Strange Vistas


Birds of Prey poster

How in the name of Martha Wayne's pearls did this alcohol-drenched magenta-tinted Takashi Miike-reminiscent Johnnie To-on-speed glitter-bomb romp get greenlit, nevermind released?

It's even more surprising when you emerge from all its craziness and remember that Birds of Prey spawned out of David Ayer's Suicide Squad abortion.

Some background here: DC Comics saw what Marvel had, and coveted it. Since they had been doing dour affairs where Superman, a reminder of all that's good in humanity, snaps a guy's neck, they decided to double-down on the grime and meanness. Out comes Suicide Squad, a Dirty Half-Dozen of B-list comic book villains, written and directed by David Ayer, the Marylin Manson of macho movies.

One of said B-list villains was Harley Quinn, the crazy girlfriend of Batman's arch-nemesis The Joker. It became a breakthrough role for Margot Robbie, who had been a firecracker on The Wolf of Wall Street, and took the opportunity to turn the hyper up to 11 on her portrayal of Harley as a psychotic cheerleader. The movie sucked, she was a hit. Some Warner Bros. executive decided to make lemonade and signed Robbie on for a first-look deal. She chose a Suicide Squad spin-off as her first choice.

Cue facepalm. Why would she willingly go back to that tepid slime-covered rat-drowning well, now that she gets to work on whatever she wants?

Because she thought it would be fun if she got to do it her way, it looks like.

So we get Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, a movie about what happens after Harley Quinn breaks up with the Joker.

(Who, by the way, was not only the worst choice in a movie full of terrible decisions, but also the single worst portrayal of any comic book character. Ever. And that's counting Roger Corman's Fantastic Four movie, and whatever was going on in Joel Schumacher's Batman adaptations.)

Back on track. Harley breaks up with the Joker. Nobody knows. It behooves her to keep it that way, because Harley's long history of fucking with people means there are a lot of people who want to fuck right back with her, and fear of the Joker keeps them at bay. Tired of him always coming up in conversation, she makes a very public, fireworks-laden break-up statement.

Bunch of other stuff is going on in Gotham at the time, involving a psychotic mobster, a pick-pocket, a killer shooting criminals in the throat with a crossbow, and the people who get dragged into the whole mess.


Now, don't get me wrong. This is not the Unforgiven of comic book movies. It's still a DC movie, but ... it's good! Not in the Wonder WomanI have a message about empowerment and taking superheroes-as-a-symbol seriously” sense, but in the “let's have fun with this shit” sense.

Hell, pretty sure a good chunk of how entertaining it is comes from how much everyone involved seems to be enjoying it. McGregor definitely is, with his narcissistic Roman Sionis, as is Robbie, who gets to play banana to almost everyone else on board. You get the impression that everyone involved went “fuck it, they're never giving me another chance like this, I'm gonna go nuts”.

(Almost undoubtedly true for Rosie Perez, as she has three strikes against her – she's female, Latina, and over 30. She's having just as much fun with this as Robbie, if not more.)

(Sub-parenthetical: By the way, now David Ayer is saying he made a “soulful drama” which was “beaten into a comedy”. The man behind the cinematic abattoir refuse that is Sabotage was going for soulful. Maybe whomever beat Suicide Squad should have hit harder.)

Back to Birds of Prey, though.

I'm not going to say it's brilliant, or perfect. Still, the sole fact that it exists at all in this era of mass-market movies designed by executives dog-piling into a committee feels like an accomplishment. I don't expect we will get to see another coke-fueled bleached-hair short-short-wearing Majima Goro gender-swap leading a movie any time soon.

I have no idea what Margot Robbie is holding over Warner executives, but here's to her continuing to use it for funsies.

#birdsofprey #margotrobbie #ewanmcgregor #rosieperez #cathyyan #dccomics

Headshot for Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

Joker has very little to say but will go on and on and on about it.

You know what it's supposed to be about, right? It's an origin story for the Batman villain Joker. In an attempt to distance itself from the recent tire fire of DC movies, director Todd Phillips chose to ape a late 70s style (down to title cards). Unsure if that would do the job, he then went ahead and namechecked a few Scorsese movies while promoting it. It's like Taxi Driver! No, King of Comedy! Look, De Niro is in it as an asshole talk show host!

But it's topical, too! Arthur Fleck – Joker's original identity here – got nothing but shorts sticks. He is poor. He needs to care for his mother based on his irregular income. He has mental health issues. They live in a city that is cutting back on social programs and which is crawling with entitled rich.

You don't need to be a movie plot taxonomist to know what the rest of the movie is going to be about. Our lack of empathy created Joker. He is a monster, but one we created ourselves, blowback for America's disregard for those most in need, the inevitable result of its depraved cannibalization of the bottom 99%. If only Batman's dad had put his money into helping society instead of his political campaign, maybe Bruce Wayne would be a regular spoiled rich kid instead of a brooding superhero.

On the nose enough? No? Then let's make Joker's war cry you get what you deserve!

It's a cheap ploy to appeal to people who wouldn't watch superhero comics, engineered to induce knee-jerk sympathy for a character with zero redeeming qualities. Nevermind that Fleck's first murder spree happened before an uncaring system cut off his medicare. Those guys were asshole venture capitalists; they had a few .38 rounds coming, right?

It has one thing going for it: Joaquin Phoenix commits to the character with absolute dedication, giving a performance that is beyond what the material deserves. Some of it comes from the Christian Bale school of “body transformation as characterization.” The way Fleck retreats into his own space when he isn't acting on his clown persona, the awful awkwardness when he believes he is faking smoothness, the pained expression when laughing... that's all Phoenix. He doesn't manage to sell us on the movie's own pretensions of depth, but damn if he doesn't try.

#joker #joaquinphoenix #dccomics #toddphillips #christianbale

I made the mistake of watching Suicide Squad while stuck on a plane.

This shit's even worse than everyone said.

Not even an overly tired brain and a steady stream of alcohol made it bearable.

I was going to do a write-up about it, then decided there's no reason to subject you to carry anything more related to that rusted barrel brimming with lukewarm narrative sewage in your head as well.

It makes you long for the writing in Lifeforce. Which also had a better-acting non-actress as the antagonist at the center of the pretty-lights world-destroying vortex. And which even with its premise of “young, naked space vampire” was less of a barely-put-together cash-grab than this.

#suicidesquad #dccomics #davidayer #margotrobbie