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: :-)

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

February 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

To better appreciate this film, I recommend reading up a bit on short story writer Raymond Carver, and his short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film plays out as sort of a movie within a play within a movie, linked with an abstract narrative about self discovery and self release. The reason I’d recommend knowing a bit more about the background of Carver and the story is to diminish distractions like trying to figure out how the play revolves around the story–it may make things less confusing.

The main story of the film is about a has-been actor named Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who was once a big star because of a superhero movie called “Birdman”. Since that fame, he has faded into obscurity and a generation of parents whose kids have no idea who he is. His irrelevance bothers him, so he wants to try and do something else–but something with more substance. He wrangles up some stage actors and gets some money behind a production of one of his favorite writers, Raymond Carver, and adapts his short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” into a Broadway play. None of the people involved have that much experience. His main actress, Lesley (Naomi Watts), has never been on Broadway. His producer and friend (and lawyer) Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is doing his best to keep Thomson together emotionally, while the production has a bit of a problem since a light falls on one of the principal actors. The actor, whom no one thinks is very good, is replaced by a much more seasoned–albeit dangerous and unscrupulous–actor named Mike (Edward Norton). Mike can recite the lines before even knowing what they are, and has the ability to lose himself in the character while being on stage. His problem is that he is very unpredictable, and that he’s almost impossible to control. He starts to take a liking to Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering drug addict who Riggan hardly knows due to all his years spent acting instead of being a father. Riggan and Sam share an understandable strained relationship, but it still seems amicable.

While Thomson tries to whip the show into shape during its preview run, he is tormented by the voice and sometimes appearance of his old character, Birdman. Birdman represents his “dark side”. Birdman believes that Riggan is denying himself the joy of being a superstar by trying to do something as small as theater. Thomson tries to get him out of his head, but he nearly tears his dressing room apart while battling the imaginary “devil on your shoulder”.

He desperately wants to be recognized. He knows that he does not have a good reputation in theater, and is afraid of a prominent critic, Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), will eviscerate his efforts and make him look bad once the play opens. Without even seeing it, she tells him, she will write a bad review.

With every doubt in his mind, Birdman becomes more powerful and manifests himself more to Riggan. His ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) doesn’t believe in him, and his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) simply seems like a replaceable understudy in Riggan’s life.

The film is shot to give the feel of watching a play. There are no cuts, only occasional fades that let us know that time is passing. Most of the film feels like it’s one ongoing shot. So in a way, Riggan is on stage throughout the entire movie. When he’s acting in his play, he can come undone just as easily as he can when he’s in his dressing room hearing voices.

The performances are very strong, with a spotlight on Michael Keaton, obviously. He is at his best in this film, utilizing his entire range from ominous to manic to brooding to bright. He is everything at once, and can fall apart at any moment. Norton is also exceptionally funny as the “foil” in much of the storyline, and Emma Stone is appealing as always, as well as Watts and the rest of the “actors”.

There are two titles for this film, and I kept both in tact for the review. “Birdman” seems obvious, but what about “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”? What’s that supposed to mean? Well, the meaning to that title comes within understanding the film itself. And that can be a few different things, culminating in the film’s mysterious and purposely puzzling final shot. But you are definitely watching more than one story when you watch this film. That’s why you’re talking about more than just love when you’re talking about love. The emotional states the film touches on, the play on people’s actions and reactions, mixed with some satire and black comedy, all make for a thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking film.

My rating: :D

Iron Man 3

May 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Movies

I had to go back and look up my review of “Iron Man 2” to remember what I thought of it. That seems to be standard operating procedure when it comes to comic book movies lately. Years ago I used to read comic books, and I enjoyed them. But they disappeared from my mind almost the instant my eyes finished the last panel. It’s not that they’re not worth remembering; it’s just that for the most part, there’s nothing to remember. I’d read it, enjoy it, and move on. That’s not including the deeper graphic novels I’ve read such as “Watchmen”, “The Sandman” or “From Hell”. Even mini-series such as “Midnight Nation” and certain storylines of major super heroes like “The Dark Knight Returns” have resonated in my mind. But something like a random “Superman” or “Punisher” comic tends to be nothing more than eye candy.

