Opening in Las Vegas, July 7, 2017

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The 800-pound gorilla this week is Spider-Man: Homecoming  (73), the third iteration of the character in the last 15 years. I am still fascinated that Sony gave up on the Andrew Garfield series after only two films (leaving a post-credit mystery that will probably never be known), but I suppose that going into the MCU they wanted a fresh actor who looked more like a teenager. For purists, it’s blasphemy that Iron Man is his mentor, but whaddayougonnado? I’ll see it.

The only other film opening this weekend is The Big Sick (87), a well-reviewed romantic comedy which is the true story of its star, Kumail Nanjiani. Despite it’s good reviews, this is probably a rental for me–can’t see going out into the heat to catch it.

Review: The Beguiled (2017)

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The Beguiled is Sofia Coppola’s strangely toothless remake of Don Siegel’s film from 1971 that was a Clint Eastwood vehicle. Coppola has said she wanted to focus more on the women, and that’s true, but she has also removed almost all of the lurid, Southern Gothic nature of the previous film, and instead has presented a bland entertainment.

The story of the two films is pretty much identical–a wounded Union soldier, in this case Colin Farrell, is found by one of the girls of a largely abandoned boarding school. She helps him, and much to her reluctance, the headmistress (Nicole Kidman), takes him in. The presence of a man in a female-only enclave stirs up desires and jealousies, especially those of the spinster teacher (Kirsten Dunst) and a precocious teenager (Elle Fanning) that leads to tragedy.

The only way in which Coppola’s film exceeds Siegel’s is the way it looks–the cinematography is stunning. Coppola changes the location from Mississippi to Virginia, and I’m not sure how much Spanish moss there is in Virginia, but Philippe Le Sourd does a magnificent job of capturing the moonlight and magnolias South.

But here is what Coppola has removed, and I think to the detriment–in the 1971 film, the headmistress had an incestuous affair with her brother. There is a scene in which Confederate troops show menace and threaten rape. The nubile teenager tells her age as 17, and basically throws herself at Eastwood. The climactic scene, which I won’t reveal here, is a prolonged, suspenseful scene in Siegel’s film, but in the Coppola version it’s over in about thirty seconds.

Perhaps most importantly, Coppola does not retain the slave character played by Mae Mercer in the 1971 film (it is explained away in one line–“the slave have run off”). Many critics have written that Coppola has made a Civil War film that doesn’t even talk about the issues of the Civil War. Indeed, this could have just as easily been a German soldier in a French school, or an American soldier in a Japanese one, or so on.

But I think that’s a little unfair, because all of Coppola’s films are about people who are trapped, mostly women. Whether it’s Tokyo, the Chateau Marmont, or Versailles, she’s interested in characters who are invisibly chained to a way of life. But in The Beguiled, who is trapped? Kidman and the girls, as prisoners of the way of life that is “gone with the wind?” Or Farrell, who is literally a prisoner of a school full of girls who lock him in his room and basically emasculate him.

If I had not seen the original film (which I did over the weekend) I might have liked this better, as it does not compare well. If I hadn’t, I might have though to myself, “Is that all there is?” but I know that there is more, and Coppola took it out and added not much of anything.

AGEBOC IX–Week Ten

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James is probably on vacation–I haven’t heard back from him, so forgive me for stepping in. Only one new release this week, so easy questions:

The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within half a million on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

What will Spider-Man: Homecoming, earn from Friday-to-Sunday?

Bonus (one point each) 1. How much will Baby Driver drop in its second week?

2. What will be the number 4 movie of the week?

Answers due Friday at noon.

(If someone could do scores from last week that would be great).

 

Review: Marty (1955)

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MartyViewed on its own today, it may be hard to appreciate how significant the 1955 winner of the Best Picture Oscar ‘Marty’ was at the time of its release; British film critic Leslie Halliwell called it “a breath of spring” for Hollywood and just watching the film today on its own merits, it may be hard to appreciate that perspective.

