Movie Review ~ Wonder Woman 1984

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Set in 1984 during the twilight years of the Cold War, the film follows Diana and her past love Steve Trevor as they face off against television huckster Maxwell Lord and archaeologist turned half-wildcat Barbara Minerva aka Cheetah.

Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Natasha Rothwell, Ravi Patel, Gabriella Wilde, Kristoffer Polaha, Amr Waked

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 151 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Earlier in 2020 when theaters started to close and movie release dates began to be bumped, the first films discussed were the most immediately affected: the latest James Bond film No Time to Die, Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan, and Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Tenet.  Each film has followed their own path to getting in front of audiences, from sticking to a theatrical release at all costs to its own detriment or embracing the streaming/on demand option that is available to millions in more immediate platform providers.  Arguably, out of all the movies in 2020 that audiences, studio heads, and investors in the future have been looking to for a sign of what’s next is Wonder Woman 1984 and like its bold titular superheroine, it wound up being a leader for its peers.

Rather than just debut the movie in theaters and have a streaming date follow weeks later, or have the film premiere for a fee on demand first, Warner Brothers stopped giving the film a seemingly endless set of new release dates and decided to gift everyone the movie on Christmas Day via HBOMax as well as select theaters in areas where it was safe to open.  The new streaming service has launched this year to a good buzz with nice content and an even better supply of films so far that have bypassed a theatrical run due to the pandemic like the remake of The Witches, Let Them All Talk, and Superintelligence.  To further entice those wanting a more cinematic experience, Wonder Woman 1984 would be the first film on HBOMax to be released in 4K, and would also support Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and HDR10.  So if your home theater is tricked out, you were going to get a great show.

Still…there was the question of the quality of the film, a much (and I do mean much) anticipated follow-up to 2017’s origin story of how the Amazonian princess (Gal Gadot, Furious 7) made her way from her home island of Themyscira to the battlefields of the first World War, fighting alongside Col. Steve Trevor (Chris Pine, People Like Us).  Eventually joining the Justice League for more modern adventures (and being featured in two other DC films, 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and 2017’s Justice League) she stands as a symbol of truth and is always “fighting for our rights…and the old red, white, and blue.”  Original director Patty Jenkins was wisely brought back, this time co-writing the script with Aquaman screenwriter Geoff Johns.  The result is a solid sequel that builds on the excellent groundwork set in the first film but struggles with focus and juggling two villains with only one proving to be effective.

I’m going to assume from this point on you’ve all seen the first film so we’ll discuss some key events that happened in that movie.  You’ve been warned on spoilers from that movie!

Jenkins begins her film with a true thrill, an extended pre-title sequence set on Themyscira showing the young Diana (Lilly Aspell, Holmes & Watson) going up against older Amazons on a grueling obstacle course race that takes them in, up, over, and under the beautiful isle.  Under the watchful eye of her mentor Antiope (Robin Wright, Blade Runner 2049) and mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen, Sea Fever), Diana learners an early lesson about truth above all else.  Jumping time periods from 1918 to 1984, Diana is now operating out of Washington D.C. working at the Smithsonian as an anthropologist when she isn’t taking long lunch breaks to solve crime and save lives as Wonder Woman.  The apprehension of a set of mall thieves (one of several well-orchestrated action set-pieces) winds up overlapping with her day job as items from the heist are actually antiques, one of which holds a special power that changes all who come in contact with it.

One of those people is Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig, Where’d You Go, Bernadette), a co-worker of Diana’s that largely goes unnoticed day in and day out.  Mousey and easy to push around, she begins to change once she makes a casual wish to be more like Diana and that’s when her world, appeal, and physicality start to change overnight…and soon not for the better.  Another individual that seeks the artifact is smarmy Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal, If Beale Street Could Talk), a pyramid scheme sham-artist about to go down in flames whose fortunes change after making a deadly pact with a force of unknown power.  Still mourning the loss of Steve, who sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie, Diana, too, becomes part of this when her innocent wish for him to return brings him back…kinda.  Everyone has been wondering how Jenkins was going to bring back Pine for this film after his character, well, died all those decades earlier but she and Johns have worked out a clever way for this to happen within the context of the story being told.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about Wonder Woman 1984 because it’s the gist of the set-up introduced in the first quarter of the movie, the rest is all how these characters react to the new powers they’re given or, in Diana’s case, the person she’s given back.  For Barbara and Max, the power becomes an intoxicating drug they need more of.  Max begins to be unable to hold back and it starts to manifest itself outwardly but for Barbara while the change is somewhat external, the majority of the alteration is to her internal confidence and prowess.  Unwilling to be manhandled, exploited, intimidated, or second-guessed, an animal emerges…and this is long before her eventual transformation into Wonder Woman’s famous rival, Cheetah.

