Tag Archives: Danny Huston

Wonder Woman (2017)

Expectations are a funny thing. At first, everyone got excited when it was announced that Gal Gadot, who turned out to be the best thing in the otherwise lacklustre Batman v Superman, was getting her own standalone Wonder Woman movie. Anticipation grew even higher when acclaimed filmmaker Patty Jenkins (Monster) was signed on to direct. But then there were rumours that the film wasn’t as good as executives wanted it to be, and concerns were exacerbated when reports surfaced that the film had to undergo late reshoots. Coupled with relatively low tracking numbers for its opening weekend (US$65m domestic) and a late lifting of the embargo on critic reviews, everybody wondered whether Wonder Woman would continue DC’s streak of disappointing flicks.

Well, I’m glad to report back that concerns regarding Wonder Woman were largely unfounded. This origin story about the Amazonian princess is arguably the best DC film thus far, easily besting the incoherent Batman v Superman and the messy Suicide Squad. In my view, it is also more entertaining than Man of Steel, which has become more revered in retrospect, though some will argue that the Superman movie is better crafted overall. Either way, Wonder Woman should be regarded as a success that will give DC a much-needed huge sigh of relief.

On the other hand, I must say I am quite stunned by Wonder Woman’s astounding 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the highest rated superhero movie on the critic aggregate website with the exception of The Incredibles, which is technically in the same category despite being animated. Yes, Wonder Woman has pleased a larger percentage of critics than all the Marvel superhero movies including Iron Man, The Avengers, and Captain America: Civil War, and has topped even all of the entries in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.  The rating will probably come down a little eventually, though it’s hard to imagine a precipitous drop with more than 65 reviews already logged thus far. The favourable reviews have the film set to record an opening weekend north of US$90m domestic and US$175m worldwide.

I say I am stunned because I honestly don’t think Wonder Woman is that good. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about Wonder Woman, and it’s not just because it’s one of the first times we’ve seen a female superhero get her own movie (besides, Elektra and Catwoman were so widely panned) or because Gal Gadot looks absolutely beautiful and badass in the titular role. Patty Jenkins does an excellent job of creating the mythology of Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince, starting with her youth on the mythical island of Themyscira. It’s not an easy thing to do because of it’s all about Greek gods and the creation of mankind, but Jenkins manages to explain everything in a way that’s easy to follow and allows audiences to suspend their disbelief enough to stay in the story. In some ways, the first part of Wonder Woman is similar to the first Thor film in terms of setting up another world that somehow co-exists with the more grounded reality of the overall franchise.

When Wonder Woman leaves her home to enter the world of man for the first time, the film picks up that fish-out-of-water vibe we’ve seen before in the first Captain America movie. The similarities extend beyond that because Wonder Woman is set in World War I, with the majority of the action sequences coming on the battlefield.

Speaking of action, Wonder Woman absolutely gets the job done, especially in the earlier parts of the movie when we first see the Amazonians galloping on horses and jumping, flipping and gliding effortlessly through the air while shooting arrows at enemies. I particularly liked the use of mixing in slow motion (300 style, without the blood) to accentuate Diana’s super quick movements and skilled manoeuvres. However, I didn’t love all of the action sequences. The CG of some of Diana’s “superpower” movements come across as a little clunky, especially as she looks normal all the way until a sudden burst of speed or strength that doesn’t mesh quite as smoothly as it should. A late battle sequence also disappointingly goes down the Man of Steel route.

Gal Gadot is not the greatest actress out there, but she does have her strengths—bountiful charisma, a steely gaze and a knack for striking perfect poses. She was so great in Batman v Superman because her role was limited; here, as she carries the film, you get to see more of the flaws in her acting, which doesn’t always channel the necessary emotion the character deserves. That said, it’s good enough, and she makes up for it by being fantastic in the extremely physical action scenes.

The supporting cast has plenty of big names who all deliver strong performances to prop up Gadot. You’ve got the likes of Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright as Amazonians, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor, Lucy Davis (from the British version of The Office) as Steve’s secretary, Danny Huston as German general Ludendorff, Spanish actress Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison, and David Thewlis as a British cabinet speaker.

I’ve always liked Chris Pine but never thought of him as anything special, though I must give him props here as he is a clear standout. Let’s just say he’s more than a damsel in distress but doesn’t take anything away from Wonder Woman. To the contrary, he plays a big part in defining who she becomes. Less impressive are the three other ragtag members of Steve’s team, Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). Their performances are fine—it’s just that they are not given enough to do and never end up being fully fleshed out. They feel like they’re just there for the sake of making up the numbers.

