Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth Winstead

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.

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof

Death Proof is regarded as the weakest link in Quentin Tarantino’s work, but in a career so consistently awesome does that really matter much? It might be weirdly paced and the inherent schlock in trying to recreate the Grindhouse aesthetic makes it hard to take seriously but it’s still a sterling flick in my book and one fucking wild ride at the movies.

I wasn’t around for the Grindhouse era but it seems to me like Quentin and Robert Rodriguez only partially aped the vibe and sort of trail blazed through their own stuff instead of sticking strictly to routine like, say, Hobo With A Shotgun did. It’s a good thing too, because you wouldn’t want two creative wellsprings like these filmmakers limited to doing something that’s cheap to its bones and has little innovation. As such (with QT’s half of the double bill anyways) we get something that’s a healthy compromise of balls out Mad Max style vehicular bedlam and leisurely paced, character heavy interludes of dialogue, which is of course his trademark. There are an absolute ton of characters here, but naturally the one that showboats across centre stage is Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike, a charming but sadistic serial killer who mows down and decimates innocent women in his souped up Dodge Charger. That of course fills up the back half of the film, while initially we are treated to a solid chunk that sees different groups of girls bicker, banter, discourse on everything from John Hughes’ films to the benefits and drawbacks of being a semi-famous radio DJ and generally have a good time. Usually when you think of showcase Tarantino dialogue and characters this film wouldn’t enter the running, and I’m not sure why, he writes some of the most wonderful parts here and these gals positively act the pants off of them to the point that when the highway mayhem kicks in, you’re almost disappointed that the round table discussions and quirky friendships are done with. Russell is absolute perfection and seems born to play this peculiar villain. He’s so charming that bad vibes aren’t even perceived, and even later when he gets downright psychotic there’s this fourth wall breaking sheepishness that gets chuckles instead of screams, especially in the end when he turns into a big baby. My favourite of the gals has to be Vanessa Ferlito as sultry Arlene, Rosario Dawson as tomboyish Abernathy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as sensitive Lee and Sydney Tamiia Poitier as aforementioned DJ Jungle Julia. Others are fantastic too including Jordan Ladd, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thomas, Marcy Harriell, Helen Kim, Tina Rodriguez and Rose McGowan as angelic Pam, who squares off against Mike in both the funniest and scariest sequence of the film. Watch for cameos from several of the Inglorious Basterds as well as a brief turn from Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Michael Parks).

The film consists mostly of two things: girls hanging around in apartments, cars and bars talking and beautiful old muscle cars playing havoc along the interstate. When you have Quentin at the helm providing pages of wonderful dialogue and overseeing practical effects based car chases, it makes for something endlessly fun. I saw this as a double bill alongside Rodriguez’s sometimes fun, often lame Planet Terror and viewed together is enough content to melt both brain and eyeballs, especially when you consider that they each have generous runtimes. This is the better of the two films and I think they should be viewed separately as their own entity. Not the weakest thing Quentin has done (Hateful Eight bears that crown for me) and so much more fun than people remember or give it credit for.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof: A Review by Nate Hill 

Death Proof is… not the best flick in Quentin Tarantino’s career so far, but an entertaining little ride through the B movie corn nonetheless. It’s Quentin playing in the sandbox, and although he tends to fling it about too energetically in spots, and dawdle around listlessly in others, one can forgive such pacing issues when you consider how much fun it is for the most part. It also helps that his Grindhouse effort is heaps better than his pal Robert Rodriguez’s painfully lame Planet Terror, but that’s a whole other chestnut. Death Proof works mostly thanks to the bubbly, endlessly sexy performances from an extensive roster of irrisistable cbicks, and one gleefully evil bit of work from genre legend Kurt Russell, having a devilish blast as Stuntman Mike, a psychopath who batters helpless chicks to death as he rattles them around in his specially rigged vintage muscle car, primed for murder and ready to burn rubber straight to the ER. A fair chunk of the film is spent simply observing these girls talking, bickering, socializing and indulging in idiosyncratic pop culture banter that’s a facet of the Q Man himself. He loves to project his own affinities onto the written page and use them as backbones for his characters, and although that may be one of the core elements of screenwriting in itself, it’s always a little more pronounced with QT. Writers are books, but he is a popup book, always a tad more garish than the rest of the kids on the playground. I don’t wanna say that such lenghthy swaths of running time spent on girls chilling out isn’t fun (it’s captivating, especially with this bunch), but it is essential to the Grindhouse vibe they set out to emulate? A minor quibble, but a quibble all the same. To their credit, the girls are simply terrific. The first bunch include Rose McGowan’s angelic and short lived Pam, Sydney Poitier’s spunky radio DJ Jungle Julia, and Vanessa Ferlito’s wiseass Latina. The first act sees them run into Stuntman Mike in a roadhouse bar owned by Tarantino himself, who just can’t resist casting himself in his own shit lol. Oh well, at least he didn’t try an Australian accent this time around. The second time act we meet Rosario Dawson, stuntwoman Zoe Bell and cutesy pie Mary Elizabeth Winstead, all in the crosshairs of Mike’s radar, but this time he may be in way over his greaser hairdoed head. The vehicular mayhem is traditionalist and non CGI, and quite honestly a spectucalr firework show of blood, glass, metal and scorched asphalt. I just wish there was more of it, man. Sure, the character building with the gals is awesome, but it eclipses the action in gross proportion. A little balance between talky talky and vroom vroom would have been appreciated. Russell is a hoot in a role that was originally going to be played by Mickey Rourke. He just has that knowing gleam in his eye and good ol’ boy charm that makes it work so well, especially in a naughty little fourth wall break that shows you just how much Mike enjoys his sick little game of bumper cars. There’s characters that bleed in from Rodriguez’s side of the fence, including Michael Parks as the seemingly immortal Texas Ranger Earl Mcgraw, and Marley Shelton as his daughter. It’s a valiant effort, with plenty of Mad Max style merit and a seriously smoking lineup of luscious ladies. I just feel like he over fed certain ingredients to the pot when cooking this one up, and neglected others in areas. Still though, even average Tarantino is brilliant, and this one glows, if for a few dull spots.