But in the context of what had come before it in American cinema (especially since talkies came in), its significance and impact is much easier to understand. The realism in how the characters in ‘Marty’ behaved and especially how they talked had barely been seen previously in Hollywood mainstream cinema.

Take for example, the most dominant film studio of the 1930s and 1940s, MGM. Their films primarily had smart, usually well-to-do characters always being able to deliver clipped, sharp dialogue full of insights and memorable one-liners. Even a studio like Warner Bros in this era which was much more associated with working-class people (and gangsters) had the same issue.It was hardly naturalistic but it was for the most part extremely effective cinema; after all, it wasn’t called the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood for no reason.

Due to a myriad of factors, Hollywood cinema had a sense of staleness in the early-to-mid 1950s as the medium of television were providing a freshness and realism that was missing from increasingly bombastic, overproduced Hollywood films.

One of the most prominent writers in this medium was Paddy Chayefsky and he was employed to do an expanded version of his TV play ‘Marty’ for the big screen and his script broke all the rules for what constituted quality dialogue in a film. He eschewed having snappy, ‘clever’ dialogue to capture the ‘marvellous world of the ordinary’ of how people really talked. What he menat was capturing how people often ramble, say things that are nothing to do with a group conversation, how they have trouble articulating themselves and the repetition of words. This last aspect is particularly notable as the repeated phrases one hears during the film (“It was a very nice affair” “What do you want to do tonight?”) stay in one’s memory.

But apart from that highly significant aspect, how does ‘Marty’ stand up as a film today?

The film’s story focuses on the title character, a mid-30s bachelor Italian butcher (Ernest Borgnine) whose low self-esteem is exacerbated by associates and family pressuring him to finding the loving partner he’s always longed for. From a situation of hopelessness, things turn for when he falls in love with a teacher at a dance named Clara (Betsy Blair) but for their own selfish reasons those who wanted him married disapprove of this new relationship, putting Marty in a seemingly untenable position.

Chayefsky’s script sharply captures how Marty’s lack of self-esteem and self-worth is reflected by the people who associates with, particularly Angie (Joe Mantell). It appears they are best friends but Angie never seems to provide any real friendship or support to Marty. Indeed when Marty meets Clara, Angie tries to undermine it and just really wants to keep Marty down to his level for his own selfish reasons. If Marty were to marry Clara it’s safe to say Angie would quickly disappear from his life.

Another extremely well-written scene (and the high point of the film) is when Marty’s widowed mother (Esther Minciotti) and widowed aunt Catherine (Augusta Ciolli) converse about moving in together. Catherine is full of bitterness and spite and initially one is repelled by her. But over the course of the scene we see the source of her unhappiness and how as a widow she feels unwanted by her children and is lonely and without purpose in life. By the end of the scene she is defeated and accepting of her fate. It’s a marvellously acted, deeply moving scene with profound insight; something you don’t get often in any scene in any film.

Overall though, it has to be said the passage of time hasn’t served ‘Marty’ particularly well. What felt fresh and unique in 1955 has been imitated so often in the decades since that it feels a bit restricted and formal now, as if trapped by the conventions that it created. And this exposes its weaknesses such as its rather stiff direction by director Delbert Mann, making his winning of the Best Director Oscar that year rather baffling in hindsight.

Overall, ‘Marty’ remains a likable, slice-of-life film with oodles of charm and is highly significant in the history of American 20th Century film. But is it a film which still holds up as being the only film to win both the Best Picture Oscar & Palme D’Or? Not really.

Review: Baby Driver

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Have you ever been driving and imagined if someone, like the cops, was chasing you? What shortcuts would you take? Could you maneuver through those two trucks ahead? And all of this is happening while you’re playing a great driving song on your stereo.

If the answer is yes, which I must admit is my answer, then that will only add to your enjoyment of Baby Driver, a car chase movie with just enough heart and humor to make it meaningful. It’s complete nonsense, but it’s a helluva lot of fun.

