All Defiant on the Western Front in Wonder Woman

Early on in Patty Jenkins’ confident and electrifying big-screen Wonder Woman epic, after getting rescued by the film’s hero (a robust yet appealingly vulnerable Gal Gadot), our guy in distress (a somewhat charming gritty Ken Doll with a sense of humor, Chris Pine) upon being asked about how he stacks up to other men says, “I’m above average.” In some ways, that’s the best way to describe Wonder Woman in comparison to every other superhero movie. It’s above average. But to leave it at that would be deny the film’s subversive charms and contextual place in the pantheon of fantasy films as mirrors into the audience’s psyche.

Let’s not dismiss, however, just how fun it is to simply watch an above average film in this over-saturated genre. Jenkins and her crew show great creativity and tactical savviness in their treatment of all the genre clichés while choosing a relaxed and serialized pacing in the action, following each big set piece with moments of more intimate drama and character development (witness celebratory Belgian villagers and our heroes dancing in the streets in the evening snowfall that seems ripped from a great war-time romance).

The film’s inherently silly exposition (routed in Greek myth) is made palpable thanks to beautifully rendered Renaissance-style paintings of Greco-Roman fantasy come to life – smartly linking the lore and art of old with modern comic book pages and colorful cells flipped through feverishly by childhood’s fingers. Playful camera angles bring to life a rousing aeronautical flyover of an exploding enemy bunker and battle horses and motorcycles racing through war-torn woods, while slo-mo is used judiciously when warranted and not just for the sense of style. Continue reading

Scaling the Wuthering Iron Heights of Fundamental Boredom

Well, after every hot streak, there’s a cold spell when it comes to movie viewing. After the cinematic nirvana that was the fearsome foursome of To the Wonder, The Place Beyond the Pines, 42 and Mud…I got lost in the boredom of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Iron Man 3 and Wuthering Heights.

A mirror with no depth.

A mirror with no depth.

For a film that is purportedly about SO MUCH, Mira Nair’s mostly inept The Reluctant Fundamentalist fails to shed any depth of light on current geopolitics, the American Dream, East vs. West or terrorism in our post 9-11 world. There are the seeds of a good film here, but nothing is fleshed out sufficiently. There’s some good acting (Kiefer Sutherland is especially effective as a Bain Capital-style Wall Street exec) and some god-awful acting (Kate Hudson delivers possibly her worst performance, all quirky mannerisms and crocodile tears) – but it all amounts to a big shrug of the shoulders and sleepy eyes. Nair’s career has been in a downward spiral since Monsoon Wedding – her films now shed of all her signature cross-cultural color, class clashing and heart. It’s shocking to watch this film and think that this was made by the same director of Salaam Bombay.

It's nice to see RDJ talk shit to a kid in IRON MAN 3.

It’s nice to see RDJ talk shit to a kid in IRON MAN 3.

Meanwhile, to call Iron Man 3 boring is a bit unfair. I was entertained for most of its runtime as this was probably (and thankfully) the funniest film of the series with some really great dialogue for Robert Downey Jr (and one particularly mean-spirited jab at a kid that had the audience howling) and (SPOILER ALERT!) a hilarious performance from Ben Kingsley. The acting here was all around swell, especially Guy Pearce who has become really good at playing dastardly fellows in his middle-age.

Continue reading

Revisiting Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

And thus Bruce Wayne’s fate was set from the start.

When I think about my favorite genres of film I turn to noir, crime dramas and psychological thrillers. My least favorite genres of film would probably be musicals, romantic comedies and comic book movies. Hence, back in 2005, when one of my favorite up-and-coming purveyors of my favorite types of film decided to take on a reboot of a comic book movie franchise, my faith was tested. Not even I could predict then that Christopher Nolan would pull off the unexpected. He took the most obvious and surface level of modern archetypal stories and used its trappings as a vehicle to tap into a cultural zeitgeist and to provide commentary on our contemporary war against global terrorism.
Continue reading

X Men A Go Go

Oh my dear, Ms. Lawrence, why so blue?

Hollywood loves to rewrite history – not only their recent movie history, but actual history history.  Here in the context of some mutant hybrid of a prequel and a reboot — a preboot? a requel? — Hollywood has decided to (almost completely – but not without some fan boy in-jokes and cameos) erase the history of the X-Men franchise (and quite honestly, who can blame them after the Wolverine train wreck?) while simultaneously providing us with a shocking Inglourious Basterds style revision of history.  Who knew that mutants were behind the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Thanks, Hollywood!  Knowledge is power!

