Category Archives: 2017

Wonder Woman (2017, Patty Jenkins)

Wonder Woman has one set of official, awkward bookends and one set of unofficial ones. The former does lead Gal Gadot no favors–after spending a moving building a character, it goes all tabula rosa and turns Gadot into little more than a licensing image. The latter does the film no favors. The latter is lousy CG composites. Wonder Woman is full of them, but none of them are worse than the first one and the last one. They jarringly destroy any verisimilitude director Jenkins and Gadot (in the case of the closing bookend) have been working towards. At least in the prologue–which comes after the first bookend (Allan Heinberg’s script is never plotted well)–there’s the rest of the film. But to close on being yanked out of the picture? It’s the final kick in Wonder Woman’s shins.

After the silly opening frame, bad composite or not, Wonder Woman gets off to a strong start. Connie Nielsen is queen of the Amazons, Robin Wright is general of the Amazons. Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey play the younger versions of Gadot but they’re not the point. Nielsen and Wright are the point. Nielsen’s solid, Wright’s awesome. The costumes are a little questionable, as they’re on an island paradise and Nielsen’s in furs? But it’s good.

Then it’s time for Gadot to take over the role and for Chris Pine to literally fall into her lap. Everything starts moving rather quickly–Pine’s arrival, a battle scene with the Amazons versus German soldiers, Gadot and Nielsen bickering, Gadot heading into the world of man. She can never return to her family, but it’s okay because she’s got a mission. It’s World War I and she’s got to save the world, based on bedtime stories Nielsen told Aspell. Turns out they’re the Amazon equivalents of Santa Claus, which should break some of the film’s logic but no one seems to care.

It’s unfortunate Gadot and Nielsen–and Gadot and Wright–never really get scenes together. It’s always plot perturbing scenes, nothing to build the relationships. Again, Heinburg’s script is never plotted well. Ever.

Anyway, Gadot and Pine have immediate chemistry and for a while Wonder Woman is able to coast. Sure, the CGI London is small and weak, but World War I is a great setting for human sadness. The film oscillates between introducing Gadot and Pine’s ragtag team of personable sidekicks–Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, David Thewlis–and showing Gadot all the horrors people inflict on other people. Ostensibly it should add to some character development for Gadot, but Heinburg and Jenkins don’t ever let it go towards character development.

I mean, they’re going to wipe the slate clean in the end, so why bother.

Tossed into this mix is Danny Huston and Elena Anaya as a German general and his pet scientist, respectively, who are trying to make a mustard gas variant to get through gas masks and kill everyone. And Gadot and Pine only have forty-eight hours to stop them.

Eventually, they get to the Front–where the film introduces Eugene Brave Rock as the last throwaway sidekick, an American Indian who’s a black market profiteer selling to both sides, even though the Germans are really, really, really, really bad guys in Wonder Woman. There Gadot gets to show off her superpowers for the first time, though only in one sequence–albeit an pretty awesome one, save the weak CG composites of course–before the film starts its downhill run into the third act.

Most of the action–including Gadot and Pine sailing from “Paradise Island” to England–takes place in four or five days. And the big battle finale, with its numerous revelations and plot twists, takes up maybe a quarter of the film. Then it’s time for the closing bookend, which echoes one of the weakest revelation sequences from the finale, and the movie’s over.

Gadot’s good, regardless of the film eschewing the idea she’s supposed to be developing a character. Pine’s good. Davis, Taghmaoui, Bremner, Thewlis, and Brave Rock are good. Everyone’s good. The acting isn’t an issue, it’s the writing and the pacing. And the film’s reliance on some shallow, manipulative (and not even good manipulative) radio show positive message philosophy to wrap things up nice and tidy. Except Wonder Woman is supposed to be, at least on some level, a war movie–seeing sweet little Aspell get wide-eyed and excited at the prospective of war is something else–and the tidy finish rings false.

Better special effects would’ve helped. Not setting the last battle sequence entirely at night and in confined spaces would’ve helped too. A lot of things–like a better screenwriter than Heinburg, a better cinematographer than Matthew “shooting through pea soup” Jensen, a better score than Rupert Gregson-Williams can deliver–would’ve helped. Jenkins does fine with what she’s got. And editor Martin Walsh is all right.

The Wonder Woman action guitar riff (which isn’t even original to this film) is dumb.

The film ends up completely wasting Huston and Anaya. Anaya, actually, twice gets to be a metaphor for the script’s utter lack of integrity.