Ansel Elgort is Baby, a driver for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey). He has permanent tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, so he constantly listens to music to drown it out (he has several iPods, depending on his mood). The music allows him to focus on what he’s doing, namely, driving to elude police. Spacey swears by him, especially since Elgort tried to steal Spacey’s car and is now paying him back.

The film is built around three car chases. The first is a bank in downtown Atlanta. They get away, but the actual robbers can’t quite understand Elgort, who never talks and always has ear buds. Turns out he lives a quiet life with his foster father (his parents were killed in the crash that damaged his hearing) who happens to be black, deaf, and wheelchair-bound (talk about laying it on thick).

Elgort wants out, and has just one job to do. In the meantime he meets a waitress (Lily James) with whom he instantly falls in love (looking at her, it’s not difficult to believe). The second heist involves an armored car and a citizen with a gun gets involved, but they still get away. Spacey declares them square, but he still wants him to drive for him, and threatens him, the foster father, and James to boot if he backs out.

This leads to the climax, which is an attempted robbery of a post office, and Elgort has tricks up his sleeve. Well, not really, mostly he wings it. I’ll stop there, because the action is suspenseful and the ending is not quite what we expect.

Are there problems with Baby Driver? Yes. For one thing, if I were Spacey, some kind of criminal genius, I’d plan robberies that didn’t involve high risk shootouts and car chases. He should watch Hell or High Water to see how it should be done–get in and out before the police are even there.

Second, as lovely a vision Lily James is, her character is a total non-entity, with no backstory. She is close to Manic Pixie Dreamgirl territory, existing just to give the hero something to live for. Then she becomes the girl that gets in danger and has to be saved. We also have the villain with the Rasputin-like ability to stay alive, no matter the bullets or car crashes.

But the good about Baby Driver, written and directed by Edgar Wright, far outweighs the cliches. For one thing, it’s funny, and has a couple of great supporting performances by two of the bank robbers. Jamie Foxx is Bats, who is probably insane, and doesn’t make friends easily. But the movie really gets stolen by Jon Hamm as a former Wall Street trader, who had “debts that would make a white man blush,” and has turned crook. He has married a Latina (a movie with two great beauties is a definite plus from where I am sitting), Eiza Gonzalez, and is completely dedicated to her. So, when something happens to her…

Spacey is also great, as he is now specializing in playing villains. He doesn’t do the thing expected of him at the crucial time, making the film more interesting. Elgort is pretty much a blank, but he’s supposed to be, and he occupies space as well as anyone. And he has a baby face.

The other “cast member” of the film that makes it work is the soundtrack, much of it actually heard by the actors. We get some of the usual, like Golden Earrings’s “Radar Love,” the greatest driving song ever, to a great foot and car chase set to Focus’ “Hocus Pocus.” I will probably have to pick up the soundtrack album–I just hope that while I’m listening to it in the car I don’t end up speeding.

AGEBOC IX – Week Nine

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Predict the grosses of the films opening the weekend of June 30th-July 2nd, 2017

The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within half a million on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

 

Deadline is Friday, June 30th at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Despicable Me 3 earn this weekend?
  2. What will The House earn this weekend?
  3. What will Baby Driver earn this weekend?

 

Current rankings:

Filmman – 12

Jackrabbit Slim – 34

James – 14

Joe – 20

Juan – 28

Marco – 18

Rob – 8

AGEBOC IX – Week Eight

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“June 23rd” used to mean something.  Alas, this week’s only major release is the fifth installment in a tired franchise from a dying film studio.

Transformers: The Last Knight is Michael Bay’s last outing as Director (he means it this time! Despite saying it twice before! Ok, maybe he doesn’t!) and commercials are selling it as “the final chapter” in the series.  Meanwhile Bumblebee in pre-production and there are a dozen sequels and spin-offs in various stages of development.  So yeah, maybe Paramount’s marketing team isn’t entirely trustworthy.