But the real reason to provide a backdrop like the Cuban Missile Crisis is to create an excuse to go totally a go-go and deck smokin’ hot babes in short skirts and high boots and give uber-villains cool pads with all kinds of Ikea-inspired furniture.  You won’t find me complaining here – the film (and the ladies and the set pieces and the special effects) look fantastic.  Continue reading

A Review of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”

Terror in the Knight, 22 July 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Director Christopher Nolan has tapped into a cultural zeitgeist with his soaring Dark Knight.  No other director has shown so much ambition while working within the context of such an iconic name brand belonging to popular culture. By building upon the excellent framework he set with Batman Begins and adding in the chaos of the Joker (Heath Ledger, legendary) and the tragedy of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, admirable), Nolan, like Hitchcock before him, utilizes a B-level genre flick to tap into our shared cultural fears. Along with his co-writer brother, Jonathan Nolan, the director crafts a tightly wound tapestry that explores our archetypal fears of losing our identity and becoming that which we hate, while tuning into post 9/11 fears of terrorism, cowboy diplomacy, wire-tapping, and vigilante justice run amok.

The cast assembled falls right into place with Nolan’s epic and relentlessly dark vision of our current superhero mythology. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are again perfect in their supporting roles of wisdom and gadget providers, while Gary Oldman receives a surprising amount of screen time and delivers a sterling Oscar-worthy performance as the tormented Commissioner James Gordon. Replacing the dreadful Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal is spry and feisty as assistant DA Rachel Dawes, but still seems out of place in her role. Bale is again brooding and effective as Bruce Wayne, though he gets overshadowed by the sly trickster that is Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ledger is everything he’s been hyped up to be. He’s scary good and his insanely nuanced and subversively humorous performance haunts the film while his character terrorizes Gotham with a feverish intensity that is divinely married to Nolan’s amped up tempo of thrills.

The opening moments of the film fall victim to the typical trappings of a sequel as it tries to reintroduce us to the cast regulars while setting the stage for new conflicts. However, once the Joker starts playing his games, Nolan ratchets up the tension to a nightmarish effect that will leave your pulse pounding for two hours. With each terrorist act of the Joker and ensuing catastrophe, Nolan ups the ante, resulting in a film that is enormously entertaining while also making the obvious bloated runtime seem oppressive and nerve-wracking…almost as if the film is a terrorist attack against the audience…

…and maybe that’s the point. With the opening camera swoop between skyscrapers zeroing in on a single window taken straight from Hitchcock’s opening shot from Psycho, Nolan tells the audience what they are in store for. Two more images, along with Ledger’s ghastly scarred and make-up covered visage, seep into the viewer’s subconscious. The first is after a building is exploded we see an image of firefighters spraying water over the scalding steel left behind that is eerily reminiscent of scenes from Ground Zero. The second is after a hospital is demolished, an image of the building’s carcass on the television seems taken straight from the Oklahoma City Bombing. As we watch the harrowing Joker-less climax involving Batman, Dent, and Gordon, and knowing in the back of our minds what became of Ledger in real life, we realize that terrorism can not only come from without, but from within. Sometimes we are our own worst victims.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468569/usercomments-1186

_______________________________________________________________________

Check out my review of the original Batman Begins:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0372784/usercomments-501

A Review of “Iron Man”

CAPTION:  Gwyneth Paltrow uses a military escort to pick up Robert Downey Jr. from rehab.

Adequate Cure for Cinematic Anemia, 6 May 2008
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

The crown prince of America’s premier weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (a sober Robert Downey Jr.) grows a conscience after being captured by terrorists in Afghanistan and decides to fight for what’s right in an innovative piece of body armor technology that will henceforth be known as Iron Man in Jon Favreau’s predictable but fun Marvel comic film adaptation.

Wisely abandoning the corny mawkishness of the Spiderman films and the recent attempt to revive the Superman franchise, Iron Man instead offers up some light satire, bright-eyed cynicism, and an attempt at witty banter. The always lovely Gwyneth Paltrow is a delight as Stark’s sassy assistant Pepper Potts, and it’s nice to see her doing something light and fun for a change. Also part of the off-kilter cast are Terrence Howard as Stark’s inexplicable military friend and Jeff Bridges bald and bearded as Stark’s mentor (and dun dun dun…enemy?) Downey Jr. apparently ad-libbed much of the dialog, which sometimes falls flat, but for the most part works. It’s certainly far more enjoyable than the typical fan-boy in-jokes that plague most comic book movies.

Certainly this is no Batman Begins in terms of depth and scope of drama, but with slam-bang special effects and an effortless feel (despite a slow build up to the action), Iron Man certainly fits the bill as a better than average comic book/action film. Is it any wonder critics and audiences have embraced it so warmly after suffering through loud obnoxious dreck like Transformers?  While it has been a bit oversold, Iron Man proves that great special effects can be built around a smart story that doesn’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator. Until The Dark Knight it will have to cure our cinematic anemia.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0371746/usercomments-340