Still, it could be much worse. The bookends are almost threats to how much worse it could’ve been. But it’s a complete disservice to Gadot, who more than proves herself a capable lead.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Patty Jenkins; screenplay by Allan Heinberg, based on a story by Zack Snyder, Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs, and characters created by William Moulton Marston; director of photography, Matthew Jensen; edited by Martin Walsh; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; production designer, Aline Bonetto; produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, and Richard Suckle; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gal Gadot (Princess Diana of Themyscira), Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), Danny Huston (General Ludendorff), Elena Anaya (Dr. Isabel Maru), Connie Nielsen (Queen Hippolyta), Robin Wright (General Antiope), Lucy Davis (Etta Candy), Saïd Taghmaoui (Sameer), Ewen Bremner (Charlie), Eugene Brave Rock (The Chief), and David Thewlis (Sir Patrick Morgan).


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T2 Trainspotting (2017, Danny Boyle)

T2 Trainspotting is a victory lap. John Hodge’s screenplay is thorough, thoughtful, cheap, and effective. It goes so far as to integrate unused portions of the original Trainspotting novel to try to get build up some character relationships. Because T2 is an expansive sequel. It’s got a contrived inciting action, which Hodge and director Boyle don’t even try to cover. The contrived nature of it is charming, after all. A slightly twisted kind of charming, but still charming.

Boyle’s a little too comfortable and a little too mature of a director to try much with the film’s visual aesthetic. There’s newly created Super 8 flashback footage–revealing the gang’s childhood friendships–and there’s even cleaned up footage from the original film. Only all the actors are creating new characters and have little connection to either set of flashbacks. Hodge and Boyle try to cover the inconsistency with the charming.

The film starts with Ewan McGregor returning to Edinburgh after twenty years in exile. He used to be a junkie and awesome narrator, now he’s got the Dutch equivalent of associate’s degree in accounting, he loves to jog, and he’s dissatisfied. Ewen Bremner is still a junkie. He’s trying to improve because he really loves his girlfriend and kid, even though they’ve written him off. Jonny Lee Miller is a failing bar-owner and an aspiring blackmailer who’s crushing hard on his sex worker partner (Anjela Nedyalkova). Robert Carlyle is an escaped convict and his son doesn’t want to go into the home invasion trade with him. Son wants to go to college for hotel management.

There are jokes about iPhones, gentrification, modern music, lots more. They’re solid enough jokes, but it’s a Trainspotting cast reuniting the original cast, original director, original screenwriter, original producer and there are no James Bond jokes. It’s like Hodge and Boyle forgot what people enjoyed about the first film’s energy. It’s not an apology, but it’s indifferent. McGregor has one good rant and it could change the movie and it doesn’t. Because McGregor’s not narrating. Because T2 meanders too much for a narrator.

Everyone–except poor Miller–is a protagonist. It starts with McGregor, but then transfers to Bremner through Nedyalkova. Nedyalkova is T2’s secret weapon, even though the film does absolutely nothing for her. She holds the second act together because Hodge and Boyle never figure out the right balance for McGregor, Miller, and Bremner. Carlyle’s on his own for most of the picture, in this dark, dangerous family drama. Carlyle’s story might be where Boyle shows the most interest, actually.

Except he seems to acknowledge Bremner’s giving the film’s far and away best performance, even when he’s actively ditching Bremner for McGregor and Miller’s silly bromance. Hodge’s script is all about personal growth, only he’s also got these goony character twists.

While Bremner and Carlyle have strong characterizations, Miller and McGregor don’t. Miller gets to be black comedy comic relief and McGregor is doing this coming home thing. Only no one wants to commit to a character, not McGregor, not Boyle, not Hodge. They probably should’ve brought him in later.

But they didn’t. Because McGregor’s no one’s favorite protagonist. Except maybe McGregor. Hodge favors Nedyalkova, Boyle likes Carlyle. Everything McGregor gets outside his one rant is thin.

It’s technically superior–great editing from Jon Harris, Anthony Dod Mantle’s photography is spot-on. Boyle’s really in love with the locations. Adds to the charm or something. Sadly the characters have no connection to the locations and neither does Hodge’s script.

Bremner’s great, Nedyalkova’s great, Carlyle’s quite good with a thin character and a lot to do. McGregor’s fine. Miller’s got some good moments, but Hodge doesn’t do him any favors.

