Gotham’s Girl Power

Birds of Prey

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco

Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (I, Tonya; Bombshell) reprises her role as Harley Quinn the now ex-girlfriend of Joker whose character was first introduced in 2016’s Suicide Squad in a new standalone film called Birds of Prey which doesn’t unfortunately pack the same gender affirming punch as director Patty Jenkin’s groundbreaking film Wonder Woman.

Although both Birds of Prey, Suicide Squad and the Oscar winning Joker all fall under the Warner Brothers DC Comics franchise, Birds of Prey is not as brilliant as Wonder Woman but rather resorts to being too much of a garish man-hating super-hero film which doesn’t link back to Suicide Squad or even Justice League.

Birds of Prey features a suitably evil villain Roman Sionis devilishly played with camp enthusiasm by Scottish actor Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge) along with his equally psychotic blonde haired side kick Victor Zsasz superbly played by Chris Messina (Argo, Live By Night)  who both go after Harley Quinn with a vengeance.

The crazy Harley Quinn soon teams up with a range of butt-kicking awesome females showing off Gotham’s Girl Power including hard drinking disgraced cop Renee Montaya wonderfully played by Oscar nominee Rosie Perez (Fearless), The Huntress played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Gemini Man, Kill the Messenger) whose alter ego is Helena Bartinelli who is the daughter of one of Gotham’s famed mob families and Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance aka Black Canary who betrays Roman after watching his misogynist treatment of women in his zany nightclub.

This gang of Gotham girls aim to protect a local thief Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco who purposefully swallowed a sought after diamond wanted by the mob.

Not evolving beyond being a garish fantasy piece without a solid storyline and inadequately directed by Cathy Yan, Birds of Prey aims to confuse the viewer more than actually help them identify with Harley Quinn as a crazy but lovable blonde villain.

Problematically, Birds of Prey was released in cinemas too soon after the absolutely brilliant Todd Phillips film Joker in which Joaquin Phoenix has just won his first Oscar award for Best Actor.

With an ultra-saturated Gotham, Birds of Prey should have spent more time in post-production or with some decent script rewrites especially considering that the main theme of the film seems to be that it’s alright for violent girls to kill boys or even vice versa. The action was tasteless and the setting was confusing.

Birds of Prey gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and Margot Robbie should have known better than to do a questionable film version of Harley Quinn without a decent director and brilliant script on board. Even if there is a pet Hyena thrown in! Watch Birds of Prey at your own risk but it doesn’t touch the brilliance of Joker.

92nd Oscar Awards

92nd Academy Awards took place on Sunday 9th February 2020 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Best Picture: Parasite

Best Director: Boon Joon HoParasite

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker

Best Actress: Renee Zellweger – Judy

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress: Laura DernMarriage Story

Best Original Screenplay: Boon Joon HoParasite

Best Adapted Screenplay: Taika WaititiJojo Rabbit

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins – 1917

Best Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran – Little Women

Best Make up & Hairstyling: Bombshell

Best Visual Effects: 1917

Best Film Editing: Ford v Ferrari

Best Sound Editing: Ford v Ferrari

Best Sound Mixing: 1917

Best Production Design: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Documentary Feature:  American Factory

Best Documentary Short Subject:Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You are a Girl)

Best Live Action Short Film: The Neighbour’s Window

Best Original Score: Hilda Gudnadotter – Joker

Best Original Song: Elton JohnRocketman

Best Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 4

Best Foreign Language Film: Boon Joon HoParasite

It’s a Zoo Out There

Dolittle

Director: Stephen Gaghan

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, Jessie Buckley, Harry Collett, Emma Thompson, Octavia Spencer, Rami Malek, Marion Cotillard, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Carmel Laniado, Kumail Nanijani, John Cena, Frances de la Tour

(from left) Dog Jip (Tom Holland) and Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) in Dolittle, directed by Stephen Gaghan.

Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr (Chaplin, Tropic Thunder) takes on the mischievous role of Victorian animal doctor John Dolittle who has an amazing ability to communicate with animals which includes a menagerie of beasts and birds including a timid Gorilla, a Polar Bear and a bossy Parrot voiced by Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Howards End) in the heart-warming film Dolittle which is definitely an ideal film for parents to accompany their children to.

