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MOVIES WITH DAVE

Well the Academy Awards have already come and gone, and I have to say I’m pretty happy with the results this year.

For starters “Joker” only won two out of its 11 nominations, and fortunately it was for the categories it actually deserved to win. Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor and Hildur Guðnadóttir for Original Score.

Even though I do kind of wish “Marriage Story” would have won those categories, I loved both Adam Driver and the score of that film, there’s no denying how good the music and Joaquin Phoenix were in “Joker.”

I’m also quite happy with the two awards “Ford v Ferrari” managed to come home with, both in Sound Editing and Film Editing. Considering it was one of the best moviegoing experiences I had last year, largely due to the sound and editing, I think it was well deserving of both.

Of course the biggest and most shocking surprise of the night was just how many awards “Parasite” received.

Going into Sunday night, “Parasite” was basically guaranteed Best International Film and that’s about it.

But then it won a couple awards like Best Original Screenplay and then Best Director, and fans of the acclaimed Korean film like myself began thinking maybe, just maybe, “Parasite” would actually manage to beat out the heavily favored front runner, Sam Mendes’s “1917.”

Still it seemed like a long shot. Even as Jane Fonda opened the white envelope I held my breath, hoping for an upset. And sure enough, it actually happened.

After many years, “Parasite” is finally the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It’s a huge achievement. One that hopefully leads to an even greater diversity of films and filmmakers receiving recognition for their hard work.

If you haven’t watched “Parasite” already, I implore you to at least give the movie a chance. Even if you aren’t someone accustomed to reading subtitles, I’d say it’s well worth the extra effort.

While it might not have quite been my favorite film of 2019, it was certainly in my top five, and it is definitely a must see for anyone who loves good movies.

But I guess that’s enough rambling about the Oscars.

There wasn’t much going on at the theaters this past weekend. Just one new wide release. A sequel of sorts to 2016’s “Suicide Squad” titled “Birds of Prey,” featuring Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

And since it was a light weekend, I decided to go back and cover another well received film from last year that I happened to miss.

So without further ado, let’s get to the reviews.

***

First up is “Birds of Prey.”

It’s open season on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask (Ewan Mc-Gregor) and every other thug in the city.

But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).

The DC universe is in a bit of an odd place as far as movies go these days.

After “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and its follow up, “Justice League,” were admonished by critics, not to mention severely disappointing in the box office, Warner Bros. decided to take a slightly looser approach to their comic book cinematic universe.

Instead of building up to big event movies, as Marvel has done to incredible success, DC would take a more reserved path, with films that only hint at a larger shared universe if at all.

And so far it’s worked pretty well for them. Well, critically at least.

Even though the quality of their movies has gone up noticeably since the release of “Justice League,” for every billion dollar movie like “Aquaman” or “Joker,” there’s a sister film that under performs at the box office.

First “Shazam!,” and now “Birds of Prey,” which saw one of DC’s worst opening weekends ever.

This is pretty confounding as both of these poorly performing movies are far better than the critical duds that preceded them.

“Birds of Prey” is essentially a sequel/spinoff to “Suicide Squad” from 2016, and from a filmmaking perspective it is miles better than that garbage fire of a movie. It’s not even a competition.

“Birds of Prey” is by far the better film in every possible way. Everything, from the dialogue and overall writing, to the action and characters, and most of all the editing, which was notably abysmal in “Suicide Squad.”

Yet even with the most optimistic of projections, “Birds of Prey” will probably end up bringing in less than half of what “Suicide Squad” did financially.

It’s disappointing. Though in some ways I do see why people decided not to show up to watch this latest outing with Harley Quinn.

While “Birds of Prey” is a notable improvement over “Suicide Squad,” it still wasn’t without its flaws.

But before I get into that, let me go into a bit more detail of what I enjoyed.

First and foremost, the movie’s main character, Harley Quinn. I liked her so much more in this film than in “Suicide Squad.”

I know for a lot of people Harley Quinn was their favorite thing about the 2016 movie. The one “good” thing from that film. Personally, I don’t see it though.

The dialogue for Harley in “Suicide Squad” was insufferable. Lines like “we’re bad guys, it’s what we do” plagued the movie. Her actions felt motivated solely by a desire to be whimsical and random instead of being a character with actual human emotions.

It all just seemed like an excuse to throw Margot Robbie in tight fitting and revealing outfits. Which is criminal considering how great of an actress Robbie is.

Fortunately, in “Birds of Prey,” Harley Quinn feels much more substantial as a character.

She does still have an air of mania, and indeed her insanity even bleeds into the narrative structure itself, but for a crazy comic book character she feels substantially more grounded here.

She’s introspective, she has motivations beyond wanting to be with the Joker, and she even has a bit of a character arc. Plus this time around Margot actually has Harley’s iconic east coast accent down pretty well.

Sadly, while Harley is finally given a chance to properly shine in a live action film, her “Birds of Prey” associates are far less compelling.

Don’t get me wrong. Huntress, Black Canary, and Detective Montoya are all fine here. Perfectly serviceable as sidekicks. But that’s just it. Their characters feel like footnotes at best when compared to Harley Quinn.

Next to Harley, they all seem noticeably bland.

It’s just disappointing. As little as they affect the overall narrative, I almost wish they weren’t included at all. Make this the Harley Quinn movie. Save the Birds for another film where they can actually have their due.