T2 is good. It’s expertly made, solidly written, confident; it’s occasionally accomplished; it’s also a really safe drama about male bonding. The movie doesn’t take a single chance. Any time it even flirts with the idea, Boyle unfortunately reins it in. Usually via another charming, manipulative, and narratively pliable sequence.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Danny Boyle; screenplay by John Hodge, based on novels by Irvine Welsh; director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle; edited by Jon Harris; production designers, Patrick Rolfe and Mark Tildesley; produced by Andrew Macdonald, Boyle, Bernard Bellew, and Christian Colson; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Mark), Ewen Bremner (Daniel), Jonny Lee Miller (Simon), Anjela Nedyalkova (Veronika), and Robert Carlyle (Frank).


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The Fate of the Furious (2017, F. Gary Gray)

What is the Fate of the Furious? It’s unclear screenwriter Chris Morgan knows–it comes up in the script a little–but it’s a needless portent. The Fate is the cast sitting around listening to Vin Diesel talk about family after they’ve gone through high action and zero character development. Just because they’re all millionaires after one of the sequels doesn’t mean they can’t still have some good old-fashioned wholesome (and no longer goofily ironic) backyard cookout complete with grace. Because Diesel’s just got to get the positive religiosity into Fate of the Furious.

Which really should’ve been called F8 of the Furious or something. Because a movie where two guys flying around with jetpacks not raising any eyebrows needs a much more entertaining title. Fate of the Furious sounds serious and severe, things Fate gives up on relativity early on. The PG–13 rating might have something to do with it. It’s a little toothless.

So after a misfiring first act, which has Diesel going bad because Charlize Theron is blackmailing him, Fate gets a lot better. While Diesel is running Theron’s super villain errands–she’s a super hacker who lives off the grid because she has a private stealth jet–the Furious regulars get a chance to bond. And it works out. Though not as well as when the Rock buddies up with previous entry villain Jason Statham. Lots of likable trash talk. Fate might be the best Dwayne Johnson performance I’ve seen–apparently he just needs a subplot. And Johnson’s subplot in Fate is one of the film’s handful of laugh out loud funny moments. The character stuff is about the only thing director Gray doesn’t have to reign in, so he indulges the actors to good effect.

Even Michelle Rodriguez; she starts the movie terrible and ends up being not annoying. But maybe she gets some sympathy because even if Diesel has his reasons for betraying the team, Morgan’s script gives him a lot of other really awful gestures towards Rodriguez separate from the A plot. In way too many ways, the film picks on Rodriguez. Not for comic relief, just a dramatic drain. Though without taking any responsibility for it; Gray’s busy and Morgan doesn’t care.

After a couple awkward action sequences–one at night, one apparently an attempt at doing more CGI cars than, you know, Pixar’s Cars–Gray gets a better tone. The action gets immediately better once Diesel’s plot has its reveals, which Diesel already knew about just not the audience; it’s just Morgan trying to get drama out of deception. Because once it becomes clear Theron is just a lame Bond villain, Fate becomes a somewhat exaggerated, often comedic Bond movie. Or at least it has the set pieces of a Bond movie, only with the Furious crew running through it. And Gray does a lot better with actors than with CG.

Though Gray doesn’t seem to give the actors much direction, because someone should’ve begged Theron to show some enthusiasm for the role. She sleepwalks through the villain part, embracingly the ludicrous nature of the film instead of immersing herself. And whoever though the dreadlocks were a good idea was wrong. All of her hi-tech gang looks like mid-nineties Eurotrash villains.

So she’s awful, but she’s not really important. Diesel ends up taking the villain slot of the narrative and he’s fine in it. Since he’s constantly deceiving the audience and his costars, he doesn’t really have much to do. Just look sad, stoic, bored. It’s more bravado than performance. And thanks to Gray, it’s effective bravado. Gray might not be able to make those Theron scenes work, but he and editors Christian Wagner and Paul Rubell definitely know how to cut for sympathy.

Statham’s good. He’s fun. Rock’s fine. He’s fun too. Ludacris has his moments but his character’s weak. Same goes for Tyrese Gibson but more so; he’s initially exceptionally annoying, then Scott Eastwood starts hanging out and they bicker. It forces them to have personality, something Eastwood probably wouldn’t have otherwise. He’s Kurt Russell’s sidekick. Kurt Russell is playing a slightly less absurd than an “All My Children” super spy.

Nathalie Emmanuel seems like she should be in a much better movie. Her part’s thin–though everyone’s part is pretty thin–but she manages to make her absurd scenes and silly dialogue seem, if not believable, at least worth suspending disbelief over.

