WONDER WOMAN*** A Woman Worth the Wonder


WHEN IN THE dying months of the Great War, Diana (aka Wonder Woman) loosens her hair and, sword in hand, strides fearlessly into No Man’s Land, this just about OK movie, earned its price of admission. Israeli ex-soldier Gal Gadot (from some of the endless “Fast and Furious” moneymakers) is Diana, daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) queen of the Amazons…crafted in clay and brought alive by Zeus himself. She’s a statuesque beauty that exudes an on-screen presence that’s simply Wowza. More than that, she makes for a thoroughly convincing Amazon. Beauty meets badass like never before.


The movie was directed by Patty Jenkins (‘Monster”) and has, so far, proven to be the highest ever, grossing movie by a woman. To borrow from the old Virginia Slims slogan, “We’ve [OK, they’ve] come a long way babe!” Here’s a super-hero action movie that’s about a colony of warrior women who have chosen to do without men; and that features a fearless woman who doesn’t need the strong arm of a man to help her out as she does battle with the god of war (and most of the German army).

And one that’s had an opening weekend of +$180M.

“Wonder Woman” is both an origin myth (usually the strongest of the superhero tropes, which almost always trail off into repetition thereafter) and a coming of age story. We first meet Diana as a (rebellious) child, desperate to learn the pugilistic ways of her tribe of Amazons. They live in a sort of time-warp bubble in the paradisiacal island of Themiscyra… where they mainly seem to train in mixed martial arts (in a sort of Amazonian fitness centre); all in preparation for the possible return of Ares, the (defeated) god who brought war to the world. War comes to their paradise when Steve, an Allied fighter pilot (Chris Pine) somehow crashes through their invisibility shield. By now the child has morphed into a woman, well capable of plunging deep into the wine dark sea to rescue him. He speaks of a world at war; of terrible loss of life and human suffering. Perhaps the dread Ares (David Thewlis) has retuned. Diana feels she must leave her paradise and return with Steve to kill Ares and end the war. Or maybe she’s just motivated by the sight of her first naked man. He is, after all, above average he tells her, a piece of boasting she no doubt feels compellingly motivating.

And so it came to pass, Diana grew to experience both war and love.

Many battles ensued.

Director Jenkins stages some really impressive – often slo mo- battle scenes as Diana spins and somersaults her way to taking out legions of bad guys… with her sword, shield and Olympian lasso.

The weak link in the whole enterprise is its uninspired script. Alan Heinberg, whose main claim to fame is the ABC crime drama, “The Catch” is credited with the screenplay along with Zac Snyder (credited as story creator and director of the dreary Superman reboots and the turgid “300: Rise of an Empire”) and Jason Fuchs (who wrote “Rags: The Movie”, one of those movies seen only by his family). This trio never quite manage either to attempt at plausibility or even to give Diana’s character, character.

Thank the gods, Gal Gadot manages to pull it off despite them.
And now she’s off for lunch with Bruce Wayne. Those Amazons. They do get around

 

Wonder Woman. Dir: Patty Jenkins. With: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston. Writer: Allan Heinberg. Production Designer: Aline Bonetto (“Pan”). Cinematographer: Matthew Jensen (“Fantastic Four”)

 

COME HELL OR HIGH WATER**** Cowboys, Indians and Oscars in Sight


jeff-bridges-hell-or-high-water-793x526

COPS AND ROBBERS, Cowboys and Indians, the wild wild West. All the familiar elements are here, de-familiarized in David Mackenzie’s atmospheric, well-written tale of greed, poverty, racism and love.

The action is set in a dry, scorching Texas, where everyone’s armed and where the gap between the law and vigilantism is razor thin. We could be back in the wild, quasi-lawless 1900’s world of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; but we’re not. Welcome to Texas (the US?) circa 2016.

The cops of the story are Marcus (an inspired Jeff Bridges), an ornery, racist old timer, on the verge of retirement and forever slagging off Injuns: “And just wait ’till I get to your Mexican half” he says to his Mexican/Indian partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham), who gives as good as he gets. (When Marcus is proven right on a hunch, Alberto quips, “even a blind pig will sometimes find a truffle”).

The quality of the acting and the dialogue between these two makes the partnership engagingly believable. You always get the sense that there’s a genuine affection underneath the barbs and crotchety-ness.

The robbers are the banks, insidiously robbing dirt-poor farmers of their bone-dry lands through reverse mortgages and bankruptcy guaranteeing products. But Marcus and Alberto aren’t after the banks; they’re after a pair of old fashioned, small time bank robbers: brothers Tarner (Ben Foster), the dumb violent one and Toby (Chris Pine), the smarter, emotionally wounded one.

These two are the ‘real-world’ version of Butch and Sundance, stripped of the glamour and fame. They’re just two poor Cowboys desperate to rob back from a bank that’s on the verge of robbing them of their (deceased) mother’s farm. Thieves stealing from thieves. Like Marcus and Alberto, the bickering, affectionate, co-dependent relationship of the brothers is marvellously evoked.

They hit a few banks, always with the code of stealing only from the banks and of never harming the customers. But, as always happens, there’s a need for one last score, one final robbery before they’ve got enough money to stop the forfeiture of their farm.

Director Mackenzie leans heavily toward the brothers: desperate times, he seems to suggest, demand desperate actions.

More than this, the robberies are played out in an oppressive, fatalistic universe (the vastness and emptiness of the terrain suggests timelessness, a place where the inhabitants are miniscule and almost insignificant). Here an idea of history and (Cowboy) identity is dying. We come across a group of disgruntled Cowboys, for instance, desperately herding their cattle to safety against a raging out of control wildfire that seems to be burning away all the elements of pride and self worth. This is a brave new world, the new frontier, from which there is no escape; one where poverty is inevitable and where the veins of violence and hostility run deep (in one exchange, a Comanche tells Tanner, “You know what Comanche means? It means everyone is my enemy”. Tanner replies, “Then I am  Comanche too”) .

As the author of the robberies, all aimed at providing an out for his sons, Toby’s actions take on an existentialist, almost Operatic bravura. They are one man’s attempt to defy fate, to use the potential of his mother’s legacy (the farm) as a means of denying his kids his own legacy of drunkenness and violence.

Come hell or high water.

But the high water comes at a hellish price.

Hell or High Water is the first of the post summer, post blockbuster, Oscar intending movies.

And what a grand way to launch into Oscar season. Mackenzie’s sure-footed directing allows this very character-led story to unfold without undue sturm und drang. He paces the action beautifully, allowing enough deviations from the main plot to invite us into the lives of his protagonists; but always you know there’s a drumbeat toward the grand lethal climax. Mackenzie is working with an excellent script –terse, witty and observant of the Texan inflections of his characters -from Taylor Sheridan (Sicario); and Giles Nuttgens’ (Midnight’s Children) hot, bright cinematography evokes the aridity of the land (and the lives of the characters)

Way to go

 

Hell or High Water. Dir: David Mackenzie. With: Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham. Writer: Taylor Sheridan. Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens. Production Designer: Tom Duffield (Lone Survivor)