erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2017 posts

Friday July 14, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

WARNING: SPOILER 

When the announcement dropped a few years back that they were rebooting Spider-Man again—just 15 years after the original and only five years after the first reboot—I mostly shook my head. Yeah, congrats guys, Spidey’s part of the MCU* now. But another one? So soon? I mean, I don’t know if I can watch Uncle Ben die a third time.

(*Marvel Cinematic Universe. – Acronym-lovin’ Erik.)

Just how many ways can you differentiate yourself from canon? The 2012 reboot tried by:

  • making Peter a skateboarding hipster dude, played by an older-looking actor
  • focusing on a romance with Gwen rather than M.J.
  • focusing on the father-daughter Tracy tragedies (Spider-Man #s 90 and 121) rather than the iconic Uncle Ben one (Amazing Fantasy #15)
  • introducing a backstory about Pete’s dad, who was ... what again? A chemist? A spy? Wasn’t there a secret lab hidden in a subway station or did I just dream that?

Did Pete even catch the Burglar in the first reboot? And now another one? Good luck.

It’s not exactly news that they hit it out of the park.

Avenger No More!
“Homecoming” works because it goes younger, nerdier, funnier and more diverse. Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is young and hot, while Pete (Tom Holland) can’t drive a car and can barely talk to girls. He’s 15. Spider-Man: Homecoming reviewWe get such Ditko-era stalwarts as Liz (Laura Harrier), Flash (Tony Revolori), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and M.J. (Zendaya), but reimagined in different ways. Flash, for example, is a verbal rather than a physical bully, while Ned is Pete’s Legos-playing best friend who discovers his secret identity. All of these supporting parts, by the way, are played by people of color. It doesn’t matter (in their world), and shouldn’t matter (in ours), but it does. It’s Marvel living up to James Baldwin’s line: “The world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.”

“Homecoming” also works because it does two things most superhero movies don’t do.

First, you also get a real sense of how tough it is to put the “super” in “superhero.” Not emotionally, as in “Oh no, I’m a giant rock creature and no one will ever love me again,” but in just getting from place to place. Sure, Pete’s spider-powers allow him to scale the Washington Monument, but it’s not effortless—any more than you or I doing wind-sprints up a hill would be effortless. He runs out of breath; he all but clutches his side. In Queens, where he lives, there are no tall buildings to web-sling on to, and, at one point, he winds up running through backyards like Ferris Bueller. Plus crimes don’t just happen, wah-lah, in front of you. He nabs a bike thief but can’t find the bike’s owner. At one point, with nothing to do, he helps an old lady with directions. It’s all rather pedestrian. He’s a super kid trying to make his way in a world of super adults, and frequently coming up short.

The movie also answers the question David Mamet says every playwright/screenwriter needs to ask: What does the guy want? This is a rarity in superhero movies. Generally, once the hero becomes super, they have no motivation other than a grand one (stopping crime). Supervillains are the ones with schemes. Heroes are just trying to stem the tide. They’re reactive.

Not here. Pete wants something: He’s desperate to join the Avengers. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) brought him on board for “Civil War” but in the first minutes of this one he just plunks him back into his regular world with barely a how-do-you-do. Pete goes from stealing Captain America’s shield to watching dull Captain America PSAs with his classmates (a great, recurring gag). So of course he’s chafing; of course he wants to be in the center of things again. But Tony is a distant, dismissive father. He tells him to buckle down, do his schoolwork, and be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Basically he feels Pete is too young for the Avengers.

And he’s kinda right. In trying to prove he’s ready for the Avengers, Pete proves he’s not ready for the Avengers. He causes near disasters at the Washington Monument and on the Staten Island Ferry. He rushes in to save the day and ruins the day and rues the day.

But it’s not all on him. Tony Stark is not only distant father but distant oligarch. He’s above it all (literally) and too busy to clean up his own messes. He’s kind of an ass. At one point he says to Pete, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Um, dude? Aren’t you all suit? Stark’s mere presence creates envy but his sloppiness creates opportunities for destruction.

