Posts Tagged ‘Mary Elizabeth Winstead’

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.

Avoiding Mirrors

Gemini Man

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Linda Emond, Douglas Hodge

Film Rating: 6 out of 10

Two time Oscar winner for Best Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) approaches the action genre with less than satisfactory results in Gemini Man much like the 2003 flop that was his interpretation of Hulk before Marvel Studios got properly straightened out by Disney.

Will Smith (Bad Boys, Aladdin, Concussion) plays an over the hill assassin Henry Brogan for a shady government department based in Virginia headed by Clay Verris played without compassion by Oscar nominee Clive Owen (Closer) who is wasted as the villain in this rather bizarre CIA revenge story that sees Brogan being cloned without his knowledge so that a 25 year old version of him called Junior comes after him in some exotic locations including Cartagena in Colombia and Budapest in Hungary.

Narrative gaps abound in a poorly written script with a contrived storyline which appears to get more irritating as the film progresses with zero onscreen chemistry between Will Smith and the female lead Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kill The Messenger) who plays intelligence operative Danny Zakarweski who gets planted by the covert agency to run surveillance on Brogan while he is fishing off the coast of Georgia, USA.

What follows is a classic tale of a cat chasing its own tail as Brogan soon discovers that the man trying to kill him is himself, hence the title Gemini Man. This is a paint by numbers thriller whose storyline is less solid, while the visual effects are about the only redeeming feature of this below average action film.

Considering Ang Lee’s impressive body of work including Sense and Sensibility; Lust, Caution; Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Gemini Man falls flat as an action film although there are some fantastic visual sequences which make up for the completely dubious premise of this film’s faulty storyline. Such a pity to see great talent as Will Smith and Clive Owen wasted in a poorly scripted film directed by a more than accomplished film director.

Unfortunately, Gemini Man gets a film rating of 6 out 10 and judging by the fact that Alibaba Pictures financed this film, this was a grudge project for Ang Lee to appease the studios which are churning out content with Chinese capital investment.

If audiences like flawed action films with dubious plots, then Gemini Man is for them. 

The Veracity of the Story

Kill the Messenger

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Director: Michael Cuesta

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Robert Patric, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Paz Vega, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Barry Pepper, Michael Sheen, Gil Bellows, Dan Futterman

Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker and The Town, Jeremy Renner plays the real life investigative journalist Gary Webb, who while working for the San Jose Mercury News uncovers a complex story involving the CIA, crack cocaine, money laundering and the funding of the Nicaraguan Contra Rebels to topple the Sandinista lead government in a dirty war in the Central American nation – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua.

Gary Webb http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Webb expertly played by Renner was best known for his Dark Alliance series of articles which gained international media attention before the days of Wikileaks, which uncovered the origins of crack cocaine on the streets of South Central Los Angeles and allegedly traces its roots and funding back to the CIA which was using the profits of the drug sales to fund the Contra Rebels in Nicaragua in the mid 1980’s to the 1990’s.

Whilst the crux of director Michael Cuesta’s film Kill The Messenger is about media ethics it also delves deeper into the murky world of career and character assignation when the established media houses included The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post claimed that Webb’s explosive articles could not be substantiated by credible sources as most of those were shady drug runners, secretive government operatives and vanishing Swiss bankers in Panama City.

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The revelations sparked outrage in many of the African American communities of America’s major cities especially Los Angeles. The drug ring helped escalate a crack cocaine epidemic on the streets of many of these cities and more shockingly the profits were being used by the CIA and also paved the way for the Colombian drug cartels to enter the American market.

Webb’s Dark Alliance series focused on the links between three men, Danilo Blandon; Ricky Ross played by Michael Kenneth Williams and a more elusive Norwin Menezes played by Andy Garcia.

What Kill the Messenger shows is that in the days before instant online information leaks which have characterised the 21st century that the American Intelligence community did anything to discredit the author of the story and in this case Webb’s own career and life suffers tremendously when he directly names the CIA in a complex tale of money-laundering, drug running and political interference.

