Review: Wonder Woman

ww

I probably should have posted this on June 2 when I saw it, but hey, who actually reads this blog anyway?

Story: We see Wonder Woman’s origin story on an island of Amazons, but when super-spy Steve crash lands by the shore pursued by German soldiers, Wonder Woman joins the fight and leaves the island to become a participant in World War I.

Review: Overall, an okay movie. The story and structure were a bit all over the place but in general it reminded me a lot of Captain America: The First Avenger – especially the ending. More on that later. First, what I liked. Initially I wasn’t sure about the casting, but now I’ve seen that she’s being written as a silent warrior type with little to no sense of humor (e.g. Worf from Star Trek, Teal’c from Stargate SG-1, Teyla from Stargate Atlantis) and with that in mind she’s an excellent choice. She has good intensity and doesn’t look like a weakling. The accent/ethnicity thing I hear people fuss about I can totally ignore because 1970s comic canon has her mother sculpting a twin sister of a completely different race for her so WW can be whatever ethnicity looks fairly close to the comics. I also liked that they gave her a band of misfits to travel with. Since she’s written in such a dry way, she needs other characters to react off of her for entertainment value.

Now, my nit-pickery. Every action movie needs one or two moments when the hero stands in an obvious glory pose before a crowd/blazing destruction/dawn, but this film did it too darned much. It lost it’s emphasis after the first few times early in the film. One thing that I admit I’m only picking on because the director is female is the body language in Act II. When Steve takes her to the city, he’s always pulling her by the arm, pushing her with a hand to her back, or hauling her about with an arm around her. On the one hand, I doubt a warrior who had grown up around all women would be used to or accepting of that kind of treatment. On the other hand, it sends a signal to the audience that undermines WW as a protagonist, and as an independent woman. There there’s the costume. As you can see from the above image, the costume design followed the same drearily dark-colored stack of plastic plates design that all superhero costumes use nowadays. Also I kinda miss the blue cuffs, gold tiara, and stars on her culottes (or whatever they are now). I like that they emblem looks a little more eagle-like than W like though. The casting of David Thewlis (Prof. Lupin from Harry Potter) worked for the first part of the movie, but not for the end because he just doesn’t have that kind of personality to work with. Certain bits of background VFX looked kind of terrible in some of the battle scenes for some reason (sky, smoke, sparks, etc.), but if I saw in on my computer instead of a giant theater screen I probably wouldn’t notice at all so it hardly matters. The majority of the VFX were perfectly clean and nice. Finally, I have 3 issues with Steve, and unfortunately I need to tell spoilers to examine them so from here on out the review is a * SPOILER ALERT *. First, he’s given such importance and agency in the story (finds the research, assembles the team, makes the ultimate sacrifice to save everyone, etc.) that he often seems like more of a protagonist than Wonder Woman. Secondly, although I understand the emotional/structural need for Steve’s death, the writers didn’t paint him into a corner nearly enough to make suicide a reasonable option. With a plane full of time-bombed gas he could have 1) Flown it elsewhere to detonate it without being inside 2) Set the timer in the air and parachuted to safety while it exploded 3) Defused the bomb and burned up the gas 4) Removed the bomb and burned up the gas 5) Had Wonder Woman blow up the plane since she’s basically indestructible. Thirdly, as long as we’re at it, I disagree that killing him off was even necessary. Wonder Woman could have learned her lesson about love and believing in humanity through the actions of Steve and the supporting characters (had they been given a tad bit of character growth). Actually, what would have been funny is if they’d gender-reversed an old cliché by having Steve try to sacrifice himself only to have WW punch him unconscious and take his place, thereby saving the day. She could then do the rockem sockem god battle afterwards.

Recommended for: Die-hard superhero movie fans and people forced to watch it in solidarity because having a female director apparently makes a movie into a feminist film nowadays.

Content notes: (12+) – Quite violent, and I guess some people might have a problem with the wide shot of naked Chris Pratt covering his junk with one hand.

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Mini-Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

 

shell

Story:  In an era of cyborg modifications being de rigueur, a female cyborg-soldier tries to find a terrorist brain-hacker in Japan.