Hell, he’s the reason we get our supervillain.

The Vulture’s Prey!
Adrian Toomes, a.k.a., The Vulture (Michael Keaton), is one of Spidey’s oldest nemeses** but previously ignored onscreen. I can imagine the meetings with Hollywood suits: “Wait, this bald guy with the buck teeth and feathers? Pass.”

(** Vulchie first appeared way back in Amazing Spider-Man #2. – Anal Erik)

Well, the feathers have been replaced by metal and powered by alien tech, and Keaton makes him truly terrifying: a working-class hero with a giant (and not unjustified) chip on his shoulder. Eight years earlier, Toomes’ salvage company was hired to clean up in the wake of the alien attack in “The Avengers”; but then the feds swooped in, roped things off, and dismissed him. He was left with debts and doomed to bankruptcy ... except for the truck full of debris and alien tech at his warehouse.

That cache leads to the creation of three Spidey supervillains: Vulture,  Shocker (Logan Marshall-Green; Bookem Woodbine), and the not-so-terrible Tinkerer (Michael Chernus)***. Initially, Toomes just wants to get his and provide for his family. They rob ATMs and sell dangerous weaponry on the black market. But increasingly he wants revenge—on Tony Stark and the Avengers. He’s the opposite side of the same coin as Pete. Both are fixated on Stark. Pete, fatherless and uncleless, wants his love, while Toomes plots his destruction.

(*** The Tinkerer also debuted in Spidey #2 – Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink Erik)

Is that third-act reveal too much? After Pete loses his Stark-manufactured Spidey suit, he focuses on high school and friends and asks his crush, Liz, to the dance. Life is on the upswing. Then Homecoming night he opens her front door and is greeted by her father: Adrian Toomes. It’s a jolt. It’s also one fantastic coincidence: My sworn enemy is the father of the girl I love! It recalls that first Green Goblin reveal****: My sworn enemy is the father of my best friend! And is it me or does that marriage seem ... off? No offense, Mike, but Garcelle Beauvais is a bit above your paygrade. That said, kudos to Keaton’s acting. At one point, he has to pivot from chaperoning dad to malicious super-killer, and he does so naturally and seamlessly.

(**** Spidey #39, natch. – Aren’t-You-Sick-of-Me-Yet Erik)

O, Bitter Victory!
Kudos all around, really. Holland makes an amazing Pete/Spider-Man, Batalon is pitch-perfect comic relief, Michelle/M.J. is great sarcastic sidebar. We get a Spider-Man #33 homage: Spidey, exhausted and trapped by an enormous weight, overcoming it to save the day. (I always loved that issue.) “Homecoming” has a 133-minute runtime but it zips. I was never bored. And I’m frequently bored at these things.

The final battle involves a planeload of Stark Industries tech, which Vulture hijacks because he’s trying to get Iron Man’s attention. He has to settle for Spider-Man’s. It’s almost poignant. Both of our leads are wallflowers at the dance, unable to get the homecoming queen's attention. It’s They Might Be Giants: No one in the world ever gets what they want, and that is beautiful.

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Posted at 06:04 AM on Jul 14, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017   |   Permalink  
Thursday July 06, 2017

Movie Review: Baby Driver (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I heard nothing but compliments from critics and friends before I went to see “Baby Driver” and I heard nothing but complaints from my wife on the way out. She hated the movie. Hated hated. She likes a good, stupid time at the theater as much as anyone but couldn’t get past the lead, Ansel Elgort, whom she found insipid, annoying, and with zero sex appeal. “Why would any woman over 12 even like him?” she said. “He’s a 12-year-old’s idea of sexy.”

Me, I’ve got mixed feelings. I found the character of Baby, particularly in the beginning, too insular and impressed with himself. He thought he was cooler than he was and the movie let him get away with it. He couldn’t just make a sandwich, he had to make a production out of making a sandwich. To me he was just another white kid lip-syncing to black artists, which, c’mon, what year is this? 1985?

