The trajectory of “Birds Of Prey (& The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn”) is visualizing the identity of Harley Quinn and her journey to become that whom she truly is. The movie tries in earnest to portray this road of discovery in Quinn’s own special way which is undeniably entertaining and edgy in its own bizarro progression. The iteration at least for the for the first 2/3rds of the film is day glow brilliance and breakneck. While creative flourishes and structure is dynamic and interesting, sometimes the style of the film intrinsically does not keep up with the pace. Robbie knows her character in and out and doesn’t shy away from the character’s faults. Quinn still loves Mr. J but he unceremoniously throws her away for undisclosed reasons. She starts acting out logically (and at times illogically) which is where most of the fun comes from. Quinn (and Robbie) knows she is a clinically trained psychiatrist who has gone bonkers and boy crazy for Mr. J so it is an interesting paradox. While her journey to find her crew is important, it is not the goal. There is peeks of tenderness and at times hurt underneath Quinn’s brilliant smile. Robbie shows peeks of it but there is not so much dramatic tendency as there could be.
When the plot takes over about 3/4s of the way through, the film veers into more standard territory where it might have been interesting to see it in a nihilistic way or a trip that only happens in Quin’s head. It is a fun ride, more dynamic and entertaining than “Suicide Squad” but still is not fully exceptional. The only issues is that at times it feels, in a weird way, like a TV movie and not a film, which is not an insult since alot of TV is cinematic but it is missing a certain kernel that would make it jump more. The other Birds Of Prey per se are very apt with Mary Elizabeth Winstead making the most impact as Huntress. Her O-Ren stylings are great but Winstead plays her less cool and more odd in a way which is a creative choice but one which could have been amped. The reality is that none of the other Birds per se can shine a candle to Harley. There is a Moulin Rouge/Madonna ode of sorts at one point which is cool considering Ewan in the scene is a direct reference to that seminal movie of 20 years ago. Ewan has a bit of fun playing the flamboyancy of his baddie character who ultimately is the Black Mask. But despite the flourishes the character is inherently one dimensional with the weight of the villain having as much structure as Sam Rockwell’s captain in “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”…fun to watch without much motivation beyond simple carnage. Even Tyler Durden had an ethos.
Ultimately “Birds Of Prey” wraps around to the true nature of Harley Quinn which a loner with a soft spot who likes to get in trouble. At one point, she steals a gas filled truck drunk and runs it into Axis Chemicals. It is a multi tiered point both freeing, tragic, nihilistic and wonderfully lurid which is all the aspects that Harley Quinn should be. Even though it runs at throttle those at this and other points, the film reaches its zenith only rarely but not as a full fledged blow out.
“Men Who Stare At Goats” is another example of a neat script finding its way into George Clooney’s hands that might not have been made otherwise. Again, using the very modern backdrop of the Middle East, the plot takes advantage of a very interesting piece of information in regards to psy-ops programs back in the 70s into the 80s. In declassified papers, the Soviets were indeed trying to work on remote viewing experiments intended to explode or turn military targets inside a war zone without actually going there. Now the question as to if anything or any situation of this was successful is indeed purely speculation.
The movie, based upon the book of the same name, continues a predilection by Clooney for interesting material but he and his team realize that you can only take the audience so far. The humor in this film is meant as a balancing stick since there is dark places to go. However, in all fairness, it never goes to the dark depths it needs to. The effectiveness is grasped simply in how much of a paradox can be created in the scenario. Jeff Bridges, although good, at times overplays it. It is more towards the end when he is almost defeated that the deep voice and true angle comes out and by extension the true dramatic acting that he is always capable of. This is when he is outstanding. Clooney also has certain moments when the veneer of the star himself is shaked clean (which is a hard thing for someone in his position). One specific part is when he comes out onto a secret base defeated and is not quite sure how to handle the situation. You can see it in his eyes.
The person who gets the thankless element in all this is Ewan McGregor who must portray the audience’s eyes and ears as a man trying to find a story (which he inevitably does). There is also the incessant references to the soldiers of remote viewing as “Jedi Warriors” which undoubtedly reflects the impact of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” at the time; the paradox being that McGregor played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequels. This of course does not go lost on the likes of Clooney and his co-producer/director Grant Heslov, here making his first directorial outing since that might have been what led them to McGregor initially. Life imitates art in roundabout ways. Add to the mix, in a limited supporting role, Kevin Spacey who at times shows a small glimpse of Keyser Soze, most specifically in a scene where he leers over a defeated Clooney smoking a cigar. You can see the relish the character takes in this action which is apparent when the trajectory of his character is explored. This is the kind of person Spacey is great at playing because even his angle of Lex Luthor didn’t show a glimpse of what is touched on in bits here. On top of all of this, the music is great whether it be “More Than A Feeling” by Boston or “Everybody Wants You” by Billy Squier in balance with an Arabian tinged score. This all adds a tinge of realism but also of the surreal.
From an insider perspective, the film also very spryly shows the advantages of shooting in certain locations which emulate exactly the feel of the actual place while obviously saving money on actual production costs which is the name of the game today. This film was shot in New Mexico around Albuerquerque, Roswell and White Sands but also Puerto Rico (which most likely stood in for some of the war torn towns). Both of these places offer significant incentives which shows that even bigger financial companies do have to think about the bottom line even with a cast like this. It makes it possible.
“Men Who Stare At Goats” again shows the intelligence and conscious thinking in terms of thought patterns to new generations of filmgoers but like “The Informant”, “Men Who Stare At Goats” might suffer from an aspect of being too intelligent and effective for its own good at times despite a smart script and even smarter cast. Out of 5, I give it a 3.
“Angels & Demons” has advantage to its predecessor in many respects but, in following up such a successful partner, the road can become rocky. But where “DaVinci Code” failed in many ways, “Demons” succeeds, most assuredly in pace and ease of story. The story, taken from the original prequel novel, actually uses the impact of the actions of “Code” to motivate reactions here. It is quite an effective and booning approach. In doing so, it creates a more humble and less critical Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) who is much more wily and slimmed down. It is also buoyed by the setting of Italy. France as a superstructure works but there is something at times more devious and sexy in the auspice of Italy. Unlike “Code”, “Demons” has an inherent pace to it that in its first hour is reminiscent of some of the “Bourne” films sans the big action set pieces. This is also buoyed by the less amount of exposition allowed within the narrative which is much leaner than the previous film. In “Code”, there was an excess of explaining why things were and getting caught up too much in its mysticism especially with the one cylinder. Here the dialogue is quick, brief and to the point for the most part.
On another level, the Italian physicist does not overtake the role but rather lets it inform the story. The storytelling and tone, despite some of the grand settings, is more subdued which works to the film’s advantage. In terms of supporting characters, Ewan McGregor channels an interesting brand of himself but the role as it evolves towards the end loses a bit of its footing (specifically in one scene). Despite this, grand cinematic gestures make certain moments quite cool (also in the last 1/4 of the movie). Armin Muellar Stahl, as a highlight, brings a great stillness to his role which ends having the most poignancy. The last scene really brings this home and puts the film in perspective. This is one of Howard’s most telling endings and it shines through across the board: wonderfully structured, wonderfully acted and well shot. The only glaring problem within the film is the thinness of the enemy character even though it is structured in metaphor. It just seems to be a glaring plot hole, although the internalization professed in the book would not have translated that well. Even despite these shortcomings, the film is a better piece on its own than its predecessor that brings a visceral yet humble nature that further humanizes Langdon as a character making him more identifable and vulnerable. Out of 5, I give “Angels & Demons” a 3 1/2.