Review: Although the VFX in this movie are impressive, they’re nothing new – and the cracked eggshell appearance of the cyber-bodies (see picture) is kinda silly looking. Most of the acting is underwhelming, except for notably good performances by Juliette Binoche and the actress playing the protag’s mother, but I think that’s mostly the director’s choice. The narrative style of the film feels very awkward for this reason. Firstly, the director makes all of the American and British actors use the slow and under-reacting style familiar to Japanese cinema, and it looks quite forced. Secondly, the scenes rapidly swerve from this style of long, silent pauses and expressionless glances to fast-cut American-style action sequences with scenery-chewing moments of performance. One gets the feel of mental whiplash from seemingly switching between two different genres of movies throughout the film. That said, the most talked about aspect of the film has been casting and story. *The entire rest of this post is one giant spoiler – you have been warned* On the face of it, this movie is about an evil corporation that steals the brains of runaways and stuffs them into cyborg bodies, turning them into sentient slaves and claiming this is the next step in evolution. But given all the hype about race and the choice of which actors aren’t Japanese (the corporate guy, the lady scientist, and the two main cyborg characters), I prefer to puckishly think of it as a dystopian tale of colonialism where an evil corporate white-supremacist guy transplants the brains of Japanese teens into caucasian cyber-bodies in order to slowly make the whole world look like the same race. Still doesn’t make it a super entertaining film though.

Recommended for: Uhh, I’ll get back to you on that one.

Content notes: (14+) – Some especially gross VFX

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Mini-Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Yes, I decided to start posting again – occasionally. I’ve started watching more new films than people are willing to hear me drone on about, so I need an outlet once again. So. here we go!

guardians-characters

Story: Star-Lord and Gamora (seen above) both reconnect with lost family members in ways that will determine the fate of the galaxy.

Review: This is definitely a better movie than Vol. 1. The first 2 acts have the same unbalanced feel and kind of struggle to get the story moving, but the characters feel more complete and multilayered – plus the dialogue writing is much punchier. The comedic style parallels Big Trouble in Little China, which works well considering they share one of their lead actors.The third act really comes together and delivers good story with an emotional punch and some unexpectedly good jokes. The VFX are wonderful, and I especially applaud the youth-making VFX on Kurt Russel because he only looks slightly out of focus instead of appearing like a scary robot monster the way Jeff Bridges’ face did in TRON: Legacy. The major theme of the film is family (although this is by no means a family movie). It begins by showing us a poetic version of Peter’s parents meeting, and then shows us how the whole team is raising baby Groot. Gamora’s long lost sister soon enters the story. The music choices are all great, and there were even some I’d never heard before. But oftentimes the placement was confusing because the lyrics had nothing to do with what was going on in the story – most notably The Chain by Fleetwood Mack. Overall, though, I’d say it’s a fun little movie and it’s worth seeing.

Recommended for: People familiar with 1970s-80s music and pop culture, young males who like oaf-humor.

Content notes: (12+) – Some kinda harsh emotional violence, some gross VFX, lots of swearing.

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Weekly Mini-Review: Bananas (1971)

Story: A nebbish product-tester pretends to be interested in loopy political groups to impress a girl. When the relationship falls through, he takes an already planned trip to a small Latin American country and gets forced into becoming part of its national politics.

Review: To call this movie absurdist would be an understatement – which is one of the reasons it’s worth watching. Gags like a group of musicians pretending to play, in total silence, is one of those things that a screenwriting teacher would never allow in a final draft. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely hilarious! Allen’s relationship humor is, as usual, nothing worth paying much attention to. But it’s in there so randomly that it can easily be ignored. Overall, worth watching.

Recommended for: Fans of Sleeper, Zelig, and the few several actually funny Woody Allen movies.

Content notes: (14+) – Some nudity and crude verbal jokes/dialogue.

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Weekly Mini-Review: On Golden Pond (1981)

Hepburn_Fonda_On_Golden_Pond

Story: Family dynamics between an old couple, their daughter, and the son of her husband-to-be change when everyone visits during a summer at the family cabin.

Review: The cinematography in this movie is absolutely phenomenal: indoor, outdoor, and nature photography that positively paints with light. Although all the actors are consummate professionals, and excellent actors in general, I don’t think they were right for the parts they played. Henry Fonda  and Katherine Hepburn feel too much like they’re officially playing the curmudgeon fuddy duddy types and are pretty much only genuine in short bursts with the other characters. About as close as Hepburn can get to this kind of part is the one she played in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Both of them seem like the kind of old folks who stay sharp as tacks and have a tough time acting any other way believably. Nonetheless, they were all enjoyable to watch. The ending resolution between the Fondas felt like it came a bit too easily, but the fact that they really were father and daughter in real life makes it interesting enough to watch their acting in the key scene so that I can forgive the theatrical writing.

Recommended for: Fans of family argument movies, fans of great cinematography

Content notes: (PG) – A tiny amount of swearing and arguing, but nothing particularly offensive.

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Weekly Mini-Review: Johnny English Reborn (2011)

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Story: After going into hiding to avoid the shame of a flubbed mission years before, an older Johnny English is trained in martial arts by monks and called back into action to catch a ring of assassins.

Review: The comedy in this sequel alternates between over-the-top gags and humor so dry it chafes, but doesn’t rely on embarrassment-humor quite as much as the first one. Most of the best jokes are actually fogey humor (viz., the bad guy runs frantically while Johnny saunters behind/takes an elevator and catches him anyway), but a lot of it also relies on the premise copied in the show Spy wherein the protagonist is highly trained despite being a goof.

