Lock Me Up! Lock Me Down! We’re right there with you, two metres apart, discussing Birds of Prey, Sonic the Hedgehog, and The Invisible Man. Turn on, tune in and drop out!
Birds of Prey
It is of course traditional to start a review of a DC Comics based film by pointing out what a terrible mess DC and Warner have made of them, and there’s not much point reiterating that. Except to say that we now apparently have Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker existing in the same multiverse as Jared Leto’s Joker from the execrable Suicide Squad, to which this outing, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a really loose, barely connected sequel. Like most things DC, it’s best not to think about it too hard.
Margot Robbie returns as psychiatrist turned villain Harley Quinn, dealing with the emotional fallout of breaking up with her pudding’ the Joker. Not just emotional, as it turns out, as her violent antics have peeved a number of Gotham’s most dangerous characters who now see an opportunity for vengeance, as she’s shorn of Joker’s protection.
People like Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis, a night club owner cum crime lord under the Black Mask moniker. While he wants her dead, he’s more interested in the McGuffin family diamond, which apparently has the key to a secret account o’ much wealth or something, which happens to have been lifted by a young cut-purse, Ella Jay Basco’s Cassandra Cain.
Meanwhile, Rosie Perez’s detective Renee Montoya is trying to build a case against Sionis, much to the disbelief of her supposed superiors. Meanwhile, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Helena McGuffin or The Huntress as she styles herself, is looking for vengeance on Sionis for the massacre of the McGuffin crime family. Meanwhile, Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Dinah Lance, or Black Canary as we’ll see later, is chafing under the employ of the increasingly unhinged Sionis, first as a singer in the club before being “promoted” to Sionis’ driver, working alongside Chris Messina’s nutball killer Victor Zsasz.
There’s a lot of meanwhiles in that last paragraph, as despite Birds of Prey doing its best to distract you with it’s non-linearity and visual stylings, this is not so much a plot as it is a bunch of scenes that happen next to each other, obfuscating a frankly too simple premise to hang a film off. However, you could argue that’s a welcome change of place from comic book movies overplotting, particularly as it’s had the good grace to come in well under two hours.
So if narrative is your bag, this bag is too small for you. However, I must say, I’m more or less on board with the rest of it. Margot Robbie and Ewan McGregor chew their way through all of the scenery in a way that did not fail to delight me, and the action sequences and fight choreography are on-point. The over-the-top riot of colours and overproduction that Cathy Yan and the film goes for is, I suppose, something will prove divisive, but any film that reminds me of Dredd and Crank is going to find some purchase with me.
By no rationale a “good movie”, whatever that means, but for me at least a very enjoyable movie and worth taking a butcher’s at.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Yeesh. Videogames and films. They really don’t mix, yet people keep trying. You can understand why: videogames are now, and have been for a number of years, the biggest sector of the entertainment industry. But while they can beat cinema in immersion, in terms of storytelling and character, with only a handful of exceptions, videogames are woefully immature, and pale in comparison to even the most mediocre films.
And yet here we have an adaptation of a videogame series whose notable elements are speed, gold rings and… a guy with a moustache? It’s not a lot to work from, and Sega themselves can’t do well with it: while I’ve only dipped in and out of the Sonic franchise since the Mega Drive days, the games seem pretty much universally awful, with the sub-Saturday morning cartoon “plots” particularly conspicuous by their direness (in the last fortnight I’ve had the pleasure of sampling 2017’s Sonic Forces, and I’m still offended by how bad the story elements are).
So, it’ll come as no surprise then that Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog is… one of the best? Let’s not get carried away: it’s still not exactly good, but we’re not so much grading on a curve here as on a square wave, and that it manages to entertain at all rockets it straight into the rarefied air of “non-awful videogame adaptation”.
For the uninitiated, Sonic is an electric blue, sentient, bipedal space hedgehog, whose defining characteristic, beyond being an electric blue, sentient, bipedal space hedgehog, is that he can run really, really quickly. This, for some reason, makes him a target, and his guardian, a space owl (non-electric blue), dumps the infant hedgehog on Earth, via means of a magic gold ring, to protect him from a band of warrior space echidnas (various hues). His home on Earth is the small town of Green Hills, Montana in the United States, where he manages to raise himself and stay hidden.