Dolittle is a delightful film if slightly boisterous at times with a really simple plot about a young boy named Tommy Stubbins played by Harry Collett who accidentally shoots a squirrel and then takes the poor creature to the infamous Dr Dolittle to seek his assistance. Stubbins is roped into assisting a young and comatose Queen Victoria played by Jessie Buckley (Judy) by a Lady Rose played by Carmel Laniado.

Both Stubbins and Lady Rose ask for the assistance of the eccentric and reclusive Dr Doolittle wonderfully played by Robert Downey Jr to assist in finding the source of Queen Victoria’s condition.

Soon Dr Dolittle and Stubbins plus the menagerie embark on a nautical adventure to a mysterious island to find a cure for Queen Victoria but along the way they get stranded in Montevideo, an exotic island run by the crazy King Rassouli played by Oscar nominee Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory) who also happens to be Dolittle’s belated father-in-law. Doolittle’s gorgeous wife Lily Doolittle has mysteriously vanished.

While Dolittle’s storyline is slim, it really is a fun filled film about a doctor who has the amazing ability to talk to animals with an overall message of conservation and appreciation of animals which the younger generation will be able to enjoy.

The villain in Dolittle is Dr Blair Mudly marvelously played by Michael Sheen (Frost, Nixon) and there is also a cameo appearance by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Iris) as Lord Thomas Bagley who is suspiciously watching over young Queen Victoria’s supposed demise.

Dolittle is a raucous animal film with a fantastic voice cast including the talents of Oscar winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Tom Holland, Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) which all help bring the screen animals to life with vitality and without the pretensions. The visual effects are extraordinary.

Dolittle is recommended viewing, a crazy fun-filled family film with a fabulous cast of characters and animals and is suitable for the entire family.

Dolittle gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is by no means a masterpiece nor does it pretend to be cinematic gold. It’s a light enjoyable adventure film filled with sufficient animals to populate a zoo.

Blonde Battleground

Bombshell

Director: Jay Roach

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Josh Lawson, Ben Lawson, Kate McKinnon, Liv Hewson, Rob Delany, Mark Duplass, Stephen Root, Mark Moses, Amy Landecker

Trumbo director Jay Roach tackles the Fox News sexual harassment scandal of 2016 in his latest film Bombshell when blonde TV anchor woman Gretchen Carlson played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) sues Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes wonderfully played with a creepy sense of self-denial by Oscar nominee John Lithgow (The World According to Garp, Terms of Endearment) for sexual harassment.

Now for viewers that don’t follow American politics or media scandals then do not see Bombshell, this film has a very limited appeal outside of the United States.

The real revelation of Bombshell is the fantastic transformation of another Oscar winner South Africa’s very own Charlize Theron (Monster) as she plays Fox News primetime anchor woman Megyn Kelly thanks to the brilliant work of prosthetic makeup designer Kazu Hiro who won an Oscar for transforming Oscar winner Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.

Charlize Theron is absolutely brilliant as Megyn Kelly as she navigates her way through a thoroughly conservative and toxic media environment at Fox News as she attempts to cover the controversial presidential campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump who inevitably became the next President of the United States.

Add to the mix of beautiful blondes that work at Fox News, is the newcomer Kayla Prospisil played by Oscar nominee Margot Robbie (I,Tonya) who experiences sexual harassment first hand when she has a private meeting with Roger Ailes in a cringe worthy scene in which the media executive keeps asking Kayla to lift her skirt higher and higher.

At the times of the Roger Ailes scandal, the conservative Television broadcaster Fox News was owned by the Australian media conglomerate Newscorp which comprised of Rupert Murdoch played in Bombshell by A Clockwork Orange star Malcolm McDowell and managed by his two sons Lachlan and James Murdoch played in the film by Australian brothers Ben and Josh Lawson.

Director Jay Roach does not make a brilliant film and Bombshell appears to be extremely confusing for those viewers that are not familiar with this particular conservative American media scandal which occurred in the summer of 2016.

What Bombshell does do is highlight the extent to which women were sexually harassed in the American work place and this happened a year before the Harvey Weinstein scandal shocked Hollywood in 2017 and gave birth to the vociferous and extremely relevant MeToo movement which aims to end sexual harassment in the highly contested American media industry and beyond.

For those interested in American media scandals, Bombshell is recommended viewing and gets a film rating of 7 out of 10.

For a flawed film, Bombshell is saved by two phenomenal performances by Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie.

