Tag Archives: Gal Gadot

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

Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)

Think of True Lies, the greatest spy action-comedy every made. Then think of the complete opposite of that. That’s essentially Keeping Up with the Joneses, a film so bland and unfunny that it’s actually baffling.

Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play the Gaffneys, a couple whose children are away at a camp when an attractive couple (the Joneses) played by Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot move into their close knit neighbourhood. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Joneses are not who they claim to be, and soon the Gaffneys find themselves thrown into the world of espionage.

Not the most interesting premise, but definitely potential for laughs. And yet, Keeping Up with the Joneses is so low on the humour that I honestly cannot think of another movie I’ve seen this year — not just comedies but any genre — that generated less laughter. I’d probably have to think back to a movie about the holocaust to find anything as unfunny.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying either. I actually like all four of the actors in the film, but none of them could squeeze a drop of decent humour of the movie. The jokes are so lame and uninspiring that I don’t think they even worked on paper. With the exception of one gag about teeth near the end of the second act, I honestly did not chuckle even once. No laughs, no smiles.

Sadly, there are no other redeeming qualities about the film. The action is very tame and uninspiring, and the plot is ridiculously predictable. The only positive things about the movie I can say is that it appears the actors at least tried (well, except for Jon Hamm — he totally mailed it in), and that there’s nothing offensively terrible about it.

So no laughs, crap action and lame plot. No matter how appealing the actors may be, Keeping Up with the Joneses might very well be the worst comedy of the year.

1 star out of 5

Triple 9 (2016)

triple9

Every now and then you get a movie with a cast that’s out of this world, and yet the movie itself doesn’t get much buzz. This raises two questions: one, why did so many big stars attach themselves to this project, and two, why didn’t the movie get more buzz? Triple 9 is one such movie.

The answer to the first question is probably director John Hillcoat, the master Aussie filmmaker who gave us The Proposition, The Road, and most recently Lawless. Although a bunch of actors such as Shia La Beouf, Charlie Hunnam, Cate Blanchett and Christoph Waltz dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, Triple 9 still ended up with a ridiculous ensemble cast featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelslon, Aaron Paul, Gal Gadot, Norman Reedus and Teresa Palmer.

The answer to the second question is that the film, while finely made, doesn’t quite live up to the cast. It’s barely made back its US$20 million budget on paper (which means a loss in real terms), and that’s because it got neither much advertising nor hype through word of mouth.

Set in the summer heat of Atlanta, Georgia, Triple 9 is a fairly standard crime thriller/drama about a bunch of crooks and corrupt police officers who pull off a heist. Things start to unravel when the crime boss they work for, played by Kate Winslet in an uneven Russian accent, forces them into one final job, while a newly transferred police officer (Casey Affleck) starts to suspect there might be more to things than meets the eye.

In typical Hillcoat style, Triple 9 is bleak, uncompromising and gritty. There’s brutal violence and scary depictions of gang life and police corruption. It’s intense stuff, but really, it’s also nothing we haven’t seen before — and arguably done better — in films like The Town, End of Watch, Training Day and so forth.

I don’t think it’s really Hillcoat’s fault — the issue is the unspectacular script by Matt Cook, which offers nothing truly fresh or intriguing. There aren’t many twists and turns, and the only surprises are from seeing all these big-name actors dying one by one in matter-of-fact fashion. But on the other hand, all these deaths mean there’s no real central protagonist. We know who the good guys and bad guys are, but we don’t really get a chance to genuinely care about any of them. Casey Affleck is supposed to be that guy, but he splits so much screen time with the rest of the cast that you never get the sense that he’s the lead.

On the whole, Triple 9 is a solid crime film due to Hillcoat’s skills and bolstered by a brilliant cast and strong performances all round. However, the boilerplate storyline — that does nothing to differentiate itself from other thrillers in the genre –severely limits how good the movie can be. It’s more of a good rental than a film you feel like you need to see at the cinema.

