2017 Summer Movie Review: Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) springs into action in Patty Jenkins’ origin story of the Amazon princess. (Source: Screen Rant)

Wonder Woman has been around since World War II. Not only has the heroine been appreciated by women, but also men. A lot of you might remember the campy show from 1975 starring Lynda Carter, as she saves the world from the Nazis. While Wonder Woman has been featured in a couple of feature-length films (e.g. The LEGO Movie, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice), and straight-to-video animated films, there has never been a live-action standalone film starring her. Until now.

The DC Extended Universe is off to a rocky start. While Man of Steel provided a more twisted take on Superman, it hardly managed to stick with the nature of who he really is. Last year’s Batman vs. Superman had potential to make up for its predecessor’s flaws (including Superman seeing humanity wipe away from his eyes as opposed to saving it). While it did for the first thirty minutes, it resulted in being an absolute disgrace to both Batman and Superman. Suicide Squad, which also came out last year, also became a wasted opportunity featuring a talented cast, clunky action, and horrible exposition. This time, director Patty Jenkins (Monster) and her crew save the day by providing an origin story with heart, humor, badassery, emotion, and bursting with color.

Welcome to the Amazonian island of Themiscyra! Where it’s populated only immortal women, and men aren’t allowed due to war. Diana (Gal Gadot) wants to become a warrior just like everyone else including her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). While her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) does not allow this to happen, Antiope secretly trains her anyway. One day, Diana discovers a plane crash landing in the water. She finds out the pilot is a man. His name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American working as a spy for the British. Diana learns about the Great War, and thinking Ares, the god of war, might be responsible. With her body armor, lasso of truth, among other weapons, Diana and Steve go to London to save the world from German general Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his minion Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), also known as Dr. Poison.

Prior to its release, the Alamo Drafthouse decided to hold women-only screenings for Wonder Woman. Not surprisingly, this caused outrage among everyone. While the theater chain never had screenings where men are only allowed for any superhero movie, it’s just a blow to the head in terms of gender equality. The demographic among movies based on comic books are intended for everyone. Wonder Woman is a prime example of being a symbol of gender equality. This movie is no exception. She works alongside men and cares for those around her. Given the movie is set during World War I, Jenkins intended to have the movie set during the height of the suffragette movement in Great Britain and the United States. With its traditional three-act structure, they each have an exhilarating, sleekly-edited action set piece. The scene where Wonder Woman walks through No Man’s Land is one of the best you will see all summer.

From being Miss Israel to starring in Fast and Furious, Gadot has certainly come a long way. She proves that she can be more than just a pretty face. She is charismatic, naïve, and simply kicks ass! Seriously! How can you not get pumped when the electric guitar music starts playing in the background once Wonder Woman heads into action!? (The score is another great one to add into Rupert Gregson-Williams’ repertoire).

Pine’s Steve Trevor provides the film’s deadpan sense of humor as he tries to understand about Diana’s nature, and eventually working with her and his buddies. His motivation serves the movie well, given its gender-neutral state. The supporting characters also have motivations of their own, particularly Ewen Bremner (Spud from Trainspotting) as the Scottish sharpshooter Charlie, who suffers from PTSD.

If the villains had a little more depth, Wonder Woman would have been a perfect movie. This is the first film from the DCEU that I’ll watch over and over again. Bring on the Justice League!

3.5/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: Hell or High Water

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Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) try to save their family’s ranch in Hell or High Water (Source: IMDb)

2016 has provided some of the most original films in recent memory. For Hell or High Water, it has the plot devices of a traditional Western. Two outlaws wreak havoc in town. They do everything they can to get away with it. Someone is out after them. This time, it’s set in modern times. Instead of riding on horses, the outlaws drive in cars and trucks. Instead of the good-ol’ saloon, they eat at restaurants and cafes. Along with Eye in the Sky and last week’s Don’t Breathe, I have never seen movie this thrilling all year. But, this is something quite special.

In West Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a divorced father who wants to do anything to be around his sons. The ranch operated by his family is being foreclosed by the Texas Midlands Bank. He calls upon his older ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to plan a series of heists in order to save their ranch. Meanwhile, the county sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the verge of retirement. As the brothers plan their final robbery, he and his deputy Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are out to put an end to it.

David Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens make every scene look like a painting. The robberies offer enough tension as if the audience feels like they are part of the robbery. In their first movie since The Finest Hours (one of Disney’s biggest box-office flops), Foster and Pine have never been better. The irony in Hell or High Water is the villains are the banks rather than the criminals. Toby is focused, while Tanner is a giant hothead. Together, they are trying everything to exceed their limits in saving the ranch. Even though this will be the last time they might see each other during this economic crisis.

The characters know how to get around every situation. As suspenseful as the movie is, the movie has a razor sharp wit, thanks to the wonderful screenplay by Taylor Sheridan of Sicario. In one scene, Hamilton likes to make jokes about Alberto’s Indian heritage. One day, they decide to get a bite to eat at a restaurant. “What don’t you want?” the waitress asks. These two are confused. She tells a story about a customer wanted trout instead of T-bone steak and baked potatoes.

Hell or High Water defines the summer. Let the Oscar buzz commence!

4/4

2016 Summer Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

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Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew enter a new world in Star Trek Beyond

In 2009, J.J. Abrams rebooted a franchise that made Trekkies and newcomers “boldly go where no one has gone before”. Without watching the original series, it didn’t matter with Star Trek. Learning the backstories of James T. Kirk and Spock in a futuristic world. As well as being blown away by the visuals and the performances by a gifted cast. It resulted in being one of 2009’s best movies. Despite its flaws, Star Trek into Darkness is a worthy sequel with Benedict Cumberbatch in a menacing portrayal as one of the most menacing villains in the franchise. In Star Trek Beyond, Justin Lin takes out the lens flare and having the movie follow more closely to the show, which Trekkies will likely appreciate.

Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Chekov (Anton Yelchin, who died in a car accident last month at the age of 27), Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and the rest of the Enterprise crew are three years into their five-year expedition through space. They are thinking of what they want to do with their lives afterwards. For instance, Kirk wants to be a Vice Admiral of Yorktown while naming Spock as the new captain of the Enterprise. All of a sudden, Krall (Idris Elba) and his crew attack the starship. He’s looking for an artifact that would cost the lives of many. The ship crash lands on an uncharted planet called Altamid. They must find their way off the planet.

As the writer, Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty) allows Star Trek Beyond to take enough time to build before discovering the planet. The chemistry between Bones and Spock is the biggest focus. While on the Enterprise, Spock has a conflict between his human and Vulcan qualities. Unlike Bones, he cannot express his human emotions well. It’s always a joy to watch them bond. They provide some of the funniest and most poignant moments.

As character-driven as the sequel is, it has the action-fueled energy one would expect from Star Trek or the director. It also features the humor and heart of the adventure. Jaylah (played to perfection by Sofia Boutella) is a great addition to the universe. After voicing Shere Khan in the remake of The Jungle Book, Idris Elba hits out of the park once again as the villain.

Live long and prosper, Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.

3.5/4

Movie Review: Into the Woods

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The Witch (Meryl Streep) explains to the baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) on what she needs in Rob Marshall’s “Into the Woods”

While Disney is remaking their classic movies for the new generation including Kenneth Branagh’s version of Cinderella coming out in March (which I’m quite looking forward to seeing), we get something a little different. Based on Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical, Into the Woods is a musical featuring characters inspired by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. following a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wishing for a child. They encounter a once-beautiful witch (Meryl Streep), who has put a curse on the baker’s family tree long ago. They agree to go into the woods to end the curse three days time before the rise of the blue moon to give the witch four items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, a hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Along their way, they meet Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), who are out to fulfill wishes of their own.

With gorgeous sets and costumes, terrific and well-choreographed musical numbers, and a great performances from the cast (even Johnny Depp makes a big step-up from his last dreadful performance in The Lone Ranger as the Big Bad Wolf), director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and his team make a wonderful musical about having all wishes come true that is witty and charming, and surprisingly dark and twisted that is perfect for the entire family. I cannot wait to buy the soundtrack. One of 2014’s best.

4/4