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Wonder Woman (2017)
The Wonder of Wonder Woman
Months ago, I had very mixed feelings about going to see the Wonder Woman movie. I was never a big Wonder Woman fan in the first place. I'd read the comics sometimes in the '60s, watched the amusing Lynda Carter show in the '70s but was never really into it. I was really sick to death of the current Marvel and DC comic movies - the Marvel movies were no longer very funny and the last good DC-related movie was probably Batman back in the late '80s. I figured I'd give WW a pass.
And then I started seeing the trailer for the new Wonder Woman movie. It was an impressive two minutes. Interesting photography, athletic leaping about, some humor...maybe this would be good. I'd always hated the slow motion in movies like The Matrix but the use of slow-mo in the trailer made sense for Wonder Woman.
So I went on the first day. I went on about one hour of sleep, so during the first hour of the movie, i dozed off periodically and missed a few points. The theater wasn't terribly full for a 12:30 show, but it had more than the 10-20 you often see during the first show on a Friday. I did manage to stay awake through most of the second half and really enjoyed most of it. The scene where Wonder Woman rose out of the trenches and ran across the battlefield was extremely moving on many levels.
There were at least two backward-nods to "Great Famous Feminist Moments in Movies and/or Books. The scene I mentioned featuring WW racing across "No Man's Land" just screamed the famous moment from Return of the King where Eowyn rips off her helmet, screams "I am no man!" and kills the Witch King (with help from another "non-man," Merry). The other moment was a little quieter and I missed it during it first time I saw the movie (I liked it so much I went again on Saturday with my family) as I was sleeping. There's that amusing scene when Diana and Steve talk on the boat, and she explains that she understands about pleasure seemed like a shout out to Teri Garr's famous comment in Tootsie "I'm responsible for my own orgasm."
The action scenes were all well-shot, and there was always enough character development and dialog to keep the movie interesting. Strong photography, effects, costumes, production development, acting, script - this is probably the best action movie I've ever seen. I ranked it an 8 on IMDb. Congratulations to Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot & the rest of the crew - you did a GREAT job!!
MY ONE SPOILERY BIG QUIBBLE WITH THE MOVIE
I had such hope that maybe, just maybe, the 20 minutes of bloated fighting at the end of every action movie would not happen in Wonder Woman. When Diana killed the German general, I nearly stood up and cheered. But then she realized that even though she thought she'd killed Ares, the war was going on...because the war-mongering general was not Ares, but someone more behind-the-scenes was...which, after a few minutes of interesting discussion about how Ares worked, launched into about a 15 minute-long boated fight scene. Oh well, at least it seemed a little shorter than usual.
While I'm Sick to Death of Reboots, This One ROCKED!
Those comic dynamos Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones & Chris Hemsworth (why not, men can be funny too!) did their hysterical best in Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot.
Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy play old friends/paranormal book co- authors who reunite when a ghost shows up at a mansion. Kate McKinnon is McCarthy's current work partner. When they all wind up unemployed at the same time, they decide to work together as more ghost sightings are reported. Leslie Jones is a transit worker/Manhattan expert who joins them after she sees a ghost in the subway.
The ghosts/demons appear having been "summoned" by a disaffected white boy (who'd probably bitch mightily about a gender-changed Ghostbusters reboot) named Rowan, creepily played by Neil Casey, who's working as a well-dressed janitor in an art deco Manhattan hotel.
The chemistry between the leads and their secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) is very funny and the special effects are striking throughout.
There are a few missteps in the movie, either due to some minor problems in the script or possibly with the editing. Ghosts sometimes appear in very public locations and are even filmed by people on their smart phones, yet city officials seem to be able to convince people that they are fakes. A minor character is thrown out of a window onto a street, and it's not at all clear what happened to him. If he'd been killed, it would have been an issue for the women. There are some continuity issues here and there.
But, on the whole the movie works well, is very entertaining, and sets up the cast for a possible sequel. Would love to see "the mentor" very much involved if there is a sequel.
Crouching Tiger was GREAT but..Sword of Destiny, not so much.
I really loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Sword of Destiny is a very frustrating movie. It has some of the feel of the original, but it suffers from "Hollywood sequelitis" - everything must be more amped. Lots of characters added, very erratic focus, very little plot or character development.
Michelle Yeoh is wonderful as always. Most of the new actors are kind of a blur.
The movie has some terrific photography and sword fighting scenes, but nothing as awe-inspiring as the first movie, when so much of this style of fighting was new to me. Probably worth watching if you loved the first movie, but it's a noisy shadow of the first, so it's on the disappointing side.
Spotlight - Spot on!
I had a feeling when I first saw Spotlight that it would be my favorite movie of the year, and it is. Exceptionally intelligently written, one of the best ensemble casts ever, it brilliantly portrayed how difficult dealing with child abuse in general is and how very difficult it was to deal with it in Boston when the biggest perpetrators were employees of the Catholic Church. It's a powerful and painful movie that never lost track of the importance of the past in dealing with horrors of the present.
I lived in Massachusetts in the '80s and '90s. I was horrified by the former Father James Porter case and utterly dismayed by how little things changed after that case became oh so public. Spotlight insightfully portrayed why things failed to change after former Father Porter went to jail.
The writers, Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer deserve all best original screenplay awards for 2015 hands down. I didn't see another movie all last year that was as solid as this movie. McCarthy also previously wrote & directed The Station Agent (Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson & Bobby Carnivale) and The Visitor (Richard Jenkins) and wrote the story for one of the best animated features ever, Up. Almost everything he touches portrays real people like real people on camera and I love that (yes, even in Up).
