Box office tallies, movie reviews, and more!
Wednesday, Feb. 19th, 2020
1. Sonic the Hedgehog
2. Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
3. Bad Boys for Life
4. Fantasy Island
7. The Photograph
8. Jumanji: The Next Level
HARLEY QUINN: BIRDS OF PREY
Starring Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor Directed by Cathy Yan. 1hr44min MPAA rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material).
The best thing to come out of 2016’s much-derided DC antihero team-up “Suicide Squad” was Margot Robbie’s inspired take on Harley Quinn, the self-proclaimed “Joker’s girl” and quirky chaos clown. Robbie’s Quinn, with her colorful pigtails and baseball bat, instantly became an icon, a perennial Halloween costume, eclipsing even her lesser half, Jared Leto’s heavily tattooed Joker. But enough about him; the Joker is so 2019. 2020 is Harley Quinn’s year. And in the wake of her breakup, she’s back and better than ever with a brand-new girl gang in the brilliant, breakneck “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.”
Director Cathy Yan soars with her stylish sophomore feature, which is colorful, campy and cheerfully brutal, a perfect reflection of Harley herself. Robbie, as usual, tears into the role with a wide-eyed gusto that is equally childlike and unhinged. With her Betty Boop accent, wacky wardrobe and gymnastic facility with a bat, Harley is one lovable psychopath. It’s impossible not to root for her, even as she’s reducing chemical factories to clouds of rainbow-colored smoke, gleefully dropping hordes of police officers with shotgun blasts of glitter and demolishing bad guys with roller skate high kicks to the face. Robbie makes Harley a bedeviling, beguiling antiheroine, not just any old crazy ex-girlfriend.
“Birds of Prey” is also the cinematic introduction to the other birds in the flock, the beloved comic characters Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), styled as a butt-kicking blaxploitation queen, and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious yet neurotic assassin out for vengeance. Along with renegade cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and precocious pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), this is Harley’s new girl gang, who band together against the sinister Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Although Harley typically prefers to commit crime than fight it, for these girls (and that guy), she’ll make an exception.
Christina Hodson’s script is a madcap, irreverent roller coaster ride, the story relayed in a loopy, looping, nonlinear fashion through Harley’s hyperactive storytelling style. She bounces back and forth through time, taking a few tangents to wax poetic about the beauty of a bodega bacon, egg and cheese sandwich (relatable), list each of her enemies and their grievances with her and relish in the memories of some of her best butt-kickings. She clearly sees herself as Gotham’s own “Atomic Blonde,” and the eye-popping fight choreography proves she is. The action sequences are breathtakingly balletic and bruising. If it seems like Harley could take John Wick in a fight, that’s because she can: “John Wick” director Chad Stahelski consulted on some of the fight sequences. Shot by Matthew Libatique, the action is crispy clean among all the sparkles, smoke and decaying carnival rides.
“Birds of Prey” is a circus for the senses, but the performances give the film its heart and humor. Every performer knows what movie they’re in, with Robbie’s winking, wild performance creating a safe space for experimentation. The wonderfully powerful Smollett-Bell is a breakout, but Ewan McGregor’s outlandishly campy turn as the sniveling Sionis is a hoot and a half, easily stealing the show. Yan has delivered a riotous rodeo that is “Kill Bill” meets “Coffy.” It’s a tribute to cutest, kookiest clown in the comics, and a perfect distillation of her character: sweet, sour and sassy in all the right ways. By Katie Walsh, Tribune Content Agency.
THE RHYTHM SECTION
Starring Blake Lively, Jude Law. Directed by Reed Morano. 1hr49min MPAA rating: R (for violence, sexual content, language throughout, and some drug use).
In the new thriller “The Rhythm Section,” Blake Lively and Sterling K. Brown share a scene in which Lively, as bullet-for-hire and perpetual wig-changer Stephanie Patrick, discusses possible employment opportunities with Brown, who plays a shadowy fixer with international connections. Our heroine’s ultimate target: a radical Islamic terrorist who may be responsible for killing her entire family aboard a jet airline attack, no survivors.
