Friday, June 23, 2017

"Wonder Woman" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Wonder Woman" as well as DVDs  "I Am Not Your Negro" and "The Founder." The Book of the Week is "Nevertheless: A Memoir" by Alec Baldwin.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with "Le Trou."]

Wonder Woman

There is a new Wonder Woman in town!  And she's a wonder!

Growing up, I was never into superhero comics.  I was more of an Archie and Veronica kind of girl.  However, I did enjoy Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman on TV, and Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) was a wonderful role model for little girls. Since that show went off the air, we haven't really had a woman superhero to look up to (Supergirl doesn't count).  But that's over now because we have a new Wonder Woman and she is wonderful.

Gal Gadot stars as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, and if an Amazon woman is a tall, strong gorgeous woman then Gal Gadot is all of that.  She is 5' 10, an ex- Miss Israel and absolutely stunning.  And she can act!

As most superhero comic fans know, Wonder Woman started out as Diana, Princess of the Amazons.  And in case you don't know Diana's story, in an exposition at the beginning of the film, we learn that the god Zeus had created mankind in his own image and everything was hunky dory and lovey dovey amongst the humans until Ares, Zeus's brother came along. 

Consumed with jealousy over Zeus and those namby pamby humans, Ares caused mistrust and strife among the humans which resulted in wars, hence Ares becoming the God of War.  Ares also killed all of his fellow gods and was a threat to mankind, so Zeus created the Amazon women to protect humankind and create peace.  And you know what?  I'm not surprised he created women to protect the world.  If we women ran the world...oh, well, I'm not going to get into that now.  Zeus also gave the Amazons the "god killer," a weapon capable of killing Ares.  But he also gave them Diana who will soon learn that she herself is a powerful weapon against evil.

When we first meet Diana, she is a little girl living on the mysterious, hidden island of Themyscira with her mother, Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons (Connie Nielson) and an island full of Amazons.  No men.  She is the only child on the island, and when I heard that, I couldn't help but wonder, who is her Daddy? Diana yearned to learn to fight but her mother forbade it.  However, she trained secretly with her aunt, General Antiope (played by Robin Wright who just seems to get younger and younger and skinnier and skinnier) to become one of the fiercest fighters.

One day, a biplane mysteriously makes its way through the fog of time that surrounds the island and crashes into the sea.  Diana sees this and also sees the pilot, handsome Chris Pine AKA Captain Steve Trevor going down with his plane.  She dives into the ocean to rescue him Little Mermaid-style, and none too soon because a boat full of Germans, who are chasing Steve, also gets through that fog and invades the beach.  How do we know they are Germans?  There is a swastika.  Hey, wait a minute. Biplane?  I thought this was WW I.  There were no swastikas in WW I!   But it is WW I, so just be warned. There is a bit of World War swapping going on in this film.  Anyway, the Germans get onto the island and the Amazon women do battle and ultimately win and that is when Diana learns about World War I raging on in the outside world (but like I said, it's kind of World War I AND World War II). 

The Amazons use their Lasso of Truth on Steve, and he is forced to tell them that he is a spy and had stolen a notebook, a notebook from the infamous Dr. Maru, also known as Dr. Poison (Elena Anaya), because of her penchant for gleefully concocting poisonous gases to kill mankind. Her bad attitude could be due to the fact that she has been horribly scarred and wears a Phantom of the Opera mask to hide her disfigurement.  She is joined in her evil pursuits by Ludendorff (Danny Huston), a Nazi - like officer (but not really a Nazi, because remember, this is World War I, not World War II) for whom she has concocted a substance that when inhaled makes him superhumanly strong.  Cocaine on steroids, if you will.  

Dr. Maru's notebook that Steve has stolen contains formulas for poisonous gases that the Germans plan to use to win the war, and Trevor further explains to the Amazons that when he was shot down he was trying to get that notebook back to British Headquarters. 

When Diana learns that a terrible war is raging and that innocent people are being killed, she believes that Ares is back.  Her Amazonian empathy comes into play and she sees that she must help Steve, go find the war and kill Ares, thus saving the world. 

Despite her mother's fears that Ares will find Diana and kill her, off Steve and she go to save the world and with the help of a motley trio of Steve's friends - Charlie, a morose Scott (Ewen Bremner), Sameer, an Algerian con man (Said Taghmaoui) and The Chief, a cool Native American (Eugene Brave Rock), she does just that.  There is no spoiler there.  We know Wonder Woman will prevail, because that's what she does.  She is Wonder Woman!

She also finds Ares and when she does, there is a bit of a twist, and I was also thinking we were going to get a Darth Vader "I am your father" moment.  Close, but not so.  I think I figured out who Diana's father was but I'm still not absolutely sure.

