Wonder Woman

(USA 2017)

Director Patty Jenkins aims to do for Wonder Woman what Christopher Nolan—and I suppose to a lesser degree Tim Burton—did for Batman: take an iconic comic book superhero that got campy over the years and return it to its darker roots, producing something dramatic, perhaps weightier, and far more artful. Jenkins doesn’t entirely pull it off with Wonder Woman, but she’s on the right track. I see a sequel or two in the near future, so she’s got time to get there.

To Jenkins’s credit, Wonder Woman is not what I expected. Aside from a nod or two—and that goddamned tiara—all the cut-rate kitsch of the ’70s TV series is gone. This Wonder Woman means business even if she’s still, shall we say, absurd.

Jenkins goes back to the beginning: young Diana (Lilly Aspell and Emily Carey) lives on Themyscira, a hidden island inhabited by war-ready buff goddesses. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana’s mother, shields her from the strident ways of her subjects. It all has to do with an old score Ares (David Thewlis) seeks to settle—yes, that Ares, the son of Zeus and the god of war. General Antiope (Robin Wright), Hippolyta’s sister and Diana’s aunt/mentor, isn’t having it: she recognizes Diana’s potential and trains her on the sly. Diana blossoms into a beautiful woman (Gal Gadot) with serious supernatural power.

Diana stumbles upon Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a drowning American pilot whose plane crashes off the coast of Themyscira. She rescues him, unwittingly exposing the island to an invasion by German forces. Persuaded by the awesome power of Diana’s Lasso of Hestia, Steve confesses that he’s a spy in the “war to end all wars”—World War I. Spider-sensing Ares is behind it, Diana embarks with Steve on a mission filled with romance, adventure, and espionage in an effort to track down the god and stop the madness.

Wonder Woman starts out all Xena: Warrior Princess, silly and weird in a geeky softcore straight guy “lesbian porn” way that no doubt would appeal to the likes of Wayne and Garth. Thankfully, it moves in another direction once Pine shows up about 40 minutes in. I found myself enjoying Wonder Woman more as the story got to Europe—that storyline is more believable even if it too is silly. The battle scenes are decent with some Hollywood excess and humor thrown in. I love how the theme of gender equality is the star of every scene—neither subtle nor heavy-handed, it’s simply a given.

For all its perks, Wonder Woman is ultimately a typical blockbuster that emphasizes form over substance. If nothing else, it surprises, which is always a plus. Frankly, though, I could’ve kept going completely oblivious to the fact that Wonder Woman is more than Lynda Carter. She was more a lot more fun.

With Danny Huston, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock, Lucy Davis, Elena Anaya, Doutzen Kroes

Production: DC Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel & Unusual Films, Rat-Pac Dune Entertainment LLC, Tencent Pictures, Wanda Pictures

Distribution: Warner Brothers, Karo Premiere (Russia), NOS Audiovisuais (Portugal), Roadshow Entertainment (New Zealand), Roadshow Films (Australia), SF Studios (Norway), Tanweer Alliances (Greece)

141 minutes
Rated PG-13

(ArcLight) C

http://wonderwomanfilm.com

North by Northwest

(USA 1959)

“I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives, and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself ‘slightly’ killed.”

—Roger Thornhill

 

“That’s funny. That plane’s dusting crops where there ain’t no crops.”

—Man at the Prairie Crossing

I expected Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to be suspenseful, cinematic, and even a bit perverse, peppered with the director’s inimitable wit and dark sense of humor. It certainly is all that. However, I didn’t expect it to be altogether facetious, or as fun as it is. Scene after scene, North by Northwest delivers; not many films give as much bang for your buck as this one.

Cary Grant is Manhattan ad executive Roger O. Thornhill—”The ‘O’ stands for nothing,” he quips at one point. A mild-mannered, stylish middle-aged man in a grey flannel Brooks Brothers suit—think Mad Men—he leads a perfectly predictable straight life serving clients, drinking martinis, and keeping his WASPy mother (Jessie Royce Landis) entertained.