In all their scenes, Lively and Brown talk like they’re in a spy movie. You know the sound. Comically low tones, so questions sound like statements. Statements that sound like two people trying to fool the polygraph. It’s a battle of the deadpan mutterers, and the actors are highly trained in the art of portraying chameleons with plenty to hide.
“The Rhythm Section” doesn’t have much to say; it’s more about non-verbal suffering and atmosphere, and it certainly has a distinctive, ashen-toned look to show for itself. The material, equals parts Mata Hari and Jason Bourne, is another story. You could call it tried and true, or you could call it tired and false.
We’ve admired righteous super-assassins with surreally low blood pressure for a long time now. Think of it: The first Bourne film came out 18 years ago, just as America fully entered its raging, paranoid phase, and Robert Ludlam wrote his first Bourne novel a generation before that. While there have been several international female-driven film projects along these lines (“La Femme Nikita,” et al.), “The Rhythm Section” is a defiantly old-school attempt to get something new going.
Backed by the producers of the James Bond franchise, the project enjoys the advantage of a built-in fan base, although that may be the only thing about director Reed Morano’s film that speaks to straight-up enjoyment. Lively’s character, a Londoner, falls into a tailspin of grief, drugs and prostitution following the midair tragedy over the Atlantic. Trained as a cinematographer, Morano leans into the protagonist’s suffering in a way that few male directors would’ve favored.
Morano shot part of the gorgeous Beyonce “Lemonade” project, as well as many other films, including the stark, atmospheric “Frozen River.” Here she works with “Widows” and “12 Years a Slave” cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, one of the best around, to create a palette suited to a fantasy about a woman descending halfway into hell, and assassinating her way out of it. The look is miserably dank one minute and blindingly sun-baked the next (the film was shot primarily in Ireland and Spain), and you notice it. Published in 2000, Mark Burnell’s debut novel — the first of four Stephanie Patrick adventures — was engineered for the movies, built to attract a bankable actress in a globe-trotting series of assignments while changing identities, hairstyles and personae at will.
Lively proved with “The Shallows” and “47 Meters Down” that she could run a profitable genre exercise with easy authority. She’s fierce and often affecting here. I wish Burnell’s screen adaptation had found some way around Jude Law’s steely operative “molding” the grieving killing machine into his kind of woman, but the plot, as compressed here, offers no way around it. The one-man commando training camp is located in a remote part of Scotland. Throughout “The Rhythm Section” Law leaps into frame to choke, punch or wallop Lively as a series of jolly tests, often scored (egregiously) to ironic, upbeat pop tunes. At moments such as these the movie feels like the sternest possible reenactment of the old Inspector Clouseau/Cato routine from a “Pink Panther” comedy.
The title refers to what a character from Burnell’s novel (not in the movie) tells Stephanie: “Your heart is the drums, your breathing is the bass … Keep the rhythm section tight and the rest of the song plays itself.” Yes, and your spleen is the brass and your kidneys are the reeds and that title is just a tarted-up conceit. Delays in the film’s production resulted from an on-set injury sustained by Lively, followed by the star’s pregnancy and the ultimate birth of Lively’s third child. The movie is made well, if you’re buying what it’s selling, and if you don’t consider a story or a script as crucial to the quality of a thriller. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Content Media.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery. Directed by Guy Ritchie. 1hr53min MPAA rating: R (for violence, language throughout, sexual references and drug content).
Guy Ritchie’s latest British gangster yarn, “The Gentlemen,” opens with a bartender pulling a beer tap printed with a logo reading: “Gritchie’s English Lore.” It’s oh-so-appropriate branding for this return to roots for Ritchie, who burst onto the scene in the late ’90s with the rollicking London crime flick “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” With “The Gentlemen,” co-written with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, Ritchie invites the audience to belly up to his bar for a full pint of his signature brew: a wordy, bloody, Cockney-accented blend of colorful criminals. As you might expect, despite the title, these gentlemen aren’t gentlemanly in the least.