Sadly, though, Diana learns that the evil of the world is not all Ares' fault.  She learns that humans themselves are imperfect creatures and prone to bad judgment and war.  They have helped to create the evil in the world and it doesn't look like they learn from their mistakes, thus giving Diana a mission in life that will keep her busy for a very long time! Let the sequels commence!

Directed by Patty Jenkins (more Girl Power!) with a script by Allan Heinberg, there is excitement, there is drama, there is violence (but nothing really scary), there is romance and there is humor.  Jenkins does a good job with the powerful slow-mo fight scenes, but also with the softer humorous moments.

When seeing Steve for the first time - a man - Diana is in awe, especially when he steps out of the bath naked. I was in awe too!  I mean, it's Chris Pine! Very refreshing to see the dude naked for once instead of the woman.  Gadot never sheds her clothes. Sorry, guys.  And when Diana encounters early 20th century English life, there are some fish-out-of-water scenes that are very funny.  For example, when shopping for more appropriate clothes - I mean, she can hardly hang out in 1918 London in her barely there little armor dress - she sees a corset and asks if that is a new form of armor.  Well, kind of!

Gadot is wonderful - she's tall, she's gorgeous, she's warm and approachable - and Chris Pine is, well, Chris Pine.  Sigh.  The two are a wonderful combination of talent and beauty and have great chemistry.  And Gadot is a badass Wonder Woman.  I found myself crying out "Yes!" when she was fending off bullets with those special wrist bands of hers, fearlessly going into battle and basically kicking butt.

I was also happy to see David Thewlis again.  I won't go into detail. but he is decidedly out of character, in a good way. Anaya and Huston make great cartoon villains, and it all comes together to provide a great movie experience.  We women will enjoy Wonder Woman's kicking butt and men will enjoy watching her do it, because as I said, Gadot is quite the specimen of womanhood.

But more importantly, Wonder Woman is a wonderful role model for women and girls.  She is strong, fearless and powerful, traits we women rarely get credit for, but she is also compassionate and kind and fights for peace in the world, something men can learn from.

You know I usually hate sequels but I can't wait to see more Wonder Woman movies if they are going to be this good!

Rosy the Reviewer says...I cried tears of joy!  All young girls (and their mothers) will want to see this inspiring film!  Girl Power!

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!



I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

Samuel L. Jackson narrates this documentary based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript "Remember This House," an exploration of racism through Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

"The story of the Negro in America is the story of America, and it is not a pretty story."

James Baldwin was an African-American novelist, essayist, playwright and social commentator, considered one of America's greatest writers ("Go Tell It On The Mountain"), and whose works explored the social and psychological issues of black and gay Americans.  

At the age of 24, disillusioned by American prejudice, Baldwin moved to France where he lived for most of his life, but he returned to the U.S. in the 1950's at the height of the Civil Rights Movement to be an "observer" and to report on it as he traveled throughout the South. When he died in 1984 he left behind an unfinished manuscript, "Remember This House," that was to be his personal recollections of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. and their assassinations. He wanted their lives to "bang against and reveal each other." 

The words from Baldwin's unfinished manuscript form the basis of this film and provide a personal history of the Civil Right Movement in America.

Director Raoul Peck uses film footage, television clips, written words, still photographs and music to show the depiction of black Americans in the United States and their struggles from the past to the present.

The film begins in 1954 with and interview by Dick Cavett where Cavett asks  Baldwin if things are better for negroes and Baldwin replies that he fears for the country.  And well he should as the film goes on to show white people giving testimonials about how God was against integration, 15-year-old Dorothy Counts being spat upon as she tried to go to school in North Carolina and white people holding up signs saying "Keep Alabama White."

The profiles of Malcolm X, King and Evers show their political and social differences but also how they were alike. Malcolm X once called Martin Luther King an Uncle Tom, but by the time each died, their positions were similar.

The film is brilliantly edited as it bombards us with unforgettable images, and it was fittingly nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 2017 Academy Awards.

Jackson's voice-over is Baldwin's voice and Baldwin's dramatic prose resonates:

"You never had to look at me.  I had to look at you.  I know more about you than you know about me."

"History is not the past.  It is the present...We are our history."

"What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a n***** in the first place, because I'm not a n*****, I'm a man, but if you think I'm a n*****, it means you need it."

Watching this film, one can't help but be aware of one's white privilege and be ashamed and that's a good thing. Being reminded of the indignities and hatred black people have had to endure, it's a miracle that the black population has not succumbed to more rage and violence than has already been expressed.  Who can forget the LA riots of 1992 after the Rodney King verdict (brilliantly documented in the film "LA 92") and more recently the reactions to the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the response in Ferguson, Missouri to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown? And it is still going on. When will it end?  