I'd long been a fan of Michael Keaton and I'm very pleased that he's been in each of my favorite movies of the last two years (Birdman and Spotlight). Mark Ruffalo gave both a passionate and compassionate performance. And the actors who played the abuse survivors, particularly Neal Huff (Phil Saviano), Michael Cyril Creighton (Joe Crowley), and Jimmy LeBlanc (Patrick McSorely) captured the difficulties of telling their stories.
While much of this movie may come off as religion-bashing and a love letter to The Boston Globe, watch carefully because there were times when the Globe failed and other times when individuals in the Catholic Church tried to help and were rebuffed as no one (including the Globe) believed them.
When I look back at so many movies this year, I've seen many with great performances (like The Danish Girl and Concussion) but they seem to be lacking something in the storytelling. Spotlight lacks for nothing.
Steve Jobs (2015)
Captured the Chaos Around Computer Launches Very Well
Steve Jobs really isn't a biopic. It was a look at how Apple/NeXT computers were introduced to the public, how Steve Jobs made those launches happen, and his relationships with several pivotal people in his life (Joanna the marketing czar; Woz his early partner & hardware guru; John his mentor/Apple CEO; Andy, longtime Apple developer; Chris an old lover & mother of his eldest daughter; and Lisa, his daughter).
The movie opens with the SF writer/futurist/inventor & 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke talking in the early '70s about how he envisioned the future of computers. Just about everything Clarke described happened in the computer industry by the late '90s. It was a great introduction to life pre- Internet/pre-personal computer - some people felt the technology would come (before flying cars even). And people like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Paul Allen helped to turn futurists' dreams into realities that conflicted and competed for decades.
The movie covers 3 different computer launches - Mac (1984), NeXT (1988) & iMac (1998), the chaos around them and how to make it look like the computer was working as expected even if it wasn't. Characters weave in and out of Steve's sphere as Joanna tries desperately to keep him focused on the task at hand. A few flashbacks back to the early development days in the garage show how far Jobs came. In many ways he was more of a marketer than his marketing department was.
This movie is great for people interested in computers. It may not be all that revelatory about Jobs himself, though the scenes between Steve Jobs and John Sculley were particularly good. The scenes with his ex-lover and daughter were a little too soap-operish and seemed almost out-of-place even though they were important to the story. Michael Fassbinder as Jobs and Kate WInslet as Joanna were particularly good, but the entire cast was terrific.
I expect to see the movie Steve Jobs adapted as a play any time now, the script is so strong.
Quirky Teen Flick
It's VERY good; a bit much on the extreme close ups (Greg, the lead, is extremely self- absorbed) but a quirky look at his life and how he's forced to visit a classmate with leukemia. My one problem with The Fault in Our Stars was the leads looked too healthy; Olivia Cooke as Rachel really looked quite ill in parts of the movie. The movies that Greg and his friend Earl make were a hoot. Some wonderful stop-motion animation in this movie, particularly in the little movie Earl and Greg make for Rachel. Also enjoyed the way that most of the adults were every bit as weird as the kids, particularly Greg's father and the history teacher.
The Funniest Episode of of Inside the Actors Studio Ever
But it's also just a little bit sad now.
Robin Williams was both thoughtful and reflective, and also completely gonzo during this Inside the Actors Studio episode. He was so fast and so on during that taping, it's simply amazing. There's also the great "shawl improv" where he borrows a pink shawl from a woman in the audience and just uses it as a prop.
He explains how he did his first nude scene in Central Park in the middle of the night which is a very funny story.
The DVD is two hours of hysterical stuff. The Williams taping is rumored to have gone on for 5 hours, which would be a great thing to find and broadcast.
Home Run First Time for Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the better teen flicks of recent times. While I wasn't familiar with male leads (Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller), they could match wits against the excellent Emma Watson in a movie about early '90s teenage angst. Set in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, novelist/screenwriter/director Stephen Chbosky did a fine job with his first book/script/movie.
One highlight of the movie is that most of the characters are fairly well-developed. Even without knowing everything about him, Sam (Watson) and Patrick (Miller) can tell our hero Charlie (Lerman) is another "misfit toy," just as they are. All of the kids have had trouble in the past or in the present, and they're generally dealing with it. But Charlie, especially, has difficulties. Chbosky shows how Charlie's past problems can't always be hidden, and emerge in some unexpected ways.
The movie makes good use of its Pittsburgh location, particularly with some memorable trips over the Fort Pitt bridge. Any movie that can both cast Tom Savini and give Eide's a plug is good in my book! This movie might be a movie like American Graffiti in the future - a movie with an awful lot of young talent in one place at one time.
Won't Back Down (2012)
Mostly a Political Polemic
Won't Back Down is less a movie about living, breathing characters (with one exception) and more a political polemic about bad schools and bad unions. Viola Davis manages, as usual, to rise above surprisingly simplistic material and give a fine performance. But most of the characters were reduced to giving talking points, and some usually good actors gave surprisingly bad performances as a result. I know people worked very hard on this movie, and I'd like to be able to give it a more positive review...but I just can't.
This movie also made pretty good use of its Pittsburgh location, particularly nice use of the the incline. Points for the many sports-related T-shirts and the Giant Eagle bread.
Rare Comedy That Doesn't Give It All Away in the Trailer.
Liked much of the movie very much - not every plot point is revealed in the trailer, for one thing. For another, while it was raunchy and foul-mouthed, it wasn't disgusting (well, except in one part), so it didn't annoy me quite as much as Bridesmaids did last year. It makes many insightful comments on mid-'80s culture (or lack thereof) and on celebrities. It does fall apart a little about 2/3rds of the way through when it generally stopped being so funny and started taking itself a little too seriously. While I don't care for Seth McFarlane's TV work, I enjoyed most of Ted, and think he, like Ben Affleck, has a great ear for the South Boston style of speech and attitude.