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of June 23rd-25th, 2017

The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within half a million on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

Opening across the United States this weekend we have

Deadline is Friday, June 23rd at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Transformers: The Last Knight earn this weekend?
  2. Take a moment to appreciate Batman’s (1989) hold on the American public 28 years ago this week. Warner Brothers changed the way motion pictures are marketed forever. (1 point for everyone)

Current rankings:

Filmman – 11

Jackrabbit Slim – 29

James – 13

Joe – 19

Juan – 25

Marco – 17

Rob – 7

Review: Cars 3

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Cars 3 is the 2nd sequel no one asked for, coming 6 years after the 1st sequel no one asked for, which came 5 years after the original. If my numerology is correct that means we have Cars 4 to look 4ward (see what I did there) to in 2025. Now, when I say no one asked for it I’m being facetious of course. Clearly the Cars franchise has been the most ‘merchandise-able’ of all the Pixar films so if cranking out a new film every half dozen years sells another billion dollars in branded items then you’d have to be financially crazy NOT to do it.

Beyond the cynicism, however, this film already had another negative stacked against it: Cars 2. Or, rather, the majority critical and audience response to Cars 2. I personally enjoyed that film even more than the first (though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen either so that could have changed) but if you find yourself in the aforementioned majority let me put your mind at ease! As far as I can remember, Cars 3 makes absolutely no reference (not even a whiff) to anything that happened in Cars 2. In fact, I believe you don’t even have to see the original to enjoy this one. Certainly some of the jokes may get lost, but the flashbacks are spoonfed well enough that no prior knowledge is required.

Also, if you have had enough of Mater and/or Larry the Cable Guy you’ll be happy to know that his shtick and character are toned down (relatively speaking) for this film. He definitely has a presence here, but appears in very small doses at well spaced intervals.

When I first heard of Cars 3 my reaction was “Oh no.” Upon seeing the first trailer, however, my mood changed. I was a sucker for Days of Thunder and seeing the sparks fly while Lightning McQueen crashes on the track set my mind buzzing. Maybe it would end up being a grittier comeback story with some consequences that require sacrifice. The first few previews didn’t focus on the humor, and I warmed up to the idea of actually seeing this in the theater.

With those caveats out of the way I can now get to the review (thanks for sticking with me this far).

Cars 3 is absolutely unnecessary. That thought kept playing through my mind during the middle hour of the film. However the ending wraps up Lightning McQueen’s journey so well that I couldn’t help but feel glad that I saw it. I didn’t recognize the names of any of the writers or the director but even before knowing that this definitely felt like a “lesser” Pixar film.

The opening 15-20 minutes are exhilarating as we once again find Lightning McQueen on the racetrack. He’s still racking up plenty of wins and keeping it fun with his friends who always try to one-up each other with pranks on and off the track. It’s a lighthearted easy life until a newcomer – Jackson Storm – arrives on the scene and proceeds to blow away the competition with ease. Comments are made about McQueen’s age and one-by-one his old friends retire (some forcibly so) and get replaced with rookies in the model of sleek ‘next-gen’ racers like Jackson Storm.

The new cars are sleeker and more electronically connected than McQueen. They have a much higher top speed, more sophisticated training methods and know the optimal racing path for the conditions on every track. Lightning isn’t one to go down without a fight but when he finds himself the odd (and old) man out in his latest race he gets distracted and suffers an horrific crash that probably pushed the limits of the G rating. (I thought the fade-to-black here would have been a good place for title card)

Four months later McQueen is still recuperating in Radiator Springs and the question on everyone’s mind is “Will Lightning McQueen ever race again?” We are treated to some terrific flashbacks involving his old mentor Doc Hudson. Doc’s memory is a huge presence in this film and is much of the heart of this film while we witness Lightning’s journey mirroring the great Hudson Hornet’s story. The next hour, or so, is Lightning trying to find his way back to the racetrack for one more try to see if he’s still got the ‘stuff’ Doc said he had in the first movie.