Then shit went south for him and the movie improved a bit. But enough to justify a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes? Critics? Vinny? Sure, there’s tons of adrenaline, but is anyone smart driving this thing?

I hit the road and I’m gone
Written and directed by Edgar Wright, the man behind the Cornetto trilogy, “Baby Driver” is about an expert getaway driver named Baby (Elgort), who works exclusively for Doc (Kevin Spacey), an Atlanta gangster. Baby Driver reviewWell, “works.” When he was young he stole one of Doc’s cars and he’s been paying off the debt ever since. After the cold open, he’s the proverbial one job away from getting out.

Baby got backstory: He was orphaned at six when his mom crashed their car into a truck. Baby was in the backseat listening to his new iPod, and he’s had tinnitus ever since. He relieves it by ... listening to an iPod while driving really fast. I think Wright posits a connection between his listening and his driving. The music gets him into a zone. He pumps himself up with his own soundtrack.

The heists, for all their planning, seem ill-planned. Basically three gunmen run into a bank wearing masks and carrying high-powered weaponry, then leave with money and the cops right on their tail. It’s up to Baby to shake them. He does. (Can I just applaud the Atlanta police in this movie? Baby performs sick, only-in-a-movie maneuvers, and a second later they’re on him again. Kudos.) Afterwards, money is divvied, Baby loses most of his share to Doc, but puts the remainder under the floorboards in a three-story walkup he shares with his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones, who is deaf), for whom he makes the aforementioned sandwiches.

The movie improved greatly for me when Baby begins to romance Debora, since she’s played by Lily James, who is both adorable and can act. They’re good together: flirty and sweet. The give good dialogue. I was surprised during their “Debora song” conversation that she wasn’t aware of T-Rex’s “Debora,” since, if you’re interested in songs with your name, well, there’s a little thing called Google. I did it on iTunes 10 years ago for my wife and found “Darling Patricia” by Owen Gray. And I’m old.

Debora, of course, is young, and her dream is the dream of the young: to get out. Specifically, to get on interstate 20 with a friend and some tunes, and head west and never stop. Her wish soon becomes their goal because that “last job” isn’t the last. It only meant the debt was paid, it didn’t mean Baby doesn’t work for Doc anymore. In this next job, a Post Office of all places, everyone makes stupid decisions that lead to third-act disaster:

  • Doc has Baby case the Post Office. Seems an unnecessary risk to take with your reluctant getaway driver.
  • Doc has the heist team, including  the well-named “Bats” (Jamie Foxx), pick up the fenced weapons without telling them they’re dealing with corrupt cops. So when Bats sees APD (Atlanta Police Dept.), bullets start flying. 
  • Baby tries to get away from the others at 2 a.m., but is caught by Buddy (Jon Hamm) in the parking garage. Except ... Baby’s in a car at this point, and all he has on his side is a lame excuse. (“Going to get coffee.”) Why doesn’t he just spin out and away? Like every other time in the movie?
  • Instead, Bats reveals Baby’s predilection for taping conversations, including myriad ones with Doc, to sample later for his own sad amusement. And Doc doesn’t kill him right there? And he lets him drive the next day? Simply because Baby says he will?
  • When everything goes wrong, and Bats and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez, hot) are killed, and Baby is pursued by both a crazed Buddy and half the APD, he grabs Debora and goes for help to ... Doc? And gets it? And Doc gives his life helping him?

Throughout, the movie makes it seem like Baby has a plan, but he has no plan. He’s a stupid kid that has a lot of luck. That scene in the diner? Where Buddy, who lost his love because of Baby, asks Baby if he loves Debora, and Baby says yes? And Debora is only saved because a cop suddenly shows up looking for a restroom? How much serendipity does Baby (and Wright) get away with here?