77th Golden Globe Awards

Took Place on Sunday the 5th January 2020 in Los Angeles hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – Here are the 2020 Winners in the Film Categories

Best Film Drama: 1917

Best Film, Musical or Comedy: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Director: Sam Mendes – 1917

Best Actor Drama: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker

Best Actress Drama: Renee Zellweger – Judy

Best Actor, M/C: Taron Egerton – Rocketman

Best Actress, M/C: Awkwafina – The Farewell

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern – Marriage Story

Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite directed by Boon Joon Ho (South Korea)

Best Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Animated Feature: Missing Link

The Intimacy of War

1917

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George McKay, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Claire Duburcq, Richard Madden

After being entangled with the Bond franchise and directing two films specifically Skyfall and Spectre, director Sam Mendes returns to a more intimate yet visually astounding portrait of war in the spectacular film 1917.

1917 is a major cinematic achievement as the entire film is done in one shot echoing Joe Wright’s astounding directing achievement in his World War Two drama Atonement. Mendes does something better. He directs 1917 from the point of view of two soldiers Lance Corporal Blake played by Dean-Charles Chapman (Blinded by the Light) and Lance Corporal Schofield played by George Mackay (Captain Fantastic, Pride).

Set in less than a twenty-four hour period on the 6th April 1917, this incredible film follows the terrorizing journey of two young British soldiers who are tasked with delivering a message deep in enemy territory that will prevent 1,600 men from walking into a deadly trapped set by the Germans in Northern France.

What makes 1917 so utterly riveting is not so much the acting as the visual interpretation of this harrowing journey beautifully photographed by Oscar winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner: 2049) with a haunting original score by Thomas Newman.

1917 is the reason to still watch films in the cinema – it is absolutely perfect and as war films go, this is one of the finest multi-layered interpretation of trench warfare ever conceived on film. Sam Mendes does a sterling job in memory of his Grandfather who fought in World War One.

1917 is a masterpiece of film making, poignant, riveting and epic, a massive landscape punctuated by the most intimate and heart wrenching scenes especially the night sequence in a burnt out French Village which has a fiery backdrop or the spectacular river sequence which eventually leads to the final scene which is equally explosive, while portraying all the intimacies and horrors of War.

With brief scenes by supporting actors including Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and Oscar Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), 1917 belongs to the two relatively unknown young actors Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mackay, who betray all the horror, devastation and exhaustion of trench warfare combined with the nonchalance of killing.

1917 is an incisive portrait of courage and bravery and of men finding their compassion while being tested under the most brutal circumstances. Everyone should watch this film. Sam Mendes has achieved his cinematic masterpiece.

Cinematically and historically, 1917 is highly recommended viewing and gets a film rating of 9.5 out of 10. Experience this film in a cinema. It’s breath taking.

The Talk of the Town

Judy

Director: Rupert Goold

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon, Richard Cordery, Royce Pierreson, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Darci Shaw, Gus Barry

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Based on the Stage play by Peter Quilter, End of the Rainbow, director Rupert Goold’s poignant musical drama Judy features a mesmerising performance by Oscar winner Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain) as Judy Garland in the autumn of her career.

Zellweger transforms herself into Judy Garland as she becomes the film Judy with herself in virtually every scene as she battles with drug addiction and alcoholism in a desperate attempt to revive her flagging musical career in a series of shows in London in the winter of 1968 at a cabaret club in the West End, called The Talk of the Town.

With insightful flashbacks of herself as a young Judy Garland when she became the breakout child star of the 1939 hit Musical The Wizard of Oz for MGM. During this time, the young Judy played by Darci Shaw is under a strict contract by the formidable head of the studio Louis B. Mayer played by Richard Cordery. As a young star she forms an attraction to another young child star Mickey Rooney played Gus Barry. Yet the studio had the young Judy Garland on a stringent diet of appetite suppressants, uppers and downers as she always had to watch her figure, becoming a slave to the merciless studio system which exploited young actors and actresses who were under severe contractual obligations.

Fast forward to 1968, Judy Garland meets the dashing Mickey Deans wonderfully played by Finn Wittrock (Unbroken, The Big Short) at her elder and more famous daughter Liza Minelli’s house party in the Hollywood Hills. Liza is played by Gemma-Leah Devereux.

