Wonder Woman: Movie Man Jackson

Men, who needs them? Growing up on the world of Themyscira is young Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson). This world of Themyscira is inhabited by nothing but females. Females who are Amazon warriors and quite adept at defending their home turf. They’re in a relative time of peace, and as a result, the Queen doesn’t wish for her daughter to be trained as a warrior, but rather to enjoy her childhood despite the daughter ever so wanting to get her hands dirty. In secret, Diana trains with her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) in preparation for the end of peace.

That time comes when World War II soldier Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) washes up on their home world telling stories of the horrors of the war he’s been fighting. Believing WWI to be the fault of God of War, Ares, mature Diana (Gal Gadot) sets out to extinguish him and bring eternal peace to the world, even it it means leaving Themyscira behind forever.

Electra and Catwoman. That’s it as far as super-heroines go as it pertains to getting their own features in the last 15 years. Yours truly doesn’t need to summarize the quality—or lack thereof—of those films. Wonder Woman arrives carrying the sizable burden of possibly ushering in more female protagonist superhero blockbusters depending on its quality. Even more of a burden than that is placed on Wonder Woman in the hopes that this is the film that course corrects the DC Extended Universe out of dark beginning waters. So, there’s only one question. Is it good? Absolutely.

Make no mistake, Wonder Woman is the basic superhero origin story. But, it’s the type of story needed when developing a massive, interconnected universe and getting audiences to care about its heroes who make it up. Its basic superhero story does play out a little more uniquely than most of its contemporaries. First, from a visual aspect, utilizing World War I and London and seeing a vibrant island world such as Themyscira in all of its gold hues and lushness simply makes for a more compelling watch, even before director Patty Jenkins (Monster) showcases the equally compelling action sequences.

Second, the fish-out-of-water approach works brilliantly, and more importantly, it allows Wonder Woman to distance itself from the “it’s so doom and gloom” complaints many rightfully had with most of the DCEU’s features up to this point. There’s legitimate comedy, and it comes off as organic, instead of feeling written in at the last moment. Aside from a noticeable period in the middle third, the movie rarely comes to a complete halt in its pace.

As a whole, Wonder Woman is endearing, partly because Prince isn’t written as a perfect, infallible character, but also, because Gal Gadot makes her so. Once again, her amazing work as the titular character is a reminder that the Internet more often than not needs to just let casting decisions play out before casting judgement on them. Gadot’s come a long way from Giselle in the Fast and Furious movies. She owns the screen, and is asked to convey a fair deal of emotion, all done in convincing fashion. Just as importantly, she looks the part.

The job she does here is that spectacular that it is a struggle to consider who else could play Diana Prince. After Gadot, Pine brings a lot; carrying the film’s message about humanity not being perfect, but very salvageable. The chemistry the two possess between each other, and among the bit characters played by Ewen Bremmer and Saïd Taghmaoui, is infections. As for the villain, akin to similar comic origin movies, the adversary—in this case, adversaries—leave a little to be desired. They’re adequate, but extremely basic stock cutouts that never feel like a true threat to our hero.

In Wonder Woman, DC finally manages to corral a fun and emotional origins story together. Maybe all it takes is a strong woman to make things better.

B+

Photo credits go to dailydot.com, comicbook.com, and dccomics.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

 

Big Eyes: Movie Man Jackson

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“The eyes are the windows of the soul.”

Emotion can be conveyed in a multitude of ways, but it always seems to be the eyes that are recognized first. Big Eyes tells the true story of American artist Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams), who in 1958 leaves her husband and decides to start life anew with her daughter and her paintings, most of them featuring people with big eyes. Mother and daughter are now rejuvenated in North Beach, San Francisco, a progressive place and an artist’s dream for someone of Margaret’s caliber.

A companion is needed though, and Margaret finds it shortly in the form of smooth-talking Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), also a passionate artist. Walter not only serves as a partner, but also the only thing that could keep her daughter Jane in her possession. They end up getting married, and things appear to be a perfect blend. With Walter, the new Mrs. Keane starts getting the money she deserves for her work, but it comes with a price: No one knows it is her creating the paintings, as Mr. Keane, a guilty conscious absent from his mind, willingly takes all credit.

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For what seems like forever now, the mention of director Tim Burton’s name invokes images of dark, odd, out-there scenery and characters, be it of the animated or live-action variety. In no way has yours truly seen every work in his filmography, but in recent years it does feel that if you’ve seen one of Burton’s films, you have sort of seen them all, especially as Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are present in about every last one of them. Big Eyes, sans Depp and Bonham Carter, represents an entertaining, well-made, grounded, and mature effort to a feature film from a man who many doubted if he had it in him.

A more traditional directorial effort doesn’t mean that Burton completely abandons his trademark style. It is still found here in places, but the style isn’t a crutch for the movie. Those infrequent instances that are vivid and surreal with vibrant color tones and quirky imagery highlight these moments more, showing off the artistic element (technical-wise and script-wise) of the movie, and giving them more importance in comparison to past works which featured the same stuff throughout.

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Maybe all it took was a true story. There is a notable level of respect that Burton conveys with this effort. I had never heard of Margaret Keane, but her tale is legitimately interesting, and he (Burton) lets the story plays out naturally for the most part. The social commentary regarding women and whether the public fully accepts their work or contributions isn’t heavy-handed, but it is thought-provoking, and still matters today. However, even at a pretty standard 105 minutes, the movie is overlong from time to time.

Not to discredit anyone else who appears here, but after Burton’s direction, Big Eyes boils down to two people and performances: Amy Adams as Mrs. Keane and Christoph Waltz as Mr. Keane. Both are veterans and immensely talented, and reaffirm that again in this. For a movie with a focus on eyes, Amy Adams knows how to utilize hers. Her attempt at a Southern accent may come and go, but those eyes remain. There are many scenes in which she fully exhibits the sadness and worthless feeling her character is subject to by Walter. Still, not a ton is known about Margaret, but it can be assumed that this isn’t the aim of the movie. There might not be enough character-wise for serious award “contendership” but the performance is very, very sound.

If Adams’ character work is unassuming here, her counterpart Christoph Waltz’s portrayal is anything but. His character revels in the spotlight, addicted to the glamour and acclaim, all style in his exterior and little substance behind his interior. Waltz looks to know this, presenting the audience with an animated and spirited portrayal of Margaret’s husband. While it does feel very over-the-top especially near the end, apparently this was exactly how Walter was in real life according to the real Margaret Keane, who served as an adviser of sorts. If that is the case, then Waltz certainly does a spot-on job, but that doesn’t change the fact that it can become quite comedic.

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It would have been very easy for Burton, especially with the source material, to make Big Eyes in the same motif as previous features. But the proverbial comfort zone is left, or at least pared down substantially, and a great movie exists as a result. Perhaps this will open up his eyes a bit; not every feature needs to be a fantasy.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to variety.com, contactmusic.com, and screenrant.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson