Wonder Woman

 

 

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I was hyped before seeing this film, not because it the first major female superhero film, nor because it was directed by a female, but just because I was hoping that DC could pull “their fat from the fire,” and finally establish a viable film with franchise potential.  They can and they did!  The film introduces Wonder Woman-to-be Diana, (Israeli model Gal Gadot), daughter of the queen of Themyscira, a secret island given by the gods to female warriors the Amazons.  Some time is spent showing her development and training as a warrior.   Enter Steve Trevor, (Chris Pine from Star Trek), as a WWI American Spy.  Naturally, Steve and Diana fall in love.  Naturally, they leave the safe haven of the island of Themyscira, naturally to stop WWI.

Steve and Diana’s stop-off in London, to introduce comic side kick Etta, (Lucy Davis), and peace loving politician, (the Harry Potterfranchise’s David Thewlis).   We are introduced to Steve’s “Gang”( smugglers, thieves, and snipers who can’t shoot) which for the life of me, seem only to exist to stretch the film and lighten the film carrying  load on Gadot.

Though the action – which climaxes with a CG-heavy set piece pitting Wonder Woman against Ares – sometimes has a slightly distracting video game feel, it’s often stirring stuff, and it’s skillfully integrated into the developing relationship between the title character and her mortal man.

The chemistry between Gadot and Pine is one of the film’s primary pleasures. But Gadot (best known to movie audiences up to now for her small roles in several The Fast and the Furious films) has a considerable presence in her own right, a quality that will stand her in good stead if, as the film’s brief present-day introductory sequence seems to hint will be the case, Wonder Woman has further big screen adventures.

John Wick Chapter II

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Dumb.  I mean, really dumb.  But, making tons of money.  Go figure.  Chinese production that feels like a 1990s shooter’s video game, Wolfenstein, or Doom.  Ridiculous premise.  And then Keanu Reeves, who graduated from the Christopher Walken school of acting and got his PhD from studying with William Shatner as lead.    There had to be at least 150 people killed, mostly by gunshot in this movie.  It is gore, from start to finish, and they are not finished.  The whole movie was a set-up for a sequel. Chapter III?  In one scene about 50 assassins chase Wick down a dark tunnel in Rome.  Everyone of the assassins is carrying a flashlight.   It was like killing fireflies.  You do get to see Neo reunite with Morpheus, but that is hardly worth the price of a ticket.  Escapism at it’s dumbest.  I give it a 2 out of 10 and they will count money all the way to the bank.

Gold

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Nice little film, carried well by Matthew McConaughey, whom you will have trouble recognizing as a balding, paunchy, gold prospector, who runs life’s gamut from up to down and then up again, or is he?  Based upon true events, (always suspicious of that disclaimer), Gold is a story about prospecting in  the uncharted jungle of Indonesia, making friends you can really trust, and those you can’t.  To say it reminds me of Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a little bit of a stretch, but it is as close as I can come. You learn a little about gold prospecting and a lot about people’s characters.  I imagine this film will make it’s original investment back, just.  No Oscars predicted, but a nice film.  I give it a 7 out of 10.  What do you think?

La la Land

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Go see this movie for the bright Cinemascope photography.  Go see this movie for the wonderful snappy dialog between the two main characters.  Go see this movie if you loved the Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly movies of the  1950s.  The traffic jam number at the beginning of the film is alone worth the price of admission.  This is La La Land, (Los Angeles),  where everyone’s in show business and the merry-go-round always brings us back around to each other.  Classic line from the movie, “This is Los Angeles, where they worship everything and value nothing.”  This movie is a love letter to the Hollywood musical; I couldn’t stop thinking about West Side Story while watching it.  Emma Stone continues to prove herself a great actress, albeit a mediocre singer, and Ryan Gosling, modest star, (an almost unheard of quality in Hollywood), proves he can easily carry a film.  Great date film, great original music, great acting, a script that makes you think about how they used to make movies, and although a bittersweet ending, still a film that is a joy to watch.  I give it 10 out of 10.  What do you think?