While having cocktails at the Plaza Hotel one afternoon, Thornhill is yanked into a treacherous game of cat-and-mouse when the goons of a smooth and well-spoken spy, baritone Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), mistake him for a government agent named George Kaplan. It’s nothing but trouble from here.

Relentlessly hunted after being framed for an incident at the United Nations, Thornhill flees Manhattan on a passenger train that looks a lot like Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. He meets cool, mysterious, and sultry stranger Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who’s headed to Chicago. Her innuendo is sexy, but she’s not exactly trustworthy—Thornhill senses it, and so do we.

North by Northwest is ultimate Hitchcock, fueled by mistaken identity and packed with psychological drama manifest mostly in the form of dizzying pursuit: a drunken car chase on a windy road, a moving train, an out-of-nowhere crop duster in an Indiana cornfield, a race down Mount Rushmore. Nothing about the plot is believable; it’s more preposterous than a James Bond film. Although it shares the same Cold War sensibility, North by Northwest is much more intriguing and memorable. It’s also more entertaining.

Ernest Lehman’s script is brilliantly put together, but the story isn’t what makes this soar; it’s Hitchcock’s directing and the acting, particularly that of Grant, Saint, and Mason. Grant is a hoot to watch here; he plays Thornhill like a high-style Thurston Howell without his Lovie. He walks a fine line between convincing and cartoonish, always coming off as the former. It’s quite an astounding feat of balance, actually. Saint is the perfect counterpart to Grant. I could listen to Mason talk endlessly. Martin Landau plays a secondary character, but he’s awesome as über creepy (and probably closeted) Leonard, Vandamm’s right hand man.

Ahead of its time in many ways, North by Northwest is consciously silly yet pushes a few boundaries. Exceedingly mischievous, it just might be Hitchcock’s most charming film. It’s definitely more fun than any other film of his that I’ve seen—not that I’ve come close to seeing all of them. It’s truly a dazzler.

Personal geek-out side note: in a film full of thrilling moments, the most thrilling for me was the scene outside The Ambassador Hotel in Chicago. I live two doors down from the hotel, now known as Public. I’ve stood in the exact spot Grant did as he exited the alley to cross Goethe to get to the hotel—I walk my dog there all the time. It’s amusingly weird to see a place you know so well onscreen, let alone in something from almost 60 years ago. It’s different, but not much. Here’s what it looked like when North by Northwest was filmed:

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And here’s what it looks like today:

Ambassador.jpg

In 1995, the United States Library of Congress deemed North by Northwest “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Leo G. Carroll, Philip Ober, Josephine Hutchinson, Adam Williams, Robert Ellenstein, Edward Platt, Philip Coolidge, Edward Binns

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM

Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM

136 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) A

Fathom Events

Kingsman: The Secret Service

(USA 2015)

Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the comic book The Secret Service by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar is, in a word, “eh.” Sadly, not even a big budget and above-average performances by big-name talent (Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Caine to name just a few) salvaged this silly, boring imitation of a James Bond flick.

(AMC River East) D+

http://www.kingsmanmovie.com

The Imitation Game

(USA 2014)

“Sometimes it is the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

—Christopher Morcom

Painfully awkward math nerd and social reject Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is recruited by the Royal Navy to crack the Nazi’s “Enigma” code. Hated by his teammates, a dark secret lurks behind his arrogance. Yes, sometimes it is the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine; but even genius does not always save a person in the end.

Based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges and told in flashback sequences, Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is a strong story loaded with great characters, nice buildup, and intense moments. It helps to know Turing’s real-life fate, but ignorance of it should not impede enjoying this film. If nothing else, Kiera Knightley and Matthew Goode are total eye candy, whatever your sexual preference.

With Allen Leech, Rory Kinnear, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Ilan Goodman, Jack Tarlton, Jack Bannon, Tuppence Middleton, Alex Lawther

114 minutes
Rated PG-13

(AMC River East) A

http://theimitationgamemovie.com