Wonder Woman

wonder woman

Despite having the more recognizable and universally familiar characters in comic book lore the DC cinematic universe has had a less than stellar debut.  Beginning with “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice” while commercially their films do well, critics have widely panned each new installment in the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU).  While “Wonder Woman” hopes to buck the trend at least critically, the studios’ lack of investment in marketing this film have led many to believe that more could have been done to sell this movie.  Based on the previews, Wonder Woman plans to give movie goers many of the thrills they look forward to in summer movies.  The familiar DC property should be enough to give the DCCU the much needed boost it is looking for before “Justice League” premieres later this year.

A few words about Wonder Woman:

  1. Great action – Since this movie begins with the earliest of origins for little Diana Prince, viewers get to see glimpses of the Amazons both training and in battle.  Early on this is done using both well choreographed fight sequences as well as good use of slow motion during busy action scenes.  There are several scenes early on when the Amazons are fighting that are breathtaking to watch.  However when the solo scenes of Wonder Woman in action are shown, they are clearly the main course and it is not disappointing.  Not only are the scenes crafted to show that she is a capable fighter but many times they allow Wonder Woman to truly be the hero that viewers would like her to be.
  2. Above average treatment of women characters. – There are a few tropes here that some feminists may cringe at.  (as a man there were a couple of scenes/lines that left me wondering if there could have been better execution.)  However for the most part women are treated as warriors and strong and not as sex symbols which is refreshing to see.  While many of the warriors are “Scantily clad” in the film, it is taken with great care to note that they are dressed to fight, rather than to stand and be seen.  There are few times where Wonder Woman is allowed to be the savior of the men in the film, and the men are happy to have her to do the saving.  Chris Pine’s character who is shown being defensive of Wonder Woman for the majority of the movie, actually pushes her forward to do the fighting when he realizes she is far more effective at dispatching enemies than he or his crew is.
  3. Good acting from Gal Gadot (and Chris Pine) – The most I’ve seen Gal Gadot in before this film was the “Fast and the Furious” franchise where she is basically used as functional eye candy.  (this is to say a beautiful woman who can also do some stuff, but is clearly being used more for her beauty than for her capability)  Her first turn as Wonder Woman in BVS:  Dawn of Justice did not require much acting from her besides action scenes and a few exchanges with Bruce Wayne.  In Wonder Woman, Gadot is doing much of the emotional heavy lifting of this film.  While much of her character is shown through dialogue exchanges, in some scenes she is required to convey her feelings through a look or a sound and she executes both very well.  Gal Gadot brings great presence to this character and at times just being on screen swallows up the people around her which is not a bad thing for this movie.  Her gravitas along with the professional levity of Chris Pine, who is basically playing an offshoot of his character from Star Trek work very well together.  Gal Gadot playing the straight man and Chris Pine peppering the jokes allows for a very satisfying combination.
  4. Solid plot – This plot was not overly complicated.  It was easy to follow and made sense as far as the overarching themes it was attempting to convey.  That being said, at times the dialogue was a little corny to say the least, however this didn’t hurt the film.  Along with a little corny dialogue there are a few plot holes as well, however these will only bother the most hardened of comic book fans and some of us more neurotic critics.
  5. Little rough in terms of character development. – If there were any real complaints about this movie it would lie in the character development.  There were a couple of times where I questioned the motivations of the characters on screen and had no real answer as to why they were doing what they were doing.  This isn’t necessarily a game changer, but a few times there were characters introduced who seemed to be on screen to do “a thing” then just leave, which doesn’t allow the viewer to really connect with them.  For the largest characters in the movie, this isn’t necessarily the case but even with Chris Pine’s character he largely seemed to show up and begin completing tasks rather than give us any backstory to make us connect with him.  This again, will only bother some of us more neurotic critics.

This was a good movie.  It was a good superhero movie.  It was a good DC movie.  It is a good entry against the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has been pummeling DC for years now.  This bodes well for the future of the DC cinematic universe.  With all that being said it was also very refreshing to see a woman kicking butt more than the men were, and in many cases kicking the butts of men all over the screen.  This is a good movie that allows women to shine and show that being the hero as a woman means that you can do the same things men do without having to be a “sex pot” (unless you want to be).  I left this movie feeling pretty good, entertained, and ready to see more of Wonder Woman.  I will most certainly be adding her comics to my collection and plan to see this movie at least one more time with my mother and sister.  Bring your kids, especially your daughters (but your sons will appreciate it as well), bring your spouses, and even your pets if that is possible.  4 of 5 stars.

The Netflix Chronicles: Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Yet another foray into original programming, and yet another intriguing story told via Netflix.  ‘Stranger Things’ uses a familiar framing device of the 80s kid friendly adventure story a la “E.T.” and “The Goonies” to tell a complex and at times terrifying tale of mystery with elements from such sci fi television hits as “The X-Files” and “Fringe”.