What’s my number
But I wasn’t bored. I’ll give it that. I thought Jon Hamm was miscast and Kevin Spacey typecast, although I liked his “Monsters Inc.” line, as did everyone. I really liked Foxx, who was note perfect. I liked that there was comeuppance—that Baby and Debora seem to be getting away, heading west like in the dream, but then the blockade, the arrest, the trial, the prison term. I loved Lily James. Can’t say this enough. My new movie crush. Slightly awkward since I’m twice her age.

But 97 percent? I liked Edgar Wright better when he was satirizing movie genres rather than making them go vroom

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Posted at 06:09 AM on Jul 06, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017   |   Permalink  
Monday July 03, 2017

Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“The Mummy” is the second feature Alex Kurtzman has directed—after “People Like Us,” a small drama from 2012 starring Chris Pine and Michelle Pfeiffer—but it’s not far off from what he normally does. For most of this century, he’s taken existing intellectual property and turned it into zipped-up but dumbed-down action-movie franchises.

He gave us the screenplay for the first two “Transformers,” for example, then wrote and produced the first two rebooted “Star Trek” movies (the ones its fans didn’t like). He wrote the second Antonio Banderas/Zorro movie (the one that killed the franchise), the third “Mission: Impossible” movie (the one its fans didn’t like), and the second “Amazing Spider-Man” (the one that killed the franchise). He also wrote “The Island,” wrote and produced “Cowboys & Aliens,” and produced the “Now You See Me” movies. Almost all of his movies get rotten ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.

Now he’s the man behind the Dark Universe. Maybe he always was.

Fates worse than death
The Mummy with Tom Cruise: reviewAccording to Kurtzman, Universal approached him in 2012 with the idea of producing a reboot of The Mummy. But in tossing it around, he began to connect it with other monster movies, and envisioned a whole universe of gods and monsters—similar to Marvel’s continuing universe (MCU), DC’s extended universe (DCEU), and Warners upcoming MonsterVerse (Godzilla, King Kong, et al.).

He talks about it all in this interview with denofgeek.com. Read the whole thing. It’s sad. He mentions the great horror movies he and Tom Cruise watched before or during the making of this one, including Kurtzman’s favorite, “The Exorcist”:

In the first 10 minutes of the movie, which is essentially a silent film, you are immersed in a world and filled with a deep sense of dread, without any real understanding of why. Friedkin builds this extraordinarily scary tone, and a sense that something really, really bad is coming...

We get that in “The Mummy,” too, but with a different sense of dread, a different kind of bad.

“The Mummy” starts in England, 12th century A.D., where a ritual among knights is underway; then, boom, it’s same place, modern day, and excavation for a new London subway system reveals their tombs. A voiceover by the unidentified Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) goes into a backstory, but not about the knights. Instead, we’re suddenly in ancient Egypt, hearing about a princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and how, to maintain power, she sold her soul to the Egyptian God of Death, Set, then killed her father, step-mother and baby brother, and was in the midst of a ritual to transfer Set’s spirit into the body of her lover, making him a living god, when she was captured by Egyptian priests and mummified alive.

Only then do we cut to modern-day Iraq and our hero.

That’s a lot of throat clearing. Worse, most of it is unnecessary (12th-century England) or detrimental to the story. Seriously, shouldn’t Ahmanet’s story have been kept in the movie’s backpocket for a bit? Instead, we know it from the get-go. As a result, when devil-may-care soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Cruise), and his hapless partner Vail (Jake Johnson), ride down on a shattered Iraqi town, are shot at by (essentially) ISIS, and call in a surgical strike whose subsequent hole in the earth reveals an ancient Egyptian tomb, there’s no mystery for us. There’s no suspense or dread. We’re just waiting for our hero to get up-to-speed.

And man is the tone ever wrong. The movie not only stresses action-adventure over horror, it adds comedic banter. In Iraq. I can’t stress this enough. Our hero is an American who is trying to steal ancient artifacts from a country we already destroyed. And the tone is light comedy.

