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🎬 Harley Quinn, Groundhog Day, Gremlins 1 & 2, and more

🎬 Harley Quinn, Groundhog Day, Gremlins 1 & 2, and more
By Eric Johnson • Issue #56 • View online
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🥪 Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
Pictured: Me wishing I knew where to get a bodega sandwich as good as the one shown in this movie.
Pictured: Me wishing I knew where to get a bodega sandwich as good as the one shown in this movie.
(Technically, when I saw this movie, the title was still BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN. Can’t imagine why they decided to change it.)
HARLEY QUINN: BIRDS OF PREY is stylish, fun, and yet another great showcase for the talents of Margot Robbie, who is rapidly proving herself to be a versatile superstar. The action is clean and really well-choreographed, but not for the faint of heart — for a mostly bloodless movie, this is a violent affair — and the jokes are solid but never transcendent. Robbie’s strong supporting cast includes a hammy Ewan McGregor as the villain Black Mask and a mysterious assassin played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who gets the two funniest moments in the film to herself. The story doesn’t feel strictly necessary, and in fact parts of it are oddly constructed in a way that reeks of studio meddling behind the scenes, but I’d be happy to see the Birds of Prey again in a sequel — and I hope they leave the Joker and Batman out of it.
💰 The Great Gatsby
Pictured: "Oh no, is that ...?" "Bernie Sanders. Run!"
Pictured: "Oh no, is that ...?" "Bernie Sanders. Run!"
Released in 1974, THE GREAT GATSBY is a lovingly costumed and decorated melodramatic adaptation of the classic novel that — based purely on the names attached to it — I wish had worked more for me. Robert Redford stars as the titular enigmatic tycoon, and Francis Ford Coppola wrote the script (getting to adapt the book was one of his demands in exchange for also directing The Godfather Part II). So far, so good. But the first two-thirds of the movie drag on, with acting that varies from wooden to “whoa, way too much.“ Redford has his moments, but the only person who’s perfectly calibrated the whole way through is Bruce Dern as the eminently unlikeable Tom Buchanan. As Tom Carraway, Sam Waterston sometimes gets to dip into Fitzgerald’s sublime prose in voiceover, but the literal adaptation method just doesn’t work for the movie.
😈 Gremlins
Pictured: This next song is called "I'm cuter than you, Baby Yoda."
Pictured: This next song is called "I'm cuter than you, Baby Yoda."
GREMLINS is such a Christmas movie that it feels a bit wrong to watch it in February, but I compromised on my principles because it’s always super entertaining. This is a delightfully strange comedy/horror hybrid movie and not all of its gambles pay off, but I admire so much of what director Joe Dante and writer Chris Columbus tried here, and the anarchic glee of the third act is infectious. The puppetry is mostly excellent, and the human actors also deserve credit for selling the reality of their circumstances — I absolutely love the scene with Billy’s mother, played by Frances Lee McCain, taking matters into her own hands.
🦇 Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Pictured: When you get thrown away and replaced by a Furby.
Pictured: When you get thrown away and replaced by a Furby.
As famously lampooned in one of Key and Peele’s best sketches, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH is a weird-ass movie, somehow 10 times as cartoony as the first film, which was already manic enough. Although I don’t like it as much as the first Gremlims, I still really enjoy this sequel, which feels like Joe Dante had a blank check to do whatever he wanted after the first movie was a hit. One of the new characters is a super-wealthy super-clueless egocentric New York City real estate baron named Daniel Clamp, because this is the 1980s; my favorite part of the film is Clamp’s high-tech “smart building,” where absolutely nothing works. The revolving doors, elevators, and even the door to the men’s room talk (shades of both Airplane! and Alexa), which is a great running gag, but there is nothing in either movie funnier than the fire alarm in Gremlins 2. I hope Dante makes Gremlins 3 someday (no doubt featuring Clamp as president), but only if he can 10x the madness once again.
🎺 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Pictured: "Beatles? No, we're the ... uh ... Featles."
Pictured: "Beatles? No, we're the ... uh ... Featles."
There’s a line in the Beatles’ song “Good Morning” that feels apt when describing SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND: “I’ve got nothing to say, but it’s OK.” Featuring The Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, Aerosmith, and none of the actual Beatles, this is an early jukebox musical featuring the music from several of their albums. Unlike the later musical Across the Universe (which I also didn’t care for when it came out) there’s not much effort put into making all the songs work narratively. At times, it feels like the order of the songs was decided first and a lazy adventure story, fueled by the same drugs that produced the Star Wars Holiday Special, was shoved in after. That said, I couldn’t turn this movie off because it is just fascinatingly weird: Steve Martin walks on to sing “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” with choreographed backup dancers; two questionably evil masseuse robots lend “Mean Mr. Mustard” a vocoder cover; and the aforementioned Mr. Mustard basically ruins “When I’m Sixty-Four” for me forever by creepily singing it to a woman he has tied up in his RV. At least the original album is still good.
🦔 Groundhog Day
Pictured: Ned! Ryerson!
Pictured: Ned! Ryerson!
(Yes, I know the emoji is a hedgehog. Doing the best I can with what I have here, people.)
GROUNDHOG DAY is a brilliantly constructed comedy that I’m always happy to watch again (and again, and again). I love the fact that it’s unafraid to make you *hate* the eminently likable and sympathetic Bill Murray, because it’s only once you truly see him at his lowest that you can appreciate how much he changes over the course of his time in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Murray is in top form throughout all the stages of Phil Connors’ journey, as is Andie McDowell as his TV producer Rita. This is a hilarious comedy that veers head-on into both darkness and spirituality, and there’s a reason so many films in the ensuing decades have copied its formula, to varying results. As much as I love some of the copycats, nothing has yet topped the original, which has the heart and the wisdom to be a timeless classic.
🏆 Every New Movie I've Seen in 2020 (So Far), Ranked
(new additions in bold)
  1. Marriage Story
  2. Little Women
  3. 1917
  4. Uncut Gems
  5. Just Mercy
  6. Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
  7. Joker
  8. The Gentlemen
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Eric Johnson

I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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