Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman movie posterSynopsis
Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) and the Amazons live in isolation from the rest of the world on the island of Themyscira, preparing for the return of Ares, the god of war. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American pilot and spy, crashes onto the island and tells of a “war to end all wars” in the outside world, Diana, convinced Ares is behind the conflict, leaves her home with Trevor to stop Ares and end the war.

Review
A Wonder Woman film has been a long time coming. Of DC’s “trinity” (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) she is the only character to not receive her own live-action film. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is easily the highlight of the movie. So how does she do starring front and center in her own film? Well, I can happily say Wonder Woman is the movie the fans have been waiting for in her 75+ year history.

Warner Bros. made an absolutely great casting choice with Gal Gadot. She captures every aspect about the character perfectly. She can be soft and gentle in one scene, like when she was excited to see a baby, or warm and caring in another, like when she had her moments with her team, then she can be strong and tough in the next scene, like when she single-handedly enters No Man’s Land. Gadot gave Diana a sense naivety and wonder about about the world but still felt powerful. I could go on but I’d feel like I was repeating myself. In short, she was positively wonderful.

As great as Gadot was as the titular character, that’s not even my favorite part. I think what I liked best about Wonder Woman was that it actually had a sense of adventure. Also, it wasn’t dark like Batman v Superman or Man of Steel, and it actually had humorous moments. It never became overly doom and gloom, like the previous DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films, nor did it feel as lighthearted as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. There was a nice balance between the seriousness and the fun sides of the movie.

Every superhero movie these days is building towards the next movie or several movies in the universe, well the DCEU and MCU films do anyway. This is a double edge sword because on one hand, it is fun to see the different characters interact with each other but on the other it can make the movie feel bloated or unfocused. Another one of Wonder Woman‘s strengths is that it doesn’t have this problem. It is completely self-contained. It is book-ended with scenes showcasing where in the DCEU chronology it takes place, but everything in between is its own thing. This works out great because then that means the movie can stay centered on Wonder Woman herself without having to worry about anybody else or future plot points.

Because the film’s focus is strictly on Wonder Woman, the story is very tight and focused for a superhero movie. There are no extra characters. Everyone exists to push Diana’s story forward. Every scene serves a purpose of building Diana’s character or the conflict she faces. There is nothing extraneous, nothing without purpose, or nothing without reason. It is a refreshing change of pace to to see a superhero movie that only focuses on whose name is in the title instead of worrying about anybody else or future plot points.

I mentioned the perfect casting of Gal Gadot but I have to commend the rest of the cast as well. Chris Pine was a great choice as the male lead. He feels like a good, grounded counter to Gadot’s innocent Diana. Saïd Taghmaoui as the team’s quick-talking Sameer was a blast to watch. I would have liked to learn just a little bit more about Ewen Bremner’s Charlie and Eugene Brave Rock’s The Chief. Both seem like they have some interesting histories that were barely touched on. However, the highlight for me was any scene with Lucy Davis as Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy. She was an absolute hoot and stole all her scenes. It’s a little disappointing knowing this will be the only time spent with the character because I cold use more Etta Candy in my life.

Like many superhero films, the weakest part of Wonder Woman comes from its villains. General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Hudson) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) are the main baddies but they only act as the personification of the evil Diana is trying to stop; There isn’t much to them. It feels like they are villains almost simply because they are Nazis. Ares could be called the overarching villain and big bad of the movie. Yet, his presence isn’t really felt until the very end. And even then, he is very underwhelming. I guess I can’t fault the movie too much since it gets so much else right.

I thought Wonder Woman was GREAT 😀 Director Patty Jenkins has finally done what every other DC director since Christopher Nolan could not: create a good superhero movie. Gal Gadot strikes a perfect balance of innocence and strength. The movie mirrors that and isn’t too lighthearted but also isn’t dark and gritty. Diana’s sense of justice and need to do the right thing is the tone we should have seen from Superman in Man of Steel. Hopefully WB and DC will keep Jenkins around because she has been their most successful director yet.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Patty Jenkins – Director
Allan Heinberg – Screenplay / Story
Zach Snyder – Story
Jason Fuchs – Story
Rupert Gregson-Williams – Composer

Gal Gadot – Diana Prince / Wonder Woman
Chris Pine – Steve Trevor
Connie Nielsen – Hippolyta
Robin Wright – Antiope
David Thewlis – Sir Patrick
Saïd Taghmaoui – Sameer
Ewen Bremner – Charlie
Eugene Brave Rock – The Chief
Lucy Davis – Etta Candy
Danny Hudson – General Erich Ludendorff
Elena Anaya – Dr. Maru
Lilly Aspell – Young Diana (8)

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Lightning Review: Into the Woods

Into the Woods movie posterSynopsis
A pastry baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are tasked by a witch (Meryl Streep) to find several items to be used to lift a curse placed on their family. During their journey, the baker and his wife cross paths with Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford).

