Wonder Woman Review

It’s always hard to write about movies I love. There’s a feeling that my opinion won’t be taken seriously or will be regarded as hyperbole. And for a movie I really love it can feel like throwing pearls before swine. Obviously that isn’t the case as you, my readers, are amazing and know me well enough that I do not rubber stamp movies or give any franchise a pass. When I say I love a movie it is because it is deserved.

All that said- I LOVE Wonder Woman. And it’s not just because it’s the best DCEU film. And it’s not because it is the first decent female led superhero movie (although I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a little meaningful to me). It’s because it spoke to me on an emotional level and entertained me in every way I can think of.

You could make the case that Wonder Woman follows a traditional origin story formula and I would agree with you but much like Moana it executes that formula so well. In both films, I deeply care about the characters and their journey.However, as much as I love Moana, Wonder Woman is even better. I just loved it so much.

The story is pretty simple and comes right from the comic books. Wonder Woman is Diana who is raised on the island of Themyscira among the all-female Amazons. She is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and was created out of clay by her mother and Zeus. One day a soldier named Steve Trevor lands on their beach and Diana decides to become involved in World War 1 and try to save the people. Updating the conflict from World War 2 to World War 1 was very smart as the senselessness of World War 1 is far more obvious. Plus, you have the horrors of nerve gas and trench warfare in World War 1 to put as a backdrop.

I won’t tell you any more so you can experience it yourself but the key to this film working is Diana and Steve. Gal Gadot is effervescent, innocent and wonderful as Wonder Woman and Chris Pine is perfect as Steve. The two have incredible chemistry, and I really cared about them and their stories. This is not a film that empowers women at the expense of men. They are both needed and valued and their love is what is powerful. All love is powerful.

The journey Wonder Woman goes on puts it above most other superhero movies I’ve seen. She learns about not only the cost of war but the ease at which humans excuse that cost as nothing. I cried a lot both times when watching the film because I found her realization of human evil to be incredibly moving.

A lot of people criticize some superhero movies for having a lack of stakes. Not the case here. No spoilers but there is a price to pay for fighting evil and here it couldn’t be more devastating. And the resolution is far from tidy but more of a momentary breath and pause before we know mankind will succumb again to the worst in their nature.

You see the true villain in Wonder Woman is war itself and the corruptible nature of mankind that so often embraces it. Some have said Wonder Woman feels like a Marvel movie instead of a DC movie. Never mind the many DC movies that were far sillier than this (cough Green Lantern cough) but I think they are missing the point. Previous DCEU films like Batman v Superman are built on a traditional masculine energy and style of filmmaking. With Wonder Woman we get something entirely different. There is more of a traditional feminine energy to it. It is about emotions and relationships and that is why it is so moving. Even when it gets bombastic it does so because of despair and love.

That’s not to say Wonder Woman isn’t fun. It does have comedic moments to lighten the mood and those work as well. There’s also great action that will satisfy the action gurus of your group but again what was special to me is the emotional journey of a woman facing the horrors of war.

I really only have 2 tiny nitpicks with Wonder Woman. The accents on Themyscira are a little cheesy. I understand why they did it to match Gadot’s Israeli accent but it doesn’t quite work. They also use a slow motion effect in the action scenes a little bit too much. There is a villain reveal that could have been handled better but since the true villain was war itself I did not care. Aside from that, I thought Wonder Woman was spectacular.

I won’t give a ranking just yet but it is definitely one of my favorite superhero movies I’ve ever seen. Congrats to Patty Jenkins and everyone involved for finally giving me a blockbuster I actually cared about!  Thank you!

And thank you for giving little girls the superhero they should have had a long time ago

Overall Grade- A

For parents there is some war violence that might be concerning and some nudity/sensuality.

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45 Years Review

45 years-4It’s funny I went to the theater tonight and scores of people were coming out of Deadpool with smiles on their faces.  I’m sure they had a great time and that’s awesome. I instead went to see 45 Years and I was alone in the theater and came out literally sobbing.  Quite the contrast! But I wager to say in 10 years my experience will be the more memorable one. Suffice it to say, I have a new entry in my Best Movies of 2015.

45 years-245 Years is a very simple movie.  It tells the story of a week in the life of a couple before they celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.  On day 1 Geoff, the husband, played by Tom Courtenay, gets a letter in German informing him that the body of the love of his youth has been found and he can come and claim it.

