by Philip Price
Director: Cathy Yan
Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez & Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Runtime: 1 hour & 49 minutes
If one wants to talk about how much “Birds of Prey” doesn't care about precedent the movie could essentially be boiled down to a story about a girl, Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, seeking out a diamond for a guy (a fantastically eccentric Ewan McGregor). No matter what you thought (or didn’t think) of 2016's “Suicide Squad” it would seem that at the very least the majority would agree that Robbie’s Harley Quinn was a highlight.
With that, Robbie both brings us and takes on the “Birds of Prey” story while continuing to carry on Quinn's arc in a manner that is respectful to a character that hasn't always had the most respect for themselves. While the film may take its title from the DC Comics team that made its debut in 1996 and originated from a partnership between Black Canary AKA Dinah Lance (played here by Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl (who is not in the film), this is mostly a spin-off of that aforementioned David Ayer film centering on Harley Quinn and the trials she faces as she moves past being Joker's girlfriend to becoming her own person while the project as a whole seemingly serves as Robbie's opportunity to champion the formation of the more traditional Birds of Prey line-up so that they might earn their own spin-off.
So yes, this is touted as ‘Birds of Prey AND the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn,’ but while Black Canary, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) get their formidable introductions one would be mistaken were they to expect anything more than introductions to these new characters. That said, writer Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee”) and director Cathy Yan (“Dead Pigs”) take this combination of different DC elements and characters and create in “Birds of Prey” an energetic, vibrant, violent and all-around ambitious yet very playful production where the tone of the film and the world in which it exists is completely representative of the main character anchoring all of the story and action beats.
Yes, this is the same Gotham City in which Ben Affleck's Batman once roamed, but as seen through the eyes of a crazed former psychologist who wants to blaze her own trail Gotham City possesses a more manic zeal that Yan stylizes to the hilt even when the Guy Ritchie-like narrative becomes muddled in moments.
It is in this fresh and enthusiastic-feeling direction that “Birds of Prey” really comes together as Yan, despite not having the time to fully flesh out each of the individual members of this femme force, delivers a thoroughly entertaining and endearingly practical movie that doesn't upend expectations as much as it throws them out the window completely giving the audience something wholly unexpected to experience yet completely satisfying in ways they probably didn't know they were ready for.
Hugo – Netflix – Right Now
Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the early days of film is possibly the most underrated film of his legendary career. “Hugo” is the tale of a young boy who lives in the Gare Montparnasse railway station of Paris in the 1930s who befriends Georges Melies, the director of one of cinema’s first masterpieces in 1902’s “A Trip to the Moon.” Originally shot in 3D “Hugo,” from 2011, is a gorgeous movie that is sure to put a smile on any cinematic lover’s face.
The Shawshank Redemption – Netflix – Right Now
If you’ve yet to see Frank Darabont’s 1994 modern classic “The Shawshank Redemption” than you’re certainly in the minority, but here’s your chance as the film returns to Netflix this month. The seven-time Oscar-nominated prison drama is the story of two imprisoned men (the excellent Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) who bond through years serving time together. “The Shawshank Redemption” has become perhaps the most beloved film of the last 25-plus year with its score of fans ranking it as the No. 1 movie of all-time via their votes on IMDb.com.
The Plot Against America – HBO Now/Go – March 16
HBO’s latest prestige miniseries “The Plot Against America” debuts on March 16 and can be seen on the network’s streaming services shortly after. The series is based on Philip Roth’s 2004 novel which sees the 1940 Presidential Election go differently than it did in real life with Charles Lindbergh, aviator hero and xenophobic populist, winning the Presidency and follows the life of a working-class New Jersey Jewish family through the nation’s turn toward fascism. The series stars the incredibly underrated John Turturro, which is honestly enough on its own to grab my attention. Though set in the ‘40s, this series created by “The Wire” creator David Simon, is sure to hit on modern-day themes and issues.
Little Fires Everywhere – Hulu – March 18
Reese Witherspoon has become the queen of television limited series over the last few years starring in one or two a year with her runs in HBO’s “Big Little Lies” and Apple’s “The Morning Show” and now Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” which she also produced. The eight-episode series based on the 2017 novel by Celeste Ng will debut on March 18 on the streaming service and co-stars Kerry Washington, in her first major televised performance since “Scandal” wrapped in 2018. The series follows the Richardson family and the secrets within it.
Blinded by the Light – HBO Now/Go – March 22
If you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan “Blinded by the Light,” which hit theaters in the summer of 2019, is making its streaming premiere this month on HBO Now/HBO Go. The film, directed by Gurinder Chadha, tells the tale of a teenage Pakistani immigrant living in England who identifies with the music of Springsteen and becomes a superfan. The film is based on the true story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and how Springsteen’s music changed his life. For a Springsteen fan it’s a movie we can all identify with, but I’m sure even something non-Springsteen fans (if those exist) would enjoy, as well. It premieres on the streaming service on March 22.