This is where things begin to drag for a while. It’s not exactly boring, but even throwing a demolition derby in the middle of things didn’t quite liven it up to heart-pumping levels. That actually happens in the final 20 minutes of the film at Lightning’s make-it-or-break it race. A decision is made in the middle of that race that almost had me groaning but, as I said, it actually ends up coming full circle for Lightning McQueen and I think elevated the movie as a whole.

Outside of #95, the characters in this film go from mostly woefully under-developed (Storm, and a new sponsor “Mr.” Sterling) to afterthoughts (most of the original cast, some with different voices) to the almost fully-realized Cruz Ramirez. Cars 3 is really the Cruz & Lightning story for most of the runtime. Cruz is hired as a youthful trainer to get the old guy fit enough to compete with the youngsters. Their butting of heads recalls the Lightning McQueen of the original film but he has gotten a little wiser in his old age. And her exuberance is palpable enough to make their onscreen chemistry (non-romantic) believable.

Speaking of reality, the animation is phenomenal. The photo-realism of the racetracks and mountain scenery (a trip to the smoky mountains of the Carolinas was a real treat in 3-D) is unparalleled. Pixar continues to deliver the most amazing animated visual quality around.

PIXAR SHORTS: Lou, while cute and clever, feels like a lesser-short as well. An elementary-aged bully is terrorized by the items he (may have) lifted from other children. When reminded of how he was previously bullied he decides to turn over a new leaf and actually ends up enjoying it.

AGEBOC IX – Week Seven

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Cars 3 posterRough Night poster
All Eyez On Me poster47 Meters Down Poster

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of June 16th-18th, 2017

The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within half a million on the first question each week earns 2 bonus points.

Opening across the United States this weekend we have Pixar’s Cars 3.  While this latest installment is scoring slightly better reviews than its predecessors, it’s a franchise many will be relieved to see hit the finish line. Like Owen Wilson’s career, this series ran out of gas long ago.

Sony’s Rough Night has a lot going for it (Scarlett Johansson! Kate McKinnon! Jillian Bell! Ilana Glazer!) but I can’t imagine that this lame-looking mash-up of The Hangover and Very Bad Things is worthy of their talents. Similarly, the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me seems like a low-rent take on a potentially interesting subject.

Thanks to the unexpected success of 2016’s The Shallows and star Mandy Moore’s hit series This is Us, the shark attack drama 47 Meters Down is going wide theatrical this weekend.  This is particularly notable because the film was scheduled for home video release a year ago (advanced screeners were even sent to and reviewed by professional critics) before changing distributors at the eleventh hour.  I’m not sure how well this gamble will pay off, but it’s a fascinating case.

Bottom line: it’s a great weekend to do anything but go to the movies!

Deadline is Friday, June 16th at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will Cars 3 earn this weekend?
  2. What will Rough Night earn this weekend?
  3. What will All Eyez on Me earn this weekend?
  4. What will 47 Meters Down earn this weekend?

Current rankings:

Filmman – 11

Jackrabbit Slim – 23

James – 7

Joe – 19

Juan – 17

Marco – 13

Rob – 7

Review: The Mummy (1932)

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Scared away by the horrid reviews, I passed on seeing the newest version of The Mummy. But I did not despair, for in my DVD collection is the original film, released in 1932, and directed by Karl Freund. It certainly does not have the action of the new film, it hardly has any action at all, but it manages to create an atmosphere of creepiness and dread that enthralls (and it’s only 73 minutes long).

After the success of Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal chairman Carl Laemmle wanted to add a mummy picture to his stable of horror characters. There was no definitive text, unlike the others, so he commissioned story ideas. The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 had captured the public’s imagination, and Egyptian decor (including Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, which still stands today) swept the nation. There was also the added element of a so-called curse, which killed anyone who was associated with the discovery of the tomb.

