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

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Tea Party Wish Fulfillment, Messianic Fetishism and the American Way in Man of Steel

Muh ha ha...I am a god.

Muw ha ha…I am a god.

To be the smartest man in the room.  It’s a nice place to be.  Christopher Nolan has reached a point in his career where he is the smartest man in the room.  Warner Brothers begged him to reboot the Superman film mythos, but Nolan wisely decreed that he was the last person who should do that.  He knew after his successful reboot of Batman that lightening doesn’t strike twice.  Yet Hollywood lives off the delusion that lightning can strike twice.  So, Nolan, not wanting to bite the hand that fed him, agreed to produce and bring along many of his cohorts (notably screenwriter David S. Goyer and epic score maestro Hans Zimmer) to help breathe life into a stale franchise.  He gets paid no matter what, and if this things bombs, hey, he wasn’t the director (meanwhile he’s busy crafting his own original film, Interstellar).  In comes Zack Snyder, a keen visual stylist who too often succumbs to his own fetishes involving shaky camera-work and overblown non-sensical FX spun into a blender, to direct.  The result is the overstuffed but weirdly entertaining Man of Steel – which brings great comfort to the writer in me, for it’s Goyer’s script (thoughtful, though full of holes and far from perfect) that rises above Snyder’s bombastic attempt to derail the film at every turn.

Man of Steel’s greatest assets (apart from Zimmer’s score) are the cast members.  The filmmakers wisely brought on two of this generation’s greatest character actors to take on key roles: Michael Shannon, enraged and menacing as General Zod and quadruple Oscar nominee Amy Adams as a feisty and smarter than usual Lois Lane.  It’s a real treat to watch Shannon not so much chew scenery as he does annihilate it (literally, his super-alien romper-room shenanigans with our title character bring down buildings) and it’s refreshing to see Adams’ Lois get in on the action and discover Clark Kent’s true identity from the start.  She coos and pants in his arms when he rescues her, but she’s no fool and unlocks the key to bringing down Zod.  Meanwhile, enjoyable cameos abound with Russell Crowe overacting as Jor-El; Kevin Costner under-acting as the senior Kent; Diane Lane pretty, naturally aged and forlorn as Ma Kent; Laurence Fishburne sadly wasted as Lois’ boss; and Christopher Meloni as a noble military man. Continue reading

Me Myself and Prometheus

Noomi oh my! Don’t go in there!

The trajectory of the Alien series has followed an eerily parallel path to my own life.

Behold, both Alien and I were born into this world in 1979 with great fanfare…and we scared the bejesus out of all.

We then went through a zany action-packed early childhood, with me waging wars with my GI Joe figures on my parents’ living room floor and James Cameron waging war on-screen with Aliens in 1986.

Then there were the awkward and painful teenage years that both I and the Alien series would rather forget. Cough cough Alien Cubed. Egads! Alien: Resurrection.

Then there was the turn of the century where we both kinda sold-out and lost ourselves. Ugh…Alien vs. Predator! What were we thinking?

But now past the age of 30 we both have grown introspective and retrospective, once again returning to the great mysteries of life and the age-old questions of where did we come from and why does our creator hate us? And thus, Ridley Scott comes full circle in his career and has bequeathed to us this ponderous and wickedly entertaining Prometheus.
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis acts circles around James Franco in new Apes flick.

 
When the trailers first hit the market for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was not impressed.  Here it seemed Hollywood was yet again rehashing an old franchise that didn’t warrant revisiting.  The effects didn’t look very good, and the story seemed as silly as ever.  Sure, I enjoyed the original films as a kid, but even then I recognized them as high camp, and their lame attempts at social commentary were lost inside of actors in goofy ape suits and Charlton Heston’s comical over-emoting.  But then the film came out this past weekend, and the good buzz was palpable and made me think I should check it out in spite of my misgivings.  I come before you, my readers, willing to admit when I am wrong.
 
The Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the best reboot of any franchise since Batman Begins.  It’s also the most fun I’ve had watching a sci-fi morality tale since District 9.  While it lacks District 9‘s satirically leanings and over-the-top gore, it makes up for it in character development and emotional involvement.  Whereas the original series clumsily drew parallels to the Civil Rights movement, this new incarnation goes back to the age-old warnings against Man abusing Nature and underestimating the power of animal instincts. Continue reading