Kate, the wife, played brilliantly by Charlotte Rampling, is aware of the relationship but is surprised when the news is so impactful upon her husband.  She starts to wonder if there was a side to this old relationship she never knew about? Has her husband of 45 years been honest with her?  Was she the 2nd choice over his true love? All of these questions are asked by Kate as the days unwind.

45 years-3I think what made this movie so particularly moving for me is Kate reminds me so much of my beloved Grandmother.  She is one of my best friends but in the last 2 years her health has not been well and it is difficult for her to talk on the phone.  This has made talking to her quite difficult since we live in different states.  Watching this movie made me realize how much I miss my Grandma.

45 years-5Even Charlotte Rampling’s look and disposition reminds me of my Grandma. I loved the way she had her life ordered and was a bright light to all in her circle.  When she finds out her husband hasn’t been completely honest with her the devastation is so palatable.  You can see it in Rampling’s whole body not just her face.  I wanted to give her a hug.

If it hadn’t been so late I would have called my Grandma right after and told her I loved her.  I’m going to do it tomorrow. That’s the kind of emotion this movie evoked in me.  I was literally sobbing.  I just love my Grandma so much.

45 yearsI know what it feels like for people you love to come out of nowhere with news and to have to absorb it as best you can,  so I related to that storyline as well.  I related to having to come to grips when you thought the person you loved was one way and turns out to be another.  There is nothing harder than that in my opinion.

Some will probably find this boring.  It’s kind of like Boyhood in the way it is just about a week in the life of this couple.  Some people don’t like that kind of movie.  Some may not like the somewhat ambiguous ending, but I thought it was pure truth.  It may be the best movie I’ve ever seen about marriage.  That’s not hyperbole.  It’s really how I felt.

45 years-6Tom Courtenay is also wonderful in the role.  You want to hate him for the dishonesty and the pain he is causing Kate but you can also see why he left the past in the past. It felt authentic and real to the way such a man would behave. We all know older men like Geoff.

I’m not saying don’t see Deadpool.  Go see it.  Have some laughs if the content is your thing, but make time in your schedule to see a film that something to say about life.  Make time to see 45 Years. It was a stunning film and I’m so glad Charlotte Rampling was nominated for best actress. She is much better than either Cate Blanchett in Carol or Brie Larsen in Room.

The rest of the supporting cast is wonderful and gives the entire experience a lived in feel.  It seems like a real group of friends, a real community that surrounds Geoff and Kate.

Props to director Andrew Haigh for his tremendous achievement.  I loved this movie and I encourage all of you to see it.

As far as content it is rated R but it is a pretty mild R.  There are a few F words and one mild scene of sensuality between the couple.

Overall Grade- A+

My youtube review:

25 New Titles to National Film Registry

Fun news today in the movie world.  25 films have been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation including some of my personal favorites.  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Saving Private Ryan, Will Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would certainly be on my short list of favorite films.  Many of the choices I have not seen so I better get on it.

Neat too that Luxo Jr is being archived as it started Pixar in their artistry and vision.  House of Wax is also a lot of fun for a campy old school horror movie and you can’t beat Vincent Price in a scary movie.  I must own I have not seen The Big Lebowski because of the language but I know many love it or hate it.  Seems a very divisive movie.

The thing I love about Ferris Bueller is someone told me that the whole point was to save Cameron’s life and  the whole movie had more meaning to me. It could be fan fiction but if you think of the day and how it all leads to Cameron confronting his father and the car it kind of makes sense.  It turns from a silly comedy to something with real heart. But even that aside it has great style and laughs.  Look at this scene and remember this kind of heart is in a comedy. Great writing and acting.

Saving Private Ryan is such an immersive experience.  It feels like you are on D-Day with the invasion storming the beach.  Spielberg is so great at those big moments but there are also the intimate moments with great actors like Tom Hanks and Matt Damon.  Some movies we watch for entertainment and others are to help us empathize with the human race and understand our history.  Saving Private Ryan helped me do all of that.

