Movie Minute

Because I haven’t seen a new release in a couple weeks, I’m presenting for your consideration short reviews for a few films I have seen recently. These are not new releases, and vary in how old they are. Maybe one of these could be the perfect film for a sweltering hot summer day!

As you like it

As You Like It (2006) dir. Kenneth Branagh

As You Like It, an HBO movie from Hollywood’s favorite drama nerd director, has three things going for it. One, a marvelous ensemble cast, the majority of which is grossly underused. Two, a setting that distracts you from the oddly-paced story. And three, Bryce Dallas Howard, who has an energetic charm that keeps you from thinking too much about how terrible her disguise as a man is and how much of her role has been cut.

Those positives are about it. The biggest problem with As You Like It is that it doesn’t feel whole. Howard’s Rosalind does not seem to have the starring role she should have, and David Oyelowo does not get near his due with his Orlando. Branagh seems to try and make the minor characters have equal roles with Rosalind and Orlando, and in doing so creates a play that has no central storyline to hold on to. It is spread thin. Even similar plays like it, such as A Midsummer’s Night Dream, still have major and minor characters. This adaptation of As You Like It does not seem to have this distinction. And while the aesthetics of Japan are a unique addition, it is simply one more task the film cannot take. It buckles under the weight of its underdeveloped ambition and does not leave any strong impressions in its wake.

Bridge-of-Spies

Bridge of Spies (2015) dir. Steven Spielberg

A Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Coen brothers collaboration is no joke, yet Bridge of Spies was relatively neglected when it came out. While this story of an American insurance lawyer negotiating the trade between two Americans and a Russian spy during the Cold War did win Mark Rylance an Academy Award for his supporting role, it is nowhere within anyone’s list of favorite Spielberg movies. That makes sense when you take into account Spielberg’s resume, but does not when you take in its fellow movies of that year. Bridge of Spies is small and mighty, and it succeeds not only because of the talent involved, but because of its message. It might be one of the most patriotic movies ever made, while also being incredibly sympathetic to our country’s enemies. The film’s message is about everyday men and women who work hard and do their jobs. While these jobs might not always be noble, human dignity and the work we do are inseparable to many, especially in the context of our western ideals. It shows that our justice system is dependent on the people who run it, and when those people fight for ideals, we become more of the nation we inspire to be. A well crafted story with thoughtful themes makes a film worth watching, and maybe makes it worth being on a favorite list of some kind.

yoko_out

The Wind Rises (2013) dir. Hayao Miyazaki

Set in the early beginnings of World War 2, The Wind Rises is the loosely biographical story of aerial engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a plane used by Imperial Japan during the war.

It goes without saying that the Studio Ghibli work, lead by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, is stunning. The film could be watched on mute, and the visual experience would be on par with its greatest contemporaries.

But don’t turn off the sound, because the story is just as worthwhile. There is something very disarming about being an American, watching the story of Japan’s entrance into World War 2 through the eyes of a civilian who just wants to make the world a more beautiful place. Jiro sees airplanes as one of the greatest achievements of mankind, and only wants to make them better. This intrinsic desire to make beautiful things is a message that should resonate with everyone. As a Christian, this desire is near the core of my belief, because it reflects on the nature of the greatest creator of them all.

More than what Jiro does, though, is who he is. Jiro is one of the best heroes I have ever met, despite what he creates being used in horrific ways. The love story between him and his wife, Nahoko, is a touching story of sacrifice and care, one of the best I’ve ever seen on film. Jiro is who we should aspire to be, and his personal integrity and strength defies all politics, all sides, and all situations we find ourselves in. If we all carried ourselves like Jiro, the world would be a better place.

-Madeleine D

Some Kind of Wonderful: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

As Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne says in Ant-Man, staring at her own super suit: “It’s about time.”

Wonder Woman has been around for 75 years. There are multiple reasons a movie hasn’t been made about one of the most famous superheroes of all time, including:

  1. Wonder Woman’s origins have changed over the years, making a definitive version of the character hard to find.
  2. Her brand of pantless feminism has been controversial and ever-changing.
  3. Good old-fashioned movie sexism. The reasoning being, if two female-led superhero films from 2005 (Elektra and Catwoman) don’t do well, than no one can succeed. (Never mind that if we used that logic, Batman would never have a film after Batman and Robin, and Batman V. Superman would be where the DCEU stopped.)

Luckily, this Wonder Woman ends all of those debates once and for all. First, Diana Prince now has a definitive origin and personality. We have seen her start, we’ve seen her years later in Batman V. Superman, and hopefully we’ll keep seeing her grow.

Second, Wonder Woman feminism is just that- feminism. Men and women are equal, and should be partners. If you’re a superheroine god who can throw a tank over your head and have a sword that can literally end wars, then you should probably go into battle in front of all the other soldiers. It’s just common sense. And if she doesn’t want to wear pants because she’s been living on an island where everyone wears Victoria Secret Greco-Roman armor, then you let her do that. You don’t want that tank thrown at you.