Hell, ignore geopolitics and focus on what happens in the movie. In the movie, Vail objects to riding down into this enemy-held village but Nick forces his hand by slitting open his bota bag of water. “Where’s your sense of adventure?” Nick says jauntily. Then they’re shot at, the airstrike, the tomb is revealed, and Nick causes the sarcophagus of Ahmanet to be released from a pool of mercury along with a shitload of spiders. One spider bites Vail and ... well, it kills him. Or it turns him into a zombie or something. He pops up, jaundiced skin, scabs, and one eyes turned white. He talks about “fates worse than death.” Guess what? He’s comic relief. The tone is jokey. As in: “Isn’t it funny what happened to Vail? Ha! Oh, Vail. You and your eye.” Then at the end, after all the horrors and battles, after Nick is fused with Set, the God of Death and resurrects Vail, they’re in the desert again, and Nick says the exact same line in the same jaunty tone: “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“Uh, maybe I lost it after you made me suffer a fate worse than death.”

It’s all inflated self-regard and lack of accountability. You couldn’t make a movie more infused with the reckless, idiot sprit of America if you’d tried.

Dracula, Frankenstein, and Nick
Anyway, to the rest of this crapfest.

As soon as the sarcophagus is removed, all sorts of bad shit happens. A sandstorm nearly overwhelms them, then the transport plane is destroyed by kamikaze crows and goes down over England. But Nick, finally a hero, gives the last parachute to archeologist/love interest/superblonde Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) before dying himself. Except, oops, he can’t die. Or he keeps dying—like Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow”—but because Ahmanet chose him to be the vessel for Set, there he is again, without a scratch. (Question: Couldn’t she have just chosen another lover for Set? And if she wanted the plane to go down in England, why the sandstorm in Iraq to try to stop the plane?)

In London, Nick is introduced to Dr. Jekyll (Crowe), who runs Prodigium, a secret society designed to combat supernatural threats. It’s this universe’s SHIELD and Jekyll is its Nick Fury. Except, being Hyde, he’s also a customer.

I liked Crowe, to be honest. I liked his Etonish Jekyll and Cockney Hyde. I liked Boutella as Ahmanet, and the way she hissed “Thief!” at Nick—although between this, “Kingsman” and “Star Trek,” will the girl ever get to play someone with an office job? Wallis wasn’t bad, either, despite her super-blondeness. I liked the scene of the plane going down—that was actually thrilling.

And that’s it.

I mean, does anyone get the limits of Ahmanet’s powers? Even from the sarcophagus she can summon spiders, crows, sand. She can control Vail. She can also literally suck the life out of men, leaving them shriveled corpses while she regains her bodacious form; then she commands these corpses, these zombies, to do her bidding. She does this with the knights/crusaders, too, so apparently it’s anything that’s ever died. Churchill. Shakespeare. Jesus. That seems like a lot of power. How did Egyptian priests ever mummify her in the first place?

And does anyone get the ritual that’s at the center of everything? By stabbing her chosen lover with an ancient dagger embedded with a giant ruby, she transfers Set’s soul—which, I guess, is in the ruby—into human form, and the lover/Set becomes “a living God.” In underground London, after many millennia, Ahmanet finally has everything to make the ritual work: the ruby is back in the dagger, and Nick, her chosen, is there, and nobody is around to stop her. But then Nick steals the dagger and—against her cries—destroys the ruby. Ha! He wins!

So ... what does he win?

Well, Set’s spirit is fused with Nick’s and he becomes superpowerful.

But ... wouldn’t that have happened anyway? If she had stabbed him with the dagger? Wasn’t that the whole point of the ritual? So why should two different paths lead to the same result?

Uh ... Maybe this way Nick is stronger? Maybe he would’ve disappeared otherwise and only Set would’ve ruled his body?

Yeah. Either way, Nick/Set is now superpowerful, so he sucks the life out of Ahmanet, returning her to shriveled, mummified form. Serious question: Since she is the mummy of the title, what exactly is Nick in all of this? How does he belong in the Dark Universe? The characters/stars involved include Frankenstein (Javier Bardem), Invisible Man (Johnny Depp), Dr. Jekyll (Crowe), Dracula and Wolfman (TBA), and ... Nick Morton? Not exactly canon.

