Wonder Woman

Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” doesn’t reinvent the superhero genre, but it demonstrates what a bit of diversity in front of the camera can do for it.

Wonder Woman PosterIt’s amazing the fun you can have with a superhero movie when the heroine isn’t grossly oversexualized, when the director isn’t obsessed with exposition and fan service, or when the humor isn’t all snarky, Joss Whedon-esque dialogue.

Such is the woman’s touch that Patty Jenkins brings to “Wonder Woman.” Just to be clear, there have been other superhero and action movies that have featured women and been directed by women. Not many, obviously. But “Wonder Woman” in particular has been saddled with the burden of saving the world from the patriarchy this week.

That’s asking a lot of this popcorn movie. Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it demonstrates what a bit of diversity in front of and behind the camera can do for it. Continue reading “Wonder Woman”

Colossal

Nacho Vigalondo’s quirky indie has a neat premise but a BIG, monster-sized problem and a weak Anne Hathaway performance.

Colossal PosterThere’s a big problem with “Colossal.” Anne Hathaway plays a woman who discovers she’s in control of a giant, kaiju monster attacking Seoul, Korea. Of course, the monster is merely a metaphor, and it finds a way of ruining both Seoul and the movie.

Nacho Vigalondo’s film gets undermined at every turn specifically because of that monster-sized metaphor that makes its story unique. “Colossal” wants to be about taking control of your life and not allowing abusive relationships to get in the way, but like any monster movie, the monster is there to ruin everything.

Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a woman who has been depressed and mooching off her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) for a full year without a job. When he kicks her out of their apartment, she returns home and finds little better to do than sleep on an air mattress in an empty room of her parents’ old, rundown house.

She’s moving through her life as if nothing matters and that she has no impact on the rest of the world. But the metaphor couldn’t be louder when Gloria finds out there’s a gigantic monster attacking Seoul, and her every movement causes the monster to mimic her and wreak havoc.

When Gloria returns home and bumps into her grade school friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who never left, she doesn’t realize that her first world problems and moping are opening up old wounds. When she expresses her astonishment that a monster is attacking Korea, her boyfriend responds, “That happened nine hours ago. What have you been doing all day?” She’s so out of it that she doesn’t realize the world has quickly moved on around her. Continue reading “Colossal”

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

James Gunn and Marvel are telling us everything we’re seeing in this sequel to “Guardians of the Galaxy” is remarkably cool, but it’s trying too hard.

The opening set piece to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a battle for the ages with a giant octopod, slug thing. But distracting our attention is Baby Groot plugging in an amplifier to blare “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra.

Now, if you need a reminder of who Groot is, in the last “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he was a sentient tree being that only ever spoke three words, “I Am Groot.” Now he’s a baby. Clear?

But fear not: age differences aside, he and the Guardians still have the same taste in ‘70s AM radio. And apparently more interesting than another CGI battle is watching this four-inch-high Chia pet shimmy its hips. Director James Gunn seems to know we’ve grown desensitized to whatever mayhem is going on behind Baby Groot, and at this point American audiences would still pay hundreds of millions of dollars even if it meant we were placated for something mindless and cute for just a few moments.

That’s what “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” has come to. It’s ridiculous there are people honestly writing about this with any degree of seriousness, let alone even calling it a movie. It’s explosively colorful, filled with endless inane chatter, heavy on catchy pop songs used as superhero music videos, and littered with enough made up space words to convince someone there’s a plot, characters and stakes here.

Gunn jams “Guardians 2” with gigantic space opera moments and activity, but at every turn he shoe horns in a joke to lighten the mood and remind everyone this is all just mindless entertainment. The details don’t matter, because we’re just moments away from another shot of Baby Groot eating M&Ms as the world explodes around him. Continue reading “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

The Circle

Emma Watson is great in James Ponsoldt’s “The Circle,” which thoughtfully shows how good intentions through technology can still corrupt.