And third, that double standard for female-led movies versus male-led movies shouldn’t exist, period. But if the critics and box office say anything, it’s that execs can’t use those old movies as excuses anymore.

Wonder Woman begins with young Diana (Gal Gadot), the only child to ever be born on an island of all Amazonian women, called the Themyscira. These warrior women were given the paradise after fighting against their creators, the Greek gods. They were created to protect humanity, but instead decide to spend their days training to fight, should anyone ever find them.

When an American spy, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), wrecks on their shore and tells them about World War I, Diana decides she must go as her people’s champion to end the war. To end the war, she must defeat Ares, god of War. Steve, eager to return to his commanding officers to deliver important intel and continue fighting, isn’t one to dissuade Diana. Any help is good help. But little does he know the full extent of Diana’s powers. In fact, she doesn’t know them either.

So now that we have the plot and the externals out of the way, let’s get into what makes this a great superhero movie. First, is its pacing. At two hours and nineteen minutes, it’s a little long, and a little slow. However, that slower pace, with only three action sequences to its name, is different. There is a distinct focus on quieter, emotional moments in the film, which is a breath of fresh air from other films of its kind. While there may be a few too many turns the movies takes that add to its run time, the plot and the mission of the movie’s characters are clear and precise, which is a relief for a genre known for its plot holes and muddled motivations.

But what steals the show more than an exciting story, the WWI setting, an overabundance of slo-mo, fish out of water humor, and naked Chris Pine? It’s clothed Chris Pine and Gal Gadot! Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. She owns the character arc. She takes Diana from a place of idealistic naivete, to a more grounded, still optimistic and persistent heroine. Little details in her portrayal add to the groundedness of the character. She embraces Wonder Woman’s femininity, from shyly accepting a compliment on her clothes to excitedly seeing a baby, but also embraces in the same hug Wonder Woman’s boldness and courage, her righteous anger and her romantic passion, and her empathy towards all of the people around her. Because, who knew, you can be all of those things! She is one of the most sincere heroes I’ve ever seen in an age of angsty brooding, and it is fantastic.

The moment I best understood what Wonder Woman stood for was in the middle of the film. Diana is in the trenches, following Steve to their next location, when a woman with her baby cries out to her. Diana sits down and listens to the woman tell her about a village overtaken by German soldiers across the enemy lines. Diana then shrugs off her coat, revealing her armor. Steve tells her it’s too dangerous. But Diana, surging with passion, climbs up onto the field, and starts running across. Steve and his fellow soldiers watch. Then, they follow too.

Wonder Woman is not a Batman-esque hero that fights her own fights. As she says, she fights for those who cannot fight for themselves. And more importantly, she inspires others to find the courage within themselves to do the same. That is what a real hero does, and that is why the character has been around for so long.

And, as much as Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins nail Diana, they also nail Steve Trevor equally. Chris Pine oozes charisma and charm, but in a much more genuine way than would be expected for his kind of character. And what is ultimately most impressive about his role, besides sharing equal heroism with Wonder Woman, is that it redeems the romantic interest character as it is known to film.

How so? See, the role of romantic interest has been under attack. It has always been classically filled by women. So recently, moviegoers and critics, working to become more conscious about gender portrayal in film, have begun crucifying it. Some of that criticism and anger is necessary. There are a lot of cliches, tropes, and toxic examples of romantic interests in films.

But romance in a film is not necessarily a bad thing on its own. What we really want when we criticize romantic interests is for them to be their own character. Not just a crutch for the main hero. Not just there, waiting to be kissed in the corner. We want them to have their own storylines, or be involved with the action. And Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is just that. He has his own motivations, missions, friends, background, and desires. He teaches and encourages Diana, but he also accepts teaching and grows and changes himself. He is what a romantic interest character should be- a partner. Just like in real life.

The greatest thing about Wonder Woman is that it is a good movie. It defies tropes of the genre, it tells a compelling origin story about a hero that everyone should aspire to, and leaves a departing viewer with some things to consider. Are people inherently good or bad? What would we sacrifice our lives for? How can we protect the people around us? Where is the line between fighting for protection and bloodlust?

These are things all good movies do. And that is all Wonder Woman had to be. It didn’t need to be a feminist Citizen Kane that had the complexities of The Dark Knight and the genre upheaval of Logan. It just needed to be a movie everyone could get behind. And just like its heroine, it is. I left the theater content, and wanting to be like Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. Compassionate, bold, thoughtful, idealistic, brave, sacrificial, principled, wise, and full of wonder

-Madeleine D

Repetition is Catchy: Everything, Everything

*Big Spoilers!

Everything-Everything-movie

This Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to go to the movies, and I had several options.

  1. Go see Pirates of the Caribbean.
  2. Convince my parents of the merits of R-rated Baywatch or Alien: Covenant.
  3. Stay home and watch Netflix’s War Machine, and be sad about current events.
  4. Pay 8 dollars to take a nap (I’m sorry if you liked King Arthur: Legend of the Sword).
  5. Go see teen romance Everything, Everything, because sometimes it’s finals week, and why not?

