Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Of a Feather

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).

Hello, It’s Me

Gemini Man

by George Wolf

In 2013, a little-seen flick called The Congress glimpsed a future world where Robin Wright (as Robin Wright) didn’t have to act anymore, she just sold the rights to her likeness.

Barely six years later, Gemini Man shows us that day is coming more sooner than later. Trouble is, it shows us little else.

Will Smith is Henry Brogan, a master government assassin who wants to retire. He apparently hasn’t seen movies like the one he’s in, or he’d know that won’t sit well with villainous villain Clay Verris (Clive Owen).

Henry has barely taken that first fishing trip before he and Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the younger agent assigned to watch him, are globe-trotting for their lives.

Who wants them dead? And why?

Both those questions, though, have to get in line behind the big one: why does that hot new assassin look just like a young Henry?

So it’s Will vs. Will, as Oscar-winning director Ang Lee employs the latest de-aging CGI (somewhat impressive-but the mouth is still the final frontier) for a completely pedestrian black ops yarn overrun with standard issue spy game dialog, heavy-handed daddy issues and soggy sentiments on mortality.

There’s obvious talent involved here, and the film is certainly a showcase for the latest in tech wizardry. Much beyond that, though, and this Gemini Man’s biggest mystery is the very meaning of existence.

Laugh til It Hurts

All About Nina

by George Wolf

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that lets you see a very funny impression of Werner Herzog ordering a smoothie.

All About Nina is that movie, and a good bit more. A confident, impressive feature debut from writer/director Eva Vives, it rides a sensational lead performance from Mary Elizabeth Winstead for a character study with a timely and tenacious bite.

Winstead is Nina, a standup comic in New York whose edgy routines about dating shed light on her tumultuous personal life. She prefers one night stands over boyfriends, but still can’t totally free herself from a dysfunctional relationship with a married man (Chace Crawford).

Needing a shakeup, Nina moves to L.A. to pursue a spot on Comedy Prime, the late nite brass ring for up and coming comics. As she fine tunes her audition material, a stop/start romance with the easygoing Rafe (Common) pushes Nina to reconsider her aversion to commitment.

Winstead’s fearless performance, one that should be remembered this awards season, hooks you from the start, bringing a sympathetic charm to Nina’s defensive, anxiety-ridden persona. An impressive Common crafts Rafe as Nina’s cool, collected opposite attraction, and the actors’ natural chemistry leads to a fear that the film will be content to chase the type of romantic fantasy Nina rails about onstage.

Vives has more than that on her mind.

The standup comic who uses laughter to mask pain is a well-worn path, but Vives uses the very comfort in that cliche to point out, as we’ve been so clearly reminded of the last few weeks, how casually some trauma is dismissed.

Vives is juggling some important themes, and the few moments where the film’s uncertainty breeds heavy-handedness can’t diminish her exciting potential as a writer and director.

On its surface a look at giving yourself without losing yourself, All About Nina isn’t just about Nina, and that’s what makes it truly resonant. It reminds us of the courage it takes for women to speak up, and the shame that comes with not listening.


Keeping the Mystery Alive

10 Cloverfield Lane

by Christie Robb

From the moments the credits jolt onto the screen, 10 Cloverfield Lane keeps you on the edge of your seat.

More of a second cousin than a sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield, J.J. Abram’s-produced 10 Cloverfield Lane is a claustrophobic thriller. No found footage. No shaky camera. No perturbed kaiju.

Following a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakens shackled in a locked basement room, attached to an IV. So she’s understandably wary when confronted with the basement’s owner Howard (John Goodman). He places a tray of food next to her and tells her his malevolent plan is to…keep her alive.

He informs her that while she was unconscious there’d been an attack and most people on the outside are either dead or heading in that direction. The air has been contaminated and they’ll have to stay underground for a year or two. Howard doesn’t know if the Russians or the Martians are to blame, but he’s pleased with his decision to build a bunker under his farmhouse.

Howard and Michelle are not alone. The other inhabitant of the bunker is seemingly easygoing Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) whose injuries confuse Michelle as he says he sustained them in attempt to fight his way inside.

From there on out the movie asks the audience if Michelle can trust either of the two men or the situation that she thinks she has found herself in. It’s a vague enough description, I know, but to attempt to explain it in more depth would ruin a lot of the fun.

As you would hope, in a movie with this small of a cast, each of the three actors gives a strong performance. Winstead’s Michelle is delightfully observant, practical, and resourceful. Gallagher is wistful and charismatic. And Goodman shines, giving a performance reminiscent of Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski—bouncing from paranoid to menacing to eccentrically charming, often in the same scene.

First-time director Dan Trachtenberg ratchets up the tension as the movie progresses, finding the creepiness in even the most mundane domestic activities.