Review
Going into Into the Woods I had no idea it was an adaptation of a stage play or that it was a full blown musical. The friends I went with were huge fans of the play and were excited to see it on screen, so naturally I was intrigued (now I know how my friends feel during Marvel movies). Regardless of not knowing much about the film, I enjoyed it very much. One thing I found particularly interesting was how the story weaves the renowned fairy tales together. Since Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk are well known, the film is not spent during the stories themselves but rather in between them. For instance, instead of seeing Jack in the giant’s city in the sky, he is only seen going up and down the beanstalk and his interactions with the other characters. This allowed more time for the movie’s story instead of retreading the parts of the stories the audience is already familiar with.

The special effects look amazing. Although not used as heavily, the visual style remind me of Maleficent. Like any good musical, I was singing the music long after leaving the theater. The song “Into the Woods,” sung by the film’s cast, and “Agony,” sung by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, are a few of the highlights. The cast was amazing, too. With stars like Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and Anna Kendrick, how can you expect anything less? I thought James Corden as the baker did especially well. Into the Woods offers a variety of catchy songs, some good effects and a stand-out cast, easily making it one of the better musicals I have seen recently.

Rating
4/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rob Marshall – Director
James Lapine – Screenplay / Musical
Stephen Sondheim – Composer

James Corden – Baker
Emily Blunt – Baker’s Wife
Meryl Streep – Witch
Anna Kendrick – Cinderella
Daniel Huttlestone – Jack
Lilla Crawford – Little Red Riding Hood
Christine Baranski – Stepmother
Tammy Blanchard – Florinda
Lucy Punch – Lucinda
Chris Pine- Cinderella’s Prince
Tracey Ullman – Jack’s Mother
Johnny Depp – The Wolf
Annette Crosbie – Granny
Mackenzie Mauzy – Rapunzel
Billy Magnussen – Rapunzel’s Prince
Frances de la Tour – Giant
Simon Russell Beale – Baker’s Father

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit movie posterSynopsis
Based on characters created by Tom Clancy, Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) is an US Marine veteran who is recruited by CIA agent William Harper (Kevin Costner) to be a financial analyst after he was seriously injured when his chopper was shot down. When Ryan discovers a Russian scheme to collapse the US economy, he travels to Moscow where he goes from an analyst to an active field agent. Ryan must quickly unravel the plot before Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) can bring his plan to fruition, while at the same time keep his relationship with his girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightly).

Review
I do not have much experience with anything Tom Clancy related, whether it’s his books, previous Jack Ryan movies, or the video games. So when I went into the theater to see Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, I had no expectations about the characters. I went to see it simply because it is a spy thriller and the trailer looked pretty cool. For me, this movie’s trailer maybe made me expect a little to much from the film and in the end, I felt let down.

The cast was fairly strong. Chris Pine has been the lead before in movies like Star Trek and does a decent job carrying the movie , but I think he does better when he has a larger supporting cast behind him. Kevin Costner does great as Ryan’s handler and it was nice to see Keira Knightly in something other than a period piece. But the strongest performance was from Kenneth Branagh. He brings a chilling class to his character.

Unlike most action/spy movies, this film does a good job not becoming too over-the-top. You won’t experience anything you haven’t seen in almost any other spy thriller, and frankly I wasn’t too engrossed in the ‘break America by breaking their economy’ plot, but it is a melting pot of the elements that make other spy films enjoyable. The only thing I was a little ‘eh’ on was when Ryan figured out the location of a sleeper agent. The way he jumps around and finally reaches the conclusion felt out of place with the rest of the movie.

Shaky cam really gets on my nerves. I don’t like it at all. Any time the action picks up in Jack Ryan, the camera immediately starts shaking violently and you can’t see anything, especially when several scenes take place at night. I miss the days when the cameras in action movies stayed in place and you could see the characters duking it out.

This is a bit spoilerish but it was something that bothered me about the trailer after watching the movie. The trailer makes Jack Ryan look like there is someone in the CIA out to get Ryan, which is a bit misleading. There is no element of “who can you trust?” at all. Everyone is on the same side and no double crossing. Normally I wouldn’t care, but it was such a dominate part of the trailer that I felt it needed mentioning.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit doesn’t bring anything new to the spy-genre table, but it does maintain the components that make them fun and enjoyable. Pine does well carrying the movie, but he seems to do better when he has a larger supporting cast to work with. It never becomes too over the top, mostly staying within the realm of reality. Jack Ryan isn’t a terrible movie, but it doesn’t do anything to stand out either.

Rating
3/5

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Trailer

Synopsis (from IMDB): Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

Unlike the other Jack Ryan movies, Shadow Recruit is not based on any specific Tom Clancy novel. Instead, it is an original story based on Clancy’s characters and is intended as a reboot of the franchise.  Given Chris Pine’s recent roles in action movies (Star Trek, This Means War), this role should be pretty natural for him.  It seems like producers have learned that naming movies after the book’s protagonist isn’t interesting (ie Jack Reacher, Parker, Alex Cross).  I’m most interested to see how Pine and Kiera Knightly play off each other.  If the scene in the hotel room with them and Kevin Costner is any indication, it looks like they should do well.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, directed by Kenneth Branagh (Director of Thor, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) who also plays the antagonist of the film, will be in theaters December 25, 2013.

[EDIT 10/24/2013] The release date has been pushed back to January 17, 2014.