Baldwin's fear for our country back in 1954 was prescient, and if he were alive today traveling around the U.S., sadly he would observe some of the same outrageous racism that he observed back in his lifetime.  We still have a long way to go.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I cried tears of sorrow.  All Americans should see this film.

The Founder (2016)

A biopic about Ray Kroc, who we all thought founded McDonalds, but he actually didn't!

Michael Keaton stars as Ray Kroc, a hard-working door-to-door salesman, or should I say "drive-in to drive-in" salesman, as he moves around the country trying to sell his multi-shake machines to drive-ins in the 1950's.  While sitting at one of those roller-skating waitress drive-ins so prevalent in the 50's, he is irritated by the slow service.  Later when he gets an order for eight of his multi-shake machines from a drive-in in San Bernardino, California, he is so surprised he decides to deliver them personally.  When he arrives he sees people lined up for the 15 cent burgers and is amazed at how fast the service is.

The drive-in is run by the McDonald brothers, it's called McDonalds and, they had devised an assembly-line operation for making their burgers fast and to a standard. Though they didn't yet know it, fast food was born.

Ray takes the brothers, Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman), to dinner to find out how they devised their operation and they tell him their story: They moved west from New Hampshire, bought a movie theatre, but the depression hit so they bought a hot dog stand, turned it into a drive-in, decided to concentrate on one item, burgers, got rid of the car hops, dishes, etc., and made orders ready in 30 seconds.  They even practiced on a tennis court to perfect the first ever system to deliver food fast.  The only hurtle they had to get over was getting people to get our of their cars to go up to the take-out window.

Now Ray is a salesman and a bit of a visionary so he is fascinated by this "fast food" concept so he comes up with the idea of the franchise. The McDonald brothers had tried franchising, but could not maintain their standards.  They even had one restaurant in Phoenix with golden arches.  A light bulb goes off in Ray's mind. He wants in. As a salesman driving around small American towns he had noticed that all of those small towns had some of the same things: American flags and churches with crosses and arches so Ray had the idea of McDonald's franchises marked by those golden arches, adding American flags and crosses and marketing McDonald's as an American way of life, the "New American Church." And does he want to change the name?  No.  McDonald's reeks of America. Calling the restaurant Kroc's does not.

Kroc goes into business with the McDonald brothers, and through his own ruthlessness, manages to take over McDonalds and make a fortune buying up land and then leasing the land to the franchises which allowed him to maintain standards.  If the franchise didn't maintain the standards, then he cut the lease. 

So the revelation of this movie is that someone else, not Ray Kroc, had the idea for the fast and cheap burger, fries and shakes. The title of the film is ironic, but Ray Kroc did have the work ethic to make the franchises work, the moxie and how do I say this - sleaziness - to wrest McDonalds away from the McDonald brothers and make it his own. 

"Business is war.  Dog eat dog. Rat eat rat.  If my competitor was drowning, I would put a hose in his mouth."

Nice guy.

Directed by John Lee Hancock with a script by Robert Siegel, one wonders if that revelation is enough to keep you riveted for two hours.  Michael Keaton is a good actor but is he good enough to make you care about Ray Kroc?  I don't think so. The problem with the character is that yes, he is the consummate salesman.  He is also a bad husband and downright sleazy...but why?  The film never explores that.

Laura Dern plays Kroc's long-suffering first wife but has little to do except look concerned, and naturally, once Kroc started to make money he met a younger woman, divorced the first wife, and married the younger woman who actually outlived Ray and got to spend his fortune. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...I didn't cry and that's not a good thing, but if the history of McDonalds interests you and you are a fan of Michael Keaton - he was in every scene in this film - you might like this. 

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

197 to go!

Have YOU Seen this classic film?

Le Trou  (1960)

"Le Trou ("The Hole")" is the true life story of four inmates plotting their escape from prison.

Gaspard (Marc Michel) is a new inmate awaiting trial for the attempted murder of his wife.  He is transferred from his prison block to a new cell with some hardened inmates who are facing long sentences. With nothing to lose, the three men are plotting an escape.  Gaspard's arrival forces them to decide whether to abandon their plans or take him into their confidence.  At first the men are suspicious of young, handsome Gaspard, but when they realize he is up for a 20-year-sentence, they realize he is one of them, and Gaspard is swept up in their prison break plot.

Directed by Jacques Becker (his final film) and based on a novel by Jose Giovanni that depicted a true-life prison break that Giovanni had been a part of, Becker cast the film with nonprofessional actors, one of whom was actually one of the men in the real escape.

Do I like movies with all men?


Do I like movies about prison breaks?


Do I like movies in black and white?

Not particularly.

Did I like this movie?


Why do I like a film even though it's about a subject I don't like?  And why do I sometimes dislike a film, even though it's about a subject I do like?  Here, director Jacques Becker has done a great job of creating the suspense needed to keep me interested as these men work doggedly to overcome the challenges of their escape and literally dig themselves out of prison.