Willie Wonka is still the best Roald Dahl adaptation.  His books are so hard to adapt because he has a darkness to his stories that can come off as too scary and mean spirited on film.  I don’t mind any of the film adaptations especially Witches with Angelica Houston but Wonka is still the best.  It’s magical, dark, nuts, strange and has terrific songs.  If anything the Tim Burton disaster showed us how great the original was.  It’s also emblematic of the 70s  in fashion and film, which is fun.

The rest of these I need to get on it and see! What about you?  What have you seen and what do you think?

13 Lakes

“Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day” (1913)

“The Big Lebowski” (1998)

“Down Argentine Way” (1940)

“The Dragon Painter” (1919)

“Felicia” (1965)
“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (1986)

“The Gang’s All Here” (1943)

“House of Wax” (1953)

“Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport” (2000)

“Little Big Man” (1970)

“Luxo Jr.” (1986)

“Moon Breath Beat” (1980)

“Please Don’t Bury Me Alive!” (1976)

“The Power and the Glory” (1933)

“Rio Bravo” (1959)

“Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)

“Ruggles of Red Gap” (1935)

“Saving Private Ryan” (1998)

“Shoes” (1916)

“State Fair” (1933)

“Unmasked” (1917)

“V-E + 1” (1945)

“The Way of Peace” (1947)

“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971)

Best and Worst of 2014

Overall 2014 has been a great year for movies.  I haven’t seen every movie by a long shot but I have seen my fair share.  I am still planning on seeing Annie, Into the Woods and Interstellar but I figured I’d go ahead with this post anyway.  I will do posts on those movies and add an addendum to this post in the notes.

Remember this is just my opinion.  If you liked movies I didn’t than that is awesome.  I want people to enjoy their time at the movies, so if you saw value in something that I didn’t I think that is great. If I liked something you didn’t I hope you can respect my opinion.

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Live Action

10.  Noah

9. God’s Not Dead

8. Chef

7.  100 Foot Journey

6. Captain America: Winter Soldier

5.  Xmen Days of Future Past

4. Edge of Tomorrow

3. Guardians of the Galaxy

2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

1.  Boyhood.

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Animation

10. Planes: Fire and Rescue

9. Rio 2

8. Book of Life

7. Mr Peabody and Sherman

6. Penguins of Madegascar

5. How to Train Your Dragon 2

4. Boxtrolls

3. Tale of Princess Kaguya

2. Big Hero 6

1. Lego Movie

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And now for the worst of the year.  I try to not see bad movies but I did slog through a couple this year just to know if they were really that bad.

10. Ride Along

9. Tammy

8. Muppets Most Wanted

7. Godzilla

6. Amazing Spiderman 2

5. The Other Woman

4. Transformers: Age of Extinction

3. Nut Job

2. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return

1. Maleficent

Best documentary Life Itself (also the only documentary I watched this year so need to catch up on some!)

life-itself-poster

Movie 30: Beauty and the Beast

BeautybeastposterI know at the end of this project people will want me to rank all 54 in order from greatest to worst and I don’t know how I am going to do it.  It feels impossible.  Take The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast . Both are masterpieces.  Perfection.  Little Mermaid probably means more to me personally,  where Beauty and the Beast is probably more of a universal story but they are both sensational.  I said it with Winnie the Pooh and immediately a chorus of detractors surfaced, but who cannot like Beauty and the Beast?

Who knows but I love it!

stained glass
The stained glass introduces us to the legend

Here’s how I know it is a great movie.  The other day I was thinking about it and it occurred to me there are some major plot holes.  For instance, we know the Beast has till 21 to  break the spell but he has 10 years so he was rude at 11?  If time stood still in castle and he is 21 forever (which would seem to be the case given Chip who is probably 7ish?) than how does he know he is 21 yet and if he is 21 wouldn’t that still make him very young when the spell was given?  Or has he been 21, 10 times?

Also when you think about Be Our Guest, all the flatware and napkins and everything else, if each of those things is a person that is a lot of servants at the castle?  Thousands! Finally, is the whole kingdom under the spell? Is that why there are so many items?  Because wouldn’t people notice their prince is gone? Also how long are Belle and the Beast together because Lefoux and Maurice are outside the whole time but their courtship seems like many months?

So plot holes, yes? But here’s the thing…None of that matters AT ALL!  Even a little bit! The characters are so rich, the writing is so sharp, animation stunning and the music- oh is it perfect. To me it is like Up in that regard. Yes you can nitpick plot points but all the pieces are so strong it carries the viewer away with it if they will allow it to.

Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture and it sure deserved it.

Production-

It’s hard writing this blog because I have tons of information on this and it is all very interesting stuff.  The audio commentary has so many great tidbits from Allan Menken, Gary Trousdale, and Kirk Wise.

Like Little Mermaid, this film was treated like a traditional Broadway musical and much of that emphasis came from lyricist Howard Ashman who I have grown to have such immense respect for when doing my research for this project.  He tragically died from AIDS before Beauty and the Beast could be released but this was not simply a song writer.  This was a man who acted out the characters and had definite opinions about casting, dialogue and everything else.  They said on the Gaston number Ashman had sheets and sheets of lines of funny prose that had to be trimmed out.  He could have gone on for days.

He was so crucial to Beauty and the Beast that  they moved production to an upstate New York Radisson Inn so they could be near him as he was sick.  What a creative gift to give the world as you are on your death bed.  Quite touching really.

howard ashman

I think we forget how bold the traditional musical structure was in 1991.  Even with The Little Mermaid precedent,  to do a Broadway musical was basically unheard of.  We are more used to it now because we get a musical release every year or so but that would not have happened if Menken and Ashman and Disney had not kept the medium alive in the 90s.

They said in the audio commentary that the New York Film Festival gave a standing ovation to a rough draft version of Beauty and the Beast and part of that is because it is so great but another is because it hits every nostalgic musical button without being corny.

The casting went a long way with the film’s success.  Jodi Benson, from Little Mermaid was considered for Belle, but they decided to go with an older, more mature sounding voice of Paige O’hara.  The Little Mermaid needed a girl who is uncomfortable in her own skin.  Beauty and the Beast needed a woman.   Belle has already figured out what she wants and it is not just a thing like legs or a man.  She wants adventure and a spiritual belonging.

What takes Ariel probably 40 minutes to realize when she sings on the rock, Belle has announced in the first 15 minutes.  Both are important characters but just at different phases and ages.  I love that.

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All the other casting is brilliant with Richard White as Gaston, Robby Benson as Beast, Jerry Orbach as Lumiere, and Angela Lansbury as Mrs Potts.  I went to a concert of Angela Lansbury and she felt great ownership over playing Mrs Potts.  She said after 9/11 she would talk with kids and her voice was a comfort to them because of Mrs Potts.  You can feel that kind of connection in all the performances. Mrs Potts is a great example of how perfect the characters are developed.  With her we have a character with no arms or legs and yet she is warm and maternal.  Pretty remarkable.

chip and mrs potts

What amazed me this time around is how every character in Beauty and the Beast is established in the first 30 seconds of them talking.  The Beast is the only one we don’t understand and have to see change.  Usually this wouldn’t work but when the writing is this sharp it does.  It is kind of like the Justice League of animation.  Individually they may be a boring character but together they work great.

Allan Menken’s score contributes so much too.  The way scenes build to crescendos and the way storytelling is done within songs is amazing.  this is not a action, stop and sing, and more action type of musical.  The music tells the story and introduces us to the characters flawlessly.

Think of The Mob  Song.  We start out with Gaston proposing to Belle and by the end they are practically at the castle and that all happens convincingly with the lyrics, vocals and music. (And each reaction totally makes sense when given the behavior of the Beast at the beginning and what little we know about each of the townspeople and Gaston).

It also took the CAPS work of Rescuers Down Under and combined it with special effects in a new way.  Remember in my Rescuers review I said the computer graphic sequences like the Sydney Opera House didn’t really hold up for modern audiences?  These do.  The ballroom scene is just as beautiful now and sweeping as it was then.  There isn’t a moment of the film that feels antiquated or tired to me.

lisa

There is personal value to Beauty and the Beast for me as well.  I responded to the story of course but I have always loved Broadway since I was in High School.  When I was in college my dear cousin Lisa and I conceived of a plan to take a trip out to New York with our Grandma.  While we were there we saw Beauty and the Beast and were blown away.  We also saw Music Man and the Rockettes (it was a Christmas trip).  4 months later Lisa passed away of a long-term illness, so I can’t help but watch it and think of her.

I’m sorry if that seems sentimental but it’s true.  For me movie-going is not just images on the screen but stories and stories matter in my life.