Speaking of the narrative, as I mentioned before, Harley’s influence is tangible even in the story’s structure.

The entire film is narrated from the perspective of Harley, and as such, certain elements are shown a bit out of order as Harley remembers their relevance to the story. Luckily the movie never leaves you hanging for too long.

There’s one notable section of the

film, where Harley shows up guns blazing at a police station, and while watching I couldn’t help but feel like I had missed a huge chunk of the story leading up to it. Sure enough, at about the same time I was thinking that, Harley’s voice comes and she herself remembers that she forgot to tell us a bit of backstory.

Tone wise, this movie reminded me quite a bit of “Deadpool 2,” just not quite as funny. And not just because both films feature wacky foulmouth anti-heroes with a pension for violence. It’s also because both characters have child sidekicks.

I haven’t really mentioned young Ella Jay Basco’s character of Cassandra Cain, and that’s not particularly fair on my part.

Behind Harley herself, Cassandra is the second most prominent character. And considering the scope of her role, I liked Ella’s performance fairly well.

I can definitely see why Cassandra’s portrayal here may disappoint fans of her comic book persona though. From what I understand, in the comics she was this incredible martial artist at a very young age, and was even Batgirl at one point. Here she’s merely a pickpocket with a rough family life.

Sure, the petty thief version of Cassandra makes for a perfectly good companion for Harley to bounce off of, but it is a massive departure from the character fans know.

I can see where comic fans are coming from, though I don’t exactly share their frustrations as I had absolutely no idea who Cassandra Cain was until this past weekend.

Overall, I’d say I liked this movie fairly well. Though I thought there were some missed opportunities with some of the characters, this movie has a good amount of fun action, and an entertaining story overall.

Sadly, even though I was lamenting earlier about this film’s poor box office performance, I wouldn’t say the film is a must see in theaters. Even for most diehard comic book movie fans.

It is worth a rental though if you enjoy Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. It’s far from DC’s worst, and compared to “Suicide Squad” it’s practically a masterpiece.

“Birds of Prey” is rated R.

***

The other movie this week is “The Two Popes.”

Frustrated with the direction of the church, Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) requests permission to retire in 2012 from Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Pope Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church.

Behind Vatican walls, a struggle commences between both tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, as these two very different men confront their pasts in order to find common ground and forge a future for a billion followers around the world.

Well this is a review that’s been a long time coming.

As many of you probably already know, I’m pretty terrible at keeping up with films that are exclusive to Netflix, or any other streaming platform for that matter. On a typical weekend there’s usually plenty of new movies released in theaters to talk about and films like this one simply fall through the cracks.

Luckily, this past weekend was a slow one as far as movies go, with only “Birds of Prey” receiving a wide release. So I decided to take advantage of this brief movie lull while I could.

And let me tell ya, I’m glad I did. This is a fascinating film. Even to someone like me with only a passing interest in Catholicism.

It’s so interesting to see these two men interact with each other.

One is a steadfast defender of the status quo. Someone who would see the church never adapt to the changing times, and someone who is clearly more than a little out of touch.

The other is a man of the people. Someone who sees a more progressive future for Catholicism, and a person who sees the lavish lifestyle of the current Pope as ridiculously ostentatious.

If you even have the slightest bit of knowledge of the Catholic church, you can pretty easily guess which one is Pope Benedict XVI and who is Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.

But even though Benedict does come across as a bit stodgy and incredibly removed from the outside world, he’s definitely not portrayed as a villain. Just a man. Perhaps a man with a flawed perspective, and whose tenure as Pope was tainted by scandal, but still just a man.

I really love movies like this one that show a more personal side of larger than life people. Even though I probably disagree with the real life Benedict on just about every subject you could think of, I’m still happy to see him portrayed here as a person you can empathize with.

Of course Jorge is considerably more likeable than Benedict in this movie, just like real life. Like I said, he’s a man of the people. The kind of person who would give you the shirt off his own back if you asked for it.

Though to be clear, this movie doesn’t just gush about how wonderful Jorge is as a person. In fact the film takes quite a bit of its runtime showing the future Pope’s failings and his deepest regrets, especially involving the rise of authoritarianism in Argentina.

And while the history lesson is nice, where this movie truly shines is when the current and future Pope are just hanging out and chatting.

I absolutely loved the dialogue between Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins.

There’s a reason this movie was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars. Often times it felt like two heavyweights going at it. Men who know their faith inside and out, battling for the future of the church itself. But though they disagree, there’s always an air of mutual respect between the two of them.

There’s also a surprising amount of humor on display in the writing here. You wouldn’t necessarily think the ramblings of two old religious leaders would be funny, but despite that I still found myself laughing out loud multiple times.

A brief word of warning though. This movie does have quite a bit of non-English dialogue in it, including Spanish, Italian, and even some Latin.

There is still a fair amount of English spoken, especially in the scenes with Pryce and Hopkins together, but if you have an aversion to a lot of reading during movies, that may make this film a nonstarter for you.

Overall I really liked this movie. I’m not the least bit surprised this film was nominated for three Oscars, including acting nods for both Pryce and Hopkins. They really did deserve the recognition.

I’m sure most of you who have Netflix have already watched “The Two Popes,” but if you were like me and haven’t yet, I can safely say it’s well worth your time. At least as long as you don’t mind reading subtitles.

“The Two Popes” is rated PG-13.

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