the mighty QT might be sitting, idly waiting, for the next big thing. As intrigued as I was curious, I contacted Con and asked to read his opus. It was then he told me that he had pitched the idea to Australian genre-film legend Roger Ward. Ward had apparently warmed to the concept and said if the film ever materialized, he would be on board. After hearing this and reading the material I automatically thought of the great Ozploitation director, Brian Trenchard-Smith. I told Con I would attempt to reach out to Brian with the hopes he might at least have a glance at the treatment and offer some feedback.

To my delight he did just that. He was critical but constructive, as Brian always is, and it does one good to have notes from the masters. You move forward with a new sense of purpose and a rejuvenating feeling coursing through your body, fortified a little more before again breaking camp, trying once more to reach the summit.

It’s hard not be romantic about dreamers. They, after all, are responsible for some for the scintillating, sublime and stupendous visions and stories, music and magic – the stuff that keeps the cycle perpetuating. An inspired individual realizes his dream and shows it to the world. One or more members of the audience are so moved to action, ignited from within, that they then, in turn, devote their lives to such a pursuit.

This is the story of one such dreamer…

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Lunch with the Equalizer: A Conversation with Richard Norton by Kent Hill

Richard was a young lad from Melbourne, Australia plagued by asthma who loved martial arts.

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As he grew in skill, he would eventually catch the eye of the legendary Chuck Norris, who extended an invitation to the young Norton to come and train with him. It was while working as a celebrity bodyguard that he finally found his way round to the home of Norris, and from there he was offered a part in The Octagon as the masked ninja, Kyo.

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This would be the first of more than sixty screen appearances for the action film star, stuntman, stunt/fight coordinator/choreographer and martial arts trainer. He has worked on fights for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, joined Suicide Squads, trained Scarlett Johansson  for the Manga turned motion picture Ghost in the Shell. He even braved the heat, dust and high-octane insanity on George Miller’s Fury Road.

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As a respected member of the martial arts community, Norton has remained close friends and has shared the screen with fellow industry luminaries such as Jackie Chan, Don “The Dragon”  Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

When I spoke with him, Richard was on his way to train the X-Men for another big screen outing, so there is no sign that the humble 67 year old from Melbourne is slowing down.

Richard Norton is a man who remembers well his origins and what it took to climb the mountain of success, upon which he stands, victorious. It was really cool to chat with him. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

So, here he is folks, the ‘real’ action man . . .  Richard Norton.

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