Anyway, after all that, Nick says “Where’s your sense of adventure?” like a moron, and he and Vail ride in the desert with a sandstorm in their wake, while, via voiceover, Jenny and Jekyll debate whether Nick is now more monster than man. We could ask of Hollywood the same.

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Posted at 08:40 AM on Jul 03, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017   |   Permalink  
Friday June 23, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Given the negatives the movie had to work with, it wasn’t bad. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine saved it. But it wasn’t all that.

What are the negatives, you ask?

  • Wonder Woman’s idiot origin story—that Amazon island out in the middle of nowhere, with bows, arrows, ancient architecture, flouncy togas, and references to Greek gods.
  • The fact that writer-director Zack Snyder—that idiot—already stuck Wonder Woman back in World War I (in “Batman v Superman”), then had her not do anything for 100 years. That had to be explained. We have to find out why she was committed enough to fight in the Great War, then disillusioned enough to lay down her arms for a century—including during some of the worst crimes in human history: the Holocaust, the rape of Nanjing, the killing fields of Cambodia—only to pick them up again because Superman was too stupid to stop Lex Luthor from creating Doomsday.

Wonder Woman 2017 starring Gal GadotDirector Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) and screenwriter Allan Heinberg (“Party of Five,” “Sex and the City,” “The OC,” “Grey’s Anatomy”) don’t solve the negatives. They just kind of smudge them a little.

Plot killer
I was in Europe when “Wonder Woman” opened, but of course I was aware of the buzz, the positive reviews, the 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Friends on social media raved: More like this! I took it all with a grain of salt but I still took it. Are high expectations problematic? If they are, let me temper yours.

First, the island. At least the Amazon warriors feel like real warriors rather than pretty girls walking around in flouncy outfits. At least the casting isn’t bad: Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen. But it’s still boring. Doesn’t help that Diana’s mom (Nielsen) knows only extremes. “No, Diana, you can’t train to be a warrior.” “OK, sure, train her, but train her harder than anyone’s ever been trained.” “No, Diana, you and Steve Trevor (Pine) can’t leave the island.” “OK, sure, go ahead, but you can never, ever return.”

For some reason, Mom also keeps Diana’s origin—that she’s the daughter of Zeus—from her. She’s a demigod like Hercules. Why the secret?

The answer requires backstory. Way back when, Zeus created humans. Then Ares, the God of War, made them, you know, the fuckups that we are, forever fighting. In response, Zeus created Amazons, warrior women to police the idiocies of man, but in response Ares killed all the other gods. So Zeus battled Ares himself—a bit late, really—and somehow “struck him down” without killing him. In the process, Zeus died, but he left the Amazons a “God Killer” to slay Ares when he returns. Throughout the movie, Diana (Gadot) assumes the God Killer is the sword housed in a temple on the island. Nope. It’s her. She’s the God Killer. And that’s why...

Wait, couldn’t her mother tell her she’s the daughter of Zeus without letting her know she’s the God Killer? And since she is the God Killer, why object to warrior training? Because Mom doesn’t want to lose her baby? Doesn’t that defeat Diana’s purpose? Not to mention the Amazonian one? Seriously, if the Amazons are supposed to police the idiocies of man, why the hidden island where they spend day after day, year after year, century after century, training? For what exactly? And if Steve Trevor can crash-land near the island, and the Germans can storm the beach, what exactly is preventing Diana from returning? Worse is the fact that this origin story proves to be true; Ares confirms it. Which means in the DC extended universe—the movies with Batman, Superman and the Flash—human beings are the literal creations of Zeus. Our origin story isn’t Judeo-Christian, it’s not evolutionary Darwinism; it’s ancient Greek. Shouldn’t the usual right-wing nutjobs be out protesting this? Martin Scorsese gets shit but Zack Snyder gets off scot-free?