3 stars out of 5

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

batman vs superman

There’s just no gentle way to say it: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is a disappointment. It would have been impossible for the film to live up to the hype anyway, considering this is the first time in history the world’s two most popular superheroes have shared the big screen together (fanboys haven’t been spraying their shorts all over the world for nothing). But despite a few cool moments and scenes of action brilliance, this is a deeply flawed movie, an overlong mess with fundamental issues in storytelling.

Remember when audiences complained about all the seemingly innocuous destruction in Man of Steel from the final battle between Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod (Michael Shannon)? Batman vs Superman starts off by making us think that was their master plan all along, revealing that there was indeed a lot of collateral damage, some of which had a very personal impact on Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), the billionaire vigilante otherwise known as Batman.

And so begins an epic sulking match between two dudes with very different philosophies. One is a god among men but a relative amateur at being a superhero, while the other is a jaded superhero who takes the law into his own hands and believes the caped crusader cannot be trusted.

In line with Man of Steel, the tone is very dark and sombre, which have led critics to accuse the film of being too serious and lacking in fun. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with it as DC had to find a way to differentiate itself from the Marvel cinematic universe, and we’ve seen from Christopher Nolan’s wonderful Dark Knight trilogy that dark can work.

This all sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s a premise that should work in theory, though in practice it’s s different story. The problems remain in the surprisingly shit script by Academy Award winner Chris Terrio (Argo; he also wrote the screenplay for Man of Steel) and David S Goyer (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy) and the execution by director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel, 300, Watchmen).

Snyder has always had talent for visual flair and action, though crafting a compelling narrative hasn’t always been his forte. Batman vs Superman is an accurate reflection of Snyder’s strengthens and weaknesses as a filmmaker. The images are never a problem; the gorgeous bluish grey colour palette, the expensive special effects, and the bone-crunching action sequences offer a smorgasbord of visual delights that will no doubt satisfy fans. A couple of the fight scenes involving Batman and a sequence with the Batmobile are particularly spectacular and warrant the praise.

On the other hand, the storytelling left a lot to be desired. The first half felt like a Batman movie, told from his point of view, which is partly understandable because we’re getting a new actor playing him. But we got so much Batman that Superman became more of a symbol than one of the two main characters. And then towards the end, it shifts uncomfortably into a Superman movie. The result of a Batman-heavy first half and a Superman-heavy second half — rather than letting one of them own the whole film (like what Marvel is doing for Captain America: Civil War) or focusing on both of them at the same time — is that the film feels uneven and disjointed, and neither character gets the development they deserve.

Instead of the layers a film like this needs, all we got was a lot of brooding and angry reactions, which are fine if these emotions are set up properly. However, people just pop up without adequate introductions, and the transitions between plot points are all over the place. It assumes you’ve seen Man of Steel, and secret identities don’t mean much at all. Plot holes, which are expected in any superhero movie, are poorly masked. It’s not that the narrative doesn’t adhere to common sense, it’s just that the story is pieced together in a rather incoherent manner. To be honest, even the trailers feel like they are structured more adequately than the film itself.

Even the dialogue is a mixed bag. You have these fantastic monologues and exchanges some of which you would have already heard in the trailers. But while they sound totally epic in trailers, in the context of the movie they often feel contrived.

My suspicion is that a lot of stuff probably got left on the cutting room floor –important pieces of exposition and explanation are left out, while needless dream sequences take up way too much valuable screen time. Perhaps we have to wait for the R-rated version Snyder is preparing for the Blu-ray release, but at 151 minutes the movie is already way too long — and feels that way too.

Interestingly, the two actors people were concerned about when the cast was announced turned out to be fine. Ben Affleck turned out to be a pretty decent Batman, both physically and acting-wise, while Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was probably the best thing about the whole movie, making it justifiable to be excited about her upcoming standalone movie.

Sadly, Henry Cavill appears to have drawn the short straw. Most of the time he’s relegated to second fiddle behind Batman, and then he’s suddenly called upon for some heavy duty emotional scenes as though we’re supposed to care about him, which isn’t very fair.

