Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wonder Woman

Production for a Wonder Woman movie started in 1995, and it went through several rewrites, and several potential directors, including The Avengers Josh Whedon, who left the project because of creative differences.  After 22 years, the final product is very good, and probably about as good as they could make it, although it seems to me that the source material detracts from the overall effect.

Diana is one of many Amazon women living on the island of Themyscira, who were created by the gods to protect the world from Ares, the god of war.  When Steve Trevor crashes his plane near the island, Diana rescues him from drowning.  He tells her that the entire world is engaged in a war.  She thinks that Ares must be responsible for this conflagration, so she leaves the island with Trevor to look for Ares with the intention of killing him.

Once off the island, Diana is at first a fish out of water, until she gets a chance to fight alongside the Allies during World War I, where in a key scene she suddenly takes charge.  Much of this doesn't seem very believable, but it is a superhero movie, so we make allowances.

Although this is part of the Wonder Woman story, the original comic book takes place during World War II.  Why change the story?  I think because Trevor is looking to destroy a German weapon of mass destruction, which is a new type of poison gas.  Therefore, it would be hard to have any kind of moral clarity when talking about weapons of mass destruction during World War II, because the country that actually developed a weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, was the United States.

Diana kills many enemy soldiers, mostly in the defense of herself or others.  However, I have a problem with all this killing, because I figure that superheroes are normally above this kind of thing.  This makes the movie feel like just a war film at first, until the end where we get a battle between gods.

Prior to the release of the movie, there were some special screenings just for women, as if the film makes some sort of feminist statement because Diana is a very strong feminine character.  However, I don't think that the outfits worn by the Amazon women, which I am sure are designed to attract a male audience, are particularly empowering to women.

At one point Diana makes an observation that Trevor treats his secretary like a slave.  My initial thought that this was a criticism of employment in general, and then I realized that this is a feminist statement about women being subservient to men.  This comment is treated in a light hearted fashion, showing Dianna's naiveté, because Trevor's secretary seems to be very happy with her employment.  So the film sends a confusing message.

Gal Godat and Chris Pine are both fantastic as the two leads.  I think that Chris Pine, who plays a young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot films, looks here more like a young Captain Kirk than he ever has

Rating:  * * * 1/2.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Moana

About 5,000 years ago, indigenous people from Taiwan sailed to, and settled islands off of southeast Asia.  They must have been good sailors and good navigators, because they spent a couple thousand years spreading their population to a thousand islands in the vast south and central Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii.  These are the Polynesian people.  It is their history that the movie Moana understands and pays tribute to.

According to Joseph Campbell, hero mythology everywhere has certain traits in common, such as:  The protagonist is young and goes on a journey, is taught by an elderly wise man or wizard, has a vision, faces great danger, fails, sometimes dies and is resurrected, returns to battle, is finally victorious and returns home a hero or a king.  Sometimes the protagonist is a demigod, such as Hercules.  For example, George Lucas was inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell when he created the hero character of Luke Skywalker.

The movie Moana is based on Polynesian Mythology, and follows the above narrative very closely.  Moana is the daughter of the chief on the island Montunui.  She feels herself drawn to the sea, but her father has forbidden her to venture out to the sea because it is dangerous.  She has been told legends about how the demigod Maui stole, and lost, a small pounamu stone that is the mystical heart of the island goddess, Te Fiti.  Because of this theft, a blight is spreading to all the islands.  The sea gives the pounamu stone to Moana, and her elderly grandmother tells Moana that she is "the chosen one" to find Maui, and force him to return the stone to Te Fiti.  Then Moana disobeys her father and goes on a quest to find Maui.

Visually, the movie looks fantastic.  However, the story seems a little familiar.  There are several songs that are instantly forgettable.  The movie does not excel as entertainment, but it is enjoyable enough.  Some of the action sequences are quite exciting.

The movie is still playing at discount theaters and was released on DVD March 7th.

Rating:  * * *

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Logan

Why do we like superhero movies?  It is because we want to believe in something better.  Superheroes are supposed to live forever and make the world a better place.  Not so in Logan.  We learn that by the year 2029 most of the superheroes have died off, and Professor X with the world's most powerful brain is becoming senile.  Wolverine is reduced to driving a limo.  In addition, some evil military organization is trying to breed a new race of child mutant slaves to use for warfare.  Overall, it is a depressing film.  That's my problem with it.

Still, the premise is original.  At least they gave us something different this time.  However, the execution of the story didn't seem so original to me.  An early chase scene reminded me of The Road Warrior, and the rest of the film reminded me a little of Terminator 2.  The plot goes like this:  The good guys think they are safe.  The bad guys show up.  Lots of graphic killing happens.  The good guys run away.  Repeat over and over.

I never fully understood the motivation nor the backstory about the bad guys.  They are more like token bad guys.

Logan has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Although I am not thrilled with the premise, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a compelling story.  Somehow it sucked me right in.  The combination of good characters and action might be comparable to a movie like Speed, with a few slow moments to allow us to catch our breath.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

P.S. If this takes place in the year 2029, I expect to see robots everywhere.  Everywhere!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is about a group of mathematical geniuses who did calculations and computer programming for NASA in the 1960's, all of which happen to be black women.  As such, they were treated as second class citizens, despite their brilliance and what they contributed to the manned space program.