This time, Ritchie expands his horizons to England’s upper crust (the “toffs,” if you will). The lords and ladies are a means to an end for the protagonist, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), an American Rhodes scholar-turned-weed dealer who has worked out a deal with the landed gentry. They have the land he needs for his grow operation; he has the money they need to sustain their titled lifestyles. Now Mickey wants to get out of the game, and he’s trying to sell his organization to the highest bidder. Will it be the fey Jewish billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong) or the aggressive young Chinese upstart Dry Eye (Henry Golding)?
It’s not just the tale of a simple sale, though. It’s recounted by an opportunistic private eye, Fletcher (Hugh Grant), who has turned up on the doorstep of Mickey’s right hand man, Ray (Charlie Hunnam), hoping to sell his highly embellished version to Mickey for a higher price than the local tabloid has offered. Fletcher has even helpfully written it all into a screenplay, in a small bit of self-reflection about storytelling, as the saga grows wilder and wilder in Fletcher’s telling.
It can be easy to be swept away by all the beautiful people, unreliable narrators, classic rock needle drops, wild costumes and regional accents. Ritchie still has undeniable attitude and swagger in spades. But kick the tires and you’ll start to realize the story’s a lemon. It’s fairly simple underneath the layers of unreliable narrators and unnecessarily extraneous plot twists, which end up having all the intrigue of a potato.
Story shortcomings can be forgiven. But the insidious and lazy cultural stereotypes Ritchie, Atkinson and Davies overly rely on are too unfortunate to be excused. It’s true that depiction does not equal endorsement, and unsavory bad guy types aren’t known for their sensitivity. But it’s impossible to ignore how cavalierly racist the film is toward the Chinese gang members Dry Eye and Lord George (Tom Wu), and how the film’s villains are coded as rapacious gay predators. That many racial epithets can’t be swept away as merely rough British slang.
Colin Farrell is predictably fantastic as a track-suited boxing coach whose students raid one of Pearson’s secret spots. The resulting music video they film, toplined by British grime MC Bugzy Malone, is easily the highlight of the film. Farrell’s Coach, a loyal, protective tough guy with a rigid (if untraditional) moral code is an oddball breath of fresh air. He’s more like one of the rough and tumble characters from “Snatch,” rather than the slick and slimy monied likes of Pearson. One wonders what the film would have been like centered around him, or even around Pearson’s cool Cockney wife, Roz (Michelle Dockery). But “The Gentlemen” is so blinkered by its outdated (and often offensive) alpha male perspective that it’s blind to the elements that could have made it great. By Katie Walsh, Tribune Content Agency
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE
Starring Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens. Directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilali Fallah. 2hr4min MPAA rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references and brief drug use).
So much has happened since Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, in that order of billing, struck gold with director Michael Bay’s feature debut “Bad Boys” (1995) and its sequel, “Bad Boys II” (2003). Presidents came and went. “Green Book” won the Oscar. Our dog turned 14.
A lot goes on in between the natural life cycle of a two-movie phenomenon from another time, and an attempt to tack on a third and get it going again, this time with Smith getting top billing and Martin second.
“Bad Boys for Life” is that attempt. While I don’t like to guess financial outcomes, this time I think the financial outcome is pretty clear and pretty rosy. Aside from the bit about Lawrence being able to beat Smith in a foot race, the movie has very few unintentional laughs. It boasts a handful of cheap intentional ones, lots and lots of automatic gunfire and bleeding, and a nutty pileup of influences, from late-period “Fast & Furious” to “Mission: Impossible” to “21 Jump Street.”
Through it all, as directed by the Moroccan-born Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, “Bad Boys for Life” may be a frantic visual blur but it’s razor-sharp thematically. Its mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make a jaded 2020 audience glad to see these guys again. The movie’s not the point. The boys are the point.
