SO you’re back from your FIFO stint at the mines, and wondering what to watch at the movies? Here are some of the current and recently-released films you might want to catch at the cinemas or on a DVD.

BIRDS OF PREY  

Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor 

THE eccentric Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has broken up with her psychopathic lover, the Joker, with whom she had a relationship in 2016’ mediocrely-received Suicide Squad.

And now, without the big J’s protection, the scatter-brained Harleen Quinzel faces a life confronting previous enemies ready to cash in on karma, to the extent that she can’t even eat an egg sandwich without being pursued by a variety of riff raff that she has managed to offend in the past.

That’s the basic setup as director Cathy Yan jumps around haphazardly in time, from mere hours ago to several weeks before, and then even further back to ‘80s Sicily, as she tries to introduce the players in this all-female ensemble.

Surrounding Harley on centre stage are Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), an employee of the movie’s villain, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor); Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a detective whose accomplishments go unrecognised; young pickpocketing thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco); and The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a staple DC Comics character given a light-hearted treatment in the movie, and the recipient of many comedic scenes.

Although the adventure is set in Gotham, there’s no appearance of a certain caped crusader, or even the estranged prince of clowns. Which is a good thing, for there is little need for such cameos.

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Certainly, there are some frustrating plot inconsistencies. However, such maladroit machinations can be overlooked when Birds of Prey makes it abundantly clear that fun is on the menu.

Keeping the shortcomings of the storyline at bay becomes a lot easier thanks to the cast’s performances and the multiple running gags that plant their landing firmly.

Robbie’s frenzied energy suffuses life, but Ewan McGregor’s tongue-in-cheek flamboyant take on Sionis – as Black Mask, who’s in a complicated relationship with henchman Victor Zsasz – is a scene-stealer.

Despite the high level of sacchariney fun, the movie earns its R-rating with its forays into violence. Harley loves crunching bones and smashing people with baseball bats and carnival mallets. The Huntress lives for stabbing opponents and slaying with crossbows.  Zsasz is a sadistic creep with a penchant for skinning flesh and collecting human faces.

And yet the combination of whimsy and wildness works far better than it should. Eventually, the narrative ties the plot threads together to deliver a satisfying finale, with the cast finally getting to play off each other as a dysfunctional unit.

But there’s a feeling that the story could have been told much better without the Tarantino-style structure that requires some work on the viewer’s part to stitch various sequences together.

As well, most of the characters are fleshed out minimally, as they’re only developed as much as can be done in an hour and 49 minutes.

Still, Harley and the gang deliver a high-level of entertainment to the proceedings, and offers up an enjoyable cartoonish romp that whets the craving for the next ladies’ night out.


 

RICHARD JEWELL

Paul Michael Hauser, Kathy Bates

BASED on true events, this movie recounts the cautionary tale of Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), the security guard who made national news in 1996 – first as a hero, when he discovered a satchel of bombs in Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the Summer Olympics and helped lead spectators away from the blast zone, then as a villain, depicted as a frustrated law enforcement wannabe who might have planted the explosives in order to glorify himself as a saviour.

Jewell is a dreamer obsessed with carving out a career in the police force, painstakingly conscientious in his endeavours to maintain law and order, even going beyond his duties to targeting traffic offenders while employed as a college security officer.

As a chunky, solitary and awkward individual still living at home with his mother (Kathy Bates), Jewell became a suspect simply because the FBI believed this profile suited that of a tyro terrorist who wanted his 15 minutes of fame.

The movie takes viewers through the media circus that enveloped Jewell and his small circle of family and friends, including the lawyer he hires to defend him, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell).

Burly and boyish at the same time, he exudes an aura of naivete and innocence, as he comes to grips with his new-found fame, initially disbelieving that he is seriously being considered a person of interest.

The defining characteristic of Hauser’s performance early on is an earnest eagerness to help in the investigation in any way he can, an attribute that is quickly taken advantage of by FBI agents, who – led by the uncompromising Jon Hamm – believe Jewell of such low intellect that they try to prise a signed declaration of guilt from him.

While initially unfailingly deferential, insisting on the existence of a professional kinship with his persecutors – even as they conceal their snickers at his references to “cop-to-cop” camaraderie – Jewell eventually comes to realise the contempt in which he’s held, an epiphany that is emotionally heartfelt and poignant.

Thanks to the resilience of the prickly Bryant, though, Jewell gradually gains a semblance of self-worth, while losing faith in the religion of authority.

Hauser’s portrayal of the child-like titular character is wonderful, and viewers cannot help but warm to the only son who just wanted to serve on the side of the law and make his mama proud.

The movie ends on a melancholy note when, several years later, Bryant tells an exonerated Jewell – who has made his way back into a police desk job – that the real bomber has confessed to the crime.

But Jewell doesn’t show any satisfaction, his capacity to participate in the system forever disturbed.

Gone is the ambitious swagger of the campus cop, now disaffected to the point of simple self-reflection, and questioning himself if he really is content to wear the badge.

The movie opens in Australia on February 13.

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