The Story-

Normally in my reviews I go over the story talking about what I like in one character or another, what songs I like, how the story moves and flows.  I literally have found that to be impossible for Beauty and the Beast.  I’ve tried 4 times and each time ended up with so much material nobody would ever read it.  My last attempt at keeping it simple had 10 pages  and I had only gotten to Something  There.   I know some people enjoy my writing but 20 pages on Beauty and the Beast might be a little much.

So, basically it’s a story about a girl who feels out of place named Belle

The town jock Gaston is in love with her because she’s pretty but she wants more

beauty and beast books gaston

Her father gets lost and finds an enchanted castle where he is imprisoned by a beast

She agrees to go in the place of her father so that he can be free

The house is full of enchanted objects created by the spell changing not only the beast but all in the household

BeautyBeastCharacters

They do their best to make Belle happy

Gaston is depressed about Belle’s rejection and his pubmates try to cheer him up

Belle’s father tries to get help, everyone thinks he is nuts and that gives Gaston an idea to manipulate Belle into marrying him

Meanwhile in some amount of time Belle starts to see a softer side to the Beast and he indulges her love of reading

Beast and Belle have a night dancing where he is ready to tell her he is in love with her

But she learns her father is in trouble and despite the enchanted rose wilting Beast allows her to go

letting Belle go

When home Gaston tries to have Belle’s father committed unless she will marry him, she refuses

Monsieur_D'Arque

Gaston and the townsfolk learn about the Beast and storm to the castle to kill him

gaston and people

The household objects defend themselves but Gaston finds his way to the Beast

lumiere and cogsworth fight back

At first the Beast doesn’t care because Belle is gone and let’s Gaston win at the fight

sad beast

Then he see’s Belle and Gaston and Beast fight, with the Beast letting him go.  Then in return Gaston literally backstabs the Beast and then falls to his death

Beast dies in Belle’s arms but just before the pedal drops Belle tells him she loves him.  This love is enough to reverse the curse and bring Beast back

All the household objects are returned to their pre-curse state and Belle and Beast are happy forever.

End-of-Beauty-and-the-Beast

Movie Review/Conclusion-

Phew! I’m exhausted.  I must have written that 5 times and I’m not entirely happy with a clip show summary (I have so much I could tell you!) it was the best way I could come up with to simply let the story talk about itself.

Like I said at the beginning Little Mermaid has more personal meaning to me but Beauty and the Beast is a close 2nd.  It had great impact and is one of only 3 movies I remember seeing as a little girl and loving.  So, if I could give a co-champion of my youth it would be Beauty and the Beast.

Every aspect is perfect.  Villain?  Perfect.  Heroine? Perfect.  Animation?  Perfect and still looks great in 2014.  Backgrounds?  Stunning works of art.  Side Characters?  Perfect.  Humor?  Perfect.  Musical score?  One of best ever written.  Songs? Perfection.  It really has the feel of someone’s master work and that is probably because it was.  Thinking of Howard Ashman working on the lyrics when he was on his deathbed had to give special meaning to the whole project for all who worked on it.  I have a feeling that is what made it so special.

I have seen the stage musical probably 15 times and it is a delight.  Whenever they do it at local theaters by me it is sold out quickly.  They had so much interest a few years ago they had like 6 performances on Saturday.

It has lessons of redemption, forgiveness, vanity, pride, ambition, dreaming, and fun but it doesn’t beat you over the head with any of them.  It has us so attached to every character including the Beast that when they transition to humans it feels like a  bit of a letdown.  We are so used to them as candlesticks and clocks.

I honestly had forgotten how great this movie was until it was released in 3D (and I could do without the added scene for the 3D release) last year and I saw it on IMAX and sat in my chair for about 10 minutes after and marveled.

I would say it is not only one of Disney’s best but it is one of the great movies ever made.

Overall Grade- A+

No wonder it was the first animated movie to be nominated for Beast Picture and won for best score and song for Beauty and the Beast.

Hey, and it also introduced us all to Celine Dion so there’s that 😉

Oh and the other great thing is for most viewers we want to be Belle because she’s smart, kind and beautiful, but we also want to be the beast because we hope someone will love us even with all our flaws.  To have that kind of relatability with one character is hard for a writer, but to do it with two is really hard.  Perfection!