A few thoughts about ‘Stranger Things’:

  1. Deliberate Pacing – Using the font from fantasy board games, fantasy novels, and sci fi novels of its day, each episode is named as a chapter.  This is appropriate since the pacing of the show unfolds like it is being read rather than watched.  It may seem surprising that the show is able to be told in only 8 “chapters”, however in an age of binge watching this is satisfying for viewers who will watch the entire season in less than three sittings.  While slow at times, it never seemed like it was slow without purpose.  Each action taken by the main characters, as well as in some cases the side characters all connect for a greater purpose of skillful story telling.
  2. Good use of character placement – The pacing of the story puts the characters in the right place to set the tone of each scene.  Whether it be comic relief, tension, or adventure, the right characters are put in front of you when the pace needs to be managed.  This show has a lot of characters but is able to show all of them without feeling crowded.
  3. Excellent character development – Character placement lends nicely to well done character development.  As the story unfolds, the characters blossom and their motivations make sense and are seamless.  The viewer roots for the protagonists and against the antagonists, with reason.  Even the complexity of the characters is done sensibly.  The characters themselves show a combination of excellent writing and acting.
  4. Great acting -From youngest to oldest every actor in this film is carrying their fair share of the weight.  Including a surprisingly heartfelt performance from Winona Ryder, who becomes a concerned mother and seamlessly goes from restrained to unhinged in a way that made her character both relate able and believable.  She is only eclipsed by the 12-year-old fairly newcomer Millie Bobby Brown who is the key to much of the mystery.  Much of her acting is done through facial expressions rather than spoken lines.   This makes for a difficult job for a pre-teen however Brown does it with the ease of a seasoned veteran.  Matthew Modine had probably the least complex role, and was also the least satisfying performance however it was interesting to watch him play the villain.
  5. At times terrifying – For those expecting this to be exactly as the 80s kid friendly adventure stories were, this movie definitely pushes the boundaries of sinister, creepy, and at times straight up horrifying.  While children are at the center, or off center of this film, this is no children’s tale.  At times even the viewer who penned this post found himself hiding behind the blanket waiting for the tension to ease to the terrors to dissipate.

This is a good show.  While enough has been written about the “80s homage” this show does not alienate those who may not be fans of the period piece.  With solid writing, acting, and plot, Stranger Things is definitely another hit for netflix.  You can watch it with your older children, at least 13 years of age, younger than that are probably going to be a little frightened.  4 of 5 stars.

Suicide Squad

Suicide squad

DC studios continues to make attempts to establish franchise super heroes beyond the Christopher Nolan batman series.  With the highly anticipated “Justice League” in the works DC studios continues to trail behind Marvel studios with regards to quality of product as well as fan interest.  Enter Suicide Squad, a less widely known (among casual fans) DC property that brings together a group of “meta-humans” to fight against threats to the US government.  On literal paper (in the comic books) this worked because of the comic’s commitment to maintaining that these were indeed villains bound only by self preservation rather than any inherent need to do good for goodness sake.  (you better watch out)  On film, this translated as a ragtag bunch of antiheroes with hearts of gold who maybe, just maybe would make a friend in the process of doing a good deed.

A few thoughts about Suicide Squad:

  1. A solid performance from Will Smith – Will Smith leans into his role as Deadshot an antihero hit man who only cares about the welfare of his daughter.  He is funny, at times serious, and all in all refreshing to watch as he breaks from his typical character archetype.  Seeing Will Smith play an ensemble player in a movie that did not necessarily revolve around him was a definite break from the norm.
  2. Clunky pacing – This movie was the victim of some second guessing from the studio after the successful release of “Deadpool”.  At times it was easy to spots the portions of the film that had been updated to fit a more silly tone.  However this happened at the cost of a well paced film with any clear intentions.  As the tone shifted wildly from serious to fun, to grave, and at times ridiculous, it could be easy to forget where the viewer was at any given scene.
  3. Strange villain – Not like “Dr. Strange”, but strange as in strangely placed.  This villain at times seemed to be overly powerful for this group as a first obstacle.  The foot soldiers seemed to be placed in the film as a low level enough challenge to showcase the powers of the protagonists.  This felt very plot device-y.  However the way the team came together seemed to indicate that there will be other adventures and obstacles for the team to face in future films.
  4. Suicide Squad felt like “antiheroes” – In some cases the poison was taken out of the fangs of these villains.  The Suicide squad was meant to be a group of dangerous super criminals who were only released to do the government’s bidding.  At times they felt more like the superhero response to the expendables.  The decision was clearly made to soften these criminals to make them “likable” for the audience. This was done at the cost of complexity to the characters, making some of them seem like flat stock pieces of a typical “team” movie.
  5. Off screen backstory – This film, much like “Batman V Superman:  Dawn of Justice” leaves much assumption to the viewer.  There is some character development and plot that occurs off screen that clearly affects the decisions made by the characters on screen.  Except for some flashbacks to explain some of these decisions or feelings, it seems as much is left to the assumption of the viewer.  This film definitely expects you to know the backstory of batman and the joker.  Speaking of the Joker…..
  6. The Joker’s presence was not necessary – This movie did no real service to the Joker as a character as the viewer is not actually introduced to the Joker as a character with any depth.  While one should not immediately compare this Joker to the Joker from “The Dark Knight” there was definitely a sense that his presence in this movie was either thought necessary by studio executives or some sort of fan service.  This would have been a far more intriguing movie with just the Joker’s finger prints and bread crumbs in the film rather than the lackluster performance from Jared Leto.  (also plot wise, the Joker could have been anyone as far as his actual effect on the story)
  7. Better than most of the other DC movies – Except for the Christopher Nolan Batman films this movie stood out as a minor success for DC.  Not a disaster, while not a resounding success, this film was not as problematic as many of the other DC films in rotation.  (read: superman)