At 141 minutes, Wonder Woman is also slightly on the long side. I was never bored, but some pacing issues in middle part of the film did render things slower than I would have liked. One final complaint is the humour—ie, there is humour in the film, but pretty much all of it has already been seen in the trailers.

So on the whole, Wonder Woman does have its fair share of problems. I’m not trying to be negative about the film because I really enjoyed it and thought it was better than what I had initially thought it would be. As a superhero origins movie, it ticks a lot of boxes — great cast, fun, action-packed, character-driven, visually spectacular, and has a nice message at heart. Having said that, I would caution against putting too much stock in the 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating because you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. If anything, the score actually highlights the misleading nature of the RT metric in that the percentage of critics who give a film a favourable review isn’t reflective of how much they liked it. I personally would not put it in my top 10 superhero movies of all time. By DC standards, it’s fantastic, but in terms of storytelling, humour and the “wow” factor, Wonder Woman remains a notch below the best Marvel offerings.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Stolen (2012)

Liam Neeson’s daughter was Taken (and will be again in about another week); Nicolas Cage’s daughter is…Stolen!

I bet I’m not the only one who thought that the two movies smelled eerily similar: a kidnapped daughter; an estranged father with a certain skill-set who would do anything to get her back = an action film filled with brainless but awesome action.

But fortunately/unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end. I was actually surprised to find that Stolen, despite its  derivative title, is a completely different style of film to Taken. The latter is a dark, violent and relentless thrill ride that turned out to be one of the best action films of the last decade. The former, on the other hand, is merely an above-average, half-serious popcorn action movie starring Nicolas “I’ll do any movie for money” Cage.

Stolen‘s title is cleverer than it sounds because Cage plays Will Montgomery, “America’s greatest bank robber” (get it?). Without giving away anything more than the bare necessities, Cage’s daughter (Sami Gayle) is abducted by a vengeful village (Josh Lucas) and Will must rely on his skills to get her back with the help of former ally Riley (Malin Ackerman). Hot on his heels are a couple of inept FBI agents played by Danny Huston and Mark Valley. The result is a compact and frequently exciting 96 minutes of running around, car chases, dramatic escapes, near misses and Nic Cage being Nic Cage.

Honestly, it’s not as bad as it reads. It’s easy to be dismissive of Stolen simply because it stars Mr Cage, the Oscar winner who has in recent times delivered us such masterpieces as Ghost Rider: Spirit of VengeanceSeeking Justice, Trespass, Drive Angry, Season of the Witch and The Sorcerer’s ApprenticeBut Stolen does have its moments and is probably one of Cage’s most watchable films from the last five years.

The strangest thing with the film is that it starts off rather seriously, but becomes more and more lighthearted as it progresses, in reverse correlation to what is at stake. By the end it’s more or less a comedy — and I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. The film is directed by Simon West (The Expendables 2), who was also matched up with Cage in Con Air 15 years ago, and delivers a somewhat similar feel that mixes farcical situations with over-the-top action and cheesy, sarcastic humour.

Watching Stolen, however, does require one to forgo all logic and common sense. There are some pretty outrageous coincidences and situations (one involving a dislocation and another involving a dead cop) that you simply have to accept — questioning any of these things will just make the entire film fall apart. There’s also the most insulting caricature of an Australian traveller that all Aussie viewers will have to put up with for a few minutes (it might actually be the worst scene of any movie I’ve seen all year). Tanc Sade should be ashamed of himself for embarrassing all Australians by accepting a role that perpetuates the view that all Aussie travellers are obnoxious dicks who talk like Steve Irwin.

The cast (apart from the aforementioned Sade) is good but the performances are patchy. Nic Cage is Nic Cage, and you can interpret that however you want. Malin Ackerman is little more than underused eye-candy. Danny Huston feels out of place because he’s a much better actor than everyone else and he knows it. Mark Valley is effective as a twat.

The one actor that gets a paragraph all to himself is Josh Lucas. Even though he is an old hand at playing snarky villains,  I initially thought he was horribly miscast. But then I thought maybe it was just the atrocious lines he kept spewing out. And eventually I just realized he was supposed to be this hilarious. I just wish I could have figured it out sooner.

In the end, I enjoyed Stolen much more than I thought I would, and I’m not ashamed to say I did. Of course, the more I think about it the worse it gets, but the point of such movies has always been to just watch it, switch off your brain and go along for the ride.

3.25 stars out of 5