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: Keeping Up with the Joneses

Keeping Up with the Joneses movie posterSynopsis
Jeff Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis) and his wife Karen (Isla Fisher) are an average suburban couple but when Tim (Jon Hamm) and Natalie (Gal Gadot) Jones move in across the street they get mixed into the crazy world of espionage.

Review
I was immediately drawn to Keeping Up with the Joneses once I saw who it starred. With names like Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Gal Gadot, and John Hamm, this film boasts a talented cast list. With the exception of Hamm, all of the above actors have been some of my favorite films. Keeping Up with the Joneses offers some pretty good laughs but doesn’t seem to fully utilize the talent its cast possesses. However, that’s not to say they don’t do well. All four of them have great chemistry with each other. Either in pairs or all of them together, each scene made me at least smile with enjoyment, if not laugh a little. But that is all the reaction they earned. I think that was my biggest disappointment in this movie is there aren’t many stand-out or laugh-out-loud moments. It was enjoyable but mostly forgettable. Despite being veterans of comedies, both Galifianakis and Fisher are fairly forgettable when compared to their roles in other films, such as The Hangover or The Wedding Crashers respectively. Hamm and Gadot seem to have fun as the more serious counterparts to Galifianakis and Fisher. They played to their strengths better than the other members of the cast, turning out more of the memorable moments than the others.

I thought Keeping Up with the Joneses was OK :-|. I know I might have painted the picture that I didn’t enjoy the film a whole lot but I did. It just left me underwhelmed where I was expecting more from such a talented cast. Keeping Up with the Joneses plays it safe. It was a good comedy that walks this weird middle ground where it is not too exciting while never becoming drab either. It’s actually pretty impressive how ordinary it is.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Greg Mottola – Director
Michael LeSieur – Writer
Jake Monaco – Composer

Zach Galifianakis – Jeff Gaffney
Isla Fisher – Karen Gaffney
Jon Hamm – Tim Jones
Gal Gadot – Natalie Jones
Matt Walsh – Dan Craverston
Maribeth Monroe – Meg Craverston
Michael Liu – Yang
Kevin Dunn – Carl Pronger
Henry Boston – Patrick
Jack McQuaid – Mikey
Patton Oswalt – Scorpion
Ming Zhao – Scorpion’s Girlfriend

Fast & Furious 6 Review

Fast & Furious 6 movie posterSynopsis
After their successful heist in Rio, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Mia (Jordana Brewster), Han (Sung Kang), Gisele (Gal Gadot), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), and Tej (Ludacris), have all gone into hiding. Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is investigating the destruction of a Russian military convoy, brought down by Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). Hobbs approaches Toretto and asks for his help. Dom initially refuses but reconsiders when Hobbs shows him a recent photo of Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) , currently a member of Shaw’s crew.

Review
The Fast & Furious series has been an interesting one. It started out alright in The Fast and the Furious, then took a dive with 2 Fast 2 Furious, but has slowly grown in quality since Tokyo Drift, culminating in the fantastic Fast Five. Fast & Furious 6 maintains most of the elements that made Fast Five so entertaining while taking the franchise in a slightly new direction.

Most Fast & Furious movies have done well setting up the rest of the movie with the opening scene. This film starts with a montage consisting of scenes from every previous movie in the franchise. This does great to give you an idea of the history of the series, but also becomes more fitting as the movie goes on because every previous Fast & Furious movie is referenced. For those who have watched them all, it’s very gratifying. Even if you haven’t seen the other films, the story is still easily followed, you just won’t have the same rewarding experience.

Gibson has been the comedic relief of the series since he first appeared in 2 Fast 2 Furious. He had a few funny moments in Fast Five but mostly when he was bantering with Ludacris. However, he steals the spotlight this time around. He had many one-liners that were hilarious, particularly during the first half of the movie. Johnson was more humorous, too.  Johnson can be funny as long as he has someone to play off of, which was missing in Fast Five.  Now that he had Gibson opposite, he is much better.

For a series whose original premise was car racing and chases, Fast & Furious 6 has really moved away from that focus. There are still car chases (it wouldn’t be an action/Fast & Furious movie without them), but definitely fewer and more spaced out. The action is balanced between several types of action scenes, instead of mainly cars. Car sequences are used as a tool, rather than the central focus.

The climactic scene is one epic set piece. Few scenes come to mind that are as intense as cars chasing a plane on a runway while several fights are happening inside the plane’s cargo bay. On a side note, I know that movies tend to exaggerate, but if that runway existed in real life, I’m pretty sure it would have stretched from one end of Europe to the other.

Hobbs was such a great adversary for the gang in Fast Five. He had both the resources and stature to be a valid threat to the entire team, particularly Brian and Dominic. But as an ally, he doesn’t have the same appeal. It was great because Johnson and Gibson could riff off each other, but other than that, the character wasn’t as interesting when he is working with Dom and his crew rather than against them.

Fast & Furious 6 steps even further away from the series thin plot roots and offers a more character-centric story. Gibson shines as the comedic relief and Johnson’s humor is better since he can go back-and-forth with Gibson. Hobbs was much better against the team than with them. The final, climactic scene was one of the largest in recent memory and is an explosive ending befitting any great action movie. Fast & Furious 6 shows that it isn’t afraid to move away from the series simple origins and offers an experience unlike any in the series.