“Original” being relative, the original “Bad Boys” told the story of how Tea Leoni nearly swiped a Martin Lawrence/Will Smith vehicle away from the headliners. “Bad Boys II,” a callous low point for early 21st century studio movies, told the story of how Jackie Chan’s far superior “Police Story” managed to wreck a hillside village inhabited by poverty-stricken extras for laughs, and succeeded. This led to director Bay ripping off the “Police Story” melee for his movie. Watching the destruction, all you could think about was the meanness of the joke’s premise.
“Bad Boys for Life” finds Lawrence’s Det. Marcus Burnett a proud grandpa and an eager retiree-to-be. The script’s main joke for his character involves Marcus still finding the prospect of “quality time” from his shrewish wife (Theresa Randle) a persistent drag on his ego. Who says they don’t write decent women’s roles in stuff like this?
In fact, there are other major female roles here, and only one of them is a ruthless drug lord she-beast bruja (Kate del Castillo, bringing it). She busts out of prison; assigns her ruthless yet vaguely conflicted assassin son (Jacob Scipio) to eliminate all the Miami bigwigs who made life difficult for her and her late drug lord husband. Det. Mike Lowery heads that list.
The movie lurches back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico, while the veteran Bad Boys struggle with new rules of conduct and cooperative policing, albeit policing with a delirious body count. Paola Nunez plays Rita, Lowery’s former lover and head of an elite special Miami police unit taking charge of the case involving the murdered Miami adversaries of the drug lords. But there’s all this sexual tension between Rita and Mike, at least we’re told there is. Mike mutters about the love of his life, once upon a time, which ended badly and closed him off emotionally. This figures into the plot, if you care about plot.
The movie doesn’t, and its major reveal is ridiculous bordering on insane. But “Bad Boys for Life” is the sort of shiny, energetic mess audiences won’t mind. It’s a lot less egregious than “Bad Boys II.” (Low bar.) Speaking of which: Michael Bay shows up here in a wedding sequence, making a toast. Cute cameo, destined to be lost on millions.
The chief marker of the years that have passed since 1995 can be crystallized by the visual attack of “Bad Boys” vs. this reboot. Bay’s greasy-smooth camera aesthetic has been replaced by the new directors’ frenzied, hand-held, even-quicker-cut approach. A weird amount of the action seems to be filmed at an accelerated, zazzed-up speed, when it’s not full-on body-doubling Smith and Lawrence, or digitally futzing in a supremely obvious way with the physical brawls. It’s no less tricked-up than Smith’s recent “Gemini Man” double act.
Unlike that movie, at least, this one makes time for a few trash-talk detours, and for Lawrence’s superb delivery of the phrase “thy own loins.” At one point, during a physics-defying motorcycle pursuit along nighttime Miami streets that look oddly like Atlanta, Marcus finds a huge cache of weapons in a storage compartment. The throwaway line “It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here!” got a nice juicy laugh, one that even angry white men with basements full of weapons should appreciate. And if they liked the old “Bad Boy” movies, they’ll probably like this one, too. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Content Media
Starring Robert Downey Jr, Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen. Directed by Stephen Gaghan 1hr46min MPAA rating: PG (for some action, rude humor and brief language).
The new film “Dolittle” proves there’s more than one way to spell “Dolittle,” its preferred spelling being “J-u-m-a-n-j-i.”
In what feels like a corporate panic, co-writer and director Stephen Gaghan’s franchise hopeful trades charm for noise, and wit for a climactic dragon colonoscopy (don’t ask, don’t tell). Meantime, Robert Downey Jr. offers a determined Scottish burr as a replacement for the bored silken tones of Rex Harrison, star of the 1967 musical “Doctor Dolittle,” and Eddie Murphy, headliner of the disposable non-musical 1998 remake and its 2001 sequel.
The latest “Dolittle,” like the others, owes its inspiration to Hugh Lofting, whose fanciful letters home during World War I formed the genesis of the first Dolittle book published in 1920 with the subtitle “Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts.” So many Oscar winners have lent their voices to the menagerie here, from Emma Thompson (a macaw) to Rami Malek (a gorilla). So where’s the … oh, what’s the word … fun?