That’s pretty much the equivalent of a summer blockbuster, too. They’re not meant to challenge your brain or make you think about anything. And the good ones will keep your mind occupied so that when you’re ready to flush it out, it isn’t a painful experience. Maybe movies like these don’t really need to stay in your memory anyway.

That was my approach to “Iron Man 3”. When I had read my review, I did recall a few things from part 2. I didn’t find it to be as entertaining as “Iron Man” mainly because it was more of the same, which is true of a lot of sequels. I enjoyed elements of it, mostly concerning Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Tony Stark, which is always a treat. So going into “Iron Man 3”, I suppose I had really no expectations. I’ve found that’s the best way to enjoy a movie like this. Then again, it didn’t help when it came to “Men in Black 3”. But sometimes movies disappoint without expectations at all.

“Iron Man 3” did not disappoint; on the contrary, I was pleasantly entertained. Downey, Jr. returns as the deadpan but smug and thoroughly egotistical Tony Stark. This time he’s remembered a time when he blew off a potential client, named Aldrich Killian (played well by Guy Pearce). It was 1999, and New Year’s Eve, and Stark had females on his mind, a “botanist” named Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall). She began developing something that later becomes known as “Extremis”, a volcanic virus inside you that helps heal your physical disabilities while also turning you bright red. Killian comes off as a bit nerdy and clingy for Tony’s liking, and so he leaves him high and dry.

This turns out to be a big mistake for Stark as now Killian has fully developed the virus “Extremis” and plans on using it for his own benefit, at the expense of Tony Stark’s life. But Stark isn’t the only one targeted. He also has a thing for his wife, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) who was at one time Stark’s assistant.

Another villain trolling around known as the Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley), who is threatening the President and all of America to terrorize anyone and anything he can to make his statement about…whatever it is he is making a statement about. This catches the eye of Stark enough to threaten him, and tells the Mandarin publicly what his home address is.

Next thing you know, Stark’s home is destroyed and all of his toys with it. Except one suit, which gets so badly damaged that Stark has to practically build it from scratch. He has a little bit of help, after being dumped in Tennessee due to his artificial assistant JARVIS using a flight plan previously made by Stark to investigate the Mandarin. He meets a kid named Harley (nicely played by Ty Simpkins) who is also handy with electronics, and the two form a small bond as they help each other out of their respective jams.

There’s a twist about the Mandarin I won’t give away but you shouldn’t be too surprised when it happens. There really isn’t anything that surprises in a film like this–it really is just a blow-em-up with all the bells and whistles. What makes it fun is Downey Jr.’s performance, some big laughs, some sweet moments between him and Harley and him and Pepper, and there’s a very funny scene involving Kingsley that makes his performance one of the best in the film.

It’s another “getaway” movie. It really doesn’t take itself that seriously, and it doesn’t beat you over the head too much with overblown special effects. There is just enough character development thrown in to make it more than just a spectacle for the eyes.

Out of the three films, I may keep this one in mind the most. I liked that they raised the stakes a bit for Stark, making him start from scratch, having to pull all of his resources. He gets some help from his buddy Rhodey (Don Cheadle, good as always), and Favreau is a delight as Happy. But since Stark has such an easy time being a genius and indestructible hero, it was nice to see him have to lose a little bit so he could really have to fend for himself. He’s also still struggling with his near run in with death back in “The Avengers” (making a nice cross reference), so he has some demons to battle there.

The action scenes are well done, and well written too. This is coming from Shane Black, who directed and co-wrote the film. He is all-too well known in the Hollywood world for being a master of action. He wrote films like “Lethal Weapon”, “The Last Boy Scout”, “Last Action Hero” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, for example. He has just enough wit, and just enough bombastic action in this film to make it a well rounded experience.

My rating: :-)