Everything, Everything follows in the path of recent romances where one (or both) of the members have a terrible sickness. Fault in Our Stars in 2014 dealt with cancer. 2015’s Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl also dealt with cancer. And last year’s Me Before You was about love being nice but not as nice as physician-assisted suicide. The appeal of these movies? Apparently terminal illness romances are the ultimate fling. You love and sexily take care of someone for a few weeks, then, instead of having to commit to them, they die, and you learn an Important Life Lesson.

Everything, Everything stars Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) as Madeline (same here!) a.k.a “Maddy” Whittier. She’s 18 years old, and she’s never left her house due to her Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID), a rare immunodeficiency disorder that requires her to stay in her sterilized glass smart-house, under the care of her mother (Anika Noni Rose) and nurse (Ana de la Reguera). Maddy is an aspiring engineer who also writes book reviews for a blog. But she wants more.

She finds that “more,” her new everything, in Olly (Nick Robinson) the new boy next door. With all black clothes, a shaggy haircut, a tragic backstory, and the ability to satisfy her every need, he’s like the subject of a Taylor Swift song. As she and Olly get closer, Maddy decides that she can’t live in her glass tower any longer. Olly is her way out.

Everything, Everything gets a lot of leeway because of the chemistry between the two leads. Stenberg and Robinson not only seem into each other, but are also able to sell the far-fetched premise. They also are champs when delivering some pretty terrible dialogue. Just as a sample:

Olly: You’re like a princess up in this glass tower

Maddie: I’m not a princess.

Olly: Good, ‘cause I’m not a prince.

Ah, the nuance of young love. Everything, Everything also gets a headstart because of its direction. Director Stella Meghie makes some creative choices that turn standard texting back and forth scenes into the realm of fantasy. It conveys the information and works. These little strokes of genius push the film through some not-so creative territory.

But, the rest of Everything, Everything is not strong enough to be saved by those positives. The script is lackluster at best, with no scenes having any bite or depth to them, including one with a supposedly gut-punching twist. The movie is highly enjoyable to watch, but only if you were already willing to pay the ticket price and were interested in seeing it anyways. While it is much more life-affirming than Me Before You, it does fall into the trap that that movie and The Fault in Our Stars falls into- expensive vacations totally make sicknesses better and love stronger.

There is something else, though. While watching Everything, Everything, I couldn’t help but think about the recent Manchester tragedy. There are two interesting CNN articles I read that made me think about this movie in light of the tragedy (article links below).

The first article is about how the idea of raising fearless kids is threatened by attacks like this. In Everything, Everything, when Maddie’s brother and father die in an accident, Maddie’s mom goes above and beyond protecting Maddie, to the point of convincing herself that Maddie has SCID. It is her psychotic way of keeping Maddie to herself, never letting her leave their house, and thus never letting Maddie leave her.

The second article discussed how this attack was on a symbol of teen girl culture, a culture that has been repeatedly mocked. This attack was on a concert, featuring a star on a tour called “Dangerous Woman.”  It was marketing towards the tween/teen audience. It features songs about sexual freedom and empowerment (not the same thing, but marketed as such). This concert was a first for many girls, looking for a place to come together and celebrate what they love.

Everything, Everything is a teen-girl culture movie. It features a young, black, female lead, a new occurrence in entertainment. That lead became known through The Hunger Games, a cultural phenomenon that was aimed at teen girls.  It has characters texting and using social media. It features new hits by new young pop stars. It is marketed to teen girls like me.

So what does Everything Everything say about teen-girl culture? It seems to say this:

  1. We (the target demographic) desire deeper connections, and are willing to risk anything to explore life.
  2. There comes a point where we cannot trust authority any longer.
  3. We think sex is the best way to tell someone we love them.
  4. Our lives are ours alone, and it is our right to put ourselves in harm’s way or damage ourselves if we believe it is right.

Those aren’t all good. Those aren’t all bad. They are varied and complex. I can admire Maddie’s search for the truth, no matter the pain it causes her. I can admire Olly’s faithfulness and care for Maddie, and how he has that same faithfulness and care for his mom and sister. I can admire how even though she is misled, Maddie’s mom sacrifices a great deal to protect her daughter from illness. These are truths, according to the Christian faith, and the doctrine of common grace shows me that I can find truth in all places, even movies that I can’t fully agree with.

So to all the girls who were going to that Ariana Grande concert, maybe with plans to see Everything, Everything over the weekend: It’s a decent movie. We are lucky to be living in a time where movies that talk about problems we’re facing are more common than ever. We should make them better, though.

Our prayers are with you.

-Madeleine D

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/23/opinions/manchester-bombing-ariana-grande-kayyem/index.htm

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/23/opinions/manchester-attack-terrorism-hellyer-opinion/index.html

http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/23/opinions/teen-girl-culture-rocks-filipovic-opinion/index.html