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”

A Most Wanted Man

Anton Corbijn’s adaptation of the John le Carre novel lacks the slow burn of “The American” or visual intricacy of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”

The best spy movies are built on their gray area, the thorny nuance of corruption, deceit and betrayal that keep the wheels turning and our minds guessing. “A Most Wanted Man” is all gray area, with a criminal without a plan or motive, a spy without authority or intentions and a government without regard or patience. Anton Corbijn’s film based on John le Carre’s novel is so densely plotted and hazy that it’s tough to see out the other side.

In Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last complete starring role, he plays Gunther Bachmann, a spy for the German government in Hamburg leading a team of terrorist insurgents so secret that even his unit isn’t officially recognized. For all intensive purposes, they do not even exist. Bachmann’s target is Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a wealthy Muslim philanthropist he suspects is directly funneling money to Al Qaeda under the guise of his many charities.

When a half Russian and half Middle Eastern refugee named Issa Karpov (Girgoriy Dobrygin) shows up in Germany, his focus changes. Corbijn carefully leads us down a rabbit hole into believing he’s an imminent terrorist threat, but a wrinkle shows up in the form of the German lawyer Annabelle (Rachel McAdams). She shows us there may be reason to trust him, as he’s looking for asylum from the Russian government and is seeking a banker (Willem Dafoe) who may be of help.

“A Most Wanted Man” is easier to follow than the remarkably deep and jargon filled “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” another le Carre novel, but Corbijn’s film too is one of constant exposition. The talking is endless, the surveillance goes on behind closed doors and the action never truly starts. Continue reading “A Most Wanted Man”


After the 1992 Rodney King beating was caught on tape, everyone had questions about the victim we were seeing. “Rampart” looks at the other side of the police brutality video, profiling a bad, racist cop who deserves all the pain that comes to him but recognizes he’s human all the same.

Oren Moverman’s (“The Messenger”) film takes place in 1999 Los Angeles, when the LAPD was notorious for corruption. For Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), racism is a part of his daily routine. He’s got the mentality that we know to be stereotypical and wrong, and yet he’s been around so much that he displays a logic and understanding that can be hard to fully disagree with.

When a Mexican gangbanger collides with Dave’s cop car, the man shoves his car door into Dave and tries to make his escape, only for Dave to chase him down and beat him senseless. The violence is caught on video, and the DA’s office feels Dave is the perfect scapegoat to throw to the press as they juggle their own corruption allegations.

As he tries to escape his punishment and remain on the police force, “Rampart” follows Dave’s descent to rock bottom. Before long he’s pulled all of his strings with a former colleague (Ned Beatty), his on the street contact (Ben Foster) and the defense attorney who is his current lover (Robin Wright), and he’s got no one left to turn to in support of his reckless ways.

Less of a crime procedural and more of an emotionally poignant character drama, “Rampart’s” effort to make us feel empathy for this evil man is built on the fiery performance by Woody Harrelson. Blackmail, framing, adultery, brutality and racism; this guy does it all, but Harrelson is careful never to let Dave take sadistic pleasure out of all his hatred.

We see him as a nuanced man, powerless amidst his own family. He was married to two sisters (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche) and fathered a daughter with each. His oldest, Helen (Brie Larson), is now a man-hating lesbian and holds his dad responsible after Dave earned a reputation as “Date-Rape Dave” for allegedly murdering a man trying to rape a woman. He had his reasons for doing what he did to that guy, and they may have even been noble, but what matters is that his family doesn’t feel the same. You wonder then where Dave’s external hatred comes from.

Moverman shoots from canted angles and behind grated bars and windows to show just how skewed a perception Dave has on life. It gets over-stylized at times, and you beg for the simple gritty realism to be found in his previous film “The Messenger.” That movie contained more raw emotion in one, motionless shot that lasted for nearly nine minutes than “Rampart” does in its portrait of a much more emotionally intense character.

Still, “Rampart” is a powerful film. The movie’s cryptic screenplay and open-ended climax has left many audiences frustrated, but the ending doesn’t matter so much as the hard truth that for even the worst guy in the world, we wouldn’t wish upon him the pain of having nothing left.

3 ½ stars

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has made a stark, coldly digitized thriller that is at times brilliant and others tedious.

The Social Network” gave me false hope.

It was my favorite movie of last year. The prospect of seeing David Fincher (and not to mention Trent Reznor) tackling “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” after seeing the Swedish version (I haven’t read the book yet. I know, pathetic, right?) was just too good to be true.

I assumed Fincher’s approach to Facebook and the Zodiac Killer would make him a perfect fit for the cold, computerized, technology driven thriller that made the original so riveting.

In this American adaptation of the Millennium novels and not a remake, Fincher has done exactly what I expected and has made a film that is at times thrilling and brilliant and at others frustrating, slow and dry. Continue reading “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)”

The Conspirator

Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator” poses questions of American values in a time of uncertainty for our country. It conveniently even applies to the recent death of Osama bin Laden, pondering if an unprecedented villain is entitled to his human rights. But could the reiteration of those values appear any more trite than they are here?

Through some extensive and deep research by his screenwriter James Solomon, Redford re-enacts the time following President Lincoln’s assassination through the eyes of Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy), a captain for the Union Army in the Civil War and now a lawyer working for the Southern senator Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson). His job is to defend Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), a keeper of a boarding house charged with sheltering, aiding and conspiring in the murder of President Lincoln with John Wilkes Booth.

Aiken is nearly certain of her guilt, as is the rest of the country looking for answers and revenge, but Johnson convinces him that the Constitution entitles her to the same fair trial as anyone else, and the trial made up of a jury of Northern war officers and a biased Attorney General is not it.

This becomes more than clear as it does in almost all courtroom dramas. A judge is always bitter and unfair, the prosecutor is always ruthless and smarmy, the surprise witnesses are always unpredictable bombshells and the pitiful client will always sit silently and stoically until the climactic moment when an outburst in the courtroom threatens to place them in contempt.

I grew tired of “The Conspirator’s” drawn out portrayal of yet another courtroom drama with hints of conflicting American values not so subtly poking their heads into the proceedings. Continue reading “The Conspirator”