As Emma Watson drives up to the campus of The Circle, the fictional, Google-like, Silicon Valley tech giant in James Ponsoldt’s film of the same name, the exterior is a massive, circular stone wall stretching to infinity on an island unto itself. It looks like a fascist fortress straight out of “The Hunger Games.” Even though the interior is a sort of millennial utopia, it’s not a stretch to ask, “I wonder if these guys turn out to be evil?”

“The Circle,” based on Dave Eggers’s novel, takes aim at the consequences of an overly connected, internet-obsessed digital culture. And like any movie warning of the dangers of technology, it can’t help but be cheesy. When every Bourne and Bond and HBO sitcom has taken on Big Brother, “The Circle” already looks a bit outdated.

Watson however has the idealism and innocent demeanor in her performance that actually makes you believe and embrace the Silicon Valley ideology. In Watson’s real life, she’s grown to resist taking photographs with fans and values her privacy. So she’s interesting casting as Mae, a girl who starts out as a “guppy” in a massive pond, only to become someone who broadcasts her every waking moment to the world. Continue reading “The Circle”

Sleight

J.D. Dillard’s “Sleight” takes its most unique selling point and buries it beneath a generic gangbanger and drug dealer story.

Sleight_film_posterHere’s a magic trick: let’s show you what’s interesting about “Sleight,” and make it disappear.

J.D. Dillard’s “Sleight” takes its most unique selling point and buries it beneath a generic gangbanger and drug dealer story. It’s a film about a kid with promise and potential whose bad choices cause him to squander it, and the movie can’t avoid making his same mistakes.

Bo (Jacob Latimore) is an honor student turned drug dealer and street performer who specializes in magic tricks. He levitates rings, makes playing cards appear in purses and even hides contraband from the cops.

His secret though is that he has a little assistance. In one scene he’s nursing an infected metallic coil embedded just below his shoulder. He levitates some batteries into a trash can that’s supposed to explain his trick, but it would honestly make more sense if Bo actually had superpowers instead of this science project he’s cooked up. Continue reading “Sleight”

Rapid Response: The Passenger

Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider go existential in this introspective 1975 drama from Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni.

The Passenger PosterOn paper, “The Passenger” sounds like a thriller. But it’s an introspective examination of the self, an existential road trip movie with a spy element and a hint of danger. This is the way Michelangelo Antonioni does cloak and dagger espionage.

Jack Nicholson stars in the film and gives a stirring performance released the same year as his first Oscar-winning work as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Nicholson plays David Locke, a journalist in Africa so fed up with his assignment that he throws up his hands and declares he doesn’t care anymore. His car gets stuck in the sand, he’s literally spinning his wheels, and as he agonizes in defeat, Antonioni’s camera pans to reveal the enormity of the desert.

Back in his hotel, he finds his one English speaking companion, David Robertson, dead in his room. Jack reacts to it with the same irritated scowl as not having soap for the shower. Locke convinces the hotel clerks that he’s the one who’s dead, while he assumes the identity of Robertson, leaving his wife and his job behind. The only challenge is that Robertson is an illegal arms dealer in Africa. Continue reading “Rapid Response: The Passenger”

Harold Lloyd’s ‘Speedy’ and ‘The Freshman’

Two of the silent comedian Harold Lloyd’s most famous films demonstrate his everyman charm that allowed him to stand out from Chaplin and Keaton.

The Freshman Poster Harold LloydCharlie Chaplin would’ve never cared about the score of the Yankees game. Buster Keaton would’ve never tried for the college football team. It seems absurd that a movie star could actually distinguish themselves by being ordinary, but that’s exactly what Harold Lloyd did. He donned a pair of glasses and transformed himself into an everyman, carving out a niche between Chaplin’s precocious Tramp and Keaton’s stoic clown.

It feels appropriate then that with “The Freshman” this “regular fellow” inadvertently invented the sports movie and the college movie. Lloyd plays an eager young freshman who decides to imitate a recent movie in an attempt to become the most popular guy in school. Along the way he endures some playful hazing, a cartoonishly stuffy Dean, and public humiliation and abuse at parties and at football practice. It’s “Animal House” Class of 1925.