Seriously, every attempt at solving the negatives in Wonder Woman’s origin just seems to lead to more negatives.

Mushy
Here’s another reason why Diana’s mom shouldn’t have kept her in the dark, but it requires another backstory—a cinematic one.

In certain ways, “Wonder Woman” is similar to the 1978 superhero movie that started them all, “Superman” starring Christopher Reeve, in that our title character is both an innocent abroad and straight man/woman for the duration. In “Superman” the humor comes from Lex Luthor and his minions, and the cynicism from Lois Lane. It’s 1978 but Superman believes in our institutions; he believes in truth, justice and the American way. He also knows everything; he’s been educated. He’s innocent but smart.

Diana is the straight woman here—Pine provides the laughs—and she’s innocent, like Supes, but she’s not smart, she’s not educated. Sure, she knows every language but nothing of cultural mores or history. This leads to humorous bits—she doesn’t know flashing leg in post-Victorian England ain’t cool, for example—but doesn’t it diminish our hero? And what does it say of Amazon’s schooling? Are they paying any attention to the outside world?

The movie does improve considerably once Chris Pine shows up for beefcake/comic relief. Even better when we get to London and add his secretary Etta (Lucy Davis, Dawn of the original “Office”). They have good interplay. Of Capt. Trevor’s sidekicks, I liked Sameer (Said Taghmaoui of “La Haine”), could’ve done without the drinking, singing, unable-to-shoot Scotsman Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and kind of rolled my eyes when the Native American, The Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), shows up. But this is the team that goes to the front to confront the movie’s villains, Gen. Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston), whom Diana suspects of being Ares, and the supercreepy poison-gas specialist Dr. Isabel Maru (Elena Anaya), who, in the midst of an Armistice promoted by England’s Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), is developing a poison gas that will win the war for Germany.

I’ll cut to the chase. Wonder Woman kills Ludendorff with the God Killer sword but it doesn’t stop the war. Everything continues. Man is corrupt, and for a moment she looks like an idiot. But then the real Ares appears—shock, Sir Patrick Morgan!—who crushes the sword, taunts Diana with revelations, toys with her as they battle, but ultimately is destroyed. The weapon we see in the first act—the powerful force generated when Diana clangs her bracelets together—goes off in the third, and it saves the day. This doesn’t stop man’s warlike tendencies either, though it goes unremarked all the same. I guess Diana is less innocent by this point.

The ending is mushy. Not as in “romantic,” as in “without clarity.” Throughout, Diana’s raison d’été is clear-eyed: Kill Ares, stop all wars. Capt. Trevor is good, the Germans are bad. By the end—even though Trevor is good and the Germans are bad—she realizes Steve, and the U.S. and its allies, are part of humanity’s problem, too. For a time she rejects him. But when he sacrifices himself to save thousands, she cries to the skies—like Supes in ’78—and then tears Ares a new one.

And her philosophy after all this? That’s the mushy part. The movie has to thread an impossible needle: give her a reason to be inactive throughout a horrible century without condemning all of humanity in the process. Here’s what they come up with: She decides that fighting doesn’t stop wars; only love stops wars. So she stops fighting to do something else. Like work a desk job in a secret room in the Louvre.

Thanks?

Here’s the exact voiceover:

I used to want to save the world: to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them there will always be both—the choice each must make for themselves—something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So now I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.

Or at least until “Batman v Superman.”

Fetishes
As I said, Gadot makes a fantastic Wonder Woman. She’s just a glory to behold even when she’s standing there: strong and tough and lovely. I laughed-out-loud when she threw a bully across a tavern and Sameer said, “I am frightened and at the same time aroused.” Raise a glass.

I also like her sprint across “No Man’s Land”—and the obvious pun therein—and her battle in the small European village, including 1) that slow-mo moment when she crashes with a German soldier through a second-story window, and 2) when she appears atop a demolished town-square clocktower, to cheers, after taking out a German sharpshooter.