For Diana and Steve, it’s a far more emotional journey and Jenkins allows Gadot and Pine to have these moments, much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of the many fanboys and fangirls that just want to see wall-to-wall action.  Yes, I would have loved to see Gadot show up one or two more times in the Wonder Woman get-up in that first hour (there’s a frighteningly long passage in the first 75 minutes where she’s tiara-less) but would I have sacrificed the nice moments generated by the two actors?  Not at all.  If Gadot and Pine weren’t so engaging, I might have said yes but both elevate their characters to something bigger than big-screen versions of comic book creations.  It also paves the way for one of the film’s most stunning moments for Gadot, a “never look back” sort of scene that demonstrates not only why she’s underestimated as an actress but why she’s made a fantastic Wonder Woman so far.  Still…a nice mixing of the two is a 4th of July ride for the two on an invisible jet plane through a mass of fireworks.  It’s a romantic interlude in an otherwise more action-oriented scene.

Wiig is another huge revelation, I’m glad to say.  Everyone is a fan of the actress for her comedic turns but I’ve struggled with her in more dramatic roles, finding them a bit on the sly and overly produced side.  Not so here.  I loved watching how her Barbara turns from being a wallflower (that maybe only thinks she’s a wallflower) to a full-fledged creature out for dominance.  She begins by wanting to be like Diana in terms of being noticed, but when she realizes that her wish came true and then some…she becomes addicted to the “then some” more than anything.  Emma Stone was rumored to be the first choice for the role but Wiig is such a better selection, it’s hard to consider anyone else playing it so well.

Then we come to the biggest problem with the film, Pascal as Max Lord.  In a role that should have been played by (and I would wager a guess was written for) Matthew McConaughey, Pascal is by far the weakest element of the movie and that becomes a huge detriment the more Lord shifts into a leading villain role throughout the overlong 151-minute run time.  Popular right now more than ever due to his role as The Mandalorian on Disney+, Pascal may have his fans from that series but he’s almost unwatchable here as he overacts and oversells Lord while others around him are operating at a different level.  Someone should have taken him aside and helped him make an adjustment because it just looks like he’s in a completely different kind of movie.  In the hands of a McConaughey or even a Jeremy Renner (if he wasn’t already tied to Marvel), Lord could have been a true foe for Diana but under Pascal’s watch he’s a complete annoyance more than anything.

True, some of the CGI near the end gets a little iffy, especially when Wonder Woman and Cheetah finally meet face to face but as is typical of a DC film, it’s a strikingly rendered bit of entertainment for the most part.  Plenty can be said about the plot holes around the logic surrounding the central artifact, not to mention inconsistences in its usage but isn’t that true of all superhero movies at some point?  I mean, let’s not even go there with Marvel and it’s various magic objects that do the impossible.  Yes, it may not hold up to a careful inspection and isn’t as unique as its predecessor but its still eons better than most of the other films released so far in the DC Extended Universe.  It has a distinct moral compass that it’s not afraid to be open about; messages about telling the truth to yourself and, if you are in a position of power, telling the truth to those you have the ability to communicate with seems pretty pointed and timely for today’s audiences.  I like that it has a point to it and also how it keeps its emotions close to the surface, allowing them to rise up when necessary.  Gadot gets several key moments to emote and they don’t feel forced, her sincerity is what continues to make her engaging.

You can bet that all eyes will be on HBOMax this Christmas to see Wonder Woman 1984 make its premiere on the service (and I’ll be watching it again sometime soon, I’m sure) and I’m not worried about the future opportunities to see the Amazonian princess on the screen.  Make sure to stick around for the first few minutes of the credits and clear out any annoying windows that pop up so you can see the full screen – there’s a brief mid-credit sequence that is not to be missed for anything.  As a long-time fan of Wonder Woman dating all the way back to that original Cathy Lee Crosby movie (yes, even that one!) I kind of lost my mind for a moment.  It’s just the capper on Jenkins understanding what makes the character so appealing and proving that she knows how to give fans what they want.  Another absolute winner.

Movie Review ~ Endless Love (2014)

endless_love

The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart.