Even in a realm of corporate moviemaking dependent on digital effects and green screenery, you’d hope that a project co-written and directed by the same person, in this case “Syriana” filmmaker Stephen Gaghan, might retain some semblance of personality. Along with everything worth tossing — the quaint colonialist racism, for starters — Lofting’s adventures of the animal doctor conversant in myriad mammal, aquatic, insect and aviary languages offer plenty for reinvestigation. And Downey Jr., if you haven’t noticed or couldn’t recall, is a fine actor as well as huge star.
The once and future Iron Man, however, favors a blasé, throw-it-away delivery and demeanor that can easily lapse into a form of subtle heckling. The set-up in “Dolittle,” set in the mid-19th century: After his wife and fellow explorer dies in a shipwreck, Dr. D hides away, Howard Hughes-like, in his private, zoo-like house and grounds donated by Queen Victoria (Jessie Buckley). Two young people coincidentally pay the doctor a visit at the same time, forcing him out of his hermit zone: a teen royal (Carmel Laniado), sent to fetch Dolittle to save the mysteriously ailing queen; and a tender local lad (Harry Collett) who has accidentally shot a squirrel and seeks emergency treatment.
The palace intrigue features Michael Sheen and Jim Broadbent, mugging and skulking (they’re like a Victorian law firm, Mugging and Skulking) as the queen’s enemies. Soon enough, a newly engaged Dolittle shakes off his grief and what appears to be agoraphobia and takes off across the seas in search of a magical potion to save Her Majesty.
The problems begin and end with the script, credited to three writers. “Dolittle” turns its title character into an eccentric and wearying blur of tics, tacked onto a character who comports himself like a bullying, egocentric A-lister rather than someone who, you know, actually enjoys the company of animals. The banter enjoys the benefit of genuine comic pros doing the voices, but the zingers remain low on zing, bordering on total zinglessness. “I’ve got a front row seat to Crazy Town!” goes one bit, reminiscent of an “Ice Age” movie.
Then “Dolittle” turns into a “Jumanji” sequel, or a “Pirates of the Caribbean” knockoff, with Antonio Banderas as a Jack Sparrow-influenced adversary. I won’t go into details regarding the dragon rectal exam, except to note that Gaghan doesn’t know if he should treat this development seriously or comically. He settles for a little bit of neither. As for Downey Jr.’s dialect: It’s thick. The synchronization is never quite right, so it never seems to be human speech coming out of a specific human’s mouth. All those digital and A-list millions don’t come to much in “Dolittle,” though I did appreciate Kumail Nanjiani’s vocal flourishes as the ostrich. I wouldn’t say I prefer the clunky 1967 musical to the frenetic mechanical bull of this version. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Content Media
STAR WARS:THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
Starring Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Issac, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels. Directed by JJ Abrams. Rated PG-13. Running time: 2hr.21min.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” does the job. It wraps up the trio of trilogies begun in 1977 in a confident, soothingly predictable way, doing all that is cinematically possible to avoid poking the bear otherwise known as tradition-minded quadrants of the “Star Wars” fan base.
Thanks to Daisy Ridley, primarily, director and co-writer J.J. Abrams’ safety-first approach to rounding out this portion of Disney’s crucial income stream retains something like a human pulse. There’s nothing as cute as Baby Yoda or anything in “The Rise of Skywalker,” for the record. But I do like the droid BB-8 s new droid pal. So that’s one thing you can’t get at home on “The Mandalorian.”
It’s well-crafted and heavy on nostalgic cameos from familiar spirits goneby. It embraces and supercharges the serial cliffhanger tradition creator George Lucas loved enough to embark on a remake of “Flash Gordon” two generations ago. When he couldn’t secure the rights, Lucas went ahead and made his own “Flash Gordon.” And now our household has a half-dozen semi-operative lightsabers in the basement and a set of “Star Wars” sheets and pillowcases in the laundry basket.
