On DVD & Blu-Ray: May 12, 2020

If one wants to talk about how much Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn doesn't care about precedent the movie could essentially be boiled down to a story about a girl, Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, seeking out a diamond for a guy (a fantastically eccentric Ewan McGregor). No matter what you thought (or didn’t think) of 2016's Suicide Squad it would seem that at the very least the majority would agree that Robbie’s Harley Quinn was a highlight. With that, Robbie both brings us and takes on the Birds of Prey story while continuing to carry on Quinn's arc in a manner that is respectful to a character that hasn't always had the most respect for herself. While the film may take its title from the DC Comics team that made its debut in 1996 and originated from a partnership between Black Canary AKA Dinah Lance (played here by Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl (who is not in the film), this is mostly a spin-off of that aforementioned David Ayer flick centering on Harley Quinn and the trials she faces as she moves past being more than just the Joker's girlfriend to becoming her own person whereas the project as a whole seemingly serves as Robbie's opportunity to champion the formation of the more traditional "Birds of Prey" line-up so that they might earn their own spin-off. So yes, this is touted as Birds of Prey AND the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, but while Black Canary, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) get their formidable introductions one would be mistaken were they to expect anything more than introductions to these new characters. That said, writer Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) and director Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) take this combination of different DC elements and characters and create in Birds of Prey an energetic, vibrant, violent and all-around ambitious yet very playful production where the tone of the film and the world in which it exists are completely representative of the main character anchoring all of the story and action beats. Yes, this is the same Gotham City in which Ben Affleck's Batman once roamed, but as seen through the eyes of a crazed former psychologist who wants to blaze her own trail Gotham City possesses a more manic zeal that Yan stylizes to the hilt even when the Guy Ritchie-like narrative becomes muddled in moments. It is in this fresh and enthusiastic-feeling direction that Birds of Prey really comes together as Yan, despite not having the time to fully flesh out each of the individual members of this femme force, delivers a thoroughly entertaining and endearingly practical movie that doesn't upend expectations as much as it throws them out the window completely; giving the audience something wholly unexpected to experience yet completely satisfying in ways they probably didn't know they were ready for. Video review here. B

Director Chris Sanders, a man who has made his bones on animated features like Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon and The Croods, might not seem like the first choice to adapt a novel originally published in 1903 with a story that follows a dog named Buck and contains a sentence that is described in as frank a nature as, “They closed in upon her, snarling and yelping, and she was buried, screaming with agony, beneath the bristling mass of bodies,” and yet that’s exactly where we find ourselves with this latest adaptation of the Jack London novel in 20th Century Studios’ The Call of the Wild. Though I’d never read the relatively short novel the film is based on nor had I seen either of the previous film incarnations (Clark Gable starred in a 1935 version while Rutger Hauer starred in a 1997 version) given the marketing campaign and the PG-rating I hadn’t anticipated that the source material was as brutal and unflinching as it apparently is especially when considering the fact that it’s immediately apparent that Sanders’ version of this story is one for families to enjoy and for dog/animal lovers to find the purest of entertainment in. Of course, this is mostly what I did expect from this version and so it more or less went without saying that despite much of the fuss in the run up to the release centering on the animated lead and the inherent comedy in picturing Harrison Ford acting opposite a tennis ball the fact Sanders’ background is in animation and the fact the project rung with a sense of commitment and passion for Ford more or less led to a more rewarding experience than a ridiculous one. Yes, there are still moments in which the CGI is heavily relied on and the animals look about as real as a stuffed animal, but more times than not the CGI-renderings of these wild creatures look and feel exceptionally real. This brings us to what 2020’s The Call of the Wild does well in that, despite our lead character-Buck-being a CG creation (with the help of Terry Notary), the film genuinely allows its audience to invest in Buck as a character and chart his journey as we are not only endeared to his personality, but we root for him in the sense that wherever his passions lie, we hope his strength takes him there. This, of course, is why Sanders and co. would want the freedom a CG Buck might afford them and, while likely not faithful to its source material in any true way, this Michael Green-penned adaptation conveys more a journey of growth and catharsis than it does a simple, three-act piece of family entertainment which, unlike almost everything else about the film, was completely unexpected. Video review here. C+

Call me crazy, but I was thoroughly entertained (and often engaged) by this trippy, time-warpy, second chance-themed frolic of an adventure that is admittedly goofy and maybe doesn't quite add up, but isn't nearly as terrible as all the piling on would suggest. Believe it or not, some of the character arcs here are nicely executed (props to Austin Stowell and Mike Vogel, especially) while others are admittedly downright bad and almost completely unnecessary (Lucy Hale's Melanie just never clicks, which doesn't help the third act...like, at all), but despite going on for twenty minutes too long and having a tacked on ending on top of what is absolutely a studio-mandated climactic action sequence, Fantasy Island is an otherwise tight, effective little thriller with a goofy streak to it that's to be appreciated. I mean, if you know movies then you know exactly what you're in for the second Michael Rooker shows up looking all kinds of crazy and if expectations were adjusted accordingly, this should have ultimately been much better than even the biggest Jeff Wadlow-detractors might have anticipated.

P.S. I know they have different character names in the two different films, but what's up with the Ryan Hansen/Jimmy O. Yang partnership? Does Fantasy Island take place in the same universe as Like A Boss?!? C-

Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield star in writer/director Stella Meghie's The Photograph that chronicles a series of intertwining love stories set in the past and in the present. Chelsea Peretti, Courtney B. Vance and Rob Morgan also star.

Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star in director Lorcan Finnegan's (written with Garret Shanley) Vivarium, a film about a young couple looking for the perfect home find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses.

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