Passengers

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Wow!  With an original  and creative idea like this,  (a passenger on a massive interstellar spaceship with 5,000 other passengers and hundreds of crew,  all dead asleep in stasis pods due to the journey between Earth and a new planet taking 110 years, with everyone supposed to wake up a few months before they land and get to party it up and mingle before landing and populating the new world. Unfortunately, one man, Pratt, is unpredictably awaken, setting him up for a “last man on earth scenario”), can go wrong, but it does, and quickly.   Maybe the film “turns South” when Pratt’s character, Jim, notices the beautiful young, Aurora, (Lawrence), asleep in a pod and decides to become a stalker and figure out a way to awaken her, I don’t know, I guess because he is horny.  But rather than admit his horniness to her, he pleads ignorance, and they develop a relationship.  Unfortunately big mouth Michael Sheen, a robot bartender, spills the beans to Aurora and the rest of the film is a “Please forgive me for being horny” screenplay.  Unusual to see a Lawrence film bomb, but this one did.  I give it 4 out of 10 and that’s just for the special effects.  What do you think?

Nocturnal Animals

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Folks, this is one creepy film, and I guarantee it will have you on the edge of your seat, indenting the arm rests with your fingernails as you watch this, “novel within a movie,” thriller.  Amy Adams, (is there an award for being in every movie made the last three years?  I think Adams would win.  Does she sleep?)  is a spoiled and privileged Los Angeles art gallery owner named Susan.   Her husband, (Armie Hammer), has fallen out of love with her,  and her daughter is far away at school. Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), her ex husband sends her a preview of a novel he is about to publish.  The move then slips into a narrative of the story within the story as Adams reads the novel, (horrifying – about a gang of murderous serial killers, a carjacking, gang rape and murder on a lonely Texas road), and told in interstitials.  What this all has to do with Susan’s life now or her marriage to Edward isn’t immediately — or really ever — clarified, though it does allow for vivid turns by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as the gang’s drawling, dead-eyed leader), (he got a Golden Globe for his acting), and Michael Shannon, whom I have appreciated since “Boardwalk Empire.”  This movie has a lot of Brian DePalma, Alfred Hitchcock, and a smattering of David Lynch.  There are no conclusions.  You are left to make those yourself.  That is always somewhat disappointing, but you will not be disappointed in this film.  I give it a 9 out of 10.  What do you think?

 

Rouge One: A Star Wars Story

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There is literally nothing new in the universe, nor evidently in the minds of scriptwriters in Hollywood.  This is simply Deja vu all over again.  Lets see: orphaned, well almost orphaned young person, raised on a remote, desolate planet, attracted to the rebel forces, who are trying to destroy a death star before it destroys them.  This is of course the prequel to “A New Hope,” but just as easily could have been titled, “Hit the Cash Register up Another Time.”  The only creativity I saw in the movie was superimposing youthful faces on the long deceased Peter Cushing CGI character, and the recently deceased Carrie Fisher character, kind of like those George Patton/John Wayne beer commercials.  Seriously Disney, Star Wars is getting as boring as Fan Boy Marvel movies.  I give it a 5 out of 10, what do you think?

Miss Sloane

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Seventy-five years ago, central casting would have put Bette Davis in the lead role of this film, thirty years ago it would have been Debra Winger and twenty years ago, it would have been Demi Moore.  Get the picture?  A hard boiled, “my career first,” take no prisoners, intelligent female needed.  Jessica Chastain fills the bill quite nicely.  I should point out early in this review that I am a biased reviewer, not biased toward Chastain, nor anything to do with the plot, (lobbying for stricter gun laws), but biased toward movies that lead you or make you think you have everything figured out, only to find the hero, or heroine, in this case is not only three steps ahead of you, but also two steps against her protagonist in the plot.  Miss Sloane is a movie about a powerful Washington DC lobbyist, who really isn’t that interested in “sides;” instead she is interested in winning.  At the beginning of the film she works for a very influential lobbying group and decides to change jobs, and sides on an issue,  not for additional income, but more so for the challenge that it will give her.  She maneuvers through the plot and the film like Queen on a chessboard, never being trapped, never allowing anyone to know her thoughts or her strategy.  Many try.  Even a male hustler, played her by Jake Lucy, who remains loyal to her; perhaps the only time she is taken by surprise in the entire film.  Sloane has faults.  She “outs” a young co-worker’s, (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) earlier traumatic involvement in a school shooting, after that character, Esme gives Sloane her trust.  Watching the film I was constantly asking myself, “Do people like this really exist?”  Exist without sleep, exist without human feelings, exist on amphetamines for false energy, exist without friends, exist only to win, whatever the cost.  I guess the answer must sadly be: yes.  Many of my friends, mostly conservative, have sworn off seeing this film.  They say because the core issue is about gun control.  I am not so sure it isn’t because the film is about a strong woman.  Regardless, gun control has very little to do with this move.  The lobbying effort could have been about the EPA, abortion, tobacco, immigration, etc.  It doesn’t matter.  The movie is about strong characters, cunning and intelligence.    Don’t pre-judge this movie and deny yourself a good flick.  The movie could only have been better if the Director would have delved into Sloane’s background and why she developed the way she did; family history, lost loves, crushed hopes, etc.  Sloane references it briefly saying that she might have enjoyed a traditional life, but had no choice.   I give this movie a 9 out of 10.  What do you think?