Judy is having a custody battle over her two younger children with her fourth ex-husband Sid Luft played by Rufus Sewell (Carrington, Gods of Egypt, Hercules). Her financial difficulties force her to take up a Gig in London performing at the glamorous Talk of the Town cabaret venue where she forms a veritable bond with her personal assistant Rosalyn Wilder played by Irish actress Jessie Buckley as Judy belts at some fabulous numbers on a glittering stage.

Psychologically, Judy Garland is dealing with some traumatic emotional issues while always pretending to be a consummate performer. Zellweger expertly gives a nuanced heart-wrenching performance as Judy Garland, a legendary Hollywood star in the autumn of her career who also become a champion for London’s gay community in the 1960’s.

At the centre of Rupert Goold’s film Judy is a staggeringly brilliant performance by Renee Zellweger who definitely deserves another Oscar for her excellent portrayal of a Hollywood icon. In a particularly hilarious scene with a doctor, who asks her what do you take for depression?

Judy candidly replies four ex-husbands!

Judy gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy films about Hollywood Divas. For those that enjoyed My Week with Marilyn, they will love Judy, a gem of a British film featuring a staggering performance by Renee Zellweger.

War in The Pacific

Midway

Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Dennis Quaid, Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore, Luke Evans, Luke Kleintank, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Keean Johnson, Etushi Toyokawa, Tadanobu Asano, Darren Criss, Brandon Sklenar, Jake Manley

The Battle of Midway was the turning point in the fight between the Americans and the Japanese in the summer of 1942, which followed on from the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941.

German director Roland Emmerich who brought viewers such films as Anonymous, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day, directs Midway with explosive special effects and excellent sound editing by Peter Bawlec.

Emmerich expertly recreates a good old fashioned war film with Midway aided by a superb ensemble cast who all play real life heroes who participated and survived the epic Battle of Midway.

This cast includes Ed Skrein (Maleficent, Mistress of Evil) who plays maverick pilot Dick Best, Mandy Moore plays his outspoken wife Ann Best, Patrick Wilson as naval intelligence officer Edwin Layton, Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri) plays Chester W. Nimitz, Welsh actor Luke Evans plays Wade McClusky, Dennis Quaid plays William Halsey and Aaron Eckhart plays Jimmy Doolittle.

There are also brief appearances by musician turned actor Nick Jonas as Bruno Gaido and American Crime Story Golden Globe winner Darren Criss as Eugene Lindsay.

What screenwriter Wes Tooke does insightfully is present the battle of Midway from both the American and the Japanese perspectives showing that in every war there are always losses on both side, while highlighting the specific historical landmarks which pinpointed Japanese aggression in the Far East and the Pacific.

The bombing of Pearl Harbour dragged America into the Second World War and caused the Pacific Theatre of War to be fraught with tragedy, aggression and strategic victories on both sides until eventually the Japanese sued for peace in 1945 after the American’s decisive and devastating atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

With spectacular visual effects, Midway is highly recommended viewing for fans of genuine historical War films which as a genre Hollywood seems to have disregarded in favour of superhero fantasy franchises.

Midway gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 is definitely worth seeing for the visual effects, the battle sequences and the portrayal of historical events during World War II which pitted two naval world powers against each other: America and the Empire of the Sun.  

The Papal Tango

The Two Popes

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin, Luis Gnecco, Cristina Banegas, Sidney Cole, Libero de Rienzo

Please note The Two Popes is only available on Netflix and did not receive a comprehensive theatrical release.

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (Constant Gardener, City of God, 360) brings us a sumptuous glimpse into the conclave or the voting of a new Pope behind the magnificent walls of the Vatican City in Rome in his latest Netflix film The Two Popes starring Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) as Cardinal Ratzinger who become Pope Benedict and Jonathan Pryce (The Wife, Carrington) as the Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio who eventually becomes Pope Francis.

The Two Popes focuses on a clash of ideals between a conservative Cardinal Ratzinger expertly played by Hopkins who is intent on holding the Catholic church back from any contemporary reforms or even discussing any recent controversies that have recently tainted the Catholic Church including the sexual abuse scandal which the Oscar winning film Spotlight so brilliantly explored in the American archdiocese in Massachusetts and in other states.

Cardinal Bergoglio superbly played by Jonathan Pryce is a progressive thinking Cardinal who would like to make the Catholic Church accessible to the impoverished masses especially in Latin America where Catholicism dominates so proficiently.