All in all, a nice distraction from the Washington DC summer heat.  Bring the teenagers, leave the young children at the house.  2.99 of 5 stars.

That time the Wizards won by 30….

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I have a good friend named Mike who has a successful grandfather, who always wanted season tickets to a local sports team. He chose the wizards and got court-side seats. Every now and then Mike takes me to a game and every time i revert to being an obnoxious teenager. I heckle the opposing team’s players mercilessly (whose bench we sit next to) I over do it at the free buffet, and I always steal the free cookie from the seat next to mine. (they don’t need a cookie) For some reason though, tonight was very special because the Wizards entered this game against a mediocre Nets team in a bit of a slump. So without further ado i would like to share the extent of my night out at the wizards game.

  1. Arrived at the game early, ate hot dogs and drank diet pepsi that I didn’t pay for. No i didn’t steal it, it was freeeeee.
  2. Took and posted two instagram videos about how I arrived and finally made it (like, in life) after all those years of suburban bliss I am now a member of the 1% sitting down low, looking up high and wondering why the people in the 400 section even show up
  3. A bemused John Wall gives the faintest nod of acknowledgement after taking the court for tip off as i yell “LET’S GO JOHN WALL” (let’s go where? who knows, but we should go…..today)
  4. The game starts and the wizards immediately begin pummeling the Nets. I decided that this was the perfect time to begin my verbal assault of my Nets chosen victim, Mason Plumlee. (more on that later)
  5. I find out which Lopez brother is on the Nets and immediately begin screaming at him that his brother is way better. (Is this true? I do not know but i am a heckler and don’t care. I don’t need facts to yell nonsense at millionaires)
  6. Early into the game Mason Plumlee is trying to save a ball going out of bounds, and while stopping short before going into the stands, pushes the beer lady into the first row of seats. The replay shows that this push was completely unnecessary, beer goes everywhere, and he does not help her up. Instead he turns towards the bench with his arms outstretched with an irritated look as if to say “why are these people here contributing to my retirement fund by paying for overpriced beer that I have now spilled on everyone including myself.” At this point i am out of my seat beside myself screaming at the Nets bench that Mason Plumlee is the worst person to walk the face of the earth and that includes the likes of Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler and Scar from the Lion King. During the next game break there is a lull of silence and I yell directly at him during foul shots “EVERYONE HATES YOU MASON PLUMLEE!”.
  7. Security comes up to me and warns me that heckling the players can get me ejected. I assume this is because of my #blacklivesmatter sweatshirt and rightly contribute this unprovoked hate attack to the haters of the world trying to hold a successful black man down. (don’t forget i’m in the 1% now)
  8. Quietly watching the Wizards go up by 20.
  9. See Michael Eric Dyson sitting about 10 feet from me, and I yell “YEO ERIC DYSON CAN I GET A SELFIE????”
  10. take selfie with Michael Eric Dyson, post to instagram
  11. Wizards go up 30, and the dance team comes out with free t-shirts
  12. Menacingly stare down a dance team member with my hands up until she cautiously tosses me a shirt to get me to stop
  13. Kevin Seraphin dunks, and the ball bounces to me. Realizing this is my crowning life achievement and the closest i will ever come to playing in the NBA, I pick up the ball and throw it back at the no name Nets player in bounding it. Notice a photographer sitting nearby, who is enjoying my in game antics. I say “hey next time i need pictures”. (note that I now have one assist in an NBA game)
  14. The wizards are up 30, I take a picture of the bench and post it to instagram (everyone hates Mason Plumlee still, he’s now on the bench
  15. God is clearly amused by me at this point so somehow the ball rolls over to me again, and this time I look at the photographer and give him my best Marshawn Lynch “you know why I’m here” face and begin posing. He takes a few pictures, and after deciding that the game should continue i throw the referee the ball.
  16. Wizards win, and I menacingly stare down a wizards pep squad member until he throws me a souvenir foam basketball
  17. The Wizards stop their slump in spectacular fashion. You’re welcome DC.

Thanks again for the tickets Mike, it was a great night.

(Look on my instagram for the pictures @ohitsbigron or on my twitter for my in game commentary using the same handle.)