Finally a script by John Balderston, who had adapted the plays of Dracula and Frankenstein, was made. Freund was the cameraman for such classics as Metropolis, The Last Laugh, and Dracula. He was noted for a moving camera (interestingly, at the end of his career he worked on I Love Lucy). This being the 1930s, when special effects where rudimentary, much of the action happens off-screen, letting the viewer imagine what is happening.

This starts in the opening scene. A tomb has been unearthed, and the mummy discovered has not been embalmed, indicating he was buried alive. The archaeologists determine that his name was Imhotep, and he was punished for sacrilege. They also open a box, which warns anyone not to open it lest they be cursed. Inside is a scroll that we later learn has a spell that can raise the dead. Imhotep (Boris Karloff, under eight hours worth of makeup) awakens. But we don’t see him move. Instead, we see a closeup of his hand on the scroll, snatching it. The worker bursts into hysterical laughter seeing the mummy walk, but all we see is a few bandages dragging out the door.

Cut to a few years later. Imhotep now goes by the name Ardath Bey. He helps the archaeologists find the tomb of Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon, for the ulterior motive that he was in love with her. He had been buried alive when he tried to revive her dead body, now he wants to try again. But then he discovers a woman (Zita Johann) who looks uncannily like her. He realizes she is the Princess reincarnated, and instead of reviving her mummy, can simply kill her and immediately raise her from the dead.

For today’s audiences, The Mummy may be very slow going. The joke about Mummy pictures was how could anybody be hurt by one, they’re so slow. Well, Ardath Bey has certain powers that defy distance. He has a pool that can look into the past or present (he shows Johann her past life). He can look into it on a subject and by squeezing his hand give them a heart attack. And, of course, Karloff has one of the best stares in all of movie history. The key lighting on his eyes make his closeups very unnerving. “He’s a strange one,” one of the characters says about him. He has no idea.

This version of The Mummy is one of those romance across times, very much like Dracula (and the Dracula film made by Francis Coppola years later) that gives the monster some sympathy.

The rest of the cast is fine. Johann was an established stage actress who looks like Betty Boop; she later quit Hollywood, disenchanted with it. She marched into Irving Thalberg’s office and asked him, “How can you make such garbage?” Thalberg replied, “For the money, Zita.” Edward Van Sloan is, I believe, the only actor to appear in Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. He played Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula, and plays pretty much the same part here, the only scientist who believes in the supernatural elements of what is going on.

The Mummy spawned a number of lesser sequels from Universal, but this film is the one to watch, especially if the new one leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

A Decade in Film: 1995

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A chronological list of releases can be found here.

1) Best of 1995 or top five?

2) Most disappointing of 1995 (or bottom five if you want to go that route)?

3) Most underrated or underseen? (Example: “reviews weren’t great, but it’s genius because) OR (“No one saw it, but this is why they should…”)

4) Favorite performance(s) of the year?

5) Favorite scene/sequence of the year?

6) Most memorable (good or bad) theatergoing experience of the year?

7) Most influential film/performance/style/director?

Obviously feel free to answer only the questions you’re interested in or to write/respond to something else entirely. The lists themselves are just a starting point to foster discussion.

AGEBOC IX – Week Six

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The Mummy 2017 Poster Tom Cruisemegan leavey Max 3 posterIt Comes at Night poster

Predict the #1 film for the weekend of June 9th-11th, 2017.  The one who predicts closest to the total Friday to Sunday gross for the #1 film wins 4 points. Runner-up gains 2 points. Predicting within half a million earns 2 extra points.

Opening across the United States this weekend we have a reboot of Universal’s The Mummy franchise starring Tom Cruise.  This incarnation is designed to launch a shared universe featuring new takes on classic Universal monsters. Given the iffy tracking numbers and Wednesday afternoon review embargo, they might not be off to the best start.

We’ve also got the critically acclaimed (but generically titled) horror picture It Comes at Night and something called Megan Leavey which is about a soldier (Kate Mara) seeking to adopt the bomb-sniffing dog that saved her life.

