Wonder Woman

June 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

The superhero movieverse continues to expand, and DC is desperately trying to keep up with Marvel. In the comic book world, they’re fairly even. Superman and Batman pretty much rule the empire, but the feminist icon Wonder Woman isn’t that far behind. They’re all a part of the Justice League, that also includes Green Lantern (…) and Aquaman. In the movie world, DC has had lackluster results for the most part compared to Marvel. But they want to change that, and “Wonder Woman” is their first effort as a step in the right direction.

Quite. Gal Gadot plays the titular character; and, at first I had reservations about her as a leading actress. In the beginning moments of the film, she looks more like a Kardashian model than a would-be superhero. But once we are taken back to her origins, watching her grow as a warrior goddess, it starts to feel more credible.

First, she really can kick ass. Diana, the character’s actual name, comes from a paradise island called Themyscira, and is raised by the Queen, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). She is not her mother, but acts as one. Her sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright), believes that Diana has a gift of physical prowess and can be a great asset. She wants to train her, and make her a warrior. But Hippolyta has reservations, and wants to protect her. We learn that the backstory of their people has to do with the god Zeus, whose son Ares poisons Zeus’s creation of mankind with the need for war. Diana’s people, the Amazons, believe that if Ares is destroyed, mankind will be just and good because Ares’ influence of warmongering will be gone. It’s revealed that Zeus left behind a weapon after fighting his son, a “godkiller”, in case Ares returns to destroy the Amazons.

Worlds collide as WWI rages in the late teens of the 20th century, and Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) finds himself crash landing in the ocean surrounding the island. He’s chased by the Germans, and a war spills out into the island’s shore. Diana makes a choice to follow Trevor back to the west, to help stop the war, believing that Ares is behind it all. Trevor doesn’t really follow her logic, but believes in her as an ally, and sees what kind of power she has.

It turns out that Trevor is quite handy as well, being a spy for the British, and capturing a book of chemical gas formulas composed by “Doctor Poison” (Elena Anaya), who works for the Germans in chemical warfare, developing mustard gas among other things. By giving the book to the British, Trevor believes it can help stop the war. Meanwhile, Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), believes in bringing an end to the war with an armistice summit. Diana thinks that General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is the one who must be stopped, as she believes he is Ares.

Trevor enlists a ragtag group of men including Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and Cheif (Eugene Brave Rock), none who are that special in their own right, but are willing to join Trevor in an almost suicide mission to stop the spread of the poison gas by infiltrating a German gala. Diana goes on her own, to the chagrin of Trevor, who still thinks she’s delusional about Ares. Well, it turns out…she might be right after all.

The film is not entirely wall to wall action; but its balance of humor and character development is nicely strung together by direction Patty Jenkins. There is even some touching romance in the film to make it even more fulfilling. It’s summer action block buster entertainment at its finest; and it’s nice to see a woman at the helm, a strong woman at that, who more than proves her worth as a superhero. Wonder Woman will join the Justice League later this year. Before this film, I was weary–but now, I’m actually a lot more intrigued. Maybe this film is the changing tide for DC’s cinematic fortunes. It certainly is a worthy pivot.

My rating: :-)

Everest

September 28, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

Growing up, I had a fascination with Mount Everest. I still have a National Geographic issue that focused on the mountain. I had fantasies of one day ascending and climbing to the summit. Then, I read “Into Thin Air”, Jon Krakauer’s account of what’s now known as the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, and it’s †not really on my to-do list anymore. Not only because of what happens to the climbers, but Krakauer did such a fine job of putting you on that mountain with them that you could feel what they were going through, without having to actually experience it yourself. I swear at one point I may have even developed HAPE.

There was one attempt in the late 1990’s to adapt the book into a film, but it was a low level TV film that was panned and forgotten about. I had always thought the story deserved a big budget, the 5 star treatment, and when I read about this upcoming film, I thought I was finally going to get that.