Webb soon resigns from the San Jose Mercury News and takes up a less prolific post in Cupertino, California, while his relationship with his wife and children suffer immensely, as witnessed by his wife Sue played by Rosemarie DeWitt as Sue wife and teenage son Eric played by Matthew Lintz both whom can see that Webb has become a victim of a calculated smear campaign to basically discredit him as an investigative journalist.

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Throughout the entire disownment of the story by established media houses including an internal investigation into the veracity of the sources by Webb’s own newspaper San Jose Mercury News, Webb is convinced that his Dark Alliance series has truth and merit, which besides any investigative flaws did manage to inflame the African American community to demand answers from the Director of the CIA as to the unrelenting flood of crack cocaine in their neighbourhoods.

There is a fundamental shift in Kill the Messenger, which director Cuesta handles intelligently in that the film ceases to be about the story that Webb has uncovered but more about Webb as a person with all his character defects. There is a line in the film which sums this up – “If you put a man under a microscope then all his life’s flaws and discrepancies will come to light”

Renner acts the part of Gary Webb intensely and passionately as he soon realizes that he has become the story and not what his story was about, something not too dissimilar to what has happened to contemporary whistle blowers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.

Kill the Messenger is a fascinating portrait of an investigative journalist who uncovers an international web of corruption, lies and money laundering only to find himself the victim of his own story. Unfortunately the veracity of the story takes its toll on the storyteller.

Cuesta’s film whilst filled with a sprinkling of character actors including a fabulous cameo by Mexican actress Paz Vega and loads of directorial embellishments is not a perfect film, but certainly a provocative story which at least vindicates Gary Webb’s own personal battle to get the truth out there, despite the costs. Recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The Fifth Estate, All the Presidents Men and The Paperboy.

 

 

Mother Russia Explodes

A Good Day to Die Hard

Yipee Ki-Yay not another one!

Yipee Ki-Yay not another one!

Bruce Willis’s fifth attempt to resuscitate the Die Hard franchise 25 years after the original Die Hard, is very thin on plot and big on action. A Good Day to Die Hard features an explosive and riveting car chase sequence through the streets of Moscow and is perhaps the film’s only redeeming feature. The rest of the film through a very light story line attempts to reconnect Willis’s bad-ass New York cop character John MacClane with his slightly inexperienced son Jack MacClane  played by Jai Courtney last seen in the Tom Cruise thriller Jack Reacher.

A Good Day to Die Hard is pure action and lacks some of the witty one liners or plot twists of the previous Die Hard films, most notably Die Hard and Die Hard 3 failing to make the most of its best asset that of the location of Moscow in Russia, the first film to be set outside the United States.  A Good Day to Die Hard also does not feature a convincing villain and if the success of Skyfall is to go by, an evil villain really makes a truly successful hero.

Unlike Alan Rickman (Die Hard) or Jeremy Irons (Die Hard: With a Vengeance)  playing notable villains in the previous Die Hard films, this Russian mastermind Komarov played by German actor Sebastian Koch bent on robbing Chernobyl of a stockpile of uranium is entirely implausible. The only character to cast in depth of feeling is MacClane’s daughter Lucy played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but her part is minimal as the main focus shifts to explosive father, son male bonding enough to make Mother Russia cry as buildings, cars and half of Moscow are randomly destroyed.

Bruce Willis looks a bit old to be flying off exploding buildings and carry enough artillery to wipe out a small Caribbean nation, but then that said that is half the appeal for him appearing in such films as Red, The Expendibles 2 and the upcoming G I Joe sequel, GI Joe: Retaliation. Jai Courtney is marginally good as a CIA operative who is caught way out of his depth in a Moscow prison hostage negotiation which go completely awry.

The narrative gaps are just too great to make any real sense of what the purpose of making A Good Day to Die Hard other than milking an already average Die Hard Franchise way past its expiry date. This is baseless action, which is albeit entertaining but not deeply meaningful and should be treated as a great popcorn sequel, an inevitable money spinner that Hollywood is good at churning out despite the diminishing appeal by Willis as the main character John MacClane.

A Good Day to Die Hard is an idiots guide to making a sequel, with an obvious visual clue of MacClane leaving an American airport with a travel handbook, the Idiots Guide to Russia boarding an Aeroflot flight for Moscow. This film is only for real action fans and will definitely appeal to the male teenage target audience.

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