But the above problems. Wonder Woman was created by a man with a bondage fetish (William Marston, Ph.D.), and her cinematic origin was switched to WWI by a man with a Great War/bustier fetish (Zack Snyder), and it’s tough for Jenkins and company to overcome all of this. In a way, Jenkins’ task is similar to Wonder Woman’s. Men created this shitfest and now a woman has to clean it up. Given that, Jenkins doesn’t do poorly. 

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Posted at 07:33 AM on Jun 23, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017   |   Permalink  
Tuesday June 13, 2017

Movie Review: The Fabulous Allan Carr (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Yeah, this doesn’t quite work.

The titular Allan Carr (née Alan Solomon of Highland Park, Ill.) was a sweet, portly, caftan-wearing gay man known for throwing wild disco parties in the 1970s. He made a mint producing “Grease” in Hollywood and won a Tony producing “La Cage Aux Folles” on Broadway, but these were his hifalutin exceptions. Everything else he touched was either so-bad-it’s-good, plain bad, or kill-me-now bad.

The Fabulous Allan Carr documentaryAmong his works:

  • “Grease 2,” the sequel that bombed
  • “Where the Boys Are ’84,” the remake that bombed
  •  “C.C. & Company,” Joe Namath’s biker-flick bomb

It gets worse. Riding high after “Grease” became the No. 1 movie of 1978, grossing the equivalent of $680 million domestic, Carr could do whatever he wanted. And what he wanted to do, apparently, was make a pseudo-biopic of the chart-topping disco group the Village People. That wish became, of course, “Can’t Stop the Music,” starring the Village People, Steve Guttenberg, Bruce Jenner, and—when Carr couldn’t get Olivia Newton-John—Valerie Perrine. Then Carr tapped Rhoda’s mom, Nancy Walker, who had directed nothing but a few sitcom episodes, to direct. It’s a movie so bad it actually inspired the birth of the Razzie Awards.

But “Can’t Stop the Music” didn’t kill his career. What killed his career was the 1989 Oscar telecast. Yeah, the Snow White one. For the opening number, for 15 agonizing minutes, an actress dressed as Snow White serenaded the celebrity crowd, Merv Griffin (for some reason) sang “Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," and then Rob Lowe (of all people) joined Snow White onstage for a “date” and a duet of the Ike and Tina Tuner classic “Proud Mary.” Hollywood was incensed and Carr never recovered. He survived “Can’t Stop the Music” only to be stopped by his music.

A doc that dealt more honestly with its subject, that maybe tried to delve into Carr’s nostalgia for ’50s America (not exactly a gay-friendly time), might have been worthwhile. But throughout “The Fabulous Allan Carr,” I felt director Jeffrey Schwartz propping up his subject. For “Can’t Stop the Music,” Walker gets the brunt of the blame; for the Oscar fiasco, it’s the critics—and the subsequent Disney lawsuit against the Academy goes completely unmentioned. The doc also implies that John Travolta was just a sitcom actor before “Grease,” when there was a little thing called “Saturday Night Fever” between the two, and Michelle Pfeiffer was “discovered” in a grocery store for “Grease 2,” when, c’mon, she’d been on TV and in B-movies for years. Read your Nathaniel Rogers.

Schwartz, who directed two admirable docs, “Tab Hunter Confidential” and HBO’s “Vito,” does have a tendency to gravitate toward schlock. Besides Tab, he gave us “I Am Divine” in 2013, and is currently working on “Goddess: The Showgirls Chronicles.” Is that why he seems to forgive Carr's schlock? Because he sees nothing to forgive? 

There's due diligence. Schwartz interviews family friends, tracks down Valerie Perrine, gives us “Mad Men”-style animation to fill in the gaps in Carr's story. But he’s too soft around his subject. He wants us to like him too much. I think of a Franz Kafka line, “A writer is not a nice person.” Documentarian, too.

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Posted at 03:44 AM on Jun 13, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017   |   Permalink  
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