I’d say what we do get is a 3 star treatment. It’s not wasted time, but it doesn’t capture what Krakauer was able to. He is a master storyteller, but surely there should’ve been someone who could’ve brought his story to life. Then again, “Everest” is not technically based upon his account. He is represented in the film, by actor Michael Kelly, but his perspective is somewhat marginalized. In fact, the flaw in the film is that it compromises the most gripping aspect of the story, which is the personal stories of those involved.

The film focuses on Rob Hall (Jason Clarke, quickly becoming a favorite of mine in recent cinema), a likable and bright expedition leader of a firm called Adventure Consultants. The name sounds like one of Enron’s fictional off shoots that Andrew Fastow would’ve come up with, but nevermind. He is hired commercially and leads somewhat unskilled climbers and regular climbers alike to summit Everest. His 1996 crew includes Krakauer, and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), who is getting up in age where he won’t be able to climb Everest realistically after that year. There’s a Japanese climber, Yasuko Nambo (Naoko Mori), who is one summit away from completing the Seven Summits, and would be the second Japanese woman to do so. Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin) is also along, who has experience climbing but is a doctor by trade.

They are joined at base camp by a rival company, Mountain Madness, led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is a little more of a free spirit than Hall, but likable just the same. Things get testy as too many climbers begin to bottleneck the expedition further up the mountain, and as weather shifts, it becomes dangerous to ascend.

This is all well done in the film, making you feel the tension of the climbers who are getting more annoyed at waiting than they are fearful of the possibility of dying on the mountain. But when the winds pick up and avalanches begin to threaten them, their attitudes change into something more urgent and critical. They look out for each other, try to help one another–they’re all in it together. But the mountain is one cruel mistress. And things start to fall apart once the summit is completed by many of the climbers.

There is so much going on, so much tension, that at times it is hard to bear. You’re gripping your seat in anticipation, hoping they make it. If you don’t know the story, it’s all the more suspenseful. But even as I had known the story and the fates of all the climbers, I still felt captivated by the film’s pace.

Where it somewhat falls apart is after the dust has cleared, and we’re left with some aftermath of what happens to some of these characters. Because we never were able to become invested in them as people, it’s hard to wrap your heart around the concluding scenes, except in the way you would reading a tragic news story. The point of Krakauer’s story was to bring you into these peoples’ conditions and strife through the expedition, so that when you read what happens to them, your heart breaks into a million pieces. Sure, they’re paying a lot of money and are wealthy people; but their aim is true and their ambition is genuine. No one deserves to die just because they want to challenge it. That’s part of the adventure and the allure of climbing Everest. When you arrive at base camp, you’re already about halfway up the mountain. It’s deceptive. It’s mild, there’s no snow, you can wear shorts. Once you make it to Camp One, it’s game on.

The film does bring you onto that mountain, but you still feel like you’re watching something rather than living it, something “Into Thin Air” did brilliantly.†The film ultimately treats its characters like throwaways, and that’s a shame. Especially in the case of Beck, who had an incredible story of his own. And not only that, the cast has so much depth you wonder how they put the budget together to get all of these people to play such condensed characters. Keira Knightley (who has the closest performance to something Oscar worthy) as Rob’s wife, helplessly far, far from the mountain, back home. Robin Wright plays Beck’s wife. Sam Worthington plays Guy Cotter, another climber, and sympathetic character. Emily Watson plays Helen Wilton, a dispatcher at base camp. It’s a beautiful cast, and all of them do their best with their meager roles. But ultimately, the mountain wins out, and maybe it has to. Maybe it’s impossible to get that much depth from a 2 hour film. And a mini series may drag out the story too long. In the end, it’s a flawed film, but it is a well done film. It is shot wonderfully, and most of the pace of the film is fine, by director Baltasar Kormakur. It’s just a shame that the narrative gets lost in the storm as well, because it is one amazing story of survival and heartache. I’d recommend seeing this film–but as a companion, I recommend reading “Into Thin Air” even more.

My rating:†:-)