Rating
3.5/5

For the rest of the Fast & Furious franchise, check out my reviews for The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and Furious 7.

Fast Five Review

Fast Five movie posterSynopsis
After Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster) break Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) out of a prison transport bus, they rendezvous with Vince (Matt Schulze) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, they are hunted by Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), one of the FBI’s toughest agents. At the same time, the most ruthless crime lord in Rio, Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), is looking for Dom and Brian. In order to gain their freedom, they call in some old friends to pull of one last job: a heist worth $100 million.

Review
I was skeptical to see Fast Five. The previous movie, Fast & Furious, started to show the potential of what the series could be. It gave a shot of adrenaline into the franchise, so what I was interested in seeing was if this film could carry the momentum started in Fast & Furious. I’m glad I didn’t give up on the franchise after 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, because Fast Five was more than I anticipated and kicked the franchise into a whole new level.

Dwayne Johnson is a strong addition to the cast. There is an underlying humor when he delivers his lines that makes it very enjoyable to watch him on screen.  However, he doesn’t have anyone to play off of like in some of his other movies, so some of playfulness fades quickly.  Hobbs as a character is a great adversary for the gang. He is physically strong and can match Dom punch for punch, and a federal agent, to make it personal against Brian. Add in Johnson’s wit and charm and you have one of the best antagonists in the series.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is how well the character relationships were displayed. The best moments were when Tej (Ludacris) and Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) were bantering. Tego (Tego Calderon) and Rico (Don Omar) had some great back-and-forth moments too.  What wasn’t explored that well were the relationships between characters that haven’t interacted before. Tej and Roman were together in 2 Fast 2 Furious, and Tego and Rico were part of Dom’s crew in Fast & Furious.  Other than when the entire group was together, characters from the different movies rarely interacted one-on-one.  I think this was a missed opportunity and could have made for some of the more interesting moments in the movie.

I think what really made this movie for me was that at Fast Five maintains the essence of The Fast and the Furious, but it is primarily a heist movie. In the end when they finally do the heist, it is probably one of the greatest robbery chase scenes I have seen. Dom and Brian are towing a vault behind their cars. It made for a wild ride and some pretty serious destruction.

Most of the more memorable characters from the previous Fast & Furious movies return in Fast Five. One of the characters who returned didn’t have much screen time and seemed to disappear during most of the movie just as quickly as they appeared. Then, they became a casualty to give the team some more motivation. It felt like the death was unnecessary. I loath when characters are killed off simply to give gravitas to the situation. The character could have remained alive without greatly affecting the story.

Fast Five continues the energy that began in Fast & Furious. Johnson is a great addition to the cast and offers up humor to the character and a great foe for Dom and Brian. The character relationships were fleshed out, but only among those who appeared together previously. Fast Five is a great heist movie, but at its core, it still has all the elements that made the original The Fast and the Furious so entertaining.

Rating
4.5/5

For the rest of the Fast & Furious franchise, check out my reviews for The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast & Furious 6, and Furious 7.

 

Fast & Furious Review

Fast & Furious movie posterSynopsis
Five years after leaving Los Angeles, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is hiding in Panama City after his new crew, which included Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Han (Sung Kang), Leo Tego (Tego Calderon), Rico Santos (Don Omar), and Cara Mirtha (Mirtha Michelle), disbanded. However, when his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) tells him Letty has been murdered, he returns to LA to find the killer. Meanwhile, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), now an FBI Agent, is tracking down a mysterious drug lord known as Braga. Toretto’s and O’Conner’s searches bring them together once again as they travel to Mexico to bring down Braga.

Review
I have stopped having high hopes for the Fast and Furious franchise. The first movie was good, but the second and third installments I found lackluster. They had the cool car sequences that mad the The Fast and the Furious so enjoyable, but they lacked anything worth caring about. However, Fast & Furious looks like the franchise is back from its slump.

For one thing, there is an actual resemblance of a plot this time around. Although it is still just used as an excuse to show off fast cars and furious driving (heh, I made a funny), there was less focus on the cars and more on the characters. There were a few parts where I had to think about what was going on, something I didn’t expect I needed to do with this movie, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Fast & Furious goes back to its roots and begins with an exciting highway heist. This explosive opening set the tone for the rest of the film, just like in The Fast and the Furious. I think the absence of a thrilling starting sequence in 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift failed to set the tone they were looking for, so the expectations were set low early on. However, you know right away the mood for the rest of this film.

Brian O’Conner is the main focus of the movie. There is a lot more character work than I was expecting, which isn’t a bad thing. The film centers around the concept of is Brian a good guy disguised as a criminal or a criminal pretending to a good guy? It makes for an interesting dynamic in the film and is a much better character study for Brian than 2 Fast 2 Furious. Because there is more of a character focus, there aren’t as many car sequences as previous entries. There are still plenty, just not as much as frequent as before.

Fast & Furious brings the series out of its decline in quality. O’Conner’s character is at the center of the movie, which takes away from some of the action, but it’s a fair trade-off. An actual plot helps to set it above the previous films, and an exciting opening harkens back to the series’ past. The franchise is in good shape so long as it can continue the momentum started here.

Rating
3/5

For the rest of the Fast & Furious franchise, check out my reviews for The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, and Furious 7.