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Harley Quinn Flick Doesn’t Suck and Other Movie Surprises

George Wolf George Wolf Harley Quinn Flick Doesn’t Suck and Other Movie SurprisesPhoto via IMDb
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It’s Oscar week and that means local theaters have loaded their screens with nominees, so if you somehow managed to miss Parasite or Jojo Rabbit, Little Women or Pain and Glory, Honeyland or American Factory, now is your chance. Take it!

But if you have seen the big vote getters, here’s a nice surprise: the new releases are worth a look! Yes, even that disaster-in-the-making Suicide Squad spinoff. It ain’t bad!

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

First on the Harley Quinn playlist: Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.

Harley (Margot Robbie, positively electric) tells us she and the Joker are done, and she didn’t take it well. What’s worse, Harley’s new relationship status means anyone in Gotham who’d like her dead (and there’s plenty) doesn’t have to worry about payback from “Mr. J.”

Shuffle: It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World.

At the top, there’s Roman Sionis aka Black Mask (Ewan McGregor, hamming it up to glorious effect) who likes the faces peeled off of his enemies. He wants a priceless diamond that’s been lifted by teenage pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), and Harley, forced to bargain for her life, promises to get it.

But Gotham has no shortage of talented women fed up with being kept down, and Harley tends to attract them. The vocally gifted Black Canary (June Smollett-Bell), the deadly mysterious Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, scene-stealingly deadpan) and the conveniently suspended Detective Montoya (Rosie Perez, nice to see you) all find themselves on the wrong end of a sizable bounty, and things get messy.

Shuffle: Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves

The badass girl power isn’t limited to the cast. Director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) serves up an irresistible cocktail of Scott Pilgrim visual flair and Tarantino continuity clash. Yan seems to relish the freedom of an R-rating (see “face-peeling” above), crafting memorable set pieces bursting with slick fight choreography, cartoonishly satisfying violence and wonderfully stylish pandemonium.

Shuffle: Respect

As Hope’s dad told the many Madden girls growing up: eyes, nose, throat, groin, knees are all equally vulnerable no matter the size of the attacker. Yan appears to be the sister we didn’t know about, but she certainly knows how to hurt a guy.

Writer Christina Hodson has become the go-to for ridiculous franchises that need more than we dare hope (she’s the one who wrote the only Transformers movie that didn’t suck). She teams well with Yan and her badasses, offering backstories and traumas that toe the line between superhero/supervillain legend and shit women deal with every day.

If you saw the stale trailer, noted the deadly release date, remembered the limp Suicide Squad and feared the worse, we hear ya. And maybe Birds of Prey benefits slightly from low expectations. But there’s no denying the raucous, foul-mouthed, glitter-bomb fun.

Shuffle: Free Bird (live version).

Grade: B+

Citizen K

by Rachel Willis

Inspired by Russia’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney turns his focus to a tangled Russian web with his latest film, Citizen K.

And “K” is the crux of his film: one Mikhail Khordokovsky. Once known as perhaps the richest man in Russia, Khordokovsky spent ten years in a Siberian prison as a political prisoner.

To understand the situation, it helps to understand modern Russian history. Cramming thirty years of that history, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the present, into one two-hour documentary is no easy feat. Many times, it’s hard to keep track of the people and names who appear on screen. Gibney does his best to help us keep up, but he isn’t unnecessarily focused on it.

If you’re not already well-versed in Russian history and politics, trying to follow everything may at times be distracting, but Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room) always manages to keep the film engaging. It moves at a brisk pace, covering the thirty plus years of history and Khordokovsky’s rise as one of Russia’s oligarchs, in the first hour.

Though “Citizen K” is the film’s core, it’s impossible to tell Russia’s story, and Khordokovsky’s story, without taking a hard look at Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s rise was meteoric, a virtual unknown when an ailing Boris Yeltsin resigned and Putin succeeded him as president. Detailing Khordokovsky’s role in that succession is one of the film’s greatest strengths.

Gibney portrays the many grey areas when talking about individual involvement in black and white historical events. Is Khordokovsky a “real-life gangster” as many claim? Or is he a “hero for the cause of human rights?” Perhaps a bit of both.

Wisely, Gibney never absolves Khordokovsky of his past. Though many of the crimes for which he was accused and convicted were possibly exaggerated or even fabricated, his hands are not clean. His involvement in Russia’s economy, and in its history, is a mixed bag. Were his business decisions in the best interest of the country or did they serve his own greed?

Though there are questions left unanswered, the documentary shows Khordokovsky trying to make amends. His focus on transparency, and on an open Russia, is commendable. His attempts to bring to light the layers of conspiracy and violence surrounding Putin is dangerous, and he knows it.

Will Khordokovsky succeed? Only time will tell, but with the 2020 vote fast approaching, Gibney hopes his audience is paying attention.

Grade: A-

Also opening in Columbus:
Come to Daddy (NR)
Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words (PG-13)

Read more from Hope and George at MADDWOLF and listen to their weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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