Allied

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Folks who produce and direct period pieces, whether set in 15th century England, 1st century Rome, or Morocco in 1942 need to be very, very careful about the authenticity of not only the props, but also the mannerisms, look, and “style” of the actors. And for me, that is where “Allied” failed. The automobiles, aircraft, weapons, and even the furniture, in most cases, appeared to be very authentic, however the actors, especially Brad Pitt, had “21st Century” written all over him, in his nuances, his speech and his style. This movie should have been filmed in BLACK AND WHITE, if nothing else, as a tribute to “Casablanca,” but actually I think it probably would have cost more to have done that and done it correctly. So, the plot, if you don’t already know it, concerns a British (Canadian), spy, Max Vatan, (Pitt), who is ordered into North Africa to assassinate a German Ambassador. There he is met by French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), who for the duration of the mission “poses” as his wife. The mission is successful and of course they fall in love. Vatan is able to extract Beausejour from France, bring her to England, marry her and they have a child. A year passes and then Vatan’s supervisors tell him that they suspect that his wife is a German spy and if so, he, (Vatan), must execute her. I will leave the plot at that, anybody with any history of watching these types of thrillers can figure out the rest, without even seeing the film.  I will now use that old tired cliché “the lovers have no chemistry.” Cotillard appears to be trying to inject passion into the romance, Pitt seems to almost phone in his lines, and his passion. I love WWII movies. I love the era, the settings, and of course the history, that is when done correctly. I can remember the 1960’s and the popular TV comedy “Hogan’s Heroes, good for a chuckle, but offensive to those WWII veterans who actual saw or spent time in POW camps. “Allied” is not offensive to watch, but it is unfulfilling. It could have been much more. I give it a 6 out of 10. What do you think?

Hacksaw Ridge

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Took a friend, US Veteran of the Korean Conflict, to see this movie on Veteran’s Day.  He added a lot of insights into the training and action portions of the film.  The movie,  re-telling of the story of WWII Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Desmond Doss, (Andrew Garfield), who saved 75 men during the battle of Okinawa, without firing or carrying a gun.  He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The first portion of the movie, Doss’s childhood in Virginia, is beautifully filmed, showcasing the scenery of the mountains of that state.  Hugo Weaving, as Doss’s alcoholic father and a veteran of WWI delivers an outstanding performance as a man tortured by his own experiences in battle.  The second part of the film, boot camp training, followed by battle scenes is reminiscent of “Saving Private Ryan.”  Incredibly bloody and grisly.  Close ups of men torn apart by shell and grenade.  Guts and brains splattered everywhere.  Hacksaw Ridge was a battle that was fought atop of a ledge, assumably attainable by scaling a rope net, approximately 100 feet high.  The movie never answers the questions:  Who placed the rope net?  Why didn’t the Japanese simply stand at the top of the ledge and fire down on the Americans as they tried to ascend the rope net?  Better, yet, why didn’t the Japanese just cut the net when it was filled with Americans climbing to the top?  I guess one would need to read the history of the battle to answer those questions.  I haven’t cared much for Garfield, (who to me looks like an Anthony Perkins clone), since the disastrous reboot of Spiderman.  But he is able to carry this movie as a humble, devout, open-faced youth, faced with the horrors of war.  The build up to this movie seemed to center more on Mel Gibson and whether he had “earned” his forgiveness from Hollywood.  Regardless of whatever Mel Gibson is accused of, nobody can say he doesn’t know how to make good movies.  I give this movie a 9 out of 10.  What do you think?