Recommended for: fans of adventurous-old-man-movies, fans of spy spoofs

Content Notes: (10+) – Some crude humor

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Weekly Mini-Review: Hidaway (1995)

Cool special effects from the finale scene.

Cool special effects from the finale scene.

Story: Near death experiences link the mind of a suburban husband and father with that of a kwazy serial killer who goes after teenage girls – directing the killer’s attentions toward the man’s daughter.

Review: The first time I saw this movie, I only saw the last 2/3 or so. The beginning adds nothing, so it turns out that’s the best way to watch it. The writing is about average (all the characters are as dumb as turkeys), but the acting is pretty good and, oddly enough, the hyper-stylization with CGI and nifty lighting actually does seem to compensate for its TV-late-night-movie-like shortcomings. Anyway, I thought it was cool when I was a teenager. I think the show Movie Magic did a special on the FX used in the movie too.

Recommended for: Cheese ball paranormal movie/show fans.

Content notes: (YUCK, X, 14+) – Some fairly gross special effects, one short graphic sex scene near the beginning. Otherwise fine.

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Does Film School Make You Watch More or Less Movies?

One of the funnier aspects of being in a real bonafide film school now is that all of the teachers continuously prod students to watch more TV and movies. This is hilarious to me because I accustomed to watching hours of TV and movies every day. To watch more would almost require skipping classes. I have, therefore, been trying to cut down on my viewing so I can get more work done. I’ve recently taken to watching things a snippet at a time during meals and such, although this is not exactly the richest of viewing experiences.

Contrary to my experience, however, this demand appears to apply to most of my classmates. Apparently, many of them only watch 2, 3, or a handful of films per month. I think I would suffer severe withdrawal symptoms if I did that – at least for the first 6 months or so. That’s what happened when my family moved to an apartment that had no access to even antenna TV (although we had zillions of tapes and DVDs, so I wasn’t forced to quit cold turkey). But that’s about how long it took me to stop hurtin’ for more TV.

Ironic though it may be, the workload of really digging into making movies in film school is actually making me watch fewer movies than before. I can’t speak for my cohorts yet. Maybe I’ll ask around in another month or so and find out. But, that said, is it better or worse for film students to go entire days (or longer) without watching TV and movies? It worked better for me when I was a math student, but I was taking 3-4 different music classes every semester to keep me sane back then. Ho hum…

Quick update (as I originally wrote this over a months ago), many of my classmates say they now watch even less stuff (maybe a TV show every week or so). I’ve hit sort of a middle distance, now, where I watch 1 or 2 TV episodes a night and sometimes a movie if I can play it in the background of getting some kind of work done. Still having some difficulty maintaining a healthy balance between getting work done and reminding myself why I’m doing the work by watching stuff.

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Weekly Mini-Review: Mister Frost (1990)

Frost happily welcomes the policeman while standing over his buried victim. Nice visual irony.

Frost happily welcomes the policeman while standing over his buried victim. Nice visual irony.

Story: A nutty serial killer, or possibly Satan, drives a female psychiatrist and a cop loopy.

Review: Goldblum does a good job of being cheerfully creepy, but the other actors fall short, and the ending, sadly, has no witty turnabout or cunning trick. Not really worth seeing.

Recommended for: Someone who left the remote on the counter and is too ill to care what’s on TV.

Content notes: (PG, 10+) – some shots of dug up ‘corpses’ at the beginning, minor violence later on.

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Weekly Mini-Review: A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

AI mirror shot

Story: In a society of limited birthrate, a couple whose son is in a coma adopts the first robot child ever designed to feel love. When the couple’s son reawakens, the robot boy (guided by a literal belief in fairytales) is thrust into a perilous journey in hopes of recapturing the past.

Review: Yes, it was directed and the screenplay written by Spielberg, but the fact that it’s based on a 1980s dystopic sci-fi treatment by Stanley Kubrick is hardly difficult to notice. The characters are all more than a little bit cracked and even the sweetest moments are also unmistakably creepy – although this owes greatly to the blocking and cinematography (viz., a little boy peering over a counter is made eerie by the mirror reflection of his eyes in the countertop just beneath them). My favorite element of this film was the character Teddy, a robot teddy bear. There’s a great novelty in how real he looks running around onscreen, but he’s also a multilayered character with many good lines. He is the most tragic character of the piece though, in my opinion because *spoiler alert: he follows the boy all through the story only to end up alone in the end*  Fair warning though, the story is kind of meant to rip your heart out.

Recommended for: Kubrick fans, dystopic futuristic movie fans, cool special effects fans, sad movie fans.

Content notes: (YUCK, 16+) – Some pretty gross special effects, very dark and demented character actions.

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