Pick of the Litter – February 2020


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

(Warner Brothers) Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez. The most memorable character from Suicide Squad finds herself a new team, the all-female Birds of Prey who are based in Gotham and take on the nefarious Black Mask. Harley Quinn, though, is the wild card in the proceedings. February 7

OTHER WIDE RELEASES TO WATCH FOR

Fantasy Island, February 14
Ordinary Love, February 14
Sonic the Hedgehog, February 14
Brahms: The Boy II, February 21
Call of the Wild, February 21
The Invisible Man, February 28

INDEPENDENT PICKS

And Then We Danced

(Music Box) Levan Gelbakhiani, Bachi Valishlivi, Ana Javakishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli. A young man, training to make the Georgian National Dance Ensemble with his partner Mary, is thrown for a loop by the arrival of a rebellious male dancer with near-perfect form who causes him to question the conservative mores of Georgian society and puts his relationships with his partner and family at risk.. February 7

The Lodge

(NEON) Riley Keough, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone, Jaeden Martell. A woman is snowed in a remote Northern lodge with the children of her fiancée as frightening phenomenon and spectres from her past begin to make themselves known. February 7

Legend of Deification (Jiang Ziya)

(Well Go USA) A Chinese warrior is given the task by the Gods to execute the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon, despite the fact that in doing so this will destroy an innocent girl whose soul is linked with the demon. The warrior is faced with a terrible choice; do what the Gods command, or do what’s right. February 7

Olympic Dreams

(IFC) Alexi Pappas, Nick Kroll, Gus Kenworthy, Morgan Schild. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, an Olympic athlete at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea finds confidence and love in an unassuming team dentist. This is the first feature film to be allowed to shoot in the Olympic Village during the Games. February 14

Emma

(Focus) Anya Taylor-Joy, Josh O’Connor, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth Wealthy Emma Woodhouse is the alpha female in a small English village during the Regency era. Eager to get her married off, her parents arrange match after match, all of which are disastrous. She must navigate her way through in order to find the love that was right under her nose. Based on the Jane Austin novel. February 21

A White, White Night

(Film Movement) Ingvar Eggert Siggurdsson, Ida Mekkin Hlyndsdottir, Sara Dogg Asgeirsdottir, Bjorn Ingi Hilmarsson. An aging police chief begins to suspect that his late wife was having an affair with a local villager in their native Iceland. His obsession with finding out the truth will put himself and his loved ones at risk. February 28

Burden

(101 Studios) Forrest Whittaker, Garrett Hedlund, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson. When the Ku Klux Klan opens a museum in a small South Carolina town, an idealistic pastor tries to keep the peace – even as he works on the Klan’s Grand Dragon to disavow his violent, racist past. Based on a true story. February 28

Winged Migration (Le peuple migrateur)


In the pink.

In the pink.

(2001) Documentary (Sony Classics) Pierre Labro (voice) and a whole buncha birds. Directed by Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats

There is something about a bird in flight. Given wing, it captures our imagination, symbolizing our ability to break free the bonds of Earth and achieve more than we thought we could. Flight is freedom in our imagination and yet birds are trapped by it. They migrate, sometimes thousands of miles. They can’t help it. They don’t have a choice in the matter. Their genetic disposition is such that their instincts override reason. When the time comes, they head South…or North depending on the time of year and the species of bird.

This particular documentary was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine which some critics thought an injustice but I can kind of see) and deservedly so. The French documentarians who had previously taken us into the world of insects in Microcosmos had to innovate on the fly (no pun intended) as they figured out ingenious ways to get cameras close enough to migrating birds, using lightweight camera-mounted drones and other sorts of aircraft that would allow them to follow the flocks without disrupting them.

The results are spectacular. We are in the midst of thousands of migrating birds all over the world, from the deserts to the mountains, the shoreline to the city. We see birds of every variety – grouses, puffins, swallows, geese and so on. We see them in their elements, the formations that they adopt in flight and the sometimes stupendous odds they face in getting from point A to point B.

They are attacked by predators both natural (i.e. birds of prey, a broken-winged young tern facing off against scary crabs) and manmade (duck hunters blasting away at birds in flight). They must sometimes fly for days without rest, food or water across the ocean or mountain or desolate desert. We are literally given a birds-eye view of their travel, an annual event for them but still amazing for us to watch them make it unerringly to places you and I couldn’t find without a GPS.

The narration by Pierre Labro (although Perrin does it on the American version I believe) is low-key and occasionally explains what you can see for yourself. I much prefer narration that gives perspective, some kind of background that gives the viewing an understanding of what they’re seeing rather than a description. I can see that the birds are flying in formation. Why do they fly that way? How do they learn that skill?

But this isn’t a nature documentary in the traditional sense. I don’t think the filmmakers intended to educate their audience on ornithology. No, I think the point of this movie was to send the viewer in flight right along with the birds, to create an experience that will allow them to soar spiritually and forget for a short while the troubles of us earthbound mortals.

I sometimes grouse about the IMAX and 3D versions of classic films that make the occasional rounds in the multiplexes. I would much rather see an IMAX version of this someday – now that would really be spectacular! Da Queen and I were fortunate enough to see it on its theatrical run and we have seen it since on DVD. There really is no comparison although there are compensations to seeing it at home – my late dog Peanut was fascinated by the bird cries and watched the screen with an interest and cocked head he rarely took at the television screen. Perhaps that’s part of why I am so fond of this film – it is one of my fondest memories with my dog – but having seen it again recently I can say that this is also a wonderful, beautifully shot film that will fill you up with wonder from the time the show starts until the final credits. If you need to let off some steam and forget about the world for awhile, this is a good place to go.

WHY RENT THIS: Comes as close to giving the audience a sense of flight as any film is likely to. Fascinating and beautiful.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The narration is sometimes obvious and unnecessary; would have liked to have gotten more information about why birds do what they do.

FAMILY VALUES:  While generally safe for all audiences, there is one scene that the very sensitive might have a hard time with.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The filmmakers attempted to film emperor penguins but weather conditions prohibited it. The next year, a different crew would capture the elusive emperors on March of the Penguins.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: While making-of featurettes are generally pretty standard on most home video releases, the one here is noteworthy because it explores in-depth the challenges both technical and human in capturing these images of birds in flight.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $32.3M on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Earth

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: 12 Years a Slave