June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman

Only two complaints- I wish her gauntlets were gold instead of silver; and
I wish her headband pointed up. I feel like they turned it upside-down
only to make it different from the Linda Carter-era design.
Finally, a Wonder Woman movie.
After a dozen Batman and Superman movies, five or six Spider-Men, and far too many movies for superheroes no one's ever heard of (let's face it, before the movies, no one cared about Green Lantern, Iron Man, Ant Man, or the Guardians of the Galaxy), Diana Prince is kicking ass on the big screen.
Gal Godot is perfect. She's strong, confident, uncompromising; she takes orders from no man, she doesn't care what anyone thinks, while also being naive and emotional about the existence of pain, evil, and corruption in the world.
She's also stunning, and I appreciate that all the men in the world turn their heads at her beauty.
The fighting sequences are very good, even if some of the slo-mo moments with Diana in mid-air are kind of passe these days.
Gadot and Chris Pine have good chemistry too. I don't know if Pine is ever going to be a great actor, but he reminds me of Robert Redford or Pierce Brosnan - a journeyman whose good looks have elevated his career.
The story is no great shakes - it's very reminiscent of Captain America's origin story movie The First Avenger. Maybe this should have been called Wonder Woman: The First Justice Leaguer?
At one point early in the film, Diana is in midair, sword and shield in hand, determined look on her face, I thought to myself: I want more movies like this. Movies where women are in charge, where they're not thinking about men, where they are certain and unafraid. I was sad that we get so few of them.
A few years ago Entertainment Weekly published a feature about why there was no Wonder Woman movie yet, and the story theorized and quoted various sources to try to explain the challenges behind bringing Diana to the big screen. This 2017 movie makes all those excuses seem pathetic. It's almost too easy to make the Wonder Woman origin movie just like any contemporary superhero movie. In a more recent EW story, they credit the success of the Hunger Games franchise - led by a headstrong, independent woman, Katniss Everdeen - for demolishing the myth that "young men won't go see a movie with a female hero". Perhaps we can blame simple sluggishness from the DC Comics empire: DC has iconic the Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern characters, but they have been outpaced by a well-executed plan by Marvel to turn the Avengers cadre into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. DC is playing catchup and trying to duplicate their success, so Wonder Woman has been waiting around, just like the Flash and Aquaman. Maybe Green Lantern will get another chance too?
Thanks to the Embassy Waltham
for this sign on the theater door!
Theater Notes: I went to see WW alone (Emily's ladies night is Thursday), and I sat next to two women in the last seat in a row. The woman next to me immediately said "way to go, guy, seeing Wonder Woman by himself!" Yes ladies, I am a paragon of enlightened masculinity. Just put me in a leather flight jacket and I can be YOUR Steve Trevor.

June 4, 2017

George McFly: Harmless Poindexter or Stalker with a Secret?

I am a big fan of Back to the Future. I was 13 years old when I saw it in the theater in downtown Chicago with my grandmother while visiting her on vacation. I think it was a theater in a fancy mall downtown? Anyone?
I have seen and loved BTTF many times over the last 30 years, but the way you ingest a movie the first time affects how you understand it for the rest of your life- or maybe most of your life?

When Marty McFly arrives in 1955, he catches his future dad George "peeping" on a woman getting dressed through her upstairs bedroom window.
As far as we know, George is peeping on a random woman in a random house.
Marty sees his dad in a tree, sees the woman through her open window, and connects the dots. "He's a Peeping Tom!" he says to himself.
Thirty years in the future (ha ha) my wife pointed out that it's Lorraine Baines, George's future wife that he's peeping on...but for three decades of fandom I never made that connection on my own, and here's why:

In the following scene, one of the major revelations of the movie is Marty meeting his future mother Lorraine for the "first" time.
In order for that scene to work, we must preserve Marty's surprise at meeting her, and the audience's surprise too, but how do we preserve that surprise if we see George peeping on her in the previous scene?
To preserve the surprise, the two shots of the woman through the bedroom window are from the neck down. We don't see Lorraine's face, and neither does Marty.
After Marty connects the dots, he's hit by a car (driven by his future grandfather). The grandfather exits the car, hollers to his wife offscreen, and the movie fades out.

In order to preserve the surprise (and because it's boring), we don't see that Marty is carried into the same house where the mystery woman lives.
We don't see Marty plunked down into Lorraine's bed.
We don't see that this is the same bedroom George was peeping into earlier.

When the movie fades back in, it's nine hours later, and nighttime, and Marty meets his future mother for the "first" time.

In retrospect, it makes logical sense that the woman George is peeping on is Lorraine, but the movie deliberately obscures this fact to save the big reveal later.

If you assume that the woman George was peeping on was Lorraine, that raises some questions. I gotta watch the movie again assuming George is infatuated with Lorraine and deliberately stalked her to peep on her getting dressed.
If you think too hard about it, it takes some creepy planning and effort for George to schedule his Saturday morning to catch a teenage girl dressing with the shades open. How often had he climbed that tree to be on that branch at the right time?
Lorraine reveals in 1985 that she doesn't know why George was up in that tree that day. She's been married to a man who she thought was a random classmate...before her father hit him with the car. In reality George was peeping on her when he fell out of that tree, got hit by Lorraine's dad, and woke up in the bed of the teenager he's obsessed with!

June 3, 2017

The Running Man

I recently enjoyed an interview with screenwriter Steven DeSouza (Die Hard) who told a hundred great stories and totally illuminated that The Running Man is actually a Solid action screenplay and black satire spoiled by four directors and rock-bottom production value.
The Running Man feels like a cheap "B" movie next to Schwarzenegger's contemporary films with a better director and a bigger budget (like Predator), and cheesy compared to other contemporary movies DeSouza wrote (like Die Hard).
Watching it for the screenplay alone, it's surprisingly biting satire of television. If I were to recommend watching Arnold's 1980s movies, this would rank very low, but it was a pleasant surprise to watch it again and discover dark humor lurking under a cheap exterior.
If you HAVE seen The Running Man, check out this hilarious dissection on the podcast How Did This Get Made?

Passengers

Last August, the first trailers for PASSENGERS had me really excited. I love sci-fi movies about colonizing distant worlds, space arks, hibernation capsules. I enjoy the acting of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt; they seem to be a good pairing. Michael Sheen as a robot bartender clearly meant to allude to The Shining was an exciting possibility.
Then the reviews, the negative, angry reviews rolled in. Viewers seemed to feel betrayed by the movie, but reluctant to reveal their reasons.
Some kind of reverse lock fell into place. One weekend when I had a night to myself I rented it: I knew that this would not be a boring bad movie.
Even forearmed, I was surprised how much I hated the movie. To be more precise, Lawrence, Pratt, and Sheen deliver terrific performances, but the screenplay is deeply flawed right to the bones. I literally would not have agreed to bankroll any film with this premise. 
It's been decades since I watched a movie so misbegotten I wanted to turn it off and walk away in the middle. I was so mad at the events unfolding that I did turn it off for a moment. If I had been in a theater I may have walked out. After a few fuming moments I turned it back on and watched it through to the end.
Not only was the movie fundamentally flawed, the third act was badly patched and reshot to try and salvage it. I have never "seen the seams" of a repaired screenplay so plainly.
I don't want to spoil the movie, but I wouldn't recommend it either: in all honesty the movie's only value is academic. "Here's an example of a hugely expensive movie with two huge movie stars that was too big to fail, but too bad to succeed." There's also some remarkable performance moments, especially Lawrence, and Sheen's perfectly modulated AI bartender.
Stub Hubby Grade: F.