Deadline is Friday, June 9th at 12:00 pm (EST)

  1. What will The Mummy earn this weekend?
  2. What will Megan Leavey earn this weekend?
  3. What will It Comes at Night earn this weekend?

Current rankings:

Filmman – 11

Jackrabbit Slim – 17

James – 7

Joe – 11

Juan – 11

Marco – 7

Rob – 7

Review: Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman is not only a hit movie, it’s a sociological phenomenon. All over the Internet there are arguments about whether the film is properly feminist: yes and no. I’ll leave that discussion to the women’s study majors, but as a middle-aged man I can’ recall seeing a film that has a woman battling bad guys for her own reasons, without making her choices based on a man (although she almost kisses one) and passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. If I had a young girl, I’d be proud to take her to the film. For once, DC is ahead of the curve, with Marvel still not planning a Black Widow film (but Captain Marvel is coming).

So I’ll primarily discuss how Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins (who amazingly had not made a film since 2003’s Monster), works as a movie. For the most part, it is a smashing success. It takes the old origin story, makes it interesting, and then poses moral questions that are perhaps more than the average multiplex viewer has to deal with. It also has kick-ass action.

The prologue sees Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) receiving from Bruce Wayne the original plate of a photograph taken during World War I, which gives away that she’s not exactly mortal. The story behind that photo reminds me of the Saturday Night Live sketch that has Superman landing in Germany, not the U.S., and becoming Uber Man. Fortunately, Diana ends up on the side of the Allies in the first World War, because the pilot who enters the idyllic world of the Amazons is an American working for British intelligence (Chris Pine). If the Red Baron had been the first to breach the field on invisibility around the island, everything might have changed.

Anyway, when Diana, who was raised by the Amazons, an all-female class of warrior who live in peace in an island that I would to live on (even without it being all-female–it’s got lots of waterfalls) wants to help end the war, she is told not to go by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). There are numerous references to what Diana “really is,” and I don’t think you’ll be surprised by the answer. She believes that Aries, the god of war, is behind the conflagration, and if she kills him with a sword dubbed the “God Killer” all will be well.

Act II is the fish out of war section, where Diana has to blend in to London in 1918 (she is even given glasses, in perhaps a meta nod to Clark Kent and Superman). Lucy Davis, who was once Dawn Tinsley on The Office, is the comic relief here as Pine’s secretary. Pine knows that though the Germans are close to surrendering, a German general (Danny Huston) is conducting experiments with powerful gas weapons, concocted by a young lady called Dr. Poison (Elana Ayana). The British leaders tell Pine to stand down, as nothing should interfere with the armistice. Pine, with Diana and a rag-tag and diverse group of mercenaries, team up to put a stop to the poison experiments while Diana looks for Aries.

The interesting arguments raised by the film are two: Diana believes that once Aries is dead, there will be no more war, while Pine delicately tries to tell her that it’s not that simple, that mankind is innately flawed and war will continue anyway. When she finally confronts Aries (no spoiling here on who it is) he tries to convince her that the complete destruction of mankind will bring the world back to the peaceful paradise it was before they existed. He’s right, but she takes the Beatles approach : All you need is love.

In some ways Diana is naive about humans–she’s only just met them–and in future films perhaps we’ll see her more jaded. But Gadot is able to make her a very convincing character, one of the better performances by a hero in a comic book film (the villains usually get the good parts). And even though Mr. Gloom and Doom, Zack Snyder, is one of the credited screenwriters, Wonder Woman is unlike his Superman films. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and even a few jokes (mostly from Davis and Saïd Taghmaoui as one of Pine’s small army. “I am both frightened and aroused,” he says, watching Diana dispatch a few German soldiers with ease.

This is what the Slate article picks up on: Diana is hot. Gadot is, after all, one of the world’s most beautiful women. Should the film have ignored that? Perhaps. But Wonder Woman is still a landmark film in the comic book genre (we can forget the lamentable 2004 film of Catwoman). Its success, I hope, will spawn more.