ST. LOUIS — Let's be very honest. Lady Gaga playing Harley Quinn, the bad guy of DC Comics, in a musical directed by Todd Phillips and co-starring Joaquin Phoenix, is rather genius once you get past the "they're making a musical comic book adaptation sequel" mental anguish.
"Joker: Folie A Deux," the sequel to Phillips' 2019 film, will star the superstar musician and performer alongside Oscar winner Phoenix, who reinvented Gotham's chaotic clown in a cerebral and torturously depressed manner. The details outside of that cinematic marriage are currently under wraps, but I am intrigued by the direction of this new franchise--one that could eventually include Robert Pattinson's Batman. Of course, that possibility is still remote thanks to the shared (or unshared) community of DC Films and their upcoming slate. However, the Gaga casting is genius.
If you're going to do a Harley Quinn story that involves singing, I'm sorry but Ms. Margot Robbie is clearly out. "Birds of Prey" was a great film and could still produce more Robbie as Quinn stories, but Gaga brings a unique dual-sided asset to the table: She can sing and act. Stefani Germanotta won an Oscar for "A Star is Born" with Best Song and was nominated alongside Bradley Cooper for the film. She won a Golden Globe for "American Horror Story," a show where she gets to unleash her gothic, freaky side to absolute glee. As Phoenix and the late Heath Ledger showed with the Joker character, there can be multiple screen iterations if handled correctly.
Being a general non-fan of musicals yet curious to see what Phillips has up his sleeve, I am game for this sequel because it seems different from what comic book studios usually greenlight.
Speaking of big Warner Brothers projects, "The Flash" release date continues to be discussed amid all the controversy brought to the marketing campaign by star Ezra Miller. To say he's been a bad boy is like saying I ate all the ice cream in the world because he's really put the studio in a rough spot. They have a huge, expensive film to promote with a star repeatedly being arrested and jailed for assault, battery, and other unsavory charges. They can't scrap the project due to its place in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) moving the story ahead, and the monstrous budget attached to it. Canceling this project would also deprive fans of another Michael Keaton as Batman appearance, following the removal of "Batgirl" from the slate.
Here's what will happen. Miller will get his act together long enough to promote the film's release, and then the role will be recast. With the up and down success of Warner Brothers recently- part of which hinges on their home/streaming 2020 release plan backfiring-they can't repeat this process again with Miller, a talented yet very messed-up young man. He needs help and will find it soon enough, or risk losing all the credibility of his movie resume thus far. People get a young burst of rueful energy being let out into the world, but Miller is really burning things down at the moment.
As Bill Burr would advise, push it down Ezra.
Here's something that's sad and uplifting at the same time. Ray Liotta's work as Big Jim Keene on the Apple TV Plus series, "Black Bird." While not exactly at the movies, the Dennis Lehane creation carries many cinematic threads. The six-episode one-and-done series concluded its run on Friday in a powerful and thrilling fashion, wrapping up the story of Jimmy, played brilliantly by Taron Egerton. The drug dealer of a retired cop (Liotta), Jimmy is sentenced to ten years in jail but given an opportunity by the FBI: to elicit a true confession from Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser), who is convicted (yet awaiting an appeal) of killing multiple young girls but also a guy whom authorities label a serial confessor instead of a serial killer.
It's Liotta's final television appearance, following his untimely death on May 26. In a rich supporting role that recurs over the six hours, he gives until it's gone as a devoted father who will stop at nothing to get his son out of jail. Fighting strokes and other health ailments and rocking a head and face of silver locks, Liotta gives his best performance since "Narc." At first, you think Jimmy and Big Jim are just a minor subplot, a way to drum up a weighted backstory and get the audience pulling for him. But over the next few episodes, you start to understand these two have a very special relationship, a ying/yang collaboration placed over a fire due to poor decisions and life.
Liotta and Egerton bring out the humanity in these two men, and they make the heart of the show exist around their relationship. Egerton, who played Elton John in "Rocketman," spoke on Instagram about crafting something so lived-in and real with the late actor. It's very moving.
I would advise you to skip "Bullet Train," because it's one of David Leitch's weakest and lamest outings. The culprit is a misguided and aimless script that runs out of good ideas and humor in the overstuffed, lame third act. Brad Pitt isn't exactly cashing a paycheck in front of your eyes, but he's definitely coasting through a role that we never have any care for. The wannabe "Snatch" meets "Smokin Aces" plot derails after 90 minutes, rendering the last part of the film an overgrown eye roll. Pass, and watch Leitch's "Hobbs and Shaw '' instead. You can skip every "Fast and Furious" film beforehand too.
What's the job of a film critic? Tell you what we think is the start, but think of the pack of movie lovers as a time-saving division. We could stuff a few dollars back into your pocket by recommending a stay-at-home feature, but what it's more about putting minutes back in your day or night. Since film critics aren't necessarily paid for reviews-it's a mutual exchange of access and coverage between studios and reviewers-its more about finding what's good for us, and using that liking to see if it's good for the audience. Did the movie's trailer do the job? Did the film hold up the hype? Think of us as timesavers who work for free.