Stars: Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Robert Patrick, Bruce Greenwood, Rhys Wakefield, Dayo Okeniyi, Emma Rigby, Joely Richardson

Director: Shana Feste

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: My first impression of this remake of 1981’s Endless Love was not positive.  It’s formulaic construction, slightly above average performances, and treacley love story wasn’t anything to write home about even if it did get the job done if you were to step back and look at its target audience.  Then I did my homework and watched the awful original film and skimmed the book it was adapted from.  Now, not only do I find myself giving the film a higher rating than I would have but also can’t help but recommend it to those looking for a movie to go along with the Valentine’s Day weekend ahead.

Make no mistake about it…this is a film that’s quite aware of its customer and does everything in the book to give them their money’s worth.  You’ve got two gorgeous leads made up of nimble limbs extending from toned figures with great hair and just the right amount of perspiration with fleeting glimpses of the kind of chemistry so vacant from “romance” films created from market research.  Throw in some drama about true love being kept apart and a production/costume design that would make white-washed director Nancy Myers (The Holiday, It’s Complicated) drool and it’s nearly a license to print date-movie money.

Of course, to really enjoy this you’ll have to overlook the flaws that follow the film around like an unwanted stalker.  Though the film is removed enough from the source material that the author of the 1979 novel isn’t even mentioned (it’s Scott Spencer by the way) it still retains the names and certain plot developments.

Instead of love being in full bloom at the beginning, Jade (Gabriella Wilde, maybe the best thing in the recent remake of Carrie) and David (Alex Pettyfer, maybe the worst thing in 2012’s Magic Mike) aren’t even acquaintances at the start of the film.  Blue collar David pines for upper-crust Jade but it takes a chance encounter at Jade’s country club for valet David to get into her eye line.  From there, as the tagline of the film states, Say Goodbye to Innocence.

The infamous scene from the original which found Jade’s mother watching her daughter and David make love in front of a fireplace with googly eyes is thankfully nowhere to be found…though a fireplace does play into the eventual coupling.  Instead of it being David against the family, the film is more focused on how Jade’s father (an always dependable Bruce Greenwood, Flight, Devil’s Knot) takes issue with his medical-school bound daughter risking her future on a boy with none to speak of.

I always get a little squirmy with the whole “Dad Doesn’t Like Boyfriend, Prefers to Keep Daughter a Child Forever” arcs because it seems a little pervish to me.  Director/screenwriter Shana Feste (Country Strong) does us a solid and doesn’t bother hammering this point home…but this odd obsession with his daughter’s romantic relationship hangs in the air longer than necessary.

For a movie set in the heat of a Georgia summer, it has a remarkable amount of foreign actors doing their darndest to hide their accents to varying degrees of success.  Of the eight top billed stars, only one is American (Robert Patrick as David’s mechanic father) and the rest find themselves struggling with putting a southern twist on the dialogue.  Joely Richardson (also appearing now in the dreadful Vampire Academy) seems to want to do something more with her character but can’t find a way to rise above an underwritten role.  The less said about supporting players Rhys Wakefield (The Purge), obnoxious Dayo Okeniyi, and especially puffer lipped Emma Rigby, the better.

Even though this has its fair share of eye-rolls at the non-problems that somehow become major issues, when all is said and done credit must be given to Feste and company for putting a spit-shine on what could have been a real slog of a film.  It’s light years better than the tawdry trash of the original and works almost in spite of itself.  Recommended for those who are accustomed to easily shrugging off watching a Lifetime movie on a rainy Sunday.

 

31 Days to Scare ~ Carrie (2013)

1

carrie_ver2

The Facts:  

Synopsis: A reimagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom.

Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Gabriella Wilde, Ansel Elgort

Director: Kimberly Peirce

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

Trailer Review: Here & Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Here’s the cold bloody truth about this remake of Brian De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Stephen King’s book…it’s just totally unnecessary.  Now I’m not crazy about remakes in general, especially when they’re taking a film that was already well-respected to begin with – so the question must be “What will a new take on the film bring to the table?” 

When director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) was asked this question the answer seemed to be that her vision of King’s novel would follow the book more.  That’s a valid argument and we’ve certainly seen that King’s work can be interpreted different ways…one need only watch Stanley Kubrick’s big screen treatment of The Shining and compare it to the more faithful (but less interesting) television miniseries to see that the material lends itself to reinvention.