That Dean is a good example of a gag and a character so corny it could only work in a silent film. He has a monocle and a top hat and is astonished that any lowly freshman would even dare speak to him. His character is a cliche and an overused trope, in which the student gets the better of the bitter Dean or faces his wrath. But “The Freshman” and Lloyd in particular are so high spirited and endearingly charming. When he unknowingly pats the Dean on the back, Lloyd looks like a bashful puppy dog. How can you not laugh, and more importantly, relate?  Continue reading “Harold Lloyd’s ‘Speedy’ and ‘The Freshman’”

Beauty and the Beast

Bill Condon’s live action remake of Disney’s animated classic is recreated with true loving care

BeautyandtheBeastPosterBravo Disney! Take a bow. If you’re going to make a shameless, expensive remake of one of your all time classic animated films, do it as well as this new “Beauty and the Beast.” Make it as explosively colorful, graceful and charming as Bill Condon’s film.

The new “Beauty and the Beast” lovingly and painstakingly recreates the original as though it were a shot for shot fan video. That may sound like a step down from the animated film’s originality, but Condon devotes such loving care that it’s not hard to get caught up in the magic. Continue reading “Beauty and the Beast”

13th

Ava DuVernay’s “13th” plays like a filmed think piece about racial injustice we’ve heard far too many times.

13th PosterI only barely watched Ava DuVernay’s film “13th,” just shy of 15 minutes to be exact, because it’s only barely a documentary. It’s more like a filmed think piece stretched to feature length. That’s not to say I don’t agree with DuVernay’s facts or assertions. I also agree there’s an urgent need to address the criminal justice flaws and the systemic racism that African Americans are faced with every day. It’s just, thanks but no thanks; I’ve already read this piece.

DuVernay doesn’t open “13th” with a personal anecdote but a fact recited by Barack Obama. “Think about that,” he says. Just imagine the staggering nature of this statistic on its face without much context. He’s explained that 25 percent of the world’s prison population is in America. Then some talking heads start unpacking that statement and rapidly spin it into a revisionist history of everything you thought you knew about America. They then explain the 13th Amendment contains a semantic loophole that effectively makes slavery legal, and in no time flat, they arrive at the conclusion that “The Birth of a Nation” single handedly shaped Americans’ perception of black people as criminals for generations to come. All in under 15 minutes! Continue reading “13th”

The Straw That Should’ve Broke the Camel’s Back: Trump and Healthcare

The failure to repeal and replace Obamacare should’ve been Donald Trump’s lowest moment. How did we get back to normal?

On Friday March 24, 2017, nothing happened. This is both absolutely false and the literal truth.

On that Friday, President Donald Trump had pressured the U.S. Congress to vote on a healthcare bill that would repeal Obamacare and replace it with a bill that anyone with eyes would know was inferior. Even conservative senators and news pundits started calling it Obamacare Lite. The Republicans didn’t have the votes, but Trump threatened that if Congress did not repeal Obamacare now, he would not only “come after you” and threaten that they would lose their seats in 2018, but he would make everyone keep Obamacare, as if he was holding the country hostage. “Oh no, please don’t make us keep Obamacare,” said the 20 million people currently enrolled in it.

In what was a sensational headline, multiple media outlets reported that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had “rushed” to the White House to inform Trump that in their last ditch effort hours before the vote, they did not have enough support.

The encroaching reality that this bill might be pushed through anyway, in spite of everyone’s best interests as nothing more than a means to get rid of Obamacare, was terrifying. But what alleviated that fear was the thought that Trump would lose. He was overconfident and impatient, and he demanded that this failing pile of garbage (as Trump might put it) go to vote anyway, and he would get savaged. Ooh the sweet justice that would be, to see Trump and Ryan humiliated on the stage they built for themselves, carrying their head in their hands as they explained to everyone why their promise to repeal Obamacare failed.

But none of that happened. Trump and Ryan pulled the bill from a vote at the last minute (which is apparently a thing you can do). Then Donald Trump got on the phone with a reporter at The Washington Post, and he blamed Democrats. Continue reading “The Straw That Should’ve Broke the Camel’s Back: Trump and Healthcare”