One thing about Fate is it’s real dumb as far as action set piece believability goes. Morgan comes up with this risible technology reasonings and then the special effects crew takes over. And Gray coordinates it all very well. He manages it all very well. The most impressive thing about Fate is how successful it works out given its craven lack of ambition.

And the two minutes of a foul-mouthed (well, for PG–13) and uncredited Helen Mirren help a lot.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by F. Gary Gray; screenplay by Chris Morgan, based on characters created by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Stephen F. Windon; edited by Paul Rubell and Christian Wagner; music by Brian Tyler; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Vin Diesel, Neal H. Moritz, Michael Fottrell, and Morgan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Vin Diesel (Dom), Charlize Theron (Cipher), Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs), Jason Statham (Deckard), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty), Tyrese Gibson (Roman), Ludacris (Tej), Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey), Scott Eastwood (Little Nobody), Kristofer Hivju (Rhodes), Celestino Cornielle (Raldo), and Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody).


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Logan (2017, James Mangold)

The strangest thing about Logan, at least in terms of the plotting, is how director Mangold is desperate to reference a film classic–one with a plot perfectly suited to what he’s purportedly trying to do with Logan–and he doesn’t follow it through. In any of the neat ways he could. Instead, he goes for obvious and superficial.

Mangold is not Logan’s worst enemy, however. He certainly doesn’t help matters, but the script–which he did cowrite–is the big problem. It’s entirely wrapped up in itself; Logan has a long list of contrivances (mostly with the ground situation but also with plot developments and revelations) and, for whatever reason, the script wants to get into all of them. And all the explanations are lame.

Even still, the film would be able to survive if it weren’t for a nightmare third act when the film tries to get away without a protagonist for a while. It’s called Logan, of course, so one would think it’d always be about Hugh Jackman’s aged mutant killing machine who just wants to chill out and live in hiding. He’s got a big secret to keep–one of the ground situation contrivances the film cops out on dealing with entirely–not just from the audience, but from his sidekicks too. See, in retirement from mutant killing machining, Jackman has become a limo driver. He works long hours and then goes home to Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant. Stewart’s sick and Merchant’s the live-in nurse and maid, basically. There’s more to it, but not enough. Because there’s never enough in Logan. Everything is supposed to be implied.

Jackman suffers the worst for all those implications. Mangold’s constantly letting other people take the scene in Logan, whether it’s Stewart (who doesn’t exactly steal the show, but only because the script fails him miserably too) or tough guy villain Boyd Holbrook or even pointless cameoing Eriq La Salle. The script demotes Jackman, Mangold does too.

Logan wants to be a lot of things. It wants to be a family bonding movie–not a family movie about bonding, but a movie about family bonding–it wants to be future commentary (Mangold’s weakly executed future setting is another of Logan’s many painfully obvious problems), it wants to be a tough action movie, it wants to be deep. It really, really, really, really wants to be deep. Mangold loves the symbolism here; sadly he can’t decide on how he wants to convey it, so it’s another thing Logan could’ve done and doesn’t.

Even so, Jackman and Stewart are showing up to do the work. They’re trying to deliver that really, really, really, really deep movie. Dafne Keen–as the young mutant Jackman and Stewart are protecting–is pretty good for most of the movie. When she runs into problems, it’s because the script veers into its crappiest.

It’s a lazy script. It’s a weak and lazy script; Mangold doesn’t have the chops to make it work. He’s never distracted, he’s never interested, he’s always detached, always professional. Logan completely lacks personality. The fight scenes are lame, especially when they should be great. Mangold’s got no rhythm to them. John Mathieson’s capably bland photography doesn’t help, neither does the editing–Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt are capably bland. Marco Beltrami’s score is one of his best and it too… bland. François Audouy’s production design–his vision of this mutant-free 2029–isn’t capably bland. It’s just weak.

Jackman’s got enough of a presence to get the film to the finish line. Unfortunately, there’s no one waiting there to finish the movie for him. And Stewart’s fun. Shame the script wasn’t there. Shame Mangold couldn’t bring it together. Logan wants to be anything but mediocre and it ends up being nothing but.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; screenplay by Scott Frank, Mangold, and Michael Green, based on a story by Mangold; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, François Audouy; produced by Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, and Lauren Shuler Donner; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Hugh Jackman (Logan), Patrick Stewart (Charles), Dafne Keen (Laura), Boyd Holbrook (Pierce), Stephen Merchant (Caliban), Elizabeth Rodriguez (Gabriela), and Richard E. Grant (Dr. Rice).


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