Bergoglio has endured his own dark history in Argentina as he desperately tried to protect the left wing subversive Jesuit priests in Buenos Aires from a brutal right wing military junta which gained power in Argentina in a 1976 coup killing thousands of dissidents known as The Dirty War: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_War .

Controversially, Bergoglio was viewed in his own country as compromising with the military junta and was exiled in Argentina for many years as punishment for colluding with a regime which forced thousands of people to disappear in Argentina’s most brutal decade until democracy was eventually restored in 1983 following the Argentine military defeat by the British during the Falklands War.

The younger Jorge Bergoglio is wonderfully played by Argentinian actor Juan Minujin (Focus) as he deals with the moral dilemma of remaining true to his faith while supposedly appeasing a harsh military dictatorship.

With an insightful script by Anthony McCarten, the most rewarding scenes in The Two Popes are the brilliant scenes between Cardinals Bergoglio and Ratzinger as the older Cardinal announces his intention to renounce the papacy. Both Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce nail their roles as the respective diametrically opposed Cardinals, speaking in multiple languages who form a formidable bond over Roman pizza and Argentinian football.

The Two Popes is a stunning portrait of two men who hold the fate of the entire Catholic world in their hands yet seemingly toy with subjects ranging from confession to modernization while both revealing their own inner demons. Fernando Meirelles directs the film with his usual visual flourish as the action alternates between the lavish grandeur of the Vatican City to the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires.

The Two Popes is a stunning portrait of two men who hold the fate of the entire Catholic world in their hands yet seemingly toy with subjects ranging from confession to modernization while both revealing their own inner demons. Fernando Meirelles directs the film with his usual visual flourish as the action alternates between the lavish grandeur of the Vatican City to the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires.

A Night at the Egyptian

Cats

Director: Tom Hooper

Cast: Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Francesca Hayward, Jason Derulo, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Rebel Wilson, James Corden, Laurie Davidson, Robbie Fairchild, Ray Winstone, Steven McRae, Danny Collins

Based upon Modernist poet T. S. Eliot’s poetry collection, Old Possum’s Books of Practical Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats the musical has been a Broadway and West End hit for decades.

The film version of Cats directed by Les Miserables director Tom Hooper is fascinating, surreal but also quite lacklustre and this is due to the uneven casting of the film.

Cats as a film has superb production design with brilliantly realized costumes and sets, but viewers must be familiar with the Theatre production of Cats which was primarily about movement, dancing and singing.

To turn such a successful theatrical production of Cats into a hit film is a daunting task for any director. Despite Tom Hooper’s success with such films as Les Miserables, The Danish Girl and The King’s Speech, he unfortunately misses a golden opportunity to make the cinematic version of Cats absolutely dazzling and that has a lot to do with the strange casting choices for the roles.

While Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) adds gravitas as Old Deuteronomy, Idris Elba’s green eyed Macavity is just plain weird and as for Rebel Wilson and James Corden, they should not have been cast at all as their interpretation of Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones is utterly cringe worthy.

What saves Cats is Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson’s interpretation of Grizabella as her solo numbers are superb and she really anchors the film with a brilliant onscreen performance and fantastic singing.

All the professional singers cast in Cats are really good, including a mesmerizing performance by Taylor Swift as Bombalurina whose onscreen entrance is clearly inspired by Nicole Kidman’s entrance in Baz Luhrmann’s masterpiece Moulin Rouge. Jason Derulo equally holds his own as Rum Tum Tigger and Laurie Davidson’s interpretation of Mr Mistoffelees is spot on and charming.

The narrative arc of Cats goes completely off track but audiences must remember that the musical was loosely based on a collection of lyrical poems, so there was never a strong story to begin with. The middle of Cats is entertaining especially the tap dance scene performed by Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks. Newcomer Francesca Hayward holds her own as the novice feline Victoria.

Unfortunately the beginning and ending are terrible and audiences get a sense that director Tom Hooper was a bit out of his depth with this film production. But perhaps if Baz Luhrmann had directed it, viewers would have gotten an entirely unique interpretation.

Cats as a film is enjoyable but not brilliant, saved by magnificent soloist performances, solid production design and generally speaking the cinematic effort should be applauded and not so universally mocked as it has been on social media.

Despite the dubious casting choices, Cats only gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is really aimed at ardent fans of the hit musical production.

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