As for Jesse Eisenberg, who I really like and think is a good actor, there’s no other  way except to say his Lex Luthor was a misstep. It’s less of a casting problem and more of a characterisation problem. This version of Superman’s nemesis looks like the Riddler and acts like the Joker (and not the Heath Ledger version). Most importantly, he’s simply not putting any fear into anyone.

Amy Adams actually has quite a meaty role as Lois Lane, but the rest of the all-star supporting cast doesn’t get to do much. Still, it never hurts to see the likes of Lawrence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons and Diane Lane (and a couple of surprising cameos).

I’m not trying to trash the film. It has good moments, epic moments that live up to the promise of the trailers. But so much of that good is outweighed by fundamental problems that would doom any movie.

Batman vs Superman has so far polarised fans and critics. As usual, I probably fall somewhere in the middle, though I must say on this occasion I’m more inclined to side with the latter. The fanboys, some of whom have waited decades for this movie, are probably willing themselves to believe this movie is the best thing ever. Or maybe I missed the point and need to see the movie again to understand it better, though to be honest I’m not getting the urge to sit through it again.

Having said all that, Batman vs Superman does do a solid job of setting up what is yet to come (it is, after all, called Dawn of Justice), giving us the hope that the future Justice League films (yes, it’s in 2 parts) will be able to finally get it right.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Fast Five (2011)

Here’s the deal.  I’ve only watched the odd numbered films in the Fast and Furious series (being the original and the third one, Tokyo Drift), and it doesn’t bother me at all that I haven’t seen the other two.

I mean, they’re all the same — fast cars, hot girls and a loose crime plot that involves something no one really cares about.  But this fifth one, Fast Five, looked pretty good.  It has the original stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, plus some of the guys from the other films, including Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang (who died in the third film — the chronology is out of whack), Ludacris, and supermodel Gal Gadot (who literally looks like a smoking hot stick figure).  Most of all, it features Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as some supercop on their trail and the rumour was that he takes on Vin Diesel in one heck of a meathead showdown.  Sounds like a riot.

To be honest, I don’t really remember the other films of the series I’ve seen, probably because they were forgettable and crap (and I’m not into cars).  Which is why I am shocked to say that I thought Fast Five was pretty good, if you go into it knowing what you’re going to get.

This one has a bit more of a plot (just a bit more).  Paul Walker’s FBI agent dude is now on the run with Jordana Brewster, after having broken Vin Diesel out of a prison van (is it just me or does Vin Diesel look like a big, fat version of Mini-Me on steroids?  Nothing against him but I can’t take him seriously, whether it’s his hilarious voice or his attempts to be cool).  They need cash and some corrupt drug kinpin in South America has a lot of it.  Bingo!  Let’s rob the douche and ride off into the sunset.

Of course, it’s not easy, and in comes a bunch of characters from the previous films to help them pull off the job of the century.  As mentioned earlier, The Rock is brought in to hunt them down, and assisting him is a hot latino police officer played by Elsa Pataky (who is married to Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth).  There’s loads of action in this film — gun fights, chase scenes, heist scenes, hand-to-hand combat, car chases — and most of them were pulled off with expertise from director Justin Lin (who has been at the helm since Tokyo Drift).

It’s all outrageously ridiculous and very little of it makes any sense (it’s one of those films where people just gun each other down in the streets, they blow everything up in sight and people punch the living daylights out of each other without even getting a bruise) — but if you can put all of that aside and just go along for the ride, Fast Five is an enjoyable treat that’s fun, cheesy and a car lover’s wet dream.  The only thing I will say is don’t get your hopes up for the Diesel/Rock showdown — unless you like watching two all-beef patties tackling each other through walls and windows for a couple of minutes.

This is not saying much, but I think Fast Five could very well be the best one in the franchise.

3.25 stars out of 5

PS: Upon further review, it appears I’ve seen the fourth film as well, Fast and Furious.  There you go.  It’s not often that I don’t recall anything about a film I’ve seen.

PPS: Remember to stay after the credits — there is a little ‘twist’ scene with Eva Mendes (who is apparently in the second film) that gives you a decent indication of what the next film will be about.