Here he fantasises about being part of the family of local sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his veterinarian wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter), though this is complicated by the fact that Tom will soon be moving to join the San Francisco Police Department. A further complication is that a power surge inadvertently created by a depressed Sonic running at supersonic speeds knocks out the electricity to the whole Pacific Northwest, which raises the interest of the authorities, and they send in super-genius Doctor Robotnik (played by “My fists are itching”) to investigate.
By this point Tom and Sonic have become acquainted, and when he doesn’t acquiesce to Robotnik’s demands, Tom is framed as a terrorist and goes on the run with Sonic, who fails to cause alarm anywhere, despite being an electric blue, sentient, bipedal space hedgehog. During the rest of the chase-cum-buddy movie, Tom will learn just what he’s leaving behind and Sonic will find a friend and yadda yadda yadda.
And, like I said, it’s not awful, and there are some funny moments. But Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those films most notable not for its content but for a meta-story about the film, in this case the extremely negative reaction to the first trailer, which led to a three month delay while the effects were hastily redone.
While the tenor and volume of the “backlash” was, as such things sadly always are, far beyond the reasonable, the initial version of the main character was, undeniably, creepy nightmare fuel, and the final version of the nippy blue fella is much more fitting, both to the source and to its presence in a family film.
This corrected look is accompanied by a voiceover by Parks and Recreation’s Ben Schwartz, who does an OK job: while it would have been easy to go too far and make the character too much of an irritating smartass, it feels like he played it a little too safe, and I would have welcomed Sonic being a little sassier. James Marsden is likeable enough, if a little bland, and I’d have been quite onboard for more silly adventures between the two. Certainly, that would have left less screen time for “My god, I want to claw my eyes out! Somebody make him stop!”.
Sorry, I realise I’ve been using translations of the name by mistake. My bad. I’m referring to Jim Carrey, who’s a git.
The action is passable (really, that can be said about quite a lot of the film – it’s passable for the most part, and that immediately sets it above all but a few genre-mates), but it is undermined by one of its signature scenes having already been done in X-Men: Days of Future Past. It’s an entirely reasonable thing to have included, given the main character’s skillset, but it’s notably been done before, and better.
I’m really not the target market for this, but for something with such paper-thin foundations it’s surprisingly unterrible. Damning with faint praise out of ten.
The Invisible Man
Most people will know Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men or The Handmaid’s Tale, but to me she’ll always be the breakout star of Uwe Boll’s 2002 classic Heart of America
In The Invisible Man, she plays Cecilia Kass, on the run from her abusive, controlling wealthy optics engineer boyfriend Adrian. Not long after she’s able to make her escape, living with childhood friend, Aldis Hodge’s Detective James Lanier, and his teenage daughter Storm Reid’s Sydney Cecilia get word that Adrian has committed suicide.
Except, weird things keep happening to Cecilia – things being moved, things going missing, in ways that leads her to believe that Adrian hasn’t really departed this world after all. And, well, I’m not sure how much more of a plot synopsis you need. By the very nature of the film’s title you’re already a step ahead of the characters in their understanding of the setup.
Things escalate over time, of course, with her friends and family being turned against her, and doubting her sanity, and getting much worse from there, before Cecilia desperately tries to find a way to turn the tables on her stalker.
Slightly unusual structure, this, as it spends a lot less time than I’d have expected on the subtler, paranoia inducing stuff in the first hour, which is treated broadly as a ghost story, before somewhat abruptly transitioning into a thriller for the second hour. To be fair, I enjoyed both halves, but it’s still a bit jarring.
It is to Elisabeth Moss’ great credit that she carries the somewhat hokey premise to believability by the dint of her very convincing performance, and writer / director Leigh Whannell keeps things in motion ably enough to produce an enjoyable two hour slice of entertainment.
Another budget-smashing success for Blumhouse productions, and this one at least is well deserved.
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