In brief, because spoiler vigilantes roaming the internet come from the planet Touchy:
The first three words of the title crawl are: “The dead speak!” Somehow, somewhere, a phantom version of Emperor Palpatine, ruler of the First Galactic Empire, is sending a signal that he’s back in business. The Resistance now must face an adversary known as the Final Order. Ridley anchors a busy yet simple narrative as Rey, the “last hope of the Jedi,” who remains in psychic deadlock with Supreme Leader and bad boy Kylo Ren (Driver).
The gang introduced in large part by Abrams’ entertaining 2015 trilogy-starter, “The Force Awakens,” remains in prominent position here, and comports itself as more of a straightforward rooting interest than it was in the most recent and controversial “Star Wars” movie, “The Last Jedi” (2017). Finn (Boyega), dear old shambling shag-rug Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, underneath it all) and take-charge Poe Dameron (Isaac, a dashing asset as always) are joined by various newcomers. The most notable is the bow-and-arrow huntress Jannah, played by the splendid Naomi Ackie. Where’s her movie? I want her movie!
As for poor, sidelined Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) … her radically reduced presence from “The Last Jedi” feels suspiciously like a bone thrown to the previous film’s myriad haters. Here she’s essentially “third anonymous female with a blaster on the left.” She has barely a dozen lines, most of them on the order of: “Where’s Finn?”
The script by Chris Terrio and director Abrams litters the narrative with clues and gadgets and chapter-enders: a Sith inscription on a knife here, a lengthy lightsaber battle on a storm-tossed spaceshipwreck there. The movie takes its sweet time revealing a standard-issue revelation regarding Rey’s ancestry. The cameos and victory-lap encores are the selling point in “The Rise of Skywalker.”
As stated in this review’s opening crawl: The movie does the job. Abrams keeps it on the straight and narrow. “The Rise of Skywalker” allows itself no risk, or any of that divisive “Last Jedi” mythology-bending, with its disillusioned, cynical Luke Skywalker, or some of the nuttier detours favored by that film’s writer-director, Rian Johnson.
My favorite bit in “The Rise of Skywalker” is a throwaway sight gag, involving the rise not of a Skywalker, but of a couple of Storm Troopers. In this film, they’re equipped with the equivalent of jet packs, in addition to hovercrafts and all the rest of the stuff now on sale at Target. “They fly now?” one of our heroes says. It’s not a memorable line. Then again, no one’s going to mount a feverish online boycott against it. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Content Media
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalet, Bob Odenkirk. Directed by Greta Gerwig. Rated PG. Running time: 2hr15min.
With an established and frequently adapted classic, it’s useful to tip your hand and let the audience know what it’s in for straight away. The pacing and rhythm of this new version of “Little Women” reveals Greta Gerwig’s full-gallop approach to the four March sisters, their mother and their intertwining private lives during and after the Civil War. The way Gerwig handles them, the March family’s stories are treated as a disarming comedy of manners under serious, cloudy skies. She doesn’t stop there: By the end of this “Little Women,” freer visually as well as narratively compared to “Lady Bird,” Alcott’s story and Jo March’s story dovetail into a third, hybrid tale of one woman’s freedom from want. By Michael Phillips, Tribune Content Media.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Danny DeVito, Madison Iseman. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Rated PG-13. Running time: 2hr.3min.
In 2017, director Jake Kasdan rebooted the ’90s family adventure film “Jumanji” by plunking John Hughes-style teen characters into a wilderness-set video game. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was a critical and commercial success, anchored by the charms of megastars Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black, and the unique pleasure of watching them all play against type. Kasdan and company (including co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg) know a good formula when they see it. So the sequel, “Jumanji: The Next Level,” simply offers more and more of it: There’s more jaw-droppingly crazy video game hijinks, and especially, more stars playing personas vastly different from their own. By Katie Walsh, Tribune Content Media.