Refreshingly, this is not one of those prison films (you see it in war films too) where each man embodies some archetypal character so that you as an audience member have someone to relate to.  No, neither we nor they care about each other's backstory.  They are just working class guys who want to get the hell out of prison.  However, Gaspard is different and the catalyst for the drama to come.

Some directors just can't let go of the long lingering shots and the real time walks down corridors which, though possibly artistic, I find boring as hell.  Some directors can't stand to cut anything even if it doesn't particularly serve the picture as a whole.  So even if the film is full of women, which I like and is about a subject I enjoy, woe is me if it takes forever to get to the point.   But here is a film all about men in prison planning a prison break and it had some scenes that were filmed in painstaking real time and yet the film galloped along and held my interest.  A true auteur tells a good story in a compact way that moves the story along with great images, taut editing and good acting and this film has all of that.

As an aside, have you ever heard that one of the reasons many actors are so photogenic is that they have big heads?  Well, Michel has the biggest head I have ever seen! But I digress.

Why it's a Must See: "The Hole' has been compared with Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped (1956) and Jean Renoir's 'Grand Illusion (1937), but Becker is less concerned than Bresson with transcendence or Renoir's critique of social differences.  The prisoner's virtues -- meticulousness, inventiveness, and the ability to form a collective -- become the highest values of 'The Hole.' Perhaps Becker is, of all directors...the one who has embodied and articulated these values most firmly...As it stands, The Hole is...a masterpiece."
---1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you want a primer on how to do a prison break that is tense and exciting, this is for you. And it was a true story!

***Book of the Week***

Nevertheless: A Memoir by Alec Baldwin (2017)

A heartfelt survey of actor Alec Baldwin's life by Baldwin himself.

Alec Baldwin is a serious actor ("Glengarry Glen Ross," "The Departed") and just to be sure you know that, he is prone to throwing around a lot of names of plays, writers, other serious actors and the work he has done in the theatre. However, Baldwin has also had his share of, shall I say, less than stellar moments in his personal life such as reacting to paparazzis. Though self-deprecating to a certain extent and even quite humble at times, he seems to still feel self-justified in those encounters.

It's funny that he talks about himself as not being a big A-list actor. but I have always known who he was and thought of him as one, but ironically most of his fame has come from his TV role as Jack Donaghy on "30 Rock"—for which he won two Emmys, three Golden Globes, and seven Screen Actors Guild Awards—and playing Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live."

In this memoir, Baldwin doesn't hold anything back.  He talks about his life growing up on Long Island, his parents' unhappy marriage, his uncertainty about what to do with his life, his struggles with drugs and alcohol and his bitter divorce and child custody fight with ex-wife Kim Basinger.  He makes it very clear who he likes and who he doesn't.  In fact at the end of the book there is an entire list of those he admires and had admired called "The Actors Index."  As for who he doesn't like?  Lots and lots of producers and directors and some actors. Of Harrison Ford he says "Ford, in person, is a little man, short, scrawny, and wiry, whose soft voice sounds as if it's coming from behind a door."  Ouch.  A bit of sour grapes, methinks?

Naturally he doesn't have much good to say about ex-wife Kim Basinger, either, since their child custody dispute over their only child, Ireland, was epic.  He owns up to the many reporters he has punched and that phone call to his daughter where he called her a pig? Well, he says it wasn't aimed at her but at you-know-who.

He talks about his love of classical music, his poliltical life, his meeting his current wife and love of his life, Hilaria, and at the end of the book, he explains the title of his memoir: "Nevertheless," which is very funny. It's from a joke he was told by actor Michael Gambon.  Too risqué to repeat here.  You will have to read the book.

As celebrity autobiographies go, this was very honest and open and as he says at the end:

 "I wrote this book in my own words and, such as it is, I offer it to you to entertain, to motivate, to inspire, and to learn.  Not so much for you to learn about me, but for me to learn about me.  I have learned so much while piecing this together.  My thanks to you for reading it."

Rosy the Reviewer says..."You are very welcome, Alec.  I enjoyed it."

Thanks for reading!
See you Tuesday for
"What a Woman of a Certain Age Learned on her Summer Vacation:

Ireland 101
and Other Travel Musings"

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  1. I LOVED LOVED LOVED Wonder Woman. Not typically a huge fan of the comic book genre, and wish they hadn't used the actual WW as the backdrop as the scene for the action, but loved Gal Gadot and her unassuming inviting personality. I think I heard she will not be doing the sequel, which I hope is not true.

    1. She might be holding out for more money. Can you believe she was only paid $300 for her role as WW? At least we will see her in the next DC comics mélange of superheroes "Justice League!"