Knowing this, I still had reservations about seeing a new version of King’s famous story about a shy girl with a zealot for a mother that enacts a furious vengeance on her high school tormentors.  I just didn’t see any point to it…could Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass 2, Dark Shadows) have that same vulnerability Sissy Spacek so wonderfully tapped into?  Would Julianne Moore (Don Jon, Non-Stop) chow down on the role of Carrie’s fanatical mother with the same glee that Piper Laurie took?  And what of the final denouement at Carrie’s prom…without the benefit of De Palma’s use of split screen and Pino Donaggio’s tingling score could it have that same terrifying impact?

Sadly…this remake lives totally in the shadow of the original and doesn’t do itself any favors by not taking the kind of risks that Peirce seemed to promise.  While Moretz’s take on Carrie is less simpleton than Spacek’s, I have a continued desire to shout “Stop mumbling” whenever she’s on screen.  Kudos goes to Moore for going all the way with the crazed mama role, though Laurie ultimately remains the victor only because her mania was always simmering rather than boiling, though I have to say that Moore was probably the only choice for the role the way screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa have fashioned her.

Then again, I found myself at times wondering what I would have thought of the film if it hadn’t been a remake.  I’d have nothing to compare it to so it would have wound up being another high school set thriller with a decidedly interesting edge.  So it’s not so much that the film is bad, because with its unusually strong performances (including Portia Doubleday as queen bee Chris and Gabriella Wilde, Endless Love, as sensitive Sue) and controlled style it’s a perfectly decent, if uninspired, effort.

The other big problem is that the majority of the audiences know how it’s going to end.  That’s not just because they’ve  seen the original because I’d bet the majority of the young audiences won’t even know films existed before 1990, but because the trailers and posters have showed our young star bathed in blood and not enjoying her prom in the least.  In De Palma’s version, Carrie’s destruction of the prom was truly frightening as she has a mental break and uses her telekinetic powers to ensure no one gets lucky.  With Spacek’s wide-eyes peeking out from a blood streaked face, all she had to do was move her eyes and De Palma’s split screen showed the result.  No such invention is used here and that results in Carrie’s vengeance coming across as more calculated and decision-oriented.  Spacek simply lost it, Moretz is in control…and that changes our allegiances in some way.

In the grand scheme of things, this remake is not the worst that could befall an adaptation of a Stephen King novel (coughcoughTheLawnmowerMancoughcough) but I just wish that if they HAD to remake it…they had done it with a greater conviction and purpose.

The Silver Bullet ~ Endless Love (2014)

endless_love

Synopsis: The story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart.

Release Date: February 14, 2014

Thoughts: Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel about young love gone wrong was already made into a film in 1981 to less than satisfying results.  In fact, the movie is best remembered not for its star Brooke Shields and respected director Franco Zeffirelli but for the Diana Ross/Lionel Richie theme song and an early appearance of Tom Cruise.  This 2014 remake might just right some past wrongs by the looks of this first trailer which strikes some ominous notes that may make you think you’re watching a sequel to 1996’s Fear (which was, in turn, compared to Endless Love in its initial release).  Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike) and Gabriella Wilde (2013’s Carrie) are the young stars and I predict that Wilde is someone to keep your eye on.  How this plays when it’s released on Valentine’s Day remains to be seen…but I’m guessing the time is right for an update.

The Silver Bullet ~ Carrie (Trailer #2)

carrie

Synopsis: A sheltered high school girl unleashes her newly developed telekinetic powers after she is pushed too far by her peers.

Release Date:  October 18, 2013

Thoughts:   My first impression of the remake of Carrie wasn’t too positive until I was set straight that director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) is going back to the source material for her version of Stephen King’s novel.  While the original film took a few liberties with the book, word on the street is that Peirce and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa are paying attention to the tone and details that made King’s tome so popular over the years.  While the first trailer offered more of a tease at things to come, the second preview shows us stars Julianne Moore and Chloë Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows) in action as a mother-daughter duo with some serious issues.  Moore is the unhinged religious zealot with a telekinetic daughter (Moretz) who has a very unique prom night.  All of us remember the prom sequence but what I’ve always liked about the book and 1976 original was the strong framework that sets-up the final act – without that the story wouldn’t work so I’m hopeful Peirce uses her gift at creating alienation to good effect.  Originally planned for a March release, Carrie was wisely moved back to October to better place itself in the midst of Halloween horror fever…let’s hope it doesn’t get lost!