The movie focusses mostly on Katherine Goble when she was reassigned to work in the Guidance and Control Division, which was staffed by all white male engineers.

We feel for the characters as they face obstacles at every turn.  They are forced to use separate bathrooms, separate coffee pots, denied advancement, not allowed security clearances, and excluded from meetings necessary for them to do their jobs.  Eventually, three of the ladies prove themselves worthy enough to take on more important roles at NASA.

I find myself wondering if the mistreatment of these women is exaggerated to make a political point, but from what I can find on the Internet, the movie is accurate.  It is mostly a history lesson about civil rights, so I feel a little bit like I am being lectured to.  As a history lesson, the film doesn't always stir our emotions as well as it should.  At times the movie feels kind of flat.  The deepest emotional moment is when one of the characters gets proposed to by her boyfriend.  For this reason, I don't think that the entertainment value of the film is exceptional, but it is tells a story that people should know about. 

The man doing the proposing is played by Mahershala Ali, who I have enjoyed on a couple of TV series.  However, he always plays quiet characters, and here he is too subdued.  He would be more interesting with a little fire in his belly.

I am sure that Octavia Spencer is a good actress, but her performance didn't convince me that she is a mathematical genius.  What she does well is portray a struggling black woman in a hostile world.

Kevin Costner plays the head of NASA like an angry football coach who is frustrated by every setback. 

We see a different side of Jim Parsons, in a non-comical role as the chief engineer.  His character seems completely unsympathetic, if not hostile, to the plight of Katherine Goble.

Rating: * * * 1/2

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What is good about the Star Wars Prequels.

In response to this video ...



I made the following comments ...

I was 17 when the original Star Wars came out. I have seen it maybe 18 times, but my favorite movie of all time is The Empire Strikes Back. But I also think that The Phantom Menace is the second or third best Star Wars movie. It is very good. Every Star Wars movie has been different. Each one has had a unique flavor to it. It is a testament to how strong the Star Wars movies are. However, some people are disappointed when a particular movie doesn't turn out like they expected. I can't imagine why anyone would dislike The Phantom Menace, but I suspect that it is because they dislike the character of Jar Jar. Every serious move needs some comic relief to relieve the tension, so I enjoyed the character of Jar Jar quite a bit. From a science fiction point of view, if you had two sapient races sharing a planet, it might make sense for one to be less intelligent and/or less sophisticated. It would be unlikely that both species would have the same level of intelligence and sophistication.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Rouge One: A Star Wars Story

Every Star Wars film that I have ever seen has been so good that it compelled me to see it a second time within a week or less.  I probably would have done the same with Rogue One, except that I had a nasty virus for a couple of weeks.  I also felt like the movie didn't have the same rewatchabiltiy as previous Star Wars movies, so there was no need to hurry back to the theater and see it a second time.  I waited five weeks, and even then, going into it I felt like the movie might not be that compelling the second time around.

I was wrong.  What drives Rogue One is very strong plot and intense action.  In my original review, I wrote that the movie was not strong on characters except for the main character of Jyn Erso.  This isn't quite correct either.  Rogue One has a ton of interesting characters, but because there are so many of them, most of them don't get that much screen time.

Rogue One is a Star Wars movie with a strong slant toward traditional war movies.  This makes it different from the previous films, but every Star Wars film has had its own unique flavor.  This means that every new film has taken the fans by surprise, with a few of them inevitably being disappointed because the movie was not what they expected.  However, this speaks to the strength of the Star Wars movies that they have provided us with so many unique films.

I always feel better about these movies the second time around, because any flaws are easier to ignore on the second watching.  The previous film, The Force Awakens, had the most flaws of any Star Wars movie, but there is also a great deal of good stuff in the film, so it seemed to get better every time I watched it.

Rogue One is surprisingly beautiful.  We see shots of planets that are stunning in their detail and beauty, plus everything else in the movie looks gorgeous.  Movies like this are an incredible technical achievement.  A generation ago, a movie that looked this amazing would have blown audiences away, even if the story was terrible, which fortunately, it isn't.

I am revising my rating of the film from three and a half stars to four stars.  On an A to F scale, I am bumping it from "B+" to "A-". 

Friday, January 13, 2017

For the Love of Spock

For the Love of Spock is a biographical documentary about Leonard Nimoy, created by his son Adam Nimoy, with some help from his father.  Adam Nimoy was estranged from his father for much of his life.  One gets the impression that Leonard Nimoy was much more focussed on his career than he was on his family, which might explain why the two had difficulties.  However, the pair patched up their differences about ten years before Leonard Nimoy died, and they became very close.  The son suggested to the father that they do a documentary, and Leonard Nimoy was enthusiastic about the idea.

The film makes for a very interesting biography of Leonard Nimoy, while also documenting the entire Star Trek phenomenon.  I like how informative the movie is on both topics.  It is fun to watch, especially for Star Trek fans.

My only problem with the documentary is that it feels truncated.  It concludes with Nimoy's death, a few kind words, and then it just ends.  I expected more.  It is possibly a missed opportunity to explore how Star Trek continues to impact the world today.

Rating:  B+.